Archives for category: Charter Schools

Alan Singer reviews some of the many charter school scandals, some of which were reported here. But he has some new ones that you should know about.

Here are some good examples:

While the New York Times seems determined to promote charter schools, other news agencies and educational groups are expressing increased reservations about their lack of performance, excessive expense and political and financial backing. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports that 2,500 charter schools have failed since 2000. The list includes “ghost” schools that collected public funds but never served any students. These include 25 charter schools in Michigan that were awarded federal grants of between three and four million dollars in 2010-2011 but never opened. CMD estimates that during the last twenty years the charter school industry has received over three billion dollars in federal tax dollars that should have gone to public schools….

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research on North Carolina charter school enrollment and performance from 1999 to 2012 found that “charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.” Enabling legislation “explicitly stated that charter schools could not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.” However, the study found the percentage of White students attending North Carolina charter schools is increasing as is the number of schools where White students predominate. In Durham County, “where the rapid growth of charters has not only increased racial segregation,” it has “also has imposed significant financial burdens on the school district.” Their research suggests that charters are systematically recruiting White and academically higher performing minority students to boost school-wide performance on standardized exams and that the trends they observed will continue and accelerate….

Detroit 90/90, a charter school management company that operates Detroit’s largest charter school network is busy fighting efforts by its teachers to join a union. The company is currently challenging a National Labor Relations Board ruling during the summer that Teach for America recruits should be in the same bargaining unit as regular teachers. Maybe they are on to something, but the charter management company claimed TFA recruits were” temporary service workers,” not professional educators, and ineligible to become part of the teachers’ union.

There seems to be a very strong push by hedge fund managers to charterize more and more public schools. Perhaps they are afraid that the public is catching on and time is running out for them. They see that their millions are harming the vast majority of kids, who are in public schools, but they don’t care. They don’t care about results. This is a game for them, a hobby, a better activity than polo. It is about money, power, and greed.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, here analyzes Eli Broad’s plan to add 260 charters for Los Angeles, so that charters enroll half the students in the LAUSD. One of our regular readers, Jack Covey, commented on the blog that the “anonymous” plan was actually authored by former LAUSD superintendent John Deasy, but I can’t confirm that.

The largely pro-reform LA School Report and the Los Angeles Times have already published powerful analyses of the Broad Foundation’s once-secret plan to turn half of the Los Angeles Public School System into charters. But the 44-page anonymously authored proposal is jammed-packed with even more dubious claims. And, it provides more insight into the corporate reformers’ mindset.

The Broad Foundation did not respond to the LA School Report’s critique of its methodology and its exaggerated claims of success. The School Report’s Craig Clough parsed the actual data and concluded:

But when all factors are considered, there is little conclusive evidence in the report outlining the expansion plans that shows big investments in charters always — or evenly routinely — achieve consistent academic improvements, raising an important question: Just what can Broad and other foundations promise for an investment of nearly half a billion dollars in an expansion effort that would dramatically change the nation’s second-largest school district?

The reporting by the LA Times Howard Blume also provides a solid overview. LA charters serve student populations that are somewhere in between the ones served by LA magnet schools and traditional public schools. And, their outcomes are somewhere in between those posted by the city’s magnets and neighborhood schools. The Broad paper gives no reason to believe that LA charters could be scaled up and still perform better than the city’s high-poverty traditional public schools.

Turning to the actual Broad proposal, which it now calls a “preliminary discussion draft,” it cites the data (contradictory as it is) from three high-performing charter school chains as evidence that 260 new charters could be established by 2023, and that they would greatly increase student performance. It makes a big deal out of the 52% of charters receiving an API score of 800 and greater, but it doesn’t attempt to identify how many of them are high-poverty.

Broad brags about the average charter API of 811 and contrasts it with the 80% low-income LAUSD’s average API of 745. But, two of the featured charter chains have an average APIs of 762 and 714, respectively. And, they run 34 of the 43 charter schools that supposedly are the model that will save Los Angeles. In other words, even with the charters in the chains showcased by Broad, only about 1/5th of them produce above-average scores. (Moreover, those schools are run by KIPP, and they don’t come close to serving the “same” students as high-poverty neighborhood schools.)

