Mike Klonsky: No Way To Measure the Impact of Voter Suppression

Diane Ravitch's blog

Mike Klonsky notes that a voter recount will not be able to measure the effect of voter suppression.

In response to recounts underway in Wisconsin and North Carolina, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke issued the following statement:


“Current recount efforts do not address the discriminatory impact of voter suppression laws during the 2016 election cycle. Wisconsin and North Carolina are states that were part of a coordinated campaign to make voting more difficult, particularly for African American and other minority voters. Wisconsin’s restrictive photo id law and North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law were among the most discriminatory efforts instituted prior to the November 2016 election. The laws in both states were the subject of protracted litigation because of their impact on African American and other minority voters. It is no surprise that these states are places where some now feel a…

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Betsy DeVos’s Unlikely New Ally – From ‘Fix the mitten’ blog

As the Michigan Senate prepares to approve the DeVos family’s “Number 1 priority” — eliminating public-school teacher pensions — Nick Krieger takes a look at Betsy DeVos’s unlikely new ally:

Source: Betsy DeVos’s Unlikely New Ally – Fix the mitten

http://www.fixthemitten.com/blog/betsy-devoss-unlikely-new-ally

Via TomDispatch: “Winning: Trump Loves to Do It, But American Generals Have Forgotten How” – By Andrew Bacevich, from “The Swamp of War” 

Excerpt:

Winning
Trump Loves to Do It, But American Generals Have Forgotten How
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Even if commander-in-chief Trump were somehow able to identify modern day equivalents of Grant and Sherman to implement his war plans, secret or otherwise, would they deliver victory?

On that score, we would do well to entertain doubts.  Although senior officers charged with running recent American wars have not exactly covered themselves in glory, it doesn’t follow that their shortcomings offer the sole or even a principal explanation for why those wars have yielded such disappointing results.  The truth is that some wars aren’t winnable and shouldn’t be fought.

So, yes, Trump’s critique of American generalship possesses merit, but whether he knows it or not, the question truly demanding his attention as the incoming commander-in-chief isn’t: Who should I hire (or fire) to fight my wars?  Instead, far more urgent is: Does further war promise to solve any of my problems?

One mark of a successful business executive is knowing when to cut your losses. It’s also the mark of a successful statesman.  Trump claims to be the former.  Whether his putative business savvy will translate into the world of statecraft remains to be seen. Early signs are not promising.

As a candidate, Trump vowed to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” destroy ISIS, “decimate al-Qaeda,” and “starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah.” Those promises imply a significant escalation of what Americans used to call the Global War on Terrorism.

Toward that end, the incoming administration may well revive some aspects of the George W. Bush playbook, including repopulating the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and “if it’s so important to the American people,” reinstituting torture.  The Trump administration will at least consider re-imposing sanctions on countries like Iran.  It may aggressively exploit the offensive potential of cyber-weapons, betting that America’s cyber-defenses will hold.

Yet President Trump is also likely to double down on the use of conventional military force.  In that regard, his promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” offers a hint of what is to come. His appointment of the uber-hawkish Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and his rumored selection of retired Marine Corps General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis as defense secretary suggest that he means what he says.   In sum, a Trump administration seems unlikely to reexamine the conviction that the problems roiling the Greater Middle East will someday, somehow yield to a U.S.-imposed military solution.  Indeed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that conviction will deepen, with genuinely ironic implications for the Trump presidency.

Read the complete essay here: Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Swamp of War | TomDispatch

Note:

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.  His most recent book isAmerica’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Andrew J. Bacevich

AP Definitive Source blog:When writing about the ‘alt-right’…

“‘Alt-right’ (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the ‘self-described’ or ‘so-called alt-right’ in stories discussing what the movement says about itself. Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience.”

Source: AP Definitive Source | Writing about the ‘alt-right’

 

POSTED IN BEHIND THE NEWS

Writing about the ‘alt-right’

Nov. 28, 2016, by John Daniszewski

Recent developments have put the so-called “alt-right” movement in the news. They highlight the need for clarity around use of the term and around some related terms, such as “white nationalism” and “white supremacism.”

