Because Cleveland and Chicago both begin with the letter “C”

Colin Woodard, a newspaper reporter in Maine, did a great series on the school reform industry (cyber charter division). Looks like the reporter may win a Certificate of Excellence or a trophy or something, but sadly nothing like the huge cash rewards school reform industry insiders are raking in on cyber charters. He’s obviously playing for the wrong team. He may have attended our Failed and Failing Public Schools Full of Failures, which would explain his lack of ambition:

Stephen Bowen was excited and relieved. Maine’s education commissioner had just returned to his Augusta office last October after a three-day trip to San Francisco where he attended a summit of conservative education reformers convened by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which had paid for the trip.
He’d heard presentations on the merits of full-time virtual public schools – ones without classrooms, playgrounds or in-person teachers – and watched as Bush unveiled the “first ever” report card praising the states that had given online schools the widest leeway.
But what had Bowen especially enthusiastic was his meeting with Bush’s top education aide, Patricia Levesque, who runs the foundation but is paid through her private firm, which lobbies Florida officials on behalf of online education companies.
Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.
So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.
In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text of Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.
A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.
K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.
At stake is the future of thousands of Maine schoolchildren who would enroll in the full-time virtual schools and, if the companies had their way, the future of tens of thousands more who would be legally required to take online courses at their public high schools in order to receive their diplomas.
The foundation’s Digital Learning Now! initiative receives funding from Pearson, K12, textbook publishing giants Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt and McGraw-Hill, and tech companies such as Apple, Intel and Microsoft, and digital curriculum developers Apex Learning and IQ Innovations iQity.
“One of the striking things about these reforms is the extent to which they remove control of the schools from democratic governance and turn them over to corporate decision-making and appointed bodies. Education policy is now being made to some degree by people who have a financial stake in what they are making policy about.”

School reform industry initiatives are always presented as “transformative” and “innovative” but what comes clear when one follows the industry for a couple of years is the relentless sameness of the agenda from state to state and year to year. This is a problem for reform industry marketing efforts, because they seek to portray privatization as grass roots and bottom-up or at the very least state-specific, but it is none of those things. You have your Course Choice in Louisiana and your Value Vouchers in Michigan, sure, but the only difference is the brand names. Ohio has the same cyber charter scam Jeb Bush tried to impose in Maine, and the Ohio scam has been running continuously for a decade. Voters in Idaho had the good sense to repeal the Jeb Bush Maine-Florida-Ohio-(Your State HERE) plan by referendum after it was imposed. That was in 2012. Did reform industry hacks get chased out of Idaho and go directly to Maine?

The reform industry leader who implemented the Chicago Mayor’s mass public school closing order yesterday is not a local or state leader but a national one. She parachuted into Chicago to close their public schools after school closing stints in Cleveland and Detroit. The parents, students and teachers in Chicago who fought so hard and so bravely to keep their local schools were first ignored and when they made so much noise they could no longer be ignored they were blatantly lied to, but they don’t have to wait to see what’s in store for them. They can look to Cleveland or Detroit where identical reforms were imposed to see where this is headed. By my count, Cleveland has now endured “transformational” “innovative” reform industry experiments for the last 13 years, and after all that the public schools there are fighting just to survive. We all know the rules, don’t we? Markets can’t fail they can only be failed, and the solution to failed market-based reforms is more market-based reforms.

66 replies
  1. 1
    Redshirt says:

    Maine’s wingnut Governor is doing his best to gut public education in the state. Thankfully, the state came back to its senses in 2012 and kicked out all the State level Repubs and can check him for the next two years.

    He came up with a school grading system as part of this scam. So many “F’s”.

    Here’s another: F you, Wingnuts.

  2. 2
    Mnemosyne says:

    Chicago public schools really are awful, but what they need are old-fashioned things like safer neighborhoods, smaller class sizes, and more resources like pens/pencils and textbooks, not “innovation.”

