Posted in Broad, David Berliner, Gates, Gerald Bracey, MLK, technology, WaltonFamilyFoundation

Money for Nothin’


For the past two decades Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have been dropping millions of dollars into education schemes the billionaire was sure would transform America’s schools. Gates tried small schools, teacher incentives, and the Common Core to try to influence the achievement of public schools – all to no avail. (Further reading: Anthony Cody’s, The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation)

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has invested millions of dollars into training managers to run school systems like businesses. They’ve put money into large scale teacher merit-pay experiments in school districts. They’ve supported legislation, including the so-called “Parent Trigger” which would allow a majority of a schools current parents to transfer a community owned public school to a for-profit charter company.

The Walton Family Foundation, run by America’s wealthiest family, has invested millions of dollars in the privatization of public education. They have supported the creation and expansion of voucher programs in Indiana and other states.

The attempts to improve America’s education by billionaires, none of whom have any training in education, have several things in common.

First, none of the schemes have been successful enough, or been replicable on a large enough scale to improve the country’s public education system.

Second, the money used to fund the projects hasn’t been sustainable. Some programs have failed when grants ended, because of the inability of the school systems to continue to pay for it.

Third, nearly all attempts to improve schools measure that improvement with standardized test scores which are often inadequate.

Fourth, America’s low international test scores are often cited as the reason for the billionaires’ interference in education. I have explained in detail why our students’ average scores are lower on international tests in The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools.

Finally, none of the attempts by these wealthy families, even if we assume that they are altruistic in their desire to help children succeed, attack the root cause of low achievement in America. Poverty.


The late Gerald Bracey wrote,

When people have said “poverty is no excuse,” my response has been, “Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.”

David C. Berliner, professor and dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education at Arizona State University, presented a brief titled, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. The report explains how improvements of schools are not enough to overcome the out-of-school factors faced by children who live in high poverty areas.

…the negative effects of many [out-of-school factors] are concentrated in the schools that serve poor and minority children and families. This increases the burden on these schools in such a way as to make broad reductions in the achievement gap nearly impossible.


Silicon valley billionaires are dumping their tax write-offs into America’s schools in the hopes, they say, of increasing test scores…and, if they can get a few bucks themselves in the process, so much the better.

The New York Times has a long article detailing ways that projects from tech entrepreneurs, like Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are influencing America’s schools. Once again they aren’t focusing on the real problem.

The influx of money from rich technology-king benefactors has an influence on what teachers are teaching…and how they teach. After all, when a teacher or school gets a grant for a half million dollars in hardware and software they generally don’t turn it down. The students, then, become the “de facto beta testers” for the billionaires’ ideas.

But does it actually help?

The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools

Tech companies and their founders have been rolling out programs in America’s public schools with relatively few checks and balances, The New York Times found in interviews with more than 100 company executives, government officials, school administrators, researchers, teachers, parents and students.

“They have the power to change policy, but no corresponding check on that power,” said Megan Tompkins-Stange, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “It does subvert the democratic process.”

Furthermore, there is only limited research into whether the tech giants’ programs have actually improved students’ educational results.

Once again we have billionaires dumping money into schools, and often into privatization schemes, without regard to actual research and often without public oversight.

Technology can be a powerful educational tool, when used correctly. Where did Mark Zuckerberg get his teaching credentials? Who is determining how these programs are used? Who is monitoring them to see if they work? Will the money disappear if the programs fail?


A New Jersey family won a lottery of nearly a half billion dollars…guess where it’s going?

Family in New Jersey Wins $429 Million Lottery, Uses Money to Fight Poverty

Last year, the Smith family in Trenton, New Jersey, won the $429 million Powerball lottery, and they planned to use all that money to help fight poverty. Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven children meant what they said at a press conference when they promised to give that money back to their community.

…They used the money to pay off bills and student loans before they put it back into their community with the Smith Family Foundation. “We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” Harold Smith told “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”

The foundation will work with the city in order to provide both long- and short-term grants for Trenton. [emphasis added]

Imagine if Gates, Broad, The Waltons, and the rest tried to improve education by donating their billions to help fight poverty, like the Smiths, in cooperation with municipalities and states. If we reduce poverty we can reduce the negative effects of out-of-school factors that get in the way of student achievement.

In his Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, on August 16, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

…we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.

Posted in Choice, Privatization, Quotes, TeacherShortage, technology, Testing

Random Quotes – September 2015


Irony, Education Reform and Teacher Shortages

Is the current teacher shortage the result of a purposeful attempt to destroy the teaching profession? After years of teacher bashing fewer people are becoming teachers. States are opening up classrooms to untrained novices like 5-week trained graduates in TFA programs, and “professionals” who are content area specialists with no training in pedagogy (REPA III in Indiana). Fewer long-term professionals means less money spent on personnel. Less money spent on personnel means more profits when the same low standards are applied to privately owned charter schools and private/parochial schools. More profits…

Who would want to enter a profession which is constantly belittled, poorly paid, and set up to fail?

Two quotes from educator Russ Walsh…

From Russ Walsh

So as I understand the reform agenda, repeated attacks on the teaching profession is not the problem. The problem is, instead, the economy. We can expect to attract the best and brightest to a profession that has low pay, low esteem and low stability. That does not sound like any law of supply and demand that I read about.

After making the teaching profession as undesirable as possible we need to lower our standards for teachers in order to fill classroom shortages. Add Indiana to the states mentioned below.

