Archives for category: Charter Schools

Stuart Egan is a high school teacher in Clemmons, North Carolina. This letter is addressed to a key Republican who is leading the charge to shift more public funds to privately managed charter schools.

This is an open letter to Sen. Jerry Tillman, R- Randolph County and the Majority Whip in the NC State Senate. This letter concerns his amendment to House Bill 334 to remove oversight of charter schools from DPI and his primary sponsorship of Senate Bill 456, a bill to forward more public money to charter schools.
Sen. Tillman,

Your crusade to create a lucrative charter school industry at the hands of public schools again has reached new heights of irrationality and hubris, and it is indicative of an exclusionary attitude when it comes to serving the people of North Carolina.

I am not surprised that you as a leader of the GOP caucus in the North Carolina General Assembly would spearhead a campaign to keep privatizing education in North Carolina, but the fact that you are a retired public school educator pushing this agenda makes me think that your commitment to provide a quality education to all of our state’s children simply vanished when you took an “oath” as a politician.

As reported on July 23rd in Lindsay Wagner’s news story entitled “Tillman’s bill impacts charter school oversight”, you championed an amendment to House Bill 334 that now places oversight of charter schools under the care of the State Board of Education and out of the Department of Public Instruction’s jurisdiction.

What this does is essentially place the responsibility of monitoring charter schools into the hands of an entity that is not prepared for that task. When pressed on the matter, you expressed that you intended to allocate funds to allow the SBE to hire personnel to monitor charter schools. Really? Spend more money on charters by creating a situation where you can protect them from checks and balances? This sounds more like a way for you to fashion a favorable situation for new charter schools to not only operate more freely, but be less transparent.

Ms. Wagner also detailed the abrupt manner in which you fielded questions from other legislators who were concerned with the surreptitious manner in which you operated. You stated that “DPI was never in love … with charter schools.” By whose standards is this true? Yours? Is it because DPI has been able to identify indiscretions with many charter schools that needed to be corrected?

When Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) confronted you for more clarification about why your amendment was actually beneficial to children of North Carolina, you hid behind a curtain of illogical clichés and glittering generalities. Sen. Stein asked in what ways DPI had inhibited charter school creation and you shot back, “I’m not going to give you the details. A good lawyer would never do that.” That’s odd. You are a lawmaker. You should produce details. In fact, good lawyers very much pay attention to details.

When further pressed to offer details as to why DPI should be divested of charter school oversight, you said, “We don’t air dirty laundry here.” Senator, if there is enough dirty laundry to create the need for your amendment, then you probably need to show everyone the stains. And where and when should this “dirty laundry” get aired? It seems like you were in the laundromat already.

You were in a meeting specifically to address House Bill 334 and you brought forth an amendment which totally changes the scope of how charter schools are managed and then you bullishly refused to explain yourself. If your reasoning is so sound, then why did you not clarify it? When people refuse to answer questions that require thoughtful answers, then it usually means that one is either hiding some secret agenda or really has no logical reasoning whatsoever, or both. I am thinking that it is both because this is just the last of a series of actions that have shown you bulldozing the public schools to create more charter schools without oversight.

A June 4th report by Laura Leslie for WRAL entitled “Senate Education Leader blasts charter chief” detailed your outburst in a meeting concerning why DPI refused to grant charters for many new charter school applications. Reading your comments makes you sound like a playground bully who did not get his way. The first few sentences of the report used phrases like “angry outburst” and “public dressing-down” to describe your tirade. Joel Medley, the State Office of Charter Schools director, actually explained to you the reasoning for the denial of some charters. He did not seem to hide behind some political agenda. He was willing to air dirty laundry for the sake of the state’s welfare. No lawyer needs to explain that.

Let’s go back a few weeks. I now refer to the April 28th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, when education writer Arika Herron reported that you proposed a bill (SB 456) which “would send more money to charter schools” by taking more from traditional public schools in next year’s budget (“NC Senate bill would send more money to charter schools”). I have to admit; at least you are consistent.

