By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
For three decades, California’s State Board of Education (SBE) has embraced a neoliberal agenda. It has promoted school privatization; embraced standards-based education; and advocated for the STEM fraud.
The 11 current members of the SBE were all appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.
The board is representative of most of California with members from the central coast, the inland empire, the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area, LA County, Orange County and San Diego County.
SBE is organized like K-12 boards throughout the state including a high school student member who is appointed by the Governor. The big difference is the members are appointed not elected.
The student member is appointed for a one-year term and the 10 voting board members are appointed to a four-year term. On the surface, this board looks like a highly qualified group of professional educators with stellar credentials.
Jenifer Berkshire published an article titled “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party.” In this brilliant piece, Berkshire clearly elucidates the term neoliberal. She writes:
“By the early 1980s, there was already a word for turning public institutions upside down: neoliberalism. Before it degenerated into a flabby insult, neoliberal referred to a self-identified brand of Democrat, ready to break with the tired dogmas of the past. ‘The solutions of the thirties will not solve the problems of the eighties,’ wrote Randall Rothenberg in his breathless 1984 paean to this new breed, whom he called simply ‘The Neoliberals.’ His list of luminaries included the likes of Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Gary Hart and Al Gore (for the record, Gore eschewed the neoliberal label in favor of something he liked to call ‘neopopulism’). In Rothenberg’s telling, the ascendancy of the neoliberals represented an economic repositioning of the Democratic Party that had begun during the economic crises of the 1970s. The era of big, affirmative government demanding action—desegregate those schools, clean up those polluted rivers, enforce those civil rights and labor laws—was over. It was time for fresh neo-ideas.” (emphasis added)
Board President Michael Kirst’s CV resume references his PhD awarded at Harvard University in 1964 for Political Economy and Government. Soon after Harvard, he joined the Johnson administration working as a budget analyst in the Office of Education. He became a White House Fellow and then director of the Bureau of Elementary and Secondary Education. When Richard Nixon was elected President, Kirst became a Senate staffer for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment, and Poverty.
In 1969, Kirst left Washington for Stanford University. Governor Jerry Brown appointed Kirst to the SBE in 1975. Brown would subsequently appoint Kirst to a four-year term three more times.
The 1970s revealed Kirst to be a highly educated and experienced liberal; working to advance the Democratic party and education.
When Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor ended, Kirst returned to Stanford.
Kirst rejoined Brown, who became the new Mayor of Oakland in 1999. Kirst was a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Education. In Oakland, this once champion of public education and labor rights helped Brown make Oakland’s schools the most privatized in California.
Around the same time, Kirst became a board member of EdVoice. When EdVoice sued the Los Angeles Unified School District for not using standardized testing results to evaluate teachers, education historian, Diane Ravitch explained who EdVoice is:
“EdVoice was founded in 2001 by Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix, Microsoft board member, Green Dot founding funder) and John Doerr (venture capitalist, investment banker), along with and former CA state Assembly members Ted Lempert and Steve Poizner. Eli Broad and Don Fisher (deceased CEO of The Gap and major KIPP supporter) once served on EdVoice’s board.”
“Back in 1998, Hastings also co-founded Californians for Public School Excellence with Don Shalvey. This is the organization that pushed for the Charter Schools Act of 1998, the law that lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.”
EdVoice gives unstinting media support to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and standardized testing.
SBE is Responsible for Academic Standards
The SBE adopted standards developed through the aegis of Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft and Louis Gerstner, former CEO of both IBM and RJR Nabisco. This is “corporate education reform.” It is reform led by amateurs instead of education professionals.
California is one of the few states that has continued with the common cores state standards (CCSS) which were written in secret by mostly testing corporation employees.
Media from the right, left and center are routinely running headlines calling Bill Gates’ CCSS a disaster: Stick A Fork In Common Core—It’s Done – The Federalist; Analysis: Top 5 Reasons Common Core Has Been a Disaster – The Christian Post; Another Common Core disaster: Corporate-education reformer John King is exactly the wrong man to be secretary of education – Salon; PARCC Gets Parked: What Testing Companies Don’t Want Parents to Know – Huffington Post.
While most states have abandoned the CCSS, SBE is enforcing them.
Louis Gerstner’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are even worse. He personally oversaw the NGSS development. They are so bad that even SBE recognized something had to be done, so they had the standards rewritten into a more usable form. However, they are still a science education plague.
The newest board member, Trish Boyd Williams, exemplifies the nexus between corporate education reform and the SBE. She served for 19-years as the Executive Director of Edsource which describes itself,
“Since its founding in 1977, EdSource has broadened its focus to include a broad range of education reforms, including early education and preschools, charter schools, school accountability, STEM education, teacher evaluation and obstacles students face in the math pipeline from pre-kindergarten to college. In 2012, it launched its journalism and communications arms, EdSource Today, which now comprises the largest education reporting staff of any newsroom in the state.”
