Skip to content

An Interview With Yohuru Williams about Betsy DeVos

Yohuru Williams and I both attended the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Network for Public Education (NPE), held in Oakland, California.

Williams is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also a committed, passionate advocate for the preservation of American public education.

Yohuru Williams 2  Yohuru Williams

Williams gave a powerful keynote speech at NPE on October 14, 2017; once the audio is available, I plan to transcribe and post his speech. Until then, feel free to peruse Williams’ accompanying Power Point presentation.

I also asked Williams to participate in a brief written interview centered on US ed sec Betsy DeVos, whose extreme, right-wing agenda directly threatens sustainability of the traditional, community public school. Below is our complete exchange.

Schneider: What do you consider the major threat of the placement of B DeVos as US ed sec?

Williams: There are essentially two major problems with Betsy DeVos. The first is her overall lack of qualification for the position. The second is her open hostility to public schools. We have never had an Education Secretary in the history of the United States History who has exhibited such hostility toward public schools.

Schneider: What do you perceive to be DeVos’ “Achilles heel”?

Williams: Secretary DeVos’ Achilles heel might very well be her singular focus on school choice as the panacea for what she and other Education Reformers have problematically labeled as a “failing system of education” in America. Her arrogance may very well prove her undoing.

Schneider: Arrogance?

Williams: By arrogance I mean her deep sense of entitlement and privilege and her inability to see beyond her own experience.

Schneider: In your keynote, you pointed out DeVos’ selectively quoting John F. Kennedy (JFK). Please elaborate.

Williams: She chose to selectively quote from JFK at the Kennedy School perhaps to try and make the case that one of the most celebrated Democrats of the 20th Century widely regarded, even if problematically, for his role in advancing Civil Rights for African Americans, would have agreed with her on the role of government in Education. The problem is she failed to read the rest of the statement. In fact, most of what JFK said was a repudiation of the core values of school choice and privatization that DeVos seeks to advance. His words would have supported the young people protesting her speech more than her privatizing schemes.

**Note: Below is the content of Williams’ Power Point slide referencing the JFK speech above:

Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people.

Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.

The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.

–John F. Kennedy made this statement in 1950 as a young congressman from Massachusetts.


Schneider: DeVos delivers speeches in which she sounds like she is constantly campaigning for school choice. Realistically, what audience could she win?

Williams: This is a difficult question. In the short term I think she will win over those who are predisposed to accept the narrative about failing schools and the myth of school choice as the best solution. Once people are exposed to the truth however, I believe that there will be push back. The fear is that this will not come soon enough and the damage will be extensive and difficult to overcome.

Schneider: Is DeVos more of a Republican Party asset or liability? Will they pay for her in 2018?

Williams: Definitely a liability, however I am not sure how much more she can help or hurt the party based on the actions of the President. Public Education, unfortunately remains at the bottom of most people’s priority list in terms of issues, which is and of itself an issue.

Schneider: What is one chief benefit for public education of having Betsy DeVos as US ed sec?

Williams: I love what Diane Ravitch said today. Secretary DeVos has definitely focused attention on everything that is wrong with Corporate Education Reform and people may finally be taking note of the real danger that privatization poses to public education.

People are indeed taking note.

My thanks to Williams for his time and insights.

Calling all teachers and friends of public education:

Connect with like-minded individuals nationwide and be encouraged in the fight. Consider attending NPE’s next annual meeting (specifics TBA).



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Betsy DeVos’ WA Speech: More Food Analogies

On October 13, 2017, US ed sec Betsy DeVos spoke to the Washington Policy Center (WPC), a right-wing think tank that supports charters and vouchers and therefore strongly supports the likes of DeVos as “the nation’s leading proponent of school choice.”

DeVos delivered a speech that included many of what has become her stock speech components, including 1) pushing state-level reform without mentioning the role she and other moneyed individuals are playing in purchasing states, for example, by funding campaigns of legislators and ballot initiatives in line with their millionaire/billionaire preferences; 2) offering shallow, market analogies in which choosing a school is like purchasing food; 3) featuring an individual story in which choice worked while failing to address the incredible fraud and mismanagement that all too often accompanies sending public funds out of public scrutiny, and 4) selling the deceitful view that focus on funding the individual student with the goal of sending that funding away from traditional public education will not undo traditional public education and thereby damage the stability of collective society.

DeVos never addresses the whole story. And apparently, she is mostly running short on fresh ways to deliver her slant. Mostly.

DeVos has also taken to promoting a new, demeaning phrase: “sycophants of the system.” She uses it for the second time in this WPA speech.

Below is the text of her WPE speech. And, yes, she does include a food analogy, but she had the sense to avoid mentioning any certain type of food vendor. She also does not address the fact that restaurants can shape their clientele according to the menu they choose, the prices they set, and the dress code they require. And like many businesses, restaurants can reserve the right to refuse service.

