THE RTTT HOAX, PART ONE: Why surrender your public schools to Arne Duncan's Ayn Rand fantasies for less than $10 per child?... Not everyone is being stampeded by the Duncan, Obama 'Race To The Top' Shock Doctrine — only the majority

To understand the seeming contradictions in Arne Duncan's career, first at CEO of Chicago's public schools and now as U.S. Secretary of Education, it helps to understand the inner workings of that hotbed of conservative political thought, the University of Chicago and its enviorronment, Chicago's Hyde Park community. Duncan is one of the latest generation of what was, until it was discredited, the "Chicago Boys". But even though the work of Duncan's predecessors following that first September 11 (September 11, 1973, Chile) has been widely discredited by history and fact, this latest generation is hard at work at the same agenda that the followers of Chicago economist Milton Friedman brought to Chile in the 1970s and 1980s. Only today that agenda for public education (massive privatization; abolition of public school unions; major stratification of access to education, as opposed to an increase in equity; vouchers on a limited basis; the defunding of public services...) is not being imposed on a nation suffering under a fascist dictatorship, but on the public schools of the USA.

What gives?

But a reading of Milton Friedman and a Baker's Dozen of winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics who live (or lived) within a couple of miles of Arne Duncan's childhood home won't help most people understand Arne strange political and economic beliefs. Happily, however, one doesn't have to plow through Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, and a dozen other rights wing ideologues to "get" where Arne's coming from.

The Cliffs Notes to 'Race to the Top' are in Atlas Shrugged and the other radical economic theories of Ayn Rand. Arne Duncan isn't simply trying to privatize a little piece of public education, he really believes that public is bad and private is good. And anyone who doesn't look at Duncan's strange career with that viewpoint in mind is having a great deal of trouble figuring out why RTTT is such a strange thing.

As the deadline for states to apply for the so-called 'Race to the Top' (being generally abbreviated as 'RTTT') grants approach, more and more states, and even a few teacher unions (at the state and local level) are take a cold hard look at both RTTT and the Chicago claims that supposedly bolster most of its key provisions.

People who think rationally about public schools are in many cases scratching their heads over why Barack Obama's 'Race To The Top' is so bizarre. The roots are in Chicago, and to find them those who want to maintain the tradition of public schools in the USA have to learn a lot more about the ideologues who follow the gospel of Ayn Rand, including Arne Duncan. Above, the offices of "John Galt Solutions" in Chicago. Those offices are on the 19th floor of the old "Commonwealth Edison" builsing at 125 S. Clark St. The building now houses the Chicago Public Schools main offices, although some space in the building is being rented by private enterprises like "John Galt Solutions" (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.As more and more researchers take a hard close look at what really happened in Chicago during the eight years that Arne Duncan served as "Chief Executive Officer" (yes, Chicago has a "CEO", not a school superintendent), it's becoming clear that most of the claims Duncan has been making are simply not true. Not a question of interpretation: Not True. As in "He lies." It's time to be very precise. For the past decade, since I was fired as a teacher by Chicago Public Schools (the Board of Education voted the firing at its August 2000 Board meeting), I have been covering the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education for Substance. Just about every month, Substance would publish an account of those meetings, which take place monthly. During those years, I photographed the action at the Board meetings and those who ran the city's public schools. By the time Arne Duncan was appointed CEO of American Education by Barack Obama in December 2008 (the announcement), I could joke I have more pictures of Arne than his Mama. Seven years ago, I requested and got an interview with Arne Duncan as part of a tradition that as of that time went back 25 years. Substance had interviewed and published the interview with just about every superintendent of Chicago schools and with every school board president.

The outline of the plan was that I would do the interview on tape, transcribe it, and then submit it to Duncan for any revisions that might be necessary (while preserving the integrity of the original). I did the interview, but after reading the transcript and comparing what Duncan was saying with reality, I decided, as editor of Substance, not to publish the interview. When I was asked why, I said "Most of what he says is simply not true, and most of it was a lie..."

Over the subsequent years, that came to be the case with just about everything Arne Duncan did on the grand scale. Finally, it got to the point where at Substance we had the following saying:

QUESTION: "How do you know when Arne Duncan's lying?"

ANSWER: "When his mouth is open and words come out." For the next week (between now and the final RTTT deadline), Substance will try to provide readers here at with some of the many critical comments on RTTT.

