By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
A recent editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune called for electing a former banker and charter school chief as Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). Following a familiar destroy public education (DPE) script; the editor creates a false crisis as the predicate for an urgent need to elect charter school executive, Marshall Tuck, over California State Assemblyman, Tony Thurmond.
Another Phony Baloney Education Crisis
The piece opens by stating:
“The 21st century has been a transformative time in public education. While most educators were disappointed with the mixed results of the 2002 federal law that linked aid to improving test scores — the No Child Left Behind Act — some states have seen dramatic progress. In union strongholds like Massachusetts and New Jersey, and in nonunion states like Florida and Texas, reforms that emphasize accountability from students, parents, teachers and administrators alike — and that use evidence-based best practices to standardize and improve teaching tactics — have boosted student achievement. These four states’ 2017 scores in the massive National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm this success.”
Stunningly a group that cheered on the federal takeover of public education by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) admits the results were “mixed.” “Mixed” is a soft way of characterizing the abject and destructive failure that was NCLB. The editor implies that NCLB theory actually worked when citing the use of “evidence-based best practices to standardize and improve teaching tactics” as the reason for improved scores by the good schools on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing.
The writer informs us that California, instead of following the example of these four exemplary states instituted the mistaken Local Control Funding Formula and asserts,
“It came as no surprise when a thorough review by CALmatters last year found little evidence of improved academic performance after $31 billion in funding had been pumped into schools with high numbers of struggling students.”
“This history shows the urgency of electing Marshall Tuck as the next state superintendent of public instruction.”
Testing data has a long history of misuse. Thirty-five years ago the Regan administration published “A Nation at Risk” which was not an independently refereed paper. Rather it was a polemic that kicked off the “DPE” movement. If it had been refereed, the course of public education reform probably would have taken a different path. One of the key indicators used to prove that American schools were failing was the declining scores on SAT exams. This year Anya Kamenetz reporting for National Public Radio observed,
“In the early 1960s, college-going was still rare. It was mostly top students, largely well-off white males, who took standardized tests like the SAT and applied to college.”
Kamenetz agreed that the SAT scoring averages were indeed falling but speculated that it was the result of the robustly expanded test-taking base. She also reported on the all but ignored review of American education testing data done by engineers at the Sandia National Laboratories. Their analysis refuted the “A Nation at Risk” claims. ‘”To our surprise, on nearly every measure, we found steady or slightly improving trends,’ one of the authors, Robert Huelskamp, later wrote.”
To test the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s damning claims against California’s public schools, eighth-grade math results from NAEP testing are compared.
In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, published his dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.” His work, which has never been refuted, basically says that error in standardized testing is too large to reliably compare student outcomes. Another major strike against standardized testing is called Campbell’s Law. Psychologist Donald Campbell observed, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
Even with knowledge of the above, it is still interesting that between 2013 and 2017 only California did not see a decline in math results. That is the exact time period which the San Diego Union-Tribune indicated that California’s schools were in decline because of the new funding formula. It is true that California’s scores are lower than the four states cited as exemplary, but it does not take much digging to find a compelling explanation.
It is well known that English language learners (ELL) score significantly lower on standardized testing. The federal data cited on the chart above shows how much larger the ELL population in California is than in any other state. Texas has the country’s second largest ELL population at 16.8% but that is significantly less than California’s 21% ELL.
This year Education Week did a report on K-12 spending per student in the fifty states: California $9,417; Florida $9,737; Massachusetts $14,569; New Jersey $16,337 and Texas $8,485. In the Public Interest reports California is America’s 41st ranked state in per-student spending.
The Brown administration pushed through a change in some of how schools are financed called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The state education bureaucracy used to dictate how money for programs like language learner support was spent. The LCFF gives local districts and counties control over how that money is spent and prescribes how their spending plan must be generated through an open process that includes parents, teachers and administrators.
LCFF did not – as the UT editor said – pump $31 billion new dollars into schools; it changed how those dollars are administered.
The editorial calls for the more authoritarian top-down approach to administration than the democratically designed LCFF scheme. The CALmatters report referred to is from a new non-partisan newsgroup out of Sacramento. There report actually said,
“Two years after the state adopted the new funding formula, it created new tests for measuring student performance. Experts say it’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions from the new test scores in 2015 and 2016, but they are still troubled that the early results show little improvement for the neediest students and, in many cases, a widening achievement gap.”
Billionaires Spending Big on Tuck
The Waltons control Walmart and have been spending heavily to privatize public schools for more than three decades.
Bill Bloomfield is a rich guy from LA who has also poured $7,000,000 into independent expenditures for Tuck.
The Rogers family is the main local force behind the privatization of Oakland’s school system.
Doris Fisher founded The Gap with her husband Don. They have spent extensively promoting charter schools and were the first significant benefactors for the KIPP franchise.
Eli Broad is the only person to found two fortune 500 companies. He announced plans to charterize half of Los Angeles’s schools and published a guide for closing public schools.
John Scully was the former CEO of Apple and consistently supports school privatization.
David Horowitz is a Republican activist who gained notoriety for his anti-affirmative action campaign.
Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty who spends lavishly to support school privatization.
Peter Chernin was COO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. He is also a movie producer of some note.
Reed Hastings is possibly the most dedicated destroy public education billionaire. He sat on the board of the California Charter Schools Association for many years.
Richard Riordan is the billionaire former Mayor of Los Angeles who spends millions on public school privatization.
John Arnold is the ex-Enron executive who did not go to jail. He and Reed Hastings have each invested $100 million in a new national school privatizing organization called The City Fund.
