86 Deaths in Public-Private Foster Care – and Why Education Activists Should Be Paying Attention

Two years ago, BuzzFeed broke a disturbing story that gained little public attention at the time.

According to a 2015 report, widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – took place in homes that were part of the for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.

The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

Buzzfeed’s report was thorough enough to prompt a Senate investigation.

But a key power-player, who has since left Mentor to form organizations influencing everything from juvenile recidivism to public education, has thus far been left off the hook.

Tripp Jones, now Principal at a company called 21c that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially, served as member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years.

According to his company bio, Jones played a pivotal role in “building the systems” that enabled the company to grow from $250 million in revenue to $1.1 billion.

Then, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.

Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and Learning, Third Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists.

In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

Thus far, the coverage of the Senate’s investigation of Mentor has been watered-down at best.

Damage-control may be more accurate.

The Senate report and its recommendations call for further data-mining, which will inevitably serve to bolster these partnerships and the profits they generate.

Rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like Jones) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations, media outlets like the Intercept limit their coverage to this one firm.

Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.

In fact, Omidyar even gave a million dollars to Jones’s New Profit – the group that is now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other concerned citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and – hopefully – to make it stop.

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(This is Alexandria Hill, who was killed in a Mentor foster home in 2013.)

Ivanka Trump Becomes Latest Billionaire to Push “Computer Science for All” Hoax

On Wednesday, an op-ed written by Ivanka Trump appeared in the New York Post.

Joining a long list of public school-meddling billionaires who have no education qualifications nor children in public school of their own, Ivanka claimed the nation’s children as the subject of her White House pet project by calling for expansion of computer science and coding in America’s public schools.

The call is built on a long-propagated but thoroughly debunked myth that our nation suffers from a dearth of workers with STEM qualifications.

In fact, the claim that we need to get kids coding by kindergarten is little more than convenient cover to get more kids hooked up to digital devices in their classrooms and sending data to the cloud.

“Coding is at intersection of tech ed and edtech,” explains Hadi Partovi in an interview with digital learning guru, Tom Vander Ark. “People get online Computer Science. It may be an easier sell to blended Computer Science than blended math.”

And that, of course, is exactly what Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley tech titans are trying to do: sell us on the idea that we need to spend more time learning online.  (The term “blended” refers to learning that takes at least partially online.)

No surprise, then, that Ivanka mentions joining Partovi and Microsoft President Brad Smith in Virginia for – in Partovi’s own words – the Hour of Code “marketing gimmick” with the students of Middleburg Community Charter School.

In an email to the Clinton campaign (because yes, this is a thoroughly bipartisan ruse) Partovi urged staffers to think beyond the marketing stunt and make “Computer Science” a key piece of their platform.

“Any time Hillary says “STEM”, if she instead, said “Computer science” she’d have more voters understand and support her.  For winning an election, STEM is not what voters react to,” Partovi advised.

Hillary lost, of course, but Partovi lost no time buddying up with Ivanka Trump to push his agenda.

Partovi, a long-time liberal, wrote: “I knew many would ask me: “How can you support something the Trump administration is doing?”

“[We] may be divided by our politics, but we’re united by our love for money,” he said.

Did I say “money?”  Okay, he actually said our love for “children.”

But we all know what he really meant.

 

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How They Silence Us: An ABC Primer – UPDATED!

**Curiously, if you shared this blog on Facebook last night, the link no longer works. Instead you get this message:

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(And yes I know I need to plug my phone in.)

Just a coincidence?  Or is this E for Erasing or maybe G for Gaslighting (i.e. messing with my head…)?  At any rate, I’ve updated the post with a new letter, and hope that if you were so inclined to share last night, that you will share again today!  

….

As the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act begins to take effect nationwide, the proverbial you-know-what is beginning to hit the fan.

Parents and teachers are discovering that all the talk about “returning decision making to states” was a bunch of hooey,  and that even though their state may have ditched Common Core, or replaced PARCC or SBAC with another brand-name test, profit-driven education reforms are moving forward at lightning speed.

Consultants, electronic devices, personalized learning plans, and standards-based grading software are closing in on districts everywhere, leaving many parents and teachers up in arms and eager to speak up.

Unfortunately, they are ready with an arsenal of tricks to keep us quiet.

Here are a few ways they may try to silence you as you try to take a stand, and a few ideas to help break through the barriers

1. A is for Asking for “Input”

Sure, there are some who actually want to hear what you have to say – but they are rarely those in the driver’s seat.

