Archives for category: Charter Schools

Chester Finn, one of the nation’s leading conservative thinkers and president emeritus of the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote an article in the New York Daily News saluting Andrew Cuomo for his forceful advocacy of charters and, especially, vouchers.

Since Néw York’s constitution has an amendment barring any public payment for tuition at religious schools, Cuomo calls it a tax-credit scholarship program. Republicans usually use the euphemism “opportunity scholarships.” But no one is fooled. The goal in New York and elsewhere is to subsidize the tuition of students at religious schools.

Finn writes:

“Cuomo is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state. Others (in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona, maybe elsewhere) have tolerated this sort of thing when it originated outside of their offices, but this is the first time a state’s Democratic chief exec has taken the lead.”

What Checker Finn does not mention is that voters have never approved public support for vouchers in any state.

FYI, I was a trustee of the Fordham Institute for many years and a very close friend of Checker Finn. We even wrote books together. But I never agreed with him about vouchers, nor in his contempt for unions, nor in his fervent advocacy of anything that weakens public education. Maybe we differed because I graduated from public school, and he graduated from Exeter.

A new report released by UNICEF at the World Economic Forum in Davos says that inequitable funding is an obstacle to educational equity. Rich kids in poor countries get more funding from the government than poor kids. You may know that the United States is one of the few countries where more public money is spent on affluent students than on poor students. In most other advanced nations, more money is spent on the neediest children. David Sirota wrote about the report for the International Business Times.

 

Sirota writes:

 

The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States, which stands out as one of the only industrialized countries that devotes less public money to educating students from low-income families than on educating students from high-income families.

 

According to a recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is one of the few economically developed nations that tends to spend more public resources to educate wealthy students than to educate low-income students. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education report found that in the United States “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

 

Sirota points out that one of the cosponsors of the report is the Gates Foundation, which “has been criticized for using its partnerships with other organizations to promote a particular education ideology.”

 

And he adds:

 

In the United States, the foundation has specifically championed privately run charter schools, which often siphon resources from traditional public schools. The foundation has also promoted the Common Core curriculum, which has been criticized as a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education content. Both the curriculum and the larger shift to technology focused charter schools could have commercial benefits for Microsoft, the firm founded by Bill Gates.

 

When asked whether Unicef is prescribing a similar approach to international education aid for low-income countries, meaning charter schools, Common Core-style curriculum and a focus on technology, Brown first touted “the right of individual countries to make their own decisions about how they shape their own education system according to their needs and their economic policies and economic objectives.”

 

However, he seemed to echo some of the core themes of the Gates Foundation, touting what he called “international best practices … which learn from the experience of charter schools.”

 

He said lawmakers should be looking at “how we can disseminate the best practices that exist in some countries and persuade other countries that they are worth looking at.”

 

“We are learning that the quality of teachers, which is what the Gates Foundation has emphasized matters, the quality of head teachers and leadership in schools matters, the curriculum itself is an issue that has to be debated at all times because you’ve got to learn from what works and what doesn’t work … and how you apply technology and use it most effectively,” he said.

 

Curious that the spokesman for the report said that charter schools exemplify “international best practices.” One wonders if he was thinking of “no excuses” charters, or Gulen charters, or for-profit charters.

A federal judge in Misssouri has fined Imagine Schools $1 million. See here for the story in the Columbus Dispatch. Imagine is one of the largest for-profit operators in the nation.

 

According to the Columbus Dispatch:

 

Under the complex deal, Imagine Schools negotiated the pricey lease with SchoolHouse Finance and presented it to the school board of the Renaissance Academy for Math and Science for approval. Imagine Schools owns SchoolHouse Finance and directly benefited by the agreement.
“This clearly constituted self-dealing,” U.S. District Judge Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote in a blistering 29-page ruling.
Sound familiar? The Dispatch in October reported about a North Side charter school spending more than half of the tax dollars it receives on rent in a very similar lease deal with Imagine Schools and SchoolHouse Finance. The board of the Imagine Columbus Primary Academy asked Imagine to renegotiate the lease but that has not happened.

 

This story appeared on a blog in Ohio:

 

COLUMBUS – A federal judge in Missouri blistered Imagine Schools, saying the lease it forced on a local school it managed constituted “self-dealing.” The judge ordered Imagine to pay the school more than $1 million.

 

School board members at the now-closed Missouri school sued Imagine, insisting that it acted in its own best interest, not the best interest of the school.

 

The facts of the case mirror arrangements in Ohio and other states where Imagine schools pay exorbitant rent to an Imagine subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. The high lease payments leave little money for classroom instruction and help explain the poor academic records of Imagine schools in both states.

 

“This self-dealing is out of control and has to end,’’ said ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis. “Legislators who are working on charter school reforms should make prevention of these types of abuses a top priority.’’

 

Theis announced a package of Imagine-specific reforms. They include:

 

*Place a reasonable cap on the percentage of state money that can be used for rent.

*Improve accountability by requiring the State Board of Education to sign off on the leases.

*Improve transparency by requiring schools to make leases readily available to the public.

