School District Turf War: Capitalist Pimps vs. Marxist Hustlers

by Christopher Paslay

On the surface, the battle over school closings and the expansion of charters is about the kids.  In reality, it’s about money and power. 

Here are some facts about the residents of the City of Philadelphia:

  • 21 percent over the age of 25 have not graduated high school
  • 78 percent over 25 do not have a college degree 
  • 21 percent speak a language other than English at home
  • $36,251 is the median household income
  • $500 million are owed in delinquent property taxes
  • 81 percent of students attending public schools are economically disadvantaged

What do these facts indicate?  Simply stated, they show that the engine driving Philadelphia’s public schools—families and communities—is weak and sputtering.  Unlike the more affluent suburban districts where families use their knowledge and clout and power to micromanage nearly every aspect of their child’s education—successfully influencing policy and arranging for the dismissal of teachers, administrators and school board members if things don’t go according to their wishes—the majority of families at the core of the Philadelphia School District are, to put it bluntly, passengers instead of drivers. 

Unfortunately, this leaves the district and its families open to all manner of opportunists looking to funnel money or push political agendas.  In broad terms, these opportunists fall into two major categories: Capitalist Pimps and Marxist Hustlers.   

Capitalist Pimps

The main goal of the Capitalist Pimp is short term: to make money, and lots of it.  Their mindset is to get in and get out.  Profit comes first, even before politics, even before power.  In fact, politics and power only matter in terms of the net effect they have on money.  The bottom line is the bottom line is the bottom line.  Such is the mind of the pure Capitalist Pimp.   

There have been a number of Capitalist Pimps who’ve managed to extract large amounts of cash money from the Philadelphia School District in recent years (and some continue to do so).  I won’t name names, but I’ll give a basic character description: they are in positions of power, either lawyers, politicians, business owners, private consultants, charter operators, or academic elites.  They have a knack for showing up at just the right time, and schmooze and manipulate their way to lucrative paydays.  They always promise big results but end up delivering the status quo (or worse, they destroy what they were claiming to save).  They are of all races, genders, and political affiliations.  Their motives are simple, linear, and direct.  They are curt, shrewd, and standing in plain sight in front of our children and schools.    

Capitalist Pimps have brought us the following: corrupt charters; ineffective education management organizations (EMOs); out-of-touch consultants; scripted curriculum; a “Facilities Master Plan” that recommends closing 40-50 District schools in the near future and ensures that charters make-up 40 percent of the PSD; performance pay; achievement networks; a Shared Services Organization that cuts the pay of union workers; outright union busting; a proposal to end teacher tenure and seniority; and the Great Schools Compact, among other goodies.     

Marxist Hustlers

The main goal of the Marxist Hustler is long term: to sow his political oats in such a manner as to lay claim to the land for eternity.  Their aim is to grow roots and infiltrate the school system with orthodoxy.  “Social justice” comes first, and drives every decision, every breath, every movement.  The kind of curriculum taught in school is rooted in social justice, the types of tests given are about social justice, pedagogy and instruction stem from social justice.  Grading is about social justice.  Discipline is about social justice.  The spoken word itself is about social justice.  And yes, even thinking is about social justice.  Social justice is, of course, a means to an end: power.  Power to control curriculum, testing, pedagogy and instruction, grading, discipline, speaking, and thought.  Why?  Because the Marxist Hustler at his core is a guilty elitist (and privileged) control freak who thinks he knows better than everybody else. 

What does the Marxist Hustler think he knows?  That things are unfair, and that everything—everything—must be done to make things “equal.”  The Marxist Hustler operates out of a postmodern perspective that preaches there are no universal human truths, that all things are a matter of cultural perspective and the result of a social construct, an oppressive construct that is ultimately dominated by 1.—the Rich, and 2.—the White Western Establishment.  The Rich and the White Western Establishment are inherently the root of all injustice and must be deconstructed at all costs (any skeptic of the Marxist Hustler agenda need only to enroll in any university multicultural education course or read academia’s educational canon of Paulo Freire, Jonathan Kozol, and the like).

