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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

NPE Privatization Tool Kit

The Network for Public Education has created a useful toolkit for spreading the basic information about the school privatization network. 

The kit is a series of thirteen pdf files, suitable for creating a two-sided one sheet explainer for some of the central questions of the privatization movement. The sheets are loaded with footnoted facts and not simply rhetorical gnashing of teeth. The thirteen questions addressed are:

Are charter schools truly public schools?

Do charter schools and school vouchers “hurt” public schools?

Do charter schools get better academic results than public schools?

Are charter schools and vouchers a civil rights issue?

Are charter schools “more accountable” than public schools?

Do charter schools profit from educating students?

Do school vouchers help kids in struggling schools?

Are charter schools innovative?

Are online charter schools good options for families?

Do “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for families?

Do education tax credit scholarships provide opportunity?

Are tax credit scholarships vouchers by a different name?

Do charter schools and vouchers save money?

There’s also a link for downloading all thirteen in one fell swoop, if you are a one fell swoop kind of person.

These are quick, simple, handy tools for getting the word out and educating folks. Fact-based, sourced, and all on one piece of paper, these are just the thing to leave in the lounge or hand to people when you really want them to understand how privatization is hurting public education, but you just don’t have the words.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Arne Duncan’s Newe$t Gig

Seems safe to say that Arne Duncan is far busier in his post-government life than he ever was a Secretary of Education. His latest gig is working with “mission-aligned private capital”at something called the Rise Fund.

“I can’t believe it either. People just keep throwing money at me.”

The Rise Fund is “a global impact fund led by private equity firm TPG in collaboration with a group of renowned stakeholders.” TPG (which stands for Texas Pacific Group) is one of the biggest damn private equity investment firms in the world. Found in 1992, they have about $50 billion kicking around at this point. There’s a long list of various businesses they have glommed up or invested in, from J. Crew to PetCo. Oh, and in 2002 they teamed up with Bain and Goldman Sachs to perform the leveraged buyout of Burger King, which I can respect because a Whopper Junior with Cheese is my guilty pleasure. Later on they also snagged all or some of Neiman Marcus, Univision, Sabre, Alltel, Midwest Air Group, etc etc– you get the idea.

Anyway, they whipped up the Rise Fund in December of 2016 Bill McGlashan, founder and managing partner of TPG, and Bono, lead singer of That Band You’re Supposed To Like and an always-useful prop for capitalists who want to look socially conscious, and also and Jeff Skoll, a global entrepreneur, film producer, and impact investor– also the first president of ebay. Skoll’s film company had a piece of An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and Spotlight. Presumably Bono and Skoll are among the “renowned stakeholders,” a list which also includes Richard Branson and Laurene Powell Jobs.

The Rise Fund has seven areas targeted for their global impact fund (spoiler alert:  plain English is not one of them)– Agriculture, Finance, Information, Healthcare, Infrastructure, Energy, and Education. And that’s where one of their hot new hires comes in.

Arne Duncan is one of three new bright lights, along with John Rogers and Rick Levin. Rogers was a founding partner with Bridges Ventures US Sustainable Growth Fund, which in turn worked on social impact investment as well as Springboard Education, a provider of “extended learning programs” for “public and charter” schools (every time someone tacitly admits that charter schools are not public schools, I get a little bit of a warm glow inside). Levin is CEO of Coursera, the big name in online courses for the university crowd. Oh, and he used to be president of Yale.

Duncan’s bio is properly puffed, pumped full of hot air, and shows what qualifications TPG was looking for:

During his tenure, Duncan created the $4 billion Race to the Top program to invest in reform and innovation and worked with Congress to secure additional investments in early learning programs and interventions to raise standards at lower-performing schools. Prior to his role as Secretary of Education, Duncan served for eight years as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where he boosted test scores and built consensus across the district’s many stakeholders.

He handled a lot of money, made his numbers and got stakeholders on board and– hey, wait a minute. Duncan “boosted test scores” in Chicago? All by himself!? Do you mean to tell me all those years Duncan knew the secret of boosting test scores, even had the magical power to do it himself, and he let all of America’s teachers twist in the wind?!

“A quality education” is the secret of success for everyone, said the man whose success has pretty much been built on being basketball buddies with an up-and-coming future President. “Creating quality takes innovation, partnership – from teachers, students, officials, and business stakeholders alike – and a strong commitment to building better outcomes. I’m eager to help and support The Rise Fund as it works to drive impact across the education sector.” Man, driving impact across a whole sector is hard, like some kind of corporate high impact Iditarod.

The Education Sector team is the first of the seven to be formed, but you can be sure the other six will be along to help achieve “measureable, positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns — what we call ‘complete returns’.” So “complete” means you make the world a better place while getting filthy rich. There’s a moral conundrum buried in all this somewhere, but it’s hard to make it out among the “evidence-based impact investing” and whatever rig one uses to “harness the power of the market to drive sustainable social and environmental change, which means that profits are not only possible, they are necessary to fulfil the mission.” Yes, you actually can’t do good works without turning an big profit. I believe both Jesus and Buddha both taught that.

