Disputing Education Reform: Cracks in the CORE Waiver?


Reform of education spurs debate. Just ask the California Office of Education Reform, a nonprofit group, and the Sacramento City Teachers Association, a labor union. First, the federal Dept. of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan, a Democrat, approved CORE’s waiver to sanctions of the No Child Left Behind Act, to eight participating California school districts (Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento City, San Francisco, Santa Ana, and Sanger), in 2013. Since Jan. 1, 2002, the NCLB has linked federal spending on public education to students’ scores on standardized tests, using an Adequate Yearly Progress metric.

Under the NCLB, schools received rankings based on students’ test scores, with harsh penalties for schools, school districts, teachers and states. All students were to demonstrate their grade-level proficiency in math and reading this year, an outcome that was not going to occur. A premise of the CORE waiver was to avoid the NCLB penalties. However, on March 7, 2014, the federal DOE granted the state of Calif. a waiver from severe NCLB sanctions.

However, the implementation of the CORE waiver is underway for the Sacramento City Unified School District, with 47,939 students, part of the 1 million California kids participating, or 17% of 6.2 million students enrolled. Eight US states have smaller populations than the number of California students the CORE waiver covers. In the meantime, the CORE waiver features a School Quality Improvement System. According to the CORE website, the SQIS is “a reorientation of districts’ work towards a collective effort to prepare all students for college and career, with districts assuming unprecedented accountability to eliminate disparity and disproportionality in all subjects and across the academic, social/emotional, and culture/climate domains.”

Implementing requirements of the CORE waiver requires use of SCUSD general funds, shifting them away from spending on student services. This policy is a future budget-buster for the SCUSD, according to Lori Jablonski, a government teacher at McClatchy High School in Sacramento.

How publicly did the CORE waiver process proceed? CORE’s 432-page application for the NCLB waiver was “very public,” and “shared widely” with “teachers and communities,” said Hilary McLean, CORE spokesperson.

In a March 19 public forum at the Sierra 2 Center, two Sacramento labor union members criticized CORE’s waiver process as secretive.

Jablonski spoke first. The CORE is a consortium of school superintendents, with a waiver process that excluded the public, including the SCTA, she said.

Ian Arnold is a field supervisor for the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, that represents most all non-teacher employees of the SCUSD. The process of the CORE waiver did not include his union as it should have, he said.

Rich Mullins is an SCTA staff member. This Feb. 4, he wrote a memo to the SCUSD Office of Human Resources for evidence of “each and every meeting” the district had about the CORE waiver application with the SCTA in spring 2013.

Prior to Mullins’ memo, the SCTA had been attempting to learn more from members of the SCUSD Board such as Jeff Cuneo, its president, about the CORE waiver. For instance, Scott Smith, then SCTA president, wrote Cuneo: “What financial commitment, now or future, does our district have to CORE?” on April 10, 2013.

On Feb. 24, a SCUSD staffer replied to Mullins’ memo. It reads: “Upon review of the request for information and based on the initial District review, no evidence can be found that verifies that this meeting occurred.”

The SCUSD memo ends here. “Regarding the reported meeting between SCTA’s Executive Team and then Superintendent Jonathan Raymond on May 28, 2013, no evidence can be found that verifies that this meeting occurred.”

What does is the meaning of this non-meeting between the SCTA and Raymond for the CORE waiver? Consider this:

Raymond signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the CORE waiver last August, blogged Kate Lenox of the Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education. The group had to file a public records request to the SCUSD to obtain this MOU, according to her.

Raymond, now a private education consultant in Mass., graduated from the Broad Education Foundation. This project of Eli Broad, a multi-billionaire philanthropist, has also published a playbook for closing public schools.

Did Raymond use this playbook? Under his helm, the SCUSD closed seven elementary schools located in low-income, minority neighborhoods last year.

Gabe Ross is the SCUSD spokesperson. The elected SCUSD Board did not vote to approve the CORE waiver from the NCLB last year, nor did the seven other school districts involved, he said in an email.

Rick Miller is CORE’s executive director, and a Principal in Capitol Impact, LLC (limited liability company). He, in this private consulting firm, joins two public officials, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Sacramento City Councilmember Jay Schenirer.

Cabaldon and Schenirer were and are not involved in the CORE project, McLean said. Asked why, a company division of labor left Miller alone to work on the CORE waiver, according to her.

A March 30, 2014, article in the Sacramento Bee about the CORE waiver did not mention Cabaldon, Miller and Schenirer as Partners in Capital Impact, or its ties to CORE’s executive director.

According to the SCTA, Schenirer is no stranger to education reform. He was actively involved in the process of closing Sacramento High School and reopening it under a charter operator, St. Hope, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s nonprofit, as an elected member of the SCUSD Board.

The CORE funders are: California Education Partners; The Stuart Foundation; The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; The Kabcenell Family Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; and S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The Parthenon Group, a private consulting firm, did strategy research for the CORE waiver application process, said David Hoverman, a Partner in the company’s San Francisco office.

According to Ross of the SCUSD, its Board was set to hold a public meeting to discuss the CORE waiver in April. Stay tuned.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2014


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