Betsy also mentions being bored in school. (I wrote about her boredom here.) She never attended a traditional public school. Thus, she was bored with the choice her parents made, an admission that undermines her own school choice argument.

Enough from me. When she speaks, Betsy is bluefin tuna in a barrel.

Thank you, Ami, for that introduction and for what you do to advocate for our kids and their futures. And thank all of you for the work you do to improve the lives of Evergreen Staters.

You know, my job may be in a place that’s called Washington, but please know that I prefer to be in this Washington. In fact, I was delighted to welcome one of your own into my family just a few years ago. A young man from Mukilteo married my daughter and he is the proud dad of one of my sweet granddaughters.

From Mukilteo to Spokane, your advocacy, your analysis, your activism – what keeps you going day in and day out – helps to improve opportunities for families in your state.

State-based centers like yours are important in shaping policy because you have great ideas and you fight for them. Your fellow member in the State Policy Network, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has advanced major initiatives in my home state of Michigan.

So it won’t surprise you that I’m no stranger to state-based advocacy; it was a primary focus for 30 years before I entered public service. I’ve been engaged on a whole range of issues, including many you work on here in Washington. But one visit to a school in urban Grand Rapids sharpened my policy focus – and changed my life.

After my husband Dick and I acknowledged our philanthropy could only directly help a limited number of kids, we jumped into the policy arena with the goal of empowering as many students and parents as possible.

Perhaps many of you have a similar story—a defining moment that led to your desire to advocate for reform here in your home state.

Together, you in this room have led the way in challenging politicians in Olympia and helped them craft innovative solutions to today’s problems: in healthcare, taxes, regulations, entitlements, and importantly, education.

States have both a mandate and a responsibility to be the laboratories of democracy our Founders intended.

And, the reason the Founders — and I suspect everyone in this room — believed in empowering states is because states are best equipped to solve the unique problems they face. They’re closest to the people.

You and I know there are different challenges in Washington than in Maryland or Texas.

You’re better able to understand your own circumstances than a central government in a distant capital.

States are also — at least theoretically — more nimble, more responsive and more likely to try a previously untested or unproven solution. One not yet dismissed by distant “experts.”

These are only a couple of the reasons why I believe in a limited federal government, and it’s why I believe in empowering parents.

Those closest to students are best equipped to serve them.

Parents know this. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise school choice reforms are gaining momentum nationwide — they are being driven by families and adopted by the states.

I followed your fight for charter schools here in Washington, and I remember hearing about Austin. His mother only wanted better for him because the school he was assigned to attend — based on his zipcode — did not meet his needs. She enrolled him at Excel Public Charter School in Kent and it immediately launched him on a new, hopeful trajectory.

“He’s gone from being an angry, frustrated boy to a wonderful, responsible young man,” Austin’s mother told a local radio station.

Austin himself appreciated the personalized attention he got at Excel.

“It’s just fun,” he said. “Whenever you’re doing something, even if it’s not supposed to fun, when you’re doing a test, when you’re doing all these subjects, it’s not boring. You never get bored!”

I remember being bored in school, and too many kids are bored today.

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

Austin, Sandeep and others like them—that’s why I’m in this fight. And, I imagine, that’s why you’re in this fight. There are still too many kids—way too many kids—who are trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs.

There are too many parents who are denied the fundamental right to decide the best way to educate their child.

And there are many inside — and outside – our current system who insist it is a government system that is best equipped to educate children.

In fact, not too long ago, the American Federation for Teachers tweeted at me.

The union wrote “Betsy DeVos says public should invest in individual students. NO we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.”

The union bosses made it clear: they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than they do about students. Their focus is on school buildings instead of school kids. Isn’t education supposed to be all about kids?

Education is an investment in individual students, and that’s why funding and focus should follow the student, not the other way around.

But the definitions we have traditionally used when describing public education have become tools that divide us.

Isn’t “the public” made up of students and parents? Isn’t “public money” really their money – the taxpayer’s money?

And doesn’t every school aim to serve the public good? Any school that prepares its students to lead successful lives is a benefit to all of us.

The definition of public education should be this: to educate the public. That’s why we should fight less about the word that comes before “school,” and fight for the students a school serves.

Think about food. Yes, food.

Like education, we all need food to grow and thrive. But we don’t all want or need the exact same thing at the exact same time. What tastes good to me may not taste good to you. What’s working for me right now might not work for me some years from now.

And so, we choose how to get the food that best meets our unique needs.

Now think about how you eat. You could visit a grocery store, or a convenience store, or Pike Place to buy food and cook at home. Or you could visit a restaurant of which there are many types—fine dining, fast food or something in between.

Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants. But you know what? Food trucks started lining the streets to provide options. Some are better than others; and some are even local restaurants that have added trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs.

Now, if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business?

No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.