The bottom line is that the Broad claim that 260 high-quality charter schools can be created in eight years is basically based on the results from nine schools in a chain known for its high attrition rate.

Broad also ignores Blume on how “many parents apply to both magnets and charters before making a choice,” and pretends that the numbers on those lists are not inflated by those multiple applications. It then assumes that waiting lists will grow by 10,000 students a year.

Using equally flimsy logic and evidence, Broad projects that charters will have 130,000 students by 2023. This claim assumes that “Great Public Schools Now” schools will grow their student population by 7% per year even though they don’t yet exist, have no students, and are merely a “preliminary discussion draft.” The report admits that it the charter teachers will be paid less, making teacher recruitment more difficult. It acknowledges that solving the problem of recruiting principals is nonnegotiable, so it warns that that issue must be addressed immediately. In other words, it seems unlikely that Broad bothered to ask whether it was physically possible to even slap that many schools together in such a time frame.

Of course, the key issue is whether charters are capable of learning how to serve their share of students with special education disabilities and English Language Learners, as well as children who have endured extreme trauma. The Broad paper is silent on that crucial question, as it changes the subject to marketing. It produces a multicolored map of clusters of low-performing schools, while pretending that it doesn’t undermine their case. The graphic supposedly shows, “These areas are especially ripe for charter expansion.” But, it doesn’t explain why today’s charters haven’t already tried to tackle those challenges, or why they would be successful if they tried. In other words, Broad doesn’t see complicated real world problems to be solved; it sees market opportunities.

Even when it gets to the political marketing at which it excels, the Broad logic falls short. Corporate reformers forget the repudiation of their client, former LA Superintendent John Deasy. Their paper asserts, “The recent Board elections also moved in a positive direction, although there is still not a pro-charter majority.” It counts one of the races as a victory, admitting that one was a defeat, but claiming that “many are hopeful that the victor in that race, Scott Schmerelson, will take a reasonable position toward charter expansion.

Or should I say the reformers pretend to forget their educational and political defeats? Perhaps they can blow off the failure of their expensive and risky school improvement experiments, but it doesn’t seem like they can shake off rejection at the polls. Why else would Broad draft a school reform plan that ignores education evidence while focusing on conquering education markets and defeating opponents?

Concluding a proposal that ignores social science research and fails to articulate a scenario where students would benefit from mass charterization, Broad instead tallies the troops on both sides of the battle it is about to launch. It argues “the number of parents with children on charter waitlists now exceeds the number of UTLA members.”

Broad thus forgets that parents who sign up for multiple waitlists can’t vote multiple times in the same election.

But, that is not the key point. It should now be clear that successful efforts to improve schools must be done with educators, not to them. Broad’s
inclusion of that insulting graphic makes it clear that it sees teachers as the enemy. The corporate reforms are obviously focused on Broad’s personal enemies – educators, unions, and public schools controlled by the patrons, and not his minions. They continue to ignore the real enemy – the poverty that undermines learning.

And that bring us back to the LA School Report’s Clough and his question of what does Broad actually promise. It promises more assaults on teachers, unions, and patrons who disagree with them. The Broad plan promises more reward and punish, but not a policy that is likely to do more good than harm to children. It certainly does not promise improved schools for entire neighborhoods with intense concentrations of generational poverty and children who have survived extreme trauma.

Instead, Broad promises a fight to the finish between the two halves of the city’s schools. It thus promises more test, sort, winners and losers, and the pushing out of children whose test scores make it more difficult for adults to defeat their opponents. It promises an ultimate battle over who controls public education.

Perhaps most importantly, it promises retribution to educators across the nation if they try to resist Eli Broad and the Billionaires Boys’ Club.

Jonathan Pelto notes with alarm that Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy will be the next chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

The respected blog “Academe” reposted Jon ‘s excellent post entitled, The Malloy Administration’s stunning attack on unions, professors and the future of Connecticut State University.

Jon writes:

“While people across the nation may not know it, in a few months, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy will be taking the helm of the Democratic Governors Association. In that position he will claim to be speaking for the nation’s Democratic governors and be responsible for electing more Democratic governors in the 2016 election cycle.

“Having already pushed through the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education, the neoliberal, pro-Corporate Education Reform Industry governor is now engaged in an unprecedented attack on faculty at both Connecticut State University (now under the Connecticut Board of Regents) and the University of Connecticut.

