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“Superintendent” Sullivan’s Education Summit — What is the Goal?

In a previous post on the “Anti-Public Education Agenda”, we discussed how corporations and right-wing radicals were driving the “school choice” and education reform movements nationally and statewide. However, no one has played politics in this arena quite the way that Mayor Dan Sullivan has here in Anchorage:

— Since the early days of his Mayorship, Dan Sullivan began waging an all-out war against public employees …especially those who are unionized.

— Throughout his term, Sullivan has continued a pattern of putting hand-picked highly-partisan candidates in major appointments and to outwardly support them in supposed non-partisan races against people who disagree with him. One such scenario occurred when Sullivan appointed divisive, anti-gay right-winger, Dave Bronson to the School Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC). The Assembly rejected the appointment. Agains supported by Mayor Sullivan, Bronson then went on to an unsuccessful run for an Assembly seat. Now, the friends and allies of the mayor are attempting to combine the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) that contains “>several of Mayor Sullivan’s sponsored candidates for Assembly with the SBAC. In examining the make-up of both committees, such a combination would give Sullivan more influence over the School Budget process.

— Claiming fiscal crisis, when in actuality he simply refused to tax to the cap, Mayor Sullivan took a machete rather than a red pen to the Anchorage School District budget this year. This caused the District to initially put summer school, sports activities and a number of administrative jobs on the chopping block. They eventually had to delve into their emergency fund, slightly increase class size and increase student sports fees to offset some of the cuts.

— The Mayor shifted almost $2 million in fees from the Municipality of Anchorage to the Anchorage School District — fees never before charged to the District since its inception.

— The Mayor very publicly supported candidates for Anchorage School Board (financially and/or philosophically) who pushed for “school choice,” who campaigned to teach Creationism in science class right along with Evolution, and who have a passing relationship with the truth.

Last week, Mayor Sullivan publicly announced that he will be conducting the “Mayor’s Education Summit” in November. He has managed to collect a large chunk of private money:

The Mayor’s Educational Summit has raised private funds to underwrite the costs of the two summits and citizen conversations. They include: ACS, Alaska Airlines, Alaska Regional Hospital, AT&T, Carlile Transportation Systems, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, First National Bank, GCI, Gillam Foundation, Lynden, Northrim Bank, Providence Hospital, Shell and Wells Fargo.

He believes this allows him to plan and organize this Summit with no oversight and minimal input from the School District.

In theory, the residents of Anchorage should rejoice that the Mayor is taking such a hands-on interest in the future of their children’s education. However, the above-mention history of his Administration gives many of us pause. Not the least of the concerns is Mayor Sullivan’s tendency (like the candidates he supports) to play fast-and-loose with the facts when it comes to the Anchorage School District. Take the first paragraph from his initial Overview of the proposed Summit (called the “Mayor’s Education Summit) that he sent out to various Municipal employees (but not the general public):

“Mayor Sullivan has launched an initiative to improve education reform standards for all students in the Anchorage Public Schools. Increases in education spending in each of the last five years has not resulted in much, if any, increase in student performance, improved graduation rates, or reduced dropout rates.”

This statement is absolutely not true.

1) The dropout rate has declined from 5.10% to 3.59%
2) The graduation rate has increased from 63.02% to 69.69%.

In his June 1 press release, Mayor Sullivan listed the presenters they were inviting so far. In a discussion at the June 3, 2011 Quarterly Meeting between the Anchorage School Board and the Anchorage Assembly, he mentioned that the School Board was welcome to contribute additional names. Here is the entire discussion from the meeting:

Several invitees interest me greatly, like Timo Lankinen, Director General, Finnish National Board of Education. I would love to discuss with him Finlands’ educational success in light of his country’s universal health care, free day care, tuition-free schools including university-level and a 100% unionized teaching force. As for the others, I have done a cursory investigating of the names that most concerned me:

• Dr. Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Right-wing think tank AEI is well known as a recipient of large grants from the Koch Brothers. It is probably best known for leading the charge against climate change science and its colorful cast of neocon characters. (i.e. Board Member Richard Cheney)

However, AEI’s funders include such notables as The DeVos Foundation, sometimes called the founders of the US school voucher programs:

The DeVos family is recognized as one of the top national contributors to the Republican Party, free market policy institutes, and Religious Right organizations. Many of their previous attempts at using voucher initiatives to privatize the nation’s public schools have been transparent. Recent campaigns have been more covert and are camouflaged behind local efforts described as grass roots and bipartisan.

Mr. Hess makes it more-than-clear that he wishes business to take charge of our schools. From a Press Release titled ” How Business Can Transform–Not Just Subsidize–Education Reform” on the American Enterprise Institute website:

“Business must play a more forceful role in school reform and drive harder bargains with state officials and school district educators,” write American Enterprise Institute (AEI) director of education policy studies Frederick M. Hess and researcher Whitney Downs. In a new US Chamber of Commerce report entitled Partnership Is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform, Hess and Downs explain that, in return for their support, businesses must insist that educators use new resources and tools to transform–not merely subsidize–public education in the United States.

