Archives for category: Charter Schools

Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos reports that some teachers at a charter chain in Los Angeles want to organize a union. They have asked management to stay neutral. They thought management agreed, but it created an anti-union video.

Laura knows that the charter business model relies on low wages and teacher turnover; much of the money behind the charter industry (think Walton) is staunchly anti-union.

By the way, the incoming chair of the charter board previously led the Broad Foundation.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coaltion for Equity and Adequacy explains the origins of choice in Ohio and how it has evolved into a lucrative for-profit industry. If “choice” meant better education, Ohio by now should have the best schools in the nation. It doesn’t. What has happened has been the transfer of $8 billion out of the state’s public schools to satisfy rightwing, evidence-free ideology.

Phillis writes:

“The school choice movement in Ohio: Is it about parents choosing good schools or the school choosing good students?

Open enrollment was a product of SB 140, an education “reform” bill more than a quarter century ago in the 118th General Assembly. The rationale set forth for enacting the concept was that parents should be allowed to choose a better academic option in a neighboring district. Although there has been no extensive research regarding why people choose open enrollment, experience indicates that better academics is the least frequent reason for the choice of another school district.

Open enrollment was the precursor to the Ohio privately-operated choice movement. Then-President George H. W. Bush told a large gathering of people in Columbus on November 25, 1991, you have open enrollment and now you need to go the whole nine yards and give a voucher to every student. Bush’s speech was reported in the November 26, 1991 Cincinnati Enquirer article-Bush: Give private schools money, Ohio audience wary of proposal.

The Cleveland Voucher Plan, a brainchild of Akron Industrialist David Brennen and then-Governor George V. Voinovich, followed the Bush recommendation. Ohio’s education choice programs have removed nearly $8 billion from Ohio school districts since “choice” began.

The education choice gospel is preached in a way that resonates with lots of folks. Who would take issue with such a sacred-sounding verse–choice? But the reality is that choice is more about private and privately-managed education entities choosing students than parents choosing a school. Private schools and charters are not obligated to take students and many of them screen out or counsel out students they don’t want.

The irony is that those parents who choose charter schools are, in a majority of cases, opting for schools with lower academic ratings than the district of residence. But that phenomenon, as long as folks are blinded by the empty promise of choice, will continue to lead to consumer fraud. Massive snake oil salesman-type advertising misleads parents. Most of the solicitations for student enrollment do not match the charters’ educational opportunities and results.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

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

Watch Superintendent William Cala, as he eviscerates the so-called reform movement, including charter schools, the private money that shapes the politics of education, the reformers’ indifference to poverty, their refusal to acknowledge the root causes of low test scores, and the mandate that we all have to raise our voices and take action to stop the takeover of our schools. Education “reform,” he says, is not about educating children, it is about money and power.

Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, is outraged that many super-wealthy people–and their apologists at the NY Times–blame poverty on the lifestyles of the poor.

He writes:

“There they go again. Conservatives are back again with their “war on poverty,” which is to say, their war on poor people and any liberals, or sympathizers, who try to help them.

“Unlike Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which despite 50 years of demonization and policy reversals has cut U.S. poverty by 40 percent (see No. 3 here), the conservative version has little hope of doing anything about poverty. But that’s not the point. Neither is attacking poor people and liberals, for that matter. The point is defending the obscenely rich, and the massive upward redistribution of wealth America has seen going on since the 1970s. At the same time the broad-based increase in affluence of the early post-World War II era has been decisively shut off.

“IRS data compiled by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saenz and their colleagues at the top incomes database shows how stark America’s shift from a broad-based prosperity model has been. From 1947 to 1973, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent increased 99.2 percent, compared to 88.9 percent for the top 10 percent, and a mere 7.4 percent for the top 0.1 percent. But from 1973 to 2008, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell 6.1 percent, while the average incomes of the top 10 percent continued rising by another 70.8 percent, and average incomes of the top 0.1 percent skyrocketed an astronomical 706.4 percent.