  3. 3
    Anna says:

    Tell me again how to keep the blog from printing out in a long, thin line.

  4. 4
    Kay says:


    Smaller class sizes have fallen out of favor with reformers. Not for their own kids, who go to private schools with tiny class sizes, but for my kids. My kids will get along fine with 40 students and a computer test prep program. Think what we’ll save on health care!

  5. 5
    Trollhattan says:

    Ugh. How long before congress is pushing this stuff out directly by linking it to federal education dollars?

    Our mayor Mr. Michelle Rhee has enormous political capital now that he saved our basketball team (frealz this time) and I can’t imagine him not heading for congress because of it. Can we survive giving the missus that kind of access to power–especially if he lands in the Education Committee. (Bordering on concern-trolling here, but I’ve been pondering KJ’s ultimate goals for a long while and don’t think the state house is where he wants to be.)

  6. 6
    Redshirt says:

    @Trollhattan: KJ’s a Winger?!

  7. 7
    Trollhattan says:


    When my daughter was in K and 1st, class size was topped at twenty, now it’s in the mid-thirties. Per student spending has dropped each year since ’08 while school enrollment has climbed, counter to most city elementaries (several of which are being closed after this school year). They even have mixed 4-5 and 5-6 classes to handle the overload.

  8. 8
    JPL says:

    @Mnemosyne: Funding for the corporate overlords, cost a lot and they have to get the money somewhere. Also by taking the money from public education, public schools will become failing schools and prove their point, that public schools are bad.
    MSMedia allows this narrative to happen. ugh!!!!!!

  9. 9
    Kay says:


    IMO, there’s genuine, growing opposition. They’re responding to it by disclaiming some of their own ideas. Gates wrote an op ed slamming standardized tests, but the fact is his own plans include an absolute reliance on standardized tests. He’s slamming his own agenda. It was clever.

    They have an advantage, because if public schools are forced to adopt the unpopular reforms, parents blame their individual public schools, not the national celebrity reformers. They’re not accountable, in other words.

  10. 10
    Tom_B says:

    The most horrible thing Republicans do might be encouraging and supporting the wholesale environmental assault on Mother Earth. The second most destructive might be the War on Education, which serves their agenda quite well: you enrich corporate cronies, the companies running the charters; and you create a generation of dumber, therefore, more likely to be Republican, sheeple.

  11. 11
    Trollhattan says:


    No, but I’m not sure where I’d slot him politically. It’s a blue city, but he beat a Democratic incumbent to get the job and spent the first four years trying to change the city charter to shift power from the city council and city manager to the mayor’s office. Literally called it the Strong Mayor initiative. I expect him to try again, since he was just reelected.

    He turned his old high school into a charter school after retiring from ball and before becoming mayor. He married Rhee last year, which jelled my general feelings of mistrust into active distrust. The city school board is mostly independent from the mayor and council, so I fully expect the two to take their show where they can push privatization. Now that he has his new billionaire buddies, I think that means congress.

    I guess that makes him a dangerous Democrat.

  12. 12
    Kay says:


    I’m so glad to see you reciting numbers! Reality-based.

    Listening to Duncan is surreal. It’s as if he has no idea what’s happening as far as funding. He was in Michigan singing the praises of Snyder, obviously a pure quid pro quo for Snyder supporting Duncan’s Common Core. Does he not know that Snyder has cut a BILLION dollars from public education? 80% of Michigan charters are for-profit. They have two districts that are completely privatized. Arne Duncan is there promoting THAT governor? It’s la-la land.

  13. 13
    Trollhattan says:


    I hope the opposition is broad and deep, since I’m just coming to grasp with how much momentum these folks have.

    Gates is a funny case, I think in part because he has no concept of what a troubled school might be like, and why that would be so. He grew up in one of Seattle’s toniest neighborhoods (Laurelhurst) then went to the area’s top prep school (Lakeside), where I had friends a couple classes ahead of him (they didn’t know the little pipsqueak). I suspect our best hope for Bill to come around is through Melinda, who seems to have considerable compassion and isn’t afraid to press for her causes.

