July 13, 2021

Nancy Bailey: Independence Day and the Loss of America’s Democratic Public Schools

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On Independence Day, Nancy Bailey took a look at many of the prominent groups working hard to undermine democratic public schools. Reposted with permission.

Politicians talk a lot about democracy, especially while referring to threats from other countries. What about the destruction of what should be the most democratic institution in this country—America’s public schools?

Many Americans of both parties seem unworried about handing public education over to the wealthy who want to privatize those schools and use them for what they want.

Some of the same individuals will argue public schools have failed, that teachers kept schools closed during Covid-19, and about Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Common Core (CC), but they seem not to notice who is defunding their schools, who wrote CC, what’s behind CRT. They don’t seem to notice how public schools are being transformed into schools that will no longer be free or theirs.

I wrote a book published in 2016 called Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education. I’m sorry to sound negative this 4th of July; I fear this fight is a losing battle.

To illustrate, start with FutureEd, a think tank out of Georgetown UniversityThink about the title.

Their funders include:

  • Barr Foundation
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • The City Fund
  • Joyce Foundation
  • Overdeck Family Foundation
  • Shah Family Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation

They recently produced Future Ed and The Churn: The Latest Moves in Education, highlighting a long list of people making job changes. Except for a few educators and public education supporters, most are working to privatize public education, and they have degrees in other areas.

Most of these folks have never worked very long, if ever with students or studied child development.

Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE)

Martin West, Harvard Business School graduate and Harvard Bloomberg Chair of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the new Dean of that school. West has held powerful positions creating education policy that isn’t favorable to public education.

He’s Editor-in-Chief of Education Next.

Sourcewatch describes EdNext as a propaganda outlet for school reform, favoring charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay, and they’re connected to the Koret Task Force and the Hoover Institute.

Ed Next isn’t keen on unions or equalized funding for public schools.

Many educators have watched the HGSE for years with raised eyebrows.

Achievement First

Richard Buery, CEO of Achievement First charter schools, promising that every child will read by the end of kindergarten (what’s concerning about that)will head the Robin Hood FoundationHe has a degree in African-American Studies and a J.D.

Achievement First is one of many no-excuses charter chains with harsh discipline.

In 2019, Sam Bell visited an Achievement School in Rhode Island.

He states:

In the classrooms, it was constant discipline. The teachers spewed a stream of punishments, and I often couldn’t even see what the students were doing wrong. The students kept losing points or getting yelled at for things like not looking attentive enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to be berated constantly, to be forced to never even think of challenging authority. It was, of course, overwhelmingly white teachers berating students of color. (The walls, of course, were plastered with slogans of racial justice.)

Robin Hood highlights data-driven solutions and promotes Achievement First charters. Here’s the board and the many who support them. 

Buery originally comes from KIPP. KIPP is also considered a harsh charter school chain.

The Education Trust

Tiffany Taber moves from being a senior advisor at The Education Trust to managing writer at the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Communications and OutreachShe sets the priorities in Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s speeches.

The Education Trust, led by the former education secretary under President Obama, John B. King, Jr., is also favored by the Biden administration and figured prominently in the decision to go ahead with high-stakes standardized testing last spring.

Here’s the letter stating the testing protocol devised by the assistant secretary of education, Ian Rosenblum from EdTrust, New York. He has a master’s degree in government administration and a bachelor’s degree in urban studies.

Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy at The Education Trust, is joining the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as deputy director of measurement, learning, and evaluation.

Terra Wallin from Teach for America, a degree in business, and chief of staff for academics at Denver Public Schools, is now associate director for accountability and special projects at The Education Trust.

Edwatch says this

The Education Trust pushes the agenda of corporate reformers. It favors corporate charter schools, minimally trained teachers, and accountability through high-stakes testing.

The donors are too long to list. See the link.  

Center for Reinventing Public Education 

Bethany Gross from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), with degrees in economics and educational policy studies, moves to WGU Labs (Western Governor School, a nonprofit online school) to study education innovation. Note that WGU refers to education as companies.

At CRPE, she focused on personalized learning (tech), public school choice and out-of-school learning, and district transformation and is an expert on systemic strategies to help families access educational opportunities, including unified enrollment and information systems.

Unified enrollment is used to facilitate school choice (Ravitch & Bailey, 15-16).

EdWatch calls CRPE creepy, operating like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). 

In These Times reported in Meet the Latest Secret Free-Market Group That Wants to Take Over Your Public School, CRPE has been an invisible player in the free-market education reform movement.

Donors include:

  • Walton Family Foundation
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • Nellie Mae Education
  • National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  • Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
  • Arnold Family Foundation
  • Joyce Foundation
  • Fund for Educational Excellence (Jeb Bush)
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A-Street Ventures and the Walton Family Foundation

Marc Sternberg from Teach for America has a business degree and MBA and education degree from the HGSE.  He was senior deputy chancellor at the New York City Department of Education. He recently worked with the Walton Family Foundation’s Systemic K-12 Education Reform Focus Area claiming to improve K-12 education and empower parents with options (choice).

In 2009 the Obama administration gave him a year-long post with the U.S. Department of Education.

Now he’s starting A-Street Ventures with $200 million from the Waltons for K12 innovations.

They want to lift the teaching profession with the human-centered work of facilitating learning. Facilitators are not qualified teachers but assistants who’ll help students with their online work.

They talk about leveraging digital-forward tools to accelerate learning and platforms that can transform at long last the Industrial Age classroom and into the modern learning hub.

Education Week’s Market Brief congratulates Sternberg, noting that $16 billion has been poured into technology in schools.

They frame the discussion around new paradigms for student assessment, transforming high-stakes standardized testing to online curriculum embedded and digital-first assessment.

This is a sample. See the list for more connections.


On this celebration of Independence Day, think about public schools and America’s loss. Vow to examine the problems facing school districts.

Talk to teachers, understand the problems they face in their schools, work with the PTA, and volunteer to help in your local schools. Get involved and ask the right questions, not condemning but seeking fair and just solutions for all students.

Look for ways to save the democratic public institutions we all own.


Stay safe and well this 4th of July and this summer! Get vaccinated so our youngest learners will be able to return to their classrooms this fall safely.

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