About Andrea’s Blog

Welcome to my periodic musings on the state of American education, business, journalism, the consumer experience, women and food—how it is grown, cooked and eaten. A systems thinker since I wrote my first book, The Man Who Discovered Quality by W. Edwards Deming, most of my ideas and writing are informed by a systems view of the world.

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More Breathless Praise for Success Academy; And Why We Should Be “Terrified”

This week both The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among several other publications, ran prominent stories on Success Academy, the controversial New York City charter-school network.

In particular, Elizabeth Green’s piece about Success Academy and its founder, Eva Moskowitz, aims a nuclear warhead at public schools. Writes Green: “I am more than a little terrified by the conclusion I’ve reached: Moskowitz has created the most impressive education system I’ve ever seen.”

(Similarly, Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine breathlessly exclaimed: Success Academy “has done something no education-policy analyst considered remotely possible: Its schools have closed the achievement gap.”)

It is we—that is American citizens—who should be terrified because Success Academy is entirely in-sync with the Trump era. It is unapologetically anti-democratic, anti-union, segregated and relentlessly test-driven. And, it should be noted, the CMO has not yet graduated a single high school student.

At a time when we are facing an existential threat to our democracy—one enabled by a decades-long obsession with standardized tests that narrowed curriculum and helped kill off civics education—the championing of Success Academy by writer as influential as Elizabeth Green, she is the founding editor of ChalkBeat and author of Building a Better Teacher, is worrying indeed.

Let’s be clear. Judging by its roster of 46 schools, there are potentially thousands of families who are happy with the education Success Academy provides, and many more who might have been if they had won the network’s lottery—though parents have complained of the CMO’s harsh, and even abusive, ‘boot-camp-like” culture—see here and here. Indeed, hundreds, if not thousands of children have been pulled out by their families (or forced out) because of the network’s strict demands for behavioral compliance and its single-focused pursuit of high test scores.

Among the tsunami of mostly glowing articles pegged to the publication of Moskowitz’s memoir, The Education of Eva Moskowitz, only Lisa Miller’s acid review in The New York Times asks how a defiant rule-breaker like Moskowitz would have fared in one of her own schools. (Moskowitz took a call from Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a nephew’s bar mitzvah to “threaten him with a negative press campaign.”  And she was impudent to her own teachers.) Not well one assumes.

While Green notes that Success Academy students “regularly trounce their peers all across New York on state tests” she never actually gives you the scores. Rebecca Mead does—more on her New Yorker story below: On the latest tests, 95 percent of Success Academy students achieved proficiency in math and 84 percent in ELA; the comparable citywide scores are 36 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

But Green fails to address key questions about the kind of education Success kids get—and at what cost. She certainly doesn’t question whether the ever-changing, bubble-in test-scores are the best—or even a good–measure of learning. While she acknowledges giving up on democratic control of schools and districts, she never considers the historic, foundational role of public education in a democracy—and the civic cost of autocratic education systems. Nor does Green consider the successful public-school networks amid what she, rightly, describes as the crushing bureaucracy that has often stifled New York City schools—even though she has published stories about them!

Green also glosses over—and, in some cases, omits entirely—the considerable problems with the Success Academy model, including widespread creaming and credible allegations of abusive behavior toward children. Although Green’s own book points out that the best teachers have years of experience, she says not one word about Success Academy’s high teacher attrition rate. Some Success Academy schools lose over half of their teachers each year; few last more than three years.

Nor does she identify the thoughtful critics of Moskowitz, even among pro-charter reformers. “I’m no fan of Eva Moskowitz,” said Sy Fliegel, president of the Center for Education Innovation, in an interview for my upcoming book After the Education Wars. “I don’t like the way they get rid of kids. That is a charge that has been made too often now and I think it’s true.”

Another charter-school insider told me that the New York City charter establishment dreaded the possibility that Moskowitz might challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio in the last mayoral race, fearing it would bring too much adverse publicity to the sector. She decided not to run. Moskowitz also reportedly told Trump she didn’t want to be education secretary, before he gave the job to Betsy DeVos.

Fair disclosure: I have never visited a Success Academy school—but not for lack of trying. Almost exactly two years ago, I won a golden ticket to join a select few who would be allowed to tour Success Academy Bronx 1. But almost as quickly, I was disinvited. An educator who attend the tour, filled me on in on what she saw, and I wrote about it here.

However, I have spent over a decade covering both public and charter schools and have seen the rush to judgment, the embrace of miracle schools based solely on a few test scores. I’ve seen poor performing schools–both public and charter. I’ve also seen enduring public-school successes (schools that, decade after decade, have seen their poor minority kids graduate and enroll in college) ignored by media pundits and mainstream education reformers—a key focus of my upcoming book. I have seen promising mom-and-pop charters beg for support from charter gatekeepers who favor large no-excuses CMOs. And I’ve seen the consequences of charter-school expansion policies that flood poor neighborhoods with schools that cherry pick the most promising kids, leaving public schools to cope with children who have formidable problems.

Even a charter proponent like Richard Whitmire concedes that there is no “apples to apples” comparison between traditional public schools and charter management organizations, such as Success Academy. “People, and I have been guilty of this, have compared Success’ scores to traditional public schools and they’re apples and oranges,” says Whitmire. “It would be totally unfair to compare Success to a traditional New York public school that’s in the same building because Success doesn’t fill up its classes. It doesn’t backfill after fourth grade.”

So, unlike Green, I am convinced that the promotion and embrace of education reform a la Success Academy embodies a great danger to our country and our democracy. Here’s why:

Success Academy is at the forefront of an anti-democratic movement to replace public schools with charters, while, at the same time, curtailing government oversight:

 Like most charter schools, Success Academy operates with an unelected corporate board, one heavy on plutocrats who use their wealth to expand charter schools. Most recently, Dan Loeb, the controversial hedge fund manager and board chairman of Success Academy, contributed $1 million in dark money to New York-based Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter nonprofit; the contribution became public when its affiliate, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, was fined $426,466 for violating Massachusetts campaign finance laws—the biggest such violation in state history; FESA had contributed well over a third of the $46 million spent on a referendum aimed at lifting the charter cap in the Bay State. Although the charter lobby outspent the opposition by a wide margin, the ballot initiative, known as Question 2, was roundly defeated by voters.

Moskowitz herself has been at the forefront of battling government oversight of charters. (Charter authorizers provide little or no oversight as long as charters produce high test scores.) She has pressed charter personnel to resist questioning by outsiders, including government officials. Last year a city audit found financial irregularities (though no fraud or criminality); among other things, the audit found that Success Academy billed the education department for special education services “without records to verify that they were provided” to children. Earlier, Moskowitz had sued the New York State controller challenging the state’s right to audit her schools, despite the fact that they receive public funding; a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled in Moskowitz’s favor.

Success Academy fuels the test-score arms race:

I have written here and here and here about New York State’s serial testing debacles, the result of an obsession with standardized tests that has defined education policy throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, and continues to this day.

Green’s article underscores the role of charter networks in exacerbating test mania. Test scores are the principle measure by which Success Academy’s performance is measured. We know nothing of its graduation rates— the network is only graduating its first class of seniors this academic year—let alone how its graduates will fare in college. We do know that attrition at Success charters is very high with the most compliant students, and the best test-takers, surviving. (Mead, in her New Yorker story, points out that Success Academy’s first high school will graduate just 17 students next spring, down from 73 first graders.)

One major problem with the rise of large CMOs is that the competition for a finite pie of philanthropic funding escalates the test-score arms race. This has helped sustain testing regimes that suck the joy and purpose out of learning. It also has marginalized mom-and-pop charters—those educator- and parent-driven local efforts that were the raison d’etre of the charter movement in the first place.