    This sums up how we’ve allowed our oligarchy to run things, and base our hopes quite literally on key people waking up in a good mood on critical days. Nice system.

  14. 14
    Trollhattan says:


    A couple follow-up figures (district non-salary funding) for my kid’s school:

    08-09 for 551 students–$84,346

    12-13 for 670 students–$35,306

    Despite frantic, continuous parent fundraising, the cuts have been both deep and broad, as you can well imagine. $3k/month is in the ballpark of what it takes to pay for and run my home.

  15. 15
    Anya says:

    Every post about “school reforms” should include 9 year old Asean Johnson’s righteous speech at Chicago school closings rally. I want one just like him!

  16. 16
    eclare says:

    Please keep on this, Kay, no one else is reporting on it. So glad I got out of school (college graduate) when I did. At the horrible public high school I went to, I took AP calculus, AP English, AP world history, a class on US history that was organized around Supreme Court decisions, and 3 years of Latin, one year of which I was the only one in my class, and the teacher and I met in the library. Don’t see that happening now, which is a shame.

  17. 17
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    The worst part is the grifters have managed to fool a good portion of our own side. I have a friend who works for Congressman McGovern of Massachusetts and has kids in DC public elemetary schools. He’s a staunch Democrat, but Michelle Rhee could do no wrong as far as he was concerned, and when Rahm started “reforming” Chicago schools, he said he thought Rahm was doing all the right things. There’s a not insubstantial portion of the democratic voting base that believes in busting teachers unions and “reforming” schools.

  18. 18
    Harvey says:

    As funds reduce and class sizes grow the job of teaching also becomes impossible. The finest graduates are not interested in teaching when they see what they have to contend with in the workplace. This brain drain is also contributing to the dumbing down of schools and reducing the quality of education. I find it terribly disheartening.

  19. 19
    Hungry Joe says:

    The problem is that public education is such a rich vein, such an inviting target — even educating kids on the cheap requires a hell of a lot of money. For generations this territory was off-limits to private enterprise; on the outskirts, for-profits could set up tony operations and religious groups could cobble together whatever, but neither was allowed inside. Now the barriers are down, the land-rush days are upon us, and the earth will be scorched as corporations and churches bury their snouts in that gigantic public trough.

  20. 20
    askew says:

    The was some good news on the education front in Minnesota. The Dem statehouse passed and Dem Governor Dayton signed the following into law this week:

    Free all-day Kindergarten starting in fall 2014
    $234 million in basic classroom funding through the school funding formula, beginning in the coming school year.
    $40 million in scholarships for parents, based on need, to send their children to high-quality pre-schools. Scholarships are worth up to $5,000, affecting an estimated 8,000 students. The funds will be available immediately.
    $40 million in special education.
    Increasing drop out age from 16 to 17
    And it does away with high-stakes high school testing known as the GRAD tests, replacing them with tests that are designed to more quickly identify problems and better prepare students for college.

  21. 21
    I, Floridian says:

    Great series. I notice none of the sponsors are likely to have had virtual education inflicted upon them. (I remember the days when the innocent phrase ‘public/private partnership’ was starting to be tossed around–who could be against that? Some pretty bad mutations since then, especially in education.) Thanks for keeping on this, Kay.

  22. 22
    MomSense says:


    Did you read the Bowen memo that was leaked? It is pretty disgusting stuff. Right after talking about redirecting 1 million a month in casino funds they talk about stopping funding for education programs for children with disabilities.

    There are some other crazy things like taking over school districts, stopping the funding to schools mid year, and in these cases they mention that it will be tough with this legislature.

    Thank goodness Democrats were able to take back control of the legislature.

  23. 23
    NickT says:

    We need to disown and denounce fake Democrats like Rahm Emmanuel and run them out of the party for good. He can always rise to his natural level as an ass-kisser at one of the Koch fake-tanks.