“With the bottom 90 percent losing ground, on average, and the top 0.1 percent gobbling those losses up like candy, it makes perfect sense to try to distract attention by finger-pointing at the poor—as well as those who might be inclined to help them. Whether it actually makes sense or not is irrelevant. All it has to be believable—for those with a powerful-enough motive to believe.

“A case in point is the recent David Brooks Op-Ed blaming poor folks for their poverty, which Salon’s Elias Isquith wrote about here recently, along with a disturbingly similar poor-bashing piece by neoliberal Nicholas Kristof. Given his high-profile perch at the so-called liberal New York Times, Brooks drew some rather pointed data-informed responses, including ones by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig at the New Republic (“Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies. What David Brooks doesn’t understand about poverty,” Connor Williams at Talking Points Memo, who argued that “David Brooks Is Mistaking Poverty’s Symptoms For Its Causes,” and Noah Smith who responded with a short blog post, providing the links to make his point that “Americans are better behaved than ever.”

All the references are linked to their sources in the article.

How does this connect to education? The leading funders if the charter school movement are billionaires and multi-millionaires who are beneficiaries of income inequality. Their spokesmen, like Governor Cuomo say that money is not the answer to the problems of education. He refuses to pay the schools the billions of dollars the state owes after losing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He imposed a tax cap so districts can’t raise taxes to cover rising costs unless it is approved by 60% of voters in the district–59% won’t do.

His answer to the needs if districts: open charter schools. That satisfies his patrons, but drains the budgets of public schools even more.

Skeptics suspect that the 1% prefer charter schools as a means of avoiding discussion of taxing the 1% to reduce inequality. When hedge fund managers show as much interest in fully funding the public schools as they do in privatizing them, the skepticism will disappear.

As long as they continue to treat privately managed charters as society’s best (and cheapest) way to fight poverty, they will appear to be paraphrasing the old line misattributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them Eat Charters.”

The Wall Street Journal reports on some details of New York’s just concluded budget deal:

 

 

The centerpiece of the budget, an ethics overhaul, will require state lawmakers to disclose sources of outside income exceeding $1,000 a year, as well as the services they perform to receive it. And it will force those who work as lawyers or in other client-based jobs to disclose the identity of their clients, with exceptions to be approved by the state ethics agency…..

 

The governor’s push to overhaul public education, partly through instituting a new teacher-evaluation system, was one of the most contentious holdups. The budget agreement puts the job of refining the teacher-evaluation process in the hands of the state education department, and ties it to teacher tenure, which will be available after four years instead of the current three.

 

A joint statement released Sunday by the governor’s office and legislative leaders noted that the deal boosted school aid by $1.4 billion—to $23.5 billion—without specifying changes that the governor said in his budget request that he would require as a condition of increasing school funding.

 

But the spending plan contains few other major policy initiatives—a consequence of the governor’s insistence on including the package of ethics overhauls.

 

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, appeared to sacrifice leverage on other agenda items when he prioritized ethics overhauls, saying he wouldn’t sign off on a budget deal that excluded that package. The bulk of it did end up in the budget.

 

But cut out of the spending plan were many other items Mr. Cuomo highlighted in his combined state-of-the-state and executive budget address this year, including raising the cap on charter schools; mayoral control of schools, which New York City Mayor Bill de Blasiohas advocated; a measure that would bar minors from being tried as adults; and a plan for an independent monitor for police-brutality cases.

 

There are two court cases challenging teacher tenure, one brought by TV journalist Campbell Brown, the other by New York parent Mona Davids. The change in tenure from three years to four years puts New York in a very different position from California, where the Vergara decision overturned a tenure period that was only 18 months long (two school years of nine months each) before teachers were eligible to receive the right to due process.

Leonie Haimson includes in this post a summary of the latest Quinnipiac poll about public reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education proposals. The long and short of it is that they are so unpopular that they have dragged down his overall rating.

