Archives for category: Charter Schools

Helen Zelon of “City Limits” wonders why teacher turnover is so high in nyc charter schools.

She writes:

“According to data from the New York State Department of Education, charter schools in New York City lose far more teachers every year than their traditional school counterparts. In some schools, more than half of faculty “turn over” from one school year to the next, according to NYSED school report cards.

“Charter advocates at the New York City Charter School Center and at Success Academies, the city’s largest charter network, say that at least some of the turnover is due to movement within school networks—teachers moving up the leadership ladder, for example, or to seed the faculty of new schools, which have opened at a rapid clip in recent years.

“But even so, it’s hard to explain a churn of more than half the veteran faculty, which is the case at 15 percent of charter schools for which the state reports data….”

“The situation is not much better for veteran teachers, who are often the minority in charter schools: Of the 70 schools, 10 lost more than half of their veteran faculty in the ’11-’12 academic year; 24 schools saw more than 40 percent of experienced teachers exit.”

Zelon adds:

“Near the top of the turnover chart is the Success Academies system led by former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. With 22 schools and 10 new schools opening in August 2014, it is the city’s largest charter chain.

In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.”

Spokespersons for HSA said the data were wrong.

Why is attrition so high? Long working hours; teacher burnout; TFA who made a two-year commitment and never intended to stay longer.

Pennsylvania, like Michigan, is another state where the governor (Tom Corbett) and the legislature feel no responsibility to sustain public education. Philadelphia public education is under fire, as the privatization vultures circle.

Now the York City, Pa., public schools are on the brink of privatization. Seven national charter management organizations made presentations to take over the district’s operations.

Little by little, the privatizers are moving to grab as many public schools as they can. Sad.

This commentary was written by an employee of the Néw York City Department of Education who specializes in data analysis. He/she requires anonymity.

An opinion piece in the New York Daily News by Robert Pondiscio wondered, “Is Eva Moskowitz the Michael Jordan of education reform, or is she Mark McGwire?” To give some context- New York State recently released the results of the 2013-14 grades 3-8 exams in English and in Math. Success Academy schools, of which Eva Moskowitz is the $475,244 a year CEO, did relatively well on these exams.

How well? Well, that depends on how you break down the numbers. Looking at the mean scale scores of general education students at K-8 schools in New York City- Success Academy schools average out at #79 in English and #12 in Math. This way of measuring Success Academy is most transparent- it includes the data on all their schools and, given their very low number of the highest-need special education students, most compares like to like. It also avoids the number tricks Success Academy has played in the past, such as focusing on the test results of one of the exams for one of their grades at one of their schools.

OK, so Success Academy may not be doing quite as well as they claim, but there is no doubt that their results are pretty good. To return to the question asked by the Daily News and echoed by many others, “how does Success Academy get their results?”

Well, the same data set that provided the test results suggests an answer. The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 3rd graders and only 32 8th graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to 6th grade. One tested 121 3rd graders and only 55 6th graders, another 106 3rd graders and only 68 6th graders, and the last 83 3rd graders and only 54 6th graders. Of course, this data set represents a snapshot from a single year.

Longitudinal analyses have found extremely high rates of attrition within student cohorts and students with disabilities and English Language Learners are over-represented among the students who disappear from Success Academy rosters.

Eva is no Michael Jordan. Her numbers are gimmicks, obtained by removing low scoring students from her schools. The high-scoring students remain and the low-scoring students are gone, along with their potentially disruptive effects on classrooms and the school as a whole. Eva is more like Lance Armstrong. They both win through artificial means. Lance through blood transfusions and EPO. Eva through attrition of students and obsessive test prep. According to the Daily News, while “suppressing the truth” Lance engaged in “an endless behind-the-scenes campaign to bully and intimidate people into silence. Some of it bordered on gangsterism.” Eva employs similar tactics to bully employees at the New York City Department of Education and to take space from special needs students to expand her schools.

There is another aspect of this whole sorry story that makes the Lance/Eva analogy so apt. In Lance’s case the world cycling governing body was complicit, or at the very least turned a blind eye, to the cheating. In Eva’s case education reformers, op ed writers, and think tanks refuse to acknowledge that throwing out students with low test scores and ending up with high test scores as a result is not a model for bettering education. They blindly insist that charter school chains that disappear low scoring students from their rosters show public schools how it can be done.

