Alan Singer reviews some of the many charter school scandals, some of which were reported here. But he has some new ones that you should know about.

Here are some good examples:

While the New York Times seems determined to promote charter schools, other news agencies and educational groups are expressing increased reservations about their lack of performance, excessive expense and political and financial backing. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports that 2,500 charter schools have failed since 2000. The list includes “ghost” schools that collected public funds but never served any students. These include 25 charter schools in Michigan that were awarded federal grants of between three and four million dollars in 2010-2011 but never opened. CMD estimates that during the last twenty years the charter school industry has received over three billion dollars in federal tax dollars that should have gone to public schools….

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research on North Carolina charter school enrollment and performance from 1999 to 2012 found that “charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.” Enabling legislation “explicitly stated that charter schools could not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.” However, the study found the percentage of White students attending North Carolina charter schools is increasing as is the number of schools where White students predominate. In Durham County, “where the rapid growth of charters has not only increased racial segregation,” it has “also has imposed significant financial burdens on the school district.” Their research suggests that charters are systematically recruiting White and academically higher performing minority students to boost school-wide performance on standardized exams and that the trends they observed will continue and accelerate….

Detroit 90/90, a charter school management company that operates Detroit’s largest charter school network is busy fighting efforts by its teachers to join a union. The company is currently challenging a National Labor Relations Board ruling during the summer that Teach for America recruits should be in the same bargaining unit as regular teachers. Maybe they are on to something, but the charter management company claimed TFA recruits were” temporary service workers,” not professional educators, and ineligible to become part of the teachers’ union.

There seems to be a very strong push by hedge fund managers to charterize more and more public schools. Perhaps they are afraid that the public is catching on and time is running out for them. They see that their millions are harming the vast majority of kids, who are in public schools, but they don’t care. They don’t care about results. This is a game for them, a hobby, a better activity than polo. It is about money, power, and greed.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, here analyzes Eli Broad’s plan to add 260 charters for Los Angeles, so that charters enroll half the students in the LAUSD. One of our regular readers, Jack Covey, commented on the blog that the “anonymous” plan was actually authored by former LAUSD superintendent John Deasy, but I can’t confirm that.

The largely pro-reform LA School Report and the Los Angeles Times have already published powerful analyses of the Broad Foundation’s once-secret plan to turn half of the Los Angeles Public School System into charters. But the 44-page anonymously authored proposal is jammed-packed with even more dubious claims. And, it provides more insight into the corporate reformers’ mindset.

The Broad Foundation did not respond to the LA School Report’s critique of its methodology and its exaggerated claims of success. The School Report’s Craig Clough parsed the actual data and concluded:

But when all factors are considered, there is little conclusive evidence in the report outlining the expansion plans that shows big investments in charters always — or evenly routinely — achieve consistent academic improvements, raising an important question: Just what can Broad and other foundations promise for an investment of nearly half a billion dollars in an expansion effort that would dramatically change the nation’s second-largest school district?

The reporting by the LA Times Howard Blume also provides a solid overview. LA charters serve student populations that are somewhere in between the ones served by LA magnet schools and traditional public schools. And, their outcomes are somewhere in between those posted by the city’s magnets and neighborhood schools. The Broad paper gives no reason to believe that LA charters could be scaled up and still perform better than the city’s high-poverty traditional public schools.

Turning to the actual Broad proposal, which it now calls a “preliminary discussion draft,” it cites the data (contradictory as it is) from three high-performing charter school chains as evidence that 260 new charters could be established by 2023, and that they would greatly increase student performance. It makes a big deal out of the 52% of charters receiving an API score of 800 and greater, but it doesn’t attempt to identify how many of them are high-poverty.

Broad brags about the average charter API of 811 and contrasts it with the 80% low-income LAUSD’s average API of 745. But, two of the featured charter chains have an average APIs of 762 and 714, respectively. And, they run 34 of the 43 charter schools that supposedly are the model that will save Los Angeles. In other words, even with the charters in the chains showcased by Broad, only about 1/5th of them produce above-average scores. (Moreover, those schools are run by KIPP, and they don’t come close to serving the “same” students as high-poverty neighborhood schools.)

