A Walton’s Plan to “Fix Public Education.” Uh huh.
I used to shop at Walmart.
In September 2012, I couldn’t bring myself to do so anymore.
Several months prior, in April 2012, I began investigating the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) right around the time that watchdog group Common Cause filed its original whistle blower complaint against “nonprofit” ALEC for its lobbying of legislatures nationwide to promote its corporate-interest-serving “model legislation.” Walmart was very involved in helping promote corporate-feeding ALEC legislation, including anti-union legislation, and education and prison privatization legislation.
I began to learn what Walmart owners, the Walton family, really value– and it isn’t their workers, or the workers of vendors with which Walmart conducted business.
I learned that Walmart did business with Arizona-owned and prison-labor-run Martori Farms– a company with a reputation for abusing its female prison workers. (Walmart was active in ALEC when ALEC promoted its Prison Industries Act in statehouses across the nation, a piece of model legislation that enables corporations like Walmart to exploit prison labor to serve their bottom lines.)
Walmart also has an established history of financially supporting ALEC legislators— who promote ALEC’s corporate-serving “model” legislation in their states.
I also read in December 2012 of Walmart’s bribing a Mexican official in order to alter a zoning map and allow a new Walmart to be built in an area where it had been previously prohibited.
Anything to garner profits.
Then I learned of the 2005 settlement of $11 million that Walmart had to pay as a result of a federal investigation into its employing illegal immigrants as overnight workers.
All to make the world’s wealthiest even wealthier.
Walmart paid its token $11 million and escaped without admitting culpability. As a March 2005 CNN.com article notes:
The more than four-year investigation was led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania. It produced 245 arrests of undocumented workers in 2003.
At the time of the raids, the government said they had wiretaps showing that Wal-Mart executives knew the company was using illegal workers. However, as part of the settlement the company will not admit any wrongdoing or liability. [Emphasis added.]
Worth over a combined $160 billion, the Waltons are seemingly too rich to be touched by consequences for their illegal, exploitative, and self-serving actions.
Despite the pressure to keep the workers at their 4,000-plus U.S. stores from unionizing, it seems that the Waltons cannot keep their workers out of the news. In October 2014, Forbes wrote of a protest in New York in which Walmart and other chains’ workers protested their low wages. They want $15 an hour. Legally, the multi-billionaire Waltons can skimp by paying their workers the minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. (Their prison labor makes much less.) Forbes also published this April 2014 piece estimating that Walmart workers cost American taxpayers $6.2 billion per year in public assistance.
So, this is the Walton family that I had in mind on December 2, 2014, when I read this Forbes article paying homage to Walton granddaughter Carrie Walton Penner for her involvement in “fixing public education” by promoting charter schools.
The tight-fisted Waltons who run a company that has made them billionaires at least 160 times over– a company that has no problem with paying its workers below a living wage– a company that has actively promoted legislation enabling their exploiting of prison labor and squelching collective bargaining possibilities for their non-prison workers– a company that tells the public it will not do business with those exploiting prison labor yet does so anyway— a company willing to bribe officials in order to secure prime real estate for their stores– these same Waltons pay multiple millions to establish charter schools nationwide and staff said schools with Teach for America (TFA) temp teachers.
In my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, I documented the Walton Foundation’s 2012 education spending, which leans heavily towards advocating for and establishing charter schools and supporting TFA, an organization known as a chief supplier of “teaching” labor to staff charter schools. In 2012, the Walton Foundation spent more than $158 million on corporate reform education issues, with $61 million devoted to shaping public policy in favor of education privatization and $73 million earmarked for developing and establishing charter schools. (KIPP charter schools received the largest chunk– $8.4 million. KIPP President Richard Barth happens to be TFA founder Wendy Kopp’s husband.) In 2012, TFA received $11.4 million from the Waltons.
Given their penchant for the lowest bottom line possible regardless of ethics, laws, or even human decency, it is no surprise that the Waltons support chiefly non-unionized charters staffed with TFAers who will not stick around long enough to care to unionize or to require pensions and company-invested, long-term health care benefits.