 

28% approve his proposals while 63% reject them.

 

The Quinnipiac poll shows that Cuomo has dropped to his lowest rating ever–50%, and the poll connects his declining popularity to his ferocious attacks on public schools and teachers. He doesn’t seem to understand that most people like both and can’t understand why the Governor wants to destroy them. They have a low opinion of all his plans to “improve” them by raising the stakes on testing. This should be a warning to other politicians who think they can attack public education without arousing public antagonism. Most Americans–say, 90%–went to public school and presumably have good memories of their teachers and schools. Why would the governor or any other politician want to send public money to private and religious schools?

Ginia Bellafante has a dynamite article in The Néw York Times about a new protest organization called the “Hedge Clippers.”

The Hedge Clippers picket, demonstrate, and call attention to the political activities of the 1%. In addition to promoting the proliferation of charter schools, they lobby for low taxes–on the rich.

“Two weeks ago, several busloads of New Yorkers made a pilgrimage to Greenwich, Conn., to visit the waterfront estate of the hedge fund titan Paul Tudor Jones II, where, suffice it to say, they were not invited in to see the china. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and the protesters, many of them ordinary working people who have felt cheated by the inequities of a tax system that favors the rarefied few, were there to call attention to Mr. Jones’s educational agenda, built on the premise that the extravagantly rich know better how to teach reading, and to his support of Republican candidates and causes in the New York State Legislature that disadvantage the poor and working class.”

Mr. Jones was one of the funders last year of the multi-million dollar TV campaign to stop Mayor de Blasio’s effort to deny public space to charter schools and to charge rent to those that could afford to pay. Not only was that campaign to stop the mayor successful, but Governor Cuomo persuaded the legislature that all charters in Néw York City were entitled to free public space, regardless of their assets, and the city had to pay their rent if they were located in private space.

While fighting to protect and expand charter schools, the hedge funders supported a group called Néw Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which helped Republicans retain control of the State Senate. That is their guarantee that there will be no new taxes on the 1% and minimal new funding for traditional public schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo received millions from Wall Street for his re-election campaign, and he spoke at a charter school rally last year where he declared his fealty to charters. Only 3% of the students in Néw York state are enrolled in charter schools. In 2012, Cuomo said he would be the “students’ lobbyist.” Now we know that what he meant was that he would be the charter students’ lobbyist.

Steve Matthews, superintendent of the Novi school district, here explains how the education profession has been attacked and demonized, with premeditation.

 

He begins:

 

So you want to kill a profession.

 

It’s easy.

 

First you demonize the profession. To do this you will need a well-organized, broad-based public relations campaign that casts everyone associated with the profession as incompetent and doing harm. As an example, a well-orchestrated public relations campaign could get the front cover of a historically influential magazine to invoke an image that those associated with the profession are “rotten apples.”

 

Then you remove revenue control from the budget responsibilities of those at the local level. Then you tell the organization to run like a business which they clearly cannot do because they no longer have control of the revenue. As an example, you could create a system that places the control for revenue in the hands of the state legislature instead of with the local school board or local community.

 

Then you provide revenue that gives a local agency two choices: Give raises and go into deficit or don’t give raises so that you can maintain a fund balance but in the process demoralize employees. As an example, in Michigan there are school districts that have little to no fund balance who have continued to give raises to employees and you have school districts that have relatively healthy fund balances that have not given employees raises for several years.

 

Then have the state tell the local agency that it must tighten its belt to balance revenue and expenses. The underlying, unspoken assumption being that the employees will take up the slack and pay for needed supplies out of their own pockets.

 

Additionally , introduce “independent” charters so that “competition” and “market-forces” will “drive” the industry. However, many of these charters, when examined, give the illusion of a better environment but when examined show no improvement in service. The charters also offer no comprehensive benefits or significantly fewer benefits for employees. So the charters offer no better quality for “customers” and no security for employees but they ravage the local environment.