  24. 24
    negative 1 says:

    Here’s our education battle in Rhode Island, this is totally a push for help in my state, but our ‘education reformer’ Department of Ed head has a contract up for renewal despite the fact that virtually no one wants it renewed


  25. 25
    MomSense says:

    Thank you Kay for writing about this!

    For some reason my previous comment is in moderation. I swear I didn’t use any bad words.

  26. 26
    BGinCHI says:

    No way Rahm is getting re-elected. We’re used to shitty politicians but he is setting a new low. He’s probably done well in infrastructure repairs (CTA, roads, etc.), but fucking up the schools is the worst kind of infrastructure blow he could deal the city.

    We need a real progressive.

  27. 27
    jamick6000 says:

    If I remember right, I think there was a big stink in Cleveland about how much money Barbara Byrd-Bennett made in Cleveland, >250K and this was in the late 90’s.

  28. 28
    RSR says:

    Is the Reform Movement Based on the Soviet Model?

    Author William Doyle has been observing the current “reform movement” promoted by people like Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, Rick Scott, and Michelle Rhee, and he has developed a theory about its true nature. Doyle thinks that the current movement is Soviet-style, with unrealistic targets and top-down control. What struck me as amazing is that I read an article in the Teachers College Record and blogged about it a year ago, in which the author argued that the current model of “education reform” is Stalinist. At the time, I thought this was perhaps extreme. I am not so sure anymore.

    Doyle writes:

    The currently dominant theories of education reform are being mis-labeled as “market-driven education reforms” or “corporate education reforms.”

    Most of these theories would not last 5 minutes in a truly free market; or a profitable corporation; successful hedge fund or private equity firm, since the results have been so poor.

    These sham reforms – – including turning schools over to political cronies and education amateurs and cyber-charters, the flagrant abuse and misuse of standardized tests, spending tens of billions of dollars on unproven reforms, unproven technologies and unproven testing schemes – – are actually the opposite of the free market or corporate models – – they are Soviet-style sham reforms.

    Like Soviet models, they are based on top-down, rigid command and control; ideological orthodoxy and one-party thought; flagrant disregard for evidence; the brutalization of human capital; the disembowlement of unions; the crushing of dissent; and the massive misapplication of resources and data; all of which create massive inefficiencies and inevitably poor results.

    They also rely on cults of personality created for false idols; and the creation of false miracles and Potemkin success stories.

  29. 29
    Kay says:


    It’s interesting to watch, because cities have real identities, right, and the mayor should reflect that. I’ve never lived in Chicago but my oldest son lives there and I’ve gone there quite a bit over the years, and I recognize that is different than Cleveland. I just think it’s a mistake (and real hubris) to impose the same set of “reforms” there, as if it is just City Four on a list.

    So that’s how I see it, politically. Arrogant people who don’t bother to get buy-in from the locals who are affected because they fundamentally don’t understand that public schools are part of communities. They’re more than “schools”, obviously, because people don’t sob and rant and sit-in and organize over “any random school”. I think they ignore that at their peril. Continue to ignore that.

  30. 30
    Kay says:


    Thanks you for the link to the Maine emails. I got tired going thru them, then I found this guy, who apparently read ONE THOUSAND EMAILS.

  31. 31
    RSR says:

    Calling something Soviet is not quite Godwin’s Law territory, but it’s quite damning nonetheless. It’s blunt, and influential. More like that, plz.

  32. 32
    mai naem says:

    I bring you via the Slog
    The interesting part is the comment thread which hilariously devolves into a “vie dunn need no stinkin’ skoulz, vie kan home skoul” vs. look at the data: unionized teachers=good results.”

  33. 33
    MomSense says:


    He is fantastic isn’t he!! I appreciate that you looked into the issue. Our governor here is just as bad as Perry or Scott or any of the other teahadists–he just doesn’t get as much attention.

  34. 34
    Baud says:


    Maine deserves better.