*Render leases null and void if Imagine fails to disclose specific financial ties between Imagine, SchoolHouse Finance or any future entity receiving rent for school buildings.

*Require charter school boards to have an independent attorney and financial officer.
Any capital money for buildings must be accompanied by reforms on transparency and accountability, and must be allocated using a formula similar to the one used for traditional public schools.
Gary Miron, a professor from Western Michigan University and an expert witness in the Missouri case, said, “This ruling will hopefully empower charter school boards to take back control and responsibility for their school from their for-profit education management organizations (EMOs). There are a lot of charter schools operated by Imagine and other for profit EMOs that are having public revenues intended for students siphoned off into corporate coffers. I hope the Missouri ruling will be a signal to these organizations to halt such practices. “

 

 

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to comment on this paper:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w20792

 

It says, in summary, that students in schools subject to charter “takeovers,” who were “grandfathered in,” saw substantial academic gains. That is, they did not enter the charters by lottery but were kept enrolled after the school turned from public to charter. The two districts studied were Néw Orleans and Boston.

 

I sent the link to Kristen Buras, who spent ten years studying charters in Néw Orleans.

 

This was her response:

 

Hello Diane:

 

I am astounded by this paper’s assertions. To my knowledge, there is no foundation for the claim that New Orleans students attending a closed school have the right to be “grandfathered” into the newly chartered school.

 

First, I am unaware of any such legislative mandate (and if there is, it’s certainly not enforced).

 

Second, I am very aware that the reality on the ground is just the opposite.

 

When charters takeover, they gut the entire school of teachers and students and then redesign to their liking through an array of methods.

 

Time and again, the community has complained in public forums that claims about charter operators “transforming” schools in New Orleans are bogus because the charter operators rarely serve students who originally attended the school.

 

In fact, to avoid such a burden and to start anew, charter operators in New Orleans often open the school with only select grade levels offered, generally the grade levels exempt from state testing, and slowly build from there. The paper’s authors have built on a model disassociated from reality, but I’m sure there are lots of fancy formulas in the paper that look really impressive.

 

All my best,

 

Kristen

 

Director | Urban South Grassroots Research Collective

 

Kristen L. Buras
Associate Professor of Educational Policy
Educational Policy Studies
Georgia State University
P.O. Box 3977
Atlanta, Georgia 30302-3977
United States
kburas@gsu.edu

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)

 

Here is UOO’s letter:

 

 

United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander

 

 

 
January 22, 2015

 

Dear Senator Alexander,

 

There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

 

In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.

 

While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.

 

While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.

 

Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.

 

We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.

 

UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:

 

Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”

 

Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities

 

Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind

 

Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs

 

Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information

 

Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education

 

Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.

 

We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:

 

Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”

 

Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created

 

Smaller teacher/student ratios

 

Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess

 

Career-focused magnet programs

 

Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.

 

To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.

 

Sincerely,

 

United Opt Out Administrators:

 

 

Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith

 

 

The Néw Yorker has a long article about Jeb Bush’s passionate interest in reforming public education by high-stakes testing, report cards, and privatization. Since his own children attend private schools, they are not affected by his grand redesign of public education.

To boil down his approach, regular public schools get loaded down with mandates and regulations. Charter schools are free of mandates and regulations, and many are run for profit. As public schools are squeezed by the competition with charters, they get larger classes and fewer programs. Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and allies get very rich.

It is a thorough story about Jeb Bush’s mission to turn public education into an industry.. One conclusion: If he were elected President, it would be the end of public education as we have known it for more than 150 years.

Douglas Harris is an economist at Tulane University who was recently appointed to lead the Education Research Alliance in New Orleans. Harris has written extensively about value-added measurement (VAM). Mercedes Schneider is a high school teacher in Louisiana with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics; she is also an outspoken critic of privatization and corporate style reform of the kind that has eliminated public education in New Orleans.

 

Mercedes recently attended a meeting convened by Professor Harris to discuss the choice program in New Orleans. Afterwards she talked to parents who participated on a panel, and she talked to Doug Harris, who made a point of meeting Mercedes. She had written some strong blogs (cited in her post) wondering whether a research organization like Harris’s could be neutral. In her conversation with Harris, she was blunt, as you would expect. Face-to-face contact is always useful when people disagree. Mercedes had a chance to size up Harris, and Harris now knows Mercedes. We hope that both of them benefit by the introduction.

 

Mercedes followed up that post with another one expressing her disappointment that the 3-day conference on the New Orleans reforms is heavily weighted towards advocates of privatization and has little representation of those affected by the reforms or local researchers. She says there is “too much Tulane” and not enough local community to judge the reforms.

The Chester-Upland school district teeters once again towards bankruptcy. Half of of its students are enrolled in charter schools, and the public school district is in deep deficit. The Corbett administration refused to supply the funding needed to survive, abandoning the state’s constitutional obligation to maintain public schools. Former Governor Corbett, a proponent of privatization, appointed an emergency manager who was known as a supporter of charters and vouchers. He recommended merging the administration of public schools and charters, but the charters declined to join.

 

“The Chester-Upland School District faces a $20 million structural deficit, which Watkins attributes to costs incurred by student exodus to charter schools and the state government’s decision in 2011 to eliminate money in the budget to help districts cover the cost of departure.