Every city and state seems to have one of these cheating charter chains- from Achievement First in Providence (over 50% attrition) and Achievement First in New Haven (over 50% attrition), to Uncommon Schools in Newark (38% attrition), to BASIS in Arizona (over 60% attrition), to McKeel Schools in Florida (“McKeel Charter School System has no control over which students are admitted to its three schools, its superintendent said, but it does control who gets to stay”), to the Noble Network in Chicago (up to 36% attrition), to Harmony Charters in Texas (40% attrition), to DSST in Denver (38% attrition), to KIPP in San Francisco (up to 45% attrition) and KIPP in Tennessee (18% attrition in a single year!).[1] What happens to all the children left behind, or should we say “kicked to the side of the road?” by these “high performing” charter chains?

No sport can be built on a foundation of rampant cheating. No education system can be built on school models that are based on number games.

[1] Refer to the linked studies for the particulars on each charter chain, as the grade-levels and time-span differ in each analysis.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports on FBI investigation of Gulen-related schools, which awarded large contracts to firms without competitive bidding. The firms as well as the schools appear to be related to the Turkish Gulen movement.

“In June, the FBI raided 19 Concept Schools locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, including the group’s Des Plaines headquarters. Search warrants showed they were seeking records concerning Concept’s use of the federal “E-rate” program and companies hired under that program, which helps pay for high-tech upgrades.

“The agents also were looking for records regarding top Concept officials, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month.

“No one has been charged. The FBI has said only that the investigation is a “white-collar criminal matter.”

“The CPS-funded work done by the contractors named in the FBI search warrants has ranged from selling Concept computers and uniform polo shirts to organizing professional-development seminars.”

“The three Chicago Concept schools have paid more than $283,000 since the start of 2011 to Advanced Solutions in Education of Schaumburg, records show. The company and its founder and former chief executive, Ozgur Balsoy, were named in FBI search warrants served at Concept’s headquarters and at its schools in Rogers Park and Peoria.

ASE was a consultant for Concept on its applications for federal E-rate funding. The company also was hired to do other work for Concept, including organizing seminars for school administrators and teachers.

Balsoy previously was an administrator at a Concept school in Columbus, Ohio. He formed ASE in Ohio in 2009, expanding to Illinois in 2011. ASE listed him as “sole owner” until 2012. He’s now listed as vice president.

“ASE’s president, Erdal Aycicek, formerly served was treasurer of the Niagara Foundation, based in downtown Chicago. Like Concept and many of its contractors, the foundation was founded and continues to be led by Turkish immigrants, many of them with ties to the global Gulenist movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in Pennsylvania.

“Two other ASE executives — Huseyin Alper Akyurek and Esat Albulut — also previously worked for Concept as administrators at schools in Ohio.

“ASE executives did not return calls seeking comment.

“Another company listed in the search warrants, Core Group Inc. of Mount Prospect, has been a major contractor for Concept’s schools in Chicago. The three schools have paid more than $550,000 to two Core subsidiaries for goods including computers and polo shirts with school logos on them.

“Core’s president, Ertugrul Gurbuz, who was named in the search warrants, also founded Quality Builders of Midwest Inc., a Concept construction contractor whose work included building a gym addition at CMSA at 7212 N. Clark St.”

As Stephanie Simon of politico.com put it, it’s been a bad week for the Common Core. Yesterday, The conservative journal Education Next showed a precipitous drop in support by teachers in only one year–from 76% to 46%. It seems that the more they learn about the standards, the less they like them.

Then today the annual poll by the Gallup organization and Phi Delta Kappa revealed growing public opposition to the Common Core. Last year, most people were not sure what they were; now, as they know more, support is diminishing. The most important reason for opposition: people say the Common Core standards limit the flexibility of teachers to do what they think is best. While 60% of the public oppose the Common Core, 62% of public school parents oppose them.