The secret of Edsource’s success is keeping happy its big pocketed contributors including The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; The California Endowment; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; The Stuart Foundation and several more.
Of course, this required a careful editorial policy. For example, the stated purpose of 2016’s $1.3 million dollar contribution to Edsource from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation listed this purpose: “to deepen knowledge and awareness of state and federal reforms, including the Common Core standards and the Every Student Succeeds Act, through regular reporting on successful strategies as well as challenges that need to be overcome.”
It is not likely that Edsource will have a bad thing to say about CCSS.
Williams also served from 1993 to 2011 as the design architect, first author, and project lead with a team that included faculty from Stanford and researchers from the American Institutes for Research and WestEd doing large-scale survey studies, including the “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades” study released in February 2010.
Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades says on the author’s page, “EdSource thanks Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, for his generous support of this study.”
The central question asked was, “Why do some middle grades schools clearly outperform others on standards-based tests even though they serve a similar student population?”
The first problem with this study is that standardized testing has no ability to identify good pedagogy or learning. It has been a corporate reform delusion since “Nation at Risk” was published that standardized testing could accurately assess schools and teachers. It’s a scheme that began failing in China 1,500 years ago.
Of course, the answer discovered was that fidelity to the standards was the key. In other words, this paper found that higher test scores are possible. Teachers and schools just need to teach to the test.
Standards-based education is bad education. It is founded on a delusion.
SBE Responsible for Charter Schools
Here we have the fox guarding the henhouse. The SBE responsibility:
“All-charter district petitions are submitted directly to the SBE and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who have joint approval authority. In addition, the SBE has the authority to approve statewide benefit charter schools that operate at multiple locations throughout the state. As a charter authorizer, the SBE has monitoring and accountability responsibilities for the schools and all-charter districts it approves. The SBE also considers appeals of decisions made by local educational agencies to revoke a charter school’s operating petition.”
Districts and counties have turned down charter schools for various reasons only to have the SBE routinely authorize them. Some board members are charter school enthusiasts.
Board member Ting Lan Sun is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Sacramento-based Natomas Charter School.
Ting was Vice President of Leadership and Quality for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) from 2003-2006 where she developed and implemented the Association’s quality assurance strategy and initiatives. The CCSA tax form 990 from 2010 shows Ting receiving $158,000 in compensation.
Board member Bruce Holaday served in multiple positions at the Culver Academies from 1976 to 2004. He was formerly the Director of Newpoint Tampa High School from 2009 to 2010 (a charter school that went out of business in 2013) and Director of the Oakland Military Institute from 2004 to 2009. Mr. Holaday never attended a public school nor worked in one.
Oakland Military Institute is where he met then-Mayor Brown. The OMI website relates its history:
“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”
Cyber charters managed by K-12 Inc. and mall schools are ubiquitous in California and have a history of terrible outcomes. This November, the NPE released a major report on charter schools in which the history of malfeasance and bad public policy are documented. NPE Executive director, Carol Burris, spent a year researching and writing the report. She apprises,
“A bill that would have banned for-profit charters in California was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015. An additional bill, which would have prevented financially troubled districts from authorizing charters in other districts, was vetoed by Governor Brown in 2016. The president of the California State Board of Education, Michael Kirst, worked as a K12 consultant, prior to his appointment by Governor Brown.”
Is anyone on California’s State Board of Education trying to protect the 90 percent of students in public schools, or is it a neoliberal free for all decimating a legacy?
SBE Responsible for Curriculum
In the 1990s, a great hue and cry arose from the titans of Silicon Valley claiming, “The US has a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math professionals (STEM).” They called for the H1B visa program to be greatly expanded.
These fraudulent STEM claims were trumpeted so widely they became common knowledge.
By 2004, The Rand Corporation and others were publishing studies poking holes in the claims but few heard. Rand observed:
“Concerns about the size and adequacy of the U.S. scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics workforce have grown amid fears of a dwindling labor pool and concern that this may erode U.S. leadership in science and technology and could complicate mobilization of appropriate manpower for homeland security. In the past, such fears have failed to materialize, and surpluses have been more common than shortages.”
Professionals should be aware that STEM claims are not based on evidence. Perhaps at SBE they are and have other agendas.
Board President Kirst became a board member of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation in 2008. The foundation’s spending is almost exclusively for STEM education. The charity navigator website details that spending:
|The Elevate Program||$1,219,440||31.8% (math education program)|
|49ers STEM Leadership Institute||$850,500||22.2%|
Board member Williams says she “has focused her service on the SBE priorities of charter school policy and appeals, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and Computer Science.” (Computer science is a subset of STEM fraud.)
Board member Ortiz-Licon says she is focusing on, among other things, college and career-readiness and STEM initiatives.
The result is that school curriculums have been deformed based by a lie. There is even a push to make computer science a requirement for high school graduation.
Next year, California selects a new governor. Democrats, please avoid neoliberals like Villaraigosa.