Archives for category: Charter Schools

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to comment on this paper:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w20792

 

It says, in summary, that students in schools subject to charter “takeovers,” who were “grandfathered in,” saw substantial academic gains. That is, they did not enter the charters by lottery but were kept enrolled after the school turned from public to charter. The two districts studied were Néw Orleans and Boston.

 

I sent the link to Kristen Buras, who spent ten years studying charters in Néw Orleans.

 

This was her response:

 

Hello Diane:

 

I am astounded by this paper’s assertions. To my knowledge, there is no foundation for the claim that New Orleans students attending a closed school have the right to be “grandfathered” into the newly chartered school.

 

First, I am unaware of any such legislative mandate (and if there is, it’s certainly not enforced).

 

Second, I am very aware that the reality on the ground is just the opposite.

 

When charters takeover, they gut the entire school of teachers and students and then redesign to their liking through an array of methods.

 

Time and again, the community has complained in public forums that claims about charter operators “transforming” schools in New Orleans are bogus because the charter operators rarely serve students who originally attended the school.

 

In fact, to avoid such a burden and to start anew, charter operators in New Orleans often open the school with only select grade levels offered, generally the grade levels exempt from state testing, and slowly build from there. The paper’s authors have built on a model disassociated from reality, but I’m sure there are lots of fancy formulas in the paper that look really impressive.

 

All my best,

 

Kristen

 

Director | Urban South Grassroots Research Collective

 

Kristen L. Buras
Associate Professor of Educational Policy
Educational Policy Studies
Georgia State University
P.O. Box 3977
Atlanta, Georgia 30302-3977
United States
kburas@gsu.edu

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)

 

Here is UOO’s letter:

 

 

United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander

 

 

 
January 22, 2015

 

Dear Senator Alexander,

 

There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

 

In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.

 

While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.

 

While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.

 

Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.

 

We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.

 

UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:

 

Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”

 

Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities

 

Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind

 

Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs

 

Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information

 

Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education

 

Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.

 

We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:

 

Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”

 

Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created

 

Smaller teacher/student ratios

 

Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess

 

Career-focused magnet programs

 

Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.

 

To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.

 

Sincerely,

 

United Opt Out Administrators:

 

 

Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith

 

 

The Néw Yorker has a long article about Jeb Bush’s passionate interest in reforming public education by high-stakes testing, report cards, and privatization. Since his own children attend private schools, they are not affected by his grand redesign of public education.

To boil down his approach, regular public schools get loaded down with mandates and regulations. Charter schools are free of mandates and regulations, and many are run for profit. As public schools are squeezed by the competition with charters, they get larger classes and fewer programs. Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and allies get very rich.

It is a thorough story about Jeb Bush’s mission to turn public education into an industry.. One conclusion: If he were elected President, it would be the end of public education as we have known it for more than 150 years.

Douglas Harris is an economist at Tulane University who was recently appointed to lead the Education Research Alliance in New Orleans. Harris has written extensively about value-added measurement (VAM). Mercedes Schneider is a high school teacher in Louisiana with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics; she is also an outspoken critic of privatization and corporate style reform of the kind that has eliminated public education in New Orleans.

 

Mercedes recently attended a meeting convened by Professor Harris to discuss the choice program in New Orleans. Afterwards she talked to parents who participated on a panel, and she talked to Doug Harris, who made a point of meeting Mercedes. She had written some strong blogs (cited in her post) wondering whether a research organization like Harris’s could be neutral. In her conversation with Harris, she was blunt, as you would expect. Face-to-face contact is always useful when people disagree. Mercedes had a chance to size up Harris, and Harris now knows Mercedes. We hope that both of them benefit by the introduction.

 

Mercedes followed up that post with another one expressing her disappointment that the 3-day conference on the New Orleans reforms is heavily weighted towards advocates of privatization and has little representation of those affected by the reforms or local researchers. She says there is “too much Tulane” and not enough local community to judge the reforms.

The Chester-Upland school district teeters once again towards bankruptcy. Half of of its students are enrolled in charter schools, and the public school district is in deep deficit. The Corbett administration refused to supply the funding needed to survive, abandoning the state’s constitutional obligation to maintain public schools. Former Governor Corbett, a proponent of privatization, appointed an emergency manager who was known as a supporter of charters and vouchers. He recommended merging the administration of public schools and charters, but the charters declined to join.

 

“The Chester-Upland School District faces a $20 million structural deficit, which Watkins attributes to costs incurred by student exodus to charter schools and the state government’s decision in 2011 to eliminate money in the budget to help districts cover the cost of departure.

 

“Almost half of the more than 7,000 students in the area attend charter schools.

 

“Watkins has floated several unorthodox fixes for the chronically underperforming and overextended school district, including talk of a partnership and an flux of more than $1 billion from a Chinese investor…

 

“Watkins unpacked his plan to partner with the charters -– which included recategorizing charter students as Chester-Upland School District students — at a hearing in December.

 

“By recategorizing charter students and making them Chester Upland students, we wouldn’t have been obligated to pay their tuition costs,” said Watkins. He said the district currently pays $9,000 to $35,000 in tuition per student, in addition to absorbing departure costs.”