Since the early 1990s (until the Capitalists Pimps showed up, that is), Marxist Hustlers have ruled the PSD and its surrounding communities.  I won’t name names, but I’ll give a basic character description: they are the radical grass roots activists who block traffic and engage in political street theater; they are the civil rights advocates who habitually pull the race card; they are the academic elitists who push postmodern progressivism; they are the privileged whites who romanticize ethnic poverty and whose guilt drives a well-intentioned yet patronizing interaction with the disenfranchised; they are the bleeding heart law firms that have a fetish for the incarcerated.         

Marxist Hustlers have brought us the following: a toothless school discipline code that puts the rights of the unruly few over the rights of the hardworking many; detracked classes; student-centered instruction; fuzzy group work; A.P. classes that take non-A.P. students; gifted classes that take non-gifted students; the erosion of real deadlines; the erosion of real grammar; the erosion of real math; the erosion of real literacy; fuzzy project-based learning; hip-hop in place of real science; credit recovery; grade inflation; the erosion of respect for authority; the erosion of family, religion, and traditional values; Ebonics; Whole Language; ethnomathmatics; the erosion of student accountability; identity politics; the fantasy known as “coded racism”; race-based school discipline; and an all-round socialist education system that attempts to make everyone equal, keep all students and their families “on the plantation,” and attacks any outsider who challenges their collective suffocating group-think mentality. 

No Winners

Unfortunately, the turf war between the Capitalist Pimps and the Marxist Hustlers for the hearts and minds (and dollars) of Philadelphia public school students and their families will wage on for years to come.  Who comes out on top remains to be seen.  Although both sides will ultimately tell you that they are fighting for the good of the people, there are no winners; the kids are the ones who suffer.  Until our children and their families accept change on an individual basis (and adopt the principle that all change is self change), they will remain the raw materials that the aforementioned pimps and hustlers are fighting to possess.

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Is the End of Public Education in Philadelphia Near?

by Lisa Haver

The five year plan proposed by School District officials may mark the end of democratically run neighborhood schools.     

The end of public education in Philadelphia seems to be upon us.  A five-year school reform plan proposed by Philadelphia School District officials calls for massive overhauls in virtually every aspect of the school system—from finances, to academics, to central management.  These drastic changes suggest to many that the District is intent on expediting the privatization of its schools, despite its promise to stay the traditional route and invest in neighborhoods and communities.

Here are some changes the District proposed at a news conference Tuesday:

  • The closing of 40 “low-performing” and underused schools next year, and six more each additional year until 2017.
  • The movement of thousands of students from traditional neighborhood schools to charters.  The district estimates that 40 percent of public school students will attend charters at the completion of the five-year plan.  This comes as a result of the School Reform Commission’s signing of the “Great Schools Compact” as outlined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • “Modernizing” custodial, transportation, and maintenance services by threatening district workers with layoffs if they don’t agree to accept LESS than what the outsourcers are asking.
  • District officials have also proposed a major transformation in the management of the school system.  The current structure would be completely scrapped and replaced by “achievement networks,” each overseeing groups of about 25 schools. These networks could be made up of school district personnel, a charter management organization, or an education management organization (such as Edison or Universal). A bidding process would determine who controls these networks. Most school services—presumably curricula, discipline, staffing and supplies—would be controlled by each network.  The District has not explained how this new system would save money.  This would spell a return to the patronage system which plagued Philadelphia schools just a few generations ago.

How, pray tell, have we arrived at a point where the public school system can be auctioned off to the highest bidder? 

Those who have followed the actions of the current SRC shouldn’t be surprised by the announcement of this draconian plan.  The SRC members, while billing themselves as more transparent and open to the public, have conducted business in a way that observers have come to realize is, on many occasions, just the opposite.

I was in attendance when the SRC voted on November 23, 2011—the day before Thanksgiving—to take part in the Great Schools Compact. I asked the Commissioners why they were voting on a matter that would have major implications for the future of the District without any opportunity for the public to adequately read, comprehend, and discuss the agreement.  I was assured that this was only a preliminary vote and that there would be many occasions for Philadelphians to have their say.