Let’s tackle them.

The “alt-right” or “alternative right” is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order.

The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Although many adherents backed President-elect Donald Trump in the recent election, Trump last week said he disavows and condemns the “alt-right.”

The movement criticizes “multiculturalism” and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.

Usage

“Alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

Boilerplate

Again, whenever “alt-right” is used in a story, be sure to include a definition: “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

Here is an example from the AP news report:

With an ideology that’s a mix of racism, white nationalism and old-fashioned populism, the “alt-right” has burst into the collective consciousness since members showed up at the Republican National Convention to celebrate Trump’s nomination last summer.

Be specific and call it straight

Finally, when writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization.

We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

###

Make a Donation – Network For Public Education

This year, on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, the Network for Public Education

is participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving. Last year, more than 45,000 organizations in 71 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday. We invite you to join the movement and get out and give this November 29.

And we do hope that as you give, you will not forget public education. Now more than ever, our public schools need your support.

During 2017, The Network for Public Education will continue our work beating back the relentless efforts to privatize our schools. We don’t need to tell you that those efforts will intensify in 2017.

We have already begun a campaign to stop the approval of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. So far, over 73 thousand friends of public education have participated in that campaign.

Those efforts will continue through December and January. We will create toolkits for you to use when contacting your senators. We will form alliances with other national groups, and begin a media campaign.

We will challenge the Trump administration on every effort to privatize our public schools. We will fight for the civil rights of all students and do all we can to ensure they feel welcome, safe and secure.

But we cannot accomplish this work without your help.

On Giving Tuesday, please give to the Network for Public Education. We are a 501 (c)(3) and therefore all donations are tax deductible.

You can donate online (just click here) or send a check to:

Network for Public Education

PO BOX 150266

Kew Gardens, NY 11415

Source: Make a Donation – Network For Public Education

 

CURMUDGUCATION

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION

 

ICYMI: Post Turkey Edition (11/27)

Posted: 27 Nov 2016 06:57 AM PST

I briefly toyed with the idea of collecting all the articles that explain how awful Betsy DeVos will be as Secretary of Education, but it just made my computer sad, so I just picked a couple and selected some other pieces to help us all remember that there are other things to pay attention to.

Higher Education in Pennsylvania 101
William Boggs in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains what some legislators don’t seem to understand about higher educationm

A Story That No One Will Print
Maybe this is moot now, but still worth a read. John Merrow reprints the story about She Who Will Not Be Named that nobody wanted to run. A reminder of just how awful she was.

The Data Delusion

 Okay, this actually takes us back to 2013. But it’s a good read about the ways in which education “data” leads us to believe things that just aren’t so.

Polls Convinced Me That Hillary Clinton Wouldn’t Lose: As An Education Researcher The Result Was a Wake-Up Call

 The mishandling of election data leads this education data guru to reconsider the meaning of educational data

End School Privatization

 Jamaal Bowman with a short, clear call for the end of school privatization


Michigan House’s Detroit School Bills Are Pure Garbage

 Stephen Henderson has some passionate and reality-based reactions to the Michigan legislature’s latest move to screw over the schools of Detroit. Remember– if you want to see the future of education under DeVos, just look at Michigan.

What We Can Learn About Betsy DeVos from Her Husband’s Charter School

 MarkWeber (Jersey Jazzman) takes a look at Mr. DevOs’s little side project.

Bad News Betsy

Emily Talmadge with another angle of the bad news about DeVos’s selection

Heavens to Betsy 

 Finally, Russ Walsh includes a variety of links and recommendations so that if you do want to read even more, you can. But you could also do something about this terrible idea.
How Bad Is DeVos? So Bad…

Posted: 27 Nov 2016 07:06 AM PST

 The nomination of Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education is such a bad choice that we don’t even have to talk about actual policy ideas to understand how unsuited she is for the position. Consider–

John King was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But John King has worked in a classroom with students and run a school, even if the classroom and school were charters. John King has held a statewide post in government as head of education in New York State. He doesn’t appear to have been very good at any of these jobs– but he has at least been exposed to what happens on all three levels so that he has at least a vague working knowledge of what goes on in those areas. He even attended public school as a child.