Amplified by its P.R. apparatus and its legions of business supporter, Success Academy pulls in tens-of-millions of dollars in philanthropic donations each year, which it uses to fine-tune its test-production machinery. In the process it has redefined and narrowed the definition of what constitutes a good education among both public schools and charters.

“Oh my gosh, all charters are under the gun when it comes to the scores,” says Vashti Acosta, the principal at Amber Charter School, in East Harlem, which recently opened its second charter school in the Bronx. Amber considered itself lucky to raise $45,000 at its 15th anniversary party a few years ago.

At Amber, the national obsession with test scores has meant more academics at an ever earlier age. The school prides itself on teaching music and art; but those “specials” have been reduced to just one lesson per week. The focus on test scores also helps explain changes in Kindergarten. “That they get gym, recess and art and music helps, but I have to tell you, there’s very little play in Kindergarten,” says Acosta. “Kindergarteners get nap time in the beginning of the year, but in January that disappears.”

Success Academy, like the education-reform establishment, is anti-union even though teacher voice in mostly unionized schools has been a key to improving public-school quality

Most charter management organizations are non-union. And Moskowitz’s political career—she served on the New York City Council and ran for Manhattan borough president—was defined, at least in part, by her battle against the teachers’ union. Moskowitz said her campaign for borough president would serve as the “perfect test case for whether it was possible to stand up to the teachers’ union and live to tell the tale.”

While Moskowitz, a Democrat, lost that race, it has since become acceptable for mainstream Democrats to be anti-union. Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is a case in point.

Yet, few Democrats have asked whether the sharp decline in the labor movement—only 6 percent of private-sector workers are unionized today—has helped build the constituency for Trump, especially in states that once had robust unions, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Politics isn’t the only reason for questioning this anti-union trend. As I point out in my book, none of the most promising reforms—in New York City or Massachusetts—were impeded by strong unions; when reformers collaborate with teachers and parents to improve education quality, unions rarely stand in the way.

Charter advocates ignore public-school success stories hiding in plain sight

Forty years ago, it was the successful reforms initiated by Tony Alvarado, best known for his superintendency of New York City’s District 2 and 4, and the founding of the small-, progressive-schools movement by Debbie Meier, the first educator to win a MacArthur genius grant, that grabbed education-reform headlines. It was that movement Sy Fliegel wrote about in his book A Miracle in Harlem.

That experiment lives on in the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of schools that has won exemptions from standardized tests, but that has racked up far higher graduation rates and college matriculation rates than traditional public schools. Among students who started a consortium high school in 2010, 77 percent graduated in four years, versus 68 percent for all New York City students. (The vast majority of consortium schools are in New York City.) Among those who became high school freshmen in 2008, 82 percent graduated by 2014, compared with 73 percent citywide.

Green’s Chalkbeat published this about the consortium schools: “The graduation rates are especially high for students with disabilities and English language learners. Nearly 70 percent of ELLs in consortium schools graduate on time, according to the report, compared to about 40 percent across the city. And half of students with disabilities in the consortium schools graduate on time, compared with fewer than a quarter citywide.”

Today there are close to 40 consortium high schools, the vast majority in New York City. In addition, there are numerous elementary- and middle-schools that emulate the consortium schools—comprising an informal network that is far larger, and of longer duration, than Success Academy.

My question for Elizabeth Green: Why does she rate Success Academy above the consortium high schools, and their like-minded elementary and middle schools, especially given that they have survived, indeed thrived, despite the very bureaucracy that Green, rightly, decries?

The consortium and like-minded schools are noteworthy in other respects: Whereas urban charter networks like Success Academy traditionally have been highly segregated, consortium schools aimed to integrate their classrooms from the beginning, and were successful. Nor do consortium schools engage in creaming.

What makes these schools successful is not only their progressive pedagogy, but  also they’re collaborative approach to school improvement—one that gives voice to both teachers and students.

This brings us to Mead’s New Yorker article, which explores Moskowitz’s “quest to combine rigid discipline with a progressive curriculum.”

Mead begins by describing the “highly controlled, even repressive” Success Academy culture: The quiet hallways and carpeting that imbue “even a space occupied by more than two dozen second graders with the hush of a corporate conference room;” the demand that students make eye-contact with their teachers at all times; an almost military obsession with posture, which must always be straight, and pencils, which must be “placed to the right of the desks, aligned with the edge;” the “Cape Canaveral-style countdowns” in which every interaction, every moment is strictly timed.

Now Moskowitz is trying to layer elements of a “progressive” curriculum without loosening the no-excuses culture (Mead tells us that Moskowitz eschews the no-excuses moniker. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…)

Mead writes that when Moskowitz opened her first high school, in 2014, she “hoped to create a more relaxed and collegiate environment…There was to be a lot more free time, in which students would be the stewards of their own studies.”

Moskowitz hired Anna Switzer, a respected progressive educator, to design a curriculum of months-long projects on subjects like the native populations that originally lived on Manhattan Island and the Brooklyn Bridge. While a welcome departure from test-prep, such project-based learning (a key feature of many of the most successful public schools during the Bloomberg years), relies on the self-directed exploration and creativity of students and has run up against the limits of Success Academy’s strict-discipline culture.

“‘It just didn’t work,’” Andrew Malone, the school’s principal, told Mead. “’Many of the students slacked off academically, and there was a resurgence of behavioral issues, such as lateness to school…Students accustomed to second-by-second vigilance found it difficult to manage their time when left unsupervised.’”

More importantly, project-based learning by itself doesn’t begin to encompass the values of democratic education—the secret sauce—that are foundational to the education philosophy espoused by both John Dewey, the godfather of progressive education, or Debbie Meier. Indeed, Meier’s dictum that a school should be “a community where kids could see the complexity of democracy, and fall in love with it”—has, in the Trump era, never been more important.

As documented in Richard Kahlenberg and Haley Potter’s A Smarter Charter, schools that encourage teacher voice, produce better, richer educational opportunities for children–whether they are progressive or not.

However, both progressive pedagogy and small ‘d” democracy are hard work and time-consuming. For one thing, a successful progressive curriculum relies on highly experienced teachers—unicorns at high-turnover charter networks like Success Academy.

Shael Polakow-Suransky served as the Bloomberg administration’s chief academic officer and is now president of Bank Street College of Education. He told Mead: “There is a reason why there is a continuing pull in human organizations toward authoritarian approaches. You can get a lot done. But what kind of citizens are you producing? What kind of learners are you developing when the core values are around compliance? Can you educate children in an authoritarian context and also empower them to be active agents in their own lives, who think critically and question injustice in the world around them?”

Green doesn’t attempt to answer these questions. However, she does pinpoint a huge challenge, especially for large urban school systems:

[A]s I began work in 2010 on a book about teaching, I started to see why blowing up school districts might not be as crazy an idea as I initially thought. What struck me most is how impossible teaching is, especially in traditional public schools. While those who pursue the profession in other countries are provided with the infrastructure crucial to educating kids effectively—a clear sense of what students need to learn, the basic materials necessary to help them learn it (such as a curriculum), and a decent training system—teachers in the U.S. are left stranded.

 The reason isn’t terrible union contracts or awful management decisions. The fault, I came to see, lies in the (often competing) edicts issued by municipal, state, and federal authorities, which add up to chaos for the teachers who actually have to implement them. It’s not uncommon for a teacher to start the year focused on one goal—say, improving students’ writing—only to be told mid-year that writing is no longer a priority, as happened just the other day at a Boston school I know of. We could hardly have designed a worse system for supporting good teaching had we tried.

