Archives for category: Charter Schools

A reader directed me to a website where people rate their work experience and their employer. Former and present teachers at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy posted devastating critiques of their experiences. SA must have gotten wind of what was happening on this website, because as you will note, the reviews suddenly turned from bleakly negative to enthusiastically positive, echoing the reformers’ talking points.

A recent article in City Limits said that Eva’s Harlem Success Academy charter schools had consistently high rates of teacher turnover, higherthan the public schools or most other charter schools. HSA denied it, although the writer was using state data. There was much speculation in the article about why teachers quit her schools at such a high rate. Read the reviews.

Judge for yourself. What do you think?

Paul Horton is a history instructor in the University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. This post explains the Obama administration’s love for charters and its disdain for public schools.

Martin Nesbitt is the President’s best friend, and close associate of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who provided much of the start-up capital for Parking Spot, a very successful off airport parking company that Mr. Nesbitt directed for several years before Ms. Pritzker sold the company. Nesbitt and Pritzker also are invested in the Noble Charter Schools chain in Chicago. In the last year, Mr. Nesbitt has created an investment firm called the Vistria Group that seeks, in part, to bundle capital for Charter School investment.

Mr. Nesbitt grew up in Columbus, Ohio and credits the discipline he acquired at the private Columbus Academy for helping him deal with the violence, drug use, and the social dislocation that surrounded him growing up in a tough neighborhood. He sees the Noble Charter Schools as a vehicle to instill discipline in inner city youth. Like the President, he grew up, for the most part without a present father. They both see themselves as self made men and view charter schools as a potential path to success for inner city youth. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-21/business/ct-biz-0121-executive-profile-nesbitt-20130121_1_martin-nesbitt-michelle-obama-penny-pritzker)

Mr. Nesbitt and the President are basketball addicts. They play as much as they can and talk basketball incessantly. They, of course share this addiction with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Craig Robinson, former Oregon State coach and Michelle Obama’s brother. Mr. Nesbitt sponsors and participates in three on three basketball tournaments all over the country.

During his first campaign, the President narrowed his friendship group, forcing long time friends Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi out of their social circles in response to attacks from the right concerning Mr. Ayers’s political past and from AIPAC on Professor Khalidi’s advocacy for Palestine and criticism of American Middle East Policy.

In Chicago, Mr. Nesbitt was the President of the Chicago Housing Authority in the late 90s where he worked with Rahm Emanuel and other power brokers to create public-private partnerships that created housing on Chicago’s south and west sides to replace the drug and crime ridden behemoth projects, the Robert Taylor Homes (see Gang Leader for a Day) and Cabrini Green.

The Commercial Club of Chicago worked with CHA to re envision the development of mid south and near west sides. A subcommittee created the “Renaissance 2010″ plan that sought to create mixed income housing in these area that was open to former project residents who worked thirty hours a week. “The Renaissance 2010″ plan resulted in heavy real estate investment in these areas and the creation of charter schools were seen as essential to attracting young urban professionals into these areas.

So the connection between real estate developers who speculate on land and building investment and the push for charter schools is very strong. Chicago real estate moguls lead by Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, and the Crown family drive much of the Chicago push to close public schools to expand the charter sector. Indeed, the Commercial Club of Chicago, known as “the billionaires club” on the streets of Chicago, drives the Education policy of the mayor and funds, through connections with the Joyce Foundation (the Director of the Joyce Foundation sits on board of the Commercial Club) funds education “research” (non peer-reviewed) that is printed on the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune to legitimate public school closings.

This pattern of connection between real estate developers, the creation of and public-private partnerships to build low density mixed income housing in impoverished neighborhoods, and the drive to close public schools and open charter schools has been chronicled in powerful detail by Education theorist and sociologist Pauline Lipman. I have addressed these issues in more detail in an Education Week piece, “Why Obama’s Education Policies will not Change and why ‘Change is Hard.'”

Mr. Nesbitt and Mayor Emanuel are the leading political actors who have orchestrated and executed public policy for the interests of the Commercial Club. Their chief supporters need the value of the land that they bought in gentrifying neighborhoods to increase. They see charter schools as a key magnet to attract middle class professionals back into neighborhoods within a three to four mile radius of downtown on the south and west sides.

The process appears to be working for developers on the near west side with the construction of a massive shopping mall, the sales of condos that were intended to be mixed income to middle and upper middle class white and black professionals, and the plans to build a new selective enrollment “Barack Obama High” smack dab in the middle of the former Cabrini Green.

The gentrification scheme of developers, however, is clearly not working in Bronzeville, on the near south side. According to a recent Harvard study that received some attention on NPR, real estate values in the mId south and Bronzeville areas on the south side is slowed by perceptions of violence. According to this study, white urban professionals are more likely to move into Latino areas like Humbolt Park and Pilsen.

To date, Mr. Nesbitt’s friends are scared to death about their investments in Chicago’s mid south and Bronzeville areas, explaining why this area has been targeted for several rounds of public school closings and charter school openings.

The take away from this piece is that many of the people who provided the funds to transform Mr. Obama into a viable national candidate after he passed the litmus test of Iowa are associated with the Commercial Club of Chicago were heavily invested in real estate speculation and building charter schools as a way to increase the value of property purchased by investors. All of this is couched in the language of making Chicago a global city and creating school choice for parents.

At the national level, Democrats for Education Reform stepped into the discussion over schools in exchange for raising money for Democratic campaigns that was needed to counteract the impact of the Citizens United decision.

The reason why those closest to the President are strong supporters of RTTT and charters is because they are connected to south and west side real estate investment in Chicago and bad press for public schools in the form of low test scores will create the pretext and legitimation for more investment and funding of charter schools that will lead to rising condo sales, condo values, and land values. Once values rise and more middle class professionals move into these areas, commercial shopping and retail investment will do its work to increase the value of real estate.