Next, we can solve the teacher shortage by loosening certification requirements, so that anyone who can prove s/he is breathing can teach. This seems to be the direction that states like North Carolina and Kansas are going. As I understand this argument, it goes something like this, teachers and their unions are the problem in education, so let’s solve the problem by putting even less qualified, less knowledgeable people in the classroom. I have to wonder how many reformsters go to a doctor who is unlicensed and received five weeks of medical training in the summer.


Duncan Still Oblivious

The buck gets passed…Duncan blames the states, the states blame the federal government, local school districts blame the states and the federal government.

The fact is that our students are tested to death in order to fill the bellies of test manufacturers.

Today, while talking to a teacher about testing, I was told that now, the third graders in our local school district only have to take the ISTEP (the state test given in two parts in February and April), IREAD-3 (given in March), and the NWEA (a computer based achievement test given two or three times a year depending on the school system).

The teacher gave me that information and from the tone of his voice he was relieved because this was actually less than third graders have had in the past. We have so over tested our students –– we’re so used to massive amounts of testing –– that when we cut the amount of testing down to only three different tests in one year, taking approximately 15-20 hours of class time (not including test-prep and transition time) it almost seems reasonable.

But it’s not reasonable. The tests are still misused and overused.

ISTEP is being misused to grade schools and teachers and has virtually no diagnostic benefit for teachers and students. IREAD-3 is being misused to punish students who struggle with reading by threatening them with retention. Why do we need IREAD-3 when ISTEP and NWEA also test reading achievement? Why do we need ISTEP when NWEA also tests math, reading, and language?

How many millions of dollars are schools in Indiana spending on testing which should be spent on student learning?

…and Duncan thinks that “no one is that focused on [test] scores?”

From Peter Greene

Meanwhile, [Duncan is] clueless. “No one is that focused on scores,” he says, and I’m now thinking that he’s not so much smoking something as shunting it directly into his brain. Because the kids who can’t move on to Fourth Grade in some states because their scores were too low, or the schools that are being shut down or sucked dry by charters because their scores are too low, or the teachers whose professional evaluation is in some part set by BS Test scores– I think all of those folks are pretty focused on scores. Plus, Duncan’s comment sidesteps a big question– why should anybody be focused on test scores at all?


Destroying Public Schools To “Save” Them

What happens when public schools are blamed for all the societal failures in the nation, and taxpayer funds are diverted to private charters and parochial schools?

From Jersey Jazzman

You shouldn’t be surprised when families “choose” to send their children to schools that have resource advantages, even if they lack transparency and accountability to the communities they supposedly serve.

No Zip Code Tyranny

“Reformers” claim that we must close “failing” schools and replace them with charters…and by “failing” schools they mean schools where test scores are low. Where are test scores the lowest? In schools with high numbers of students who live in poverty. Schools in poor neighborhoods of cities are the ones often targeted to be closed and replaced with charters. Who lives in the poor neighborhoods of cities? Children of color.

From Peter Greene

…the wealthy do not choose choice.

Burdick-Will took a look at 24,000 rising ninth graders in Chicago. In neighborhoods with median income over $75,000, the students attended one of two or three schools. In neighborhoods with median income under $25,000, students were divied up among around thirteen different schools.

…”We think of choice as a thing of privilege,” she said. “But what we see is that there is a privilege of not having to choose.” [emphasis added]


School Closure: A Tragic Turnaround Strategy

Across the nation public schools are the focus of community in neighborhoods and small towns. What happens when those schools are closed, instead of improved, in order to free up funds for privatization?

From Jan Resseger

School closure is one of the four approved, top-down “turnaround” plans prescribed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for schools unable to raise test scores after several years. The implication of the “turnaround” language, of course, implies that somehow closure will inspire rebirth, but too often school closure has meant not only the death of the school but also the demise of the neighborhood for which the school was the institutional anchor.

USED: Accountability for Public Schools Only

Secretary Duncan’s Education Department just tossed another $157 million at charter schools. Take a look at how carefully USED takes care of public tax money (which should be going to public schools) –– check out Diane Ravitch’s article, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up! Manipulator of Charter Data Wins Big Federal Grants for Ohio

From Peter Greene

The double standard remains the same. Public schools must account for every penny, including federal bucks that must be spent only as Uncle Sugar demands. Public schools must keep open records always available to the taxpayers. Public schools must even hire employees whose only job is to monitor and report on the money– all the money. Meanwhile, charter schools just get money thrown at them with no requirement to do anything except, I suppose, have a nice day.

EduShyster: Three “White Shoe” Law Firms Sue to Lift the Charter Cap in Massachusetts

The only thing Diane Ravitch doesn’t mention here is that the same thing is happening all over the country.

From Diane Ravitch

The Bay State–or at least its current leaders–seem determined to create a fiscal crisis for underfunded districts and a two-tier system of schools with public funds. One free to choose its students, the other required to enroll all students.


Technology for technology’s sake

In the mid-80s desktop computers invaded public schools. As an “early adopter” of computer education, I was fortunate enough to be able to help colleagues develop lesson plans which used computers to enhance learning. It was difficult, however, to convince people that, like a film projector, or a tape recorder, computers were just tools…and should not be the focus of education itself. Software for education, I argued, should be high quality, taking advantage of the medium’s strengths rather than just copying paper-based teaching tools. The software “worksheet” was the prime example. Why would a mindless, busywork worksheet delivered electronically be better than the traditional paper and pencil mimeographed sheet?  Obviously, it wouldn’t. Both are a waste of resources — either physical or electronic.

Times have changed but there are still new technological advances being used as simple replacements for obsolete technology. The latest…moving overused and misused standardized tests to computers.

Gerald Bracey is missed…

From the late Gerald Bracey


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
A Manifesto for a Revolution in Public Education
Click here to sign the petition.

For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.