Archives for category: Charter Schools

In 2011, a former graduate student of mine ran an Internet search for the term “failing school.” It was almost never used until the mid-1990s. Then each year, it appeared with greater frequency. After the passage of No Child Left Behind, it become a cliche: Any school with low test scores was “a failing school.” The term “failing school” is especially useful to those who want to close them and turn their building over to charter operators, which may not accept the same students.

 

A reader writes:

 

 

The term “failing schools” is a weapon. I have worked in a public school in the south Bronx for almost 20 years. Our students come from poor, often stressed, families. Many are English Language Learners. Most are socially and academically “behind”. And I love seeing them every day. We LOOK like a failing school when you judge us through the prism of standardized testing, but when my kids win the Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Competition, or come back to tell me about their college experiences, or stare in wonder at the city in which they live but don’t really know while we take them on field trips, or beg me to continue reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men instead of turning to test prep material, I KNOW we are not a failing school. Eva Moskowitz has chosen our building for her next conquest, and we’ve been told that no matter what we do, “it’s a done deal”. Need a laugh? The vote is scheduled to take place deep in Chinatown! How many of our parents do you think will be able to show up for that? My kids are not failures, no matter how many times they are told so by the VERY PEOPLE WHO RUN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THIS CITY.

 
It’s humiliating and soul crushing to be a teacher in an inner city school. The people who should be getting accolades for working in such places are beaten down instead. I’ll go to work tomorrow and discuss the symbolism of the objects that Boo Radley leaves in the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird. My kids will ask great questions and make wonderful observations. Many of them will score poorly on the ELA exam in 2 weeks. They, and I, will be labeled failures. It’s so very, very sad.

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.

 

This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.

 

I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.

 

Lynch writes:

 

Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.

 

Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.

 

And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.

 

The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.

 

Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

Last February, Professor Gene Glass posted a hard-hitting post about conflicts of interest in Arizona. I reposted it on this blog.

Recently, Glass went looking for his post, and strange to say, it had disappeared! Gone!

Here is the post. Enjoy!

Bob Braun writes here about the ongoing privatization of public schools in Newark, under the leadership of Cami Anderson, who was appointed by Governor Chris Christie.

Braun writes that Cami ordered additional cuts to the remaining public schools:

Anderson’s demand that every school in Newark cut their spending plans by anywhere from $200,000 to $700,000 meets her needs–the further degradation of neighborhood schools that would allow further expansion of the privatized sector, meeting the $70 million deficit she ran up through wasteful spending on favored consultants, hopeless legal cases costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the assignment of fully paid teachers to rubber rooms, and creating a pretext for the state’s approval of a seniority waiver that is still sitting on the desk of state education Commissioner David Hespe. If Hespe signs that waiver, seniority is a thing of the past–and so are public employee unions.

Newark’s public schools already have been stripped of virtually every service and amenity that would distinguish them from the educational equivalent of an Apple factory inside China. Attendance counselors. Guidance counselors. Meaningful art and music and other non-testable offerings that create human beings rather than cogs for the machine.

And charters, by the way, are untouched by this. More money to charters, less money to public schools. More failure in public schools, more students sent to charters. The cycle isn’t just vicious–it’s racist and elitist. The people of Newark will have to decide whether it’s every family for itself and to hell with everyone else–the charter game–or whether all Newark’s children are the responsibility of everyone, of every family, in the city and deserve a public school system that serves everyone….

But, of course, more is at stake than employee rights. The Anderson budget cuts, combined with the continued draining away of public funds to privately-operated charter schools, move Newark’s children closer and closer to an educational wasteland in which only a select few will have even a moderately acceptable education, while the vast majority of kids–black, brown, and poor–will be warehoused, prepared only for lives of quiet desperation.

This is no drill. This is a crisis.

But, of course, Christie and Anderson and Cory Booker and their billionaire supporters and enablers will call it reform.

Mercedes Schneider wonders why Kira Orange-Jones was chosen by TIME as one of the nation’s most influential people. She is executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana.

She is also on the state board of education, where Schneider finds no evidence of her influence.

Schneider concludes that TIME wanted to salute both TFA (its former executive editor was president of the TFA board) and to bolster Néw Orleans’ inflated reputation as a successful experiment in reform by eliminating public education.

Stuart Egan, a teacher of English at West Forsyth High School, wrote an article in the Winston-Salem, N.C., Journal explaining to readers why the reformster narrative about “failing schools” and “bad teachers” is wrong. He did it North Carolina-style, by comparing teaching to farming.

 

He wrote:

 

Last August, Business Insider published a report from the Brookings Institute highlighting the 15 cities where poverty is growing fastest in the nation. Greensboro-High Point tied for 10th, Winston-Salem tied for 8th, and Raleigh tied for 3rd with Charlotte.

 
Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education….

