Archives for category: Charter Schools

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Education and dequacy writes:

The Ohio Department of Education will limit investigation to one Gulen Horizon Science Academy charter school.

After four former teachers in a Dayton Horizon Science Academy charter school testified on July 15 regarding serious irregularities in that school setting, some state board of education members called on the Department of Education (ODE) to investigate the whole chain of Gulen charter schools that operate in Ohio. ODE, however, has announced that only the Dayton charter school will be investigated.

Perhaps ODE officials are not aware:
that the FBI recently raided three Ohio Gulen charter schools and a total of 19 in various states.

that Los Angeles United School District is investigating the network of eight Gulen charter school authorized by that District. The investigation involves charter school funds being used for immigration costs, loans to the management company, some of which were not repaid.

of the FBI raid on the Des Plaines, IL headquarters of Concept Schools, the management company for Horizon Science Academies (Search and Seizure warrant, Case No. 14MZ87, dated June 17, 2014).
that some Horizon Science Academy board members refuse to respond to questions about their citizenship
that Concept schools have attempted to import nearly 400 Turkish teachers, arguing that Ohio’s workforce lacks high quality educators to fill positions.

The issues surrounding the Concept charter school chain, (Horizon Science Academies and Noble Science Academies) are systemic. ODE should be investigating the entire chain. The members of the State Board of Education, by virtue of their constitutional oath, are duty bound to force ODE to investigate, not only the Gulen chain, but all of charterland.

The lack of transparency and accountability inherent in Ohio charter school law should prompt the State Board of Education to fill the void by aggressively pursuing the misdeeds of charters.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

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

Jersey Jazzman reacts to Andy Smarick’s call for civil conversations about charter schools. Those conversations won’t happen, JJ says, until reformers tell the truth about charter schools. Where they seem to succeed, they don’t enroll the same students. Or they have high attrition rates. Or they have scads of money. Why not say so.

He quotes Peter Greene on the same subject, in Peter’s inimitable style:

“If charters are tired of press about how they get sweetheart deals with politicians to strip resources from public schools in order to enrich themselves, if they’re tired of stories about how some charter operator got caught in crooked deals, if they’re tired of being raked over the coals for using politics to grease some moneyed wheels– well, their best move would be to stop doing those things.

“If charters are tired of being attacked, they could stop attacking public education, as in the recent charter gathering in which the recurring theme was “Charters are great because public schools suck.” I’m not a fan of “they started it” as an argument, but it’s also specious to declare “all I did was keep calling him names and stealing his lunch, and then he just hit me for no reason!”

It would be good to have that civil conversation that Smarick says he longs for, but it won’t happen unless “reformers” tell the truth about how they stack the deck by excludingthe kids they don’t want and how the big money that gets dropped into their coffers by Walton, Broad, Gates, Arnold, Dell, and even Arne Duncan makes for very unfair comparisons.

And too there must be some discussion about the end game. Where will we be a decade from now if charters cherry pick the students they want, and public schools are left with the students rejected by the charters? Would this not be a dual school system? Can anyone think of another nation with this approach to publicly-funded education?

Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellweather Associates, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a former deputy commissioner of education in New Jersey for Governor Christie, and a man with a long list of other affiliations with conservative groups and politicians, loves charter schools. he sees them as the wave of the future, replacing “failing” public schools in urban and suburban areas and bringing everyone the excellence that thus far has been elusive.

Smarick sees two conversations going on today about charter schools. To one side are those like himself who are trying to figure out the new paradigm of schooling, in which privately-managed charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape. This conversation deals with finance, governance, how to get it right. It assumes that charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape and the question to be solved is one of tinkering.

On the other side are people who worry about whether charter schools are a blight that damages public education and should be closely scrutinized for their finances, their boasts, and their policies governing admissions and suspensions. This side refers to hedge fund managers, privateers, and exorbitant executive salaries, and makes big headlines out of what Smarick considers the extraordinary miscreant.

One could match anecdote with anecdote, but more important are questions about deregulation, about exclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability by charter schools that refuse to tell the state or even their own boards how public money is spent. Will American education improve if more public money is shifted to non-educators who hire uncertified teachers and whose use of public money is not disclosed?

One of the most corrupt states in the nation, in relation to charter schools, is Ohio, where the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is legally headquartered and authorizes charter schools (none of its charter schools have been implicated in the major scandals.) the governor and the legislature receive handsome contributions from the charter industry. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch written by Denis Smith, former overseer of charter schools for the Ohio State Department of Education, makes a valuable counterpoint to Smarick’s complaint about charter critics. Denis Smith writes about 19 Gulen-associated schools now under investigation.

Smith writes:

“At a State Board of Education meeting this week, four former charter-school teachers testified on alleged unlawful conduct at Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School, including what The Dispatch described as “test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds…….”