 Green’s answer is to give up on democratic school governance, a position she justifies by noting that voter turnout in school board elections averages between 5 and 10 percent. Charters have “strengthened public education by extracting it from democracy as we know it—and we shouldn’t be surprised, because democracy as we know it is the problem,” she writes.

By that logic we might as well give up on democracy altogether since voter turnout in the 2014 Congressional elections was a miserable 36 percent.

Why not advocate myriad small-bore experiments that work, instead: Policies that free public schools and districts to experiment, and then work to systematically scale the successes? Why not strive to reengage voters at the local level? Surely such ideas are no more blue sky than blowing up the public school system and entrusting it to freewheeling edupreneurs and plutocrats whose chief concern is producing employees for a 21st century work place, not active and engaged citizens.

But wait; that’s a false dichotomy. No healthy democracy in a fast-changing market economy can function without an informed, knowledgeable and intellectually curious citizenry.

Posted in Charter Schools, citizenship, democracy, Education, public schools, Trump | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Record Fine for Campaign-Finance Violation Sheds Light on Dark Money Donors to Bay State Charter Referendum

When the biggest backer of Massachusetts’s recent ballot initiative, which would have effectively eliminated the cap on charter schools, was slapped, this month, with a $426,466 fine for violating campaign finance laws—the biggest such violation in state history—the legal settlement offered a rare look at how dark money operates in political campaigns.

Readers of this blog may recall a post, just before the November 2016 election, that looked at the dark money flowing into Massachusetts, in advance of the referendum, which made Question 2 the most expensive charter-school ballot initiative in the country, ever. The post was written by Peggy Wiesenberg, a Massachusetts attorney and parent of three public-school graduates. At the top of her list was Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA,) a New York-based group whose contribution to Question 2 equaled well over a third of the $45.9 million spent on the referendum by pro-charter ballot committees, according to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. (Save Our Public Schools, the ballot committee opposing the referendum, spent just $15.4 million, according to the OCPF.)

Voters defeated the ballot initiative, known as Question 2, by a stunning 62-to-38 margin–an endorsement of Massachusetts public schools, which are rated number one in the nation. But not for lack of efforts by organizations like FESA, which allowed a slew of wealthy contributors to hide their identities and their sizeable contributions in support of the referendum. In some cases individuals contributed twice: Once through a ballot committee that was required, by law, to publish names of contributors, and a second substantially greater contribution, in some cases millions more, via FESA.

At the top of the list of FESA’s secret donors were public officials in the Massachusetts government. Governor Charlie Baker was a leading proponent of Question 2 and backed efforts to impose charter schools in towns, like Brockton, where there was widespread local opposition.

Normally, nonprofits organized under IRS Code 501(3), such as Families for Excellent Schools (FES), don’t have to reveal the names of donors so long as they are not engaging in political activity.  And ordinarily, their affiliated social-welfare nonprofits, organized under IRS Code 501(c)(4), such as FESA, can have some political involvement in electoral politics and keep donors secret, so long as this is not their primary activity. However, if the organization is a vehicle for receiving contributions for a ballot campaign, then the voting public is entitled to know the names of each contributor and the amount donated before the election.

Wiesenberg noted, in her earlier post, that a number of the contributors to Question 2 had backed an earlier 2009 charter-school ballot measure. She wondered why other donors to that initiative did not appear on the Question 2 list of ballot-campaign contributors. Wrote Wiesenberg about the Question 2 funders: “The above lists are almost surely a small number of the deep-pocketed contributors to Question 2. At least a dozen individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 initiative do not show up as contributors to the five main Question-2 ballot committees, which are required to disclose donors. Many are likely contributing ‘dark money’ to organizations like DFER and Families for Excellent Schools, instead.”

Massachusetts campaign-finance officials grew suspicious, just as Wiesenberg did, after looking at the required filings of contributions and expenditures of Great Schools Massachusetts (GSM), one of five registered ballot committees organized to get out the vote for Question 2. In the six months leading up to the vote, GSM received close to $17 million from FESA and Families for Excellent Schools, an unusually large stream of funding from a single donor, according to OCPF.

“A review of bank records showed that FESA’s transfers to the ballot question committee closely followed FESA’s receipts from individuals,” the OCPF said in a press release, on September 11, announcing the legal settlement and fine. “Additionally, the money received by FESA significantly increased during the four months before the Nov. 8 election, and then dropped significantly afterward, further suggesting that FESA solicited or received contributions with the intent to give the money to the ballot question committee.”

Officials concluded that FESA was functioning as a ballot committee in all but name, and was, thus, violating campaign finance law by failing to register with state officials and disclose its donors in advance of the vote. Therefore, in addition to the monetary fine, campaign officials required FESA to reveal its donor lists, which included two officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, as well as several wealthy Massachusetts business people and some of the nation’s leading education reform philanthropists and charter-school funders.

In her November 2016 post, Wiesenberg speculated:  “The  Fisher family’s absence is particularly noteworthy as John Fisher co-chairs the board of the  Charter Growth Fund  and chairs the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP Foundation,) the largest charter organization in the nation […] Another KIPP Foundation board member who does not appear on official Question 2 ballot committee filings with OCPF is Mark Nunnelly, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology who reports directly to Governor Charlie Baker, a major supporter of the ballot initiative.”

Peggy Wiesenberg has kept digging; the remainder of this post details what she found via the records disclosed under FESA’s legal settlement.

Last week FESA revealed that Nunnelly donated $275,000 in two installments within two months of the November referendum. Nunnelly’s wife, Denise Dupre, contributed $275,000. This was in addition to relatively minor $10,000 contributions to ballot committees that required public disclosure. John and Doris Fisher made a combined contribution of $500,000 to FESA in July of 2016.

The campaign-finance disposition agreement has revealed other backers of Question 2 who used FESA contributions to hide the full value of their donations in support of the charter-school referendum including:

  • Paul Sagan, Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who contributed $496,000 on August  4 and 5 in addition to his previously disclosed contribution of $100,000 on August 10, 2016.
  • Seth Klarman, Investment Manager of the Baupost Group LLC, contributed $3 million within six months of the election in addition to his previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015.
  • Jonathan Jacobson, Managing Director Highfields Capital Management LP, contributed $2 million in August and October. That’s in addition to the previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015 by his wife Joanna, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, another dark money vehicle, according to Professor Maurice Cunningham of UMass Boston. See here and here.
  • Josh Bekenstein, a Bain Capital investor, and his wife Anita, a private philanthropist, each contributed $750,000 in August and $500,000 on October 2016 for a combined total of $1.5 million, in addition to Josh’s previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015.
  • Chuck L. Longfield, Founder of Target Analytics and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, funneled  $650,000 to FESA under the name “Chuck Longfield,” in addition to a previously disclosed contribution of $100,000 under the name “Charles Longfield”  on August 2016 and $1,000 in November 2015. [The OCPF filings have a discrepancy in the house number associated with Longfield’s contributions—in all likelihood a typographical error.] Longfield went on WBUR radio on October 31, 2016 to explain why he gave $100,000 in support of raising the cap on charter schools, never mentioning the exponentially larger  contribution that he made through FESA to lift the cap.
  • Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $100,000 to FESA between August and October 2016 in addition to a disclosed campaign contribution of $30,000 in October 2016.
  • Alice Walton contributed $750,000 to FESA on November 2016 in addition to her previously disclosed contribution of $710,000 to Yes On 2, another campaign committee, in July.

The Boston Globe reports that in addition to paying the fine, and revealing its donors, the group also “agreed with the IRS to dissolve itself, and Families for Excellent Schools, its umbrella group, and agreed not to fund-raise or engage in any election-related activity in Massachusetts for four years.”