It appears that you publicly ignore that charter schools can practice exclusion and in many cases divert public funds to unregulated entities. Charter schools are not required to offer transportation or provide free/reduced lunches. They can selectively limit enrollment and hire non-certified educators. Most charter schools simply lack transparency. And a further consequence is that SB 456 targets poorer people because you introduced a bill that would exclude more poor people (who still pay taxes) from the benefits of a quality education that you perceive only charter schools can give.

Sen. Tillman, you do not seem to care if your wish to expand charter schools actually widens the income gap that so much grips our state. You made that perfectly clear on Feb. 23rd, 2011, when you were shown on a video posted by Rob Schofield on the ncpolicywatch.org website. You fielded a question that expressed concern over whether lower-income kids could have equal chances to attend charter schools. Your response was indicative of the exclusionary attitude that your proposed bill embraces.

You said, “It’s certainly okay if they don’t go there [the charter school]. They can go to their public schools. They can get their free and reduced price lunch. And they can do that. But the charter school itself and the commission must decide what they can do and when they can do it financially. And that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re gonna’ be and I’m certainly for that.”

With a response like that, how can you claim to represent all North Carolinians? The fact is that no matter the socioeconomic background of the students, traditional schools do succeed when proper resources are allotted (money, textbooks, time, respect, etc.). When teachers have the support of the public AND the legislature, any school can show student growth. However, your statement leads one to think that you are promoting exclusivity based on income levels.
And this is not the first time that you have alienated those who suffer from poverty.

You were a primary sponsor for the Voting Reform Act in the 2013-2014 sessions, leading the charge to fight non-existent voter fraud in our state by fast-tracking a voter ID law that was purposefully constructed to keep many people’s voices from being heard, especially minority and low-income citizens. If these people are silenced, then how can they democratically affect outcomes in elections that may sanction positive change for their children and grandchildren including issues surrounding public education? You seem to be denying them the very right that you have sworn to protect and uphold as an elected official.

As a public school teacher, I am amazed that you continue to belittle the very public schools that you yourself once served as a teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent – for over 40 years! You are drawing a pension for being a public school retiree!

But now you are a seven-term state senator and a willing participant in transforming North Carolina from what was considered the most progressive state in the Southeast into what has regressed into a stagnated commonwealth ruled by reactionary policies.

And what seems most egregious is that you are the co-chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee. Your decisions impact ALL STUDENTS! You have a direct influence in how schools are funded, what they can teach, and how they are measured. Surely you remember the Jeb Bush inspired letter-grading system you helped implement that found most “failing” schools in North Carolina resided in areas where there were concentrated pockets of poverty.

As a public official you are under oath to uphold the state’s constitution which ensures all students a quality public education. Instead you are compromising all students in traditional schools while taking more of the valuable money and resources allocated for them to give to charter schools that do not have to abide by the same regulations.

If you truly want to positively impact public education, then invest more in pre-K programs and expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy and prepared. Reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here instead of in other states.

Real leaders take away obstacles that impede those who are served. You are creating more.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School
Clemmons, NC

John Paulson, a fabulously wealthy hedge fund manager, gave $8.5 million to Eva Moskowitz to expand her Néw York City-based chain of “no excuses” charter schools.

Last year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to block the expansion of charter schools and to charge them rent for the use of public space–which he promised in the campaign–hedge fund managers gave millions to Governor Cuomo and spent several millions on a TV ad campaign attacking de Blasio. Eva brought thousands of her students and parents to Albany tolobby for her schools. The Governor and the legislature agreed that the city had to give free public space to charters or pay their rent in private space. In doing so, they ignored the law giving the mayor control of the schools.

“Success Academy, which was founded in 2006 by Eva S. Moskowitz, a former member of the City Council, is known for its high student test scores, as well as its sometimes polarizing methods. The network will have 34 schools as of this fall, but there appears to be enough demand for it to grow. This year it received more than 22,000 applications for fewer than 2,300 seats.

“Ms. Moskowitz has plans to grow to 70 schools within five or six years, and last year, she said she would like to have 100 schools within 10 years.”

Paulson sees Moskowitz’s chain as an antidote to poverty, but he seems unaware of her small proportions of the neediest students or the high attrition rate.