Garbled blather used to dress up a pretense of social awareness and good works all in the service of wealth and wealth and gathering more wealth. Seems like a perfect fit for Duncan.

NC: The Company School

North Carolina (Motto: “We won’t let Florida beat us to the bottom of the barrel”) is considering some cool new charter school bills.

Some are the usual charter-flavored pork, like the bill that will raise the unregulated cap on charter enrollment growth from 20% to 30%. That is, any charter, including ones that demonstrably suck, can grow enrollment by 30% without having to ask anyone’s permission. This is in keeping with North Carolina’s rich history of making charter operators historically rich. Previous laws have also removed any accountability or oversight for charters that want to add grades.

Charter enrollment in North Carolina has doubled over the last five years. Charter fans might say, “See! That huge demand for charters tells you how awesome they are.” I might respond that it could also be a sign that the legislature has systematically driven its public school system into a corner and made it increasingly unattractive. But that’s a discussion for another day.

But the special new innovation is the concept of reserved charter seats for donors.

That’s right! If your company donates land or buildings or equipment to a charter school, up to half of the seats in that charter could be reserved for the children of the company’s parents. Employees of your company could also sit on the charter board of directors. Hand over a chunk of ground or a building, and your corporation can have its own school– and be in charge of running it.

Rep. John R. Bradford III (R-Mecklenburg) says this is an “economic development tool” with companies locating in rural areas offering a perk to employees, pretty much like paying for employee meals. “This creates a vehicle where a company can create an employee benefit,” he says.

Sure. A benefit. The first thing I’m thinking of is an employer saying, “Y’all come to work at our Podunksburg plant and we promise your kids won’t have to go to school with, you know, Those People’s Kids.”

But hey– haven’t we had a system like this before, with companies providing schools and housing and stores?

Or the old coke town of Shoaf. Charming place.

Maybe I’m too quick in thinking of a company town with a company store and company school that is run by the company and which helps to fully control the fate of its employees.

Maybe what North Carolina has in mind is a elite private school that is available to select corporate elite, answerable to nobody in particular, and not only outside the realm of public education, but actually in the side the realm of corporate control. Maybe this is simply flat-out privatization, a means for corporate chieftains to both enrich themselves and protect their offspring from contact with Those People’s Children.

Or maybe, having pushed the frontiers on charter schools and already started down the voucher path, North Carolina is trying to break new ground by presenting the fully-privatized in-house corporate charter school.

It’s not a law yet, but congratulations, North Carolina, on finding bold new ways to assault public education. Your move, Florida!


Rockford Construction receives more state and local welfare to expand their control of land on Grand Rapids westside

New post on Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

Rockford Construction receives more state and local welfare to expand their control of land on Grand Rapids westside
by Jeff Smith (GRIID)
On Tuesday, it was announced that the Michigan Strategic Fund board approved the Brownfield project receiving a $13.2 million tax break and a $6.3 million low-interest loan, according to an article that appeared on MLive. —

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

On Tuesday, it was announced that the Michigan Strategic Fund board approved the Brownfield project receiving a $13.2 million tax break and a $6.3 million low-interest loan, according to an article that appeared on MLive. 

CEO of Rockford Construction, Mike VanGessel said of this news:

“A project of this scale requires a high level of collaboration at the local and state level. We are thankful to the City of Grand Rapids and the State of Michigan for their support in making this vision a reality for our neighborhood. This is a key approval for this transformational project, and it couldn’t move forward without it.”

What VanGessel is really saying is that unless public money is redirected to Rockford Construction for this project, they would not be able to make the kind of profits they want from such an endeavor.

Rockford Construction and other developers would have us all believe that…

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Grand Rapids Cosecha Movement holds Press Conference to draw attention to May 1st Day Without Immigrants

New post on Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

Grand Rapids Cosecha Movement holds Press Conference to draw attention to May 1st Day Without Immigrants
by Jeff Smith (GRIID)

Earlier today, three people who were arrested on April 20 for taking action in solidarity with the undocumented community, all plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges at the Kent County Court House. —

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

Earlier today, three people who were arrested on April 20 for taking action in solidarity with the undocumented community, all plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges at the Kent County Court House.

Gema Lowe, who is a volunteer with the Grand Rapids Cosecha Movement, spoke first at the press conference, to provide some context for the April 20 action and the upcoming May 1st march themed as Un Dia Sin Immigrantes.

Gema spoke about this movement being about the dignity, respect and permanent protection of immigrants, particularly of undocumented immigrants. “When our families members die in our country of origin, we often can’t go, because we would never be able to get back in the US. This means we often don’t get to pay proper respect to family members who have died.

After Gema, an immigrant shared her story about coming from the Dominican Republic and becoming a foster parent…

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