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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ Category

The Empire Strikes Back Offers Some Lame Excuses

To no one’s surprise, the ideologically reliable editorial page of the New York Sun has rushed to the defense of deputy Chancellor and former Edison President Chris Cerf against charges of “conflict of interest.”

“It’s not a matter of his having sold stock in Edison Schools the day before he was asked about it,” Sun editorial opined with an imaginative timeline which managed to leave out the little fact that Cerf divested his stake in the Edison stock after he learned he would be asked about it.

The editorial continues: “What he actually did was forgo — he gave away — warrants for Edison Stock that could have been, someday, worth millions. He had no dealing with Edison in his work for the Department of Education. But he wanted to go the extra mile in exchange for a clean field in public service. Which of his or Mr. Klein’s critics has ever made that kind of sacrifice in order to be unencumbered to work within our school system?”

How about the thousands of public school educators who earn a fraction of a deputy Chancellor’s salary, and who have foregone the opportunity to ever earn millions of dollars in stock, but do the hard work of educating over one million New York City public school children every day, often against overwhelming odds and without much needed support? You won’t find a group more critical of Klein’s reign at the DOE, with the possible exception of parents. More »

Children, Can You Spell “Conflict Of Interest?”

Chris Cerf, recently enthroned deputy Chancellor and former president of the leading for profit EMO Edison Schools, had been holding on to shares of Edison worth millions of dollars until the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council [CPAC] inquired into the matter, the New York Times reported last Friday.

After Tweed and Cerf had learned that the issue had been placed on the agenda of a CPAC meeting and less than twenty-four hours before the meeting, Cerf divested himself of his stock in Edison. When asked at the meeting if he owned shares in Edison, Cerf replied that “I have no financial interest in Edison of any kind. Zero.” He did not reveal that he had just sold his shares.

On Saturday, the Times blasted Cerf and the DOE with this editorial, “An Instructive Moment.” The editorial concluded:

Mr. Cerf, who has held the deputy’s post for only a few months, says giving the full story of his stock holdings would have been a “distraction.” He was wrong. An honest and open dialogue is less distracting for everyone than having parents feeling ignored and misled, and fuming on the sidelines.

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The Corner Deli At 52 Chambers, Paid For With Your Tax Dollars

One of the more troubling features of the New York City Department of Education under Children First has been the proliferation of contracts with various private and for profit corporations, including a large number of ‘no bid’ contracts. The finances of the nation’s largest school district are being operated as if its books were those of a Lower East Side family deli, without the checks and balances, the transparency and the accountability that should be in place with the expenditure of public funds provided by the taxpayers of New York City.

New Yorkers are now seeing the fruits of such usurpation of the public trust. First, there has been the ongoing school bus debacle, provided courtesy of the ‘no bid’ work of Alvarez and Marsal. Now an article in today’s New York Times, “Tutoring Company Is Paid Far More Than Contracts Specify, Comptroller Says,” brings further news of the extraordinary misuse of public funds at Tweed. More »

Children First [Waiting In Line], On Wheels

No buses?

Let them ride limousines.

Imitating Marie Antoinette comes naturally for some folks.

BTW, this great idea was brought to you by Alvarez and Marsal, the high priced corporate green eyeshades outfit to whom Klein outsourced the job of saving money.

Diversifying Low Performance, And Paying More For It: Klein’s Ideas In Practice

The theoretical basis for the organizational model Chancellor Klein would like to impose on New York City public schools is known in the educational policy world as the “diverse providers” model. The theory, laid out in the Tough Choices or Tough Times report produced by New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce on which Klein sat, has the school district outsourcing its core work, the provision of education, to a number of private providers [including for profit EMOs] who actually operate the schools.

There are two school districts in the United States that have put this model into practice.

The first district is New Orleans, where the Bush US Department of Education and the Louisiana governor used the devastation caused by Katrina as an opportunity to dismantle the public school system. Like everything else that the Bush administration has done in post-Katrina New Orleans, the result was a manmade catastrophe on top of the natural disaster.