 

North Carolinians know agriculture. We understand that any crop requires an optimum environment to produce the best harvest. Farmers must consider weather, resources, and time to work with the land. Since many factors which affect the harvest are beyond their control, farmers make the best of what they have; they must marry discipline with a craft. Teachers do the same.

 
But if the environment suffers and resources are limited, then agriculture suffers. Is that the fault of farmers? If variables surrounding the environment of public education are constantly being changed by governing bodies, then are teachers at fault?

 
Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn.

 
In some instances, resources vital to public education are siphoned off to other “factory farms” and for-profit entities. Just this past December, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that Rockingham County schools did not have enough money and were having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep public schools open and equipped with the basic supplies, even toilet paper. But at the same time, Sen. Phil Berger’s own son was slated to open up Providence Charter High School with taxpayer money in Rockingham County. Luckily, that endeavor never materialized, but the state’s Charter School Advisory Board just recommended that 16-18 new charter schools be financed by taxpayers.

 
The soil in which the public school system is rooted has been altered so much in the past decade that the orchard where teachers “grow” their crops has been stripped of much of its vitality. Look at the number of standardized tests, curriculum models and teacher evaluation protocols thrown at public schools. And those will change again with Race to the Top money running out.

 
We are treating the symptoms, not the malady. We are trying to put a shine on the apples by “raising” graduation rates with new grading scales. It is analogous to constructing a new white picket fence around an orchard and thinking that the crop will automatically improve.
But our elected officials can help or at least remove the obstacles for those who can.

 
The General Assembly can invest more in pre-K programs. They can stop funding for-profit charter and corporate-run virtual schools. They can expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy. They can reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then they can give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here.

 

 

As early returns indicated, Bennett Kayer lost his seat on the Los Angeles school board to charter founder Ref Rodriguez and charter supporter Tamar Galatzan lost her seat to retired public school educator Scott Schmerelson. It was a very low turnout election, as usual (sadly). The president of the school board, Dr. Richard Vladovic, was re-elected. The board will remain divided over the continued privatization of the public schools. Los Angeles already has more students in charter schools than any other city. The charter industry had hoped to gain decisive control of the board to continue its expansion.

 

The battle continues. The billionaires dropped a few million into the L.A. race, principally to defeat Kayser. They succeeded. They probably didn’t count on losing Galatzan, or they would have spent a few million more to shore up that seat.

Early returns show Scott Schmerelson defeating Tamar Galatzan, and Ref Rodriguez defeating Bennett Kayser.   Galatzan and Rodriguez are the preferred candidates of the California Charter School Association.   Big money came from CCSA and another PAC to defeat Bennett Kayser. It appears that big money won, unless there is a last-minute surge in a low voter turnout.

The big money didn’t pour so much into the Schmerelson-Galatzan race.

We always hope that David can defeat Goliath, and sometimes he does. But not always.

So, the election–if current trends continue–is a wash. Not a victory for the charter industry, not a loss for public education. A wash.

Teachers at a Detroit charter school wanted to form a union. The charter operator challenged the vote on grounds that TFA teachers are not real professionals.

“The election was held to establish a union of teachers and staff at University Prep Schools.

“UPrep Schools consist of seven campuses under the University Preparatory Academy and University Preparatory Science and Math charters. They are managed by Detroit 90/90.
“While there were 19 more no votes from those who did not want the union, Detroit 90/90 challenged the voting rights of Teachers for America teachers and long-term substitutes, claiming the teachers they hired to stand in front of students are not actually professionals,” said Nate Walker, K-12 organizer and policy analyst with AFT Michigan.

“Walker said the voting rights of 30 teachers were challenged before the election, during an April 30 proceeding before the National labor Relations Board. Of those, 20 voted Thursday, and their ballots are in question.

“David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, said the vote Thursday is “not determinative, as there are 20 challenged ballots, most of which result from 90/90 not considering Teach for America teachers and long-term substitutes to be teachers.”

Five charter schools in Detroit have joined the AFT.

Apparently Nashville has been far too slow to privatize its public schools. Community pushback has annoyed the power structure, which wants more charters faster, even though the celebrated Achievement School District (mainly in Memphis) has yet to reach its goal of converting the lowest 5% of schools in the state into the top 25% within five years (by turning them into charter schools, of course). Naturally, reformers in other states want to copy the ASD even though it has not yet been successful and may never be, just as they want to copy the New Orleans’ strategy of turning every school into a privately managed charter, even though most of the charters in NOLA are graded D or F by a charter-friendly State Education Department.

 

And so the establishment in Nashville has called for a RESET. Reform isn’t moving fast enough for them. They are impatient for more privatization. That means everyone should pay attention to the data. Who will assemble the data? Who else but the Parthenon Group, a consulting group of MBAs and TFAs who know how to fix school systems (they say). They will tell Nashville that their test scores are not high enough, their graduation rates are not high enough, and you can guess their remedies. Read Nashville parent blogger Dad Gone Wild on the Parthenon Group here. As Jersey Jazzman wrote recently, there is a difference between “facts,” even when they are real, and “truth,” which is how the facts are used to advance an agenda.

