Archives for category: Charter Schools

Just when you think things can’t get worse in Connecticut, another “reform” scandal pops up.

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the clear pattern of hiring unqualified people to run impoverished districts. Their way of operating: cut services, bring in Teach for America, install unproven programs.

She writes:

“It is becoming painfully clear that in Connecticut, the refrain that education reform is “all about the children,” is a sad joke. To Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his allies, children are merely collateral damage.

“Recently, there was the scandal involving Hartford’s Milner school, in which the children were used as pawns in a scheme to expand the charter empire of now-disgraced Jumoke/FUSE CEO Michael Sharpe. Pryor never bothered to discover that Sharpe is a former felon and falsified his academic credentials. Instead, while Milner was floundering under Sharpe, Pryor, a longtime Sharpe supporter, handed him two additional schools. The fate of public school children was clearly the last thing on Pryor’s mind. Currently, the FBI is investigating Pryor’s, Sharpe’s and Jumoke/FUSE’s connections.”

The latest drama is playing out in impoverished New London, where the state is pushing to hire a superintendent with a phony doctorate.

Connecticut is one of the nation’s highest performing states. It didn’t get that way by turning children over to inexperienced, unqualified teachers and superintendents. The achievement gap is a direct result of the opportunity gap. It won’t be closed by experimenting on children but by reducing the poverty that creates obstacles for children.

A judge in Los Angeles halted school officials’ efforts to close two Gulen related schools despite claims of millions of dollars missing. The schools have high test scores. The investigation continues.

Someone sent EduShyster a copy of a pamphlet about how to put a positive message on privately managed charter schools.

The message is, of course, upbeat and positive. But it is not honest.

There is no confronting the number of charter schools that are low-performing or the number that close.

Nothing is said about charter schools that are run for-profit, squeezing out dollars from the classroom to pay off investors.

Nothing is said about the ineffectual virtual charter schools that make a lot of money but whose students have a high attrition rate, low scores, and a low graduation rate.

Nothing is said about the charters that get high scores by excluding students who are English language learners or have disabilities or misbehave.

And there is absolute silence about the charter schools that are corrupt and that have been closed because of embezzlement, conflicts of interest, and self-dealing. Nor will the reader learn about the states where private corporations are exempt from the laws banning conflicts of interest and nepotism.

It is possible to write a book about the good things charters can do by serving children who are ill-served in public schools, but those schools must be balanced against the charters that exist to get public money without public accountability.

The following letter appeared as a guest post on Anthony Cody’s blog:

Paul Horton’s Open Letter to President Obama: Listen to Committed

Dear Mr. President,

Like thousands of experienced classroom teachers throughout our great country, I am very concerned about how you decided to go the way that you did with your Education policies. I was recently told by a close friend of the yours that “Arne’s Team looked at all of the options” and decided to go with its current policies because “they would get us where we needed to go more quickly than any other set of alternatives.” I was also told, “that not everybody could be in the room.”

The problem was that you and Mr. Duncan did not listen to experience. The blueprint for Arne’s plan for stimulus investment that morphed into the Race to the Top Mandates (RTTT) featured advisers from the Gates and Broad Foundations, analysts from McKinsey Consulting, and a couple of dozen superintendents who were connected, like Mr. Duncan, to the Broad Foundation. Most of those who were invited to advise you were committed supporters of heavy private investment in Education who favored high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations. Most of these advisers also favored the scaling up of measurable data collection as a way to measure progress or lack of progress in American Education.

If you had listened to the leading experts on standardized testing and the achievement gap, you would have learned that your policies were bound to fail. Our former colleague here at the U of C, Professor James Coleman, was the first to establish this empirically. You should have taken the time to learn learn about Campbell’s Law, a concept that is taught in every graduate level statistics course here at the University of Chicago.

On a more personal level, Mr. President, you consulted many of your contacts in Democrats for Education Reform, an organization funded mostly by Democratic leaning Wall Street investment firms. And you were also very impressed by the ideas and passion of a Denver charter school principal and Democratic activist, Michael Johnston….

Thousands of teachers possess the experience, training, and commitment to advise you on Education matters. But you chose to listen to those who went to places like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford who have only two years of classroom experience. Commitment, I submit, is a very important word.