Some other important findings in the Gallup/PDK poll:

Local public schools get high marks from public school parents at the same time that American public education gets low marks. This seeming paradox shows the success of the privatizers’ relentless attacks on public education over the past decade. For years, the public has heard Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, and other supporters of privatization decry American public education as “broken,” “obsolete,” “failing.” Their message has gotten through. Only 17% of the public gives American education an A or a B.

At the same time, however, 67% of public school parents give an A or B to the public school their oldest child attends.

Public school parents do not like standardized tests. 68% say they are not helpful. 54% of the public agrees.

Approval of President Obama’s “performance in support of public schools” has plummeted since 2011, when it was 41%. In 2014, approval of the President was down to 27%.

The public is confused about what charter schools are, but 70% favor them. About half think they are public schools and that they are free to teach religion. 57% think they charge tuition, and 68% think they select students based on their ability. My guess: as the public learns more about the misuse of public funds by some charter schools, about frauds, nepotism, and conflicts of interest, these numbers will decline.

Only 37% of the public and public school parents support vouchers.

Here is the Washington Post summary of the poll.

Here is coverage of the Gallup poll from Edsource in California.

This may be the most important article you read this week, this month, or this year. It was published last year, and I missed it. But, wow, Bruce Baker nails what is wrong with “education reform.”

Basically, the public has been sold a bill of goods. We have been told that charters, vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other means of removing governance from the public sector to the private sector will produce schools that are more transparent and more accountable. We are also told–though Baker doesn’t explore it here–that these choices will produce education miracles for poor and minority students (that’s not true either).

What Baker demonstrates in detail is that charter schools and voucher schools are less transparent and less accountable than public schools. Furthermore, in these alternative settings, students forego their constitutional rights. In truly private schools, like voucher schools, we can’t expect accountability or transparency. The charters, however, constantly call themselves “public” schools, yet refuse to be audited, refuse to disclose their finances, and shun the accountability and transparency they promise.

As we have seen again and again, whether in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, or other states, charter management organizations claim that their charters are public, but organization running them is private and has no obligation to open its books to anyone. In some states–although Baker doesn’t go into this– the legislature makes sure that charters are not held accountable because of adroit lobbying by the charter industry or generous campaign contributions to key legislators.

Baker writes: “Whatever problems do exist with the design of our public bureaucracies, I would argue that we should exercise extreme caution in accepting uncritically the belief that we could not possibly do worse, and that large scale privatization and contracting of private entities to provide the public good is necessarily a better and more responsive, more efficient, transparent and accountable option.”

Baker avers that the issue of students’ rights is not trivial. He writes:

“Rather, day after day, week after week, we are subjected to more and more vacuous punditry by self-proclaimed “expert” pundits displaying an astounding ignorance of education law and callous disregard for our system of government and the U.S. Constitution.

“For example, it would appear that charter schools that are not “state actors” (which may include most that are governed by boards of private citizens and especially those managed by private companies/EMOs or CMOs) may require students to abide by disciplinary/conduct codes which involve compelling those students to recite belief statements about the school (mottos, pledges, loyalty oaths), obligatory participation in indoctrination activities and imposition of financial penalties for disciplinary infractions, none of which would be permissible in traditional public schools. Government entities – state actors – may not compel speech and especially may not compel statements of belief.

“So then, what is a family to do when no traditional public schools are available to them (as is practically the case in many areas of New Orleans and increasingly the case in other higher charter market share cities)? Should parents have to choose which rights to forgo? [picking the school with the financial penalties over the one requiring daily recitation of a loyalty oath?]

“Can (as some belligerent civic illiterate, pundits believe) entire urban school systems be replaced with charter schools – or the traditional public schools adopt the lessons of “chartering” which involve infringement of constitutional rights? Is it reasonable to assume that the entire student population of a city would be placed in a position of necessarily forgoing their rights to free expression, free exercise?

“I hear those reformy pundits cry… “but who cares about a little constitutional protection here and there if we can squeeze out an extra point or two on state assessments [via selective attrition of low performing peers]? They’ll be better for it in the long run!”

“Yeah… sure… that’s all well and good for someone else’s kids. I for one believe the constitution continues to have a purpose and that constitutional rights should be equally available to all people’s children. I believe that constitutional protections are a key element of an accountable education system available to all – not just some.

