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Gary Smith letter on the Luna Plan

Hello My Friends!

The battle for the heart of education is well along in the Idaho Senate. Those who have fought the efforts to turn public education inside out have done a terrific job flooding their state senators with over 200 emails/day/senator. Many hundreds of citizens have flooded the Senate Education Committee hearings and gave testimony during the 3 days of public testimony – speaking maybe 10 to 1 against the two bills.  Political power is strong however, so it still doesn't look very good for Idaho education, as we know it presently.  It will be classroom teachers who will need to do their best for children by taking on the burden of these decisions whether it be increased class sizes, loss of wages and job stability, undermining of collaborative school functioning, loss of due process employee rights, and on and on. One can easily interpret these bills as direct attacks on the stature, credibility, future prospects, and morale of the teaching profession.

Yet for all of the political power in favor of the Luna Plan, I hear from legislators that some provisions in SB 1068/1069 have been beaten back. We'll see next week!

With that said, I wish to offer an overview of a tidal power that is crashing on public education nationwide, as seen through the Idaho experience.  Previously, I have provide some information of the well orchestrated push for school choice – a worthy thing on the surface – and the rise of corporations that wish to feed on public funding for education.  I have added much more information and connections than before.

There has been a huge movement to corporatize education since the early 1980's.  In the information that I provide below, you will see the tracks of people of great national power and wealth setting up the companies, laws, circumstance, and products preparing for its expansion. This expansion is one of two primary causes for what we are now experiencing in the Idaho legislature. I believe that SB's 1068/1069 were drawn to meet both corporate goals and ideological beliefs.  They were not designed to increase the quality of Idaho education.  We have heard from several well-placed sources that this legislation was not a response to a budget crisis - in fact, steps were taken to diminish revenues that could be used for education. This crisis became a powerful tool for Superintendent of Instruction Luna as the white knight who rushed in with a seductive scheme to solve Idaho's education budget problems. Of course, his cloak hid the real agenda, which as time has past became more and more obvious. The duplicity is staggering.

The bills are a small piece of a long-term, well-planned, and fast growing movement sweeping the U.S.  The ideas first come from free marketeers who saw in education a virtually untapped source of funding for corporate expansion and profits.  Their goals have matched perfectly with those that don't like public education, especially teachers.  They have colluded to undermine confidence in public education, built an image of poor teachers and failing schools, demonized teacher associations, and cut funding for schools thereby guaranteeing that teachers would not have the resources to do their job as well. This scapegoating of education has been very, very successful and has not been countered by educators or their professional associations. 

To understand this push in Idaho, one simply follows the corporate funding.  The Idaho Statesman published (February 11, 2011) some of the political contributors to Luna' campaign in our Idaho political drama. To help the reader understand the depth and breadth of the education for profit industry and the long term needs to develop strategies to counter their effects on the relationships between teachers and their students, I provide the following. I will mention a couple of the major players nationally, but will mostly focus on those listed by the Idaho Statesman and show some of the inter-linked characters involved.

Knowledge Universe

A very large multinational conglomerate/holding company, Knowledge Universe (KU) was started by 3 billionaires in 1996: Lowell Milken, Michael Milken (of junk bond/jail fame), and Larry Ellison (founder and CEO of Oracle). The company now has 50-ish subdivisions.  The CEO is Felicia Thornton a former CFO for Albertson's Inc. Also, Ronald Packard, CEO of K12 Inc. is a VP for KU.  It owns K12 Inc.

  • Principal KU subsidiaries: Spring Group plc; Knowledge Learning Corp.; Nextera Enterprises, Inc.; LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (86%); Unext, Inc.; k12; Productivity Point International Inc.; TEC Worldwide; Knowledge Planet.
  • Kenneth Saltman has written a number of books about the commercialization of education. Specifically about Milken, he has written (rather scurrilously):
    • Since his early release from prison, Milken has been building the first education conglomerate, Knowledge Universe, which is aimed at transforming public education into an investment opportunity for the wealthy by privatizing public schools, making kids into a captive audience for marketers, and redefining education as a corporate resource.
    •  
    • What Milken is not saying is that he himself is actively sponsoring and building that cutthroat future with no job security, low pay, and exploitative work conditions. What is in fact a hostile takeover of education….
      • From Electronic Book Review of Michael Milken and the Corporate Raid on Education by Kenneth J. Saltman
  • K12 Inc.: ($25,000 campaign contributor to Luna)

    In 2001, Knowledge Universe purchased K12 Inc. It is a major national player in the online education field.  It is a publicly traded Virginia corporation founded by Bill Bennett (President Reagan's Ed. Secretary '85-'89) and Ron Packard - not the former California politician.  You may remember that Bennett made great political hay over the Reagan-prompted study that resulted in the 1983 report/book titled, A Nation at Risk.  This was one prong in a series of major initiatives based on neo-conservative philosophy that continues to grow in power to this day. These initiatives have been successful because of their wide and skillful concentration and use of power.