Just as in how you eat, education is not an “either, or” decision. Being for equal access and opportunity is not being against anything.

I’m not for or against one type or one brand of school choice. I’m not for any type of school over another.

Sycophants of the “system” would have you believe school choice means vouchers, right? And charter schools.

They say it means private schools, or maybe even religious schools. It means for-profit schools. They say it means taking money away from public schools — no accountability, no standards, the wild west, the market run amuck.

Well, I’ve got to give it to them; they’ve done a mighty fine job setting the scene for that house of horrors in the press.

They did so by trying to paint an indelible line, forcing a false dichotomy: if you support giving parents any option—any say—you must therefore be diametrically opposed to public schools, public school teachers and public school students.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth!

You see, choice is not just another wonky policy debate or a pedagogical theory or a statute written by politicians to be parsed out by lawyers.

The real meaning of choice is that it is every parent’s right to determine how to engage their children in their own life-long learning journey.

States are different, families are dynamic and children are unique.

What choice looks like for one family in here in Washington will be different from what a family in Oregon decides.

In fact, what choice looks like for one child may be different than what it looks like for his or her own sibling!

That’s why I wholeheartedly believe real choice cannot be accomplished through a one-size-fits-all federal government mandate!

That might sound counterintuitive to some, coming from the U.S. Secretary of Education, but after eight months in D.C. – and three decades working in states – I know if Congress tries to mandate “choice,” all we’ll end up with is a mountain of mediocrity, a surge of spending and a bloat of bureaucracy to go along with it.

But D.C. does have an important supporting role to play in the future of choice.

We can amplify the voices of those who only want better for their kids. We can assist states who are working to further empower parents, and we can urge those who haven’t to start.

Today, 26 states and the District of Columbia offer more than 50 different private school choice programs. And while there are similarities, no two are the same. Different states, different needs, different students, different solutions.

Choice is on the march, even in places many thought impossible. A recent statewide survey in California conducted by UC Berkley – yes, that’s right, Berkley – found a majority of Californians favor private school choice for low-income families. That majority blurred party lines, also. These Californians know better than many in D.C. – our children’s futures should not be a partisan issue.

And some of you may have read about the recent victory for families and school choice in Illinois. Yes, Illinois! If it can be done in Illinois, it can be done here.

Yet, there are too many politicians, celebrities, and other elites who say, “no”. What students and parents currently have is good enough. Then, those same politicians and celebrities turn around and write big checks to send their own children to prestigious private schools.

Choice for me, but not for thee.

Let’s end the hypocrisy and, quite frankly, the injustice.

Roll up your sleeves and continue to fight for change. Because it can happen here. Because Washington families want it to happen here.

Washington’s charter schools and its “Running Start” dual-enrollment program have benefited some students, but there many others who need more options and more opportunities.

Recently, I toured the heartland of our country to visit the teachers, parents and students who are shaping their own futures. We called it the “Rethink School Tour” because I wanted to highlight, and learn from innovative educators who are breaking free of the standard mold to better meet the needs of their students.

Traditional public schools, charter public schools, independent private schools, parochial schools, homeschools – even a high school at a zoo!

They were all different, all with unique approaches. But what they all had in common was a deliberate focus on serving their students — and students and parents chose them.

There was another common characteristic these very diverse schools shared: they all embraced doing right by their students without any politician’s “permission slip” to do so, or more importantly, without anyone in D.C. telling them “no.”

Many in D.C., over the course of many years, have claimed the mantle of “education expert.”

They’ve peddled a panacea for what ails America’s schools. But, the truth is, there isn’t a “cure all”.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Individual solutions will be found in states and local communities, led by families. It will be a whole menu of options.

Families already make choices with their children when it comes to their next steps for education after high school.

They compare options, and make an informed decision.

If you choose to go to Gonzaga, are you somehow against the Huskies or the Cougs? Well, you’re not — except when they’re on the basketball court.

If you decide to go to Seattle University, are you somehow against public universities?

No one seems to criticize those choices. No one thinks choice in higher education is wrong. So why is it wrong in elementary school, middle school, or high school?

Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means.

Adults should stop fighting over students, and start fighting for students.

Time and time again, studies have shown more options yield better results, for all students.

The Urban Institute recently looked at Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, one that provides low-income parents the opportunity to send their students to the school of their choice. Florida’s program was one of the first in the nation and today serves more than 100,000 students across the state.

While previous studies have shown increased achievement for scholarship recipients, this study also found a significantly increasedcollege attendance rate. Further, this study demonstrated the longer a student participated in the choice program, the better their long-term educational outcomes.

The data are encouraging, but I didn’t need another research paper to know the program works.

I’ve seen living proof. Some of you may have heard me or President Trump share Denisha’s story. But I think it’s best if she tells you herself.

Who can argue with Denisha’s story? Who can dare to look her in the eye and tell her she didn’t deserve a choice?