Betsy DeVos has none of those qualifications. She has never been a public school students and never worked as a teacher, administrator or state level education bureaucrat. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than John King.

Arne Duncan was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Arne Duncan had been responsible for a major urban school system, so he had at least some vague notion of what happens in a public school system. He had political connections not because he had money to throw around, but because he was a good and loyal friend to people with bigger political profiles. Hell, he was a good basketball player, meaning he was at least exposed to the concept of teamwork and the idea of working hard to achieve a goal.

Betsy DeVos has never run an organization as sprawling and varied as an urban school district, and has no experience with any such educational system. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Arne Duncan.

Eva Moskowitz was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Eva Moskowitz built a school-flavored business from the ground up, so she has at least some vague notion of the many moving parts involved in making a school work. And while Moskowitz is by no means wealth-impaired, she has showed political savvy and an ability to make friends in high places to get her own way.

Betsy DeVos has no experience in the inner workings of a school or a business, and certainly not an organization that wants to be both. And she only knows one way to build political connections– writing checks. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Eva Moskowitz.

She Who Will Not Be Named (ex-DC chancellor) was an unspeakably awful choice for Secretary of Education. But like Duncan, she has been in charge of a major urban school district. She has stood in a classroom and tried to teach. And She is experienced at getting other people to invest in her vision and displayed a real gift for generating positive PR, even when she doesn’t deserve any of it.

Betsy DeVos has never run a school district. She has never taught. And she has never had to convince anyone to back her idea, because she can bankroll it all herself. Nor has she ever displayed any talent for being the public PR-friendly face of anything.

All four of the above terrible, terrible choices for Secretary of Education worked their way up from a poor or middle class background, learning how to sell themselves, start an enterprise, make friends, gather influence, and just generally make their way in the world. Professionally, they have had to learn how to work other people to get what they want.

Betsy DeVos was born rich, married rich, and has never had to build influence or make a case for her own views by any method other than exercising her bank account (a bank account that she never did a lick of work to fill up in the first place). A Secretary of Education has to build influence, make a case, sell an idea, and do the political work to push across policies. DeVos has never had to do any of these things; and a Secretary of Education cannot build political clout or support by flexing her personal wealth. DeVos has ideas about education, but she has never done any of the legwork or built understanding about how to implement her ideas beyond writing a check or hiring some people to astroturf support for ideas. She has simply bought allies and bankrolled compliance; there is no reason to believe that she knows how to win agreement and cooperation from people who are not financially beholden to her. If DeVos had not been born rich, if she had not married rich, we would not be having this conversation, and she would not be a person of influence in education. DeVos is one of those masks that money puts on when it wants to walk around and do stuff; without the money, she’s an empty sack with no more importance or influence than a regular citizen, or a teacher.

The four candidates listed above are all terrible, terrible choices for the post, and yet all of them have qualifications that DeVos lacks. In fact, before we even start to discuss just how terrible and destructive her ideas about public education are, we should be talking about her complete lack of qualifications to run a federal department. She is not familiar with how schools work. She is not familiar with how large metropolitan or state systems for education work. She is not familiar with how to work with people who are not on her personal payroll.

Bottom line– even if you think that Betsy DeVos is bang-on correct in her education ideas* there is no reason at all to believe that she has any of the tools necessary to succeed as head of the US Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos is supremely unqualified, the most terrible of the terrible choices for Secretary of Education.

*in which case you are seriously deluded, but let’s skip past that for the moment

Star Witness in “Sleeper Cell” Case Blazed a Trail of Lies From Pakistan to California

Hamid Hayat didn’t want to believe that his closest friend was a paid government agent. Then, awaiting trial, he learned Naseem Khan would be the star witness against him.

A decade ago, the FBI caused a national panic when it announced it had broken up an al Qaeda “sleeper cell” in Lodi, California. The case was an early example of a post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy that would turn out to be deeply flawed: paid informants used to build cases against suspects for acts they might one day carry out. Soon after Hamid Hayat, a young Pakistani-American man, was convicted of material support to terrorism, elements of the case began to unravel.
Now, amid heightened fears over government targeting of Muslim communities, reporter Abbie VanSickle uncovers evidence that further undermines the Lodi case. The government’s star witness was a troubled FBI informant — whose own mother said he was “a bagful of lies.”