Since then the SRC, along with other city officials, have made clear their intentions to make any change necessary (in management, teacher evaluations, and in the number of additional charters), in order to comply with the Compact.  However, the issue has not been on the agenda of any of the five subsequent formal meetings.  There has been virtually no opportunity for parents, teachers, or anyone in the community to make any contribution on this issue, let alone hear the SRC discuss their reasons for signing on.  (One informal SRC meeting, which was billed as a forum to find out about the details of the Compact, was actually a discussion on the merits of charter schools).

The truth is, the District’s adoption of the Compact was a decision based on finances, not academics.  Bill and Melinda Gates do not bestow grants; they issue a contract.  If you don’t comply, you don’t get their money.

This SRC has also changed its schedule for formal meetings (those with an agenda which includes resolutions to be voted on) from once a week to once a month.  Those in attendance have seen meetings last until 11:30 p.m., with a speakers list exceeding 80 people.  At February’s meeting, I objected when the commissioners proceeded to vote on their list of resolutions after most people had left.  There was no way for those in attendance to know what was being voted on, since the five pages of resolutions had not previously been distributed or discussed.

What is the point of speaking on a resolution which has already been passed? I was assured by Chairman Pedro Ramos that the Commission would take steps to rectify the problem.  They have not.  The self-described transparency of this SRC is a sham.  It is an insult to all of the parents, teachers, students and members of the community who are involved in trying to make this school system better.

So what is the answer?

Organized opposition.

Last year, school district nurses organized themselves when threatened with layoffs.  They have held rallies every Wednesday (some in the rain and snow) on the steps of 440 since December in an effort to truly involve all of the people—parents, teachers, students, community members—in trying to save our schools.  I have been at most of these rallies.  I go because I know that the School District sees a group of educators and community members who will not give up.

This five-year plan, which could spell the demise of public education in this city, must be challenged by the people.  We must do everything we can to speak out against it.

Lisa Haver is an education activist and retired teacher.

SRC Favors Corporate Community Over True Stakeholders

by Lisa Haver

Philadelphians still have little say in the workings of the School District.  Too often the agenda of the corporate community outweighs the interests of true stakeholders.      

Although the new-look Philadelphia School Reform Commission is making headway into the issues facing city schools, a number of their recent decisions have some Philadelphians wondering whether they are really living up to their self-described “transparency”. 

One troublesome development was the SRC’s signing of the Great Schools Compact at its November 23, 2011 meeting—held the day before Thanksgiving—after offering limited opportunity for public discussion on it.  The millions of dollars in possible grant money attached to the Compact, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, come with a number of mandatory provisions which seriously compromise the SRC’s ability to make its own decisions.  These include expansion of the number and size of charter schools, the evaluation and pay of teachers, the closing of neighborhood schools, and the transferring of 50,000 students over the next five years to “high-performing” schools. 

Recently, an eight-member committee was appointed by the SRC to coordinate implementation of the Great Schools Compact. This committee includes representatives from the Mayor’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Philadelphia School District, and administrators from three charter schools.  No community members, teachers, parents or students are represented.

There has yet to be a chance for any of the true stakeholders of city public schools to weigh in on the Great Schools Compact, an agreement that will change the landscape of the Philadelphia School District for many years to come.  However, the Philadelphia School Partnership—a newly created organization whose board is top-heavy with investment bankers—has become a major player in advancing the cause of privatization as “reform,” and has managed to place Mark Gleason, PSP’s Executive Director, on the Great Schools Compact committee as a “non-voting” member; Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools, is also a non-voting member.    

This Great Schools Compact Committee was not elected by the people and is not directly accountable to them.  One wonders how investment bankers and charter school operators have become such heavy hitters in deciding the future of city public schools.  How has the corporate community come to overshadow the district’s true stakeholders? 

