Crumbling Foundations 6 

New tune—same old crummy lyrics

Could someone do me a favor? It would probably have to be someone in the broadcasting biz, maybe from the sales department of one of our local TV stations, because I need a general idea of what it costs to run an advertisement 10... maybe 12 times a day on each and every local station for three... maybe four months. I'm sorry to be so unspecific on exactly how many times I've seen the ad I'm referring to, but I know it's been a lot. It seems every station I watch is running this same ad, first thing in the morning right on through the day to my bedtime.

If the past few years have been any indication, I suspect it will be running until the Idaho Legislature wraps it up for the year. I'm sure you know the ad I'm talking about. It's the one in which a school bus drops off four bewildered looking kids in the desert and leaves them there while a somber voiceover scolds us about what a crap-ass job we're doing of educating Idaho children. The ad will run until the Legislature is done because that's the way this sales team works: Come education budget writing season, they saturate us with bad news about how miserably we're failing our youngsters, and insist it's time to try something different with the billion-and-a-half bucks Idaho puts into public education every year.

In case you weren't sure... yes, it is brought to us by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation—the allegedly philanthropic organization whose alleged purpose is to aid Idaho parents and teachers in giving our kids the allegedly best education possible. If you have any doubt that the ad is an ad and not a public service announcement, instead, don't kid yourself. Someone is trying to sell you something as surely as if it was a Pop Tart or a burial plot.

I first noticed the Albertson Foundation's overbearing presence in this matter in 2011, when they were running full-page ads in newspapers statewide in enthusiastic support of reforms being fronted by then-Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. The foundation was adamantly for changes to Idaho's education system that, as it turned out, parents and teachers were adamantly against—largely because Luna's "reforms" centered on an incremental privatization of our public schools by putting emphasis, and heaping unearned praise, on charter schools and virtual academies.

Idahoans rejected those reforms then, and have never shown any indication that they have changed their minds. That hasn't stopped the foundation from pushing the same agenda at the same time every year, with the same misleading information. The only difference from today's ad (with the bewildered students) and the argument it made five years ago is in the approach. The Albertson Foundation is going straight for the guilt-gut: How can we continue to abandon our children in the cold, cruel desert of college unpreparedness? What kind of monsters are we!?

The trouble with what we are being told now is that it's false. The claim that only one in five Idaho students attending public schools is ready to face the world after graduation is distorted in a way that only someone with a veiled purpose could distort it. I was tickled to see the Boise school board call this bunkum for what it is. In an op-ed published late last month, Marcia Greeley (vice president of the Boise School District Board of Trustees) put it thus: "Let's be clear: This campaign promotes an agenda designed to undermine public schools. It is highly inaccurate. It offers no real solutions to postsecondary readiness. It is a disservice to the work teachers, parents and students do every day."

Yet the question remains: Why would the Albertson Foundation be trying to undermine public schools? Even worse, it seems to be working. As reported in December from a survey—conducted by... guess who!... the Albertson Foundation—fewer than 50 percent of Idahoans who responded to the survey would recommend their school district to someone else.

Greeley did relate that the executive director of the foundation has publicly acknowledged its goal is to "increase charter school seats by 20,000 in the next few years." If one doesn't consider what was learned during the Luna nonsense about who had big money invested in what, as well as what we have learned about charter schools and their relative performance, that doesn't sound so insidious, does it?

But we have learned about the big money behind this, and we have learned about the "uneven" performance of charter schools. So might the Albertson Foundation be hoping we've forgotten what we've learned, as it continues its onslaught of negativity toward public schools?

OK then, since the foundation insists on repeating what it has been trying to convince us of for five years, I don't feel it's out of line to repeat what I (and many others) have been saying in response to this propaganda. Next week, in Part 7 of this seemingly endless series, I will attempt, in as succinct a way as possible, to recapitulate what defenders of public schools believe is going on.

If before then someone comes forward with an idea of how much money the Albertson Foundation is dumping into those ads, maybe I'll have time to suggest how much good such a wad of dough would have done had it gone to enhance Idaho schools, rather than gut them.

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