Denisha is living proof that choice works.

Every American student deserves the options she had. Every American student deserves to be excited about learning.

That’s what we are working towards each and every day. That’s why we’re committed to rethinking school.

We must challenge all schools to do better. Because even the best school in America needs to continue to improve.

Over the last two days, I’ve seen inspiring examples of schools working to do just that—unafraid to challenge the status quo and to try something different for their students.

Just yesterday, I visited a traditional middle school near San Jose, California, where they’ve implemented an individualized learning platform in their classrooms.

Students are able to learn and advance at their own pace. Those who need additional time on a particular subject get it. Those who are ready to move on, can.

Individualized learning recognizes that no student is the same, and that each child learns in their own way.

When we are focused on the needs of each child, success can then be measured by what they are learning and mastering, not by how long they sit at their desks.

I fully recognize that I—we—represent change. And, change can be scary—particularly for staunch defenders of the current system.

But, what has the current system yielded? Average results for America’s students when compared to their peers around the world.

Middle. Average. Those aren’t words with which I’m comfortable describing America. It’s not the future we should feel comfortable offering anyone.

That’s why we must not be distracted by those who are afraid of change.

We owe it to our children to be fearless.

We owe it to them to be undeterred by the loud voices who say education in America is “good enough” and by those who shout that we should “leave the system alone”.

We owe it to America’s students to rethink school because they deserve a better education and a chance at a better life.

America is too great a country to deny any parent any option and it is too great to deny any student an equal opportunity to pursue a great education.

Let’s continue to fight for students like Austin, and Sandeep and Denisha.

The rising generation represents 100 percent of our future; they deserve 100 percent of our effort.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless our future—America’s students.

betsy devos 6  Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Peter Cunningham’s Education Post Chaperoned by Broad Foundation

On September 01, 2014, Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post officially introduced Peter Cunningham’s Education Post to the world. Below is an excerpt from Layton’s article:

Into the fray steps Education Post, a nonprofit group that plans to launch Tuesday with the aim of encouraging a more “respectful” and fact-based national discussion about the challenges of public education, and possible solutions.

Peter Cunningham, the former communications guru for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is leading the organization, which is backed with initial grants totaling $12 million from the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.

On April 21, 2016, I wrote a post based on the first tax form filed by the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF), which is the official nonprofit name behind Education Post. Arne Duncan’s former speech writer, Peter Cunningham, leads EdPost.

In that post, I examined the EdPost board and its donors, including mystery donor, Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective. Below (and above, as it happens) is an excerpt:

RIEF is “in the care of” Geller and Co., New York, NY.

The five highest compensated RIEF employees:

  • Tracy Barber, messaging and program director, $89,010
  • Michael Vaughn, communication director, $74,357
  • Antonia Whalen, policy director, $68,356
  • John Gordon Wright, social media director, $65,507
  • Christopher Stewart, outreach and external affairs director, $46,299

And, of course, there is Peter Cunningham, president, $190,700 [plus $11,250 in deferred compensation].

Note that the above compensation was for at most approximately 7 1/2 months.

RIEF board members (aside from Cunningham):

It seems that Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad has played a notably dominant role in EdPost. Cunningham said the following to education journalist Jennifer Berkshire in a May 2015 interview:

When I was asked to create this organization [Education Post]—it wasn’t my idea; I was initially approached by Broad—it was specifically because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense. They said somebody just needs to help right the ship here. There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side. There was unequivocally a call to create a community of voices that would rise to the defense of people pushing reform who felt like they were isolated and alone. 

According to RIEF’s 2015 tax form, Eli Broad did not donate money to EdPost in 2015. However, in a strange move to arguably exercise power within RIEF, his foundation does have two representatives on the RIEF board.

One of those individuals, Bruce Reed, was also on the RIEF board in 2014. However, Reed was not designated as “director (The Broad Foundation),” as he is on RIEF’s 2015 tax return.

Former Louisiana state superintendent Paul Pastorek now also sits on the RIEF board. Like Reed, Pastorek also has the designation, “director (The Broad Foundation).” It seems that Reed could have been replaced by Pastorek mid-year on the RIEF board given Reed’s altered role with Broad mid-year in 2015. (As per July 2015 EdWeek, Reed stepped down as board pres but remained on Broad board.) However, RIEF’s 2015 tax form includes no indicator that such is the case. There is a footnote:

Please note that these managers served pursuant to an agreement between Results in Education Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

It is true that the other donors have their reps on the RIEF board (Sternberg is from WFF; Emma Bloomberg is Michael Bloomberg’s daughter; Ali is with Emerson Collective)– which goes to show that Cunningham and his EdPost belong to RIEF donors. However, with its particularly declared presence, of two board members, it seems that Broad has gone above and beyond in assuring its influence over EdPost.

Broad seems to really want to dominate the EdPost “conversation.”