The true measure of one’s commitment to Education is one’s willingness to sacrifice one’s will to power and economic potential to be successful in the classroom. TFA kids who go back to grad school after two years in the classroom and buy into corporate education reform are embracing their will to power. Most of these kids tend to have every advantage to begin with, they get an Ivy League education, and they are ambitious young liberals. Rather than staying in the classroom and truly making a difference by developing their teaching skills over twenty or thirty years, they can achieve administrative positions in the charter world that have far more economic potential than teaching positions by buying into the mantra of data-driven corporate reform lingo.

You have left thousands of us behind and allowed inexperienced “experts” yellow-brick road access to take charge. You and your administration have encouraged a “Cultural Revolution” in American education. Your Education Secretary embraced and applauded the Madame Mao of this movement and allowed his Inspector General to whitewash an investigation of cheating in DC Schools. You promoted your basketball buddy and very close friend of your campaign finance manager to be Secretary of Education. You chose someone with a Broad Foundation background. The Broad Foundation has written a “toolkit” for the destruction of public schools that is being used in Chicago, Philly, and New Yorks and in many cities across the country.

Your policies represent a new elitism. You seem to think that: “if we can get these really smart Ivy League educated former TFA people in senior policy, superintendent, and administrative positions, then we can turn this whole thing around.”

This idea is arrogant beyond belief, the equivalent of the “best and the brightest” idea that drove us into the ground in Vietnam, only you have decided to do it in Education. Robert McNamara was brilliant, he had an analytical razor, but he lacked a moral compass and anything resembling empathy for the lives of those who were dying in a “winnable” war. Mr. Duncan has a great deal of empathy, however his policies are misguided. Indeed, in my humble opinion, his department’s policies are an inarticulate mess. If he were ever asked the tough questions under oath in senator Harkin’s committee, we could very well discover that his use of the authority of his office overstepped the legal parameters of the laws circumscribing federal involvement in the formulation of Education policy. Ms. Weiss and Mr. Sheldon III, two of Secretary Duncan’s advisors who worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation prior to serving under Secretary Duncan, articulated what Mr. Gates wanted on his terms in exchange for tacit support for your campaigns. Several Wall Street investing firms also made it clear to you and to Mr. Emanuel that they were willing to support you if your Education policies encouraged private investment in charter schools.

Much as McNamara destroyed the U.S. Army in Vietnam, your Education policies are destroying two or three generations of dedicated and excellent classroom teachers by allowing them to be humiliated by young people who have very little experience. The policies that you have endorsed will set the teaching profession back twenty years much as the Cultural Revolution set China back twenty years. While recent studies have indicated that only two to three percent of classroom teachers are ineffective, your policies vilify the 98% who are effective and exemplary. Your policy makers would have done well to examine the teacher assessment policies of Montgomery County, Maryland that are based on the AFT’s Toledo Plan to learn how to deal with ineffective teachers.

You have bought into a corporate model of Education Reform: you seek to create competition among public and private schools, you encourage the “creative destruction” that your University of Chicago Business School buddies and Judge Posner love, and you seem to be gung-ho about selling off the public commons of American Education that were built with the sweat and blood of American farmers and workers. Do your policies work for young people who need stability in their lives? Creative destruction might benefit some kids (I was a military brat), but it probably does not benefit most.

Your Education policies embrace the management tactics of McKinsey Consulting that call for the firing of twenty to twenty-five percent of the teacher workforce every two years. You have said that Education should not “all be about bubble tests,” but your policies measure progress by bubble tests and they narrow the curriculum when they require standardized testing in some subjects, but not in others.

Your campaign pledged to address income inequality, but you and many of the mayors that you support are actively working to destroy what is left of the American middle class. Your Education policies work actively to destroy teacher unions. Many of your mayors and governors are working to bust teacher, hospital, public employee, firemen’s, and police unions….

The questions that you need to examine more closely are:

How do we get and keep candidates who would be brilliant in any career into the classroom?

How do you increase the size of the quality teaching pool?

The answers are clear and they don’t have anything to do with charter schools.

If Mr. Gates were really serious about Education in this country, he could invest in creating a system like Finland’s. The problem is that he is more interested in selling product than investing in four well qualified and well trained teachers in every classroom.

Progress in Education is not about buildings, it is not about technology: It is about human investment, not the expansion of markets.