Considering how few of Arne Duncan's Chicago claims are true, in one way it's amazing that Duncan and the Obama administration have gotten this far with the largest and most single-minded attack on public education in the history of the USA. And make no mistake about it: Race To The Top is nothing short of a radical privatization plan, no different in the education sector from the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act was to the banking sector. Only when Glass Steagall (the "Banking Act of 1933") was repealed 12 years ago, the damage had to wait more than a decade to be felt.

With RTTP, the damage to public schools across the USA will be immediate.

Below are several pieces, beginning with one that appeared on The Huffington Post.


"While the particulars in the post below pertain to CA, many of the points are relevant in every state that seeks RTTT funds, and thus to the nation as a whole. Note that 60% of CA districts chose not to participate. And this:

"So while Wall Street was given hundreds of billions of dollars with little to no conditions, schools are offered a fraction of the Wall Street monies with restrictive and costly mandates. Is not public education too big and too important to fail?" (Monty Neill of Fair Test to the ARN ListServe, January 14, 2010).

The first commentary for this chapter in the Arne Duncan story is from The Huffington Post.

Race to the Top -- Buyers Beware, Chris Prevatt (Publisher of, an Orange County, CA based liberal political blog.)

Posted: January 13, 2010 03:57 PM,

Every American leader, from Barack Obama to Arnold Schwarzenegger, would agree that if there's one lifelong lesson to be learned from the implosion of the housing market, it is that before you sign on the dotted line, you'd better know what you're getting yourself into. You'd better ask clarifying questions. You'd better read the fine print. And you'd better make absolutely sure that there are no hidden clauses or trap doors that take you and those dependent on you to the dog house.

While our local districts are comprised of well intentioned, highly educated and reflective leaders who are doing their best to find resources to fill the budget shortfall, we are perplexed that some districts agreed to submit a "Memorandum Of Understanding" with the Governor's Office to participate in California's application for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program. Many of our local teachers' associations hope that since more than half (60%) of school systems in California did not sign on to the State's MOU, that there is change in the RTTT program language so that district leaders, teachers, parents and stakeholders can work together with their local districts to come up with solutions that are based in research-supported strategies for all.

Earlier this month the governor signed California's RTTT legislation that includes: promoting national education standards, using test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals, lifting a cap on charter schools, and allowing parents to transfer their children out of the state's lowest performing schools — while providing no provision for transportation costs -- leaving this last piece a true hollow victory for parents.

The critical issue for many districts was that the state decided (although not required by the feds) that local districts comply with all aspects of RTTT and the resulting and yet unwritten State Plan. The feds required that LEAs must comply with most of the significant portions of the RTTT (however even this is ambiguous). Moreover, it also came down to whether local boards could trust the state and federal bureaucracies to release them from the MOU if districts opted out at a later date or if they didn't meet all of the benchmarks mandated and if released, whether they would have to pay back any disbursed grant funds. The RTTT initiative provides $4.5 billion nationally for qualifying states. California may be eligible for up to $700 million. Based on projected estimates, for many districts this would mean eligibility to receive one-time funds equaling about 1-2% of the average operating budget over the next two to four years. So while the RTTT has been "sold" as a major game-changing investment or "bailout" of public schools, local school districts know better.

So while Wall Street was given hundreds of billions of dollars with little to no conditions, schools are offered a fraction of the Wall Street monies with restrictive and costly mandates. Is not public education too big and too important to fail? All this said, districts were left questioning whether this money was a big enough carrot for large scale reform required of RTTT.

In a statement released by the Anaheim City School District Board in explaining its rejection of the MOU, the Board emphasized that although it supports many of the initiatives and principles embedded in RTTT, "ultimately the Board cited its concerns regarding the risks of signing on to a State Education Plan for RTTT that has yet to be written. This fact created many "unknowns" as to what the Board was being asked to commit to and, because the funds are one-time dollars, the Board expressed deep concerns regarding mandated, ongoing costs. While submitting an MOU would have resulted in modest funding, the RTTT requires Districts to agree to comply with all tenets of RTTT including implementing merit pay, subscribing to a narrow and restrictive set of approaches to improving low-performing schools, and the possibility of having to "repay" grant funding if all benchmarks were not "achieved."

