Ken Libby

Jan 182014

During the 24 hours after Michelle Rhee offered to answer questions on Twitter, a total of 1,431 tweets included the hashtag #AskMichelle.1 The Washington Post and Salon commented on the reaction, noting the hostility directed at Michelle.

My original idea was to sort tweets into those that were attacking Michelle, those that appeared to be serious questions, and unrelated tweets. I revised the categories after sorting through the 1,431 eligible tweets, which includes both original tweets and re-tweets. I ended up using the categories below:

Attacks: Most of the original tweets were hostile towards Michelle. I also included tweets that addressed something other than education or schools, as these questions (here and here, for example) seemed intended to attack Michelle or StudentsFirst. There were 186 of these tweets.

Questions and Michelle’s Answers: A total of 63 original tweets asked the kind of education-related questions Michelle wanted to answer (and she did answer some). I did not include tweets that were questions unrelated to education, or that seemed to be more about attacking Michelle than answering a question. An additional seven of Michelle’s answers to questions used the hashtag.

Commentary on #AskMichelle: A total of 98 original tweets commented on the use of the hashtag, mostly to point out it did not go well for Michelle. The Washington Post and Salon articles were shared quite a bit, and some drew comparisons to last year’s #AskJP debacle.

Unsure/Other: Not all tweets fit neatly into either of the categories above. One person asked, “how do I get a cranberry stain out of my white dress?” Another  asked, “To be or not to be?” There were 12 tweets that I couldn’t put into one of the previous three categories.

Re-tweets: A total of 1,065 tweets were re-tweets. Tweets attacking Michelle made up the majority (775) of the re-tweets. The second most common re-tweets were those commenting on the use of the hashtag (226). Questions relating to education were re-tweeted a total of 30 times. Michelle was re-tweeted 28 times, and six re-tweets were from the Unsure/Other category.

In table form:

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.51.48 AM

A few hours after answer questions, Michelle tweeted, “Boy, the Twitter community can be so cheery & bubbly can’t they? Looking forward to more, substantive chats in the future :) #edreform”

  1. Using Tweet Archivist, I downloaded a list of tweets that included #AskMichelle. You can get a look at some pretty basic data on my Tweet Archivist profile. I’m not going to post the actual material I downloaded through Tweet Archivist as I’m unsure if that’s permissible. The service creates a spreadsheet that lists a variety of information about each tweet, including the original tweeters, the contents of tweet, timestamps, and geographic details. While I could have tried to collect relevant tweets by looking for those that included Michelle’s twitter handle, the inclusion of the hashtag makes it easier for other users to find. For that reason, I stuck to just the inclusion of the hashtag, although it looks like virtually all the responses to Michelle included both the hashtag and @MichelleRhee.
 January 18, 2014  Posted by on January 18, 2014 Comments Off
Dec 072013

Alan Golston, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s US programs, recently posted some brief comments about the Common Core State Standards.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the standards are  a major threat to public schools nor a liberal plot to brainwash children. Those seems to be the views of at least some progressive educators and some conservative activists, respectively.

Golston’s comments and the business leaders he quotes present a poor example of both justifying and defending the standards. Golston quotes Kathy Havens Payne of State Farm who makes the  bold claim that the new standards “level the playing field for all children.” I don’t object to the idea that common standards can be part of a broader equity agenda, and, in fact, I think it’s important to have high standards for all children. But if we’re serious about leveling the playing field, common standards can only be one part of that noble goal. Plenty of other factors – including inequitable state school funding formulas, distribution of teachers, and out-of-school factors, just to name a few – contribute the inequitable educational opportunities and outcomes.

Think about it this way: by Payne’s logic, shouldn’t all states have reasonably equitable education systems given that all states have had their own common standards for schools and school districts for a good number of years? The point here is that standards alone aren’t enough to ensure equity. It’s all that other stuff, too. I have little tolerance for CCSS supporters who refuse to look at these other issues as well.

Just as troubling is Golston’s concluding sentence:

What we must do now is support teachers and make good on the promise that they have the tools they need to teach the new standards so that the nation can get the full benefit of this important shift in our education system – a shift that will ensure our nation’s children ready for college and career and a better future.