  35. 35
    MomSense says:



  36. 36
    NickT says:

    I think most of us can agree that it’s a good thing that Wormtongue Emmanuel is no longer anywhere near the White House, although I can see that residents of Chicago might not consider this to be a good thing for their fair city.

  37. 37
    Kay says:


    Davis X Machina has the best Maine governor story. He said the governor told people that wind turbines are run by an electric motor, so they really don’t “do anything”. They’re a conspiracy. We build these giant turbines to fool people into thinking we can make power with wind. I think it’s hilarious.

  38. 38
    BGinCHI says:

    @Kay: This is exactly right, Kay. It’s the franchise model, where schools are seen in the same Business School way as Burger King.

    Efficiencies in education aren’t like in any other area. Assessment is possible, but it’s not the same as number crunching in a factory.

  39. 39
    Mnemosyne says:

    @BGinCHI: If Rahm manages to Jane Byrne or Michael Bilandic himself out of the job, I will laugh and laugh and laugh. And then laugh some more.

  40. 40
    Karen in GA says:

    I don’t have kids — never wanted to. Never am I happier about that than whenever I read about education. The long-term effects on the country scare me to think about; but just on a selfish level, I can’t imagine how sick I’d be if I had to feed my kid to some slobbering corporate beast. (Although most of us get chewed up eventually, don’t we?)

    If you fight these privatization efforts and you lose, what do you do to keep your kid away from it? A decent private school?

    Home school? Can you afford to stay home with the kid? How does that work if you want your kid to be better educated than you are, or if you’re well-educated but your kid’s interests/strengths don’t mirror your own? How do you know what to teach him and how to go about it? How do you put together a home-school curriculum, or assess one that already exists?

    And why am I more aware of this, and angrier about it, than most parents I know? What is wrong with people?

  41. 41
    BGinCHI says:

    @Kay: Reporting today is that he’s moving out of the Maine state house (or whatever it’s called) over a dispute involving a flat screen TV.

    He probably thinks it’s telling him what to do or something.

    Actually, if he’s watching Fox News, it is.

  42. 42
    NickT says:


    You should hear what LePage theory has to say about windmills and how the wheat really gets ground!

  43. 43
    MomSense says:


    If you ever get the chance to read my friend Mike Tipping, I encourage you to do so. He also has a radio show and works for Maine People’s Alliance. The knitter/crocheters here will appreciate that he asked his wife to marry him on ravelry! Anyway, he wrote a great piece about the windmill story.

    The latest today is that the Governor moved a wide screen tv out into the hall of flags at the State House and was asked by the legislative council (both parties and in charge of the space) to move it–so he announced that he would no longer have an office at the State House. Crazy!

  44. 44
    BGinCHI says:

    @Mnemosyne: His poll numbers suck. What’s he going to run on? “I haven’t had a major scandal yet”?

    You piss off all the folks involved in public schools in this city and you are well and truly fucked. This is a city of neighborhoods.

  45. 45
    WereBear says:

    @Kay: OMG. It’s like the wingers who tell me it’s all a conspiracy to sell electric cars to “make the hippies happy.”

    Only this is a governor. Of a state.

  46. 46
    BGinCHI says:

    @Karen in GA: A lot of them are working 3 jobs, though that’s not much of an excuse. The media is criminally under-covering this as well.

    It’s like a terrorist attack but in very slow motion.

  47. 47
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Karen in GA: Some people can’t handle the truth, so they avoid it.

    Some of them got that start early in life so at this point they actually believe that the Christian Learning Center will be better than the local public school, if only they could get that voucher…

  48. 48
    MomSense says:


    Ha, you beat me to it!

    He also vetoed the Dems bill to pay off the hospital debt (Medicaid monies state owes to hospitals) because it was linked to expanding Medicaid. Then he said that he would not release 105 million in bond money (voted on by the citizens via referenda) until the hospital debt is paid–thereby linking two things. It is never ending with him.