The FESA revelations have proven a major embarrassment for Gov. Baker who lobbied hard for Question 2. The Boston Globe reports multiple efforts to have the governor remove Sagan from the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. However, two new board members sworn in today–Martin West and Amanda Fernandez–are both charter advocates. Fernandez also sits on the board of KIPP Mass, which has expansion requests before the BESE board.

In addition, among the secret donors to FESA was $2,025,000 from Amos Hostetter, Jr., a former cable entrepreneur who, with his wife, founded the Barr Foundation (the largest family foundation in Massachusetts, one legendary for its secrecy.)  His contribution coincided with an effort to lobby the Baker administration to block the construction of a hotel next to Hostetter’s offices. Hostetter, who also had donated to the 2009 charter referendum, insists his donation to FESA was “entirely coincidental.”

Maybe so. In any event, Baker vetoed the construction project.

The FESA fine could reverberate outside the state. In New York, where Families for Excellent Schools, is based, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who “has made clean campaigns a centerpiece of his agenda,” is being pressured to look into the group’s campaign activities.

 

 

Posted in Brockton, MA, Business, Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Vote? Midwifing the Youth Vote in the Age of Trump

Last week, Brad Lander, a New York City councilman from Brooklyn, and founder of the City Council’s progressive caucus, stood before 50-or-so young people and talked about the push to close Rikers Island, the city’s dysfunctional jail; the challenges of persuading the state legislature to vote for bail reform, and how cash bail disproportionately impacts the poor; and a recent victory in helping to pass legislation that provides a lawyer for anyone facing eviction in housing court.

Lander also talked about how the social issues millennials care about have been influenced by activists and ordinary citizens—like the attorney general’s race in Brooklyn, in which the candidates have zeroed in on criminal justice reform.

Before long, Lander was being peppered with questions and comments from his audience of mostly 17- and 18-year-olds who had congregated in a large meeting space at the CUNY Graduate Center and had spent two hours of intensive learning and discussion about the City Council in advance of Lander’s talk:

–Can you bring restorative justice to those in jail?

–How would a bill Lander recently co-sponsored to create an office within the New York City Commission on Human Rights to monitor school segregation work? Wouldn’t it just create another layer of bureaucracy?

–What do you think can be done about political polarization?

–How can you keep people from being kicked out of their homes?

–Gentrification is not all bad; for example, it brings healthy food options to what had been food deserts before. How can we improve poor neighborhoods without gentrifying them?

The young people assembled for Lander’s talk, last Tuesday evening, are part of YVote, a new youth-voter initiative that I helped found with a group of New York City educators, as part of an effort to help midwife democracy at the local level. By examining such issues as affordable housing, immigration and mass incarceration through the lens of “why vote?” we expect these high school student leaders to channel their interests and passions into civically engaged action and to become ambassadors for voting in their schools and communities.

YVote seeks to fill a vital gap in civic- and youth-voter-engagement projects, which often fall short by focusing primarily on registration. Too many students remain disengaged from, or intimidated by, the voting process. As Education Week noted in its recent write-up of YVote:

Seventy percent of registered voters over 70 years old turned out to vote in the 2016 presidential election. But of those under 25, only 43 percent went to the polls. “If youth had turned out in larger numbers, the results would likely have been different,” notes Sanda Balaban, who formerly directed Strategic Learning Initiatives for Facing History and Ourselves.

[Balaban is a cofounder of YVote along with Ann Wiener, a founding principal of the Crossroads School and Marilyn Niemark, a professor emeritus at Baruch College.]

YVote is also part of a broad-based national 18 in ‘18 campaign that aims to get newly eligible voters registered and voting in far greater numbers for the midterm elections, for which youth turnout historically is notoriously low—below 20 percent in 2014.

Behind YVote is also the recognition that a lack of civic knowledge and interest is an unintended consequence of the education-reform and accountability movements, which have created a boom in educational testing at the expense of non-tested subjects, especially history and civics. (See my upcoming book After the Education Wars, which will be published by the New Press in spring ’18.) In 2010 New York State board of regents eliminated the testing of social studies in grades 5 and 8 as a “cost reduction” measure, while adding numerous new standardized tests including two—the so called MOSL and the base-line MOSL–that were designed for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers.

As of 2012, only 21 states required a civics exam, a “dramatic reduction” from the 34 states that conducted regular assessments on social studies subjects in 2001. “We know from report after report that social studies is not being tested and is therefore not being taught,” says Peggy Altoff, a social studies consultant for Colorado and a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies. “States may have strong standards, but without strong legislation to back the teaching of it, I don’t think it’s happening.”

Even the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, has deemed social studies and civics to be expendable. In 2014, the NAEP governing board dropped fourth- and twelfth-grade civics and American history, beginning in 2014, even while it added a new computer-based Technology and Engineering Literacy test in 2015.

YVote aims to give young people the tools, the context and some of the knowledge they need to become informed citizens and grassroots change agents. YVote launched this summer with a seed grant, which enabled us to develop a series of youth focus groups and training sessions. Our first YVote cohort is double the 25-to-30 students we expected. They are economically, racially and politically diverse juniors and seniors from 20 New York City high schools and all five boroughs.

In advance of Councilman Landers visit, our team of experienced facilitators—some are teachers at some of New York’s best public schools, others are youth activists—introduced YVoters to the role of the City Council, as well as articles, representing multiple perspectives, about key issues facing New York City and its government: school segregation, criminal justice reform and gentrification. These materials, as well as conversations among the students, prompted the YVoters questions and a lively hour-long back-and-forth with Lander.

In the spirit of YVote, Lander concluded his remarks with the inspiring story of Wes Bellamy, at 30, the youngest person ever elected to the Charlottesville City Council, who sparked what once seemed like a quixotic effort to remove the statue of the Robert E. Lee. Bellamy, the only African-American member of the City Council was, at first, alone in the effort. He gradually succeeded in persuading two of his five colleagues to vote with him.

“When someone gets a little courage, others get courage,” explained Lander. “And then a little more courage.”

The YVoters have plenty of courage.  During the coming school year, we expect to help channel that courage—and fire—and to facilitate their efforts to learn, to launch projects of civic importance, and to mobilize their peers to vote.

Here is more information on YVote

If you have questions, please contact Y2Vote@gmail.com and please be sure to put “Gabor’s YVote blog post” in the subject field.

Posted in citizenship, democracy, Education, public schools, Trump | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are New Orleans’ Veteran Teachers Unappreciated?

 

Veteran New Orleans teachers say there is much that has improved in the city’s schools since Hurricane Katrina, including academics and strong school cultures. One thing that has decidedly not improved is job satisfaction among the city’s most experienced teachers, according to a new study by the Educational Research Alliance at Tulane University.

ERA’s analysis provides an important before-and-after-the-storm glimpse of the city’s schools from a unique perspective—the small group of pre-Katrina teachers who returned to teaching following the storm, and who have remained in the classroom for over a decade. As New Orleans looks forward, the views of these returning pre-Katrina teachers are key; they are the survivors.

In the wake of the mass firings following the storm, the teachers who returned to New Orleans and were still teaching at the time of the study, in the 2013/2014 school year, almost surely represent the city’s most experienced educators—and those with the closest community ties. While teachers with greater than 20 years of experience made up nearly 40 percent of the teaching force before the storm, that number has dropped to about 15 percent, according to another ERA study. Conversely, the number of inexperienced teachers with less than 5 years experience now make up the majority of teachers, up from about 30 percent before the storm.

As of the 2013/2014 school year, 771 teachers had returned to teaching jobs in the city, or just under 24 percent of the city’s total 3,219 teachers. Of these 42 percent participated in the ERA survey.