Jonathan Sackler is the heir to the billionaire inventors of Oxycontin. Besides selling addictive drugs, Jonathan invests in the privatization of America’s schools.
Les Biller is a former CEO of Wells Fargo bank. He and his wife have a foundation in Seattle, Washington where they give heavily to charter schools.
Julian Roberson Jr. is a hedge fund manager in Chicago who thinks California really needs Marshal Tuck.
Stacy Schusterman is an energy industry heir from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has been particularly active in California school board elections.
Michael Bloomberg is the billionaire former New York mayor who spawned Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz and Michelle Rhee. He spends heavily on California school board elections.
The big money is not in direct contributions like those listed above. It is in the money for independent expenditure committees that do not have contribution limits. For example, the Ed Voice for the Kids Pac has already reported spending over $13,000,000 in support of Tuck (Id 1243091). There are many more of these PACs spending money to elect Tuck such as Education Reform Now Advocacy for Tuck and Charter Public Schools Political Action Committee.
PAC Money and Other Contributions Effecting Legislation
The teaching profession has historically always been vulnerable to political attack and intrigue. During my first year teaching, I experienced the effect of not having job protection. The daughter of a locally influential family lost her teaching position at another school. My principal took my position away and gave it to her. It was not because I was doing a poor job. In fact, he offered me a contract the next fall. Removing teacher job protections will make the profession even less desirable than it is now; it will undermine professionalism among educators and harm schools.
The UT editorial criticized Thurman writing, “And his actions in July 2017 — when he openly sabotaged an effort by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to improve teacher tenure laws — showed that his loyalties, as with Torlakson, are more with the adult employees of schools than with students.”
Weber receives significant campaign money from the DPE movement. Ed Voice for the Kids Pac has given her $6,700. Doris Fisher has contributed $4,400. John Scully has given $6,000. Reed Hastings has given her $2,000. The California Charter Schools Association has contributed $6,000. The Charter Public Schools Pac kicked in $1,000. The Charter Schools Pac gave $3,300. “DPE” forces have contributed a total of $29,400 to Weber’s 2018 campaign (Id 1393376).
Weber introduced a bill to extend the probationary period for teachers from two to three years and strip them of due process rights. Taking away teacher protections has been a constant theme of the school privatization advocates. Thurmond countered Weber’s bill by introducing a similar bill that extended the probationary period but did not strip teachers of due process. The editor’s claim that professional educators only care about adults comes from an upside-down world. The San Diego Union-Tribune does not want teachers to have job protections equal to permanent employees at National Steel and Ship Building Company.
Dog-Whistles and Triumph Versus a Record of Failure
Tony Thurmond was born in Monterey, California. His father was stationed at the Fort Ord Army base. Tony’s father abandoned his family of four children. Thurmond’s Panamanian immigrant mother became a school teacher and moved the family to San Jose.
Tragedy struck six-years-old Tony when his mother died of cancer. Tony and a brother moved to Philadelphia where they were raised by a cousin.
After graduating from high school in Philadelphia, Tony matriculated to Temple University where he was elected student body president and received a BA in psychology. He attended graduate school at Bryn Mawr earning a dual masters in Law and Social Policy and Social work.
The most disgusting statement in the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial read, “In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck.” In case that was too subtle; Tony is a black man.
After rising above his traumatic childhood and becoming educated, Tony married and returned to California in 1998. For the 20 years preceding his election to the California State Assembly, Thurmond served in various positions at non-profit social service agencies. Tony says it was his public school education that helped him become a 20-year social worker and serve on a school board, a city council and now the California State Assembly.
Tony has two daughters in public school.
Marshall Tuck received an MBA from Harvard University in 2000 and a BA in Political Science from University of California Los Angeles in 1995. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has a wife and son.
He spent some time as a consultant at Mitt Romney’s Bain & Co. He was an investment analyst at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. He moved to Los Angeles to work at Salomon Brothers as an investment banker focused on both mergers and acquisitions. After a brief stint in sales for a Software company, in 2002, Tuck was hired by Green Dot Charter Schools as Chief Operating Officer.
In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa had been rebuffed in his efforts to take control of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He did convince a few donors to underwrite the takeover of a small number of schools in areas which had suffered years of poor standardized test results. They created a non-profit called Partnership for LA and Villaraigosa tapped Marshall Tuck to lead the Partnership.
Tuck had by then become the CEO of Green Dot. The year he left for the Partnership, Green Dot schools posted nine of the fifty lowest SAT scores among Los Angeles schools.
Tuck was extremely unpopular at the Partnership. The Sacramento Bee reported, “Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.” An online education newspaper in Los Angeles, School Matters, reported, “Many of us hoped that when right-wing business banker Marshall Tuck was ignominiously forced to step down as the ‘CEO’ of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), that we might have heard the last of Tuck altogether.”
Tuck’s authoritarianism and lack of education background have led to serial failures, however, those forces trying to privatize California’s public schools find his style to their liking.
In 2014, when Tuck lost the most expensive Superintendent of Public Instruction race in California’s history, his allies were there to take care of him. Even though he has no training as an educator, he was made Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center (NTC). Bill Gates has granted NTC $26,305,252 since 2009.
This Contest is Very Important If You Value American Democracy
Marshall Tuck is the representative of the Destroy Public Education billionaires who are spending massive amounts of money to get him elected. It is widely understood that elected school boards are the soil from which American democratic government rejuvenates itself. Dark “DPE” forces are undermining democracy in this country by destroying the people’s 200-years-old public education system. They must be stopped.