 

The biggest charter in the district is the Chester Community Charter School, which is owned by a wealthy lawyer who was one of Corbett’s major campaign contributors and a member of his education transition team. When the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about him, he sued the newspaper (he lost in the appellate court). His readiness to sue stills critics; he even threatened to sue a website run by an 18-year-old that featured his fabulous homes. His for-profit company has made tens of millions by supplying goods and services to his nonprofit charter school.

 

The charter owner recently built a $28 million mansion in Palm Beach. That’s American education, folks.

 

NOTE: I WAS INFORMED THAT THE CHESTER-UPLAND SCHOOLS ARE IN DELAWARE COUNTY, NOT CHESTER COUNTY AND I CHANGED THE HEADLINE ACCORDINGLY. FORGIVE THIS TEXAN LIVING IN NEW YORK FOR HER GEOGRAPHICAL IGNORANCE OF COUNTIES IN PENNSYLVANIA.

Jeff Bryant reports here about the rapid expansion of charters in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, which seem to be ground zero for the “reform” movement, with a sympathetic conservative governor and conservative legislature.

 

Having been one of the first states to win a “Race to the Top” grant, Tennessee committed to hand low-performing schools over to private management.

 

Tennessee is also home to the “Achievement School District,” run by charter founder Chris Barbic, who has promised to turn the schools in the bottom 5% into high-performing schools in the top 25%. So far, the ASD has not met any of its goals, yet it is often cited as a national model, like New Orleans, despite Nola’s lack of success.

 

Bryant says: ““White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control.”

 

The far-right is in control of charter expansion, he writes:

 

For sure, charter schools have become a darling of conservative politicians, think tanks and advocates.

One of those powerful advocates, nationally and in Tennessee, is the influential Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing issue group started and funded by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers.

AFP state chapters have a history of advocating for charter schools, conducting petition campaigns and buying radio ads targeting state lawmakers to enact legislation that would increase the number of charter schools. In an AFP-sponsored policy paper from 2013, “A Nation Still at Risk: The Continuing Crisis of American Education and Its State Solution,” author Casey Given states: “The charter school movement has undoubtedly been the most successful education reform since the publication of A Nation at Risk.,” the Reagan-era document commonly cited as originating a “reform” argument that has dominated education policy discussion for over 30 years.

The Koch brothers themselves have been especially interested in public policy affairs in Tennessee generally and Nashville in particular. “Tennessee is a political test tube for the Koch brothers, ” the editors of The Tennessean news outlet write in a recent editorial. The editors cite as evidence the influence AFP had recently in convincing the Tennessee legislature to block a bus rapid transit system project in Nashville.

In July of last year, the Charles Koch Institute held an event in Nashville, “Education Opportunities: A Path Forward for Students in Tennessee,” to provide an “in-depth policy discussion” about public education and other issues.

As The Tennessean reported, the forum was advertised as “a panel talk with representatives of charter schools and conservative think tanks,” including outspoken and controversial charter school promoter Dr. Steve Perry.

Although the emphasis apparently was mostly on school vouchers, according to a different report in The Tennessean, the stage was thick with charter school advocates from Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and Nashville’s Beacon Center of Tennessee.

The reporter quotes Nashville parent T.C. Weber, “who questioned the ‘end game’ of diverting funding from public schools” and said, “‘Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?’”

Weber writes about the event on his personal blogsite: ”One of the questions asked of the panelists was what do [you] feel is the biggest obstacle … to the accepting of your vision. The reply was, ‘educating parents.’”

The presence of influential conservatives from outside the city “educating” Nashville parents about what kind of schools their children need has created resentment and suspicion in many Nashville citizens’ minds. Many fear the drive to expand charters is powered more by powerful interests outside the city than by the desires of Nashville parents and citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have had many exchanges with “reformers” who denied that they wanted to destroy public education and replace it with a privatized system. No, they insisted, competition will be good for the public schools. Charters and vouchers will improve public schools. I disagreed because I had heard many of their allies speak truthfully about their desire to privatize the public spending on education, behind closed doors, back when I was with them.

Now we know that competition doesn’t improve public schools. It takes money away from public schools. It weakens them.

But what do “reformers” want? Let them tell you. Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform after working for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation in D.C., has advocated for charters and vouchers for more than two decades. In a few weeks, she will offer a seminar at the Center called “The Decline and Fall of the U.S. Education System – The Development of a Movement.”

That’s the goal of reform. Weakening and privatizing public education.

High school students in York City, Pennsylvania, have been handing out fliers to warn parents and the community against the state’s plan to hand their district public schools over to a for-profit charter chain.

On Wednesday, school board members, parents, students, and school employees will meet to oppose the charter takeover.

“The 4:30 p.m. rally at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 474 S. Pershing Ave., will proceed a 6:30 p.m. board meeting Wednesday at the district administration building, 31 N. Pershing Ave.

“Margie Orr, president of the school board, and other members of the board will be there “to show that the York community is united against a charter takeover of its neighborhood schools,” according to a news release from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“A state-appointed official has advocated a full conversion of district schools to charter schools operated by a for-profit company.”