    K12 Inc. is a quickly growing company with $384 million in revenues for 2010 - a 21% increase in one year.  K12 Inc. earns most of its revenue by sales of its e-based curriculum.

    If Luna's plan is adopted, K12 Inc. will also likely be the curriculum of choice across Idaho, by virtue of being immediately available.  While it is unclear what Bennett's role is in the daily operation of K12 Inc., he is said to work half time.  His neoconservative politics raises a question of his motives in founding K12 Inc.

    It is important to Idaho readers that Thomas Wilford, the CEO/Director of the Albertson Foundation, is a member of the K12 Inc. Board of Directors.  The Albertson's Foundation has strongly supported school choice, including virtual education, and given millions to ID charter schools. It, in fact, funded the startup of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) with a grant to the State Dept. of Education in 2002.  IDLA's annual budget has been 5 million/year. IDLA is budgeted to get $8.6 million from the state for the first year of the plan's implementation, $10.4 million the second, then up to $18.0 million for FY 2017.  According to the Idaho Statesman (February 11, 2011), IDLA could get squeezed out of the picture because of differences in the costs of delivery compared to large out of state corporations like K12 Inc. By the way, IDLA must have asynchronous classes because the majority of its teachers are live in other states, time-zones, and even nations and therefore cannot be online when most of its students are.  (Last year, IDLA had 15,000 student credits – that means one class for a student. That equals $333. per unit.  When we add on the $40 million dollar expense over the last two years for development of the Idaho Education Network to wire all Idaho schools for Internet – funded by the Idaho Dept. of Education - we find that on-line education has been a very expensive proposition for our cash strapped state.)

    K12 Inc. online content is used by the Idaho Virtual Academy (opened in 2002) and many other ID charter schools.  If the Luna Plan passes, K12 Inc. is likely to get much of the on-line business directly or indirectly.

    K12 Inc. owns Aventa Learning – see below.

    Aventa Learning: (Campaign contributor to Luna)

    A subsidiary of KCDL, which is a subsidiary of K12 Inc. 

    • KCDL, headquartered in Portland, OR, has three brands that provide education products and services to districts, public and private schools, and directly to families: Aventa LearningTM, The KeystoEneTM School and iQ Academies(R).
  • Madison Education Group: (Campaign contributor to Luna)

    Rod Paige is now a Senior Director at the Madison Education Group. He is a former K12 Inc. director who became the Secretary of Education in the U.S. Dept. of Education under George W. Bush.  (He called the NEA a terrorist organization and thought seniority should be abolished in teacher contracts.)  He has been on the board of Rupert Murdock's News Corporation, which, of course, includes Fox News.  Tom Luna was a special assistant of some sort to the U.S. DOE while Paige was the Secretary. (Luna says he worked for Paige directly, but it appears he worked for an Undersecretary.  I'm not sure what "work" means given that he got has BA from Thomas Edison State while there.)

    The chairman of the Madison Education Group is William Hansen. He was a Deputy Secretary of Education in the U.S. Dept. of Education under George W. Bush.

    Apangea: (Campaign contributor to Luna)

    Apangea products are very widely used in Idaho schools.  Its Director of State Implementations and the Accounts Manager for Idaho is Glen Zollman.  His bio describes him as having written the math standards for the Idaho Dept. of Education.

    Data Recognition Corporation (Campaign contributor to Luna)

    This company serves the state by being its Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) development contractor.  Ready for this? Idaho paid $30+ million dollars for this service!! (The new skeleton budget doesn't show this item as yet.)

    Core Knowledge: 

    There is another player emerging in Idaho education that is not directly digital.  While it focuses on creating curriculum, K12 Inc. uses its philosophy and some of its curriculum online.  Core Knowledge can be seen as a curricular diversion from high quality educational practice. It is a curriculum that is being used in some brick and mortar ID charter schools - there are three of these schools that specifically seek to identify themselves by advertising that they use the materials. There are other charter schools that use the materials as well.  