Rumors abound that she may run against de Blasio for Mayor in 2017.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the results of the Tennessee “Achievement School District” since its inception. At the time, its founder Chris Barbic pledged that–in five years time– he would lift up the schools in the bottom 5% of the state to the top 25% in the state. His strategy: turn them into charters and let the charter magic do its work.

Barbic recently resigned, although the experiment has not reached the five year mark.

Gary Rubinstein here reports on the ASD’s failure to get anywhere near the goal of “top 25%.”

Although there are regular claims of dramatic progress, Gary has the results of three years of the experiment for the original six schools in the cohort.

Of the six, four are still in the bottom 5%; the other two are in the bottom 6%. Some scores went up, some went down. The strategy of converting schools to charter with TFA teachers has not produced miracles or dramatic progress. And yet, many states are rushing to create their own “achievement school districts.” Gary’s warning: Tennessee has an “underachievement district.”

Gary Rubinstein writes:

Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based. Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially. I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype. Getting 2 out of 6 schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country.

The new superintendent in Palm Beach County was hired from the Fulton County School District in Georgia; Georgia has a law permitting “charter districts.” Superintendent Robert Avossa now wants to try it in Palm Beach County, where parents have been fighting for years to keep the hands of the charter industry out of their county. In his application for the job of Superintendent in PBC (which he assumed in June), he spoke of his passion for public education; there was no indication that he would immediately bring in the privateers, entrepreneurs, and fly-by-night operators whose charters overpopulate the lowest-performing schools in the state.

The Palm Beach Post reported:


Palm Beach County’s schools chief wants permission from state lawmakers to convert the county’s public school system into a “charter school district,” a designation that could let him end-run state rules and drastically reorganize schools’ schedules, class sizes and instruction time.

Superintendent Robert Avossa’s proposal would require approval from state lawmakers and the support of the county’s school board. If granted, he said the extra freedom would allow the county’s traditional public schools to better compete with charter schools, which have more flexibility under state law and are attracting thousands of new students each year.

In light of the fact that the charter industry has already bought control of the state legislature, he is not likely to have much opposition there. The question is whether the local school board is as happy to privatize public schools as Superintendent Avossa is.

It has been almost ten years since Hurricane Katrina, and the hype is waxing large. Advocates for privatization and free-market reforms are celebrating the great gains, but skeptics are unconvinced. New Orleans as a model suggests turning all (or almost all) public schools into privately managed charters; firing all the teachers; and banishing the union. Arne Duncan once memorably said that Hurrucane Katrina was the best thing ever to happen to the schools of Néw Orleans: no more public schools! A strange comment from the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The National Education Policy Center recently issued a review of the evidence about Néw Orleans, prepared by Professor Huriya Jabbar and Mark Gooden at the University of Texas.

What they found was contested ground. Advocates claimed dramatic gains. Critics attributed any gains to the large decline in students after the hurricane and changes in the state’s grading standards, as well as a huge influx of federal and philanthropic funds to support the market system.

The authors write:

“Moreover, groups of students, parents, and community members remain skeptical of the reform movement and have raised concerns that the new school system remains inequitable. For example, students and parents have raised concerns with some charter schools that have been unresponsive to students and too harsh in their disciplinary policies. After years of complaints lodged by parents about the treatment of students with special needs in the charter system, including physical and emotional abuse and “counseling out,” the parties settled a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, acknowledging these grievances and requiring independent monitoring and auditing of charter schools’ special education services. According to news reports, the decentralized, fragmented school system in New Orleans has also been particularly unprepared to serve the growing percentages of English Language Learners in the city.

“Further, within the choice system family income exerts a strong influence. A recent study found that low-income families make schooling decisions differently than affluent families. Low-income families are much more constrained in their choices because of practical considerations such as after-school care and distance, and therefore measured academic outcomes play a smaller role their decisions.”

Some locals complain that the reform leaders are mostly white and that the black community has no role in decisionmaking. In addition, the test score gains have been made mostly by white students.

