Ohio charter schools seek to strip public education of constitutional protection

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By Nancy Hanover
28 August 2014

In a statewide effort with national implications, for-profit charter schools and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are attempting to amend the Ohio State Constitution. Those positioned to cash in financially are seeking to eliminate the requirement for a “thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.”

The constitutional provision, adopted in 1851, provided the strongest possible mandate for the development of uniform public schools throughout the state. Eleven other US states have similar constitutional requirements to make “thorough and efficient” provisions for public schools, with eight others requiring a “general and uniform” system of schools.

Leading the effort to legally renounce Ohio’s current commitment to public education is Chad Readler, chairman of both the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools and the education committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission (OCMC), created by the state’s legislature in 2012. The Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools, created in 2006, is composed of 200 charter schools and was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

In response, public school advocates have emphasized that since US federal law does not enshrine education as a fundamental right, weakening or eliminating state constitutional strictures is a core attack. One of the chief effects of the constitutional change would be to block the use of the courts to enforce public rights or to provide oversight of educational standards, of particular importance in the state of Ohio.

The OCMC’s proposed changes to Article VI, Section 2 remove the passage stating “The General Assembly shall make such provision, by taxation, or otherwise … [as] will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state” and substitutes “The General Assembly shall provide for the organization, administration and control of the public school system of the state supported by public funds …”

This Orwellian “modernization” serves the profit interests of charter operators in two ways: by eliminating the requirement of a system of public schools throughout the state and by discarding the thorough and efficient” standard.

Bill Phillis, longtime executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, said the change would virtually eliminate public accountability for school funding. “The ‘thorough and efficient’ standard has held the legislature’s feet to the fire for 160 years. Without a standard, public education could be diminished markedly and citizens would have no viable recourse via the courts,” he said.

In fact, historically the courts have relied upon the Ohio Constitution’s “thorough and efficient” language to require significant funding increases and other improvements for Ohio’s poorest school districts. A series of decisions, known as DeRolph, began in 1991 and were battled out in the courts for 12 years.

The stage was set when, in 1994, Perry County Court Judge Linton Lewis, Jr. ruled that “public education is a fundamental right in the state of Ohio” and that the state legislature had to provide a better and more equitable means of financing education.

Attorney Nick Pittner, who argued the DeRolph case for 500 poorer districts, pointed to children in the Appalachian-area of Vinton County, where the school had no cafeteria and they therefore had to cross a busy highway to eat at a diner, and to another school, where scaffolding was erected to prevent children from being hit by bricks falling from the walls.

In the 1997 DeRolph I ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court returned to the constitutional issues, stating “ …The delegates to the 1850-1851 Constitutional Convention … were concerned that the education to be provided to our youth not be mediocre but be as perfect as could humanly be devised. These debates reveal the delegates’ strong belief that it is the state’s obligation, through the General Assembly, to provide for the full education of all children within the state.” He summed up, stating, “The facts documented in the record lead to one inescapable conclusion — Ohio’s elementary and secondary public schools are neither thorough nor efficient.”

In fact, DeRolph did lead to billions of additional state funding dollars for education in the form of building construction and renovation for over 1,000 school buildings for kindergarten through 12th grade. These new buildings “wouldn’t be there without ‘thorough and efficient,’” Phillis pointed out.

Three subsequent high court rulings in 2000, 2001 and 2002 affirmed the unconstitutionality of Ohio’s school-funding system due to inequality across districts. Eventually the court backed down, stating that Ohio had made a “good faith effort,” thus reversing the earlier rulings.

Nevertheless, the court rulings and above all the constitutional mandate remain a thorn in the side to those forces attempting to institute market-driven education throughout the state. The deliberate and systematic defunding of public education and the parallel rise of charter chain schools have dramatically intensified education inequality in the state.

Presently, 45% of the state’s school children receive free or reduced school lunches (often used as a poverty benchmark), and in seven counties (Champaign, Coshocton, Crawford, Defiance, Greene, Miami and Medina) the child poverty rate has increased 90% or more in the last decade.

Heavily hit by deindustrialization and the 2008 crash, state funding for education in Ohio has been systematically cut. The state model forces school districts to make up the difference through their own tax levies. While business taxes have been cut, the burden of school funding has been shifted to homeowners, rising from 46% of the total in 1991 to a whopping 70% today.