The bottom line is that the Broad claim that 260 high-quality charter schools can be created in eight years is basically based on the results from nine schools in a chain known for its high attrition rate.

Broad also ignores Blume on how “many parents apply to both magnets and charters before making a choice,” and pretends that the numbers on those lists are not inflated by those multiple applications. It then assumes that waiting lists will grow by 10,000 students a year.

Using equally flimsy logic and evidence, Broad projects that charters will have 130,000 students by 2023. This claim assumes that “Great Public Schools Now” schools will grow their student population by 7% per year even though they don’t yet exist, have no students, and are merely a “preliminary discussion draft.” The report admits that it the charter teachers will be paid less, making teacher recruitment more difficult. It acknowledges that solving the problem of recruiting principals is nonnegotiable, so it warns that that issue must be addressed immediately. In other words, it seems unlikely that Broad bothered to ask whether it was physically possible to even slap that many schools together in such a time frame.

Of course, the key issue is whether charters are capable of learning how to serve their share of students with special education disabilities and English Language Learners, as well as children who have endured extreme trauma. The Broad paper is silent on that crucial question, as it changes the subject to marketing. It produces a multicolored map of clusters of low-performing schools, while pretending that it doesn’t undermine their case. The graphic supposedly shows, “These areas are especially ripe for charter expansion.” But, it doesn’t explain why today’s charters haven’t already tried to tackle those challenges, or why they would be successful if they tried. In other words, Broad doesn’t see complicated real world problems to be solved; it sees market opportunities.

Even when it gets to the political marketing at which it excels, the Broad logic falls short. Corporate reformers forget the repudiation of their client, former LA Superintendent John Deasy. Their paper asserts, “The recent Board elections also moved in a positive direction, although there is still not a pro-charter majority.” It counts one of the races as a victory, admitting that one was a defeat, but claiming that “many are hopeful that the victor in that race, Scott Schmerelson, will take a reasonable position toward charter expansion.

Or should I say the reformers pretend to forget their educational and political defeats? Perhaps they can blow off the failure of their expensive and risky school improvement experiments, but it doesn’t seem like they can shake off rejection at the polls. Why else would Broad draft a school reform plan that ignores education evidence while focusing on conquering education markets and defeating opponents?

Concluding a proposal that ignores social science research and fails to articulate a scenario where students would benefit from mass charterization, Broad instead tallies the troops on both sides of the battle it is about to launch. It argues “the number of parents with children on charter waitlists now exceeds the number of UTLA members.”

Broad thus forgets that parents who sign up for multiple waitlists can’t vote multiple times in the same election.

But, that is not the key point. It should now be clear that successful efforts to improve schools must be done with educators, not to them. Broad’s
inclusion of that insulting graphic makes it clear that it sees teachers as the enemy. The corporate reforms are obviously focused on Broad’s personal enemies – educators, unions, and public schools controlled by the patrons, and not his minions. They continue to ignore the real enemy – the poverty that undermines learning.

And that bring us back to the LA School Report’s Clough and his question of what does Broad actually promise. It promises more assaults on teachers, unions, and patrons who disagree with them. The Broad plan promises more reward and punish, but not a policy that is likely to do more good than harm to children. It certainly does not promise improved schools for entire neighborhoods with intense concentrations of generational poverty and children who have survived extreme trauma.

Instead, Broad promises a fight to the finish between the two halves of the city’s schools. It thus promises more test, sort, winners and losers, and the pushing out of children whose test scores make it more difficult for adults to defeat their opponents. It promises an ultimate battle over who controls public education.

Perhaps most importantly, it promises retribution to educators across the nation if they try to resist Eli Broad and the Billionaires Boys’ Club.