    The Core Knowledge curriculum was created by an organization of the same name founded in Virginia by E.D. Hirsch, a University of Virginia professor known for his controversial writings about education, especially the book, "Cultural Literacy."  I will not attempt to explain his extensive perspectives other than say that he believes that first learning facts leads to learning bigger concepts - like building a wall out of bricks from the bottom up. That idea is not widely held by education researchers or practitioners – or makes common sense to many of us.  Nevertheless, it appeals to some individuals and has support in Idaho.  
    These materials have not
    been approved for public school purchase by the ID Dept. of Education through its curriculum adoption process. Charter schools do not have to get such approval.  Therefore, charter schools can use public money to purchase a wide range of materials that a regular public school cannot.  

    It is important to note that John Holdren, a K12 Inc. senior vice president of content and curriculum worked at Core Knowledge writing curricula.

    More on Core Knowledge and the K12 Inc. link

    Since  the K12 Inc. curriculum borrows heavily from the Core Knowledge developed by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. at the University of Virginia, it is heavily fact-based.

    • Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan reached a similar verdict: "In the 21st century, they're delivering a 19th-century curriculum."  Soloway pointed to the typical worksheet-style computer lessons that use brief bits of animation and sound effects as "rewards" and pointed out that they were hardly revolutionary.[i]  Similarly, a review of K12's elementary history curriculum by Susan Ohanian finds that company's use of technology primitive.[ii]
    • Two years later, Soloway remained unconverted, commenting, "the educational philosophy is still, under it all, very much a teacher-teach, student-remember type of model.  I find that model too limiting; it doesn't help develop creative problem solving skills, which is what we must do."[iii]   
    • While public school advocates may succeed in halting the privatization of public schools, he concludes, the question of who controls what is taught remains in play, and increasingly that control is surrendered to "the new proprietors of knowledge—corporate executives and investors."[iv]
    • [i] Trotter, A. (2001, May 30). Bennett's Online System Needs Work, Critic Contends. Education Week. 
    • [ii] Ohanian, S. (2004, April). The K12 Virtual Primary School History Curriculum:  A Participant's-eye View. Education Policy Research Unit, Doc No. EPSL-0404-117-EPRU. Tempe, AZ:  Education Policy Studies Laboratory.
    • [iii] Soloway, E. (2003, October 27). Personal communication (e-mail).
    • [iv] Ibid.
  • From: Knowledge Universe and Virtual Schools: Educationalナhttp://nepc.colorado.edu/files/EPSL-0404-118-EPRU.pdf by G Bracey
  • 2001 Education Industry data gives a sense of the $$ involved:

    • Annual education industry revenues climbed from $24 billion in the early 1990's to $115 billion in 2001.
    • Until 1990, education was the last sector of the U. S. economy largely untapped by private sector enterprise. 
  • From a 2001 Ed. Industry Association White Paper:
    • Education is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion industry, representing 10% of America's GNP and second in size only to the health care industry.
    • Federal and State expenditures on education exceed $750 billion.
    • Education companies, with over $80 billion in annual revenues, already constitute a large sector in the education arena.
    • More than half of the current $80 billion market capitalization is from companies that were created since the early 1990s.
  •     Charter schools:
    • The charter school movement provided an important stimulus to market growth by creating a more favorable environment in which schools could contract with private providers.
    •  
    • Under charter school legislation, charter schools were better able to contract with private providers without facing union barriers. This provided a critical driver for education companies seeking to work with public schools.
    •   
    • The rapid expansion of the charter school market also created a more promising opportunity for educational management companies as well.  Today, (2002) for-profit companies operate about ten percent of the 2400 charter schools in operation.
    •  
  • Comment by BSU Professor:
  • From Op-Ed piece written recently for Idaho Statesman by BSU English prof. Jeffrey Wilhelm:

    • Virtual learning: Computers, unless used as a research resource and knowledge construction kit, are notoriously bad at teaching for understanding and application. Rich Lehrer, from Vanderbilt' s Cognition and Technology group, argues that most computer- assisted instruction consists of glorified electronic worksheets. This wastes money on information-transmission practices discredited nearly 100 years ago. Research shows class size matters even more in good virtual learning environments. Once classes rise above 15 students, students are less engaged and learn less – even on such a low standard as information recall. This is because motivation is prerequisite to learning, and both motivation and learning are highly personal and relational: abetted by relationship with a teacher.