What the State Board heard from the teachers helped to shed light on a chain of 19 schools in Ohio managed by an out-of-state operation that staffs these buildings in part by employing Turkish citizens holding H-1B visas.

But what the board didn’t hear is that these same schools are governed by a group of individuals, nearly all men, who may not be “qualified voters” — in other words, American citizens. Or that some of the schools were raided by the FBI last month. Or that the inspiration for these schools is a mysterious exiled Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and leads a religious and political movement that seeks to destabilize the government of his native land.

As bizarre as this situation is, the very idea that the Gulen chain are public schools is illustrative of what ails the charter-school industry in Ohio.

Consider these glaring legal loopholes:

• Charter-school administrators are not required to hold any professional licenses or meet even minimal educational requirements.

• Charter-school board members aren’t elected by or responsible to the voters. Some are hand-picked by for-profit management companies runing schools.

• Charter-school board members do not have to be “qualified voters” (citizens) who are registered with the secretary of state’s office in recognition of their status as members of a public board.

• With hand-picked, unelected boards, charter-school administrators can pay themselves exorbitant salaries that can match those of local superintendents responsible for the education of thousands of students in multiple locations.

• Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.

• The for-profit management companies that operate many charter schools think that their mission and vision (read: profit) supersede the legitimate interests and aspirations of the public.

• Charter schools are exempt from more than 150 provisions of state law that otherwise are applicable to school districts, including a requirement to annually report the names, salaries and credentials of licensed employees to the State Board.

• There are no restrictions on the payment of public funds for recruitment of students, advertising or payment for celebrity endorsements; there is no ban on using public funds earmarked for charter schools for political campaign donations.

The issue confronting this state is not about any individual charter-school chain. It’s that the legislature has created an unregulated, incoherent nightmare that allows for-profit management companies, entrepreneurs, national charter-school chains and ill-prepared developers to operate in a murky industry that ill-serves young people.

If we are to have charter schools in Ohio, their legal basis must be that they exist in similar fashion with public schools, be subject to the same requirements and not be favored by so many questionable exemptions. Chapter 3314 of the Ohio Revised Code that governs the creation and operation of these schools must be scrapped in its entirety.

For these “schools of choice,” we have no other choice.”

In addition to Mr. Smith’s concerns, Ohio and other states should investigate the extraordinary salaries paid to charter CEOs, some of whom are not educators, yet are paid $400,000 or more. And inquire about the lobbyists hired by charter chains to obtain special privileges, or to obtain exemption from accountability. They might ask why charter boards in states like Ohio must sue the charter operator to get financial information. They might be vigilant about the for-profit entrepreneurs who have become multi-millionaires with money intended by taxpayers for schools, not investors. They might ask sharper questions about community public schools that lose resources to shady entrepreneurs and ultimately close.

So long as the charter industry buys favoritism from state legislatures, as long as amateurs win public dollars to run inferior schools, as long as virtual charter schools get rich while supplying poor results, there will continue to be critics–and should be.

PS: read Peter Greene on this issue.

This reader commented on a post called “Is the Charter Movement Imploding?” That post reviewed some recent egregious charter school scandals.

He wrote:

“One purpose of school privatization is to bring about “deregulation” of the education system. wherever and whenever deregulation has been permitted to proceed, the result, for public goods and services, has been disastrous. The financial collapse of 2008 was the direct outcome of deregulation. Deregulation was supposed to lead to greater efficiency in the provision of housing and in financial services. Instead it wiped out trillions in individual and social wealth; it nearly destroyed the American economy; and it created a deep, deep well of misery and suffering. The high priests of neoliberalism who called for deregulation should have been made to eat their hats. Their bogus theorizing did not lead to the paradise they promised; instead it put many people in hell. All deregulation of finance achieved was the enrichment of predators and parasites, who preyed on the vulnerable and the desperate by scams, deception and outright criminal acts.

“The deregulation of public education, by leave of privatization, is creating similar opportunities for the unscrupulous and untrustworthy. Because there are no hard and fast criteria for opening a charter school (except a religious commitment to corporate education reform), it’s obvious that this wide open “wild west” frontier where public money is there for the taking was bound to attract venal and criminal types, who have no business at all being around children. Connecticut is notable, because the gap between rich and poor communities is extremely stark, and the State is under legal pressure to make school funding more equitable. But the powers that be in Connecticut are closely connected to the Wall St Hedge Fund Crowd (some of the very people who brought about the 2008 economic collapse), and it is this power which is strongly pushing school privatization. The Hedge Fund Predators don’t care who gets a charter school, just so long as charter schools are created. And the Democratic Governor Malloy is all too willing to oblige his patrons. Malloy is a low character with high ambitions. He would sell his mother to advance his career. But seeing as no one is interested in buying his mother, Malloy has decided to sell out minority children in Connecticut’s poorest cities.

