Archives for category: Charter Schools

Marian Wang of ProPublica reports on a curious phenomenon in the charter sector: “nonprofit” charters that are run by for-profit corporations.

“A couple of years ago, auditors looked at the books of a charter school in Buffalo, New York, and were taken aback by what they found. Like all charter schools, Buffalo United Charter School is funded with taxpayer dollars.

“The school is also a nonprofit. But as the New York State auditors wrote, Buffalo United was sending ” virtually all of the School’s revenues” directly to a for-profit company hired to handle its day-to-day operations.

“Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances.

“In the case of Buffalo United, the auditors found that the school board had little idea about exactly how the company – a large management firm called National Heritage Academies – was spending the school’s money. The school’s board still had to approve overall budgets, but it appeared to accept the company’s numbers with few questions. The signoff was “essentially meaningless,” the auditors wrote.

“In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a “sweeps” contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company.

“The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

“It’s really just a pass-through for for-profit entities,” said Eric Hall, an attorney in Colorado Springs who specializes in work with charter schools and has come across many sweeps contracts. “In what sense is that a nonprofit endeavor? It’s not….”

“In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced similar frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

“I can’t FOIA National Heritage Academies,” said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. “I don’t know who they’re subcontracting with, I don’t know if they’re bid out. I don’t know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don’t have a right to.”

“Last year, Ulbrich and the State Board of Education had called for more transparency to be brought to the financial dealings of charter-management firms. They specifically asked the legislature to outlaw sweeps contracts. “Unfortunately,” Ulbrich said, “it fell on deaf ears.”

Do taxpayers know that they are funding for-profit corporations that are not subject to public audit?

“If you have information about charter schools and their profits or oversight — or any other tips — email us at charters@propublica.org.”

Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals’ Association, writes that school officials adjusted the scores of Chicago charter schools to make it appear that they made bigger gains than originally reported.

The original data showed that students in public schools were. Performing better than their peers in charter school.

(Read Peter Greene here on this shenanigan.)

This is a small part of Laraviere’s findings:

“Our findings were published in a Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed. In addition, the Sun-Times published its own independent analysis, which affirmed our findings. Our analysis was based on a file containing the school level results of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment. This file was released by the CPS Office of Accountability in early August. That original file is no longer available on the Office of Accountability website. At some point between the publication of our findings and the release of school ratings, CPS removed the original file containing school growth data and replaced it with a different version. There are no indications or acknowledgements on the site that the data in the file has been changed.

“Fortunately, we saved the original version.

“An analysis of both versions indicates massive changes were made to the student growth data for charter schools at some point during the last few months as CPS delayed the release of school quality ratings.

“Findings

“We found these changes led to certain schools appearing to have greater academic growth by lowering the average pretest scores while leaving the posttest scores as they were. For other schools, the changes raised the pretest scores and once again left the posttest scores as they were, giving the impression of less student growth.

“The changes were made to the data for nearly every charter school while affecting less than 20 public schools. Charter school scores were changed by more than 50 percentile points in some cases while most of the public school changes were 2 points or less.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the story. LaRaviere said to the Sun-Times:

““In a system based on ‘choice,’ parents and other stakeholders must be provided with accurate indicators of school quality. [CPS’ ratings system] cannot serve this purpose if there are clouds of suspicion about tampering with the data used to determine these ratings,” LaRaviere said in an email.”

In a historic first, the Dr. King charter school in the New Orleans Recovery School District asked to return to the Orleans Parish Board.

“Friends of King Schools made history Tuesday by becoming the first Recovery School District charter school board to seek to return a campus to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board.

“The charter school board opted to leave a system built on choice, the all-charter RSD, by exercising its right to choose its authorizer. The vote to return Dr. King Charter School to the School Board was unanimous, said Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas, who was in attendance. Thomas represents the district that includes King.

“The transfer must still be approved by the state school board and parish school board.”

For years, charter advocates have insisted that charters enroll exactly the same kids as public schools and get better results.

Daniel S. Katz writes that Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute broke the golden rule of education “reform”: he told the truth about charters, he talked about the rules of the club.

Here is the video in which Margaret Raymond of CREDO explains to the Cleveland City Club how charters are doing in Ohio. At the 50-minute mark, she explains why the market model doesn’t work for public schools.

Read the key quote here.

The Néw York Times published a mini-debate about charter schools. Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, as you would expect, supported charters. Unlike many charter advocates, Mike doesn’t claim that charters enroll exactly the same students as public schools. He unabashedly believes that charters are for strivers, not for everyone.

Bblogger-and-lawyer Sarah Blaine is appalled by Mike’s take on charters.

My own view is that we are developing an explicit dual public-funded school system, which defeats the communitarian, democratic nature of public schools. One gets to choose its students, the other does not.

What do you think?

Stephen Dyer, policy analyst in Ohio, went to the Cleveland Club to hear Macke Raymond explain her Ohio charter study.

He came expecting her
to address the obvious issues:

“How only in Cleveland does it appear that Ohio’s charter school sector is providing meaningful, positive benefits to kids. Or how CREDO’s methodology works (averaging kids in traditional public school buildings and comparing these “virtual” kids’ performance with real charter kids). Or how Ohio’s charter school sector has been making very minimal improvements over the years. Or that the state’s charter reform initiatives over the last few years haven’t had much impact on charter school performance. Or that Cleveland charters are doing a good job educating poor, minority kids. Or that 93% of Ohio charter schools’ proficiency scores are below the 50th percentile in the state. Or that 44% of charter school kids are seeing low growth and performance.”

