Friday, April 20, 2012

Florida Privatizer Stumps for Bennett

Patricia Levesque is a proponent of online learning schools and is a Florida associate of Jeb Bush. She is definitely not a friend of public education and is a supporter of Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett.

The Nation has an article titled Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools, as well as an interactive national map, The Privatization of Education, showing how charters and online schools are making inroads against regular public schools.

Levesque has been a strong player in the privatization movement in Florida. The Nation wrote,
Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”
Levesque runs a lobbying firm in Tallahassee which lobbies on behalf of ed-tech companies. The advice above, however, was given to
a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation.
A "national transformation" which encourages privatization.

Levesque sent the following mass e-mail, trying to raise out of state support for Bennett. We need to respond. Following the letter from Levesque is a list of talking points which explains why our legislators should not support Tony Bennett. Below the talking points are the names and emails of the members of the Select Commission on Education.

Letter From Levesque

We need your help. I know you all are very busy, but if you could spare 15 minutes to write a few emails, we would be extremely grateful.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s incredible reform-minded leader in education is getting a lot of “friendly fire” pushback on Indiana’s education reforms.

The Legislature has formed a Select Commission on Education which will have its first meeting on Tuesday and will meet for several weeks. While the public message is that this Select Commission is to get an update on the state of the reform policies and the implementation process, behind the scenes we have learned that the legislature will likely rake Tony over the coals. A lot of this is the normal tension between the legislative vs. executive branch. However, some of this hostility is due to legislative allies of charter schools who are concerned with the strong accountability Tony is putting in place to ensure all public schools, including charter schools are effectively educating their students.

Legislative leaders do not realize that thanks largely to Tony’s leadership and vision, Indiana is a national leader for reform. States across the nation are watching what Indiana is doing and trying to replicate or, to use Louisiana as an example, supersede them. If they force Tony to turn back the clock on the reforms – including school accountability, reading, school choice and teacher reforms – there will be national consequences.

Would you take a moment to email the commission members (attached is a list of the email addresses for the commission members)? The message should be focused on policy, not the person of Tony Bennett. But it would be good for these members to hear from folks outside of Indiana that what Indiana is doing is important. They must stay the course. Indiana’s students need them to; other states who want to follow Indiana’s lead need them to.

Even if you can’t support Tony/Indiana’s reforms as an organization, if you would write a personal email stating that as a citizen watching education reform across the country that you hope they stay strong, that would be greatly appreciated.

Please join us in supporting Tony and Indiana’s education reforms.

Let us know if you have any questions. Please feel free to email the members directly, but if we can be helpful in getting the letters to them, we are happy to do so. If you would like to copy us when you send your emails that would be great. We want to let Tony’s team know the volume of support that these legislative members will be receiving.



Ps. Here is a link to the official committee page and meeting notice

Also, here is a really short summary of the work Tony has done with the Legislature as a partner in the past 3 years. Feel free to pick out issues to include in your emails.
  • Modernizing the teaching profession – including alternative routes to certification for teachers, tying student data to teacher evaluations, eliminating LIFO and ending tenure as they know it
  • Complete overhaul of the state funding formula
  • Statewide scholarships for low-income students to go to the private school of their choice
  • Charter school expansion and accountability
  • A-F school grade accountability
  • Reading for learning – a focus on early literacy and end to social promotion in the third grade
Talking Points