2015 contributions to RIEF totaled $2.3 million, with the Emerson Collective and Walton Family Foundation (WFF) each ponying up $1 million and New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg tossing in the remaining $284,000.

(In 2014, Bloomberg dispensed the largest amount of cash: $3.2 million, with Broad in second place at $1.5 million. Emerson Collective gave $500,000, and WFF, $250,000.)

Also, Cunningham garnered a raise, from $201,950 [$190,700 plus $11,250 deferred comp.] for 7.5 months in 2014 to $368,138 [$327,844 plus $40,294] for 12 months in 2015, which reflects an overall raise of $45,018 and a raise of $22,724 in non-deferred compensation.

On October 12, 2017, Eli Broad announced his plans to retire from his foundation. However, as the New York Times notes, Broad’s exit has been a “slow-motion fade,” with Broad phasing himself out of the Broad Foundation’s work for years now. Still, his foundation continues to make its market-based push for school reform abundantly clear– even placing its board members on other ed reform nonprofits that it funds.

money fishhook


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on DeVos’ Visit to McMinnville Public High School

On October 11, 2017, US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, visited a public high school, McMinnville High School (Oregon) as per her own request.

The day prior to her visit, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)– a former public school student and current member of the House Ed Committee– published the following statement regarding DeVos’ then-upcoming visit:

“I welcome Secretary DeVos to Oregon. It is my hope that the Secretary’s visit to McMinnville High School will demonstrate the potential of public education and inspire her to work with Congress to pass and implement policies that will lead to all our country’s public schools getting the funding and support they need to help every student succeed.

“The McMinnville School District is a leader in providing students with a well-rounded education, and was recently recognized for exceeding expectations with a significant population of low-income students. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the District’s summer meals program, which provides students with healthy meals so they are prepared to learn. And McMinnville’s career and technical education programs – including the Engineering & Aerospace Science Academy – are engaging students and preparing them for success in and after high school, regardless of what path they take. The District works hard to make sure its teachers are highly skilled and have the tools they need to focus on every student.

“I went to public schools, my children attended public schools, and when I visit public schools in Oregon I’m inspired by the dedicated educators and the students who are the future of our country. Strengthening public education was the primary reason I got involved in public service, and remains one of my top priorities. As a relative newcomer to the world of public education, Secretary DeVos would do well to educate herself about the strengths and challenges of our diverse public education system. Unfortunately, in her short tenure as head of the Education Department she has been focused on undermining our public schools, not strengthening them. She continues to advocate for privatizing public education, cutting education funding, and rolling back civil rights protections for students.

“And although I’m glad that Secretary DeVos is going to visit a thriving public school in the district I’m honored to represent, I also wish she would visit Congress. It’s been eight months since she was sworn in as Secretary of Education, but she has yet to appear before the House Education Committee. As a leader on the Committee, I’m eager to hear directly from the Secretary about her plans to strengthen public education and provide equal access and opportunity for all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or zip code.”

suzanne bonamici  Suzanne Bonamici

Bonamici is willing to work with DeVos; however, she expressed concerns about DeVos’ becoming US ed sec. Following DeVos’ February 07, 2017, confirmation as US ed sec, Bonamici offered the following statement:

“I’m deeply disappointed that the Senate has confirmed Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. I share the serious concerns raised by hundreds of thousands of people across the country about her paucity of experience in public education policy and her lack of commitment to strengthening public schools and enforcing critical equity protections for students. As Vice Ranking Member of the House Education Committee, I will look for opportunities to work with Secretary DeVos to deliver on the promise of an equal, world-class public education for every child in this country. But I will use every tool at my disposal to oppose efforts to privatize public education or to undermine the important role of federal policy in protecting the civil rights of all students. If this Secretary and her allies in Congress propose legislation to shift public school funding to private and religious schools, or to weaken oversight of the law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, or to ignore the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, I will be on the front lines of the fight to defend the rights of all students to high-quality public education.”

In her October 10, 2017, statement, Bonamici publicly invites (challenges?) DeVos to actually support pubic education. More than that, Bonamici calls on DeVos to communicate with the congressional committee that oversees federal ed programs. As US ed secretary, DeVos is expected to work with Congress to address the needs and direction of American education.

So far, it seems that DeVos views traditional public education as something she is only willing to touch if she can immediately wash her hands and dry them off on a school choice towel.

I wonder if DeVos regards Bonamici as just another “sycophant of the system.”

We’ll see how long it takes for DeVos to respond to Bonamici’s publicized prompting with a visit to the House Ed Committee.

betsy devos 4  Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

In 2015, The 74 Media Was Overwhelmingly Funded by Litigious, Union-Busting, Partnership for Ed Justice

In June 2015, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) announced the creation of “a non-profit, education-focused news site called The Seventy Four, which [former CNN host Campbell Brown] says refers to the 74 million school-age children in classrooms across the U.S.”