Jonathan Pelto notes with alarm that Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy will be the next chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

The respected blog “Academe” reposted Jon ‘s excellent post entitled, The Malloy Administration’s stunning attack on unions, professors and the future of Connecticut State University.

Jon writes:

“While people across the nation may not know it, in a few months, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy will be taking the helm of the Democratic Governors Association. In that position he will claim to be speaking for the nation’s Democratic governors and be responsible for electing more Democratic governors in the 2016 election cycle.

“Having already pushed through the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education, the neoliberal, pro-Corporate Education Reform Industry governor is now engaged in an unprecedented attack on faculty at both Connecticut State University (now under the Connecticut Board of Regents) and the University of Connecticut.

“For the first time in UConn history, the Board of Trustees, which is made up of the governor’s political appointees and donors, have hired an outside, out-of-state, Chris Christie affiliated, anti-union law firm to lead the attack on the UConn AAUP. You can read more about the Malloy administration’s approach at UConn at: New Jersey lawyer known for privatization effort leads UConn bargaining effort against faculty. And UConn hires Gov. Chris Christie connected law firm to negotiate contract with faculty union.”

“And now, as yesterday’s post explains, the Malloy administration dropped a contract proposal on Connecticut State University – AAUP faculty that eliminates a requirement that the institution declare financial exigency before firing tenured and non-tenured faculty and eliminates the requirement that prior to taking that “nuclear option,’ the management first meet with the AAUP chapter to discuss and find alternative solutions to firing tenured faculty. In addition, Malloy’s contract proposal takes the unprecedented step of inserting “Agency Fee” language into the contract itself, even though the matter is well settled and does not appear in any of the other State Employee contracts that cover more than the 45,000 Connecticut unionized state employees.”

Is Dannell Malloy the Scott Walker of the Democratic Party?

Pasi Sahlberg, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but has previously been director general of the Finnish Ministry of Education in Helsinki, writes here about the importance of teacher autonomy.

He compares teachers in Finland to teachers in the U.S.

When visitors tour Finnish schools, they are struck by the autonomy of teachers.

After spending a day or sometimes two in Finnish schools, they were puzzled. Among other things they said was the following: the atmosphere in schools is informal and relaxed. Teachers have time in school to do other things than teach. And people trust each other. A common takeaway was that Finnish teachers seem to have much more professional autonomy than teachers in the United States to help students to learn and feel well.

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours teaching each week than teachers in the U.S.

We do know that teachers’ workplaces provide very different conditions for teaching in different countries.

First, teachers in the US work longer hours (45 hours/week) than their peers in Finland (32 hours/week). They also teach more weekly, 27 hours compared to 21 hours in Finland.

This means that American teachers, on average, have much less time to do anything beyond their teaching duties (whether alone or with colleagues) than teachers in most other OECD countries.

Finnish teachers are more likely to teach jointly with other teachers than their peers in the U.S.

In Finland, teachers often say that they are professionals akin to doctors, architects and lawyers. This means, they explain, that teachers are expected to perform in their workplaces like pros: use professional judgment, creativity and autonomy individually and together with other teachers to find the best ways to help their students to learn.

In the absence of common teaching standards, Finnish teachers design their own school curricula steered by flexible national framework. Most importantly, while visiting schools, I have heard Finnish teachers say that due to absence of high-stakes standardized tests, they can teach and assess their students in schools as they think is most appropriate.

The keyword between teachers and authorities in Finland is trust. Indeed, professional autonomy requires trust, and trust makes teacher autonomy alive.

The “reformers” in the U.S. have acted on the assumption that school autonomy is necessary to improve education. But, says Sahlberg, there is no evidence that school autonomy improves student performance or that it increases teacher autonomy. To the contrary, school autonomy (e.g., charters) are often association with less teacher autonomy.

The OECD has concluded that greater teacher professional autonomy is associated with better outcomes.

Sahlberg concludes:

I don’t think that the primary problem in American education is the lack of teacher quality, or that part of the solution would be to find the best and the brightest to become teachers. The quality of an education system can exceed the quality of its teachers if teaching is seen as a team sport, not as an individual race.

