Archives for category: Accountability

Given the demonstrated failure of voucher schools and charter schools in Milwaukee to outperform the public schools, you might expect that the Legislature would stop expanding both forms of privatization. But you would be wrong. Here are some recent legislative actions, as reported by blogger Steve Strieker:

 
The WI GOP committee members moved forward with a vote on their education budget package that does the following:

 
Removes the cap on statewide vouchers and prohibits districts from levying to replace the lost state aid

 
Creates a special needs voucher program

 
Allows operators of privately run charters to open new schools under conditions specified by the legislature

 
Allows for the takeover of struggling public schools in Milwaukee under the control of an appointed commissioner to convert them to voucher or charter schools while paving the way for similar takeovers in other school districts

 
Provides for licensure of individuals with minimal qualifications, some with little more than a high school diploma, to teach in our public schools
Requires passing a civics exam to graduate from high school

 

 

 

It turns out that most of the applicants to the voucher program (86%) previously attended a private school, not a public school. This is a subsidy to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools, not an “escape” for “poor children trapped in failing public schools” (reformster talk).

 

 

 

http://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/news-release/dpinr2015_53.pdf

The Texas Legislature is so far out of touch with the needs of children and public schools that we can only hope the legislative session ends before any of the proposals for “reform” are enacted. The Texas Observer here gives an excellent overview of what is happening in Austin that might land on the heads of kids and public schools.

Throughout the legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has painted a dire portrait of hundreds of Texas public schools.

Currently, Patrick remarked during a March press conference, almost 150,000 students languish in nearly 300 failing schools across the state. He vowed to fix the problem.

The measures he championed include red-meat education reform proposals with appealing names: rating schools on an A-F scale; a state-run “opportunity school district” to oversee low-performing schools; a “parent empowerment” bill making it easier to close struggling schools or turn them into charters; expanding online classes (taxpayer funded, but often run by for-profit entities); and “taxpayer savings grants”—private school vouchers, effectively—to help students escape the woeful public system.

Patrick has long fought for many of these, but now that he holds one of the state’s most powerful offices it seemed, going into the session, that his reform agenda would be better positioned than ever before.

The president of Texans for Education Reform, Julie Linn, certainly believes so. She boasted in a January editorial about the potential for success under Patrick’s leadership. “The momentum is in place to make 2015 a banner year for education reform in Texas,” Linn wrote.

Teacher groups and public school advocates have a different take. As they see it, Patrick’s agenda is not a recipe for well-intended reforms but an attack on chronically underfunded public schools.

“There is a concerted, well-funded attempt to dismantle public education,” Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of the public school advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children, told the Observer in March. Johnson blamed elected officials who aim to “demonize and blame teachers and schools for the social ills and pathologies of our society at large.”

Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade.
Patrick’s education proposals tap the reform zeitgeist that has increasingly gained political favor, both in Texas and nationally, during the last decade. From President Obama to presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, education reform has created odd bedfellows, obscuring policy fault lines between Democrats and Republicans like perhaps no other issue.

Reform critics, though, point out that test scores have always closely tracked family income rather than school quality. They note how schools with high rates of poverty are more likely to be low-performing if the state uses test scores as the primary measuring stick. “The real problem,” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have the political will to assign those schools the resources they need.”

Regardless of where you stand in the debate, with less than two weeks left in the 84th Legislature we can begin to gauge the success of Patrick’s reform agenda, much of which is being carried by his successor as chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

Note how politicians like Dan Patrick, now in the powerful position of Lt. Governor, are quick to bash the public schools after having defunded them by billions of dollars. Patrick, a former radio talk show host of the right, loves vouchers. He apparently does not care that sending public money to religious schools does not improve educational opportunity, although it does weaken public schools.

Every proposal under consideration–like the parent trigger–has failed to make a difference anywhere. Every one of them is straight out of the far-right ALEC playbook.