But towards the end of her talk, she dropped a bombshell when she said that education “is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work….”

Dyer wrote:

“Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford — a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table.

“For years, we’ve been told that the free market will help education improve. As long as parents can choose to send their kids to different schools, like cars or any other commodity, the best schools will draw kids and the worst will go away. The experience in Ohio is the opposite. The worst charter schools in Ohio are growing by leaps and bounds, while the small number of successful charter schools in Ohio have stayed, well, a small number of successful charter schools.

“Raymond made the point too that parents are not informed enough to be true market consumers on education. Websites like Know Your Charter can help with that educational aspect of the parental choice, better arming parents with the necessary information to make a more informed decision. But to hear free market believers say that 20 years into the charter school experiment its foundational philosophy — that the free market’s invisible hand will drive educational improvement — is not working? Well, I was stunned to hear that.

“Raymond also made the point that the states that are seeing the best charter school performance are states whose charter school authorizers are focused on quality and have robust accountability measures — in other words, well-regulated. Yesterday, when the CREDO report was released, it was discovered that if online and for-profit charter schools are taken out of the equation, Ohio charters don’t perform all that bad. Problem is that more than 57% of Ohio charter school kids are in those schools. In fact, at Know Your Charter, we found that less than 10% of Ohio’s charter school kids are in schools that score above the state average on the Performance Index Score or have an A or B in overall value added.

“The point is that there are a few very high-performing charters in this state, like the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, or the Toledo School of the Arts, or Columbus Preparatory Academy. While these schools represent a smattering of Ohio’s 400 plus charter schools, the state’s failing charter schools are legion.”

Margaret (Macke) Raymond, leader of the CREDO studies of charters, recently completed a study of charters in Ohio. She concluded that public schools outperform charter schools.

In explaining her findings at the Cleveland Club, she made a statement that shocked free-market zealots:

“This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s [education] the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed. Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.”

This was not what one of her sponsors, the Walton Family Foundation, expected to hear.

Good for Macke!

As a parent in Nashville, the blogger called Dad Gone Wild attended a meeting called by the state’s “Achievement School District” (ASD) to persuade parents that their community public school is a failure and needs to be turned into a charter school run by the ASD.

Dad concluded that the state officials were “gaslighting” the parents–misleading them, frightening them with false data, slandering their school.

This is no failing school, he wrote. The teachers were greeted like rock stars. Failing school?

“This description doesn’t fit any of the schools I’ve been in. In each of them I’ve been hit by an overwhelming wave of community. Last night teachers from the school were introduced at the beginning of the meeting and they were greeted like they were the Rolling Stones taking the stage. So wait a minute, you mean the community loves the very people that are robbing their children of their future? How is that possible? In fact the crowd was so anti-ASD that if I was them I would have packed my stuff and gone home, but I don’t have a savior complex.

“It was interesting that when the opposition spoke there was an energy in the room, but when the ASD representative spoke the room felt heavier, the shuffling louder, and the sound of side conversations increased. Looking around I see a well kept school. Examples of student work litter the halls. Teachers move about interacting with students and their families. They obviously have formed strong bonds. Trust me, I know failing and this didn’t look like it.”

The reformers won’t stop labeling children, teachers, and schools as failures. That’s their bread and butter.

Dad Gone Wild won’t stand for that:

“When Chris Barbic as head of the ASD says “I’m just here to make a bad school better” and chooses to ignore all the factors that go into that school, that’s immoral. When teachers tell me that the ASD representatives who toured the school were more interested in the property then the actual students, that’s immoral. When you refuse to provide adequate translators to parents who are going to be affected by your actions, that’s immoral. I also believe, when you stand and preach about how every dollar goes to the child yet you draw a salary of 200k from working with kids that live in poverty, that’s immoral. The whole process is predatory and immoral.

“I’ll be honest with you. I consider quitting this fight on a daily basis. It makes me nuts. It impacts my home life. It takes time away that I could be spending with my family and truth be known, we have other options. Then on a day like today, when I go read to my child’s class at a school that because of demographics could be labeled a failing school, it becomes crystal clear again. When I look out at all those kids who are all facing their own individual challenges that reformers expect them to overcome alone or they’ll label failures, I remember. Going to this school is going to make my children better people and their presence is going to make those children better people. I owe it to my children to give them that chance.”

The state of Washington rejected charter schools three times. But in 2012, Bill Gates and his wealthy friends like a Walton and a Bezos, spent $10 million and barely got their legislation passed.

The state’s first charter is in big trouble.

According to the Seattle Times:

“Just months after it opened, First Place Scholars, the first charter school in Washington state, is in turmoil.
Its first principal resigned in November, more than half of its original board of directors have left, too, and the state’s charter-school commission has identified more than a dozen potential problems that need to be fixed soon if the school wants to keep its doors open.

“Among them: hiring a qualified special-education teacher for the roughly two dozen students who need those services, and completing background checks on some of its nonteaching staff.”

The Washington Policy Center, a free-market advocacy group, insisted that the charter school was not in trouble and the law is working just fine.

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