Read the full report here: Star Witness in “Sleeper Cell” Case Blazed a Trail of Lies From Pakistan to California

CURMUDGUCATION: Spotting Fakes and the Death of Reading

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Spotting Fakes and the Death of Reading

Spotting Fakes and the Death of Reading

I’ve looked once before at the Stanford study which found that students– middle school, high school and college– can’t tell the difference between real news and advertisements, fake news, or just general detritus on line. The researchers themselves called the results shocking; that may be only because they haven’t previously spent enough time around middle school, high school and college students. But “alarming” would be a perfectly good word to use. And I would argue that these results point the finger directly at over a decades’ worth of bad standards-loving, test-driven, reading and writing educational malpractice.

Now at last we can read the overview of their study here, but be warned: Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone Of Civic Online Reasoning is not going to make you feel better about Our Nation’s Youth or any of the education reforms of the modern reformster era.

What They Did

The study aimed five tasks at each of the three groups, and the paper I’ve linked to gives a detailed explanation of one task out of each group of five.

Middle schoolers were asked to evaluate trustworthiness on twitter, consider the reliability of s sponsored post, distinguish between a news article and an opinion column, and determine whether or not letters from a comments section would be good to use in a research paper. They were also shown a Slate home page and asked to find the ads.

Most could find the traditional banner ads, but most did NOT count the “sponsored content” item that appears on the home page, reasoning that it didn’t say “for sale.” Students also identified some actual articles as ads. So, not so good.

High schoolers were asked to identify the merits of arguments presented in a Facebook argument, as well as spotting the little blue checkmark. I’ll allow some slack here, because my students inform me that Facebook is for grandmothers, so they might not be familiar. But they were also given a task with a photo sharing site. They were shown a close up photo of some flowers shared by a user with the authoritative handle “pleasegoogleShakerAamerpleasegoogleDavidKelly” that claimed to be a picture of flowers mutated by nuclear radiation exposure.

While some students did question the legitness off the source, even some who questioned it showed a bit of a reasoning gap– my favorite dissenter is the student who ruled out the photo, not because there was no evidence that it came from where it claimed to come from, but because it could have been photoshopped. SMH! And many other high school students were fully convinced that they were seeing sad signs of nuclear poisoning.

College students were asked to rate website reliability in several tasks, including one in which they were asked to compare the websites of the a completely legit group and a completely fringe one (check my previous post for that sad story– spoiler alert: they failed). They were also asked to evaluate a tweeted link to poll results, and got twisted up over the difference between the tweeter’s identity and the actual source being linked to. Many of the students simply dismissed the results based on who was tweeting it without actually checking to see if the linked material looked legit.

These results led the researchers to use descriptors like “dismaying,” “bleak” and “[a] threat to democracy.”

Why none of this is a surprise 

Okay, we can attribute some of this to the test subjects themselves. We’re talking about 10-21 year olds, a group that has never at any point in history been famous for their level-headed critical-thinking-based powers of judgment. This is why middle school teachers spend 10% of their day putting out fires about who supposedly said which mean thing about whom.

But that’s not the only reason to be not-surprised by what is essentially a yawning gap in reading skills– for well over a decade we have explicitly been told not to teach students to read or write well. Check out this excerpt:

American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting, “the only thing we need to fear is itself,” which disdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success.

That’s from an essay cobbled together under the direction of Les Perelman, former director of the MIT Writing Across the Curriculum program, and an outspoken critic of computer-scored student writing. The above highlight is an excerpt from an essay that scored a 5. I’ve written a great deal about the abomination that is computer-scoring of essays, but the bottom line is that computers don’t understand what they’re reading– they can only break down the parts and mechanics of the writing. And even when computers aren’t used, we’ve trained test-scorers to assess writing just the same way.