    Discussion:

    There are other players in this drama such as lobbyists, foundations, PACs, non-profits, and political operatives that are more illusive to characterize, and did not apparently contribute to the Luna campaign, so I have not included them.  The information that I have tried to provide begs the question, has there been behind-the-scenes collusion between Luna, K12 Inc., the Albertson Foundation, Studentfirst.com*, and others to prepare the Luna Plan? We have seen the lobbyists for some of these companies at the hearings on this legislation.  Is there an implicit quid quo pro?

    • *There is a distinct similarity between Luna's Plan and the objectives of Michelle Rhees' organization Studentsfirst.org.  She is the highly controversial, former superintendent of Washington D.C. schools.  

    I am not suggesting a grand conspiracy of some sort, but that it is important to continually bring into the light the power and influence that major corporations wield in their efforts to capture as much public funding for K-12 education as they can. They believe that corporations can run education cheaper and better than public schools. There is no research to prove this statement. (See studies of Edison Schools.) Clearly, there has been a huge economic, corporate, and legal framework being developed by some very influential and wealthy individuals in the seats of U.S. power.  I think stopping them is not possible; limiting their intrusion into the relationship between public school teachers and their students is what we must vigilantly do: watching over the quality of their products and holding politicians accountable. My guess is that they will dominate K-12 education by 2025/30 and, in the interests of profits, the quality of education, working conditions, and teaching as a profession will have sunk like a rock.

     It may be possible that a perfect educational storm is brewing in Idaho that will strip public schools and residents of quality, funding, and control. The perfect storm could be a whirling confusion, a twisting truth, a violent tug towards one perspective, and an overwhelming force for change via intentional chaos!!  Choices and uncertainties will overwhelm residents: charter schools, virtual schools, blended schools, classical education schools, on-line coursework, unevaluated curricula from for-profit companies (both on-line and printed), unevaluated on-line providers of classes, subversion of conventional theory and practice in education, public funds diverted to religion-based organizations, promotion of single perspectives, redirection of public funds to private corporations, and on and on. These trends need to be studied and publicly exposed and debated.  

    I am an experienced educator in both the classroom and at the state department of education level. I've been watching these trends develop for over 5 years in Idaho. Each year, there are more elements in place, increasing momentum, a gathering into the vortex.  The thunderhead is now longer on the horizon; it is towering overhead.  SB 1068 and 1069 are just the forerunning clouds, the storm is rumbling through the fields behind. It is time to protect our school system.

    Sincerely,

    Gary Smith

    Addendum I

     

    Two resources on the use of the corporate model for public education:

    Kenneth J. Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools (Cultural Politics & the Promise of Democracy, Paradigm Publishers, 2007

    Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School... How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Basic Books, 2010

    Ravitch is a former Assistant Sec. of Education in the Bush Dept. of Education who promoted high stakes testing and school choice. She has changed her mind 180 degrees on those initiatives. She is now an NYU professor. From Wikipedia:

    • Ravitch critiqued the punitive uses of accountability to fire teachers and close schools, as well as replacing public schools with charter schools and relying on superstar teachers, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010). The book became a surprise best seller a month after its release. One reviewer writes "Ravitch exhibits an interesting mix of support for public education and the rights of teachers to bargain collectively with a tough-mindedness that some on the pedagogical left lack."[7]
    • While she originally supported No Child Left Behind and charter schools, she later became "disillusioned," and wrote, "I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for." In the major national evaluation, 17% of charters got higher scores, 46% were no different, and 37% were significantly worse than public schools, she said. High-stakes testing, "utopian" goals, "draconian" penalties, school closings, privatization, and charter schools didn't work, she concluded. "The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers." [8]
    • Ravitch said that the charter school and testing reform movement was started by "right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation," for the purpose of destroying public education and teachers' unions.[9]

    Addendum II

     

    Excerpts from: Luna's Plan is Bad News

    Lilburn E. Wesche, Ed.D., professor emeritus, Northwest Nazarene University

    Idaho Press Tribune            Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 12:39 pm | Updated: 12:46 pm, Tue Feb 8, 2011

    This smooth talking, master politician [Luna] has charmed the uninformed with his 'revolutionary' proposals to "introduce" technology to the classroom; to "save money" by replacing teachers with internet usage, to further 'decrease cost' by encouraging districts to dismiss experienced teachers in the upper level of the pay scale.