If Golston is serious about making good on that promise, he’d also suggest we slow down the the implementation of the standards. It’s not at all difficult to see teachers and teacher groups saying they like the standards, but are wary of the rushed implementation. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I doubt the new push by the business community will suggest cautiously moving forward with the implementation of teacher evaluation policies, ensuring schools have appropriate materials connected to the new standards, the chance to re-align instruction, and adequate professional development for educators. Rather, it seems likely that the message will be: we need the Common Core State Standards, and we need them now. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

 December 7, 2013  Posted by on December 7, 2013 Comments Off
May 222013

Step One: Catchy Title

The title is an important part of any anti-Common Core piece. A popular choice is to incorporate the word “rotten,” which too many just can’t pass up (here, here, here, here, and here). Also popular: something connoting or indicating a leftist/Marxist conspiracy, for instance, “Common Core: Rotten to it’s leftist core,” “Obama Trying To Take Over Public Education With ‘Common Core’ Curriculum That Teaches Socialism,” “‘Common Core’ The Marxist Brainwashing Of America’s Schoolchildren,” or “Common Core GED textbook: ’9/11 hijackers were poor Afghanis.’”

Step Two: Select Your Boogeyman

The obvious choice is President Obama, but don’t limit yourself to the guy in the White House. And, ObamaCore might be catchy (here, here, here, and here), but it’s not terribly creative. Seriously, it just takes ObamaCare and changes ONE LETTER! Bill Ayers is a strong choice for a boogeyman (hereherehereherehere, and here). Linda Darling-Hammond is the leading boogeywoman (herehere, and here). Combine two or all three for the most potent boogeyman concoction.

Step Three: Pick a Persuasive Argument

Big choice here. Once you have an irresistible title and boogeyman (or more), you need to actually construct your anti-Common Core argument. You have a few options.

You can go with the “Common Core is a socialist/Marxist/communist plot” – but those arguments are getting a lot of airplay already (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Another popular choice is the Common Core is a UN conspiracy (here, here, and here). If you’re more familiar with pedagogy, you could run with the Common Core as a progressive takeover of schools (here, here, and here).

Less common arguments are that Common Core is a secret attempt to indoctrinate students about immigration (here); that the new standards will eliminate cursive instruction (here); that examples of suggested texts are too sexually graphic (here); promotes a “homosexual agenda” (here); that it’s part of “the apology tour for American exceptionalism (here); or that the standards promote “extreme environmentalism” (here).

For those seeking bolder arguments, there is “Common Core forcing Marxism/Nazism on America’s children,” or that it’s comparable to what Hitler did while in charge of Germany (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

The argument that Common Core is federal intrusion into public education? Please, that’s soooo pedestrian and boring. It’s probably important to include so you can say something about the Constitution or states’ rights, but it’s a less flashy argument than some of the ones listed above.

Step Four: Construct a Conclusion

The title, boogeyman, and argument are all essential, but you really need to build to your concluding remarks. The smart move seems to be suggesting the new standards will be an absolute disaster (here), that we must overthrow tyranny (here), the standards cost too much (here), or that anything the feds are involved in is bound to fail (here and here).

Side Comments

In seriousness, opposition from a few key right-wing pundits (Malkin and Beck) seems to have stirred up the anti-Common Core hysteria of late. It’s also possible that the standards didn’t get much attention when they were simply words on a page as opposed to something actually happening in the classroom (at least in some places), complete with assessments tied to the standards. And, it’s completely plausible that the right just needed another topic to cause a stink about.

[Disclosure: I am working for the American Federation of Teachers this summer, although none of my work relates to the Common Core. Additionally, I composed this post on my own time.]

 May 22, 2013  Posted by on May 22, 2013 3 Responses »
Jan 182013

The Jaquelin Hume Foundation is one of the many conservative foundations operating in the United States. Some of the foundation’s work is directly related to education, and much of the foundation’s work impacts education indirectly though tax/fiscal policy and social policy.

For this post I pulled grants listed on the foundations Form 990s for the years 2001-2010. You can download an Excel spreadsheet with this information on my data page. The rest of this post uses that data to look at the various organizations receiving funds from the foundation.

The foundation essentially gives to five different kinds of organizations1:

  • Education organizations (e.g., KIPP, TFA, Alliance for School Choice)
  • Think tanks that are part of the State Policy Network, a collection of state-level free-market think tanks
  • A variety of other conservative think tanks or advocacy organizations that are not part of the State Policy Network (e.g., Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Independent Women’s Forum)
  • A handful of possibly education-related organizations (e.g., Atlantic Legal Foundation, Center for Union Facts)
  • Other organizations (e.g., museums; mostly California-based)

Here is a list of education organizations:

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 12.29.58 PM

[Click on image to enlarge.]

A few notes about the above:

  • I believe CANEC was either the precursor to California Charter School Association or the Association’s previous name.
  • The Personalized Learning Foundation was a project of the Center for Education Reform
  • I’m assuming MAPSA is the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (charter schools)

And organizations that are part of the State Policy Network, a collection of state-level free-market think tanks:

Hume SPN

Other conservative think tanks:

Hume Conservative Think Tanks

Education-related organizations (that also do some non-education work):

Hume Possibly Edu-Related

And, finally, the other organizations:

Hume Other

The Hume Foundation is a well-known supporter of conservative politics, and that support is quite obviously continuing.