And this is perhaps the most powerful lesson the US can learn from better-performing education systems: teachers need greater collective professional autonomy and more support to work with one another.

How delightful to see Peter Greene quoted in Esquire in an excellent column by Charles P. Pierce.

Pierce writes:

“​Campbell Brown used to be an anchor at CNN. Campbell Brown is now married to Dan Senor, the former official prevaricator for the Avignon Presidency’s excellent Mesopotamian adventure and a mysteriously popular television commentator on events far out of his depth. Campbell Brown also has taken it upon herself to be the latest rich and (semi-) famous person to parachute in and destroy the idea of public education. (And when the history of the Obama Administration is written, its willingness to go along with charter-school grifters at the behest of Arne Duncan is going to be a very big debit on the ledger.) Campbell Brown would like the Democratic candidates to come to an event she’s having and debate about education. So far, as Peter Greene reports via Diane Ravitch’s most excellent blog, the Democratic candidates have told Campbell Brown that, sorry, we all have unbreakable oral surgery appointments that night. Brown blames the teachers unions, which is not a surprise. She blames a teachers union every time a cloud passes in front of the sun.​”

Eva Moskowitz announced she will not challenge Bill de Blasio in 2017.

Her work in education reform, she says, is too important.

She said humbly,

“I’m doing for education, frankly, what Apple did with computing for the iPhone; what Google is doing with driverless cars,” Moskowitz said.

Barbara Byrd Bennett, who served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools for Rahm Emanuel, pleaded guilty in a scheme to profit from a no-bid contract.

The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, will plead guilty to charges in an indictment released Thursday that alleges she steered more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from CPS to her former employer, authorities said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon made the announcement at a news conference Thursday. He declined to discuss the details of any plea agreement, including possible prison time.

Fardon said Byrd-Bennett and others “entered into a scheme to secretly profit from schools.”

Byrd-Bennett — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked choice — becomes CPS’ first chief executive officer to face criminal charges in connection with her job. Federal authorities have been investigating the most controversial of those contracts — a $20.5 million no-bid CPS deal for principal training, the largest in recent memory — for more than a year.

Receiving that contract in 2013 to train principals was The SUPES Academy, owned by former Niles West High School dean Gary Solomon and his former student Thomas Vranas. It generated controversy at the time because SUPES was not known for training principals while many other, respected organizations did that very job. The deal continued to draw criticism as some educators questioned the quality of SUPES’ training.

Solomon, 47, of Wilmette, and Vranas, 34, of Glenview, also were charged, as were SUPES and another company they owned that was given CPS contracts, Synesi Associates LLC.

Solomon’s attorney suggested Thursday his client would plead guilty in the case as well.

The feds allege in a 43-page indictment that Byrd-Bennett, 66, and Solomon set up a kickback scheme, detailed in emails, in which Byrd-Bennett would get 10 percent of any CPS contracts she steered to SUPES and Synesi. The feds don’t allege how much money, if any, was paid to Byrd-Bennett.

In one email discussing the alleged scheme, Byrd-Bennett wrote: “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:”

“I think those emails reflect greed,” Fardon said.

The scheme started right around the time Byrd-Bennett started her job as chief education officer at CPS, the post she held before becoming CEO, the feds allege.

In an article on the Edweek blog, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Chris Murphy reiterated their support for the George W. Bush approach to accountability. Arne Duncan and John King agree. despite 15 years of failed federal test-and-punish accountability, they want more. They are described as “accountability hawks.”

Alyson Klein writes:

“As congressional aides work feverishly behind the scenes, accountability hawks are making their case: Thursday a trio of Democratic senators—Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—who have been leading the charge on accountability throughout the reauthorization process—plus U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and incoming Essentially Secretary John King had a big event on Capitol Hill today to shine a spotlight on the issue.