“This is a big freakin’ deal. An important policy trade-off to consider, if you will. This is a critically important tradeoff to consider when adopting policies that expand non-state-actor charter schooling, even if some marginal academic gain can be achieved….Poor and minority children should not be disproportionately required to forgo constitutional protections (and a variety of statutory protections) to gain access to those few additional test score points. Further, no-one is telling them that they even have rights to begin with – especially those pitching the charter expansion policies (constantly spewing the rhetoric of the “publicness” of charter schooling).”

Baker is appalled that some state education agencies now play an advocacy role for charters, forgetting tat their first obligation is to the public. He writes:

“Taken to the extremes, State Education Agency and public media flaunting of chartery miracles has created a distorted market for those charters that are least proven on the market (perhaps in some cases, lemons), with those charters that are most proven already over-subscribed and not needing to compete openly. So, those most available on the market are those whose actual performance/quality is far lower than that which is capturing the headlines and receiving accolades from state officials. [not quite a true market for lemons since the price - education "credit" is fixed ... though perhaps I can expand on this at a later point].”

Baker was once an advocate for charters. What turned him off? Boasting, miracle claims, disregard for evidence by the charter industry and its enthusiastic flacks in the media:

“It is the absurd punditry, intentional obfuscation and complete disregard for legitimate data/analysis on charter schooling that have perhaps soured my taste for the movement more than anything else (bearing in mind that I was a founding member of the AERA special interest group on Charter School research and, at the time, was largely an advocate myself).”

In 2011, soon after his election, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott took Michelle Rhee on a tour to show off what Florida was doing in education. He took her to visit a charter school in Miami/Dade County, a middle school called Florida International Academy.

“We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy,” Scott said.

Sad news. The elementary school attached to Florida International Academy was just starting. It shared the same campus and administration. There, things went from bad to worse.

“The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

“State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.”

The state is closing the elementary school. The middle school that Scott considers a model for the state earned a C.

Two Champs charter schools were supposed to open in Delray Beach and Riviera Beach, Florida, but they failed to enroll enough students. They told Palm Beach County school district officials they will never open. Each was supposed to enroll 112 students but enrolled only 2 or 3 students.

Is the public wising up? Or is the market saturated?

The school board of rural Cheatham County, Tennessee, voted 6-0 against opening a charter school.

In a two-part article called “Florida’s Charter Schools: Unsupervised,” Karen Yi and Amy Shipley of the Sun-Sentinel describe how the state’s weak laws allows charter school operators in South Florida to profit while wasting taxpayers’ money and children’s lives.

South Florida has more than 260 charter schools. Local districts are supposed to oversee them. The laws about who may open a charter school are lax. Charters open and close, and millions of dollars disappear. Is every charter a fraud? No. But members of the charter sector hold key positions in the state legislature, and the charters are the pride of former Governor Jeb Bush, so there is little effort to rein in the miscreants.

The article begins:

“Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down.

“A recent spate of charter-school closings illustrates weaknesses in state law: virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity, a Sun Sentinel investigation found.

“Florida requires local school districts to oversee charter schools but gives them limited power to intervene when cash is mismanaged or students are deprived of basic supplies — even classrooms.

Once schools close, the newspaper found, districts struggle to retrieve public money not spent on students.

Among the cases the newspaper reviewed:

“• An Oakland Park man received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first collapsed. The schools shuttled students among more than four locations in Broward County, including a park, an event hall and two churches. The schools closed in seven weeks.

“• A Boca Raton woman convicted of taking kickbacks when she ran a federal meal program was hired to manage a start-up charter school in Lauderdale Lakes.

“• A Coral Springs man with a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school in Margate. It closed in two months.

“• A Hollywood company that founded three short-lived charters in Palm Beach and Collier counties will open a new school this fall. The two Palm Beach County schools did not return nearly $200,000 they owe the district.”

The laws were written to make it easy for anyone to open a charter school.

“State law requires local school districts to approve or deny new charters based solely on applications that outline their plans in areas including instruction, mission and budget. The statutes don’t address background checks on charter applicants. Because of the lack of guidelines, school officials in South Florida say, they do not conduct criminal screenings or examine candidates’ financial or educational pasts.