He also proves to be an effective spin-meister when studies from long-term school voucher programs show that they did not make a difference in test scores.

• Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst

Rhee rose to the highest education position in Washington D.C., Chancellor, on a sterling resume of impressive performance which took place in a very short amount of teaching time. However, her tenure in the job is marked by wide-spread cheating on standardized tests (where her own investigation found no wrongdoing — sound familiar?), a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to teacher reform, which shut out input from parents and other educators and exposure on the exaggerated if not completely nonexistent accomplishments in her career before the Chancellorship:

I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.

As if that wasn’t enough, Rhee admitted from her own mouth of inappropriate discipline to her former 2nd grade class (the type that gets most teachers fired):

Rhee had poor class management skills, she said, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.” On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand…The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.”

Unsurprisingly, Rhee tried to walk back a bit from that story:

Rhee said in an e-mail Friday that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor…


The following amusing video shows Ms. Rhee’s lack of popularity among educators.

Ms. Rhee’s time as Chancellor ended after her boss the Mayor of D.C. was voted out. Many believe it was her unpopularity that caused him to lose. Now the organization she founded, Students First, is partnering with far-right Governor of Florida, Rick Scott.

• Dr. Clayton Christiansen, Professor, Harvard Business School

Dr. Christensen (MOA spelled it wrong), whose degree is in Engineering and the sum total of his education experience is as a Harvard Professor, is best known for applying his business theory of “Disruptive Innovation” to education. In essence, he’s promoting an idea that, like Walmart replaced Department Stores, Retail Medical Clinics are replacing doctor’s offices and community colleges are replacing four-year colleges, the same will happen to public education…if we treat it like a business, of course. However, looking at those examples, one wonders whether quality even comes into the picture.

“Leave your child’s education to the experts…at Walmart.”

I acknowledge the Mayor’s point at the Quarterly Meeting, that these are only invitees. We do not know which of them will be attending, nor do we know what other names are being submitted and invited by the Administration. However, more from the Mayor’s non-public Education Summit Overview gives me pause:

“The first summit is focused on efforts that have successfully reformed education.”

…and, under “Recommendations”:

“A two-day summit, attended by key education and policy decisionmakers, to hear from those who have successfully championed reforms that resulted in increased student performance.”

Besides the expert from Finland, none of the invitees I mentioned above have indisputable data to show that the methods they push have provided a long-term foundation for reform.

The Summit is scheduled for November so we will keep you updated.



17 Responses to ““Superintendent” Sullivan’s Education Summit — What is the Goal?”
  1. Wow – let’s raise money for a summit on a topic that hundreds of people are already employed by the School District to do – figure out the best ways to educate students. How productive.

    • John says:

      School district people can’t do that, they are entrenched in a reality based system where they have limited funds that have to be directed at what will actually work. With the summit, people who have never actually had to implement their ideas, or work with a limited budget, will be able to come up with out of the box, creative suggestions that will make all children above average and eliminate dandelions from all our yards.

  2. 1smartcanerican says:

    Any chance of recall of Sullivan? I am so upset with all the politicians who suddenly know way more about educating our kids that the educators – and who pull money from the schools so that they are bound to fail our kids no matter what. It is time for parents to take a stand – and grandparents and anyone else who gives a damn – on the sorry state of school funding.

    • John says:

      He isn’t going to be recalled. In this state, you have to be able to point to wrongful conduct, not just bad policy decisions to get someone recalled. But he is up for re-election in 2012. Maybe the progressives won’t put up mulitple candidates to split the vote this time.

  3. Jeff says:

    The school district is proposing additional names of people to invite. People who have had success reforming school districts in this country. Like Linda, I’m looking forward to talking about how universal, single payer health care, and child care would improve k-12 education. Mayor Sullivan said all ideas are on the table. But I am also looking forward to hearing what Boston or Atlanta or Norfolk or some of the other large school districts have done to obtain the strong successes they have seen.

    Call me naive (I prefer “optimist”) but I think we can use this summit to the district’s (and our students’) advantage.

  4. Waay Out West says:

    Don’t get me started on Clayton Christensen.

    He knows how to fix everything from business; eBay’s John Donahoe is a major fan and is busily disrupting eBay out of existence; to the health system by commoditization of health care services (The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care) and education – computers must be disruptively deployed to every student.

    Dr Christensen recently completed chemo and then had a stroke in July 2010. How enticing will a visit to Alaska in November be?

  5. Jeff says:

    This summit is going to happen whether we want it or not. As an ASD board member, I’m hoping to influence the agenda in a way that we can get some positive results. We need lots of people who support public education to volunteer their time to participate in the public dialogs. If they can’t be on the actual committees, they can monitor them to keep them honest. ASD is not perfect (far from it). We can learn from other people. But we have to always put those lessons in the local context.