President Obama, I have great respect for you. I have taught many of the young people who work for you. Ask the young man who has cooked for you for many years what a hard ass teacher I was. Please find the time to talk to committed teachers who have given their entire professional careers to improving Education in this country. This would require you to step outside of your comfort zone inside of Democrats for Education Reform and Teach for America circles. It will also require you to look beyond the mess that Ms. Weiss, Mr. Shelton III, and Bill Gates have helped to create. It will require you to talk to exemplary, veteran teachers about teaching and schools rather than to Arne Duncan

Please encourage Senator Durbin and his committee to completely defund No Child Left Behind. Do you prefer to fund Pearson Education or allow thousands of teachers to be laid off? This is what it is coming down to. Will you allow the middle class to be further eroded? Or will you fight for the jobs of teachers? Will you reward Wall Street investors in Education and Bill Gates, or are you willing to fight for neighborhood schools and arts and humanities programs? Will you use Value Added Measures tied to standardized testing to further discredit teachers? Or will you begin to understand how complex real learning is, learning that can not be measured by “bubble tests.” These are your choices, Mr. President. Please look beyond your current Education advisors if you want to explore complex questions and solutions.

All best,

Paul Horton
History Instructor
University High School
The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Education and dequacy writes:

The Ohio Department of Education will limit investigation to one Gulen Horizon Science Academy charter school.

After four former teachers in a Dayton Horizon Science Academy charter school testified on July 15 regarding serious irregularities in that school setting, some state board of education members called on the Department of Education (ODE) to investigate the whole chain of Gulen charter schools that operate in Ohio. ODE, however, has announced that only the Dayton charter school will be investigated.

Perhaps ODE officials are not aware:
that the FBI recently raided three Ohio Gulen charter schools and a total of 19 in various states.

that Los Angeles United School District is investigating the network of eight Gulen charter school authorized by that District. The investigation involves charter school funds being used for immigration costs, loans to the management company, some of which were not repaid.

of the FBI raid on the Des Plaines, IL headquarters of Concept Schools, the management company for Horizon Science Academies (Search and Seizure warrant, Case No. 14MZ87, dated June 17, 2014).
that some Horizon Science Academy board members refuse to respond to questions about their citizenship
that Concept schools have attempted to import nearly 400 Turkish teachers, arguing that Ohio’s workforce lacks high quality educators to fill positions.

The issues surrounding the Concept charter school chain, (Horizon Science Academies and Noble Science Academies) are systemic. ODE should be investigating the entire chain. The members of the State Board of Education, by virtue of their constitutional oath, are duty bound to force ODE to investigate, not only the Gulen chain, but all of charterland.

The lack of transparency and accountability inherent in Ohio charter school law should prompt the State Board of Education to fill the void by aggressively pursuing the misdeeds of charters.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Jersey Jazzman reacts to Andy Smarick’s call for civil conversations about charter schools. Those conversations won’t happen, JJ says, until reformers tell the truth about charter schools. Where they seem to succeed, they don’t enroll the same students. Or they have high attrition rates. Or they have scads of money. Why not say so.

He quotes Peter Greene on the same subject, in Peter’s inimitable style:

“If charters are tired of press about how they get sweetheart deals with politicians to strip resources from public schools in order to enrich themselves, if they’re tired of stories about how some charter operator got caught in crooked deals, if they’re tired of being raked over the coals for using politics to grease some moneyed wheels– well, their best move would be to stop doing those things.

“If charters are tired of being attacked, they could stop attacking public education, as in the recent charter gathering in which the recurring theme was “Charters are great because public schools suck.” I’m not a fan of “they started it” as an argument, but it’s also specious to declare “all I did was keep calling him names and stealing his lunch, and then he just hit me for no reason!”

It would be good to have that civil conversation that Smarick says he longs for, but it won’t happen unless “reformers” tell the truth about how they stack the deck by excludingthe kids they don’t want and how the big money that gets dropped into their coffers by Walton, Broad, Gates, Arnold, Dell, and even Arne Duncan makes for very unfair comparisons.

And too there must be some discussion about the end game. Where will we be a decade from now if charters cherry pick the students they want, and public schools are left with the students rejected by the charters? Would this not be a dual school system? Can anyone think of another nation with this approach to publicly-funded education?

Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellweather Associates, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a former deputy commissioner of education in New Jersey for Governor Christie, and a man with a long list of other affiliations with conservative groups and politicians, loves charter schools. he sees them as the wave of the future, replacing “failing” public schools in urban and suburban areas and bringing everyone the excellence that thus far has been elusive.

Smarick sees two conversations going on today about charter schools. To one side are those like himself who are trying to figure out the new paradigm of schooling, in which privately-managed charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape. This conversation deals with finance, governance, how to get it right. It assumes that charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape and the question to be solved is one of tinkering.