The authors conclude:

“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent reforms, there remain more questions than answers. Even if the reforms implemented under such a hyper-politicized arrangement show some clear gains in student achievement, as seems to be the case, it is important to attend to the serious equity concerns that remain in the system, and to examine other outcomes, beyond test scores. The preliminary evidence, from a combination of news reports and research studies, suggests that the New Orleans reforms disproportionately benefit more advantaged students, relative to the most at-risk and under-served students. In light of these concerns, there is a need for more research that systematically examines whether the reforms have truly altered the structure of opportunities for students who are low-income, of color, English Language Learners, or have disabilities. Given the additional resources and the unique New Orleans experience, there are also questions about how sustainable and replicable the New Orleans model is, even though many cities are adopting similar reforms.

“It is also important to ask how much local, democratic oversight the public is willing, or should be willing, to trade for somewhat higher test scores. In New Orleans, as well as in many other cities and states seeking to adopt a “recovery” or “portfolio” model, policymakers should ensure that the temporary turnaround measures do not permanently disenfranchise local actors.”

In the past four years, a philanthropic organization called “Choose to Succeed” in San Antonio raised more than $35 million to attract some of the nation’s highest-test-score-producing charter schools to a city that already had many charter schools. The group brought in Great Hearts and BASIS from Arizona, IDEA, and Carpe Diem, while helping KIPP to expand.

Some of the new charter operators are planting campuses in the well-regarded Northside, North East and Alamo Heights independent school districts, indicating that the initial rationale some expressed for Choose to Succeed — that families needed an alternative to underperforming public schools — has evolved into something broader.Their quality is changing the local education landscape. Their locations and students are changing the local debate over school choice.
Scores of charter schools already operated here when Choose to Succeed went looking for its high performers. It lured four new networks — IDEA, BASIS, Great Hearts and Carpe Diem — and helped the established KIPP to expand.
When classes start next month, those five charter networks will have about 8,500 students, more than the enrollments of some smaller local school districts….

If they grow as planned, almost 40,000 students will be in Choose to Succeed-launched schools a decade from now, more than in 13 of Bexar County’s 16 independent school districts….

Great Hearts is known for a liberal arts curriculum built around “the Great Books.” Before graduation, every student acts in four plays (two of them by Shakespeare), sings in a choir, learns a musical instrument, paints, draws, sculpts and takes Latin, Greek and two years of calculus, among other requirements. High school students participate in two-hour Socratic seminars, and every senior defends a thesis before a faculty panel. Uniforms are blue and white; high school boys wear neckties.
Great Hearts Monte Vista was the network’s first venture out of its based in Phoenix. It opened last year and now teaches grades kindergarten through 10 at leased facilities at Temple Beth-El and Trinity Baptist Church.
Monte Vista is an affluent neighborhood, but the school’s location close to downtown and on bus lines makes it accessible to an economically diverse community, said Roberto Gutierrez, senior vice president of advancement for Great Hearts Texas.
Last year, however, only 14 percent of Great Hearts Monte Vista’s 572 students were considered economically disadvantaged. Hawthorne Academy and Cotton Elementary, nearby San Antonio ISD campuses, have economically disadvantaged rates of 89 and 97 percent, respectively.
The disparity is central to what detractors of Great Hearts claim is its tendency to exclude low-income families. More than half of Arizona’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but only two of 19 Great Hearts schools in the Phoenix area participated in the National School Lunch Program and received federal Title I funding for at-risk populations.
In five years, the network hopes to have 6,000 students in six schools here. Great Hearts Northern Oaks will open to about 640 students in grades kindergarten through seven.
NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy drives by the construction site every day.
“If they’re a public school and they’re using public tax dollars and the North East Independent School District is at 48 percent economically disadvantaged population, then a public charter school located in the heart of our district … should educate a diverse population,” Gottardy said. “They need to educate the masses just like we do.”
Great Hearts picked its Northern Oaks site based on available land and the cost to build a campus for 13 grades with parking and athletic facilities, but future campuses around Loop 410 and downtown will attract people from all parts of the city, Gutierrez said. The network will advertise in Spanish on the South and West sides, he said.
The CEO of Great Hearts Texas, Dan Scoggin, said he knows the impression that opponents have of Great Hearts: prep schools of tie-wearing students discussing Plato and Aristotle.
“There has been this narrative built that the charter school movement is just only exclusively for low-income kids,” Scoggin said. “Great Hearts also serves middle-income families who we feel are deeply underserved because they don’t have access to a college prep education in a public school setting.”
Both low-income and middle-income kids “don’t have options, in many cases,” he said.
When BASIS San Antonio opened in the Medical Center two years ago, it attracted families interested in its rigorous science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum. The network opened BASIS San Antonio North last year near Loop 410, just inside Alamo Heights ISD.
Both schools started with grades five through eight and will become high schools, adding a new grade each year. Students begin Latin in the fifth grade and can choose other languages, including Mandarin, in the seventh. They must rack up at least eight Advanced Placement courses and six AP exams by the end of their junior year.
The network will seek a charter amendment to enroll grades kindergarten through four so it can shift both schools to elementary and middle grades and build a high school between them by 2017, near Castle Hills, said Peter Bezanson, CEO of BASIS’ for-profit management company….