 

“Almost half of the more than 7,000 students in the area attend charter schools.

 

“Watkins has floated several unorthodox fixes for the chronically underperforming and overextended school district, including talk of a partnership and an flux of more than $1 billion from a Chinese investor…

 

“Watkins unpacked his plan to partner with the charters -– which included recategorizing charter students as Chester-Upland School District students — at a hearing in December.

 

“By recategorizing charter students and making them Chester Upland students, we wouldn’t have been obligated to pay their tuition costs,” said Watkins. He said the district currently pays $9,000 to $35,000 in tuition per student, in addition to absorbing departure costs.”

 

The biggest charter in the district is the Chester Community Charter School, which is owned by a wealthy lawyer who was one of Corbett’s major campaign contributors and a member of his education transition team. When the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about him, he sued the newspaper (he lost in the appellate court). His readiness to sue stills critics; he even threatened to sue a website run by an 18-year-old that featured his fabulous homes. His for-profit company has made tens of millions by supplying goods and services to his nonprofit charter school.

 

The charter owner recently built a $28 million mansion in Palm Beach. That’s American education, folks.

 

NOTE: I WAS INFORMED THAT THE CHESTER-UPLAND SCHOOLS ARE IN DELAWARE COUNTY, NOT CHESTER COUNTY AND I CHANGED THE HEADLINE ACCORDINGLY. FORGIVE THIS TEXAN LIVING IN NEW YORK FOR HER GEOGRAPHICAL IGNORANCE OF COUNTIES IN PENNSYLVANIA.

Jeff Bryant reports here about the rapid expansion of charters in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, which seem to be ground zero for the “reform” movement, with a sympathetic conservative governor and conservative legislature.

 

Having been one of the first states to win a “Race to the Top” grant, Tennessee committed to hand low-performing schools over to private management.

 

Tennessee is also home to the “Achievement School District,” run by charter founder Chris Barbic, who has promised to turn the schools in the bottom 5% into high-performing schools in the top 25%. So far, the ASD has not met any of its goals, yet it is often cited as a national model, like New Orleans, despite Nola’s lack of success.

 

Bryant says: ““White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control.”

 

The far-right is in control of charter expansion, he writes:

 

For sure, charter schools have become a darling of conservative politicians, think tanks and advocates.

One of those powerful advocates, nationally and in Tennessee, is the influential Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing issue group started and funded by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers.

AFP state chapters have a history of advocating for charter schools, conducting petition campaigns and buying radio ads targeting state lawmakers to enact legislation that would increase the number of charter schools. In an AFP-sponsored policy paper from 2013, “A Nation Still at Risk: The Continuing Crisis of American Education and Its State Solution,” author Casey Given states: “The charter school movement has undoubtedly been the most successful education reform since the publication of A Nation at Risk.,” the Reagan-era document commonly cited as originating a “reform” argument that has dominated education policy discussion for over 30 years.

The Koch brothers themselves have been especially interested in public policy affairs in Tennessee generally and Nashville in particular. “Tennessee is a political test tube for the Koch brothers, ” the editors of The Tennessean news outlet write in a recent editorial. The editors cite as evidence the influence AFP had recently in convincing the Tennessee legislature to block a bus rapid transit system project in Nashville.

In July of last year, the Charles Koch Institute held an event in Nashville, “Education Opportunities: A Path Forward for Students in Tennessee,” to provide an “in-depth policy discussion” about public education and other issues.

As The Tennessean reported, the forum was advertised as “a panel talk with representatives of charter schools and conservative think tanks,” including outspoken and controversial charter school promoter Dr. Steve Perry.

Although the emphasis apparently was mostly on school vouchers, according to a different report in The Tennessean, the stage was thick with charter school advocates from Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and Nashville’s Beacon Center of Tennessee.

The reporter quotes Nashville parent T.C. Weber, “who questioned the ‘end game’ of diverting funding from public schools” and said, “‘Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?’”

Weber writes about the event on his personal blogsite: ”One of the questions asked of the panelists was what do [you] feel is the biggest obstacle … to the accepting of your vision. The reply was, ‘educating parents.’”

The presence of influential conservatives from outside the city “educating” Nashville parents about what kind of schools their children need has created resentment and suspicion in many Nashville citizens’ minds. Many fear the drive to expand charters is powered more by powerful interests outside the city than by the desires of Nashville parents and citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have had many exchanges with “reformers” who denied that they wanted to destroy public education and replace it with a privatized system. No, they insisted, competition will be good for the public schools. Charters and vouchers will improve public schools. I disagreed because I had heard many of their allies speak truthfully about their desire to privatize the public spending on education, behind closed doors, back when I was with them.

Now we know that competition doesn’t improve public schools. It takes money away from public schools. It weakens them.

But what do “reformers” want? Let them tell you. Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform after working for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation in D.C., has advocated for charters and vouchers for more than two decades. In a few weeks, she will offer a seminar at the Center called “The Decline and Fall of the U.S. Education System – The Development of a Movement.”

That’s the goal of reform. Weakening and privatizing public education.

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