The study shows some striking differences in how these veteran teachers view the schools before and after the storm. Among the biggest differences are these:

–61 percent of teachers said that their job satisfaction was less now” than before Hurricane Katrina, compared with 39 percent who said it was greater after the storm.

–54 percent said they spent longer hours working now, compared with 10 percent who said they spent “less” time working. (The remainder said there was no change.)

–38 percent found students’ home environments are “more” challenging now, compared with 17 percent who said home environments were “less” challenging. (The remainder said there was no change.)

ERA also notes some “positive” results:

–a significant majority of teachers said schools were “more” likely to use data and to fire poorly performing teachers.

–a majority—40 percent and 36 percent, respectively–cited “more” strong school culture and support for teachers, compared to 19 percent and 21 percent who said school culture and support for teachers had declined since the reforms. (The remainder said there was no change.)

Yet, it is the decreased teacher morale among these veterans that is most worrisome. Earlier studies show that teacher turnover has soared in New Orleans–at least partly the result of novice teachers who have come to New Orleans since the storm, but quit after just a few years. Teachers who left the profession went from about 8 percent in 2003 to about 18 percent in 2013.

Also, while student outcomes are positively correlated with having teachers from comparable racial and ethnic backgrounds, a combination of Louisiana policies and charter-school reforms have led to a “dramatic shift in the teacher workforce,” according to the Hechinger Report. The number of African-American teachers in New Orleans dropped precipitously following Hurricane Katrina from 71 percent of the teaching force to 49 percent for a student body that is now 87-percent African-American.  (See also, Andre Perry on the importance of black teachers)

Behind the numbers is a sharp drop in the pipeline for local teachers, the result of both state cuts to higher education that have gutted local education programs and charter-school preference for hiring teachers from alternative education programs, such as TFA.

The new ERA study also adds to a growing body of research that points in two contradictory directions: On the one hand, studies show low-experience levels, high turnover and weak teacher morale in New Orleans. On the other hand, some researchers have pointed to a positive correlation between the reforms, including charter schools, competition and a sharper focus on accountability, and increased test scores. “How is it possible to see large improvement in student outcomes when all the typical measures of teacher quality seem to be going in the wrong direction?” ERA asked in an earlier study.

One answer is that some New Orleans research is unreliable and some is over-hyped. The much touted CREDO study of 2015 violated its own methodology in its research on New Orleans. Meanwhile, ERA’s 2015 study, “What Effect Did the Post-Katrina School Reforms Have on Student Outcomes?”, found that the reforms had resulted in increased  test scores in grades 3 to 8; however the study said virtually nothing about test scores in high school. Doug Harris, director of ERA wrote in a recent email: “We don’t have high school test results, in part because the testing regime changed multiple times in multiple ways, which makes the analysis much more complex. We haven’t tried the analysis with the high school scores because we haven’t found a way we found believable.”

That hasn’t stopped education reformers from pouncing on the somewhat limited results of the ERA study and declaring victory.

Indeed, important characteristics of New Orleans reforms, including a high-rate of school closings and at-risk students cycling through multiple schools, are more likely to adversely impact high school students who, unlike their younger peers, are more likely to resist no-excuses culture of the non-selective New Orleans charters, and eventually to drop out. New Orleans also has done a terrible job of keeping track of kids who “fall between the cracks.”

Education reformers like to say that “teachers are the single most important” school variable in a child’s education. As with so much else in the ed-reform debates, this is misleading. For surely, school stability and culture, which is controlled by school leaders—in the best cases, by cadres of teacher leaders—is as important as the role of individual teachers. School culture also helps determine just how much influence teachers have over curriculum, discipline and other policies. In my research, both quality education and teacher job satisfaction are highly correlated with schools that include teachers in such key decisions.

In New Orleans, with a teacher cadre plagued by high turnover and sparse classroom experience, veteran teachers should be treasured. That so many say they have less job satisfaction than during the pre-Katrina years, suggests that they are not, which is surely a failing with implications far beyond just teacher morale.

Posted in Charter Schools, CREDO, Education, New Orleans Charter Schools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Evening With Joel Klein: Former Schools Chancellor Reflects On His Legacy

Recently, I joined about 50 New York City reform-minded educators who had gathered at Teach for America’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan to hear Joel Klein reflect on his years as New York City schools and his thoughts on education. The discussion was being led by Taylor Chapman, a TFA alum. And the questions were gleaned mostly from those submitted, in advance, by participants.

I had heard about the event from a New York City principal who agreed to invite me as his guest. When we registered, the principal, David Baiz, asked me if there was a question I would like to ask Klein. I replied with the following: How did Klein feel about his legacy—what was he most proud of, what would he do differently—especially in light of the policies of his successor?

This would be the second question of the evening posed to Klein. And the former schools chancellor’s response, at first, surprised me.

What he most regretted: “We never got teachers on our side. We didn’t communicate and listen well enough.”

However, Klein quickly followed with what he was most proud of: Opening 200 charter schools.

And, where he saw the biggest problem in New York City schools: The teachers union “polarized” the teachers.

Here, in a nutshell is the contradiction—even the tragedy—of the Bloomberg/Klein regime: Klein, a child of a “dysfunctional inner-city home”, who saw public school as his refuge and claims that his teachers made the difference in transforming his life, sees the proliferation of charter schools, not the improvement of public schools, as his most important legacy. (A biography, incidentally, not unlike that of former Education Secretary John King, another reformer who prioritized privatization and carrot-and-stick policies for teachers.)

Over 10 years of covering the Bloomberg-era reforms, I’ve come to believe that Klein really was committed to giving poor kids, especially in minority communities, opportunity. I saw how the schools for poor kids benefited when their principals managed to win Klein’s attention. Bureaucratic obstacles were swept away. Money materialized seemingly by magic.

Yet, Klein is captive of a stubborn, and in many ways, simplistic world view, one shared by most corporate reformers. And it was on full display at the Teach for America evening:

Competition is good; unions are bad.

Klein sees no contradiction in his purported support for public school teachers, and the very unsupportive policies that undermined his ability to win their trust, including his relentless opposition to the union, which via programs like PROSE has been trying to develop precisely the sort of flexibility that all but the most ideologically inclined anti-union folks say is needed to give schools and principals the flexibility they need to pursue improvement. While some of the best charter schools throughout the country are unionized, the vast majority eschew unions, a key reason why Klein and other reformers love them. Never mind that many of these institutions—including such Klein favorites as Success Academy—have terrible teacher retention rates.

Most importantly: Klein’s ideological blinders prevented him from positioning the Bloomberg reforms as part of a school-improvement continuum that began with the decades-long teacher-driven reforms that came to be known as the “Miracle in Harlem.” It was here—not in the Klein/Bloomberg administration—that the small-schools movement was born in the mid’ 1970s, in District 4, under Tony Alvarado, Debbie Meier, and dozens of progressive educators who followed their lead.

Ironically, Klein promoted some of the pioneers of that movement into high-level positions in his education department; most notably, Eric Nadelstern, who had started the much respected International Schools (as well as a slew of small schools in the Bronx,) was elevated by Klein to be his No. 2.  Nadelstern also started the autonomy zone, a network of several dozen like-minded schools, which was quickly expanded citywide into what became the network structure, the last of Klein’s myriad reorganizations (though many principals argue it was a mistake to include all city schools.) Similarly, Meier-inspired principals fanned out across the city seeding high-quality small schools that, during the Bloomberg years, were still the jewels of the education department. (More on this in my upcoming book Beyond the Education Wars…)

In reinventing the wheel, Bloomberg/Klein managed to alienate many of the pioneers who had seeded the revolution in the first place. Thus, the love-hate relationship between Klein and NYC’s progressive educators always leaned more toward hate and, at the end of Bloomberg’s three mayoral terms, there were not enough educators willing to defend  the most positive reforms associated with his administration, which in turn, helped pave the way for the anti-Bloomberg backlash under Carmen Farina, DeBlasio’s schools chancellor.

