Geobop, Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Bill Gates Bought the Election
But the Vatican's on MY Side!
D.C. Charter Schools Battle


Bill Gates Bought the Election
I knew it was going to happen. Bill Gates just bought the election.

It was announced in today's edition of the Seattle Times: "Gates gives U.S. schools $350 million," by Jolayne Houtz.

"In one of the largest gifts to schools in the United States, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced today a bold $350 million, three-year initiative with the potential to turbo-charge the school-reform movement.

"The first schools to benefit will be in the foundation's back yard: The Seattle School District will receive nearly $26 million." That's said to equal about $300 for every Seattle Schools student. Washington State will receive $125 over the next few years, 35% of the total.

Gates' "gift" "is believed to be the second-largest to U.S. schools, behind the $500 million Annenberg Challenge, a five-year effort that created a national network of school-improvement projects."

"But Gates foundation officials say this initiative is expected to change shape and grow as the foundation learns from its successes and failures." One more time, for emphasis: "It is a colossal gift in its size, focus and promise, a gesture of largesse that foundation officials say will likely grow over time and, in the most optimistic outcome, could improve every American child's school experience."

There are five things that bother me about Gates' "gift":

1) It's an old trick and proven failure
2) The timing
3) Bill Gates' reputation
4) People mentioned in this article
5) Things I KNOW the windfall won't be used for

1) It's an old trick and proven failure - Throwing bad money after good seems to be the fundamental goal of the U.S. Department of Education. Intelligent decisions can be worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, some folks just prefer to throw more money at problems.

2) Timing - I thought it quite a coincidence that Bill Gates announced on "60 Minutes" that he had rediscovered how much he loved his wife just after a judge decided against him in the courtroom. Coincidence #2: Bill Gates quickly became the most generous political donor in Washington State, throwing money at Democrats and Republicans alike. He also let someone else have a turn as Microsoft CEO, probably to make people think that Bill isn't really running the show anymore.

So Bill is now giving a historic tax write-off to public schools just after a humiliating legal defeat, at the very time the Seattle School District seems to be teetering on the edge of the abyss and during a BIG election year, one that promises great turmoil in embattled Washington State.

3) Bill Gates' reputation - Bill Gates is not an educator. He is not an education reformer or advocate. Nor is he a children's advocate. He's a software designer and businessman. Period.

The educators Bill Gates has recruited to staff his programs include Rudy Crew (who deserted Tacoma Schools), Tom Vander Ark (who could be embarrassed by a lawsuit filed by the parents of a student who was sexually harassed, unless Bill Gates buys them off), and Trevor Nielsen, formerly a top propagandist with America's most corrupt teachers union.

4) People mentioned in this article -

Well, one of them is Tom Vander Ark, who says Seattle "is working on all the right stuff." So what's Tom been smoking?

Another is Seattle Schools Superintendent Joseph Olchefske. He says the Gates money will both simplify and jump-start what the district is doing now; "We'll get there in 2002 instead of 2010." If Olchefske means he's going to use Gates' donation to hire another child molester and get us sued back to the Stone Age by 2002, then I'm in total agreement.

One of the outside evaluators of the initiative is Paul Hill, director of the Center of Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, just a few blocks from my apartment. Hill is a blithering idiot. He revered the late Superintendent John Stanford and Seattle teachers union buffoon Roger Erskine. Hill is nuts.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson suggested the foundation spend its money on computers for every student in the state. I don't think every kindergartner needs a computer. I don't think ANY student needs a computer more than they need a sane school.

"The Alliance for Education, the private foundation supporting Seattle schools, will administer the grant and provide some oversight."

The Alliance4Ed is an absolutely sinister coalition of corporations masquerading as children's advocates.

Bill Gates needs to start keeping better company if he wants my seal of approval.

5) Things I KNOW the windfall won't be used for

With Bill Gates' generous gift, the Seattle School Board can no longer argue that they can't afford an independent performance audit (a ridiculous argument to begin with; how can we NOT afford it???). But I'd wager half of Bill Gates' annual salary that there will be no such audit. We'll just have to trust the Seattle School Board and Bill Gates for the latest update on how school funds are being spentů

EXCUSE ME, I meant GATES funds. Gee, would it be rude for parents to ask what the district is using Bill Gates' money for?

Similarly, will Gates set aside a few million dollars to create a foundation dedicated to getting rid of derelict administrators? Don't count on it.

* * * * * * * * * *

The article says, "The lead-off gift to Seattle is both a recognition of the district's ongoing reform and geography."

Again, there is NO ongoing reform in Seattle Schools; now that the corporate takeover of Seattle Schools has been completed, we're now witnessing an even fiercer bureaucratic entrenchment and public relations extravaganza.

"The plan calls for the foundation to be intimately involved in deciding who gets money, how it's spent and how to measure results."

Well, that's a great way to keep money out of the hands of dishonest administrators and school board members, but will Gates share his blueprint with the public? Will teachers and parents have a say in choosing superintendents and principals, or will they be recruited by computer software moguls?

"By many measures, the Annenberg program has failed to live up to its initial promise. There have been good local successes, but not the broad, systemwide change that was envisioned."

Forget "systemwide change." Seattle's T.T. Minor Elementary School was frequently in the headlines after it was adopted by a multi-millionaire. With one failure after another, it's now one of Seattle's best-kept secrets. More money couldn't fix one lousy school.