Jersey Jazzman posted four articles about charter schools in Hoboken. In this, his final post in the series, he draws together the issues that confront Hoboken and will soon confront urban (and perhaps suburban) districts across the nation as charter schools continue to proliferate with the active encouragement of philanthropies like Walton, Broad, and Gates and the of the Obama administration and Congress.

 

He writes:

 

America is a society that sorts its citizens, and that sorting begins in school. Want your kid to get a high SAT score and consequently go to a competitive college? Your best chance is to enroll him in a school with low numbers of students in poverty. As I’ve said, it’s not wrong to act on this reality in the best interests of your child; I would be a screaming hypocrite if I tried to deny that I had. What’s wrong is to pretend that the reality of schools as engines of social reproduction doesn’t exist. Which brings us back to Hoboken… I have no doubt the supporters of Hoboken’s charter schools want to help children in economic disadvantage and children of color succeed. Nobody thinks it’s acceptable for poor children to be consigned to a life of poverty. I believe the efforts of the people who run Hoboken’s charters to recruit a diverse student body are sincere and well-intentioned. I further believe, as I have said before, that affluent charter school proponents who stay in their cities with their families, rather than decamp for the ‘burbs, can make a good case that they are doing more to help their communities than those that flee. So, to be clear: I am not criticizing anyone who teaches at or sends their child to a Hoboken charter school. God bless and good luck. No, my issue, as always, is with the charter cheerleaders who repeatedly refuse to have an honest conversation about what is really happening.

 

When charters claim they serve the same demographic as public schools, and when they claim that they “do more with less,” the discussion is pure spin, says JJ:

 

There is a serious conversation that needs to be had about segregation, school funding, gentrification, and charter schools — but we can’t have that conversation as long as nonsense like this is allowed to go unchallenged. The “doing more with less” arguments from the Hoboken charter cheerleaders are, at best, incomplete, because those charters raise substantial additional funds from their parents, and rely on a concentration of social and political capital to benefit their schools.

 

The charter cheerleaders deny the facts and distort the reality. Private schools have the same segregative effects, but they don’t take money away from needy public schools; charters do.

 

JJ writes:

 

How can anyone make the case that charter school expansion isn’t having an unequal and pernicious effect on the neediest children of Hoboken? How can anyone seriously deny that the proliferation of charters is harming children in HPS — children who are far more likely to be in economic disadvantage?

 

What’s happening in Hoboken is, again, atypical. But as cities gentrify; and family size shrinks, making urban living more attractive; and income inequality grows, watch out: Hoboken may be the template for a new wave of charter school proliferation. The intra-city economic and racial segregation that used to be the exclusive province of private schools may well be replaced by charter schools, subsisting on the taxpayers’ dime.

 

We have enough problems with segregation between school districts; do we have to replicate that within cities simply to create diverse communities? Wouldn’t we be better off fully funding our urban — and, for that matter, non-urban — schools, so that they become as desirable as the best-resourced suburban districts? Or is the current form of charter proliferation in Hoboken as inevitable as the current segregation of our urban and suburban school districts?

 

These are hard questions that need to be discussed. Let’s get rid of the charter cheerleading, then, so we can do just that.

In this riveting post, Jersey Jazzman quotes extensively from a presentation by the business manager of one of Hoboken’s charter schools. From state data and her recommendations, he details how charter schools cut costs.

 

1. They hire less experienced teachers, who cost less. ”

 

Perhaps the most significant difference between the staffs at district and charter schools in New Jersey is that charter school teachers have far less experience.

 

Now, contrary to what you may have heard, experience is not an impediment in teaching; to the contrary, there is plenty of evidence teachers gain in effectiveness as they gain experience well into their second decade of teaching. But there is an upside for charter schools in hiring less-experienced staffs: it improves the bottom line.

2. They pay less than district schools, even when experience is equivalent: “In all cases, district teachers make more, even accounting for experience, than their counterparts in charter schools.”

 

3. Avoid paying teachers for experience and longevity and avoid unions, which might insist on a salary scale. JJ writes: “The truth is that in most American workplaces, more experience leads to higher salaries — which is why charter schools like Elysian maintain staffs with less experience so they can keep their costs lower. Again, we should ask: is this a good thing in the long-term for the teaching profession?”

 

4. “Replace professionals when appropriate with assistants.” The examples of assistants who might be able to replace professionals are librarians, speech therapists, and teachers (with paraprofessionals). JJ reacts with scorn to this practice: “A strategy of replacing certificated teachers with lower-cost, non-certificated staff might be good for a charter school’s bottom line, but it’s almost certainly a lousy deal for students. And thinking an untrained, non-certificated librarian or speech therapy assistant can replace a fully-trained and certificated staff member is, again, insulting.”

 

5. Health benefits are costly, so try to hire unmarried staff, or hire staff married to public sector workers who have health benefits to cover them.

 

6. Aim to move your special education students into general education as soon as possible. JJ points out that this is easier when you don’t enroll students with severe disabilities.

 

7. Use technology to cut costs. As JJ points out, computers don’t need health insurance.

 

 

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