    It is also important to acknowledge the the school board has been working on school reform for several years. Social Emotional Learning is having an impact on school climate, that makes it easier for students to learn. Our new progress monitoring assessment will provide an easy and quick way for teachers to find out where students need extra help. Zangle, our student information system, has had some growing pains, but it does make it easier for parents to be involved by tracking their children’s grades. Starting with the PDK audit 9 years ago, we have been more focused on professional development that benefits students. The district has also been paying lots more attention to the achievement gap — the difference between average test scores of Caucasians vs. the average score of minorities, ELL, migrant, and low income students. And of course, we have some of the best teachers, principals, teaching assistants, and other employees in the country! They work hard despite attacks on public education and their professionalism; despite ever increasing demands on their work day; and despite the climate of standardized testing that dumbs down education.

    Also important is a recognition that students are expected to learn more than ever before. When I compare the state mandated grade level expectations against what I was expected to learn in that same grade many years ago, there is no doubt in my mind that students have to learn more. Which means teachers have to teach more.

    • Zyxomma says:

      Thanks for posting. Good to hear from someone who knows whereof he speaks.

    • Homesteader says:

      Thanks Jeff. I’ll be following this issue and will volunteer time to participate in support of public education.

    • Thank you for posting, Jeff. In researching this post, I am a firm believer that the Anchorage School Board is on the right track by searching for reform options within the framework that already exists for public education in Alaska. Our laws regarding charter schools and homeschooling provide many opportunities for multiple strategies without gutting the foundation. We will end up on the wrong track if we start to buy the “education as a business” propaganda. There are certain things that government is designed to do better than private industry…and that is to provide a Constitutionally mandated equal-access education to every child.

  6. ks sunflower says:

    Just in case any of the proposed candidates who will effect policy decisions are dominionists, be sure to read this article and listen to the video clip. Dominionists believe public education is an instrument of Satan and out to abolish it. Does it get much crazier than this? Maybe, but it doesn’t get much scarier.

    The video clip is only 29 seconds but packs a wallop with its contention that the primary purpose of public schools, according their assert of the intent of our founding fathers, is to enable students to read the Bible! Talk about warping American history – Sarah Palin couldn’t go it any better.

    The article goes on to discuss public schools are “institutions of Satan.”

    It all seems to be part of the 7 Mountain Strategy to take America back to a mythological Christian nation, ready to take part in the Second Coming of Christ.

    Seriously, cuckoo birds must be in nesting season, ready to hatch little cuckoos as candidates everywhere – particularly in Alaska.

    WC is a terrific avian photographer. Perhaps he can zero his sights in on these political cuckoos. I doubt they are native to Alaska and have migrated there because of the lack of public resistance to their message. Mind you, we are infested with them here in Kansas. BTW, no offense to feathered cuckoos.

    • No Telling says:

      “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”

      “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”

      Cuckoo is as cuckoo does.

      Unfortunately, these people think that they have a $DEITY_OF_THEIR_CHOICE given ‘right'{winger} to ‘Lord’ it over everyone else with absolutely no understanding of or caring for the society we all live in. They also don’t believe they are required to suffer the consequences of their selfish actions.

      To my way of investigative thinking, that makes them ‘Amerikhan Doh-Dohs!’. WC should probably submit their rediscovery and have them taken off the extinct species list.

      {I apologize for yielding to my weakness for puns. That ‘un there was a ripple tripple and a half.}

  7. ks sunflower`` says:

    I am reposting part of my comment from the earlier Anti-Education Agenda essay simply to join with the sentiments expressed in this essay.

    Mayor Sullivan is trying to usurp public input and knowledge of school budgets in a manner similar to what the GOP legislature is doing here in Kansas.

    If you read my earlier comment, just skip this. But, you need to be aware that there is a national drive from the GOP/TP at the local, state, and national levels to dismantle, de-fund and otherwise undermine our pubic school system. Demand that you get information about your candidates’ views on public school education and funding at all levels. Otherwise, we all stand to lose our children’s future.

    Here is proof of the attempt to shut-out the public here in Kansas from knowing where candidates stand on these vital issues. Don’t let it happen in Alaska. You have a better chance of preventing it in Anchorage than we do here in Kansas at a state level.

    My part of my earlier comment with bracketed additions:

    Well, here’s a couple of tidbits about what the state GOP legislature almost got through here in Kansas. These two bills passed the House, but were stopped in the Senate.

    Both bills were intended to keep the public from knowing where candidates stood as regards public school issues.

    1. The first bill wanted to prevent teachers from joining committees to interview and recommend pro-public-school candidates. [After all, what do teachers know about public education?]

    2. The second bill wanted to limit how much the public could find out about conversations about candidate’s record on school funding. [Seriously – limit how much we can hear about mere conversations? Yes, seriously – that was what they wanted.]

    In effect, these bills would have silenced any public discussion on public school education.

    There was also a move to end KPERS, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. For years, the legislature has failed to fully fund the pension fund. The move to dismantle KPERS was mostly the work of politicians elected in 2010 – GOTPers.

  8. The whole business is bizarre. The Municipality gets to vote the budget up or down. It has no role under current Alaska Statutes in setting education policy. It has no role in allocating funds among the competing interests in education. If the Mayor wants to have a role in setting ASD policy, shouldn’t he have run for the Anchorage School Board?

    • ks sunflower says:

      Do the citizens in Anchorage have any option or mechanism to protest this? Can they ask the state to look into whether Sullivan is overreaching his authority?

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