While the foundation supports some education organizations that are hardly conservative (e.g., Center for Teaching Quality, Editorial Projects in Education), the majority of the funding goes to conservative advocates. For instance, the Association for American Educators, Center for Education Reform, Education Next, California Teachers Empowerment Network, Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Education Action Group all received funding from the Hume Foundation, and all of those would certainly be considered conservative/libertarian organizations.

  1. There are certainly other ways of categorizing the foundation’s grants, but these five categories seemed most appropriate.
 January 18, 2013  Posted by on January 18, 2013 Comments Off
Jan 172013

A recent Washington Post article about Michelle Rhee makes the following claim:

Rhee, as the chief executive of StudentsFirst, which employs 124 and is based in Sacramento, earns an annual salary of $61,000, according to federal tax filings.

My best guess is that the reporter looked at the Form 990 for StudentsFirst Institute (a 501c3). That form covers October 12, 2010 through July 31, 2011 and lists Rhee’s salary as $61,250, plus an additional $1,250 from related organizations (StudentsFirst, a 501c4). However, it’s pretty likely that – at least for the years after 2011 – Rhee’s salary will be a good deal higher than that. The IRS applications for StudentsFirst and StudentsFirst Institute1, available through the NY Charities Bureau website, offers additional information.

From the StudentsFirst application:

StudentsFirst Institute

Note that it is actual or estimated compensation.

And the StudentsFirst Institute application:


There are (probably) two possibilities here: Rhee will be making about $200k in FY 2012, or she’ll be making about $125k. The former is simply adding the anticipated $75k from StudentsFirst in 2012 and $125k from StudentsFirst Institute (although no year is listed). The second possibility is that the $125k reported on the StudentsFirst Institute application includes any payment from StudentsFirst. Either way, the $61,000 “annual salary” is likely a good deal off.2

Secondly, a recent Nation article makes the following claim about Students for Education Reform (SFER):

SFER has received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now…

But that number isn’t quite accurate. Education Reform Now is the fiscal sponsor of SFER, a set-up that (I think) would allow SFER to receive funds before they had fully established a 501c3. From the ERN 2010 Form 990:

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 12.13.49 AM


Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 12.13.30 AM

So that $1.6 million is for StudentsFirst and SFER. I’m not sure how much ERN received for SFER, but it almost certainly wasn’t a full $1.6 million.

For those with an interest in SFER’s funding, the only donation I’ve seen (on a Form 990) is $100k from Jonathan Sackler and Mary Corson’s Bouncer Foundation in 2011. That foundation’s Form 990 is available here. Sackler is also a SFER board member. The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation also lists SFER as a funded organization, but the foundation’s Form 990 for 2011 isn’t available yet and the website doesn’t list a dollar amount.

I tend to not thing either one of these inaccuracies is that big of a deal, but it does indicate – at least to me – that some of the information about organizations in the non-profit sector is either not that accessible, or people don’t know where to look for some of this information. Heck, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time reading through this kind of stuff and I still get tripped up at times.

  1. For some reason the IRS application lists the organization as “StudentsFirst Initiative” in a number of different places on the form.
  2. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Rhee is doing this for the money, and her salary – either $125k or $200k per year – isn’t out of line given the budgets of SF and SFI.
 January 17, 2013  Posted by on January 17, 2013 3 Responses »
Nov 122012

During the 2012 election cycle, Stand for Children spent about $750,000 on Washington state elections. The Washington Education Association (WEA) spent around $2 million. Most of Stand’s money came from in-state donors, although a few out of state donors also contributed: Reed Hastings ($50,000), Stacy Schusterman ($25,000), Katherine Bradley ($5,000) and Pamela Welch ($100).

Here is a rundown of the candidates Stand supported, the amount of financial resources dedicated to either supporting the candidate or attacking the opposing candidate, and the outcome of the race1:

WEA didn’t endorse or support Clibborn, King, or Wilcox – but all three ran unopposed. Eric Pettigrew ran against a candidate that WEA didn’t support or endorse, Tamra Smilanich. The Pettigrew-Smilanich race wasn’t even close: Pettigrew won 88% to 12%. Aside from those four candidates, WEA also supported and endorsed all of the winning candidates listed above.

More importantly, Stand spent a heck of a lot of money supporting two candidates: Republican Rob McKenna’s gubernatorial bid, and Republican Dawn McCravey’s bid for a State Senate seat.2 WEA supported the opposing candidates in each race: Democrat Jay Inslee and State Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. The WEA-supported candidates won both races.