Unless Bill Gates has a near-death experience and joins me as an education activist or teachers and parents across America see his gift for what it is, I predict that it will go down in public schools history as a timely bribe and colossal waste of money. It will fix a few problems here and there and will likely fund a few experiments that are wildly successful. But it won't fix the system. That's because the fundamental problem in public education has nothing to do with money.

Washington State will serve as a test site for Bill Gates' education project. That means I'll get to critique it before it buries your district in public relations.


But the Vatican's on MY Side!
My partner in crime, California militant teacher Jeff LaMarca, sent me the following e-mail:

"I first received word, this morning, from an e-mail 'flame' (hate letter),
that called me a 'right wing zealot' and wanted to know what the 'agenda' was of the ASEE. For those of you that know me (and most of you do), you know that the 'agenda' of American Society for Ethics in Education is designed to HELP others and expose the corruption in our schools. As far as the right wing stuff - well, if that's the case then the sky is green.

"This flame, however, indicated that mention of ASEE was found on Zenit, located at:
http://www.zenit.org/english/

"This happens to be the International News Agency of the Vatican!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I checked, and he's right! Here's what the Vatican's News Agency says:

SOCIETY FOR ETHICS IN EDUCATION LAUNCHES WEB PAGE
ROME, FEB 29 (ZENIT).- The American Society for Ethics in Education (ASEE) has launched a new web page at http://www.edethics.org/ . The ASEE is dedicated to stopping abusive practices that harm children, fighting corruption, and identifying unethical and illegal practices. They also provide positive help for teachers facing harassment or just needing a place to find assistance.
ZE00022921

Sheez - I'd better delete all the nasty words from my website and try to get in on this action! Can you imagine if persuaded the Pope to go after Principal Dan Barton?


D.C. Charter Schools Battle
Some time ago, it dawned on me that the argument that charter schools take money away from public schools is stupid. I mean, they DO take money away, but they reduce costs at the same time. After all, if you take 300 students out of a public school district, that district needs to pay the salaries of one less principal and maybe two dozen less staff members. It might even be able to close an entire school. And the administrator of a charter school would probably be less likely to embezzle or misappropriate school funds than a public school principal.

Far more serious is the threat charter schools pose to education's most prized resource, the very resource public school administrations have the most contempt for - people. An article in this month's Teacher Magazine suggests that charter schools may lure some of the most talented and motivated teachers away AND attract activist parents, perhaps the most vital resource in troubled public school districts.

The article is "Fight or Flight" (Laura Lang, Teacher Magazine, March 2000) at
http://www.teachermagazine.org/tm/tmstory.cfm?slug=06fight.h11  (if the link doesn't work, go to Teacher Magazine at http://www.teachermagazine.org/tm/tm.cfm ) and it's a gem.

It recounts the experiences of a couple who chose small and popular Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Washington, D.C. for their adopted son and were further rewarded with a great teacher, Brenda Burns.

Then the school's new principal clashed with parents, "rupturing Hearst's famed harmony." ("Parents were particularly upset when the principal dismissed their concerns about unidentified dust in a kindergarten room-only to discover later that it was a byproduct of lead paint and potentially toxic.") Superintendent Arlene Ackerman transferred the principal - but she also transferred two teachers, including Burns.

Although I complimented Ackerman yesterday for having the guts to fire malfeasant administrators, she may also have a dark side. For starters, she's a carpetbagger. The left the school system in St. Louis, Missouri to become assistant superintendent in Seattle. She stayed a few years before she pulled up stakes and moved again - without saying one word about the extraordinary corruption she had to have known about. Thanks a lot.

Ackerman had a reputation as a bit of a tyrant in St. Louis, and her conduct at Hearst seems to continue the pattern - why can't derelict principals be transferred without getting rid of a few teachers to even the score???

Anyway, Ackerman's actions in D.C. made parents angrier and prompted more teachers to voluntarily transfer. Here's a great passage:

"Parent-administrator squabbles are common in schools, particularly in big-city districts, where clashes over money, power, and personality play out on a big canvas. But the Hearst skirmish revealed that parents have a new, potent weapon in these fights." That's right, about 50 parents moved to convert Hearst into a charter school which would be "largely outside the reach of Ackerman and other officials."

Another great passage: "The charter option gives parents real leverage, a way to speak out that they've never had before. In the past, a school system's disgruntled parents would often drop out and enroll their children in private academies. Now, thanks to charters, they can drop out and take their schools with them."

And here's a painful passage: A parent said, "I was bowled over by what I saw at Hearst. It was so warm and welcoming. . . . Like Carlson, many parents fall hard for Hearst. And when the school is threatened, they fight as if their own families are in danger."

That's exactly the way I felt about Seattle's Dearborn Park Elementary School, the nearest thing to a country school I've seen in Seattle. But when it was surrendered to a derelict principal, no one lifted a finger. It's located in a poor neighborhood, home largely to Chinese immigrants with poor English and little experience fighting the establishment. They - and ultimately the students - were utterly defenseless against the establishment, and they paid a steep price in the form of Principal Evelyn "Half-day" Fairchild.

The article isn't a charter school promotional. It says some parents were turned off by all the work involved, while others are philosophically opposed to charter schools. Charter enthusiasts found a champion in this refelection: "Wouldn't it be nice to use our energy to build something instead of keeping something safe from harm?"

But there may be another option that would make charter schools unnecessary:

"Just get downtown out of the picture. Sell the administration building. Just eliminate them and send checks."

Amen. And here's my contribution: Let's start submitting public school administrations to E-Bay and plow the profits into kids and teachers' salaries.