Tag Archives: Eli Broad

DeVos Didn’t Start the Fire

February 6, 2017

Betsy DeVos is everywhere, filling up Twitter feeds and Facebook sidebars with links to the latest, most outrageous evidence of her desperation to become our next secretary of education. 

Ed Patru, Friend of Betsy DeVos

The tabs on my computer are cluttered with articles describing DeVos’s criminally incompetent push to make our schools great again through unfettered privatization plans. She can be linked to ALEC, fraud and a personal disdain for public schools. She has created opportunities for scammers who want to make a “boatload of money” on public ed without the hassle of accountability. She has a prolific Friend of Betsy© in Ed Patru, and, when that is not enough, she has provided a way for other people to get paid to shill for her.

In our new, enticing world of alternative facts, DeVos will most likely be confirmed tomorrow, as the search for one more–just one more–“Republican with integrity” appears to have come to a Dark Money dead end

But DeVos just might be the rock bottom this country needs to hit, in terms of our dependence on plutocrat-driven school privatization schemes. Her preference for an unregulated, unrestrained market of publicly funded private and religious schools, as well as charter schools, has embarrassed even her fellow billionaire buyers of influence and school choice–Eli Broad and Arthur Rock

For years, Eli Broad’s name has been synonymous with the expedited take down of our nation’s public school system. Using wads of cash, and leaked secret plans, Broad has unleashed anti-union charter schools (high performing, always high performing) and a superintendent training academy for those with little to no background in public education. People like Betsy DeVos, for example. 

Rock, on the other hand, has occupied a quieter place in education reform while still wielding a DeVos-like level of undue influence. He is a venture capitalist from California who sits on Teach for America’s board of directors, has funded a sketchy chain of “blended learning” charter schools (Rocketship) and done his best to upend local school board elections around the country. In Minneapolis, for example, Rock has donated money to pro-reform school board candidates with connections to Teach for America. (And though Al Franken flayed DeVos for her ignorance around key education issues, he has also employed Teach for America alums as staffers–something Rock has funded)

Rock is an active philanthropist in education reform. From 2006 to 2008, Rock contributed $16.5 million to Teach for America. He also donated $1.5 million to Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the country’s largest network of charter schools.

–Angel Au-Yeung, Forbes, February 2017

If these guys don’t approve of DeVos, then we know something’s up. What separates DeVos from Rock and Broad, is, perhaps, her religious fervor, accompanied by a zest for vouchers. Vouchers, of course, would–in an idealized, free market world–make private schools eligible for public funding. In other words, they could threaten the market share Broad and Rock are trying to carve out through the expansion of charter school networks. (Beware! Vouchers are morphing into scholarship and “tax credit” bills.)

To be fair, Broad has also objected to DeVos’s devil-may-care embrace of for-profit charter schools, something Broad says he abhors. In a February 1 letter to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer, Broad touched on the most embarrassing moments of DeVos’s confirmation hearing. “We must have a Secretary of Education who believes in public education,” Broad wrote, before mentioning DeVos’s less than artful dodge on the question of whether or not schools should be gun-free zones.

In short, DeVos has created an opening for the likes of Broad and Rock, allowing them to position themselves as the moderate voice of education reform–despite their track records. DeVos is the unflattering mirror image of venture edu-philanthropists, and lurks as a no holds barred representative of the worst possible outcome (see Detroit) of their market-based reform plans.Image result for mirror mirror on the wall

Arne Duncan, Obama’s secretary of education, was not ideologically far from DeVos, yet stood as a kinder, gentler, Democratic version of her. He did not offend the way she does, but he should have. Or, to paraphrase Elizabeth Warren’s recent speech at the Congressional Progressive Caucus, our moment of crisis did not begin with Betsy DeVos’s nomination. We were already in crisis. 

Education policy has been stuck in an Orwellian war on the “achievement gap” for decades, while public resources have mostly shrunk and segregation has increased. DeVos didn’t create that, though she has certainly capitalized on it. If her confirmation goes through as expected, the public–and policy makers–should capitalize on our awakened understanding of the cost of putting billionaires on a mission in charge of our schools.

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Spooky! Beware of Scripted Education Debates…

October 27, 2015

How can you tell that the 2015 election is coming, and the 2016 one is not far off? By counting all of the anti-union opinion pieces and editorials floating around, of course.

Case in point: the Sunday, October 25 Opinion section of the Minneapolis StarTribune prominently featured a rail against “fundamentalist” teachers unions and their allies, written by former fundamentalist (by birth, we are told) and current “progressive” proponent of education reform, Lynnell Mickelsen.