To make matters worse, and in a true display of Governor Schwarzenegger's disingenuous and cynical approach to educational policy as a simple political football, while the Governor proposes budgets that ask schools to reduce the number of instructional days to save monies, he pushes legislation in the name of RTTT, and an MOU, that requires low-performing schools to increase the length of the school day and school year.

Although the vast majority of California's districts do not currently have schools that are so severely under performing that they would have to be reconstituted as required by RTTT, that could change depending on what the feds do when they reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act later this year.

One of the main criticisms of the current NCLB legislation enacted in 2001 is that it mandates all students score at a "proficient" level in Math and Reading state-standardized tests by 2014. "Proficient" is a technical term -- the second highest of the five levels of achievement in school testing, roughly equivalent to a solid B. So the NCLB law requires that all students be B students within four years...just like in Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon, "where all the children are above average."

Sadly, the joke will be on us if we continue down this Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for the fate of public education.

Unfortunately, those of us who are reading the tea leaves in Arne Duncan's (Obama's Secretary of Education) cup are finding an insidious mixture brewing. As education policy expert Diane Ravitch reported in Ed Week, "Arne Duncan is certainly familiar with school turnarounds. He closed down a number of schools in Chicago. Studies done by Chicago think tanks have shown that most of the brand-new, turned-around charter schools enrolled few of the students who previously attended "failing" schools. The Consortium on Chicago School Research produced a report revealing what happened to students when their "failing" school was closed: 80 percent of the students enrolled in low-performing schools transferred to other low-performing schools. There is no evidence that the turnaround strategy in Chicago has produced positive results."

Yet Mr. Duncan is currently promoting charters as the solution to the education problems of America.

Ravitch continues, "Charter school organizers and management companies must be licking their chops, waiting to scoop up the new federal dollars and new opportunities for market expansion that (Arne Duncan will help open) for them. The charter movement began as an effort to strengthen public education, but it has turned into a movement to get rid of public sector unions and to turn public schools into private schools funded by public dollars."

Race to the Top explicitly touts charter schools as a major option in dealing with low performing schools despite scant evidence of their effectiveness. And this is where buyers of Race to the Top need to beware and ask tough questions of our elected leaders who are jumping on board the bandwagon. While we support our local boards and trust their judgment and leadership, we believe it's important that these issues are publicly debated as we go down the path of Race to the Top together. Nothing less than the future of public education is at stake.

The preceding commentary was co-written with:

Jose Moreno, President, Anaheim City School District Board of Education

Michael Matsuda, President, North Orange County Community College District

Andy Montoya, President, Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association

Originally Published at

Follow Chris Prevatt on Twitter:

While there has yet to be a thorough study of the charterization of Chicago's public schools, the evidence is now in, both about the effectiveness of charter schools in other places, and the facts about charters in Arne Duncan's Chicago. The only way the facts can be ignored is by simply lying about history, as Arne Duncan was wont to do.

In other places, though, people with a greater commitment to public schools took a close look and found the charter schools a lot less than meets they eye. One of those was New York's Diane Ravitch. For years, Diane Ravitch has been engaging in a public dialogue with Deborah Meier. This is from that.

Here is what she recently posted about charters:

http://blogs. edweek/Bridging- Differences/ 2010/01/the_ secrets_of_ charter_ school. html

The Secrets of Charter School Success (By Diane Ravitch)

Dear Deborah,

In my new book, coming out in early March (*The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books). I devote a chapter to examining the research about choice from a historical perspective. Leave aside vouchers for now, and let's look at charters, which are all the rage among the movers and shakers, including President Obama, Secretary Duncan, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and business leaders.

The charter idea was born in 1988, when two men—unknown to one another—converged on the idea. One was an education professor in Massachusetts named Ray Budde. The other was Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Both saw charter schools as a sort of R&D program to help public education. Neither saw charters as competition for public schools. They thought that the lessons learned from charters would help to solve difficult problems of curriculum and instruction, while shedding light on issues of organization and student motivation.

As we both know, the founders' vision has been replaced by a totally different conception of charters. Now they are the leading edge of an effort to replace public schools and to oust teachers' unions. Knowledgeable insiders have told me that more than 90 percent—possibly 98 percent—of the nation's 5,000 charters do not have unions. Most are staffed by young teachers who work 50-60 hours a week and burn out after a few years.