    Increasing use of technology sounds great and supports our current passion for technology. Rewarding good teachers and firing the supposedly 'huge number' of terrible ones — what a great idea??  Letting school board members and administrators, who apparently are 'all knowing', hire and fire at will is progress!

    Or is it?  Had Luna presented these ideas on the campaign trail where time and knowledgeable professionals could have pointed out their flaws it would have made him a laughing stock. Better to wait and present it to a legislature where time is short and many other issues are on the table. Thus, little time to sit down with professional educators and thoroughly review the evidence and the potential impact.

    Taking away from what already is working, to require districts to waste money on ridiculous requirements and to subsidize disproven proposals or to further partisan political ambition is the height of folly.

    Close examination of Luna's major proposals indicates they have been hastily thrown together with no real examination of research and past practices in the world of schooling. Obviously there is no long range plan involved. In fact, almost every proposal has been tried and failed to improve learning — in some cases actually were a detriment.

    This is transformation? Reform? Hardly. If his proposal are adopted the only changes will be regressive and return us to the practices which have already been disproven. There will still be classrooms with one teacher and a roomful of students — only now there will be more students.

    Merit pay has already been disproven. Teachers worthy of merit, and that is most of them, are already doing their best. A bonus won't change their performance. Reducing class size, providing more time to teach and resources will. Eliminating due process and job security will not only create a morale problem but will discourage those entering the profession and many highly capable professional teachers from coming to Idaho. Why teach where experience or whim and caprice can cost you your job with no recourse?

    Destroying teacher unity and organized teacher input into the process denies the public, as owners of the schools, a knowledgeable voice and assurance that the public's representatives — trustees and administrators — are dealing fairly with professional employees.

    Luna claims 'we have no choice'? There are several choices other than his 'giant step backward' proposals. Maintain local control and continue the present formula, funding it at the current level if no other funds are available.

    If Luna's ideas have enough support they should, at the most, be examined and explored before dumping then on 170,000 students. Select two or three districts supportive of this lunacy to test the ideas then follow up with valid research by an unbiased agency.

    If transformation of schools is the wish of the legislature, establish a commission of all stake holders; teachers, principals, superintendents, trustees, teacher educators, parents, students; with knowledgeable consultants to propose a long range plan to be implemented in annual stages. A plan which would move us away from the industrial model which has been prevalent for over a century. Plan for an information age model which actually assures continuous progress for every student. A model which would require a significant paradigm shift in the organization of the curriculum, in the current grade level-chronological age placement of students, and require marked adjustments in building configuration.

    But having no background in the intricacies of public schooling or the process of learning Luna presents a set of proposals that will win over the uninformed and the prejudiced.

    This state superintendent has turned Idaho's school into a stepping stone for his own political ambitions and is ignoring the responsibilities of his office. He proposes to sacrifice the well being of Idaho's children for his own hatred of teachers, his personal ambitions and the power hungry desires of his profit making buddies. The department has become a political haven for cronies rather than a support agency for Idaho's schools.

    Schools incorporate business principles but contrary to business the primary purpose of education is not to make a profit. Schools are neither republican nor democrat. They should not be used for personal ambitions or political gain. It is noteworthy that he proposes to increase class size while seeking an increase in his own office budget.

    Supposedly, Luna and his henchman advocate local control yet most of the proposals presented, including those dealing with teacher-board relations and the teachers' union are top down directives.

    Change should be for the better not worse. We want to make progress not regress. And the idea that one can improve what is, by taking away, is absurd.

    Class size is important. Anyone who spends much time in schools will discover technology is already an active part of the instructional process. Students are already taking on line courses when appropriate. There is an evaluation process for teachers, although lack of funds makes it difficult to fully realize the process. The teacher organization, a highly democratically structured organization, has been an effective means of providing professional expertise for public discourse. Collective bargaining has facilitated employment practices and has reduced prejudice and caprice in the workplace.

    All things considered Idaho teachers and schools are doing as well, even better than one should expect considering the shortage of funds. Some claim throwing money at schools doesn't help. No one is throwing money at schools — what a stupid charge!! But, when teachers, administrators and students are already optimizing what money they have, progressive change will cost.

    Given the current state of funding the legislature should dedicate all the funds it can to schools and permit cash strapped school districts to decide how to distribute their revenue to best meet their most pressing needs.  Then, instead of silly, wild worthless changes, the legislature needs to develop a long range plan defining what we want schools to be and the steps it will take to get there.

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