The second district is Philadelphia, where a number of low performing schools were outsourced to for profit EMOs such as Edison Schools and Victory Schools. Today, the respected non-partisan Rand Corporation and the Philadelphia based Research for Action issued a devastating study of the Philadelphia experiment, Student Achievement in Privately Managed and District-Managed Schools in Philadelphia Since the State Takeover. The report compared 41 out-sourced schools run by EMOs such as Edison and Victory with district-run public schools. Over the last five years, the outsourced, EMO run schools produced “no statistically significant effects” in terms of improved students scores on standardized reading and math exams. By contrast, restructured district run public schools, providing many of the same resources NYC provided in the successful Chancellor’s District before Klein dismantled it, provided statistically significant better scores. What were those resources? Smaller classes, additional literacy and math instruction with proven curricula, and lead teachers, among other things.

And if this were not enough, the citizens of Philadelphia have subsidized mightily the schools run by the EMOs and the EMO coffers. District spending in the EMO run schools is 10% greater — $7750 per student — than it is in the district run schools — $7000 per student. This adds up to an annual $18 million extra spent on the EMO run schools.

“There is no evidence to proceed with the model of private management of schools, as is, that we have here in Philadelphia,” concluded Jolley Bruce Christman of Research for Action.

Commenting on the report, Hank Levin, director of Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, said: “To me, it’s a romance that just hasn’t worked. It’s not that they are doing worse, but that they don’t seem to be doing any better, and they cost more. That’s a serious challenge, particularly for a district facing a deficit.”

After five years of permanent structural revolution under Klein, isn’t it time that New York City charted a path that bore some relationship to the evidence?

Outsourcing Public Education: Things Fall Apart With The Incremental Privatization of NYC Public Schools

Edwize has obtained a copy of the RFP [Request for Proposal] for “Partnership School Support” that the New York City Department of Education has hidden from the general public in a remote precinct of its website accessible only to private vendors with passwords. In it one finds the details of one of the central components of the latest structural reorganization Chancellor Klein want to impose on New York City public schools.

What is remarkable about the RFP is the general plan to outsource to these private ‘partnership’ entities virtually all of the educational support functions traditionally fulfilled, for better or for worse, by the DOE. Instructional program, professional development, special education: all of these and more will now be organized and supported by the Partnerships. And in contrast to the current intermediaries such as New Visions and Urban Assembly, this RFP invites ‘for profit’ EMOs [Educational Maintenance Organizations, modeled after Health Maintenance Organizations or HMOs] like Edison Schools and Victory Schools to become Partnerships.

Corporate outsourcing operates generally on the theory that an organization should focus on its core mission, and turn over ancillary functions which are not central to its work to other institutions to run. Applied to education, such a theory would have an entity like the Department of Education outsourcing functions like transportation, food services and facilities, in order to focus on what is central to its mission, teaching and learning. One could argue that the DOE need not have top of the line luxury buses moving children or serve the most nutritious, most appealing food in its school cafeterias, and so could afford to outsource such services, but that it needs to provide world class, quality education in its classrooms.

But what the DOE proposes to do here is the inverse of this corporate model of outsourcing. They are taking the core mission of the Department of Education — the promotion of excellent teaching and learning which is at the center of any education worthy of that name — and are outsourcing it. Such a move is a tacit admission that those who make the decisions at Tweed are themselves incapable of providing educational leadership. They lack the most elemental understanding of how the world of instruction works, and so propose structural change upon structural change, with every one avoiding the substance of teaching and learning like it were the plague. If anything, they fear educational expertise, for it exposes their own lack of knowledge and leadership: just look at an organizational strategy which has systematically purged professional educators from the top echelons of the Department of Education. With this week’s retirement of Rose DePinto, in part a reaction to yet another structural revolution bringing more institutional chaos and instability, there remains in the inner councils of Tweed literally a single educator who knows what it takes to teach real classes and lead real schools — Eric Nadelstern, the last of the educational Mohicans. There is a sort of perverse logic to turning over to private entities what the current leadership at Tweed is so clearly incapable of doing itself, as a result of its own design.

The permanent revolution of endless structural reorganizations brought to us by Chancellor Klein has been bereft, from day one, of any educational vision and any instructional strategy for New York City schools. Instead, an obsession with structure — at its root, an obsession with power as an end in itself — has been the motivating spirit. The logic of this structure driven quest is the devolution not of educational decision making power and authority, but of accountability. The goal is to divest the Chancellor and the Department of Education of responsibility for what goes on in its own schools. Five years in charge, longer than any other Chancellor in two plus decades, and Joel Klein still blames everyone but himself for the shortcomings of New York City public schools. Now he wants to organize the entire school system around that political strategy of accountability and responsibility avoidance. A proper name for these perpetual organizational revolution and obsession with structure would be “Classroom Last.”