“For the first time in UConn history, the Board of Trustees, which is made up of the governor’s political appointees and donors, have hired an outside, out-of-state, Chris Christie affiliated, anti-union law firm to lead the attack on the UConn AAUP. You can read more about the Malloy administration’s approach at UConn at: New Jersey lawyer known for privatization effort leads UConn bargaining effort against faculty. And UConn hires Gov. Chris Christie connected law firm to negotiate contract with faculty union.”

“And now, as yesterday’s post explains, the Malloy administration dropped a contract proposal on Connecticut State University – AAUP faculty that eliminates a requirement that the institution declare financial exigency before firing tenured and non-tenured faculty and eliminates the requirement that prior to taking that “nuclear option,’ the management first meet with the AAUP chapter to discuss and find alternative solutions to firing tenured faculty. In addition, Malloy’s contract proposal takes the unprecedented step of inserting “Agency Fee” language into the contract itself, even though the matter is well settled and does not appear in any of the other State Employee contracts that cover more than the 45,000 Connecticut unionized state employees.”

Is Dannell Malloy the Scott Walker of the Democratic Party?

Over the past several years, I have been contacted several times by current and former Success Academy teachers. I met with each of them. They wanted to tell me what really goes on, and their stories sounded alike. They say the atmosphere for teachers is terrible. Teacher turnover is high. They say the children are subjected to pressures that make some of them crack. They say that children pee in their pants while prepping for the tests and taking the tests. They say the schools keep a supply of clean clothes for these incidents. They say that test prep starts in November and doesn’t let up until the tests are ended. They say that students who can’t keep up are subtly pushed out, for example, calling in their parent day after day until the parent gives up and withdraws the student and returns him/her to public school. Each of them has examples of what most would consider child abuse, all in the name of higher test scores.

Recently I heard something new. I was contacted by someone who works in the Success Academy central office. I won’t give any details, because I agreed to protect his/her identity. I will call this person Ariel, a non-gendered name. Ariel says that teachers cheat. Ariel says that each school has a list of teachers, ranked by their students’ test scores, which is extremely demoralizing. Ariel says the central office is chaotic. No one knows who is responsible for what. Ariel can’t imagine how the chain can expand, as it plans to, because it is not really competent to run the schools it has. Ariel says as the teachers do, that kids who have low scores are quietly pushed out.

Recently, a reader named Benton added to the stock of anecdotes:

Here is a story I have always thought of posting here, but I was too embarrassed. As a former teacher at the DOE, I applied for, and got, a position at the infamous Harlem Success Academy, in the the summer of 2008. I had to start immediately, in August, and three weeks of incoherent PD followed, consisting of 11 hour days. There were a lot of speeches about Eva and her disappointment in the “unattractive photos” of her by critics, “Eva doesn’t believe in unions,” and other Eva-centric PD sessions. The days were so long, it felt like they were using cult-indoctrination tactics. My union-activist father would cringe if he saw me in such a position. One day, Jennie Sedlis was talking about how important the upcoming Presidential election would be for charters. I asked what would happen if Barack Obama were nominated. Jennie drew a big smile and said that in the coming week, Eva and a group were going to Chicago to meet with him. I quit soon after, before school started. I monitored the election carefully, and told several people I couldn’t vote for Obama. (I had been a Hillary supporter, and at that point, she said she was going to dismantle NCLB.) With a heavy heart, I finally did the deed, only because of Sarah Palin. This, from a life-long Democrat. I knew that Obama, like Cuomo and others to follow, had been bought, lock, stock and barrel. At this point, I don’t know if Hillary can get out of it, and I don’t believe Bernie is up to speed on the situation. It’s up to this blog and a turn in the tide.

Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, read Gary Rubinstein’s analysis of the so-so performance of charter schools in New York City and wrote this post about it.

About that stellar performance turned in by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters, Gabor pointed out that Eva’s schools are known for cherry picking their students:

In this post, I showed how Success Academy schools cherry picks students who are less needy economically and have far fewer special needs students and English Language Learners than nearby public schools.

And she noticed something else: there are public schools that outperform the Success Academy schools, with the same demographics.