Of the approximately $700k that went to supporting Stand’s candidates or attacking the opposing candidates, only $25,300 went to winning candidates. Only $16,900 went to candidates that didn’t have the support of WEA – and $10,100 of that money went to candidates who ran unopposed.

It wasn’t a total loss for Stand considering Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools in the state and a clear favorite of Stand, appears to have passed by a slim margin.

Not to bring up a rather unfortunate episode in Stand’s history, but here is a comment from Jonah Edelman’s now infamous appearance at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival:

So in Washington state right now, we’ve got exactly the same goal [raising money to support candidates], and it’s another state that doesn’t lack for financial resources, it’s about achieving the same kind of reallocation. We could readily outspend the Washington Education Association.

Stand didn’t outspend WEA. Edelman was either bluffing, miscalculated, or the damage the Aspen video did to his (and Stand’s) reputation scared off potential (promised?) donors.

One of Jonah’s other remarks at the Aspen Ideas Festival was that you have to play win-lose politics with the unions in some states. He specifically mentioned Washington, Oregon and California. There’s a reasonable amount of overlap between the candidates Stand supported (albeit with far fewer resources) and the candidates favored by WEA. However, in terms of the two high-power candidates Stand clearly preferred in Washington state, WEA came out the clear victor.

  1. At the time of posting, the Benton race was too close to call. Stand also contributed $5,000 to another PAC, Revising the Status Quo, which supported Cann with $4,000 in direct mailers. I did not include that $4,000 in the totals below. I also excluded about $50,000 in contributions to other PACs or independent expenditures that did not list a specific candidate.
  2. Most of the money Stand spent in this race went to attacking State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, including mailers and this video.
 November 12, 2012  Posted by on November 12, 2012 Comments Off
Oct 292012

A few days ago, the American Prospect posted an article titled Teach for America’s Deep Bench, by James Cersonsky. The focus of the article is Leadership for Educational Equity, a 501c4 associated with Teach for America. Cersonsky describes LEE as working “to provide resources, training, and networking for alumni who are interested in elected office or other extracurricular leadership positions.”

Barbara Miner’s 2010 Rethinking Schools article about Teach for America included a bit of information about LEE. The organization was still very young at the time and, as Miner’s encounter describes, LEE refused to take a stand on various issues. Cersonsky’s article provides some updates and contends that LEE is “training the next generation of politicians, who have very specific ideas on school reform.”

And there’s good evidence that LEE is gearing up for a more politically active role. In late June of 2012, Isabel Oregon Acosta of the Broad Foundation sent the following email to Chris Cerf (full email available here):

Hi Chris,

I wanted to reach out because I’m helping Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) to put together their inaugural Policy Leadership Academy and wanted to extend an invitation to you to speak on a panel that will discuss human capital policy. The goal of the panel is to describe leading efforts to attract and retain excellent people in school systems and which aspects of these efforts are best accomplished through policy, as opposed to implementation or specific efforts by school leaders. LEE wants to drill down on how policymakers can best help establish the context for schools to be successful without micromanaging them. Tim Daly of TNTP is moderating the panel and Jordan Henry of NewTLA, a reform caucus of the Los Angeles teachers union will be speaking on it (a draft agenda is attached). We also just secured Jean Desravines from NLNS for the same panel.

The session is slated for Friday, July 27th, from 10:30-12pm at the CityBridge Foundation at 600 New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, DC.

As context, LEE is a new organization aimed at changing policies and laws by accelerating the leadership of Teach For America alumni. The Policy Leadership Academy is an effort to get Teach For America’s 40 senior-most alumni with an interest in policy more educated about the big questions/dilemmas in education policy. The audience will be about 60 percent candidates for local and state office and elected officials, 25 percent policy officials at the state and local level and 15 percent advocates from all over the country. The aim is to help build participants knowledge base and skill set so that they can not only get elected, but be effective in working to close the achievement gap once in leadership roles.

Do you think it might work for you to be in DC on the morning of July 27th? I think your perspective would beinvaluable.


Isabel Oregon Acosta

Assistant Director

[The Broad Foundation - Education]

The contents of the email was released through an OPRA request filed in the state of New Jersey. The email was released because it contains communication between a representative of the Broad Foundation and Commissioner Cerf.