WSJ continues:

The site – which will launch July 13 [2015] with 13 employees — is well-funded, with an annual budget of $4 million. Its finances will rely solely on philanthropic donations, and it won’t sell any advertising – a departure from one of the mainstays of typical news organizations. Its founding backers — Bloomberg Philanthropies (former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization), the Walton Family Foundation (the philanthropic group for the family that owns Wal-Mart), Jonathan Sackler, and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation….

And even more from WSJ:

The website,, says its mission is to “lead an honest, fact-based conversation” about education.

Now, here is the problem:

A search of the tax records of the listed donors is mysteriously short on direct contributions to Brown’s nonprofit, The 74 Media, Inc. (EIN 47-2788684). For example, in its 2015 annual report, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) paid no grant to The 74 Media, or The Seventy-four, or Seventy-four, or 74 (no matter how one looks up the name), or even LoudSpeaker (The 74’s former name). However, in 2015, WFF did send $1,281,750 to Brown’s teacher-tenure-lawsuit-specializing nonprofit, Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).

As for the Peter and Carman Lucia Buck Foundation (PCLB): Its 2015 annual report indicates that PCLB did contribute to “SeventyFour fka LoudSpeaker”; however, that contribution was only $150,000, and Brown’s interview with WSJ indicates that The 74 has an annual budget of $4 million.

So, the question becomes, who was The 74’s major donor for its start-up?

Michael Bloomberg or Jonathan Sackler could have made major individual donations. However, these would not likely be part of any public document. As it stands, Bloomberg’s private foundation did not donate to either The 74 or PEJ in 2015.

In WSJ, Brown says that she wants “an honest, fact-based conversation.” Even so, as of this writing, The 74’s website lists a number of funders, yet a principal funder (indeed, the principal funder) has been omitted.

It is Brown’s own PEJ.

In December 2016, I challenged Brown to disclose a detailed history of the interconnection among The 74 and PEJ:

By far, the largest 2014-15 expense for Brown’s PEJ was a “special research project”:

The 74 Media (i.e., The Seventy Four). $2.37 million.

From the 2014 PEJ tax form:

74 Media The [PEJ] organization undertook a special research project to explore the landscape of digital media and communications about education. This research included an analysis of key stakeholders and organizations and development of several potential strategies for using digital media to inspire a conversation about education.

In the above “special project” language, Brown does not identify The 74 Media as a nonprofit in its own right, one that she also runs, and that is receiving a $2.37 million grant from arguably-union-busting PEJ. However, this does come up later on the PEJ tax form when The 74 Media is identified as a nonprofit and as PEJ’s sole grant recipient, with the purpose of the grant identified as “fiscal sponsorship & general support.”

The PEJ financing of The 74 Media is not mentioned on The Seventy Four funders page or on its “about” page.

Brown’s The Seventy Four bio includes info about her founding PEJ. But for some reason, the Seventy Four fails to mention its PEJ funding connection at all– and it should.

At the time that I wrote the above post (December 2016), The 74 Media, Inc., had no tax forms yet available. According to WSJ, projected annual funding for The 74 was $4 million.

As of this writing, The 74 Media, Inc., now has its first tax form available, for 2015.

The 74 Media, Inc., did not come close to its projected $4 million. According to its 2015 tax form, The 74’s gross receipts totaled $2.9 million.

This means that in 2015, The 74 Media, Inc., was funded almost exclusively by Brown’s tenure-law-busting PEJ via a $2.4 million grant.

Indeed, in 2015, PEJ provided 83 percent of The 74 Media, Inc.’s total revenue.

Only $500,000 of the reported $2.9 million of The 74’s 2015 total revenue came from sources outside of PEJ. As previously noted, one of those sources was PCLB (the Buck Foundation), which contributed $150,000.

That leaves only approximately $350,000 that could have come from Sackler and Bloomberg (assuming that slice of info that Brown provided to WSJ in June 2015 is accurate).

The 74 Media, Inc.– which mentions twice on its 2015 tax form, “Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation”– fails to do so in disclosing that the bulk of its 2015 funding came from PEJ.

Not honest, Campbell. Not honest at all.

campbell brown  Campbell Brown


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Jeanne Allen’s Beef with Backpack Full of Cash

Center for Education Reform (CER) founder Jeanne Allen and I appear in the same film: Backpack Full of Cash, produced by Stone Lantern Films, a Washington, DC, nonprofit specializing in documentary film production and founded in 1986 by filmmakers Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton.

While filming in New Orleans in March 2014, Mondale and her associate, Vera Aronow, contacted me to see if I would be available for an evening of filming about the education reforms ushered in by then-Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, and the 2012 Louisiana legislature.

I was already familiar with Mondale because I used her documentary on the history of American education, School: The Story of American Public Education (2001), as part of the curriculum in a course I taught for high school students interested in becoming teachers.