Another issue with transparency was the recent restructuring of the School District’s administration.  At the January 16th SRC meeting, not once did any of the SRC members feel compelled to mention to those in attendance that the administration of the school district was about to be completely reconfigured.  That was announced three days later, along with the shocker that they had named Thomas Knudsen, former director of the Philadelphia Gas Works, the District’s new Chief Recovery Officer and interim superintendent with no set limits on his range of powers.     

Now taxpayers must cough up $25,000 a month to pay yet another businessman to oversee the district.  Now we find out that Mr. Knudsen plans to hire even more costly consultants to straighten-out the financial and administrative mess left by Arlene Ackerman.  Apparently, that’s his prerogative; we were never told what his prerogatives would be.

Unfortunately, it is hard to figure out how and when the public will ever have a chance to weigh in on any of these issues.  Previously, the SRC convened on Wednesdays; official proposals were distributed and discussed at one meeting and voted on the next.  The new SRC now has one formal meeting each month, and they have yet to explain how anyone can view its agenda prior to that day.  How can the public comment on or question proposals they don’t get a chance to see?

It seemed, initially, that one exercise in transparency might be the SRC’s decision to schedule a series of meetings at neighborhood schools where parents and community members could discuss their criteria for finding a permanent superintendent.  A 10-member committee has been designated by the SRC to conduct the search and vote for its choice; no parents, teachers or students have been selected to be part of that body, either. 

The first of these forums, held at Simon Gratz High School last week, was not run by School District personnel but by facilitators from the Penn Project on Civic Engagement.  The gathering of about one hundred people was immediately divided into smaller groups, and a printed list of talking points was given to each to discuss.  No time was allotted for the whole group to ask questions of the four committee members who were present.  Can a meeting with a pre-determined agenda, run by paid facilitators, truly be described as an opportunity for Philadelphians who have a stake in this system to be heard?

When will Philadelphians have a chance to be heard on the critical issues—academics, finances, school safety and climate—which now face our schools?  And why are they being pushed aside to make room for those who largely represent corporate interests?  It seems that the true stakeholders in the Philadelphia School District have neither the money nor the power to get a seat at the table.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and education activist.  She can be reached at:  lhaver1039@yahoo.com.

Cashing In On Kids: The Miami Herald’s Must Read Series on Charter Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Principals serving as board members and overseeing management contracts.  Discrimination against the poor and students with special needs.  These are just some of the issues the Miami Herald tackles in their recent investigative series on charters.                

“On a sun-drenched weekend in September, a group of South Florida charter school principals jetted off to a leadership retreat at The Cove, an exclusive enclave of the Atlantis resort. A Friday morning meeting gave way to champagne flutes, a dip in the pool and a trip down a waterslide. The evening ended at the casino.

Leading the toast by the pool: Fernando Zulueta, the CEO of Academica Corp., which manages the principals’ schools.

Zulueta had reason to cheer. During the past 15 years, Zulueta and his brother, Ignacio, have built Academica into Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Academica runs more than 60 schools with $158 million in total annual revenue and more than 20,000 students — more pupils than 38 Florida school districts, records show. . . .

But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.

These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show.

Academica has fostered a close-knit culture among its schools, recruiting principals and teachers who rarely leave the ranks and are often promoted from one Academica school to another — though the staffers technically work for their respective schools, not for the management company.

But the principals play another crucial role: Several also serve as board members at other Academica schools, where they approve and oversee Academica’s management contracts and the real-estate leases — including the leases with the Zulueta companies. . . .”

This is an excerpt from the story Academica: Florida’s richest charter management firm,” one of nearly a dozen recent investigative pieces in the Miami Herald’s Cashing in on Kids series.  Other articles in the series include:

Interestingly, the abuses mentioned in the above articles are not limited to Florida.  This kind of behavior is widespread, and anyone interested in keeping education fair and equitable—especially to the poor and disadvantaged—should take note. 

These articles are also a must read for the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, who recently agreed to sign over 50,000 seats—or 25 percent of District schools—to charter operators as a part of “The Philadelphia Great Schools Compact,” all in exchange for millions of Bill Gates’ dollars.