“Deregulation of financial services led to the destruction of many poor neighborhoods, as people were given mortgages they could not manage. The mortgages were given because they were ultimately insured by the Federal government. Private investors got stinking rich by fraud and deception. Homeowners got foreclosed. And the general public picked up the tab for unethical and criminal profiteering. As the Charter school movement continues to grow, you can see the same sorry pattern. Charters are given to crooks, incompetents and charlatans. Some of them make out like bandits. Children in the charters are often given a dreadful education. Neighborhood schools are ruined. Profiteering is at the public expense, as hardly any charter school could survive without public funding. I would not say that the Charter school movement is imploding, but this prospect can’t be ruled out in the future, as deregulation is just another name for ongoing and deepening chaos.”

The University of Arkansas issued a study claiming that charter schools get a higher “return on investment” than public schools, yet are underfunded especially given their great “productivity” and “ROI.” (I admit I stumble over the idea of applying ROI when we are talking about education and children, but that’s just me.)

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University analyzes the University of Arkansas study and takes it apart.

Baker shows that the Arkansas study “shamelessly” and “knowingly” uses bogus data. The Arkansas study is meant to refute an earlier critique of their work by Baker.

Here is what Baker concludes:

“The acknowledgement of my critique, highly selective misrepresentation of my critique, and complete failure to respond to the major substantive points of that critique display a baffling degree of arrogance and complete disregard for legitimate research.

“Yes – that’s right – either this is an egregious display of complete ignorance and methodological ineptitude, or this new report is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of data. So which is it? I’m inclined to believe the latter, but I guess either is possible.

“Oh… and separately, in this earlier report, Kevin Welner and I discuss appropriate methods for evaluating relative efficiency (the appropriate framework for such comparisons)…. And to no surprise the methods in this new UARK report regarding relative efficiency are also complete junk. Put simply, and perhaps I’ll get to more detail at a later point, a simple “dollars per NAEP score” comparison, or the silly ROI method used in their report are entirely insufficient (especially as some state aggregate endeavor???).

“And it doesn’t take too much of a literature search to turn up the rather large body of literature on relative efficiency analysis in education – and the methodological difficulties in estimating relative efficiency. So, even setting aside the fact that the spending measures in this study are complete junk, the cost effectiveness and ROI approaches used are intellectually flaccid and methodologically ham-fisted.

“But if the measures of inputs suck to begin with, then the methods applied to those measures really don’t matter so much.

“To say this new UARK charter productivity study is built on a foundation of sand would be offensive… to sand.

“And I like sand.”

Jon Pelto speculates that the charter industry has lost its magic in Connecticut with the downfall of Michael Sharpe of Jumoke Academy and FUSE. Investigations multiply, and there’s the pesky fact that test scores tanked at one of the FUSE schools.

And Pelto reports that the “reformer” selected to head the schools of New London is in more trouble. The vote by the board on whether to appoint him has been delayed.

Federal law enforcement agencies, armed with search warrants, raided the offices of Concept Schools in Illinois.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
“The recent FBI raid at the Des Plaines headquarters of Concept Schools focused on many of the politically connected charter-school operator’s top administrators and companies with close ties to Concept, according to federal documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

“Authorities last month said FBI agents carried out raids at 19 Concept locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as part of an “ongoing white-collar crime matter” but declined to provide further details of their investigation.

 

“Copies of the search warrants that FBI agents served in Des Plaines and a subpoena seeking records show investigators went hunting for a wide range of documents pertaining to Concept president Sedat Duman, founder Taner Ertekin and other current and former executives of the fast-growing charter network.

 

“The investigators also sought documents about companies that were hired by Concept to perform work under the federal “E-Rate” program, which pays for schools to expand telecommunications and Internet access.

 

“Concept is linked to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and has developed strong relationships with many local politicians, including state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

 

“Four of Concept’s 30 publicly financed schools are in Illinois, including the 600-student Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park and two campuses that opened a year ago in the Austin and McKinley Park neighborhoods. Chicago Public Schools officials approved another two Concept schools on the South Side for the 2014-15 school year.

 

“For one of the two newest Concept sites, in Chatham, more than $528,000 in public funding was earmarked to pay rent for the coming school year to an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 swearing-in and served on Emanuel’s transition team….

 

“The federal documents obtained by the Sun-Times, however, reveal that the FBI is taking a close look at the operations of Concept.