In order to keep you from quibbling too much with their plans, reformers (consultants, politicians, etc), will often elicit your “feedback” or “input” on their plans (which are already set in stone).

For teachers, this often means being asked to write things down on chart paper or sticky notes during meetings.

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For parents, this may mean spaghetti dinners or emails from the state commissioner asking you to fill out a survey.

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The idea is for them to take this information back to the boardroom and decide how best to communicate to you the plans they’ve already drawn up.

My advice: Bypass the sticky notes and surveys and contact power players directly.  Get a big group together to attend the board meeting and speak up together. Video tape it with your phone and post it online.  Repeat.

2. B is for Blaming

Don’t like the new learning management system?  Concerned about the new grading policy?  Frustrated by the new curriculum?

This is because you haven’t been implementing these things properly.

My advice: Ask to visit a district where all of the new reforms are being “fully” implemented with fidelity. Keep asking until they have to admit that there is nowhere, actually, that is successfully implementing all of the reforms they want to see.

3. C is For Calling Names

Have you been called stupid, mean, crazy, nasty, immature, foolish, etc… all because you’ve done some research on what’s happening to public schools and are worried about what is happening to your district?

Have you researched education reform for hours upon hours, and then, when you finally got the nerve to share what you’ve learned with others, got called a “conspiracy theorist”?

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Yeah, me too.

My advice: Shrug it off, hug your kids or your pets, and think of it as a win.  People call names when they can’t think of a way to refute what you are telling them, so you’ve either struck a nerve or proven your point.  Well done.

4. D is for Deception

I’ll never forget the day our state commissioner sent me a letter – supposedly written by several “teachers of the year” – endorsing our state proficiency based diploma law.

“You are in the minority speaking against this,” he told me.

But when I looked more carefully at the letter, there in the top right corner was the logo of “Educate Maine” – the very organization that had lobbied (with Nellie Mae money!) for the law in the first place!

It turns out that Educate Maine had strategically taken over the State Teacher of the Year program, and used the program for their political goals.

Creepy.

The fact is, most of the reforms they are shoving down our throats have very little support or honest-to-goodness research to back them up, so they need to trick us into thinking people like their ideas.

My advice: Fact check everything you’re told.  If someone tells you a program is “research-based,” find out who did that research and how it was paid for.  If they tell you teachers are raving about a new program, find out who those teachers are and if (as in my case) there’s something more going on behind the curtain.  There usually is.

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5. S is for Shaming

How dare you try to tear apart our community!  How dare you question what is meant only for the good of the children!  How dare you question distinguished politicians or intellectuals! That’s not just wrong – it’sstupid and selfish.

Who do you think you are, anyway?

In my mind, there isn’t a lower blow someone can commit than trying to make another feel ashamed of themselves for speaking their mind.

My advice: Keep speaking your mind.  We need more people who do.

Clearly, this is only the tip of iceberg.  Please comment with other letters as you think of them.

And remember: the revolution won’t be televised.

 

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How They Silence Us: An ABC Primer

As the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act begins to take effect nationwide, the proverbial you-know-what is beginning to hit the fan.

Parents and teachers are discovering that all the talk about “returning decision making to states” was a bunch of hooey,  and that even though their state may have ditched Common Core, or replaced PARCC or SBAC with another brand-name test, profit-driven education reforms are moving forward at lightning speed.

Consultants, electronic devices, personalized learning plans, and standards-based grading software are closing in on districts everywhere, leaving many parents and teachers up in arms and eager to speak up.

Unfortunately, they are ready with an arsenal of tricks to keep us quiet.

Here are a few ways they may try to silence you as you try to take a stand, and a few ideas to help break through the barriers

1. A is for Asking for “Input”

Sure, there are some who actually want to hear what you have to say – but they are rarely those in the driver’s seat.

In order to keep you from quibbling too much with their plans, reformers (consultants, politicians, etc), will often elicit your “feedback” or “input” on their plans (which are already set in stone).

For teachers, this often means being asked to write things down on chart paper or sticky notes during meetings.

imgres.jpg

For parents, this may mean spaghetti dinners or emails from the state commissioner asking you to fill out a survey.

none_of_the_above.GIF

The idea is for them to take this information back to the boardroom and decide how best to communicate to you the plans they’ve already drawn up.

