Thomas Ultican: Education Profiteering Accelerates in Texas
Thomas Ultican looks at some of the players in Texas promoting a profiteering approach to education. Reposted with permission.
In March, the Texas house of representative’s education committee introduced House Bill 1605. Chairman Brad Buckley from Killeen was lead sponsor and 25 other members are listed as co-sponsors including one Democrat. The actual author of the bill and who if anyone paid for it to be written is not known. The legislation creates two major changes. It transfers purchasing power from the state education board to State Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and it opens the door for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Amplify to control instructional materials for the Foundation School Program.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) explains,
“The primary source of state funding for Texas school districts is the Foundation School Program (FSP). This program ensures that all school districts, regardless of property wealth, receive ‘substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort.’”
Foundation curriculum includes the list of the big four subjects mapped out by the TEA curriculum division.
The material is to be delivered using open education resources (OER). This means the content deliverance via interactive electronic screens. Districts will have the right not to use the curriculum however the structure of HB 1605 bribes them to employ it.
Under this new legislation, the state of Texas is contracting with Amplify to write the curriculum according to TEA guidelines. Amplify will also provide daily lesson plans for all teachers. The idea is to educate all Texas children using digital devices and scripted lesson plans while teachers are tasked with monitoring student progress.
Senate bill 2565 is the companion legislation. The language of neither HB 1605 nor SB 2565 mention Amplify. However, during the senate education committee public comments period on SB 2565 it was revealed that TEA had already given Amplify a $50,000,000 pandemic contract. When witnesses referenced Amplify as the purported contractor, senators did not push back and the only company the Senators spoke about themselves was Amplify. So it is clear that it will be Amplify and some people in the know believe Commissioner Morath has already made a deal with the company.
Who Likes this Idea?
On March 2, 2023 just one week before Buckley introduced HB 1605, a new organization called the Coalition for Education Excellence (CEE) announced its presence. They stated,
“CEE, made up of state and local education and public policy advocacy organizations across Texas, has been created to take the under-education crisis head-on. Founding members of CEE include The Commit Partnership, the Greater Houston Partnership, Teach Plus Texas, Texas 2036, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Business Leadership Council, the Texas District Charter Alliance and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, with more members to be announced in the coming weeks.”
Everyone of their supporting “advocacy organizations” are either far right opponents of public education or are groups who have a long history of working to privatize public education.
CEE states in their announcement that “a recent study found that Texas students are being taught below grade-level content in our public schools.” The so called study was conducted by the Teach For America spinoff TNTP. It is a billionaire created organization working to privatize public education. Papers coming from leading education institutions like the University of Texas or Rice University are peer reviewed scholarly efforts. Whereas TNTP produces non-peer reviewed polemics like this bogus study called “The Opportunity Myth.” When Michelle Rhee led TNTP they made headlines by unfairly trashing public education teachers.
CEE disingenuously pretended that their support of this legislation is written to help overburdened teachers. They stated in their announcement,
‘“Many teachers in Texas are currently working two jobs—designing lessons and teaching them—which is contributing to their exhaustion and teacher shortages. Access to high-quality instructional material can reduce teacher workloads and play a critical role in delivering quality education to our students,’ said Kevin Malonson, Texas Executive Director of Teach Plus.“
Anyone who has spent significant time in a classroom knows scripted lessons are a disaster. I have personally experienced teaching the same high school class in three separate periods and even though the students were all peers, the levels of ability in the classrooms varied significantly. The differences were so great that I often had to modify my lesson plans to effectively teach the material during the different periods. Trying to write one lesson plan for thousands of students living in significantly different neighborhoods is a daft approach that devalues teacher expertise, undermines educator professionalism and will fail students.
Found on the CEE Web Page
Texas 2036 listed above was formed by Tom Luce in 2016. It publishes cyber page links to CEE letters and publications and generally supports the privatization agenda.
Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot and they gave us the disaster known as standardized testing.
In 2019, Tom Luce became Chairman Emeritus of Texas 2036 and Margaret Spellings returned to Texas to assume the lead as President and CEO. At the same time, Spellings who led George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind education reform law became a board member for Laurene Powell Jobs’s Amplify. Of course, Board Member Spellings is supporting turning over Texas school curriculum to Jobs’s company.
Laurene Powell Jobs and Amplify
Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools in which they work. When Wiki Leaks released the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ four recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed:
- “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
- “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
- “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
- “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”
I disagree. Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement, instability and abuse but not for innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections is consistent with other arrogant billionaires who support privatization. I came into education from working as a research scientist in Silicon Valley and found teachers every bit as intellectually equipped as my colleagues in the lab. Her support for Teach for America temp teachers demonstrates education ignorance.
The Amplify education model puts children at digital devices where they learn in isolation. It is an unhealthy approach. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”
Educators like Nancy Bailey have addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. An NPR report highlighted criticism of Amplify science and math noting,
“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”
‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”
The Leaders of the Amplify Takeover
Before 2012, Dallas school board elections were very low key affairs. When Mike Morath ran for the district two trusteeship, it was pretty much unheard of for a school board candidate to have raised as much as $10,000 for a campaign; however even though running unopposed, Morath’s campaign contributions totaled $28,890.00 and he spent $16,773.07.
Morath had almost no background in education but he was supported by Dallas’s wealthiest conservatives. A 2014 article published by In These Times, explained the political change:
“But since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of thousands of Super PAC dollars from Dallas’ richest neighborhoods began flowing into nearly all of the district’s school board elections
“Since 2011, Educate Dallas, a PAC backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber (the local Chamber of Commerce), has raised $661,953 in cash on hand for its school board war chest, and the Dallas-based education reform PAC Kids First, led by millionaire tech CEO Ken Barth, has raised $661,616. The majority of their donations come from Dallas’ famous aristocrats, including Barth, Ross Perot, Ray Hunt—an oil heir with a net worth of $5.8 billion—and Harlan Crow, a real estate heir and buddy of Clarence Thomas.”
The big Dallas money aimed a privatizing public education has supported Morath all the way to the state’s highest education position. When Governor Abbott selected Morath to be commissioner, conservative writer Donna Garner declared, “I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”
In addition to contracting with Amplify to privatize curriculum, Morath, has created a program called the System of Great Schools. It is a plan to implement the portfolio model of school governance throughout the state of Texas. It is identical to the plan that billionaires Reed Hasting, John Arnold, Bill Gates and Michael Dell are financing through The City Fund. The portfolio school system management model systematically removes public schools from governance by elected boards and puts them under private control.
Laurene Jobs Powell has hooked up with like minded billionaires in an effort to privatize the entire Texas public education system. Their guy Mike Morath is dutifully implementing the plans.