 

“Federal law enforcement authorities in Cleveland, who are leading the probe, sent a grand-jury subpoena to Concept on May 30. The subpoena gave the charter chain’s administrators until June 17 to provide a long list of records…

 

“The warrant gave agents the right to take any documents relating to Concept’s involvement in the E-Rate program as well as “all bank records,” “all general ledgers,” “all calendars,” “all documents related to employee travel” and “all telephone records, telephone lists and contact lists.”

 

“Concept officials have said they were cooperating with the investigation and would not make any further comment.

 

A report from the Hartford Courant:

“HARTFORD — City and state educators said Monday that they had been served with subpoenas by a federal grand jury examining the expenditure of millions of dollars in public money by the troubled charter school management company FUSE.

“The subpoenas were issued Friday to the Hartford Public Schools and the state Department of Education, both of which have had extensive dealings with the state-subsidized FUSE, short for the Family Urban Schools of Excellence.

“FUSE was created in 2012 as a management company that used public and private money to take over failing, inner-city public schools and operate them as public charter schools. FUSE’s management agreements with public school systems gave it wide discretion over spending on salaries, rents, curriculum, equipment and other items.

“A series of embarrassing disclosures in the past month appears to have crippled FUSE, costing the organization all its management business, worth more than $1 million a year. The closely affiliated Jumoke Academy fired FUSE as manager of its three Hartford charter schools. Schools in Bridgeport and New Haven severed ties with FUSE, and educators in Louisiana, concerned about events in Connecticut, pulled FUSE from a charter school set to open in Baton Rouge next month.

“The subpoena to Hartford Public Schools demands all city records since 2012 related to FUSE founder and former CEO Michael M. Sharpe, FUSE, Jumoke Academy and Milner Elementary School. Hartford hired FUSE in 2012 to turn around Milner, but the relationship soured and ultimately ended when a fall 2013 assessment showed that, in spite of $1 million in additional spending by FUSE at Milner, students continued to read at rock-bottom levels.”

The State Department of Education did not release a copy of its subpoena.

Jumoke Academy charter schools had received $53 million in state funds since its founding in 1997.

This story by Annie Gilbertson of the Los Angeles NPR station KPCC reported a serious problem for the Gulen-related Magnolia charter chain.

“The Los Angeles Unified school district is investigating a network of eight charter schools for misuse of public school funds.

“An audit showed Magnolia Public Schools used classroom cash to help six non-employees with immigration costs. The schools had trouble justifying another $3 million expense.

“These are taxpayer dollars, and we want to make sure they are spent correctly,” said José Cole-Gutiérrez, director of L.A. Unified’s charter school division.”

“For years, the Magnolia’s books and bank account didn’t match.

An audit in 2012 based on a sampling of transactions found $43,600 missing from accounts: school records showed double payments made to vendors with duplicate invoices attached.

“There was an increased risk of inappropriate or unauthorized expenditures to remain undetected and a potential risk of fraud, abuse and misuse of public funds,” read the 2012 report.

“L.A. Unified officials have refused to release the follow-up audit concluded in June 2014….

“The letter, published by local education blog L.A. School Report, said Magnolia spent $3 million over four years to outsource governance tasks such as curriculum development, professional training and human resources – duplicate services that Magnolia had reported doing itself.

“Cole-Gutiérrez, the director of L.A. Unified’s charter school division, said the inspector general is reviewing whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution.

“You need to know where the public dollars are going – and they are supposed to be going to students,” he said.

“Magnolia administration is planning to fight the closures with the help of the California Charter School Association, which said in a statement the schools did not receive due process.

“It is troubling that more than 400 families, the majority of whom live in poverty, have very little information about why they have lost their high-performing schools,” California Charter School Association spokesman Jason Mandell wrote in a statement. He complained that L.A. Unified has not released the 2014 audit.

“State law also does not allow the district to conditionally renew a charter, let alone rescind that renewal without presenting its findings or providing the school with the opportunity to correct any issues,” he added.

“Last fall, the group stood behind San Fernando Valley charter school administers facing trial for embezzlement and money laundering. Yevgency “Eugene” Selivanov, founder of Ivy Academia Charter School, was then convicted and sentenced to almost five years in prison.”

Without explanation, Rocketship Charters withdrew its application to open 8 schools each in San Antonio and Dallas.

A group of wealthy philanthropists has put up a large fund to draw charter chains to San Antonio, with a goal of 80,000 students in charters by 2026.

Once a charter has opened in Texas, it can expand without going through the entire application process by merely submitting an amendment to their original application.

Rocketship will not be considered in this cycle.

There has been speculation that Rocketship is slowing its expansion while it retools its program, but officials said that the chain intended to focus on four regions: California, Milwaukee, Nashville, and D.C.

The chain is slowing plans not only in Texas, but in Memphis and New Orleans. It hopes to grow from 9 to 20 schools in the next few years.

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