In this regard the details of the RFP are telling. Schools do not get to choose their partnerships — they can simply state their preferences, and the DOE makes the choices. Just as importantly, schools do not get to drop their partnerships if they find them useless or worse — only the DOE can do that. There is no system of accountability for the partnerships, no metrics by which their performance will be measured, no responsibility for their actual work in their schools — the best one can find is some vague language of how the DOE will canvas the schools to obtain their opinion on the quality of services provided. Most significantly, there is no responsibility and accountability for the Department of Education in Klein’s brave, new world. It turns over all of its educational support functions to the partnerships, and leaves for itself only the training of principals [the Leadership Academy], the setting of standards, the operation of the accountability system and actual decision making authority. All responsibility, all accountability rests with the schools.

This educational dystopia, one which Klein promoted in the recent Tough Choices, Tough Talks report, would remake public education in the image of what the Bush administration and the Louisiana Governor have done to the post-Katrina New Orleans public schools. The results in New Orleans should give anyone who cares about the education of children – and especially, children living in poverty who are at most risk for academic failure – serious pause about conducting more experiments in this vein. Make no mistake about it: we are clear that the management of our public schools needs to be reformed, and that real decision making power needs to be devolved to the schools, in the hands of school leaders, teachers, and parents. We need real empowerment of schools, not rhetorical empowerment smokescreens. We need public schools accountable to the public, not outsourced to private entities in a perpetual deferral of accountability by its top leadership. Klein’s “Classroom Last” will not accomplish these ends, but only make matters worse. It — and the New Orleans public schools — is a world perhaps best captured in the title of Chinua Achebe’s novel of post-colonial Africa, borrowed from a William Butler Yeats’ poem: The center can not hold. Things fall apart.

The way forward for New York City public schools is not putting up for sale the leadership of teaching and learning in New York City public schools. Rather, it is the replacement of a Chancellor of New York City public schools incapable of providing educational leadership with a Chancellor who can do precisely that. Since you can’t lead us in teaching and learning, Joel Klein, step aside for someone who can, someone who will accept responsibility and embrace accountability for himself and his administration, someone who will set about restoring the professional educational talent you have driven from the management of New York City public schools, someone who will empower New York City public schools to do their best.

New York City Public Schools, Minus The Public

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein unveiled yet another in a permanent revolution of structural reorganizations, highlighting a program which would allow private entities to assume a prominent role in the management of New York City public schools. For months, there had been rumors swirling around the exact nature of this “Partnership” program, so much so that the New York Times had published an October article on the DOE’s plans, describing them as private management of scores of schools. When a large group of labor, community based organizations, education advocates and elected officials met earlier this month to plan opposition to these efforts, Klein announced publicly that “as long as I am the chancellor of the public school system… the city of New York public schools will remain public schools.” With that announcement, speculation shifted to what the exact nature of the RFP for the “Partneship” would be.

The RFP is now out, sort of. It is hidden deep on the DOE web site, and only registered DOE vendors, such as Edison and Urban Assembly [two entities which have publicly indicated their interest], can actually see it.

This is how public New York City schools under Joel Klein are: the public is not even allowed access to the details of major policy initiatives which will, we are told, reshape the face of our public education system.

Wal-Mart The Beneficient?

Over at The Quick and The Ed, Kevin Carey is defending an Education Sector puff piece on the educational giving of the Walton Family Foundation of Wal-Mart fame, “Big Box: How the Heirs of the Wal-Mart Fortune Have Fueled the Charter School Movement.”

It seems that the AFT’s Ed Muir upset Kevin by suggesting that Wal-Mart’s “philanthropy” in the educational sphere might actually have something to do with its political and economic agenda, that there might be some connection between its relentless advocacy of the most extreme anti-union, anti-public sector, and laissez-faire market policies, on the one hand, and its foundation’s support of organizations promoting educational vouchers, educational privatization, charter schools and anti-union “right to work” legislation, on the other hand.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if Walton Family Foundation is pursuing an anti-union agenda through its philanthropic activities,” Kevin allows. But apparently ‘wonder’ is all one is allowed to do, and don’t spend too much time in thought either. For a sentence later Kevin tell us that he finds “the idea that [Wal-Mart’s educational philanthropy] is all just a stealth anti-union campaign to be ludricous and unserious.” To suggest otherwise, he goes on, is to commit philosophical crimes against empiricism, and to indulge in psychological sins of narcissism: in one brief post, the AFT’s Muir seems to have offended intellectual thought from Locke to Freud, if Kevin is to be our guide.