But I digress. Here’s more from my evening with Joel Klein:

What shone through was Klein’s passionate and entirely uncritical support of charter schools.

Taylor Chapman, the moderator, questioned Klein repeatedly about charters that work for kids who have the most supportive families, but not for those from the neediest families. It was an argument Klein refused to address.  Instead, he repeated the same mantra each time:

Why should only parents in his neighborhood—by which he meant, affluent whites—enjoy “choice.”

When asked whether he was troubled that charter schools had increased segregation, Klein suggested that whites still are not willing to go to school with black kids, so school reformers should focus on school quality, rather than integration. “If you try to do too much, people will flee,” said Klein. “The experience I’ve seen with forced busing: When people fled to the suburbs the bulk of black and Latino kids were bused to hell and yon. To prioritize desegregation would have led to less good outcomes.”

Again, missing from the discussion was any acknowledgement that there are small New York City schools in poor neighborhoods that are so good and innovative, white parents are not only willing to send their kids, but the schools have become magnets for middle-class white families. So much so that some now reserve seats for English-language learners and children with incarcerated parents in order to remain integrated. Many were founded by Alvarado/Meier protégés.

Education technology got a brief mention during the Q&A with Klein. “Edtech can be a helpful tool, but you’re not going to put a kid in front of a screen and check back with them when they are ready for Harvard,” said Klein who left the New York City education department to lead News Corp’s failed education-technology venture, Amplify. He recently joined a health-insurance start-up .

Klein got his biggest laughs and approbation from his TFA audience when he riffed on the “marionettes” at Tweed: “There’s this goofy notion that if you’re in the bureaucracy you know what you are doing,” said Klein, noting that one of his most important policies was to “empower principals” and give them “budgetary discretion.”

He recalled that the first time he proposed plans that would do just that, the “shocked” superintendents said: “’You can’t do it. Principals can’t pick their own APs.’

“If you can’t assemble a team, you can’t run a school,” countered Klein. “The idea of a bureaucracy that functions like the Wizard of Oz” pulling strings behind a curtain, makes no sense, he added.

It was at this moment that Baiz, the principal who had brought me to the event, turned to me and gave me a knowing look. I’ve written about Baiz here and here. Baiz had been rescued from a dead-end job at a dysfunctional school in the Bronx, where he had received an “unsatisfactory rating,” when he was hired to help launch Global Technology Preparatory, a new District 4 public school started under Klein. There, Baiz blossomed as an award-winning math teacher, tech guru and teacher leader, and was tapped to succeed Global Tech’s founding principal Chrystina Russell when she left the school in 2015.

But, under a new Farina-appointed superintendent, Alexandra Estrella, Baiz quickly realized his days at Global Tech were numbered, despite the school’s strong quality reviews and ratings. The first sign came when Estrella vetoed Baiz’s choice for an assistant principal, a decision, he says, that would never have happened under Klein. Then, he was turned down for tenure and received a “developing” rating—the second-lowest on a four-point scale—on his latest review, even though the school got an “excellent” for school leadership on its NYCDOE school quality report, and a “good” or “excellent” on all other metrics. Under Farina, principals once again live and die by the ratings and rules imposed by supervisors.

“Just about now I’m getting real nostalgic for the Klein years,” said Baiz as we picked up our coats and got ready to leave TFA’s well-appointed, modern downtown headquarters.

As New York City faces another mayoral election in the fall, three things are near certain: First, DeBlasio, who swung into office on an anti-Bloomberg pendulum, will be reelected, even if his schools chancellor Carmen Farina chooses the moment to retire. Second, Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature, having run roughshod over a hapless DeBlasio during his first year in office, ensured that the city’s charter schools remain as powerful as ever. Third, the most promising aspects of the Klein/Bloomberg legacy, which reined in the bureaucracy to give the best public schools, and their teachers and principals, the leeway to innovate, is pretty much dead.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, public schools, small-schools movement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

UPDATE: How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

On October 24, I posted the story below about dark money–much of it from out-of-state–flowing into Massachusetts to support a “yes” vote on a pro-charter-school ballot question known as Question 2. In the days just before the election, those funds have increased dramatically, making Question 2 the most expensive charter-school ballot initiative in the country, ever. In Massachusetts, which has the most highly rated public schools in the nation, more has been spent by proponents of Ballot 2 than both sides spent on any other ballot initiative in state history, and more dark money has flowed to the initiative than to any state or federal election. Here are the latest totals via Peggy Wiesenberg, attorney, activist and public-school parent who did the analysis for the original post:

 Families for Excellent Schools, $15.6 million

Other dark-money donors $2 million

–Hedge fund and other investment managers $1.9 million

–Jim and Alice Walton $1.8 million

–Other donors, $1.3 million, including a total $490,000 from Michael Bloomberg

 By contrast, union spending in opposition to Question 2, was about $11 million.

 Here’s the original October 24 post:

This post highlights the work of Peggy Wiesenberg, an attorney and Access to Justice Fellow working with Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a grassroots organization of Boston Public School parents dedicated to promoting quality, equity and transparency in public education. The Access to Justice Fellows Program is  a collaboration of the Lawyers Clearinghouse and the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

This election season, Massachusetts is shaping up to be a busman’s holiday for ballot committees organized on Ballot Question 2, which is being touted as An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools. If passed, the ballot initiative will lift the cap on charters by 12 schools per year in perpetuity and “radically destabilize school governance” and municipal funding in Massachusetts, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wrote in a Boston Globe editorial explaining why he is voting “No” on Question 2.

While 200 Massachusetts school committees—the equivalent of school boards—have come out against the initiative,  two in three businesses back charter school expansion. Massachusetts has become a battle ground among both pro- and anti-charter-school expansion forces. Funding for and against Question 2 has now topped $33 million, in what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history.

Lining up in favor of the Question 2, is a cadre of deep-pocketed funders who were behind an earlier ballot campaign, about six years ago, to raise the cap on Massachusetts charters; but in lieu of a referendum, in 2010, the state legislature passed a law lifting the cap. What’s particularly noteworthy is that the big-money backers of that earlier campaign have increased their spending on this year’s ballot initiative exponentially.

The stakes are, indeed, high because, ever since its storied 1993 Education Reform Act, Massachusetts has enjoyed the highest ranking in the nation on the NAEP test, the nation’s education “report card.”  Thus, if Bay State citizens vote to lift the charter cap, lower-ranking states will have a much harder time resisting pressure to open the flood gates for charter schools.

Maurice Cunningham here, and Mercedes Schneider here, have written about national organizations like  Democrats for Education Reform and Families for Excellent Schools, which do not have to disclose their donors, and which are funneling “dark money” to the ballot initiative, as well as about local ballot committees, which have been established specifically to support the ballot initiative and do have to disclose their donors.

Now, with early voting starting today in Massachusetts, DFER has just launched a $500,000 effort that focuses on phone calls, mailings, and radio advertising to shore up the pro-charter vote just as the latest polling shows “Democrats turning sharply against the referendum and threatening its prospects for passage,” according to the Boston Globe. Tonight DFER was “blasting Latino air waves,” writes Wiesenberg.

Together, four ballot committees established specifically to support Question 2, have raised over $20.5 million thus far. They are:

A fifth ballot committee, “Advancing Obama’s Legacy” was filed on October 17 and appears to be a successor organization to Yes on 2. The chairman of the group, Frank Perullo is a lead advisor to DFER and to Robert Kraft, owner of, among other things, the New England Patriots; the Kraft Group is also one of the biggest contributors to Question 2.  Perullo,  a seasoned election consultant, appears to have timed this late-comer ballot committee in order to collect contributions in support of charter school expansion from donors whose identities do not need to be disclosed until November 4th .