On the other side are people who worry about whether charter schools are a blight that damages public education and should be closely scrutinized for their finances, their boasts, and their policies governing admissions and suspensions. This side refers to hedge fund managers, privateers, and exorbitant executive salaries, and makes big headlines out of what Smarick considers the extraordinary miscreant.

One could match anecdote with anecdote, but more important are questions about deregulation, about exclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability by charter schools that refuse to tell the state or even their own boards how public money is spent. Will American education improve if more public money is shifted to non-educators who hire uncertified teachers and whose use of public money is not disclosed?

One of the most corrupt states in the nation, in relation to charter schools, is Ohio, where the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is legally headquartered and authorizes charter schools (none of its charter schools have been implicated in the major scandals.) the governor and the legislature receive handsome contributions from the charter industry. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch written by Denis Smith, former overseer of charter schools for the Ohio State Department of Education, makes a valuable counterpoint to Smarick’s complaint about charter critics. Denis Smith writes about 19 Gulen-associated schools now under investigation.

Smith writes:

“At a State Board of Education meeting this week, four former charter-school teachers testified on alleged unlawful conduct at Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School, including what The Dispatch described as “test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds…….”

What the State Board heard from the teachers helped to shed light on a chain of 19 schools in Ohio managed by an out-of-state operation that staffs these buildings in part by employing Turkish citizens holding H-1B visas.

But what the board didn’t hear is that these same schools are governed by a group of individuals, nearly all men, who may not be “qualified voters” — in other words, American citizens. Or that some of the schools were raided by the FBI last month. Or that the inspiration for these schools is a mysterious exiled Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and leads a religious and political movement that seeks to destabilize the government of his native land.

As bizarre as this situation is, the very idea that the Gulen chain are public schools is illustrative of what ails the charter-school industry in Ohio.

Consider these glaring legal loopholes:

• Charter-school administrators are not required to hold any professional licenses or meet even minimal educational requirements.

• Charter-school board members aren’t elected by or responsible to the voters. Some are hand-picked by for-profit management companies runing schools.

• Charter-school board members do not have to be “qualified voters” (citizens) who are registered with the secretary of state’s office in recognition of their status as members of a public board.

• With hand-picked, unelected boards, charter-school administrators can pay themselves exorbitant salaries that can match those of local superintendents responsible for the education of thousands of students in multiple locations.

• Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.

• The for-profit management companies that operate many charter schools think that their mission and vision (read: profit) supersede the legitimate interests and aspirations of the public.

• Charter schools are exempt from more than 150 provisions of state law that otherwise are applicable to school districts, including a requirement to annually report the names, salaries and credentials of licensed employees to the State Board.

• There are no restrictions on the payment of public funds for recruitment of students, advertising or payment for celebrity endorsements; there is no ban on using public funds earmarked for charter schools for political campaign donations.

The issue confronting this state is not about any individual charter-school chain. It’s that the legislature has created an unregulated, incoherent nightmare that allows for-profit management companies, entrepreneurs, national charter-school chains and ill-prepared developers to operate in a murky industry that ill-serves young people.

If we are to have charter schools in Ohio, their legal basis must be that they exist in similar fashion with public schools, be subject to the same requirements and not be favored by so many questionable exemptions. Chapter 3314 of the Ohio Revised Code that governs the creation and operation of these schools must be scrapped in its entirety.

For these “schools of choice,” we have no other choice.”

In addition to Mr. Smith’s concerns, Ohio and other states should investigate the extraordinary salaries paid to charter CEOs, some of whom are not educators, yet are paid $400,000 or more. And inquire about the lobbyists hired by charter chains to obtain special privileges, or to obtain exemption from accountability. They might ask why charter boards in states like Ohio must sue the charter operator to get financial information. They might be vigilant about the for-profit entrepreneurs who have become multi-millionaires with money intended by taxpayers for schools, not investors. They might ask sharper questions about community public schools that lose resources to shady entrepreneurs and ultimately close.

So long as the charter industry buys favoritism from state legislatures, as long as amateurs win public dollars to run inferior schools, as long as virtual charter schools get rich while supplying poor results, there will continue to be critics–and should be.

PS: read Peter Greene on this issue.

This reader commented on a post called “Is the Charter Movement Imploding?” That post reviewed some recent egregious charter school scandals.