Mickelsen’s piece, titled “Political rigidity? The left has it too,” seeks to rip teachers unions and the Democrats that support them–unquestioningly, of course–for, yawn, being, double yawn, opposed to anything that challenges their union-loving worldview. 

Still awake? Good, there’s more.

Mickelsen stirringly provides a list of why teachers union supporters (because that’s what they are, of course–nothing more, nothing less) are like fundamentalists. Mostly, it boils down to this: teachers unions and their blind followers are narrow-minded and simplistic, hate change, are old and racist, and will do anything to destroy charter schools.

Here’s an example, from Mickelsen’s piece (capitalization pattern is hers):

“Teachers’ unions are basically claiming Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District, so any change in this tradition — i.e., charter schools — is an attempt to destroy public education.”

Mickelsen, who is an entertaining writer and a fellow education and school board meeting devotee, also decries the way Minnesota’s state teachers union, Education Minnesota, shamelessly funds Democratic candidates and thus exercises mind control over the party faithful:

Education Minnesota is the largest contributor to Democratic candidates and causes. It sets the tone and parameters of our education debates, which, among elected Democrats, are now predictably rigid and scripted — and this concerns a program that consumes 42 percent of the state’s operating budget, affects hundreds of thousands of children and has shamefully racialized results.

Speaking of “predictably rigid and scripted” education debates, Mickelsen’s piece originally showed up on former U.S. Department of Education employee Peter Cunningham’s blog, Education Post.

Education Post was launched just one year ago, with an impressive $12 million in cold, hard, conversation-starting cash. The goal? Providing a space, funded by old billionaire white guys like Eli Broad, to have a “better” conversation about education and how it should be done for poor children of color.

The bummer? It has since struggled to attract readers, leading Cunningham to recently send an email blast to his supporters, advising them on how to Tweet together and otherwise act as a united front:

When we all start sharing together more consistently, we’ll send a strong signal to our followers and friends, the media and the blogosphere, that we want to see more stories that show the positive difference we are making in the lives of children.

There it is! The “sharing together more consistently” thing! Just a few days before Mickelsen’s piece comparing union supporters to fundamentalists hit the fan, Cunningham published a near replica, called “The Best Hope for Teachers Unions is…Reform.”

Cunningham’s pro-“get tough” reform piece appeared on both his Huffington Post site and on Education Post, in a coordinated campaign sort of way.

I’m not sure if the two were comparing notes, but Cunningham’s piece strongly resembles Micklesen’s. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, both pieces harp on remarkably similar (and familiar) points of view: charter schools are amazing, teachers unions are toxic and antiquated, and school choice is the yellow brick road to redemption.

Cunningham’s piece nicely sets the union-bashing stage for Mickelsen’s, through claims such as these:

Charter opponents like to label education leaders who are empowering families’ right to choose as “privatizers.” In their dictionary, public means “union-controlled” and any variation is the enemy.

And here is a similar snippet from Mickelsen’s piece:

In the union narrative, reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy — they must have evil intent. So reformers are typically cast as vague “corporatists” hellbent on the equally vague profiteering from or privatizing of public schools.

Okay, I’m starting to see a rigid, scripted debate forming….

Here’s another tidbit from Cunningham’s post:

Teacher unions, who need unionized teachers and dues in order to exist, are fighting desperately to convince parents to stay with the traditional, district-run schools. But rather than appealing to parents on the strength of the education that traditional schools offer, their strategy primarily focuses on limiting funding for charters,capping their growth or organizing their teachers to join a union.

To quote Mickelsen’s piece, “I could keep listing common traits, but you get the idea.”

In short, unions are really, really bad, charter schools are really, really good, and anyone who disagrees with either of these points of view is a “fundie” not worth listening to.

In contrast, here are a couple of paragraphs worth considering, from New York professor Christopher Bonastia’s 2015 article, “The Racist History of the Charter School Movement”:

By all appearances, charters will remain on the educational landscape for the foreseeable future. While charter skeptics can’t merely wish them away, they can push for greater accountability—after all, isn’t this the whole point of charters? Anyone who blindly accepts that competition will improve education for students in charters and traditional public schools alike should remember that other articles of faith about the market—like cutting taxes on the rich will make all of our yachts and rafts rise—have proven illusory.

…There is no magic elixir that will fix our educational system. Of course, we should continue to be open to fresh ideas about improving school organization, teaching and learning. But if we continue to ignore important historical lessons about the dangerous consequences of educational privatization and fail to harness our desire to plunge headlong into unproven reform initiatives, we may discover that the cure we so lovingly embraced has made the patient sicker.

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