This Common Core writing is the flip side of Common Core reading, which deliberately ignores content and context and pretends that reading is simply an act of decoding symbols, separate from any actual meaning. David Coleman has demonstrated at great length how much he doesn’t understand the act of reading, and that lack of understanding permeates the Core and the Big Standardized Tests that come from it.

The kinds of questions needed to read critically, particularly as a consumer of internet news– who wrote this, when, what are their connections, what’s the background of this topic, what are the sides involved and how does this writer connect to them, where are the vested interests, what motives can we deduce before even reading– these sorts of questions are expressly forbidden in the Common Core world of “pay attention only to what’s within the four corners of the text.” We often teach (and always test) with small excerpts of larger works, with no context or explanation and with the assumption that content is unimportant.

In the Age of Common Core, our ideal reader is one who can decode whatever we put in front of her, but who doesn’t actually know a damn thing.

In practice that is both impossible and undesirable, but it’s the north star by which reading instruction has been steered for over a decade, and Common Core ELA has gotten us too damn close to that ideal for comfort. Coleman and his acolytes have done their best to kill reading as a meaningful relationship between  readers and material, steeped in, informed by and building on knowledge of content and context. Their ideal is best captured by a small child taking that dame DIBELS test, trying to decode meaningless collections of sounds because that, boy, that is really reading in their world.

Spotting Fakery

If we never venture beyond the four corners of the page, we have no means of judging true from fake. On paper, to a DIBELized reader who brings no knowledge of history to the task, Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr., both look legit on the page. Because the very best frauds strive for perfect consistency and fluency within the four corners of their fakery, Common Core trained readers are absolutely not ready to spot them.

To spot a fake, you have to know the real thing, to understand it and grasp what makes it the real thing. Then you have to compare the two, understanding the context and content and separating the meaningful from the bogus fakery. This, like every other aspect of critical thinking, is not covered on the Big Standardized Test and never will be. Yes, CCSS and BS Tests ask students to compare aspects of two non-fiction sources, but until the task on one of these comparisons involves outside research and the answer turns out to be “Selection A is a bunch of bullshit,” students will not be prepared for fraud patrol.

I’m not saying that Common Core is responsible all by itself for the Stanford results. I am saying those results are a predictable consequence of our content and context-free reading mis-instruction over the past too-many-years. Unless you are a Nigerian prince trying to unload millions of dollars, that is bad news for us all.

MICHIGAN PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES PENSION SYSTEM IS NOT BROKEN!

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Jeffrey L. Salisbury <jeffreylsalisbury@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Nov 26, 2016 at 1:48 PM
Subject: THE PENSION SYSTEM IS NOT BROKEN!
To: sentschuitmaker@senate.michigan.gov, “Rep. Ken Yonker” <district072@house.mi.gov>, Senator Rick Jones <SenRJones@senate.michigan.gov>, dshields@senate.michigan.gov

THE PENSION SYSTEM IS NOT BROKEN!
 
Ten years ago, MPSERS was fully funded. 
Now we have an unfunded liability (which has been improving) as the result of the devastating economic downturn of 2008, combined with decisions made in Lansing to balance the budget with unrealistic projected rates of return. 
 
Like any investment, it simply needs time to rebound-and is on track to do so.
 
Recent changes have dramatically increased employee contributions into MPSERS.
 
PA 300 of 2012 also placed school employees hired after its effective date into a “hybrid” system, combining elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. The savings to the state stemming from this change will not be fully realized for several years.
 
The hybrid system is fully funded. 
Why would we eliminate a system that’s working?
 
The 2012 law also eliminated retirement healthcare benefits for new hires.
 
The changes made in 2012 need time to continue to work. As with any investment, if left alone the system will heal itself.
 
PENSIONS PROVIDE IMPORTANT ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Pension income is spent in Michigan and supports more than 77,000 Michigan jobs.
 
Retirees’ spending from pensions supports $11.1 billion in economic output in Michigan.
 
45 percent of public school employees receive a pension of less than $14,500 per year.
 
Hedge fund managers and other Wall Street corporations are the real winners in eliminating traditional pension plans and moving money to their 401(k).
 