Education on the cheap, which is no problem for Walmart in the long run: Students who cannot cut it at those “no excuses” charter schools will potentially provide ample exploitable labor for the thousands of Walmart stores nationwide.
The Waltons invest in what benefits the Waltons.
Let us consider the December 2014 Forbes article promoting Carrie Walton Penner as a benefactress to American education. Lest anyone should risk missing this blatant Walton-as-savior sale, the article is entitled, Sam Walton’s Granddaughter Has Plans to Fix Public Education in America.
According to the article, “point person on education issues” Penner is here to exercise her will as “arguably the most powerful force in the charter school movement.”
In other words, the Walton “fix for public education” is to replace the community school with test-score-driven, corporate-reform charters. No big surprise there.
What is surprising to me is the charter school Forbes selected to feature in this Walton glamour shot: YES Prep North Central in Houston, Texas:
At YES Prep North Central… most important… 100% of graduates get into a four-year college, as the university pennants lining the hallways suggest. …
Listen carefully, though, and you get a clear vision of the charter school movement over the next five years and [Penner’s] place in it, something that she’s been working toward, both consciously and unwittingly, over the past two decades. YES Prep North Central is an appropriate place to begin that conversation. Ranked the fourth-best high school in Texas and 28th in the country by U.S. News & World Report, it represents everything that’s great about charters. Namely that all children, no matter their circumstances, can succeed when they attend the right school. [Emphasis added.]
Penner is selling YES Prep as a charter school model. It seems so clear, what with that impressive US News and World Report ranking. (An aside: US News is also entangled in test-score-driven, corporate reform.)
However, as is true of Walton business practice, YES Prep “success” has that ripe-garbage smell of underhandedness.
On November 18, 2014, I wrote a post featuring YES Prep charter schools. YES Prep charters in general advertise a too-remarkable “100 percent college acceptance.” As noted on the YES Prep Linkedin site:
YES Prep Public Schools is a free, open-enrollment public school system serving 8,000 students across 13 campuses in the Houston area, with plans to open schools in Memphis in 2015. YES has been ranked as the best public school in Houston by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and the Houston Chronicle. For the 14th consecutive year, 100 percent of YES Prep’s graduating seniors have been accepted into four-year colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Rice and Stanford. YES Prep combines a highly successful 6th-12th grade model along with high standards for student achievement and parental involvement. [Emphasis added.]
How does YES Prep achieve this amazing “100 percent four-year-college acceptance for 14 years in a row”?
[Smell of ripe garbage lingering in the air.]
Lots of secrets in their sauce. First of all, YES Prep enrolls notably fewer English Language Learner (ELL) students than does the Houston Independent School District (HISD), with YES Prep as having 3 percent compared to HISD’s 30 percent (based on a 2007-10 study by charter-promoting Arnold Foundation).
Second, an August 2013 study by Penn State professor Ed Fuller examined the attrition from grade 8 to grade 11 at YES Prep and found it to be approximately 40 percent. So, of the YES Prep students who remained until eighth grade, only 60 percent made it to their junior year.
And likely fewer actually made it to graduation because of the YES Prep “guarantee” of “100 percent college acceptance” for YES Prep graduates. You see, the Forbes article paints YES Prep as responsible for making students “succeed.”
[Overwhelming smell of garbage.]
The best secret of YES Prep “success” is no secret at all, for it is in the YES Prep student handbooks. And since the December 2014 Forbes article with Penner features YES Prep North Central, let us consider the YES Prep North Central Student Handbook, pages 4 and 5:
High School Advanced Coursework Requirement
Every YES Prep student, unless exempt from such requirements by the student’s ARD (Admission Review Dismissal) committee, must take and pass at least one Advanced Placement or dual-credit course for high school credit in order to be eligible to receive his/her high school diploma. …
College Acceptance Requirement
A student must be accepted to at least one four-year college or university in order to be eligible for a YES Prep high school diploma, unless exempt from such requirements by the student’s Admission Review Dismissal (ARD) committee. [Emphasis added.]
