LA teachers’ union says ‘no’ to Broad bucks

Great Public Schools Now (GPSN), largely funded by billionaire Eli Broad, hopes to create 260 new charters in Los Angeles. Pledging to “do more of what works,” GPSN also plans to “offer up to $3.75 million to help L.A. Unified expand five promising schools” in low-income neighborhoods, reports KPCC.

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That only fueled the teachers’ union’s Broad Rage, writes Larry Sand on Union Watch.

Five district-run schools will be awarded $250,000 a year for three years to expand or replicate successful programs.

United Teachers of Los Angeles members at four schools voted to refuse the money, reports KPCC. However, none of the schools are on the list of possible grant winners.

The money will go through the school district, writes Sand. “UTLA is asking the LA school board to turn down the cash.”

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl called the donation “a public relations stunt that offers chump change to a couple of LAUSD efforts while they continue to put tens of millions of dollars into unregulated charter growth.”

The union leader wants philanthropists to “give a substantial amount of money, millions of dollars, to the L.A. School Board … to spend in the way they see fit.”

That’s not going to happen.

10 ‘super schools’ get $10 million each

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter High is one of 10 schools that will get $10 million each from the XQ Institute to create a “superschool.” Photo: New York Times

The XQ Institute will give $10 million each to 10 would-be “super schools” across the country. Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, is funding the effort via the Emerson Collective.

Summit, a charter network known for personalized learning, will partner with Oakland Unified and the California College of the Arts to create Summit Elevate.

Winners include both charters, such as a Big Picture Learning school on a barge near New Orleans, and district-run schools, such as Grand Rapids’ Public Museum School. In Los Angeles, two teachers plan to create a mobile high school designed for homeless and foster children.

Rick Hess warns of  “fan boy” enthusiasm run amok. One of the would-be “super schools” will be Furr High in Texas.

Furr High School will activate learning through a project- and place-based model grounded in the rigors of environmental and nutritional sciences. This large public high school will transform its culture with restorative justice, connect the dots between students and community, and combine Socratic seminars, university and business partnerships, and wrap-around services. Students and teachers will pair with their university counterparts to become “green ambassadors” in important environmental-sustainability research projects.

“There’s enough jargon there to choke a horse,” writes Hess. Contests reward “checking of predictable ‘right-answer’ boxes (e.g. restorative justice, university partnerships, wrap-around services, green ambassadors).”

How to spend Zuck’s bucks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan celebrated the birth of their daughter by pledging to give 99 percent of their wealth — $45 billion or so — to worthy causes, such as “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” They’ll make do with the remaining $450 million.

They’ve come in for a lot of criticism and kibbitzing.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Some want to tell them how to spend the money:  Don’t try to change things like Bill Gates!

Anil Dash advises funding “people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.”

Others accuse the couple of trying to dodge taxes. (Giving away 99 percent of your money is not a great way to save money.)

In response, Zuckerberg explained why they set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as an LLC rather than a traditional foundation. They want flexibility.

“This enables us to pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates.”

. . . “If we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not. And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC.”

The Initiative will focus on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities,” he wrote.

“Our education work has been funded through a non-profit organization, Startup: Education, the recently announced Breakthrough Energy Coalition will make private investments in clean energy, and we also fund public government efforts, like the CDC Ebola response and San Francisco General Hospital.”

The money will be wasted, predicts Gawker’s Sam Biddle. He sneers at Facebook’s support for Summit’s personalized learning platform — with no understanding of what it is.

The Washington Post describes the couple’s plans to provide private schooling and health care for low-income families in a heavily minority community, East Palo Alto.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Millionaire turns around poor Florida town

Harris Rosen visited a day care center he funds in Tangelo Park, Fla. Credit: Melissa Lyttle, New York Times

For 21 years, a Florida millionaire has funded day care centers and college scholarships in a small, low-income, mostly black town near Orland, reports the New York Times. With $11 million of Harris Rosen’s money, “Tangelo Park is a striking success story.”

Once, nearly half the town’s students dropped out of school. Now nearly all graduate and most go to college or trade school with full scholarships.

Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

The son of immigrants, Rosen grew up poor in New York City and made his money in the hotel business.

For the youngest children, he created a system of free day care centers in Tangelo Park homes, ensuring that the certified providers, who are also the homeowners, instruct children as young as 2. He also started and finances a prekindergarten program in the local elementary school and offers parents training through the University of Central Florida on how to support their children.

The Tangelo Park Program doesn’t fund K-12 education.  “It is run almost entirely by volunteers, mostly community leaders,” reports the Times.

Next year, Rosen will begin funding early education in a downtown Orlando neighborhood with housing projects and few neighborhood institutions.

A piece of the philanthropic pie

Donors give billions of dollars to higher education. Community colleges are trying to get a small piece of the philanthropic pie, reports the New York Times.

At La Guardia Community College in Queens, Karen Dubinsky is trying to “forge a closer union between the school and the wider world of moneyed New York,” writes Ginia Bellafante. The goal is to cultivate a donor base — and to expose students to the “experiences and possibilities and habits from which they have been excluded,” writes Ginia Bellafante.

Dubinsky also created the “Pushy Moms Club.”

Observing her friends uptown, Ms. Dubinsky realized that many had children who now required less of their time, but the mothers themselves were still running on surplus energy from years of meeting the obligations that the obsessive culture of modern parenting imposes. At LaGuardia there were many students with absent parents, so she paired up the women and the students, to get through the complicated process of college transfer admissions.

I think every college aspirant needs a pushy middle-class (or upper-middle-class)  mother.

Bill Gates likes Big History

Professor David Christian’s “Big History” synthesizes “history, biology, chemistry, astronomy and other disparate fields” into “a unifying narrative of life on earth,” writes Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times Magazine.

More than a thousand U.S. high schools are trying the 10-module course. Wait for the shoe . . . Bill Gates is funding Big History. He discovered Christian’s college course on video while walking on his treadmill. It’s what he would have loved to have taken in high school.

If Gates loves it, a lot of other people hate it, of course. But is it a useful way to make connections? Or a fad? I can’t tell from the description.

Christian’s aim was not to offer discrete accounts of each period so much as to integrate them all into vertiginous conceptual narratives, sweeping through billions of years in the span of a single semester. A lecture on the Big Bang, for instance, offered a complete history of cosmology, starting with the ancient God-centered view of the universe and proceeding through Ptolemy’s Earth-based model, through the heliocentric versions advanced by thinkers from Copernicus to Galileo and eventually arriving at Hubble’s idea of an expanding universe. In the worldview of “Big History,” a discussion about the formation of stars cannot help including Einstein and the hydrogen bomb; a lesson on the rise of life will find its way to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

. . . The units begin with the Big Bang and shift to lesson plans on the solar system, trade and communications, globalization and, finally, the future. A class on the emergence of life might start with photosynthesis before moving on to eukaryotes and multicellular organisms and the genius of Charles Darwin and James Watson. A lecture on the slave trade might include the history of coffee beans in Ethiopia.

Gates hired engineers and designers to develop the web site, which has lots of graphics and videos.

This fall, Big History is being “offered free to more than 15,000 students in some 1,200 schools, from the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies in New York to Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Gates’s alma mater, Lakeside Upper School in Seattle.”

I loved Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man when it was on TV, ages ago.

How Bill Gates sold the Common Core


Bill Gates put $200 million into Common Core standards.

Common Core State Standards were the brainchild of Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, reports Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post. The godfather was Bill Gates, who put more than $200 million into developing the Core and building support for it.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

President Obama’s Education Department, “populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates”  used $4.3 billion in “stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.” Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, though some have jumped ship.

Even Catholic schools have adopted the standards, if only because it’s hard to find classroom materials or training that’s not aligned to the Common Core.

The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “States saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The Gates Foundation has put $3.4 billion into trying to improve K-12 education, reports the Post.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” said Jay Greene, who heads the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform.

Gates “sees himself as a technocrat” funding research in “new tools” to improve education. “Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Diane Ravitch wants Congress to investigate Gates’ role in the creation and marketing of Common Core standards.