Who are the heavyweight drivers and potential beneficiaries of the constitutional rewrite? They are the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Ohio’s wildly profitable charter school chains. A notorious corporate “reform” group (also spearheading the national assault on public workers’ pensions), ALEC seeks to “replace” public schools with “private market-driven education thrift stores.” Education historian Diane Ravitch observed, in an apt phrase, ALEC “owns the Ohio legislature,” providing statistics on the number of Ohio legislators who are members of ALEC, on ALEC “scholarships,” or attending ALEC conferences.

Among the charter operators, the key players in Ohio are William Lager and David Brennan, as well as the publicly-traded national online charter K12. The biggest charter in the state is Lager’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a cyber or online-only charter that enrolls 14,486 students statewide, netting about $64 million annually. ECOT schools are rated academically near the very bottom of 613 districts in the state. Lager has contributed $1 million to state politicians since 2001, according to Ravitch.

David Brennan’s White Hat Management operates 30 schools in Ohio and is the largest chain school, collecting about $100 million annually from state coffers for his for-profit charter empire.

Brennan and his family have donated millions of dollars to state politicians including Governor John Kasich. White Hat lobbyists have played significant roles in directly writing charter legislation. Brennan’s cyber charter, Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy, graduates a scandalous 35.9% of its students. His Alternative Education Academy had a 22.8% graduation rate.

The Ohio charter industry has also been characterized by outright criminality. In June, 11 FBI agents raided Horizon Science Academy charter school in Cincinnati as part of a federal investigation into sexual misconduct and test tampering at the 19 schools managed by Concept Schools. The Dayton location of the chain has also been accused of discriminating against black students, falsifying attendance records and hiding sexual misconduct. 6,700 Ohio students attend the various Concept Schools academies.

Not surprisingly, given the role of ALEC and charter school operators in crafting state legislation, Ohio’s lax regulations hold the state’s 391 charter schools to lower performance standards than traditional public schools. Despite these diminished expectations, the state has closed 157 charters for lack of academic achievement since 2000.

The threat to eliminate state constitutional protection of public schools signals the fact that profit interests are already dismantling large swathes of public education in this country, if not its entire edifice, in the interests of monetizing education. Public education—like the right to municipal water, utilities or health care—is no longer considered by the ruling elite to be necessary for the masses of people, particularly if it can instead be packaged and sold at a profit.

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Juniper: Streaming Will Drive Digital Music Sales Through 2019…But Sloooooowly 

Ad increase      Juniper Research has released a new report that indicates the digital music industry will experience slow revenue growth over the next five years, expanding from $12.3 billion in 2014 to $13.9 billion in 2019. As reported by Fierce Mobile IT, the research suggests a strong performance in the robust streaming music sector largely will be offset by a decrease in revenues from legacy services, including ringtones, ring-back tones, and music sales.

According to the new report titled “Digital Music: Streaming, Download, and Legacy Services 2014-2019,” the market will be characterized by consumer migration to cloud-based services. Such pure play music providers as Spotify and Pandora increasingly will find themselves competing with personalized services from the leading over-the-top (OTT) players, including Apple and Google. Additionally, piracy will remain a significant factor responsible for “major revenue leakage,” particularly in emerging markets (think China), where only a small percentage of content is legally acquired.

The report strongly suggests music consumption is set to become a highly sociable activity, with features such as music discovery and social media integration that connects music fans. However, finding ways to expand the pool of music subscribers while increasing the ease of discovery remains a key challenge for streaming companies. In a statement, Juniper said smartphones and tablets will be the primary platforms of growth, although digital music revenues on the PC/laptop will remain robust over the forecast period. Additionally, emerging markets are expected to strengthen in terms of digital music consumption, as disposable income levels continue to rise and streaming services expand into these regions.

McDonald’s To Customers: Do You Want Some Digital Music With That?

 

     Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun…with a side of digital music. McDonald’s apparently has launched an “online music experience” designed to expand its digital presence, modernize the brand, and drive customers through a new online food-ordering app. Specifically, the fast-food chain has hired Ticketmaster’s Julia Vander Ploeg to create a “variety of digital music and entertainment experiences that McDonald’s will provide to customers, to reward the most enthusiastic customers and drive frequency.”

According to several sources, Vander Ploeg joins the company as a chief member of its Global Digital Team, which is focused on customer engagement, eCommerce, service delivery, and digital content. While no specifics are available, the McDonald’s website has posted a listing for a product director for music and entertainment, whose role would include crafting the strategy and product roadmap “for a variety of digital music and entertainment experiences that McDonald’s will provide to customers.” This person also will “establish multi-channel music and emerging entertainment programs to reward our most enthusiastic customers and drive frequency.”