There it is: YES Prep is not the Forbes-declared “right school” because it creates students who are “college material”; YES Prep is the “right school” because it intentionally weeds out students who would tarnish its “100 percent college acceptance” image.
[Rotting garbage smell so strong that eyes water.]
This is not “fixing public education,” no matter how much money billionaire Waltons pour into such system-gaming charters as YES Prep.
YES Prep is a fraud, and Penner and her Walton kin want this for your child– not theirs:
“We’ve always had a strategy and theory for change,” she says. “The current plan has been to have a new supply of high-performing, mostly charters, for parents to choose from.” To Penner that last clause is key: choice. Her four children, ages 10 to 16, go to private schools, but each attends a different one based on what is best for them. “We’re living choice. That’s what we want for all parents.” [Emphasis added.]
Multi-billionaire Penner wants you to have “choice” just like she does.
Right. This coming from a Walton– the billionaires who refuse to pay their workers a living wage.
In the Forbes article, Penner is quoted as asking, “How long is the longest-serving teacher?”
Not sure what Penner was expecting as an answer. However, based upon the Waltons’ TFA support, it seems that they want temporary teachers. And YES Prep is TFA-heavy. According to the Arnold study cited previously, 67 percent of YES Prep teachers are TFAers.
Vending machine faculty. I’m sure the private schools attended by the Penner children have loads of TFAers turnstiling through their exclusive, polished hallways.
But back to TFA-laden YES Prep:
Given the YES Prep PR dependence on AP-passage and college-acceptance appearances, it really does not matter who teaches YES Prep students if in the end, the ones who cannot make YES Prep look good via AP passage and college acceptance are denied YES Prep diplomas– and are inadvertently forced out (and back into HISD) if they want to graduate.
Sure, shoddily-trained, TFA temp teachers are not good for students, but that is not important since it is not crucial to YES Prep PR.
Contrast the reality of the YES Prep “success” fraud to the Forbes-promoted, Walton-lauding hypocrisy:
With (charter school) critical mass, [Waltons] believe, free market forces will kick in: Plentiful charter schools will force other public schools to compete for students and thus get better.
There’s that assumption of the purity of “free market competition.”
However, as Walton business practice clearly shows, the drive for profits in the “free market” breeds unethical and unlawful system-beating games.
And when it comes to “charter success,” the “public school as catch-all” is an important part of the “stellar” charter game: Charters like YES Prep need the public schools in order to keep up their “100 percent college acceptance” and high AP test passage false image.
The Forbes article proudly declares “more than 1 million kids sitting on charter school waiting lists.” However, the article mentions nothing about the higher attrition for which system-gaming charters like YES Prep are known.
Instead, the Forbes article states that Penner has “some unexpected allies” in President Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But there is no surprise. Removal of charter school caps is part of Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT), which has been around since 2009.
What is surprising is that the writer of this Forbes article wrongly insists that charters are not “leaving tougher-to-educate kids behind.”
I must remind myself that this Forbes writer was so sold on Penner from the outset that she did not even bother to critically investigate YES Prep enough to read the YES Prep student handbook before wholeheartedly selling Penner-as-public-education-“fixer” to the masses.
YES Prep charter schools clearly cater to students who will make YES Prep look good. But information like this simply will not do in an article about a Walton “fixing” public education.
Instead, the Forbes article offers a cameo appearance to TFA founder Wendy Kopp’s husband, KIPP charter schools president Richard Barth, “CEO of one of the largest charter organizations in the country”– and one that also plays its own student-attrition-hiding games. (I also have chapters on both TFA and KIPP in my book, Echoes.)
This Forbes writer brushes off criticism of the likes of YES Prep as the “anticharter crowd derid[ing] the gains.”
I’m fine with this labeling. I certainly do “deride” so-called “gains” that are little more that student deselection via student-handbook-encouraged attrition.
But I will make a deal:
When Carrie Walton Penner enrolls her children at a predominately-TFA-staffed charter school as their principal means of formal education, and when she publicizes their test scores as evidence that the charter model she promoted for other people’s children has served her children well, then I will consider the charters that she pays for with money that should go to paying Walmart workers a living wage as being “successful.”
Not a minute sooner.