A pension system distributes both the risk and reward evenly-vs. the winners/losers system of the 401(k). We don’t need a competitive system that creates winners at the expense of others; we need retirement security for all.
 
Numerous studies have shown that, in addition to being much less secure than a traditional pension, any savings to the state for making such a change would not be realized for more than 30 years – and the immediate cost to close MPSERS would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.


Jeff Salisbury
https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyLSalisbury
535 N. Main St., Wayland, MI 49348-1042
Land – 269-792-2996   Cell – 616-644-0327
“No matter the fleeting trends in Education, I preferred to think of my content area as being teen-agers who deserved the right to interact with a generally-decent, mostly-stable, reliable classroom teacher on a daily basis. Anything academic or administrative that got in the way of working with parents to help their students become better people in June than they were in September, I’d happily shortcut or bypass altogether.”

CURMUDGUCATION: FL: Another Charter Fiasco

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: FL: Another Charter Fiasco

FL: Another Charter Fiasco

Folks will be looking at Michigan (particularly Detroit) for the immediate future, as it’s the state where Education Secretary-in-Waiting Betsy DeVos has purchased the power to implement many of her beloved education reforms, in particular, the unfettered proliferation of charter schools accompanied by little or no oversight. But it’s not the only place where DeVos has helped spread the charter love– as a friend of Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, she also had a hand in turning Florida into the mighty education trash fire that it is today.

Let’s look at just one example of what you get when you let any shmoe open a charter school and nobody ever tells him, “Hey, you can’t do that!”

Let’s travel to the Eagle Arts Academy in sunny Palm Beach.

Male model Gregory James Blount

To talk about Eagle Arts Academy, we have to talk about Gregory James Blount, because Eagle Arts Academy is his show, top to bottom. Greg (that is apparently what he goes by– I may have corresponded with some folks on the scene) became an Eagle Scout in 1987, which is apparently the source of the charter school’s name. Blount graduated from the University of South Carolina-Columbia in 1991 with a Bachelor of Applied Media Science, Film Production / Fashion Photography.

He then moved to New York City to begin a modeling career, signed to the “then-famous” (actually, it looks like they were the ten-years-earlier-famous) agency ZOLI. After a few years of that he went to work for the Peter Glenn Publishing company, and then bought company. He later branched out into becoming an independent producer and a motivational speaker– that was right after he declared personal bankruptcy in 2010.

Clearly the next move was to open a charter school.

Though his LinkedIN account lists his founder/executive director credit for Eagle Arts as starting in April of 2011 (the same month he launched his motivational speaker career), the school didn’t open until the fall of 2014. And Blount immediately ran into all sorts of trouble.

Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post has been covering this story like a boss, and the story is loaded with special Only In Florida flavor. Blount had managed to pull off two of the more common methods of using a charter school to line your own pockets. First, set up an organization to “support” the school and milk that for money (in this case, EMPPAC, which claims, as one of its success stories, Joel Osteen’s niece). Second, if you’re a multi-preneur, let all of your various business accounts marinate in the same big bowl. 

Charter school whiz Greg Blount

Blount hired his own company to produce an arts curriculum, even though Blount had no educational experience or training. He also required students to buy uniforms from his company, which charged  far more than the going price (the Eagle Arts Academy parent page still has a conversation about ordering difficulties from this summer). And he hired a third of his own companies for other consulting work.

And as Jim Pegg, county charter schools monitor for the Palm Beach County School District, told Marra, “Do we like it? No. Is it legal? Yes.”

But wait– there’s more. To get the school and curriculum up and running, Blount brought on Liz Knowles, an actual education professional and former administrator of the private Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. Knowles was to do the grunt work, but a recurring theme in stories about Blount is that he’s not really a team player. Knowles told Marra that the last straw was discovering that Blount had set up a company named after the curriculum they were developing (Artademics). Artademics was paid, but the curriculum didn’t appear for months (and there’s reason to doubt that it was any good when it appeared).

It also turned out that Blount was repaid by the school for a loan that he never gave them — maybe twice.

Blount’s side firm also provided tutoring before and after school for a price– though faculty were expected to work the extra hours for free. That went into Blount’s big Bowl O’ Money as well. Blount’s defense when talking to Marra was that sure, he made some mistakes, but he also worked super-hard and he should get something out of all that.