The day of our March 2014 filming, I understood my rights as set forth in a release that Mondale and Aronow had me sign regarding the intellectual property that was my filmed interview.

Here is a copy of that release, which I could have chosen not to sign had I any concerns, doubts, or reservations about my filmed interview– or about how Mondale and Aronow might choose to use the interview:

stone lantern release


By signing the above release (which I did not have to sign), I realized that my hour-plus filmed interview could have been used a lot, a little, or even not at all. It was Mondale’s and Aronow’s call.

I also knew that the working title of the film was School Reform, which meant that Mondale and Aronow could have used my interview (in whole or in part) in a film production that was kinder to school choice than I might have preferred.

It was their call, and I signed a release to allow it to be their call.

Jeanne Allen would have also had to sign Stone Lantern’s release prior to her interview (in whole or in part) being used by Mondale and Aronow in the film with the working-title, School Reform, and which, as it turns out, would be entitled, Backpack Full of Cash, after Allen used the phrase in her interview.

In fact, Allen says the following in her interview, and that part of her interview is now part of the trailer for the film:

Our children have a backpack full of cash, and the school should vie for the privilege of having that backpack turned over to them.


Allen has since expressed her upset over the usage of her quote in the trailer, and she maintains that her words have been taken out of context. According to the October 05, 2017, Boston Globe, Allen responded in part:

“This movie is all about smearing us as anti-public education,” Allen said. “It’s a backpack full of hypocrisy. [Film narrator] Matt Damon’s kids go to a private school, and the people praised in the film get paid from taxpayer dollars. The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money.”

I’m not sure if I get “praised in the film,” but I do get paid using taxpayer dollars. However, Allen’s privately-funded salary has mine beat. According to CER’s 20132014, and 2015 tax returns, as CER’s president emeritus, Allen earned $190,000, $115,000, and $95,000, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, for working 10 hours/week.

And Allen might not have teacher union connections (in which teachers unions are funded by teachers who earn nowhere near $100K for 10 hours of work per week), but she does have Walton Family connections, with the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) an acknowledged CER funder, and the late John Walton Allen’s “dear friend” who “used to say to me, Keep up the pressure.”

As for those loaded teachers unions, well, Allen must have forgotten her more loaded Walton friends, two of whom (siblings Alice and Jim Walton) contributed $2 million of the roughly $19 million scraped together for a November 2016 ballot initiative supporting raising Massachusetts’ charter school cap versus the $12 million raised by those opposed, including the unions.

Despite the 2-to-1 spending in favor of raising the cap, the Massachusetts cap remains in place. Voters rejected raising the cap 2-to-1.

Allen’s friends, the Waltons, also ponied up some major cash in Louisiana’s 2014 state education board elections: As I reported on October 01, 2015:

According to Empower Louisiana’s campaign finance report (07-17-15 to 09-14-15), Jim and Alice Walton each donated $200,000 on August 20, 2015, and Broad contributed $250,000 on September 10, 2015.

The total on the above report is $763,710, which means that as of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for [Louisiana millionaire, businessman Lane] Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Thus, the more Allen tries to explain herself as being ill-used by Mondale and Aronow in her film interview excerpt, the more fodder she offers for those who realize that Mondale and Aronow represent her ed reform perspective and intentions spot-on.

Mondale and Aronow offered this October 06, 2017, public response to those on the mailing list (

There’s been a lot of positive press, although as you can imagine, there’s push back from advocates of school privatization. Just yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter published an interview with Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform who formerly worked for the Reagan administration and the Heritage Foundation, and who was interviewed for the film. Although she has yet to see “Backpack Full of Cash”, Allen attacks it, Matt Damon, and us, personally.  She also attacked our film today in The Boston Globe.

We stand by our reporting and believe Ms. Allen’s words are used in their proper context in BACKPACK. We regret that she doesn’t like her portrayal in a film that she hasn’t seen, but also appreciate that she’s kept the conversation going on the national level about the health of our public school system.

Allen signed a release to have all or part of her interview included in Mondale and Aronow’s film; she did not have to sign that release. Even so, if Allen continues to view herself as misunderstood via her “backpack full of cash” metaphor, I invite her to publicize the entire conversation so that she might provide the context that she believes Stone Lantern Films has omitted.

I’d be happy to publish it in full, as is, without edits.

jeanne allen  Jeanne Allen


 Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.


Louisiana Has a Five-Year-Old “Parent Trigger” Law That No Parent Has Ever Used.

On the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) website, there is a curious link for “parent petition”:


In 2012, Louisiana enacted the parent petition law in La. R.S. 17:10.5 to enable parents to transfer their children’s consistently low-performing school to the Recovery School District to be transformed into a charter school. The Recovery School District (RSD) is a statewide school district under the Louisiana Department of Education that works with charter operators to transform academically struggling schools into high-performing charter schools. The Recovery School District currently oversees charter schools in Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Caddo parishes.