My advice: Bypass the sticky notes and surveys and contact power players directly.  Get a big group together to attend the board meeting and speak up together. Video tape it with your phone and post it online.  Repeat.

2. B is for Blaming

Don’t like the new learning management system?  Concerned about the new grading policy?  Frustrated by the new curriculum?

This is because you haven’t been implementing these things properly.

My advice: Ask to visit a district where all of the new reforms are being “fully” implemented with fidelity.  Keep asking until they have to admit that there is nowhere, actually, that is successfully implementing all of the reforms they want to see.

3. C is For Calling Names

Have you been called stupid, mean, crazy, nasty, immature, foolish, etc… all because you’ve done some research on what’s happening to public schools and are worried about what is happening to your district?

Have you researched education reform for hours upon hours, and then, when you finally got the nerve to share what you’ve learned with others, got called a “conspiracy theorist”?

6361162861152856961099446630_giphy.gif

 

Yeah, me too.

My advice: Shrug it off, hug your kids or your pets, and think of it as a win.  People call names when they can’t think of a way to refute what you are telling them, so you’ve either struck a nerve or proven your point.  Well done.

4. S is for Shaming

How dare you try to tear apart our community!  How dare you question what is meant only for the good of the children!  How dare you question distinguished politicians or intellectuals! That’s not just wrong – it’s stupid and selfish.

Who do you think you are, anyway?

In my mind, there isn’t a lower blow someone can commit than trying to make another feel ashamed of themselves for speaking their mind.

My advice: Keep speaking your mind.  We need more people who do.

Clearly, this is only the tip of iceberg.  Please comment with other letters as you think of them.

And remember: the revolution won’t be televised.

 

48548598-Scared-woman-with-mouth-taped-shut-Afraid-young-girl-with-duct-tape-on-lips-Censorship-and-freedom-o-Stock-Photo.jpg

 

 

 

Calling Foul: Ravitch is Wrong About MacArthur

This is a bit ironic.

This morning, Diane Ravitch reblogged a post I’d written about an exceptionally good piece on the influence of billionaires in public schools.

Ravitch included the following commentary:

“Blow the whistle. Call foul.  Speak up.  Now.”

Well, now I have to call foul on one of Diane’s posts.

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Yesterday, Ravitch disclosed that she was one of the judges for the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” grant competition.

“This is what real philanthropy looks like,” she said of the competition.

But it isn’t.

The MacArthur Foundation, which is up to its ears in next-gen education reform – promoting and investing in concepts like “personalized learning,” digital badging, and digital, behaviorist-based interventions – is among many foundations planting seeds to sprout the Social Impact Bond (SIB’s, also known as Pay for Success) market.

In a nutshell, SIB’s are a way for private investors to profit from public programs. They provide upfront capital to start a program, and if the program meets a set of agreed-upon success metrics, investors get repaid with interest.

It’s an “innovative financial model” still in its infancy, but foundations like MacArthur are busy laying the groundwork for it to take off.

MacArthur is a member and financier of the Global Impact Investing Network, which is building a massive catalogue of “performance metrics” that can be used to determine the risk of social investments.

It’s one of the major reasons that social institutions like public schools and public health programs are now being pillaged for data at every turn – and why everything we do must be “measurable.”

MacArthur is also a prime driver of the datafication and digitalization of public education, supporting – along with the Gates Foundation – organizations likes IMS Global and Mozilla, as they work to develop standardized, digital credentialing systems.

At least one of MacArthur’s 100&Change finalists is exactly the type of behaviorist-based intervention that allows for the quick and easy data collection that investors are looking for: a collaborative between Sesame Street Workshop and the U.K.’s “Behavioural Insights Team” (better known as the “Nudge Unit” ) that plans to bring “cost-effective strategies, including digital platforms” to help Syrian refugee children develop “social-emotional” skills.

And if that alone doesn’t cause you to raise an eyebrow, I don’t know what will.

Now, I won’t speculate on Diane’s motivation for linking up with MacArthur.

Maybe she will explain?

But, a foul is a foul, and I’m blowing the whistle.

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Be Like Lisa.

Sixteen years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and I sat across from each other in Latin class at Phillips Exeter Academy.

A few years after Exeter, I began teaching public school.

Mark, meanwhile, invented Facebook and became a billionaire.

Now, the one who never worked a day in his life in a public school (Mark) is crusading nationwide to “remake” public schools.