 

Then create a state-mandated evaluation system in an effort to improve quality…..

 

That is how it begins.

 

For his willingness to speak out honestly and courageously, I add Steve Matthews to the blog’s honor roll as a hero of public education.

 

 

 

WOW.

This is a remarkable and candid story of Jorge Cabrera, who joined the reform movement as a believer. He wanted to help the children of Bridgeport, where he grew up. He wanted better schools. He was a community organizer for Excel Schools.

And then he learned the truth.

“As I began my work in the “education reform movement” in Bridgeport, I noticed a plethora of ivy league educated “consultants” and “transformational leaders” that littered the often loose coalition of funders, new organizations and executive directors. From the beginning, it was clear that many of these new “leaders” that were emerging were well credentialed. They had graduated from prestigious universities and, it was presumed (though not by me), that alone qualified them to lead. Many were very young (recent graduates), energetic, unmarried with no children and little life experience. They often exhibited a cultish commitment to “the movement.” Their zeal for “education reform” and “saving the children” often resulted in a bizarre abdication of critical thinking that made a mockery of their high priced “education.” For instance, in many meetings I attended, many of these acolytes extolled the virtues of charter schools as the only solution to closing the achievement gap in Bridgeport but never once did anyone bother to discuss the ample research (i.e. “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” ) available regarding the negative impact of poverty on academic achievement or that Bridgeport had several public magnet schools that outperformed (as measured by standardized test scores) many charter schools. These magnet schools had long track records (20 plus years) of success and I assumed we should advocate for what we know, firmly, works. Despite this evidence, there was never any serious discussion regarding expanding magnet school options or advocating for high quality, universal preschool programs (research shows the achievement gap begins at this level). The entire approach to “education reform” lacked any serious understanding of the many variables (i.e., social-emotional issues, poverty, funding, English language learners) that clearly effect a child’s ability to learn. Anytime a more dynamic and multifaceted approach to closing the achievement gap was raised it was quickly dismissed as “making excuses.” The atmosphere vacillated between a callous indifference to the real challenges Bridgeport children faced and arrogant dismissiveness. Permeated throughout these various organizations that formed a loose network of power was a culture that prized blind dedication to the “mission” and socially affirmed and promoted those who obeyed and exhibited “urgency” in “reforming” the “failing schools.” The people in “the movement” made it clear that it was up to the “best and brightest” of minds to “transform” the “system” as “outside influencers.” By “best and brightest” they almost exclusively meant people who would do their bidding without question and certainly not anyone that would exhibit any degree of independent or critical thought. On more than one occasion, when the argument was made that the solutions to the multilayered challenge of public education needed to come from the people and required an authentic, engaging process with the Bridgeport community the response was often glib at best. I recall in one strategic planning meeting when I advocated for authentic engagement and patience to allow parents the time to become informed on the various issues and was told to, “just use language to convince” the parents and impress upon them a sense of “urgency.” Another person told me, “It’s all about how you say it…..”

“I began to sense that someone or something I was not fully aware of was calling the shots behind the scenes and many of these young ivy leaguers were the mercenaries on the front lines tasked with implementing the agenda. This whole enterprise was quickly becoming astroturfing and I was in the middle of it. Worse, I was starting to feel like I was hired to put lipstick on a pig and it was beginning to burn me on the inside. Nevertheless, through it all, I never gave up hope and tried to create spaces for honest, authentic and fact based discussions inside “the movement” with limited success.”

The reformers decided that Bridgeport needed mayoral control, so the mayor could open more charters faster. In the run-up to the election, high-priced media consultants arrived to take charge.

“Immediately, the focus was on marketing and sloganeering. Worse, we were trying to build the plane while it was in the air! The whole thing was rushed and disorganized. We were told to make sure we communicated to the public that voting in favor of the city charter change was good for parents, students and would lead to better academic outcomes. The insinuation was that anyone who was against the charter revision changes was anti-child or anti-education. When parents or community leaders asked questions that required more substantive, fact based responses we were coached to respond to everything in soundbites and with shallow arguments that lacked any grounding in reality. It was the worse kind of insult to the community’s intelligence and pandered to the worse aspects of human nature and—it almost worked.”