For a school to be eligible to be transformed into an RSD charter school through the Parent Petition process, the school must have received a letter grade of “D” or “F” for the past three consecutive years (2014 Letter Grade, 2015 Letter Grade, 2016 Letter Grade). Please click below for more information on the process, including the list of eligible schools, the official parent petition form, FAQs and a timeline of important deadlines.




The above arrangement is a form of “parent trigger” legislation– one that supposedly allows parents to assume control in the restructuring of a “failing” school. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promotes its “parent Trigger Act” as “model legislation” based on the idea of Parent Revolution leader, Ben Austin.

Though Parent Revolution is known for implanting its own people into locales in order to create a pseudo-grass-roots “revolution,” Austin’s parent trigger idea has pretty much been a corporate reform flop. (Click here for background on Austin, ALEC, and parent trigger.) Austin left Parent Revolution in 2014, which is about the time that Google searches of that “parent trigger” revolution-not-so-much go quiet until September 2017, when Austin reappears as leader of a new nonprofit gig.

What is interesting in the LDOE “parent petition” description above is that the only option it allows parents is to hand a school over to the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) for the purpose of converting the school to a charter school.

LDOE offers no option for the school to remain a traditional public school. However, the referenced legislation, La. RS 17:10.5, does not automatically equate parent-initiated state takeover with the school in question’s becoming a charter school.

From the original legislation, La. RS 17:10.5:

 A failed school shall be reorganized, as necessary, and operated by the Recovery School District pursuant to its authority in whatever manner is determined by the administering agency of the Recovery School District to be most likely to bring the school to an acceptable level of performance as determined pursuant to the accountability plan.

According to the legislation above, RSD could decide to convert the school into a charter; however, it seems that the intent of the legislation is that the state consider what is the best course of action on a case-by-case basis.

In communicating their so-called La. RS 17:10.5 “school takeover empowerment” to parents, LDOE shadily restricts all possible outcomes to one alone: RSD charter school.

On October 05, 2017, I submitted a public records request to LDOE for information about usage of Louisiana’s parent petition:

From: Mercedes Schneider []
Sent: Thursday, October 05, 2017 10:50 PM
To: LDEPublicRecords <>
Subject: FOIA parent petition law

As per Louisiana Public Records Statutes, please provide:

  1. Copies of parent petition forms filed from 2012 to present for the purpose of converting “low performing schools” into RSD charters as per the parent petition law in La. RS 17:10.5 and as advertised on the LDE website at
  2. A comprehensive list of the names of such “low performing schools” that have been converted to RSD charter schools as a result of the above-named parent petition process.

Thank you.

–Mercedes Schneider

Below is the response I received on October 06, 2017:

LDOE parent petition response


No parent petitions filed.

No revolution.

As a post script, let me add a note of irony:

State-run, state-proclaimed solution, RSD, also includes a number of schools that qualify as failing based upon the criteria for failing as outlined in the parent petition:

…a letter grade of “D” or “F” for the past three consecutive years (2014 Letter Grade, 2015 Letter Grade, 2016 Letter Grade).

From LDOE’s school performance score summary 2013-2016:

RSD school name; school grades for 2016, 2015, and 2014:

  • Nelson Elementary: F, F, D
  • Gentilly Terrace Elementary: D, D, D
  • The NET Charter High School: F, F, F
  • Paul Habans Charter School: D, F, F
  • ReNew Accelerated High School West Bank: F, F, F
  • Linwood Public Charter School: F, F, D
  • Arise Academy: F, D, D
  • Mildred Osborne Charter School: D, D, D
  • Sylvanie Williams College Prep: D, D, D
  • Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School: D, D, D
  • William J. Fischer Accelerated Academy: F, F, D
  • McDonogh 32 Literacy Charter School: F, D, D
  • Algiers Technology Academy: D, D, D
  • Joseph Clark Preparatory High: D, D, F

The state-run RSD is mostly comprised of schools located in New Orleans (68 schools); however, it also has some schools from East Baton Rouge (8 schools); Caddo (2 schools); St. Helena (1 school), and Pointe Coupe (1 school).

As per 2016 legislation, RSD New Orleans schools (which are now all charter schools) are headed back to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), sort of: OPSB does not exercise the same control over charters as it does over the four, traditional, direct-run schools. By July 1, 2019, final transfer of all RSD schools to their local school boards must be completed.

If there is no longer an RSD, there is no need for a parent petition. However, given that no parent elected to use the parent petition, there is already no need for it.

State-run RSD schools that themselves qualified as failing and therefore are eligible to be taken over by the state that already is overseeing them will be allowed to quietly transfer back to original districts, thus allowing the state that failed them to be let off of the hook.

Another instance of the osteoporotic nature of corporate reform.

osteoporotic woman


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.