“As digital consumer engagement models and retail business opportunities evolve, McDonald’s will continue to create an eCommerce platform that will enable us to reach even more customers and support McDonald’s global digital business and technology growth,” the company’s website says. “Our eCommerce platform will revolutionize how McDonald’s interfaces with our customers by removing physical boundaries to allow our customers to connect to,, and order McDonald’s any time or place, globally.”

 

Vinyl Album Sales Grow To Still-MinusculeNumber Because Of “Enhanced Quality”

 

     Every few months some analyst looking at the recorded music industry notices that vinyl album sales keep ticking upwards, which triggers yet another look at analog music sales within the greater digital universe. The most recent of these reviews is offered by TheStreet.com’s Jason Notte, who this week noted that “vinyl record sales have jumped a whopping 40.4% since the first six months of last year.” Noting that vinyl accounts for only a small percentage of total album sales (which in the first quarter of this year were down nearly 15% from the same period last year), he explained that sales of the old LP format rose from 2.9 million records in the first six months of 2013 to 4 million in the first half of this year.

“That’s a fairly small number when you consider that, even without Nielsen Soundscan’s ‘Track Equivalent Album’ and ‘Streaming Equivalent’ album measures that turn individual tracks into album sales, there were 121 million albums sold in the U.S. in the first half of 2014,” Notte writes. “Even the ‘dead’ CD still managed 63 million sales during that time.”

Still, it’s interesting to note – and Notte does – that vinyl sales are up 250% over the past 20 years while overall music sales slid 50%. As music fans have continued to embrace streaming music, “vinyl has become streaming’s aesthetic counterweight,” he says. “It’s a $20 to $30 luxury purchase made not only for its enhanced quality, but for its historic value. It’s a purchase reserved for standout releases and made by only the most dedicated listeners willing to invest in the music and the equipment to play it.”

 

The Guardian: Hi-Res Digital Music Is Better, But Can Lead To Disappointment

 

Music Business      “Why are we still listening to over-compressed music through low-quality headphones when advances in bandwidth, storage capacity, and speakers means we could be listening to high-quality uncompressed audio all the time?” This is the very valid question The Guardian recently asked its U.K. readers, noting that in an era of 24-bit audio, virtually all music sold and streamed today is available only in a much lower quality 16-bit CD or even the more highly compressed MP3 format. All conventional industry wisdom, theories, and testing aside, the question remains: can listeners actually tell the difference between high- and low-resolution?

This is the question three audiophiles at The Guardian asked themselves. After listening to a number of tracks played in 128kbps and 320kbps MP3; CD; and 24-bit studio master, the answer was…yes, although not necessarily in a transformative way. “The difference between MP3 and CD was most striking, [but] I struggled to differentiate much from CD to studio master,” said Tim Jonze, The Guardian‘s music editor. “Ultimately the difference is there but it’s subtle and it depends on how you listen to music.” Jason Phipps, The Guardian‘s head of audio, noted “there’s a distinct quality difference between the kind of compressed, middling MP3 commonly downloaded from the major platforms and the 24-bit high-res studio master.”

And Guardian correspondent Samuel Gibbs added, “Overall the studio masters sounded fuller…but that difference wasn’t always a good thing. It was disappointing to hear a recording of Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ sound worse in studio master, as it exposed the fact that the orchestra and the tenor’s tracks were recorded separately in different environments. Still, what was very apparent is just how bad a poor-quality MP3 sounded, how good a 320kbps MP3 and CD sounded, and how cutting out the middle man in the audio production chain with a studio master could have unexpected results.”

 

Gracenote Hires New CEO To Expand RoleOf Metadata In The “Digital Ecosystem”

 

     Most online music fans have never heard of Gracenote, but the provider of audio and video metadata and recognition services – owned by Tribune Media Co. – has hired former M-Go chief John Batter, to serve as its new CEO. This is a somewhat big deal because Batter’s new role is to expand the company’s services “internationally and aggressively” and “expand the role metadata plays in the digital ecosystem and experience.”

Consumers encounter Gracenote services via such services as Google Play, Xbox Music, and MTV, usually without even knowing it. As explained by Billboard, the company’s MusicID service uses metadata to let listeners identify songs whether downloaded or ripped from CDs, and its “scan and match” technology helps cloud services (e.g. Amazon Cloud Player) sync offline and online music collections. Such technologies facilitate discovery and ease of use, two vital aspects of today’s digital music services.

“Tribune Media has decided to focus its digital investment strategy on growing its metadata business globally, which today includes Gracenote and What’s-On,” said Tribune CEO Peter Liguori in a statement. “It is becoming very clear that metadata will help drive the evolution of next-generation TV and music experiences and we believe Gracenote is in an excellent position to drive the industry forward.”