But, I also noticed that in Rubinstein’s graph, at least five public schools with comparable economic-need statistics performed as well, if not better, than the Success Academy schools. Several more performed nearly as well, with much higher levels of economic need.

A recent post by charter advocate Richard Whitmire is stunningly in sync with Rubinstein’s analysis. Whitmire concedes that of 6,440 charter schools, only 1,200 hundred are living up to their promise of outperforming public schools–i.e. less than 20 percent. Whitmire’s suggestion is to close 1,000 charter schools immediately. I guess its easy to experiment with other people’s children…

Given the decidedly unmiraculous performance of charter schools overall, and the high performance of many outlier public schools, wouldn’t it be more prudent to focus on learning from the outliers–both publics and a small number of experimental charters–how to improve public schools, rather than jettisoning the public system for a decidedly iffy alternative?

Gary Rubinstein explores the familiar claim that charter schools in New York City are far superior to public schools, when measured by test scores. The media, especially the newspapers, have said this repeatedly, as if it were a proven fact.

Not so fast, Gary says. he checked out the scores of the city’s charter schools, in relation to their “economic need index,” and compared them to public schools with their economic need index.

Only one charter chain stand out as an outlier: Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters.

Otherwise, the test scores of the charter sector were similar to those of public schools.

Gary concludes:

“It seems pretty clear to me that, on average, the charter schools are not outperforming the public schools, based on how about half of of the charters are above the trend line and half below. Also it is relevant that most of the charters have an economic need index between .7 and .9 while there are a significant number of public schools that have an economic need index above .9. This runs contrary to the charter school supporters who continue to insist that charters serve the ‘same kids’ as the nearby ‘failing’ public school.

“Success Academy are such outliers that I can’t understand why charter supporters who are so focused on test scores are not out there insisting that all charter school resources be sent to expand Success Academy and the ‘yesterday’s news’ charters like KIPP, Democracy Prep, Harlem Children’s Zone, The Equity Project, etc. get shut down for poor performance.”

After a year or more of wrangling, the Ohio legislature finally approved a bill to reform their scandal-ridden charter schools.

The bill passed with bipartisan support. Even charter school critics endorsed the changes.

The report in says:

As we reported yesterday, the bill makes several small changes that, as a whole, will tighten operations of the $1 billion charter school industry that lags behind traditional public schools and is the subject of national ridicule, even from charter school advocates.

Among items adjusted or added to the final version on Tuesday are a “White Hat rule” that prevents private charter operators from keeping equipment bought with state tax money; a cautious approach to study, not adopt, a new way of rating schools; and modest adjustments to how ratings of charter school oversight agencies are calculated.

Still intact, with only minor adjustments, are changes designed to distance the often-cozy relationships between for-profit charter school operating companies and the school boards that govern the schools.

Charter supporters realized that the outrageous profiteering of a few well-connected charter founders had created a massive embarrassment for all the charters. In addition, charters are among the lowest performing schools in the state.

The Fordham Institute was a major player in developing the law, partly through its sponsorship of two studies that informed the debate — analysis of the academic performance of Ohio charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research of Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a separate study by Bellwether Education Partners of what gaps Ohio had in its charter laws and support system.

Wow! Our new Secretary of Education-designate founded a charter school in Massachusetts called Roxbury Prep.

John F. Lerner went to the state website and compiled graphs that show the suspension rates and attrition rates for Roxbury Prep.

Do you think these tactics will close the achievement gaps?

Jamaal Bowman is principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx, a borough of Néw York City. Knowing that Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy was planning a mass rally today, he wrote an article saying that schools need to focus on the whole child not just test scores.

Bowman describes the harsh disciplinary policies at Success Academy schools to the supportive environment at his school. Unlike SA schools, school has very little teacher turnover, very minor student attrition, and low suspension rates.

He writes:

“During a recent conversation with a sixth grader who attends a Success Academy charter school, she referred to her learning environment as “torturous.” “They don’t let us be kids,” she told me, “and they monitor every breath we take.”

Although praised by many for its test scores, the draconian policies at Success are well documented. Students must walk silently in synchronized lines.

In classrooms, boys and girls must sit with their hands folded and feet firmly on the ground, and must raise their hands in a specific way to request a bathroom break.


Most disturbingly, during test prep sessions, it has been reported that students have wet their pants because of the high levels of stress, and because, simulating actual test-taking, they’re not permitted to use the restroom except during breaks.