Teachers, unionists, and public school advocates were born, Kevin. It just wasn’t yesterday.

We understand that the charter movement is a politically heterogeneous movement, and that broadly speaking, it contains progressives who are supportive of teacher voice and open to working with teacher unions, as well as reactionaries who are involved with charters for the express purpose of undermining public schooling and teacher unionism — including those who would drop charter schools for vouchers in a flash if they saw more of an opportunity to win vouchers. That is why the UFT distinguishes between the two currents, and why we have joined with the progressives, who remain true to the vision of charter schools Al Shanker originally developed, in starting our own charter schools. It is also why we do not shirk from opposing the reactionaries in the charter school movement who are self-avowed foes of public schools and their teachers. There is a battle to be fought for the hearts and minds of the charter school movement, and we intend to be part of that fight.

We also know where the Walton Family Foundation stands in that fight. That is no more an open question than where we stand in that fight. It simply begs credulity to suggest otherwise.

We will limit ourselves here to a few examples that come straight out of the Education Sector report, although the context that would give them meaning there is generally missing. [Edwize has written on Wal-Mart before, so we will spare our readers the full nine yards of the record of this “educational giver” on such issues as its repeated violations of child labor laws in the US.] The Waltons and their foundation have supported political campaigns on behalf of voucher legislation and expansion in Washington DC, Milwaukee, and Michigan, to cite the most well-known cases. John Walton gave $50 million to a privately-financed voucher fund he put together with Wall Street financier Theodore Forstmann. The Walton Family Foundation provides support for organizations which have been the most strident advocates of educational privatization, from Jeannie Allen’s Center for for Educational Reform to Howard Fuller’s Black Alliance for Educational Options.

There are, however, a few questions that are worth pondering:

Why did Education Sector feel it important to produce this apology for Wal-Mart?

What does a charter school do to its integrity when it takes Wal-Mart’s blood money?

Philadelphia’s Public School Notebook

Philadelphia is home to an interesting newspaper on public education matters, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. It has been a print publication in Philly for more than ten years, but now it has an Internet edition.

Philadelphia has been the target of some major privatization schemes, and the Notebook does an excellent job of covering these developments with powerful investigative reporting. Take a look at two articles in the last issue written by an old political friend of mine and Notebook editor, Paul Socolar. Gap widens between privately managed and District schools tells the story of the growing gap in test scores between the public schools that are still managed by the Philadelphia school district and the schools being managed by private EMOs, which more and more lag behind. Quest for contract documents became summer-long ordeal describes how the Philadelphia school district is attempting to hide the details of its outsourcing to private companies. Why does that sound familiar?


If you are looking for the sort of essay you give to your students to identify 25 different species of logical error, look no further than this doozy, “Reading Last,” published in Checker Finn’s Fordham Institute Gadfly. It is a full-throated defense of the role of Bush’s Department of Education in Phonicsgate — at least up until the point Margaret Spellings had the designated fall guy, former Reading First czar Chris Doherty, walk the plank.

According to the author, Fordham Vice-President Michael J. Petrilli, there was nothing wrong with “stacking” the DOE review panels of the reading programs, because there are “thirty years of rigorous studies [that] all reach the same conclusion: children must be taught to read systematically.” Doherty should be rewarded for his actions, Petrilli claims, not sent in exile.

Just consider a couple of the intrinsic self-contradictions of such a proposition. More »

Private Interests First [Updated]

This morning’s newspapers bring news of a searing Inspector General report on the most unseemly and corrupt conduct by officials at the US Department of Education, who used the NCLB law and DOE oversight power to promote one particular reading program, SRA/McGraw Hill’s Direct Instruction [DI], at the expense of others. The New York Times account is here.

While Bush DOE officials connected to its Reading First initiative were publicly proclaiming that they were acting in the best interests of America’s school children by promoting only scientifically proven reading programs, they were overstepping the mandates of NCLB and stacking review panels, ensuring that only DI would pass muster. Interestingly, the report was undertaken not in response to objections of ‘whole language’ advocates, but from a complaint from the founder of a phonics based reading program, Success for All. More »

TABOR and Katrina Pod Teachers

Ed Muir at the AFT’s NCLBlog has written about TABOR laws and the problems they’ve brought to school districts and states that have adopted them in the past few years. Last week he wrote an informative post about some of the groups and people pushing TABOR laws.