There have been many research studies about charters and there will, of course, be more as they expand in number. Last fall, a study by Caroline Hoxby captured the media's attention by claiming that students who spent nine years in a New York City charter school would close the achievement gap between those in the poorest and the wealthiest districts. Now comes another New York City charter study, this one by Margaret Raymond of CREDO at Stanford University . Last spring, CREDO released a national study showing that only 17 percent of charter schools had better results than traditional public schools; 83 percent of charters produced gains that were no different or significantly worse. This study sent shock waves through the charter school world.

But now Raymond has produced a study of NYC charters that presents a far brighter picture than her national study. In contrast to Hoxby's NYC study, which seemed to suggest that any charter school was superior to any public school, Raymond's study is positive, but nuanced. She matched students in charter schools with students in traditional public schools by gender, grade, race/ethnicity, free-reduced price lunch status (a proxy for poverty), prior year test score, grade repeater, special-education status, and English-language learner. Raymond found that 51 percent of NYC charters produced significant gains in math, but only 29 percent did so in reading.

Since Raymond's 2009 national charter study was so bleak, charter advocates pounced on the NYC findings and celebrated. But a closer look should moderate the cheering.

Aside from the fact that Raymond's study showed that 49 percent of charter schools produced no significant gains in math, and 71 percent produced no significant gains in reading, she also reported that students who were in special education or who were English-language learners experienced no significant gains or losses in charters. She also found that charter students who had been retained in grade made no gains in reading and were outperformed in math by their peers in traditional public schools.

Neither Hoxby nor Raymond—both brilliant economists and leaders in their field—factored in the contextual factors that affect whether students perform well on tests of reading and math.

Charters in NYC may get better results than charters nationally because many or most have rich sponsors, hedge-fund managers or philanthropists with deep pockets who donate millions of dollars to their schools, enabling them to have smaller classes and more resources than the local public schools. (Tom Toch noted in an article in the December/January Kappan that the SEED charter school in Washington , D.C. , which has been hailed as a national model, spends $35,000 per student yearly.)

Another important factor in the success of New York City 's charters is that Chancellor Joel Klein has placed 70 of the city's 99 charters in public school space, subsidizing the charters' facilities, utilities, transportation, custodial services, food services, and whatever else is provided to the regular public school. This policy has ignited angry battles between the parents of charter school students and those at public schools that lose their computer room, their art room, their dance room, and classroom space to the favored charters. Parents and teachers in New York City public schools grumble about "academic apartheid" and "separate but equal" when they see the care and attention showered on charters located inside public schools that have long been neglected.

Then, too, most charters in New York City have lotteries for admission.

The least informed parents never apply for a lottery, so the lottery acts as a screening mechanism. (Hoxby eliminated this factor by comparing students who won the lottery with students who lost it.) Thus, charters enroll few homeless students; there are some 50,000 homeless students in New York City 's public schools, but only about 100 are enrolled in charters. When charters admit special education students, they tend to be those with the mildest disabilities because charters are not equipped to meet the needs of those with extreme disabilities. In addition, charters are able to "counsel out" students who are "not a good fit," who then return to the traditional public schools.

The United Federation of Teachers of New York City reported that charters serve less than 4 percent of English-language learners, compared with a citywide average of 14 percent; that less than 10 percent of charter students require special education, compared with a citywide average of 16 percent; that charters enroll fewer Hispanic or immigrant students than the regular public schools; and that while they have the same proportion of students receiving "free and reduced-price lunch," they have about 10 percentage points fewer of students eligible for free lunch (that is, the poorest students). The gaps are even larger when charter schools are compared with their neighborhood public schools, rather than citywide averages.

As one considers studies like those of Hoxby and Raymond, it is important to bear in mind that students in charter schools and public schools are not on a level playing field. Those in charters attend school with small classes and other motivated students, while those in public schools attend schools in overcrowded classrooms with a full range of students, including those who left charters. Charters demonstrate that "peer effects" matter.

If charters are going to be the models for public education in the future, we may have to roll back many civil rights laws and court decisions that prevent schools from excluding or limiting certain types of students. Or, charter schools should be required to accept the same range of students who attend regular public schools. Or, in return for their unusual freedom, some of them might dedicate themselves to educating the neediest students instead of avoiding them.

With the Race to the Top, the Obama administration is pushing states to remove all limits on the number of charter schools. Is this a signal that the equity agenda of the past half-century is dead?



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