The leading ballot committee against Question 2, Save Our Public Schools, which is heavily supported by labor, has garnered $12.5 million

Wiesenberg, an attorney, Boston public-school parent, alum and activist, has combed through the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OFCP) database to ascertain who exactly is pouring funds into this clutch of pro-charter ballot organizations. By law, ballot committees must disclose their contributions to OCFP.

The OCPF filings reveal the broad swath of Massachusetts business people and entities behind the latest ballot initiative. Many of these local funders backed the earlier ballot committee, which helped lead, eventually, to the 2010 charter-school cap lift. The biggest funders of the predecessor ballot committee, which is identified by OCPF filings as  “the Committee for Charter Public Schools”, have increased their spending three- , four-  even ten-times as much as they did in 2009/2010–a good indicator of how high the political stakes have become.

Among the biggest backers of the 2009-2010 drive to expand charter schools are men who are now top officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, and are leading both Massachusetts education and the Question 2 drive. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser who, in 2009-2010, was Managing Partner of New Schools Venture Fund, a leading charter-school funder and gatekeeper, in cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., founded the Committee for Charter Public Schools. In 2009, 39 contributors to that committee gave a total of $387,275. In this year’s ballot initiative, Paul Sagan, a venture capitalist and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, alone contributed $100,000, a 10-fold increase over his 2009 contribution to the earlier ballot campaign committee. The Boston Globe recently reported that charter opponents have cried foul over Sagan’s contribution to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools; Sagan countered, in his ethics filing, that the contributions were made “as a private individual” and that pro-charter groups could not use his position in advertising and publicity materials.

Other heavy-hitters, in addition to Sagan, are:

  • Jim Walton who contributed $1,125,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools
  • Alice Walton contributed $710,000 to Yes on 2, three-times the amount she gave in 2009.
  • Charles Longfield, founder of Target Analytics and chief scientist for Blackbaud, companies that offer data management services to non-profit foundations, corporations and schools (not to be confused with Blackboard) contributed $100,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools –10-times the amount he gave in 2009.
  • Raymond Stata, chairman of Analog Devices and venture capitalist investor, gave $100,000 to Great Schools Mass. – 20-times the amount he gave in 2009.

Other pro-charter Question 2 contributors who have exponentially upped their ballot-initiative contributions over the amount they contributed in 2009:

  • Stephen Mugford, VP of Capital One Financial Corp., gave $60,000 up 12-fold from 2009.
  • Joshua Bekenstein, Managing Director of Bain Capital and board member of New Profit Inc. a venture philanthropy fund that invests in charter schools, contributed $40,000, up eight-fold from 2009
  • Paul Edgerley, also a Managing Director of Bain Capital and a board member of New Profit Inc., contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Joanna Jacobson, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Seth Klarman, Founder of The Baupast Group, a hedge fund, contributed $40,000 up four-fold from 2009
  • Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $30,000, up 10-fold from 2009

Among the 2009 contributors, only the $25,000 contribution of Lawrence Coolidge, of Loring, Walcott & Coolidge, was equal to the amount he contributed in 2009.

Contributors to Question 2 who did not contribute funds to the earlier ballot initiative include:

  • Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund, $150,000
  • Charter Public School Association, $100,000
  • Partners Healthcare, $100,000
  • The Kraft Group, $100,000 (CEO Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots.)
  • State Street Bank and Trust Co., $100,000
  • Suffolk Cares Inc. , $100,000
  • Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and the recent winner, in the high-stakes power-struggle over control CBS-Viacom, her father’s media empire –$100,000
  • Edward Shapiro, Partner of Par Capital Management, $200,000
  • Bradley Bloom, Managing Director of Berkshire Partners, $100,000. Contributions from  4 other Managing Directors at Berkshire Partners totaled another $150,000. Bundled contributions from Berkshire Partners are up 25-fold from the $10,000 amount that a lone Berkshire Partner contributed in 2009.
  • Abigail Johnson, CEO Fidelity Investments and Manager of FMR LLC, contributed $40,000. Contributions from 31 Fidelity and 2 FMR employees—most in $1,000 increments—total an additional $ 62,710.
  • EMC Corporation contributed $75,000, more than seven-fold the $10,000 amount that William Teuber, EMC CEO (now Vice Chair of Dell-EMC), founder of Mass Business Leaders for Charter Schools, and one of 16 business titans who formed the Mass. Competitive Partnership PAC that is listed with OCPF as the address of two of the five Question-2 ballot committees, contributed  in 2009;
  • Massmutual Financial Group of Springfield contributed $50,000
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated also contributed $50,000

The above lists are almost surely a small number of the deep-pocketed contributors to Question 2. At least a dozen individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 initiative do not show up as contributors to the five main Question-2 ballot committees, which are required to disclose donors. Many are likely contributing “dark money” to organizations like DFER and Families for Excellent Schools, instead.

The 2009 contributors who are no-shows on the five Question 2 committees, include Amos Hostetter, Chair of Pilot House Associates LLC and founder of the Barr Foundation. In 2016, after officials of the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association Inc. filed Ballot Question 2, the Barr Foundation made awards to support major expansions of Brooke Charter School Network and Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston and to the MPCSA to launch a common application for Boston charter schools similar to those in Newark and New Orleans.

Eli Broad and the Fisher family, two of the nation’s leading education reform philanthropists and charter-school funders, also contributed to the 2009 campaign to lift the charter cap, and are absent from the Question 2 committees.

The  Fisher family’s absence is particularly noteworthy as John Fisher co-chairs the board of the  Charter Growth Fund  and chairs the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP Foundation,) the largest charter organization in the nation, which is getting ready for a major expansion of the KIPP brand in the Bay State should the ballot initiative pass

Another KIPP Foundation board member who contributed to the 2009 ballot initiative, but who does not appear on official Question 2 ballot committee filings with OCPF is Mark Nunnelly, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology who reports directly to Governor Charlie Baker, a major supporter of the ballot initiative.

Indeed, national charter school organizations and CMOs are already getting ready to seize large swaths of public-school districts—and their funding—should the measure pass. Stay tuned for more on CMO strategies in a later post.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | 3 Comments

How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

This post highlights the work of Peggy Wiesenberg, an attorney and Access to Justice Fellow working with Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a grassroots organization of Boston Public School parents dedicated to promoting quality, equity and transparency in public education. The Access to Justice Fellows Program is  a collaboration of the Lawyers Clearinghouse and the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

This election season, Massachusetts is shaping up to be a busman’s holiday for ballot committees organized on Ballot Question 2, which is being touted as An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools. If passed, the ballot initiative will lift the cap on charters by 12 schools per year in perpetuity and “radically destabilize school governance” and municipal funding in Massachusetts, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wrote in a Boston Globe editorial explaining why he is voting “No” on Question 2.

While 200 Massachusetts school committees—the equivalent of school boards—have come out against the initiative,  two in three businesses back charter school expansion. Massachusetts has become a battle ground among both pro- and anti-charter-school expansion forces. Funding for and against Question 2 has now topped $33 million, in what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history.

Lining up in favor of the Question 2, is a cadre of deep-pocketed funders who were behind an earlier ballot campaign, about six years ago, to raise the cap on Massachusetts charters; but in lieu of a referendum, in 2010, the state legislature passed a law lifting the cap. What’s particularly noteworthy is that the big-money backers of that earlier campaign have increased their spending on this year’s ballot initiative exponentially.

