50 Days Worth of Blogs About ‘Tornadic’ Tom Vander Ark: Day 7



When I first read about this situation, and we in the Badass Teachers Association leadership team were discussing it, I IMMEDIATELY in my mind furiously screamed TOMMMMMMMMMMM!  It had his MO all over it.

We were discussing the ludicrous situation of yet another  awesome educator, Rafe Esquith, being in “TEACHER JAIL” in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Explaining how I immediately made such a connection in my mind, will be a bit like holding the wind in my hands to show you the wind. While you can not see the wind, nor can I hold the wind, we both can clearly see the destructive effects of the wind. “In meteorology, winds are often referred to according to their strength, and the direction from which the wind is blowing.” There is a measuring of the wind’s spatial path and speed. In the Esquith situation I see the effects of “LA Tornado Tom” . The connections are not easy to follow (think weather chasing vans looking to film tornadoes and feel free to consider me the driver taking you along on an insane tornado hunt).

As Tom likes to say there is no silver bullet or single path. Jay Alan in his article about the situation wrote:  “I wondered if the education world had finally, inalterably, gone crazy.” And I in turn wanted to scream aloud to the world ‘Noooooooooo the education world has not gone crazy…the BUSINESS WORLD is thrusting its cray cray ways down the throats of schools with Tom Vander Ark ushering it all in!’
Tom Vander Ark’s ENTIRE EDUCATION BACKGROUND  was five years (’94-’99) of being a superintendent for the Federal Way Public Schools in Washington. From there he leapt to the top to being the Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (’99-’06). And when from the top of the tallest ivory towers, he saw the lands he could acquire, he jumped right down, the way tornadoes would touch down in numerous places at once. LA being the first.

“Vander Ark made the switch from the business world to education in 1994 when he was chosen to lead Federal Way Public Schools, one of Washington state’s larger districts. He was one of the first superintendents in the country recruited from the private sector, and in his current post at Gates he’s hoping to change the way American high schools do business.” Ref link Vander Ark was the first business executive to serve as a public school superintendent for one of Washington State’s larger school districts… Ref link Thus the marriage of the private business world to the public education world.

Immediately from his lofty grand Gates adventure, he was one of five finalists to head the Los Angeles Unified School District. (2006) He opened up his shiny business attache briefcase, and poured out all of his evasive education experiments. In business, bottom lines are always dollar signs. Smooth-talking sales techniques helped him to gather into play his army of pliable powerful politicians, big bucks businessmen, and inexperienced low-wage entrants. 

“Education reformers claim their goal is to improve public education for poor students. But education activists and teachers unions see a more insidious agenda: to render education a private good rather than a public right for all. Backed by uber-wealthy philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad and the Walton family (owners of Walmart), reformers ramp up high-stakes testing, villainize teachers and unions, close public schools and open non-union charter schools.”

More than money, I believe that Tom Vander Ark takes from Sam Walton the example of how to build his “TomMarts”– Charters, Small Schools, Blended Schools, and Online Schools ALL buying from Tom’s companies, but more on that in another blog! 

“Walton understood that a major requirement for keeping costs down was controlling the payroll.  As he would write in his 1992 autobiography, Made in America, “No matter how you slice it in the retail business, payroll is one of the most important parts of overhead, and overhead is one of the most crucial things you have to fight to maintain your profit margin.” Not only did Walton prefer to hire as few people as possible, but he also dreaded paying them more than he had to. Unions were particularly feared, and Walton did everything he could to fight them, almost always successfully.”
Ref Link (Tom was in retail right before his Pretend-I-am-a-Superintendent-stunt!)

So if you are initiating and running 1000s of RETAIL EDUCATION CHAINS, whom you need to convince to buy all kinds of tech connections— hardware and software, you have to help them find the money to “invest” in one of your numerous companies’ product lines. Soooooooooo, you cut back on your higher paid teaching staff. To do this you wage wars against unions, lobby (with a ton of money behind you) for laws that either give you lateral freedom or that form barriers against local school boards and unions whom you see as your arch enemies. You push for the strictest set of stats to sift out your heaviest expenses (the specialized staff, the experienced employees, the time-tested teachers). You cut the tar out of very practical and real hands-on programs in physical education (virtual gym can be done online), music (virtual music can be learned online), art (virtual museums can be visited online, and oh boy, you can PAINT online too), and drama (why build sets and do plays, when you can virtually watch millions of such online?) This topic will be explored as an entire blog also.

“It is obvious this is a clear-cut-case of age discrimination and how LAUSD is using trumped up charges just to try to get rid of teachers or force us to resign,” she said. [speaking in the article is a 60 year old choir teacher being interviewed while in teacher jail for some trivial trumped up tale.] Though the district denies they are targeting older teachers – a survey conducted by L.A. chapter of Educators 4 Excellence found that the majority of the educators currently reassigned to district offices across Los Angeles are older teachers. UTLA President Warren Fletcher was outraged by the report and vowed to file federal and state age-discriminatory complaints against the Board. Administrative staff at UTLA had initially contacted LAUSD requesting the district provide them with proof of the age of all the teachers currently under investigation, but the district refused. This prompted Lisa Karahalios, a LAUSD teacher and a member of Unjustly Jailed Teacher Committee request the birth records through the Freedom of Information Act database, where she found that out of 493 teachers under investigation – 453 are veteran older teachers.” Ref Link

Tom has superimposed his superfluous systematic mindset over one of the largest school districts in the U.S.

So much so, that all are now resigned to be mere data in dollar sign bottom lines.

Welllllllll, not ALL exactly. There is still room at the top for some ‘important to the BUSINESS of education’ . Many non-profit organizations are plaguing the education environment in Los Angeles. Profiteers in their manic self-preservation plans earn an average salary of nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a PART-TIME job on the RETAIL EDUCATION CHAINS’ Boards. Here is one. Remember it was 2006 when Tom came full-force on the LA scene? Well, what an amazing coincidence.

So too did MLA Partners, now LA Promise (Tom’s ‘connections’ change names like you and I change socks–since 1998 Fulfillment Fund’s College Pathways, which later grew into Center for Innovative Education, then Mentor LA, and now LA’s Promise!) And Tom? Yes, yes, he sat on the Board of Directors and none of the 12 members were educators. Today the very same is true. Though absent of Tom’s name in 2015, take a gander at who is currently at the table.

O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Fox Filmed Entertainment
Ares Management
CAA (two members) (one is Rick Hess, a founder and Co-Managing Partner of Evolution Media Capital (“EMC”), a joint venture with Creative Artists Agency (“CAA”), focusing on the media, entertainment, and sports industries.)
Philanthropist? (she reads as a school volunteer?)
Mayer Brown
Twentieth Century Fox
3AM/WildCard (two members)
Wells Fargo and Co.
Salem Partners
LA’s Promise (This is the Board of the LA Promise)

So if you are wondering why crazzzzzzzzzyyyyyyyy things are happening in the Los Angeles Unified School District…just look up towards the top, you will need to bend your neck wayyyyyyy back to follow the funds. And then when you are done Hear the Wind Blow Dear, Hear the Wind Blow, Hang Your Head Over and Hear the Wind Blow. 

Today Rafe Esquiths in Retail Education are Relic Expendables, especially if they oppose reform

rafe esquith


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