Included in the communication is a draft for the three day Leadership Policy Academy. A few notes about the draft agenda:

  • According to a LAUSD teacher cited in Cersonsky’s article, LEE was working to “strategically promote folks who have a different politics,” including NewTLA. I’m not sure including NewTLA in the Policy Leadership Academy qualifies as “promoting” NewTLA, but LEE is certainly including the group in discussions.
  • The Broad Foundation was clearly helping LEE get this work started. The event was held at the CityBridge Foundation, another education-related philanthropy. The Gates Foundation paid for the “School Budget Hold ‘Em” described in the draft schedule.
  • Education Resource Strategies posted about attending the event. An accompanying slideshow about the “School Budget Hold ‘Em” could be something that indicates preferred policies (e.g. merit pay, ignoring reductions in class size in favor of other policies, shifting special education funding, reducing labor costs)

Do keep in mind that things may have changed; this was only a draft of the agenda. Regardless, it provides some evidence of how LEE is networking with other education-related organizations and the kinds of policies or reforms favored by the group.

 October 29, 2012  Posted by on October 29, 2012 1 Response »
Oct 222012

Recently, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), one of the newer education-related foundations, announced $15 million in new grants to New Orleans education causes. According to EdWeek’s Sean Cavanagh, a variety of education advocacy organizations and alternative teacher preparation programs are the main recipients.

Earlier this year, New Jersey state Senator Loretta Weinberg filed an OPRA request for documents related to LJAF and the NJDOE. As John Mooney noted, the request was “largely a repeat” of a request made by the Education Law Center. The emails were eventually released to ELC.

In a May 2011 email with the subject line “Policy and Legislative Supports for Education Reform in New Jersey,” Cerf describes the revamped NJDOE to LJAF’s Education Program Manager Esther Trichoche.

While there’s no evidence that LJAF funded anything to do with the NJDOE, it certainly indicates there has been some communication – and not just idle chatter – about NJDOE plans. It’s also possible the foundation is supporting important advocacy efforts in the state, particularly Better Education 4 Kids and StudentsFirst.1 We should have a better idea of LJAF’s activity in the state (if there is any) by mid-November when the foundation’s Form 990 for the year 2011 is due.

This kind of communication between state education heads and representatives of philanthropic organizations is of interest for two reasons. First, it provides some pretty specific details about what foundations, in this case the LJAF, are looking for when they think about giving out money. Second, it provides fairly strong evidence that philanthropies are trying to help, influence and shape public policy (in this case a state DOE).

Some may not appreciate the (often) heated rhetoric about the Billionaire Boys Club, but it’s hard to dispute the fact that a handful of influential philanthropies play a moderate to significant role in some important changes going on in education.

  1. LJAF is a known funder of StudentsFirst. These two advocacy organizations – StudentsFirst and Better Education 4 Kids – are working in tandem in New Jersey.
 October 22, 2012  Posted by on October 22, 2012 Comments Off
Sep 022012

From Eli Broad’s recent book, The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking1:

Facebook came to my attention in a personal way in 2010, when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked if I would meet with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and brief him on our decade-long efforts to reform public education.

  1. Broad, Eli (2012-04-19). The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking (Kindle Locations 2160-2162). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.
 September 2, 2012  Posted by on September 2, 2012 Comments Off
Aug 122012

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) is a relatively new foundation. Established in late 2008, the foundation supported only a handful of education-related organizations/causes during its first few years: KIPP, TFA, Yes Prep, the DC IMPACT program (through the DC Public Education Fund), a few school districts, and a small amount of research. Below is a summary of education-related grants for the years 2009 and 2010 (the years for which Forms 990s are currently available):

Although the foundation gave out a few grants in 2008, none went to education.

The foundation is one of the few confirmed funders of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.1 This is hardly a surprise given the foundation’s earlier support of the DC IMPACT program. Other funders of the DC IMPACT program include the Robertson Foundation, Broad Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation. The latter two are confirmed funders of StudentsFirst.2

John Arnold serves as a board member of TNTP. Laura Arnold serves on the board of Teach for America. Although currently available Form 990s do not list contributions to TNTP, the foundation has contributed to the organization for work in the Houston Independent School District and possibly other programs as well.3

According to the foundation’s website, the foundation “currently focuses on four major levers for change”: efficient markets, human capital, learning systems, and performance management. [Update 10/12/12: the foundation’s website now lists three levers: “more high-quality schools and educators,” “active public engagement,” and “creating an environment of innovation.”

The foundation ended 2010 with approximately 2/3 of a billion dollars in assets.

  1. See here.
  2. See the Walton Family Foundation’s list of 2011 grantees (here) and the Broad Foundation’s 2011 Form 990 (available here).
  3. For instance, the LJAF is listed as a TNTP contributor in TNTP’s recent report, “The Irreplacables.”
 August 12, 2012  Posted by on August 12, 2012 1 Response »