 

Dad Gone Wild refers to some of the recent work by Parthenon in Tennessee (read his piece to see the links):

 

To see more local evidence of the Parthenon Group’s work, we don’t even have to get on the internet. We just need to talk to the folks in Knoxville. That’s Rob Taylor of Knoxville talking about the Parthenon Group in the video above. In Knoxville, the school board commissioned the Parthenon Group to study their system and share their recommendations for improvement. Those recommendations included increasing class size and eliminating around 300 positions that included guidance counselors, psychologists, and librarians. It also produced the stunning comment that not all students are the same; some are more profitable than others. Knoxville paid over a million dollars for this brilliant advice.

 

In case you don’t want to look to the eastern part of the state, we can also look to the west in Memphis. Where a school district already $142 million in the red paid roughly $350k a month for the Parthenon Group’s expertise. The recommendation in Memphis? Merit pay for teachers with no added compensation for higher levels of education. A plan that has been proven ineffective countless times and that Memphis rejected as well. Starting to notice a pattern? Momma Bears, a Tennessee parent group, certainly did. So did another parent group Tennessee Parents.

 

The Parthenon Group’s missteps are not relegated to just K-12 education though. Some of you may be familiar with the Corinthian Colleges scandal. The Santa Ana company, one of the world’s largest for-profit college businesses, allegedly targeted low-income Californians through “aggressive marketing campaigns” that inaccurately represented job placement rates and school programs. Who touts Corinthian Colleges as one of their success stories and strongly recommended them to their investors? Why, none other than the Parthenon Group. Still not noticing a pattern? The pattern seems to be one of presenting ill conceived plans to clients.

 

Peter Greene read Dad Gone Wild and added his astute commentary on the RESET game in Nashville.

 

Green reminds us that Tennessee has long been way out front on the reformster wave. It was one of the first winners of Race to the Top funding and is often celebrated by Arne Duncan. It was the first state to hire a TFA alum, Kevin Huffman, as state commissioner (he has since left).

 

Greene writes:

 

Huffman, however, has moved on, gracefully jumping ship before he could be pushed off the plank. Late in 2014, his general incompetence and gracelessness had finally turned him into a large enough political liability to end his happy time as Tennessee Educhieftain.

 

Can’t We Just Start Over?

 

Lots of folks in power had loved Huffman and thought he had the right ideas. But the whole Common Core discussion had exploded in a welter of hard-right anti-gummint much dislike, and Huffman’s attempt to make every Tennessee teacher just a little poorer had not exactly won a lot of backing from that community, either.

 

So here comes the Nashville Public Education Foundation, a coalition of civic-minded folks that would really like to make a mark on public education as long as they don’t have to A) actually talk to or deal with people who work in public education or B) work through any of those democratically-elected institutions. We’ve seen this kind of foundation before (I ran across it most recently in York, PA, when local businessmen decided that they really wanted to dismantle public schools without actually having to run for office or convince the general public to go along.)

 

Watch their scrolling bank of happy quotes and you’ll see supportive words from Teach for America, the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, a former governor, a parent, a CEO, the school director, the country music association foundation, and — wait? what! really??– Ben Folds.

 

The Foundation has had its fingers all over Nashville education, and that foundation has decided that what the city needs is to RESET. What the heck is that?

 

The mission of Project RESET (Reimagining Education Starts with Everyone at the Table) is to elevate the conversation on education as we approach a vital time in Nashville’s history. Led by the Nashville Public Education Foundation, with the support of Nashville’s Agenda and media assistance from The Tennessean, Project RESET will set the table for a larger, communitywide conversation about improving Nashville’s public schools.

 

The event, lauded by charter operators around Nashville, is coming up at the end of the month. How much fun will that be?

 

You know the old Will Rogers quote: “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while you look for a rock.” Remember this any time somebody is acting diplomatically toward you. Don’t listen to what they say; watch to see if they’re looking for a rock.

 

The rock in this case is the Parthenon Consulting Group.

 

Greene goes on to look closely at the record of the Parthenon Consulting Group. The quote above has links aplenty.

 

He adds:

 

What is blindingly clear is that when it comes to education, Parthenon is only interested in one topic– how to make money at it.

 

If your landlord says he’s called an outfit to come work on the problems in your building, and what you see pull up in front is a Demolition Specialists truck, you are the doggie. If you are a public school system and the Parthenon Group shows up to “help” you, you are the doggie. The Parthenon Group does not specialize in helping schools systems do a better job of educating students. The Parthenon Groups helps school systems turn into pieces that can be more easily replaced with profitable charter schools.

 

The long and short of it: powerful forces are on the move to replace public education with privatization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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