“That means individuals with a history of failed schools, shaky personal finances or no experience running schools can open or operate charters.”

“The law doesn’t limit who can open a charter school. If they can write a good application … it’s supposed to stand alone,” said Jim Pegg, director of the charter schools department for the Palm Beach County school district. “You’re approving an idea.”

“Charter-school advocates say the complexity of the application, which can run more than 400 pages, weeds out frivolous candidates. But school officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties told the Sun Sentinel some applicants simply cut and paste from previously approved applications available online.”

Charter operators can receive approval and funding before they know where their school will be located. Two iGeneration charters in West Palm Beach opened 11 days after school started.

“As students showed up for class, parts of the building remained under construction. Classrooms had not undergone required fire inspections and sometimes lacked air conditioning, district documents show. The iGeneration charters bused their high schoolers on unauthorized daily field trips because they didn’t have enough seats at the school, records show.

“On one trip, they lost a student. Though she was found four hours later, district officials immediately shut down the schools.

“Because of the quick shut-down, the iGeneration charter schools were overpaid nearly $200,000, according to the Palm Beach County school district. The schools have not returned the money.”

Academic chaos is not unusual:

“A former teacher at the Ivy Academies stored her classroom supplies in the trunk of her car. Every morning, she’d wait for a phone call to find out where classes would be held that day.

“I would never know where we [were] going,” said teacher and former middle school dean Kimberly Kyle-Jones. “It was chaotic.”

“The two Ivy Academies lasted only seven weeks.”

District officials didn’t know where the “nomad campuses” were.

“The biggest tragedy is what happened to those students during the course of time they were in that charter,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “When you get a lot of private actors coming into the marketplace, folks are in it to make money … Public education is not a place for you to come to make money.”

Some of the charters don’t know how to run a school or to provide basic supplies. In one, the lights were turned off because the school didn’t pay its elecrtticity bill. Children are the losers.

“Every time a charter school closes, dozens of children are displaced — in some instances, mid-month. Many return to their neighborhood schools where some struggle to catch up because their charters did not provide required testing, instruction in basic subjects or adequate services for those with special needs.

“This isn’t just a regular business. This isn’t a restaurant that you just open up, you serve your food, people don’t like it, you close it and move on,” said Krystal Castellano, a former teacher at the now-closed Next Generation charter school. “This is education; this is students getting left in the middle of the year without a school to go to.”

When charters close, district officials are often unable to collect money that the charter didn’t spend:

“State law requires that furniture, computers and unspent money be returned to the districts, but when officials attempt to collect, charter operators sometimes cannot be found.

“We do know there have been a few [charter schools] … where hundreds of thousands of dollars were never spent on kids, and we don’t know where that money went,” said Pegg, who oversees charters in Palm Beach County. “As soon as we close the door on those schools, those people scatter … We can’t find them.”

“When a Broward school district auditor and school detective went searching for Mitchell at the Ivy Academies in September 2013, he left through a back door, records show. District officials said they have yet to find him, or to collect the $240,000 in public money the schools received for students they never had…..

“When the Miami-Dade school district demanded the return of more than $100,000 it overpaid the Tree of Knowledge Learning Academy in 2009, the year-old charter school ceased operations. The district did not recoup the money.

“It’s almost mind-blowing what’s going on,” said Rosalind Osgood, a Broward School Board member. “They just get away with it.”

Two-thirds of South Flotida’s charters are run by management companies, which further complicates the money trail. These companies collect between 10 and 97% of all revenues.

“They’re public schools in the front door; they’re for-profit closed entities in the back door,” said Kathleen Oropeza, who co-founded FundEducationNow.org, an education advocacy group based in Orlando. “There’s no transparency; the public has no ability to see where the profits are, how the money is spent.”

Given the low bar for opening charter schools in Florida, the number is expected to increase dramatically over the next five years. There are more than 600 charters in the state now. And there will be no more supervision than there is now.

Part 2 of the series tells the story of Steve Gallon, who was banned from working in Néw Jersey because of fiscal improprieties but welcomed as a charter leader in Florida.

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