The idea of “common national standards and tests goes back a long long way before Gates,” points out Alexander Russo. If the idea hadn’t already had broad appeal, Gates’ millions wouldn’t have been effective.

Most education philanthropy supports the status quo, adds Eduwonk. “In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure.”

Personally, I think it’s crazy to suggest that Bill Gates has given $3.4 billion to education causes — and billions more to public health — because he wants to make more money. His policy ideas may be wrong. His motives are good.

Study: Best charters don’t get most dollars

California’s best charter schools don’t get the most philanthropic dollars, concludes a study by Cato’s Andrew Coulson.

American Indian Public Charters‘ students score more than four standard deviations above the norm on the challenging California Standards Test, based on Coulson’s measure of effect size, yet the schools rank 21st in donor funding.

Oakland Charter Academies rank second in performance and 27th in funding, Wilder’s Foundation is third in achievement and 39th in funding and Rocketship Education is fourth in achievment and 10th in funding. All outperform Whitney High and Lowell High, district-run schools that select students based on high test scores, according to Coulson’s effect-size analysis.

Coulson also looked at the number of black and Hispanic students passing AP exams, excluding foreign languages:  “The correlations between charter networks’ AP performance and their grant funding are negative, though negligible in magnitude.”

Aspire Public Schools is the number one recipient of charter-school philanthropy in the state. It’s been around for a long time: Founder Don Shalvey, a former district superintendent, started the first charter school in the state. But Aspire ranks only 23rd among the state’s charters in student performance.

Philanthropists are replicating the charter schools with well-connected leaders, not necessarily those with the highest achievement, the study concludes.

Gates’ money is everywhere

Bill Gates is putting his billions into education advocacy, writes the New York Times. That includes “financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, ” creating new advocacy groups and “bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.”

“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”

The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” Berkeley Education Prof. Bruce Fuller tells the Times.

Researchers are careful about criticizing big-spending foundations, says Rick Hess. “Everybody’s implicated.”

The Gates Foundation funds the Education Equality Project, Education Trust, Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies, the Times notes. (And a whole lot more.)

Harvard, for instance, got $3.5 million to place “strategic data fellows” who could act as “entrepreneurial change agents” in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The foundation has given to the two national teachers’ unions — as well to groups whose mission seems to be to criticize them.

The Gates Foundation is not Dr. Evil, responds Rick Hess, who says his “implicated” quote referred to all education foundations, not just Gates.  He’s written in the past that few researchers bite the hand that feeds them — or might feed them in the future.

“Academics, activists, and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty–where philanthropic support is often the ticket to tackling big projects, making a difference, and maintaining one’s livelihood. Even individuals and organizations who also receive financial support from government grants, tuition, endowment, or interest groups are eager to be on good terms with the philanthropic community.”

The Gates Foundation’s efforts to influence public policy through research and advocacy resembles “the Ford Foundation’s decades-long effort to change educational finance policy through the far less democratic approach of litigation or Ford’s current giant investment in promoting a very particular equity agenda,” Hess writes.

I’ve been writing Community College Spotlight for a year now. I’m paid by the Hechinger Institute for Education and the Media at Teachers’ College of Columbia, which uses grants from, among others, the Gates Foundation. Many of the initiatives to improve community college graduation rates, redesign remediation, offer dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students and improve college readiness are funded, in part or full, by the Gates Foundation. I’m dubious about dual enrollment for struggling students: If  they can’t handle high school classes, how they can handle college classes? Nobody’s told me to cheer for every Gates idea. On the whole, I think the foundation is investing intelligently in the search for solutions to the most critical problems in education.

BTW, a recent comment accused “billionaire education reformers” of trying to push all students to a bachelor’s degree, regardless of their academic preparation or motivation.  This is not true of Gates. The foundation is heavily invested in improving community college programs that lead to a vocational certificate or associate degree.

The Gates Foundation is very, very influential in education because it puts lots of money behind the programs and policies that its people think are going to improve education. They’re not infallible. But what’s the alternative? Give billions to do the same thing only with laptops for the kiddies? That’s not going to happen.