He wrote:

“One purpose of school privatization is to bring about “deregulation” of the education system. wherever and whenever deregulation has been permitted to proceed, the result, for public goods and services, has been disastrous. The financial collapse of 2008 was the direct outcome of deregulation. Deregulation was supposed to lead to greater efficiency in the provision of housing and in financial services. Instead it wiped out trillions in individual and social wealth; it nearly destroyed the American economy; and it created a deep, deep well of misery and suffering. The high priests of neoliberalism who called for deregulation should have been made to eat their hats. Their bogus theorizing did not lead to the paradise they promised; instead it put many people in hell. All deregulation of finance achieved was the enrichment of predators and parasites, who preyed on the vulnerable and the desperate by scams, deception and outright criminal acts.

“The deregulation of public education, by leave of privatization, is creating similar opportunities for the unscrupulous and untrustworthy. Because there are no hard and fast criteria for opening a charter school (except a religious commitment to corporate education reform), it’s obvious that this wide open “wild west” frontier where public money is there for the taking was bound to attract venal and criminal types, who have no business at all being around children. Connecticut is notable, because the gap between rich and poor communities is extremely stark, and the State is under legal pressure to make school funding more equitable. But the powers that be in Connecticut are closely connected to the Wall St Hedge Fund Crowd (some of the very people who brought about the 2008 economic collapse), and it is this power which is strongly pushing school privatization. The Hedge Fund Predators don’t care who gets a charter school, just so long as charter schools are created. And the Democratic Governor Malloy is all too willing to oblige his patrons. Malloy is a low character with high ambitions. He would sell his mother to advance his career. But seeing as no one is interested in buying his mother, Malloy has decided to sell out minority children in Connecticut’s poorest cities.

“Deregulation of financial services led to the destruction of many poor neighborhoods, as people were given mortgages they could not manage. The mortgages were given because they were ultimately insured by the Federal government. Private investors got stinking rich by fraud and deception. Homeowners got foreclosed. And the general public picked up the tab for unethical and criminal profiteering. As the Charter school movement continues to grow, you can see the same sorry pattern. Charters are given to crooks, incompetents and charlatans. Some of them make out like bandits. Children in the charters are often given a dreadful education. Neighborhood schools are ruined. Profiteering is at the public expense, as hardly any charter school could survive without public funding. I would not say that the Charter school movement is imploding, but this prospect can’t be ruled out in the future, as deregulation is just another name for ongoing and deepening chaos.”

The University of Arkansas issued a study claiming that charter schools get a higher “return on investment” than public schools, yet are underfunded especially given their great “productivity” and “ROI.” (I admit I stumble over the idea of applying ROI when we are talking about education and children, but that’s just me.)

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University analyzes the University of Arkansas study and takes it apart.

Baker shows that the Arkansas study “shamelessly” and “knowingly” uses bogus data. The Arkansas study is meant to refute an earlier critique of their work by Baker.

Here is what Baker concludes:

“The acknowledgement of my critique, highly selective misrepresentation of my critique, and complete failure to respond to the major substantive points of that critique display a baffling degree of arrogance and complete disregard for legitimate research.

“Yes – that’s right – either this is an egregious display of complete ignorance and methodological ineptitude, or this new report is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of data. So which is it? I’m inclined to believe the latter, but I guess either is possible.

“Oh… and separately, in this earlier report, Kevin Welner and I discuss appropriate methods for evaluating relative efficiency (the appropriate framework for such comparisons)…. And to no surprise the methods in this new UARK report regarding relative efficiency are also complete junk. Put simply, and perhaps I’ll get to more detail at a later point, a simple “dollars per NAEP score” comparison, or the silly ROI method used in their report are entirely insufficient (especially as some state aggregate endeavor???).

“And it doesn’t take too much of a literature search to turn up the rather large body of literature on relative efficiency analysis in education – and the methodological difficulties in estimating relative efficiency. So, even setting aside the fact that the spending measures in this study are complete junk, the cost effectiveness and ROI approaches used are intellectually flaccid and methodologically ham-fisted.

“But if the measures of inputs suck to begin with, then the methods applied to those measures really don’t matter so much.

“To say this new UARK charter productivity study is built on a foundation of sand would be offensive… to sand.

“And I like sand.”

Jon Pelto speculates that the charter industry has lost its magic in Connecticut with the downfall of Michael Sharpe of Jumoke Academy and FUSE. Investigations multiply, and there’s the pesky fact that test scores tanked at one of the FUSE schools.

And Pelto reports that the “reformer” selected to head the schools of New London is in more trouble. The vote by the board on whether to appoint him has been delayed.

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