” My nearly three years in the “movement” in Bridgeport revealed to me the incredible lengths that private, often unseen and unaccountable power will go to in order to create and capitalize on a crisis. In Bridgeport, that crisis in our public education system was created by powerful forces at the local and state level who systematically starved the school system by withholding necessary school funding (Shock #1) which then created a crisis that set the stage for a takeover (Shock #2) of the Bridgeport board of education on the eve of the fourth of July in 2011. Essentially, these forces were engaged in a form of social engineering under the guise of “urgency” and “reform.” To be clear, in this “movement” there are people who have good intentions and sincerly want to improve the conditions of Bridgeport’s public schools but they do not sit at the tables of power when strategic decisions are made and their voices are often silenced. Their talents, skills and knowledge are often used to serve a larger, opaque agenda that is dictated by a radical ideology of deregulation and privatization. Shot throughout most, if not all, of the education reform “movement” you will find the radical ideology of economist Milton Friedman. Looking back, there were moments when this mindset (disaster capitalism) was revealed to me in meetings. On one occassion, a very influential operator in the “education reform” community was discussing the “amazing opportunity” that revealed itself after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans desimated the population and led to the “charterization” of the public school system. He expounded that sometimes you have to, “…burn the village to save it…” and that what we (the “reform community”) are essentially involved in is, “creative destruction.” Worse, he argued that we needed a “clean slate” in order for real “change” to happen in the school system in Bridgeport. But this was my home. This was the city I grew up in and where most of my family lived and worked. You want to burn down their city!? You want to destroy it so you can be creative!? For whom? It was all surreal. I was done.”

It’s an incredible story that confirms your darkest suspicions.

A reader saw the earlier post about the ruin caused by privatization in Chile and wrote this post about Colombia:

 

 

I live and work in Colombia. The same was tried here. Perhaps Colombia drank the “Chilean miracle” koolaid, or perhaps it’s simply that Colombians tend to think anything that comes from abroad (particularly if its roots are in the US) must be golden. The private system insisted it could and would provide better education than the public schools, so the government provided funding for what we would call charters, but here are really just private schools. Among the results: lots of fraud, lots of tiny primary schools opening and closing in garages, often leaving kids with no chance to get into other schools until the next term…if they were lucky, since private schools don’t have to let them in, and there aren’t enough seats in the public schools any more. Inequality is very high, even though the government includes some aspects of social democracy, like nearly universal health care and a progressive tax policy. (The pension system was privatized too, and that’s been a disaster for most people, but I digress.) I can’t speak to whether inequality is actually greater than before the education reforms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. Certainly the public schools lost funds, as anyone who had enough money to pay tuition (yes, not only did these schools get government funds, but they were allowed to charge tuition), enrolled and still enroll their kids in “private” schools on the assumption that public schools are the worst possible option, even though public school kids regularly win scholarships to attend public universities of excellent quality.

 

Since I moved here in 2006, scores on international tests like the PISA, have dropped. The sorely underfunded public schools have continued to produce most of the top scorers on the ICFES, a national exam required for university entrance, similar to the SAT or ACT. That wasn’t enough to open the government’s eyes. It was the drop in scores on international tests that finally did it. As a result (YAY!), recently, the government stopped funding the private/charter schools. I don’t know if this means the public system will get more funding – I hope it does, because they need a big infusion. Since I’ve been here, there aren’t enough public schools to provide an education for all the children whose families can’t afford a private one. Now, finally, the push is on to build enough to solve that problem. It’s not like our education policy leaders would have to go far to see what NOT to do: Colombia’s a mere four hour flight from Miami. There are none so blind as those who will not look, much less see.

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