Monday, February 7, 2011

California’s Education Hall of Shame

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
California is quickly becoming the new front line in corporate Ed Deform. Many of the usual suspects have quietly begun to focus their efforts on State-wide and local efforts in California, while several lesser known accomplices have joined their ranks. Here is just a partial list:

Eli Broad needs no introduction for anyone following education issues and he is certainly not a new player in Ed Deform. He spends millions to train school-board members and principals how to govern school districts like large corporations. His Superintendents Academy trains CEOs to lead urban school districts, while his Residency in Urban Education program places recent business graduates into educational management positions. He promotes performance pay schemes and heavily funds charter schools, like Aspire and Green Dot, the latter receiving $10.5 million from Broad to run several charter schools in L.A. He was also a major funder of Waiting for Superman. He recently pledged $25 million to make Teach For America a permanent low quality teacher-training program and $500,000 to prop up ICEF Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest charter school companies, which was facing insolvency.

Michelle Rhee also needs no introduction after her reign of terror as head of D.C. schools. However, she has recently relocated her StudentsFirst organization to Sacramento after marrying Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento. Rhee plans to raise $1 billion and has already won a pledge from billionaire Eli Broad. Much of this money will be used to support school board members sympathetic to her agenda of charter schools, value-added teacher evaluations and the elimination of tenure, and to counter the influence of teachers unions.

Gloria Romero, anti-union and pro-privatization former state senator, is now head of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) in California, an organization funded by hedge fund managers from NYC whose goal is to privatize and profit from public schools. Romero made the big-time of Ed Deform when she was invited to Obama’s Super Bowl Party this week, a major coup for the woman who lost a bid to become the California Superintendent, despite backing by charter school companies and nearly $800,000 in donations by EdVoice.  While Romero feigned surprise at the invitation to the president’s party, she did say she was “there to cheer on the reform team in education.” As a state senator, Romero had pushed hard to expand charter schools and to win Race To the Top funds from the Obama administration and was a strong supporter of the Parent Trigger law. Her presence at the party should be seen as a signal that she plans to work closely with Obama and Duncan to push through their Ed Deform agenda.

Philip Anschutz, right wing evangelical billionaire and media mogul, has donated at least $100,000 to the Coalition for School Reform in Los Angeles, a slush fund to elect privatization friendly school board members. Anschutz helped fund Waiting for Superman. (See Kenneth Libby’s Philip Anschutz and Walden Media: What Kind of Agenda?) The Anshutz Foundation donates to the Cato, Hoover, American Enterprise and Freedom Works Institutes as well as other right wing think tanks and foundations. They also fund Evangelical organizations, as well as school privatization favorites like KIPP. Anschutz was a big funder of proposition 8 in California, the anti-gay marriage law. He also funds the Discovery Institute, the main backer of Intelligent Design and young Earth lunacy.

Donald Fisher, billionaire founder and president of Gap (Old Navy and Banana Republic), was a big investor in Edison Schools (a for-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO). He donated heavily into the campaigns of pro-Edison school board members in San Francisco. He was also a major contributor to KIPP and was the chairman of the board of trustees for their foundation. He also contributed to Teach For America,, and EdVoice. Fisher died in 2009, however, his family and foundation continue to support his Ed Deform agenda.

Reed Hastings is the founder and CEO of Netflix. He also owns DreamBox Learning, an online education startup that makes math games for K-3 graders. He advocates for charter schools and has served as president of the California State Board of Education. He has been a KIPP board member and fought to lift the state cap on charter schools, citing a goal of getting 20% of California children enrolled in charter schools. He is also a founding member of, Aspire Public Schools and

Kevin Johnson is a former basketball star, current mayor of Sacramento, hubby of Michelle Rhee and accused serial pedophile. (They should be an interesting family, considering Rhee’s history as a child abuser). Johnson is also president and CEO of the Kevin Johnson Corporation, which founded the St. HOPE Public Schools charter system. In 1995, he apologized to a 16-year old girl who has accused him of fondling her (though he never admitted guilt) and even proposed a settlement with the girl’s family. Similar accusations were made against Johnson by a student at one of his charter schools in 2008. The teacher to whom the student brought the complaint eventually resigned, claiming that she and the student had been intimidated and asked to change their story. The girl eventually recanted. St. HOPE also agreed to pay $423,836 in a settlement for misuse of AmeriCorp funds.

Democrats For Education Reform (DFER)
DFER plans to open two offices in California, one in Los Angeles, and one in the Bay Area. They are raising $1 million to support these two offices. DFER’s initial focus will be on large urban districts like LAUSD, SFUSD, Oakland and San Diego, and pushing pro-privatization candidates onto their school boards. A major goal of DFER is to provide a financial opposition to the teachers unions in local and state-wide elections. They will also fight for more parental choice, mayoral control, performance pay, and weakening of tenure and seniority rights. With these goals, Romero is certainly a good match. DFER has spent $17 million in the last three years in California, backing candidates like U.S. Rep. George Miller, of Martinez, a proponent of NCLB, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. According to John Fensterwald, DFER has many venture capitalists and fund managers on their board of directors and are likely to shake down Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, as well as EdVoice, for additional funding.

Ed Voice
Ed Voice is an Ed Deform advocacy group funded by wealthy California philanthropists and is closely allied with Eli Broad. They spent $100,000 to get Marty Block elected in San Diego. They raised nearly $1 million in 2007, including $94,400 each from Eli Broad, Gap chairman Don Fisher, Carrie Walton Penner (Wal-Mart heiress) and R.B. Buzz Woolley Jr., La Jolla investor and president of the Voice of San Diego.

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