  49. 49
    MomSense says:


    So now we have

  50. 50
    Baud says:

    Two OT items:

    Lois Lerner of IRS put on leave.

    Boy Scouts vote to allow gay scouts.

  51. 51
    Kay says:


    I know! I just laughed and laughed. The thing is, wind turbines are accepted. I put up a post here a little while back where Archbold Ohio got stimulus money for a turbine and is powering their high school with it. Archbold is the single most rigidly conservative town I have ever entered. I get nervous when I’m working there, like I can’t make too much noise or I’ll get arrested :)

  52. 52
    Punchy says:

    @Redshirt: KJ is married to Shelly Rhee?

  53. 53
    NickT says:


    Missshill Rhee

  54. 54
    JPL says:

    Hope this is true..

    scouts are allowing gay memberships

  55. 55
    Sad_Dem says:

    What prompted the MOTUs to begin their long, patient campaign against public schools? People like Sal Castro, perhaps.

  56. 56
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Hungry Joe: Churches are desperate for this $$$ as the people leave the pews and the product they’re flogging gets less and less relevant to their lives.

    Even those who aren’t atheists feel they can church themselves … Catholics walked away in droves … evangelicals have had a drip drip drip for years after the over-politicization cannibalized the gains from the Jesus freak years … mainline Protestant denoms are literally dying out … Mormons hit peak idiot because like any ponzi scheme eventually you run out of new marks

  57. 57
    Redshirt says:

    @Kay: In Maine the local Wingnuts are anti-windmills because of:

    1. Agenda 21
    2. Noise/magnetic cancer
    3. Bird deaths
    4. Beauty reduction in the mountains.

    It’s a weird coalition of wingnuts, randians, paultards, libtards, racists, greens, and wicca you’ll ever see.

  58. 58
    Karen in GA says:

    @RSR: I worked for a big corporation for a few years, and I’d often respond to some edict from on high with “How very Soviet.” Just the sheer bureaucratic uselessness of so much of what we did every day, all to enrich a few people at the top. And yeah, corporate buzzwords are funny, but the attempt at controlling language is creepy.

    I was a kid in the 70s, a teenager for most of the 80s. When everyone was all flag-waving Reagan-worshipping and singing along with Charlie Daniels, was anyone trying to remind us of the adage about choosing our enemies wisely since that’s who we’ll become?

    Not sure this made sense. Long day at work (at least it’s not at a corporation anymore), and I’m looking forward to leaving in a few minutes.

  59. 59
    BGinCHI says:

    @Redshirt: Coincidentally, that’s also a list of really bad tippers in restaurants.

  60. 60
    NickT says:


    There are signs of the same bizarre anti-wind turbine coalition of the unthinking emerging in Britain, to judge from recent news reports. How the Greens manage to explain this particular set of positions and allies is beyond even my lively imagination.

  61. 61
    Ben says:

    Count me pessimistic about the chances of defeating Rahm. The anti-Rahm forces as of now are way too disorganized to mount a credible challenge to him…

  62. 62
    BGinCHI says:

    @Ben: I hear you. It will matter a lot who runs against him. If someone solid does (and I fear the state Dem machine will make that difficult) then he’s toast. What is he going to tout as his accomplishment?

  63. 63
    rikyrah says:

    thank you Kay for your continued revealing to us of these folks. I’m in Chicago, and this scam and fraud that they just did on those children should be criminal.

    But, I didn’t vote for Rahm and want an apology from those that did.

  64. 64
    BGinCHI says:

    @rikyrah: I only voted for him three times, which is way less than I voted for the other candidates.

  65. 65
    Sad_Dem says:

    @Redshirt: Aren’t wingnuts really against windmills because they don’t burn oil, but cite other reasons because they know that not everyone considers it every American’s god-given right to drive a really big car and use air conditioning powered by coal-burning plants?

  66. 66
    PeakVT says:

    @Sad_Dem: At this point, wingnuts are against windmills mainly because liberals are for them.

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