A-F grading of schools, a Jeb Bush invention, is a typical useless reformster proposal. The letter grades reflect the socioeconomic status of the students in the school. Imagine if your child came home from school with a report that had one letter on it; you would be outraged. That is how crazy it is to think that an entire school can be given a letter grade; it is pointless and it does nothing to make schools better. Kids from affluent districts are miraculously in A schools, kids from poverty are in low-rated schools. What is the point of the grading other than to stigmatize schools that enroll poor kids and are typically under-resourced? I guess the point is to label them as failures so they can be privatized or the kids can get vouchers to go to backwoods religious schools where they will have an uncertified teacher and learn creation “science.”

Texans are a hardy bunch. Those who are fighting for public education have a steep uphill climb. But they won’t give up. They launched a bipartisan coalition to block the testing Vampire that was eating public education, and they can work together to save public education for the state’s children. It won’t be easy. But it matters to the future of the state.

Jay Mathews read Caleb Rossiter’s newly published book (Ain’t Nobody Be Learnin’ Nothin’: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools”) and called it “the best account of public education in the nation’s capital I have ever read.”

 

Rossiter taught in both public schools and charter schools and found that grade inflation was rampant. Mathews writes:

 

Caleb Stewart Rossiter, a college professor and policy analyst, decided to try teaching math in the D.C. schools. He was given a pre-calculus class with 38 seniors at H.D. Woodson High School. When he discovered that half of them could not handle even second-grade problems, he sought out the teachers who had awarded the passing grades of D in Algebra II, a course that they needed to take his high-level class.

 

Teachers will tell you it is a no-no to ask other teachers why they committed grading malpractice. Rossiter didn’t care. Three of the five teachers he sought had left the high-turnover D.C. system, but the two he found were so candid I still can’t get their words out of my mind.

 

The first, an African immigrant who had taught special education, was stunned to see one student’s name on Rossiter’s list. “Huh!” Rossiter quoted the teacher as saying. “That boy can’t add two plus two and doesn’t care! What’s he doing in pre-calculus? Yes of course I passed him — that’s a gentleman’s D. Everybody knows that a D for a special education student means nothing but that he came in once in a while.”

 

The second teacher had transferred from a private school in a Southern city so his wife could get her dream job in the Washington area. He explained that he gave a D to one disruptive girl on Rossiter’s list because, Rossiter said, “he didn’t want to have her in class ever again.” Her not-quite-failing grade was enough to get the all-important check mark for one of the four years of math required for graduation.

 

Rossiter moved to Tech Prep, a D.C. charter school, where he says he discovered the same aversion to giving F’s. The school told him to raise to D’s the first-quarter failing grades he had given to 30 percent of his ninth-grade algebra students. He quit instead.

 

There are many ways to view this sad story. One is that we have a national education policy that demands lying by crowing about rising graduation rates, no matter how little they signify. Another is that the pressure to “raise expectations,” to set “rigorous standards” and to “raise the bar” has created a massive fraud. We demand results, and we get them, no matter that they are fraudulent. What we don’t do is address the underlying problems that students have by reducing class sizes, providing intensive tutoring, and intervening to help them. Doing that would require acknowledgement that expectations and high standards are not enough.

 

So the reformers prefer to crow about their victories then to do anything that helps the kids who are stuck and falling farther behind. That might be an admission of failure, and admissions of failure can get your school closed. Rewards go to those who reach their goals, by hook or by crook. Punishments are meted out to those who deal honestly with the kids who are failing. There are no miracle fixes. Caleb Rossiter knows it. Not in public schools, not in charter schools. The people who believe in magical incantations about “raising the bar higher” and expecting every child to clear it should find another field of activity. Certainly not sports, where a few teams win and most lose; where not every batter hits over .300 and not every pitcher can pitch a no-hitter every time.

 

Until we get away from magical thinking (remember Professor Howard Hill in “The Music Man” who taught music by the “think method”?), we will continue to hurtle towards fraudulence as our national education policy. The irony is that Secretary Duncan’t favorite mantra is that “we have been lying to our kids.” Who is lying to our kids now, after 15 years of test-based accountability?

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has filed a “right to know” action to gain access to the financial records of the state’s charter schools, including Cybercharters.

Charters were supposed to be more accountable and transparent than public schools, but they are neither. Some charter operators have made millions of dollars in profits from taxpayer dollars, with neither accountability nor transparency.

“The Pennsylvania School Boards Association today said it has filed Right-to-Know requests with charter and cyber charter school operators asking for financial information about their schools.