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

 

The official cover-up of social and political issues in the police murder of Michael Brown

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27 August 2014

Thousands of workers and youth participated in funeral services for Michael Brown on Monday, an expression of widespread outrage over the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old. However, the funeral service itself, attended by three representatives of the Obama administration and presided over by Democratic Party operative Al Sharpton, was a thoroughly establishment, right-wing affair.

The aim of the ceremony, paid for and run by Sharpton’s organization, was to obscure the class issues raised by the killing of Brown, legitimize the de facto imposition of martial law in Ferguson, Missouri, and channel social opposition back behind the political establishment.

The ruling class responded to the spontaneous eruption of protests over the killing of Brown with a two-pronged strategy. First, the repressive apparatus of the state was mobilized, including militarized SWAT teams toting automatic weapons, driving armored vehicles, and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at peaceful protesters. More than 200 people were arrested in the police crackdown.

Ferguson became a test case for imposing police-state conditions on an American city in response to social unrest. Journalists were threatened, arrested and assaulted. The National Guard was called in. A curfew was imposed and the constitutional right to assemble was effectively suspended under the “state of emergency” declared by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Sheer repression did not suffice to silence the protests, however. Hence the second prong of the ruling class strategy. Figures such as Sharpton along with local preachers and Democratic Party politicians were mobilized to promote racial politics and direct the protests along safe channels. The Obama administration sent Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, to Ferguson, and Governor Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, also an African American, to head up the police response.

This dual strategy found expression in the funeral eulogy delivered by Sharpton—both in what he said, and what he did not say. The one-time FBI informant spoke not as a partisan of the workers and youth of Ferguson, but rather as an emissary of the capitalist state, i.e., of the very forces that killed Brown and sought to crush the subsequent protests.

Most significant in Sharpton’s remarks was the absence of any reference to the social and economic issues underlying the killing of Brown (and hundreds of other police killings across the country) and the mass repression that followed. There was no mention of the unemployment and poverty that characterize Ferguson and cities throughout the country, nor was there any reference to the immense social inequality that drives the ruling class to employ increasingly violent means to suppress social anger and unrest.

Instead, Sharpton devoted much of his remarks to vile slurs against African-American youth in general and the protesters in Ferguson in particular. He complained that too many people are “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.” Celebrating the fact that a section of African Americans like himself have “got some positions of power,” he denounced those who “decide it ain’t black no more to be successful.” He continued, “Now you wanna be a n****r and call your woman a ho.”

These foul remarks, dripping with contempt, were combined with an open defense of the state. “We are not anti-police, we respect police,” proclaimed Sharpton. The murder of youth like Brown is the product only of a few “bad apples,” he declared, which can be corrected with measures like hiring more African-American police officers.

While avoiding any criticism of the massive military-police response to the protests over Brown’s killing, Sharpton repeated all the tropes used by the state to justify its repression. He bemoaned the fact that Brown’s parents “had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting,” adding, “Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances.”

The use of the word “disturbances,” part of the lexicon of the police and military, is significant, carrying with it the implication that the protests were illegitimate. The police repression, Sharpton implied, was a necessary response to violence by the protesters.

He made no mention of the connection between domestic repression and the waging of aggressive wars abroad, ignoring the fact, noted by many Ferguson workers and youth who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site, that even as the National Guard was being deployed to Ferguson, Obama was once again ramping up the US military’s involvement in Iraq.

Sharpton’s support for the police crackdown reflects what he is: an agent of the state and representative of a section of the corporate establishment and upper-middle class that has amassed great wealth even as the great majority of the population, including African-American workers and youth, has seen its living standards plummet. This privileged and corrupt social layer has long promoted identity politics to conceal the basic class divide in society and sow divisions within the working class.

In particular, Sharpton spoke as a representative of the Obama administration. He has developed the closest ties with administration officials, coordinating his actions and remarks with the White House. This is an administration that has intensified the assault on the working class and overseen an enormous growth of social inequality, while increasing the militarization of the police.

The financial aristocracy reacts to any expression of social opposition with repression. In the 1960s, the ruling class responded to urban uprisings with violence, but that was followed by pledges to address inequality and poverty and the implementation of limited social reforms. Today, the ruling class has nothing to offer but more repression.

The events in Ferguson are an expression of the explosive character of social relations in the United States. The financial aristocracy is petrified over the revolutionary implications of the open emergence of class conflict. Hence the resort to violence on the one hand and reliance, on the other, on Sharpton and other so-called “civil rights” leaders to complement state terror with diversions and lies.

Andre Damon