Last year, 10 percent of BASIS San Antonio students were economically disadvantaged, compared with 58 percent at the closest Northside ISD elementary school. At BASIS San Antonio North, 12 percent were economically disadvantaged, compared with 21 percent at Alamo Heights ISD’s Cambridge Elementary.
Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside ISD, and Kevin Brown, the Alamo Heights ISD superintendent, echoed Gottardy’s concerns about charter networks serving relatively affluent populations. Woods said their projected ramp-up could create “further socioeconomic stratification in the city.”
“Schools that receive public funds ought to work to the good of all the kids in the community,” Woods said. “And if you can’t show that you’re doing that, then I’m not sure that you should be eligible to receive public funds.”

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

Politicians and charter lobbyists recite the claim that thousands of students are wait-listed for charter schools. They say we must open more charters at once to satisfy the demand for charter seats. The seats, we are told, are “high performing” seats, as if a seat had some magic to transfer to whoever might sit in it.

A blogger called Public School Mama describes her experience with the charter school “wait list” in Boston.

She really needed to put her son into kindergarten. She applied to a local charter school. She applied to the neighborhood public school. The charter school never called. The neighborhood public school told her that her son was accepted. She was happy with the public school. She liked the teachers. No complaints.

Years later, she got a call from the charter school informing her that her child had been accepted. She realized that all those years, his name had never been removed from the wait list. And she understood that the “wait list” was a political chimera.

Please read this tweet.

Brian Malone, documentary film-maker, has self-funded a film about the corporate assault on public education.

 

His film is a MUST-SEE. It is titled EDUCATION, INC.

 

Malone is a parent of two children in the public schools of Douglas County, Colorado. He documents the well-funded effort to take control of the local school board. Grassroots activists running for school board raised $40,000. Corporate reform privatizers received over $1 million in funding, which they used for a slick propaganda campaign. They won control of the school board and immediately began implementing their plans for vouchers, charters, union-busting, and salary caps for teachers. The exodus of teachers from the district more than doubled. The district paid hired guns (including former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett) to praise its “reforms.” A commissioned study by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute hailed DougCo as “the most interesting district” in the nation.

 

Malone crisscrosses the nation, interviewing teachers, parents, and trying to interview leaders of the privatization movement (who usually refuse to be interviewed).

 

What he shows dramatically is the huge pot of money coming from organizations connected to the Koch brothers, Jeb Bush, Michael Bloomberg, and other advocates for dismantling the public school system and replacing it with a free market of unregulated private schools and charters. He takes a close look at ALEC and its national network of rightwing extremists dedicated to privatization. Extremists and billionaires are pouring large sums into state and local school board races and into state legislative races. The only way to stop them is to go to the polls and vote for candidates who support public schools. The only way to make that happen is to education the public.

 

This is an important film about the future of American education. It is a call for citizens to get involved and take back their public schools from those seeking to privatize them.

 

Malone plans a national “house party” to show the film on August 14. Please contact him and get a copy and invite your friends and neighbors. EDUCATION INC. is a great place to start informing the public about the monied elite that wants to steal their schools and divert the funds to corporations, entrepreneurs, consultants, charter schools, and vouchers.

 

Go to the website for the film to learn how to get a copy: http://www.edincmovie.com or google Education, Inc.

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