And all of these shenanigans are accompanied by a regular dance in which Blount comes on and off the school’s board so that he’s always on the right side of the law. Blount would resign from the board, take a payment from the board, and then be reappointed to the board after the payment had been made so that technically he was never a board member profiting from the school.

This fall Blount finally repaid that mystery loan— not, mind you, because he had done anything wrong, but so the school could get its focus back on doing its work.

That has proven to be difficult. Eagle Arts Academy has now burned through three principals in as many months. Last year’s principal resigned during the first weeks of the year over a reported conflict with Blount. An assistant principal was the promoted, and Blount fired that one within two months. A third principal was hired who actually inspired some faith in the staff, but as he promised to look into some “issues,” he was suddenly “out sick” for a week. At the end of that week he was gone as well. Greg named himself interim principal.

And that’s just the top job. Assistant Principals come and go as well (including a field promotion for a third grade teacher with no administrative experience). Reportedly no gifted teacher, and a new special ed teacher brought in to single-handedly teach all special ed in a school of over-600 students. A phys ed teacher fired in front of the students, one of a reported eight teachers who have either been fired or who have walked away so far this year. Classrooms with no supplies or materials. Subs who get hired full time reportedly keep getting sub pay until they raise a stink, and the pay scale in general appears to be “whatever Greg feels like paying you.” And through all of this, hiring and firing and dictating pedagogical techniques (yes, this former model allegedly does that, too) and covering for missing staff and letting everyone know just how hard he was working and sacrificing, is Blount.

Eagle Arts is supposed to be a performing arts school. Blount proudly notes that his is the only school with a license to use Walt Disney’s likeness, which they do repeatedly. And perhaps that is a hint at another part of the school’s sales pitch. Here is a parent review from Great Schools:

OMG was I fooled. The first year, no rating, which was expected and acceptable. Their second year, a D SCHOOL!!! Not one third grader scored a 5 on the math FSA – not one. This is unacceptable. I didn’t put my kids there with the hopes of them becoming Disney stars (which obviously a lot of parents believe will happen to their kids). I put them there for the arts, and there are no “arts”. No ballet. No music classes. Every year, they say that 300 new students have signed up and will be attending – I say horse sh**. If you’re willing to devote 20 mandatory hours of volunteer time for each child you have there, and you’re willing to spend $25 a piece for the required school uniform shirt and you believe your kid will be discovered by some Disney wannabe, go for it. My kids are OUT!!! ACADEMICS MATTER AND THIS SCHOOL HAS FAILED MISERABLY.

And then there’s this:

Terrible school never fulfill their promises, it’s going through financial hardship, it’s being audit by the IG, they have two lawsuits against them for over $500, 000, teachers did not have the support, the founder’s only interest is money, not the children. Administration was terrible no communication with the parents this year they were rated D

The Eagle Academy facebook page now carries a Thanksgiving greeting from Blount, in which he thanks “the children who come here each day and see their beautiful faces.” I think something got lost in delivery there. He notes that “over the next few weeks we’ll be adding additional support to our team” which will include a curriculum specialist and an ESE coordinator. In other news, gradelink, the parent portal system, is “nearly operational.”

This is all more than just the story of one more disastrous Florida charter operation. Because one has to ask– how does the free market tolerate such baloney? Why would anyone send their children to Greg Blount, and double why would anyone go work for him? The answer is that Florida has discovered the secret of building market demand for charter schools– just keep making your public schools worse and worse. One Eagle Arts teacher finds the charter intolerable, but initially took a job there to get out of what they called the worst elementary school in the country. Low pay, lack of support, crazy rules, no resources, bad management– if you starve and cripple public schools, guys like Greg Blount start to look like saviors and not narcissistic scam artists without even the rudimentary skills or knowledge needed to operate a school.

This is why Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos are so simpatico– they embrace the same model of crippling public education and then allowing anyone with a pulse to open a charter, free to rake in the money without fear of law or regulation that will slow them down. This is how you break public education so that you can get all the money to fall out.