“The requested items include advertising costs, contracts with private management companies, advanced academic courses offered, salary and compensation information for all 180 brick and mortar and cyber charter schools in the state.

“The Right-to-Know requests also ask for documents related to leases and real estate and donation information from foundations or educational improvement organizations.”

“Nathan Mains, PSBA executive director, said the information being sought will help his association and the school districts it represents to better understand how charter schools operate and to provide transparency to taxpayers on charter school spending.

“For years charter proponents have criticized public schools claiming they don’t understand how charter operators work or the costs and benefits of charters,” Mr. Mains said in a press release

“Another purpose to filing the Right-to-Know requests is for the PSBA “to make sure public funds are being spent in the best interest of Pennsylvania children,” Mr. Mains said.

“Tuition for charter school students comes from the coffers of their home public school districts. The PSBA release said last year nearly $1.3 billion was paid in charter school tuition.”

The organization representing the state’s charter schools scoffed at the request and said the PSBA has all the information it needs.

Catalyst reports that the teacher evaluation ratings for the public schools contained errors.

“Citing a computer coding error, district officials have acknowledged that they miscalculated last year’s REACH performance task scores for one out of every five educators.

“Only a tiny fraction of the 4,574 errors were significant enough to result in ratings changes, however. A total of 166 teachers were given corrected ratings earlier this year, and most moved up a category, CPS officials say. Teachers whose ratings dropped won’t be penalized.

“The coding error involved matching student rosters with scores on performance tasks, the subject- and grade-specific assessments that were developed by committees of CPS teachers.

“Though the problem was not extensive, the number of mistakes – and the possibility that there are still others – has renewed criticisms about the use of such a complex system to evaluate educators and put jobs on the line.”

The organization that has done the most to undermine public education is the Walton Family Foundation. It has given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools, voucher programs, Teach for America, and rightwing think tanks to advocate for privatization. The Néw York Times reported that the Walton foundation had underwritten one of every four charter start-ups in the nation. In addition, it has given more than $50 million to Teach for America to assure that the charters have a non-union teaching staff.

 

And lest we forget, the Walton family as individuals has given large sums to charter referenda in Georgia and Washington state, as well as to pro-privatization candidates.

 

A reader suggests:

 

“How about a national teachers’ boycott of Walmart re school supplies and asking parents/kids to do the same? Perhaps we can enlist Target or Office Depot, Staples, other nation wide alternatives. . .”

 

I generally don’t advocate boycotts, but on the other hand, I never never never shop at Walmart. That’s just me.

The United States never allowed for-profit “public schools” until the charter industry emerged. Now they are spreading.

Jim Hall, a retired principal in Arizona, has formed Arizonans for Charter School Accoubtability to expose their sleazy deals and to show how children and taxpayers are cheated.

Jim Hall is a hero of public education, helping to save a democratic institution from profiteers.

He gathered information about two of the state’s many for-profit charters are using tax dollars to make big profits, while public schools are suffering continual cutbacks. It was shared in the mainstream media.

CBS 5 in Phoenix reported:

PHOENIX (CBS5) – A Valley charter school watchdog is criticizing large charter management chains for directing more dollars away from the classroom than most traditional public schools.

“These schools are made to make a profit,” said Jim Hall, the founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability and retired longtime Valley school principal.

“Someone needs to find out how they’re spending their money, and there needs to be transparency,” Hall said.

CBS 5 Investigates examined budget data and IRS tax filings for dozens of charter schools. Among the findings:

Some charter management chains spend as little as 40 percent of their budgets in the classroom, directing as much as 60 percent of their budgets to administrative expenses, plant operations and debt payments for facilities. Traditional school districts spent an average of 54 percent of their budgeted dollars in the classroom during the 2013-14 school years, according the Arizona Auditor General’s Office. The comparison may not be “apples to apples” because charters pay real estate costs out of their operating budgets while traditional school districts do not.

Some nonprofit chains outsource daily operations to for-profit charter management companies. Two examples in Arizona include the Leona Group and Imagine Schools.

Dave Woo, a teacher at Urban Prep Charter Academy for six years, explains that his school needs a union to hold it accountable for its free-wheeling use of taxpayer dollars.