“Their essential argument: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed fifty years ago, is a civil rights law at heart, and this latest version has to continue that tradition. They say the new law must call for states to help schools with perennially low-student achievement, low graduation rates, and big achievement gaps.

“There has to be accountability back up the chain,” Warren said. “The idea that we would pass a major piece of legislation about education and just shove it to the states and say ‘Do what you want.’ … I think it’s appalling.” (My guess is states would take issue with that.)

Their big fear is that the federal government will stop punishing schools with low test scores and low graduation rates. Over the past 15 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, thousands of public schools have been shut down; the overwhelming majority of these schools are in impoverished and racially segregated communities.

How does it help students to close their schools? They need extra resources, smaller classes, experienced teachers, health clinics, tutoring, and other supports, not federal threats, sanctions, or privatization.

The pressure that the accountability hawks demand actually hurt the educational opportunities of low-income and high-needs students. Not only are they threatened with turmoil and instability, but their schools narrow the curriculum to what is tested. They lose out on the arts, sciences, field trips, group projects, history, even recess.

If Senators Warren, Booker, and Murphy really wanted to help the children most at risk, they would make sure their schools have the resources they need; they would take action against school segregation; and they would support job-creating programs (like investing in infrastructure) to help improve their families’ income.

NCLB and RTTT–the twin pillars of privatization–have failed.

It is time for federal policy that helps children and their families and that strengthens public education.

If the Senators really want accountability, they should recognize that it starts at the top–with Congress and the administration, with Governors and legislators–not at the bottom. Threats and rewards don’t improve education. Collaboration works, not competition and sticks.

Campbell Brown announced she was holding a televised debate on education issues for Democratic candidates, and no one accepted her invitation. She blames the teachers’ unions, and the media are parroting her.

Are they shunning her because they know she is a far-right Republican, and Dems don’t participate in debates organized by the other party?

Peter Greene explains the real reason.

She is just not that important.

Frankly, I have been trying to interest public education groups to organize a forum for Democratic candidates on education. There are many tough questions we need to ask them about equity, testing, privatization, strengthening the teaching profession, resources, and many other issues.

Now, that would be a newsworthy forum, and I hope to find a leader among public education advocates to make it happen.

What a strange world we live in!

Why is a California businessman and a pair of Arkansas billionaires dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race for the state board of education in Louisiana?

Mercedes Schneider explains it here.

Billionaires Eli Broad and Alice and Jim Walton have contributed a combined $650,000 to Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby’s PAC, Empower Louisiana, so that Grigsby might use it to try to retain a corporate-reform-bent majority on the state’s education board, BESE, from 2016-19.

The BESE election is scheduled for October 24, 2015.

According to Empower Louisiana’s campaign finance report (07-17-15 to 09-14-15), Jim and Alice Walton each donated $200,000 on August 20, 2015, and Broad contributed $250,000 on September 10, 2015.

The total on the above report is $763,710, which means that as of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Grigsby considers the above to be the desired course for Louisiana’s state board of education. According to the October 01, 2015, Advocate, he plans to spend his PARC’s predominately Walton and Broad money on 3 of the 11 BESE seats:

Grigsby’s group — it is limited to independent expenditures — will rely mostly on television and radio advertisements and direct mail.

Races where it will be involved include BESE vice president Jim Garvey, of Metairie, against challenger Lee Barrios, of Abita Springs; incumbent Holly Boffy, of Youngsville, against challenger Mike Kreamer, of Lafayette and incumbent Mary Harris, of Shreveport, against challengers Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, and Glynis Johnston, of Shreveport.

The group backs Garvey, Boffy and Davis in those contests.

This is blatant buying of our democracy. There ought to be a law limiting campaign expenditures. People with unlimited resources (who don’t even live in the state) should be prevented from buying elections by flooding them with cash. Ordinary folks, who are well informed and devoted to education, but don’t have any billionaires funders, don’t have a chance.

That’s just plain wrong.

People who use their vast wealth to buy elections should be charged with criminal activity. They undermine our democracy.


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