Here are some talking points you may use in your email to legislators regarding the Indiana Department of Education's policies. Feel free to leave comments adding additional ideas.
  • There is no evidence to show that data driven teacher evaluations have any bearing on teacher quality. If one teacher has all AP classes with highly motivated students and another teacher has special needs students who are struggling to keep their heads above water, how exactly is that an adequate method to evaluate a teacher?
  • "Tenure" is another issue which Dr. Bennett thinks is important. Tenure in Indiana is simply due process. Removing a teacher's job security just eliminates the teacher's ability to voice an objection to policies that he/she may think are unsound educationally. Teachers in Indiana can be removed from their positions if they are not doing their job. Administrators must, however, give teachers due process.
  • Dr. Bennett's statewide "scholarships" are just another word for vouchers, which is an additional drain on already financially troubled public schools. The Superintendent of Public Instruction should be an advocate for public schools; however, it seems as though Dr. Bennett's goal is to undermine regular public schools in favor of charter and private schools.
  • The IDOE states that they are expanding charter schools and making them more accountable. Only the first part of that sentence has been accomplished. Charter schools are expanding at an exponential rate, but since they don't have to accept all students and can pick and choose who may attend, they are hardly accountable. The playing field is definitely uneven.
  • I-Read 3 is an example of the IDOE's lack of consideration given to the educational value of programs and the unintended consequences of poor planning. There seems to be no clarity about whether students who do not pass are to be retained in 3rd grade, a practice not supported by research, or whether they will be socially promoted and moved on to 4th grade while doing 3rd grade lessons.
  • During your interim session, I hope that you will address some of these issues, and I hope that you will hold Dr. Tony Bennett and the IDOE accountable for the consequences of the policies they have instituted without thoughtful deliberation or the input of public school teachers, parents and concerned citizens.
Select Commission on Education- Indiana

200 West Washington Street, Suite 301Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2789
Tel: (317) 233-0696 Fax: (317) 232-2554

Rep. Robert Behning, Co-Chairperson

Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, Rep. Timothy Brown

Rep. Edward Clere

Rep. David Frizzell

Rep. Kathleen Heuer

Rep. Cindy Noe

Rep. Jeffrey Thompson

Rep. Greg Porter

Rep. David Cheatham

Rep. Clyde Kersey

Rep. Vernon Smith

Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh

Sen. Dennis Kruse, Co-Chairperson

Sen. Carlin Yoder

Sen. James Banks

Sen. James Buck

Sen. Luke Kenley

Sen. Jean Leising

Sen. Scott Schneider

Sen. Earline Rogers

Sen. Frank Mrvan

Sen. Timothy Skinner


Becky said...

It's ironic that a proponent of education should misuse the word "supersede" here. She says Louisiana is trying to supersede Indiana in its educational reforms. I doubt that she means "replace in power . . . set aside as void." She probably means "exceed." But that's okay. We teachers in the state of Indiana have grown quite accustomed to a great deal of ignorance on the part of people pretending to be very knowledgeable about education.

Unknown said...

Perhaps, if the single biggest issue to reform were addressed,we could see improvement. there is no retention policy in any schools public or private below 8th grade. you will be passed to the next grade whether you are in school every day or on,y half the time. You will move up a grade if you can't read, write. spell, do addition and subtraction, or be able to maintain your attention or be socially appropriate. At the high school level, more or less the same and then you have many issues that keep you from being able to catch up so you either graduate with many D's or you drop out. change the community's expectations of what is acceptable and give the public schools support to educate students who attend school and are expected to do the work to learn. Skills to learn are taught but can't be taught if you are not in school or won't apply yourself. There are mistakes in this writing but the program will not let me go back to edit. Sorry, hate to send it out this poorly.

Stu said...

First, estimates are that about a third of all students currently in public schools have been retained in grade at least once. It's not impossible to fact, it's fairly common. In Texas for example, the 9th grade retention rate is about first grade it's about 5% ( Across all grade levels in Texas it's about 3%, as it is in Indiana and nationally (

Second, retention as an intervention to improve learning, doesn't have a very good research basis. Most research on the topic shows that students who are retained to not do better in future years beyond the retention year. In addition, studies show that the most common result of grade retention is an increase in the likelihood that a student will drop out of school altogether.

A better way to deal with poor student achievement in school than either retention or social promotion, is early intervention. Early intervention programs help...they cost money, but it's money well spent and society saves money in the long run.

Karen said...

And regardless of any of the above information, it is now law in Indiana that any childin does not pass the IREAD test in third grade must be retained. So your number 1 problem is being addressed. No knowledgeable educator with whom i've come in contact actually thinks that will have any effect except to increase the drop out rate. The real problem is poverty, plain and simple.