“When a majority of teachers and staff at Urban Prep decided to organize a union represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, one of the first actions we took was to file a FOIA request in order to get a better sense of how the Urban Prep network uses the tax dollars and private donations it receives. Here are some of the things we found:

“Urban Prep spends over a quarter of a million dollars a year renting out downtown office space across the street from the Trump International Hotel and Tower for the network administrative staff.”

But that wasn’t all.

Juan Gonzalez has been watching the evolution of charter schools in Néw York for over a decade. He has recorded the growth of an industry that gets public funds with no oversight or accountability. Now a new report confirms his worst suspicions.

PRESS RELEASE, May 8, 2015, Contact: Nikolina Lazic, 608-260-9713, nikolina@prwatch.org

Feds Spent $3.3 Billion Fueling Charter Schools but No One Knows What It’s Really Bought

(Madison, WI)–The federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion over the past two decades creating and fueling the charter school industry, according to a new financial analysis and reporters’ guide by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). (The new guide can be downloaded below.)

Despite the huge sums spent so far, the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to “authorize” charters that receive federal funds. And despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program—designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48% in FY 2016.

CMD’s review of internal audits reveals that ED did not act quickly or effectively on numerous reports that state education officials had no idea where the federal funds ended up. In fact, in some instances, ED staff seemed taken by surprise when they discovered that many states actually lack statutory oversight over charter authorizers and schools.

As a result of lax oversight on the federal level, combined with many state laws that hide charter finances from the public eye, taxpayers are left in the dark about how much federal money each charter school has received and what has been wasted or spent to enrich charter school administrators and for-profit corporations who get lucrative outsourcing contracts from charters, behind closed doors.

“The Department of Education is pushing for an unprecedented expansion of charter schools while paying lip service to accountability, but independent audit materials show that the Department’s lofty rhetoric is simply not backed up by its actions,” noted Jonas Persson, a writer for the Center for Media and Democracy, a national watchdog group that publishes PRWatch.org, ALECexposed.org, and SourceWatch.org, adding, “the lack of tough financial controls and the lack of public access to information about how charters are spending federal tax dollars has almost inevitably led to enormous fraud and waste.”

CMD’s guide, “New Documents Show How Taxpayer Money Is Wasted by Charter Schools—Stringent Controls Urgently Needed as Charter Funding Faces Huge Increase,” analyzes materials obtained from open records requests about independent audits of how states interact with charter school authorizers and charter schools.

These documents, along with the earlier Inspector General report, reveal systemic barriers to common sense financial controls. Revealing quotes from those audit materials, highlighted in CMD’s report, show that too often states have had untrained staff doing unsystematic reviews of authorizers and charter schools while lacking statutory authority and adequate funding to fully assess how federal money is being spent by charters.

In many instances, states have no idea how charter schools actually spent federal monies and they have no systematic way of obtaining that information or making sure it is accurate.

Meanwhile, charter school advocates within state agencies and private entities have sought to prevent strong financial controls and reporting systems backed up by government oversight.

“It is astonishing that the federal government has spent more than $3 billion dollars directly on charter schools and is poised to commit another $350 million on their expansion this year, even though charters have failed to perform better than traditional public schools overall and have performed far worse when it comes to fraud and waste,” noted Lisa Graves, CMD’s Executive Director.

She added: “This result is not surprising since many charter school advocates have pushed to create a system that allows charters to get federal funds without federal controls on how that money is spent–but it should not be acceptable for so much of taxpayers’ money to be spent this way, with no requirement that the public be told how much money each and every charter school receives, how much each spends on high-paid charter executives, how much money makes it to the classroom, and how much is outsourced to for-profit firms.”

In CMD’s view, “There is no doubt that American school children and American taxpayers are getting short-changed by the charter school system that is siphoning money away from traditional public schools.”

Download a copy of CMD’s full report below. You can also read excerpts of responses to open records requests via CMD’s SourceWatch, such as the corrective action plan imposed by the ED Office of the Inspector General after a scathing 2012 audit.

http://www.prwatch.org/files/5-8-15_final_cmd_reporters_guide_on_charter_waste_and_lack_of_accountability.pdf

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