Regarding the praise for Success Academy’s test results, we must be mindful of overstating the quality of an education based on test score evidence alone….

“As reported by Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News, the first Success Academy opened in 2006 with 73 first graders. By 2014, only 32 of the 73 had graduated from the school.

“What happened to most of that student cohort? Did they leave willingly just because their families were moving? Did they leave for other schools because Success Academy wasn’t right for them? Were they pushed out?

“Further, school suspensions and teacher turnover at Success are disproportionately higher than district schools. Said one teacher in a recent New York Times article, “I dreaded going into work.” Another teacher, when requesting to leave work at 4:55 p.m. to tend to her sick and vomiting child, was told, “it’s not 5 o’clock yet.”

At Bowman’s school, 99% of the students are black or Hispanic.

He writes:

“Although 90% of our students enter sixth grade below grade level, we’ve had success on the state standardized tests, ranking number one in New York City in combined math and English Language Arts test growth score average in 2015.

“But testing is not how we measure success.

“Our mission is to create a learning environment anchored in multiple intelligences. Student voice and passion are embedded into the curriculum. In addition to traditional courses like mathematics and humanities, S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art of Architecture, Mathematics), computer science, the arts, leadership and physical education provide a rich and robust learning environment.

“A favorite course of both the staff and students of C.A.S.A. is “Genius Hour.” Borrowing from the 20% time concept of Google, Apple and Facebook, we give students two 60-minute blocks per week to work on “passion projects.” Using design thinking, students explore issues within their community that frustrate them and conduct research into how to create solutions to identified problems.

“Finally, at C.A.S.A., during the 2014-15 school year, only 2.3% of our students received a suspension. Our teacher turnover rate is 1.5% annually. We also have an average of less than a 1% student attrition rate annually over a six-year period.

“Parents and students of Success Academy schools will rally Wednesday against Mayor de Blasio’s agenda of investing in public schools to turn them into community schools and otherwise improve their learning environments. Their goal instead is presumably to turn ever more schools into privately run charter schools — though it’s unlikely Moskowitz would agree to take over any struggling schools if she had to keep the student body intact.

“Our city needs more public schools that serve the whole child without an obsessive focus on tests. Only then will our children truly feel at home. This is a cause worth rallying for.”

It is a school day in Néw York City. Across the city, over one million children are in class.

But not the children of Eva’s Success Academies! They (and possibly some allied charters) are holding a mass rally at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. The park is lined with rented buses. As the children and their parents step off the buses, an adult hands them a hand-lettered sign to carry, demanding more support for charter schools.

There are multiple buses for the recording and video services. This is a well-funded, professionally orchestrated demonstration of support for privatization. If public schools closed for a political rally, their principals would be fired.

The children and parents are all wearing identical red tee-shirts, with the slogan “Dont Steal Possible.” This slogan works nicely in suggesting that someone is trying to close down charter schools, and this imminent threat to their survival must be stopped.

In fact, as is typical with reformer slogans, the opposite is true. Eva and her billionaire hedge fund backers get whatever they want from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. And they aim to “steal” space and resources from the beleaguered public schools. They merrily “steal possible” from children with disabilities, children who are English language learners, and children who are homeless, none of whom are wanted by Eva’s Success Academies because they might not get high scores.

The theme of the day is “equality for all children.” A large banner across the top of the speakers’ podium says. “We Fight for Equality.” This is ironic since the typical complaint about charter co-locations is that the charters have more resources, the charters get whatever they want, the charters create “separate but equal” schools within the same building.

It is also ironic that children and parents are rallying for “more charters,” because they are already enrolled in a charter. The children can attend only one charter, right? The beneficiaries of the rally are not the children but charter founders. The more charters they open, the more funding they receive.

It is true that Eva’s schools get very high test scores, much higher than other charter schools. If she has the secret sauce of success, why not include all children, not just the chosen ones? Maybe she should take charge of all the city’s 1.1 million students and show what she can do.

If she truly wants “equality for all,” let her bring the hedge fund billionaires and her secret sauce to save all the children. No cherry picking. No skimming. No exclusion of children who have cognitive or emotional disabilities. All means all. Why not find out if she means what she says?


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