Private Foundations spend Billions to Gussy up the Model Home of Education: Locke High School

As Sam Dillon writes at Larry Miller’s blog about Locke High School, now a wholly owned retail charter chain of Green Dot ‘public’ schools:

“As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention for its hallway beatings, bathroom rapes and rooftop parties held by gangs. For every student who graduated, four others dropped out.

Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward. Newly planted olive trees in Locke’s central plaza have helped transform the school’s concrete quadrangle into a place where students congregate and do homework.

“It’s changed a lot,” said Leslie Maya, a senior. “Before, kids were ditching school, you’d see constant fights, the lunches were nasty, and the garden looked disgusting. Now there’s security, the garden looks prettier, the teachers help us more (School Is Turned Around, but Cost Gives Pause, Dillon. S., June 24, 2010,

Sound like great news?  Depends on your point of view on pedagogy and public policy.  Sure, when students are safe this is one thing that is progress.  But let’s look critically at what is going on at Locke.

One thing we do know is that the ‘change’ Locke is experiencing has come at a price; an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school. Skeptics say the Locke experience may be too costly to replicate (ibid).

That’s fine, for as Marco Petruzzi, chief executive officer (CEO) of Green Dot Public Schools commented:

“When people hear we spent $15 million, they say, ‘You’re insane.  But when you look closely, you see it’s not crazy” (ibid).

No, it is not crazy to invest in public schools, progressives have been arguing for this for years and Petruzi is right.  What is crazy is to eventually invest in seemingly non-profit corporations like Green Dot.  After all, why would we need a corporate middle man if we injected monies straight into public schools? 

According to Green Dot and the other charter charlatans the answer is they do a better job of assuring the ‘achievement gap’ is closed, a euphemism for poverty, racism and broken homes.  At least this is what they sell through their Parent Revolution group and their constant public relations activities.  The fact is that Green Dot is on a drip system being kept alive and in the saddle by billionaires who want Green Dot to succeed, for the public coffers are empty and the Green Dot success must be guaranteed at any cost.  Why?  The billionaires and Duncan have pledged their money on a new privatized plan for education and nothing breeds success like success, right?

But if this is true why then under the Race to the Top, the newly branded No Child Left Behind only worse, under rules set by Congress districts can apply for up to only $6 million for each failing school, to be spent over three years but no more?  I mean if it took $15,000,000 for Green Dot to remake Locke High School, and the costs have not ceded, then where is the money going to come from to ‘remake’ other supposedly failing schools? 

According to Dillon:

“In interviews, Mr. Petruzzi and other Green Dot officials offered a budget overview. Before and since Green Dot’s takeover, tax dollars have financed Locke’s annual operating budget of upward of $30 million, which during the four-year turnaround will total about $115 million, he said.

By then, expenditures will have exceeded that four-year, taxpayer-supported budget by about $15 million, with philanthropies making up most of the difference.

Over the four years, Green Dot is set to spend about $2 million on increased security and busing. It spent about $700,000 to create a classroom for a new architecture academy” (ibid).

Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group leading several turnaround efforts in Chicago, disagreed, arguing that even expenditures surpassing $15 million on a big school could be a smart national investment.  According to him:

“We’re wasting billions every year by not fixing these schools, because the students they’re not educating end up filling our prisons” (ibid).

Certainly no one would argue with that, however the question at issue that Crawley conveniently ignores is who will pay for the investments?  With trillions going to Iraq and Afghanistan for so-called ‘security’ and city budgets collapsing like the buildings at the World Trade Center on 9/11, where will the money come from to ‘turnaround’ the nation’s public schools?  

The fact of the matter is that under the right wing capitalist system they have to be ‘turned over’ first to the elite and then they will be ‘turned around’ by the new owners and CEO’s like Petruzi and the billionaires.  The turnaround will assure curriculums devoid of critical thinking as they are and become increasingly tied to the ‘tests’ and the new testing rackets that will snark around for private contracts through the non-profit back door.

How the Turnover con-artists takeover schools

Simply look at the cost paid by private philanthro-pirate funds for Locke and it is obvious it is far more than any school district could ever afford.  The whole ruse can be compared to a model home development.  Think of it this way: the developer fixes up the one or two model homes to get people to buy the remaining homes.  They do this by investing huge capital into the model homes; elaborate furnishing, paintings, carpet and the like.  Then the ‘looky-looks’ take a wander through the model homes, accompanied of course by the developer’s agent, and shown and told of the beauty of the home.  Curbside appeal is a big issue in the propagandistic sale of the house, just as it is in the ideological sale of the non-profit/for-profit school plans.

This is the situation at Locke.  A huge unprecedented investment of capital has been made by billionaires into a shiny new model home for a housing development they wish to pawn off of on an eager public starving for educational reform and who cannot follow the secret parliaments and foundations that the billionaires have set up, nor can they pay for the costs. 

No school district has the kind of money to pay what Green Dot has shown they spent (as surrogates for the billionaires like Gates, Broad and Wal-Mart) in their filings as a nonprofit simply on the security alone.  These new non-profit charter schools are not gated schools, they are more like militarized schools, and this is the same all over the urban landscape where racism and classism operate to contain large portions of the population through hefty sums of billionaire largess.

Do we need charter schools?

We are told we need charter schools.  Is it to compete with China as we are told that we need these charter schools, or is it to contain a surplus population of students, mostly black and Latino (the subprime kids), who like Spartacus one day might rise up and challenge a system that offers them Wal-Mart internships in their turned around schools; a system where cuts in language arts, art, and music are basically providing an education in the slave quarters of schools. 

The whole thing is an elitist ploy to take over 5.6 percent of the gross national product called education through privatization.  Capitalizing on disaster economics and failing cities and budgets, these prevaricating ‘turnaround’ artists are ‘takeover artists’ who now will suck the life from the public who will then be forced to cough up future public monies to replace the initial seed money invested by the philanthro-pirates.  For once the schools are gussied up and running, then the burden to pay for them will fall on taxpayers and thus working people.  Yet they will find they are no longer public schools but ‘public partnerships’ where the fiduciary duty is owed to the investor class, not parents and kids.

This is the educational deform movement designed by Arne Duncan and known as Race to the Top.  It is a neo-liberal partnership between billionaires, the government and the fixers like Steve Barr and Ben Austin of Green Dot who labor assiduously to advance a business plans to train and contain mostly Black and Latino students, the disposable population.  Testing and metrics will become the life of the student and the teachers as they are worked on like lab rats within the new privatized pressure cooker being unleashed as the new reform Chimera.  The resemblance to prisons themselves cannot go unnoticed – the uniforms, the security, the rigid time and motion curriculum, the low expectations of students, the treatment of educational workers as crowd control associates; it all stinks of penality and desperation. 

Do not be beguiled by these heavily subsidized fornicators like Green Dot, Petruzi, Barr and Austin, for they do not have the best interests of students in mind; they are not offering integrated opportunities for all children to develop critical thinking, citizenry education, an expansive language arts and music and art curriculum – on the contrary, they accept and promote a regimented future of serfdom for our children, mostly minority youth in urban centers; a lack of social mobility for the future of our increasingly Black and Latino kids, within a system broken by the same politicians and bankers that now wish to finance and control our schools.

The media is urinating on itself to report all of this as a success but again, Locke is a financial model home that is hardly indicative of reality of the other ‘homes’ for sale.  You never find out though until you buy one, do you; and then the plumbing goes, the electricity, the host of housing construction errors are found and the whole thing is exposed as a sham.

Same here folks.  Don’t buy the housing tracks for the model is fraud.