In other news, John from the AFT’s NCLBlog runs down a FEMA effort to provide tiny pod houses to teachers.

In an attempt to get “the best and brightest teachers to return to New Orleans,” New Orleans is giving teachers…a large walk-in closet to live in.

This isn’t a temporary classroom; it’s a FEMA-supplied housing unit for teachers. The district has created obstacles for certified, highly qualified teachers who are eager to return to New Orleans schools. But state officials brag that these storage pods — at a cost of $56,000 a pop — show their “commitment to helping displaced teachers find their way home and encouraging others around the country to take a chance and join us.” [Hat tip: EdLog.]

Much more at the AFL-CIO’s blog.

Privatization, Yet Again

Jonathan Singer at MYDD frames as another round of privatizing the public good the recent news that the Bush Administration has proposed a new voucher plan to gin up right-wing support before the November elections:

“George W. Bush and the Republican Congress are going off of the same playbook they have been following for years. Whenever any questions emerge about a public program, privatization is their answer.

The Social Security trust fund might run empty in 35 years… partially privatize it. Want to add a prescription drug program to Medicare… partially privatize it. Want to make the War in Iraq seem less expensive… partially privatize services (to Halliburton and others). Public schools are underperforming because of budget cuts… partially privatize them through vouchers.

The American people do not want to see their necessary services farmed out to corporations or private institutions, but Republicans nevertheless continue in their effort to sell off massive chunks of the American government like it was a business they just bought with junk bonds. Oh, Republicans will use terms like “vouchers” or “personalization” to make their plans more palatable to voters, but no one should mistake what their real intention is: negating America’s promise to this generation and future generations by systematically privatizing public programs.”

“Follow The Money”: From Abramoff and Lobbygate to ‘For Profit’ Education

“Follow the money.” This admonition, Woodward and Bernstein wrote in All The President’s Men, was the advice ‘Deep Throat’ gave as they pursued the Watergate scandal. Last year’s revelation that ‘Deep Throat’ was Mark Felt, second in command at the FBI, came as Washington found itself swept up in the vortex of yet another far-reaching scandal, this time around such key Republican lobbyists and Congressional leaders as Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and Tom DeLay.

In today’s Lobbygate Scandal, Felt’s counsel to “follow the money” seems almost prescient. The Washington power nexus of money and politics is involved in every public allegation of wrongdoing to date, from the millions of dollars in kickbacks and the defrauding of American Indian tribes to the misuse of charities and the ‘laundering’ of illegal campaign contributions. The DeLay-Abramoff campaign to remake the high finance, special interest world of ‘K’ Street lobbying into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party is an ever-present backdrop to all of these deeds. If we needed reminding, Lobbygate affirms once again an old truth: unregulated and uncontrolled money in politics corrupts republican government “of, by and for the people.”

Now that Abramoff has entered into a guilty plea to charges of conspiracy to bribe elected officials, mail fraud and tax evasion as part of a bargain with prosecutors which requires his cooperation, investigators into Lobbygate have access to his voluminous e-mails and related documents. As many as twenty members of Congress and Congressional aides are believed to be targets of the ongoing investigation, and a small tidal wave of members of Congress has rushed to announce that they were returning campaign donations from Abramoff in the wake of his pleas.
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Manufacturing the Virtues of Competition in Education

Among the orthodox neo-classical economists who study American education, a belief in the efficacy of competition is taken as the primary doctrine from which all analysis must start. In most cases, this belief is treated as an article of faith, straight from the scriptures of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman; it is taken as an a priori principle which is never seriously examined. But given the claims made for various privatization and laissez-faire market-style reforms in education policy debates, it would seem that the virtues of competition in education are what need to be proven, not assumed.

Yet when this doctrine is put to an empirical test, the results are far from a ringing endorsement. Whether the issue at hand is the functioning of the voucher experiments in Milwaukee and Cleveland, the relative academic performance of charter schools and district schools or the record of for-profit educational corporations, there are intense debates among scholars over the actual benefits, if any, of competition in the real world of American schools. There is little question that there is nothing even approaching a scholarly consensus on these issues. Indeed, there are few areas of scholarly research in any field which are more politicized or more polarized than the debates over competition and markets in education.

The latest battle in these scholarly wars features a newcomer market skeptic, Princeton economist Jesse Rothstein, and a veteran competition true believer, Harvard economist Carolyn Hoxby.

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