The stakes are, indeed, high because, ever since its storied 1993 Education Reform Act, Massachusetts has enjoyed the highest ranking in the nation on the NAEP test, the nation’s education “report card.”  Thus, if Bay State citizens vote to lift the charter cap, lower-ranking states will have a much harder time resisting pressure to open the flood gates for charter schools.

Maurice Cunningham here, and Mercedes Schneider here, have written about national organizations like  Democrats for Education Reform and Families for Excellent Schools, which do not have to disclose their donors, and which are funneling “dark money” to the ballot initiative, as well as about local ballot committees, which have been established specifically to support the ballot initiative and do have to disclose their donors.

Now, with early voting starting today in Massachusetts, DFER has just launched a $500,000 effort that focuses on phone calls, mailings, and radio advertising to shore up the pro-charter vote just as the latest polling shows “Democrats turning sharply against the referendum and threatening its prospects for passage,” according to the Boston Globe. Tonight DFER was “blasting Latino air waves,” writes Wiesenberg.

Together, four ballot committees established specifically to support Question 2, have raised over $20.5 million thus far. They are:

A fifth ballot committee, “Advancing Obama’s Legacy” was filed on October 17 and appears to be a successor organization to Yes on 2. The chairman of the group, Frank Perullo is a lead advisor to DFER and to Robert Kraft, owner of, among other things, the New England Patriots; the Kraft Group is also one of the biggest contributors to Question 2.  Perullo,  a seasoned election consultant, appears to have timed this late-comer ballot committee in order to collect contributions in support of charter school expansion from donors whose identities do not need to be disclosed until November 4th .

The leading ballot committee against Question 2, Save Our Public Schools, which is heavily supported by labor, has garnered $12.5 million

Wiesenberg, an attorney, Boston public-school parent, alum and activist, has combed through the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OFCP) database to ascertain who exactly is pouring funds into this clutch of pro-charter ballot organizations. By law, ballot committees must disclose their contributions to OCFP.

The OCPF filings reveal the broad swath of Massachusetts business people and entities behind the latest ballot initiative. Many of these local funders backed the earlier ballot committee, which helped lead, eventually, to the 2010 charter-school cap lift. The biggest funders of the predecessor ballot committee, which is identified by OCPF filings as  “the Committee for Charter Public Schools”, have increased their spending three- , four-  even ten-times as much as they did in 2009/2010–a good indicator of how high the political stakes have become.

Among the biggest backers of the 2009-2010 drive to expand charter schools are men who are now top officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, and are leading both Massachusetts education and the Question 2 drive. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser who, in 2009-2010, was Managing Partner of New Schools Venture Fund, a leading charter-school funder and gatekeeper, in cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., founded the Committee for Charter Public Schools. In 2009, 39 contributors to that committee gave a total of $387,275. In this year’s ballot initiative, Paul Sagan, a venture capitalist and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, alone contributed $100,000, a 10-fold increase over his 2009 contribution to the earlier ballot campaign committee. The Boston Globe recently reported that charter opponents have cried foul over Sagan’s contribution to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools; Sagan countered, in his ethics filing, that the contributions were made “as a private individual” and that pro-charter groups could not use his position in advertising and publicity materials.

Other heavy-hitters, in addition to Sagan, are:

  • Jim Walton who contributed $1,125,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools
  • Alice Walton contributed $710,000 to Yes on 2, three-times the amount she gave in 2009.
  • Charles Longfield, founder of Target Analytics and chief scientist for Blackbaud, companies that offer data management services to non-profit foundations, corporations and schools (not to be confused with Blackboard) contributed $100,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools –10-times the amount he gave in 2009.
  • Raymond Stata, chairman of Analog Devices and venture capitalist investor, gave $100,000 to Great Schools Mass. – 20-times the amount he gave in 2009.

Other pro-charter Question 2 contributors who have exponentially upped their ballot-initiative contributions over the amount they contributed in 2009:

  • Stephen Mugford, VP of Capital One Financial Corp., gave $60,000 up 12-fold from 2009.
  • Joshua Bekenstein, Managing Director of Bain Capital and board member of New Profit Inc. a venture philanthropy fund that invests in charter schools, contributed $40,000, up eight-fold from 2009
  • Paul Edgerley, also a Managing Director of Bain Capital and a board member of New Profit Inc., contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Joanna Jacobson, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Seth Klarman, Founder of The Baupast Group, a hedge fund, contributed $40,000 up four-fold from 2009
  • Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $30,000, up 10-fold from 2009

Among the 2009 contributors, only the $25,000 contribution of Lawrence Coolidge, of Loring, Walcott & Coolidge, was equal to the amount he contributed in 2009.

Contributors to Question 2 who did not contribute funds to the earlier ballot initiative include:

  • Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund, $150,000
  • Charter Public School Association, $100,000
  • Partners Healthcare, $100,000
  • The Kraft Group, $100,000 (CEO Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots.)
  • State Street Bank and Trust Co., $100,000
  • Suffolk Cares Inc. , $100,000
  • Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and the recent winner, in the high-stakes power-struggle over control CBS-Viacom, her father’s media empire –$100,000
  • Edward Shapiro, Partner of Par Capital Management, $200,000
  • Bradley Bloom, Managing Director of Berkshire Partners, $100,000. Contributions from  4 other Managing Directors at Berkshire Partners totaled another $150,000. Bundled contributions from Berkshire Partners are up 25-fold from the $10,000 amount that a lone Berkshire Partner contributed in 2009.
  • Abigail Johnson, CEO Fidelity Investments and Manager of FMR LLC, contributed $40,000. Contributions from 31 Fidelity and 2 FMR employees—most in $1,000 increments—total an additional $ 62,710.
  • EMC Corporation contributed $75,000, more than seven-fold the $10,000 amount that William Teuber, EMC CEO (now Vice Chair of Dell-EMC), founder of Mass Business Leaders for Charter Schools, and one of 16 business titans who formed the Mass. Competitive Partnership PAC that is listed with OCPF as the address of two of the five Question-2 ballot committees, contributed  in 2009;
  • Massmutual Financial Group of Springfield contributed $50,000
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated also contributed $50,000

The above lists are almost surely a small number of the deep-pocketed contributors to Question 2. At least a dozen individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 initiative do not show up as contributors to the five main Question-2 ballot committees, which are required to disclose donors. Many are likely contributing “dark money” to organizations like DFER and Families for Excellent Schools, instead.

The 2009 contributors who are no-shows on the five Question 2 committees, include Amos Hostetter, Chair of Pilot House Associates LLC and founder of the Barr Foundation. In 2016, after officials of the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association Inc. filed Ballot Question 2, the Barr Foundation made awards to support major expansions of Brooke Charter School Network and Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston and to the MPCSA to launch a common application for Boston charter schools similar to those in Newark and New Orleans.

Eli Broad and the Fisher family, two of the nation’s leading education reform philanthropists and charter-school funders, also contributed to the 2009 campaign to lift the charter cap, and are absent from the Question 2 committees.

The  Fisher family’s absence is particularly noteworthy as John Fisher co-chairs the board of the  Charter Growth Fund  and chairs the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP Foundation,) the largest charter organization in the nation, which is getting ready for a major expansion of the KIPP brand in the Bay State should the ballot initiative pass

Another KIPP Foundation board member who contributed to the 2009 ballot initiative, but who does not appear on official Question 2 ballot committee filings with OCPF is Mark Nunnelly, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology who reports directly to Governor Charlie Baker, a major supporter of the ballot initiative.

Indeed, national charter school organizations and CMOs are already getting ready to seize large swaths of public-school districts—and their funding—should the measure pass. Stay tuned for more on CMO strategies in a later post.

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