Without bothering to hear from those who actually work in those schools (I wrote Mark an open letter a couple of years ago that was picked up by a number of popular media outlets, but never heard back), Mark and his wife are striving to build a public school system that in no way resembles the intimate, discussion-based, mostly tech-free education (with no more than twelve students per class) that we got at Exeter.

Chan and Zuckerberg – along with a long list of other billionaires like Reed Hastings, Laurene Powell Jobs, Eli Broad, and the Waltons – are currently pushing an education agenda that puts an electronic device at the hands of each student, tracking their every move with “personalized learning plans” that will warn you in big red letters if at any time you fall off-track and aren’t meeting the standards as you should be.

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There’s a giant profit motive behind this frighteningly technocratic vision, and anyone who cares about public schools should be fighting tooth and nail against it.

Unfortunately, based on the speed at which schools are adopting Mark’s “Summit Personalized Learning” program and the amount of money his LLC is throwing at public policy initiatives, Mark and his billionaire buddies are currently winning this war.

The good news is that nationwide, people are starting to take notice (with TV specials like the XQ Super School event, it’s getting harder to overlook) and, more importantly, to speak up.

This weekend a retired teacher in Philadelphia wrote a brilliant op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, pinpointing exactly what’s wrong with the kind of meddling these billionaires are doing in our schools.

Here’s just the tip of the iceberg:

Over the past 20 years, education policy has increasingly been enacted not to satisfy the needs of the students and their families, but the wants of the wealthy and powerful who are converting public education from a civic enterprise to a marketplace for edu-vendors: the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has paid to expand charters and lobby for the use of Common Core standards in all 50 states; real estate and insurance mogul Eli Broad now leads a group of corporate funders pushing a plan to move half of all K-12 students in Los Angeles into charter schools; the Walton family has initiated a new $1 billion campaign to promote charters nationwide; Trump financier Carl Icahn has established a chain of charters in New York City.

No one elected these billionaires, and they are accountable to no one.

Please read it, share it, and be like Lisa Haver. 

Speak up, before it’s too late. 

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And You Thought Standardized Tests Were Bad.

Yesterday afternoon, in eighty degree heat, my fourth graders took the first of the six “NWEA MAP” assessments that they will sit for this year.

The MAP test (which stands for “Measure of Academic Progress”) is often considered to be the lesser of evils when it comes to standardized testing: scores show up immediately after a student finishes testing, and it purports to measure “growth” rather than how a child stacks up against grade-level standards.

Results often make zero sense (how does a student who worked their tail off in the classroom all year actually lose learning points, while another miraculously makes three years worth of “growth”?), but because the results have a sort of science-y feel, the test is used to place students in intervention groups, gifted and talented programs, and even to award merit pay bonuses to teachers.

Yesterday, in our steamy-hot classroom, I had to gently prod kids along – reminding them to turn their eyes back to the test when they drifted toward the window or the doorway, to put the rainbow erasers away, to pick their heads up off their desk.

The test, however, wanted me to intervene with one little girl sitting in the front of the room.

There was no question she was reading the passages in front of her, and no question that she was doing her best to do her best.

But, according to the test’s new warning feature, she was “disengaged.”

NWEA recently received an award from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional learning for this feature, which not only claims to know who is disengaged based on how quickly they are clicking through the test, but all sorts of other things about the child’s psyche.

If a student doesn’t take the test seriously enough, NWEA believes this is a sign that a child is struggling to self-regulate or self-manage in school, and could benefit from behavioral intervention.

Now, this may not seem so bad, until you realize that this “what’s wrong with kids who won’t take our test seriously and what can we do about them?” feature is actually part of a “broader research agenda” spurred by the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to “measure” social-emotional learning using standardized tests.

Which isn’t actually about helping the kids at all.

Instead, its a data-siphoning strategy designed to fuel not only the multi-billion dollar assessment industry, but the budding “Pay For Success” investment opportunities that Wall Street is hoping will create a cash cow in a few years time.

And if what happened in my class is any sign of what’s to come, we’re in really big trouble.

The girl that the test flagged as “disengaged” actually scored the highest in the class (and she’s probably one of the sweetest, calmest kids I’ve ever worked with) meaning that the click-speed feature didn’t actually have a damn clue about what was going on in my students’ psyches as they took the test.

Just as they do with standardized tests, however, you can bet they’re going to try charging forward with these blunt, inept social-emotional assessments, wreaking whatever havoc they please.

If only they had a warning system letting them know how disengaged we are becoming with these assessments…

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