That the President’s best buddy, should attempt to capitalize on on charter school investment after playing a role in the shaping of the President’s education policy, is either the hallmark of a “free enterprise system” or more grease to the wheels of yet another episode of crony capitalism excreted by the proximity to power of buddies helping each other out.

I taught Mr. Nesbitt’s two oldest children and I have communicated my disappointments about the Obama administrations education policies to him.

I told Mr. Nesbitt several times that the Democratic party would pay a price for creating education policies that did not serve the interests of the majority of parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

He told me that “teachers do not deserve the amount of money that they make,” “that their salaries should be reduced,” and that they deserve no respect for sacrificing other career paths to answer the calling of teaching.

He seemed more concerned about reducing teacher’s salaries to create a profit margin for investors than about the impact the disruptive policies of school closings would have on human communities.

I recently sent him a note that explained to him that the majority of 3.7 million teachers in this country are very upset with policies that denigrate teachers, students, parents and communities for political gain.

For an administration that pretends to care about the disappearance of the middle class and rising income inequality, its lack of support for teachers and public schools is astounding. We have heard nothing from this administration when democratic state representatives all over the country threaten to steal pensions that were not adequately funded due to political incompetence and a willingness to pay political cronies rather than pension funds.

We now see an attack on due process for teachers gaining political support from both parties and the billionaires who will benefit from the destruction of public unions. The attack on due process rights for teacher unions will set precedents for attacks on due process rights for other unions.

Scarcely 12% of Americans belong to unions and real wages in the United States have declined as union membership has declined.

The curtain has been pulled back, and most Americans can see now who are pulling the levers. The Democratic Party no longer supports the working people of this country. it serves the commercial clubs in every major American city, Wall Street bundlers, and plutocrats all over the world.

Mr. Nesbitt, the 3.7 million teachers in this country will not be fooled by staged meetings between a few teachers in the White House, listening to a few BadAss Teachers at the DoEd, or calling for a congress of teachers. WE know that this is political posturing in advance of November elections.

Your administration has disrespected us, our communities, and our families. How stupid do you think we are? Your policies are an attack on our self-respect.

Unless you instruct Senators Harkins and Durbin to defund NLRB and RTTT, fire Arne Duncan, and begin pursuing a new path, very few of us will support you in November.

We know that your billionaire friends will profit from their investments only if you pursue policies that create more charter schools. We know that you and your friends are betting on Pearson and Microsoft stock.

Your blatant disrespect for students, teachers, parents, and school communities will cost you the upcoming election.

You are blinded by greed and ignorance.

In Broward County, Florida, several new proposals for charter schools have been submitted by charter operators who previously closed down their schools. Despite their previous failure, the local board is likely to grant them a new charter because the board is not allowed to consider past performance. How crazy is that?

The story in the Sun-Sentinel by Karen Yi and Amy Shipley says:

“At least seven groups of applicants with ties to failed or floundering charter schools are seeking second chances and public money to open 18 more.

“Odds are, most will prevail.”

“School districts say that they can’t deny applicants solely because of past problems running charter schools. State laws tell them to evaluate what they see on paper — academic plans, budget proposals, student services — not previous school collapses or controversial professional histories.”

“District officials are currently reviewing applications for next year.

“Among those vying to open new charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded:

• A group that managed three new charter schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties that opened this year — and then shut down on the first day of school.

• The founder of two charter schools that failed in 2007 amid accusations of stolen money, shoddy record keeping and parent complaints, according to state and local records. A state investigation later chastised school directors for “virtually nonexistent” oversight, though prosecutors filed no criminal charges.

• An educator who was banned from New Jersey public schools, then consulted for two schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties that shuttered in 2013. The Palm Beach County school district closed one of the schools because of poor academics and financial difficulties; the Broward school chose to cease operations amid dwindling enrollment, according to school district reports.

“The Sun Sentinel also found three applications from leaders at two charter schools that were ordered to close this year for poor academics. Another three proposals came from a director at an existing charter school chided for its deteriorating financial condition. An entrepreneur who has consulted for a handful of failed schools is also listed on an application.

The authors previously published an exposé of the lack of oversight of charter schools in southern Florida.

Their stories raise important questions:

Does any elected official in the state of Florida care about responsible oversight of education?

Does any elected official in the state of Florida care about responsible oversight of taxpayer dollars?

If Florida’s elected officials want to improve educational opportunities, do they really believe that children are better served by allowing schools to be opened without regard to the past performance of those in charge?

Given the recent scandal over Jumoke Academy and its sponsor, FUSE, you would think the State Board of Education and State Commissioner Stefan Pryor would be extra careful when authorizing new charters, but you would be wrong.

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the Board’s perfunctory scrutiny of applicants and the absence of any due diligence when someone wants a charter. The charter world, it turns out, is very cozy indeed. Michael Sharpe, the ex-CEO of Jumoke Academy was supposed to run a new charter called Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven. After Sharpe resigned, the founder of the school wanted to proceed without Sharpe.

“Given Pryor’s and the Board’s gross negligence in allowing the first application to sail through without scrutiny, it was incumbent upon them to exert real oversight when the BTWA founder, Reverend Eldren Morrison, decided he still wanted to open a charter school. Since the original application was invalidated, Pryor and the Board should have required that BTWA repeat the same legally required process all charter school applicants must undergo.

“Instead, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education rushed through a “modified” application ignoring both the charter law and SDE’s own procedure, which mandated, among other things, a local public hearing. The cut-and-pasted new application was presented directly to the State Board on August 4.

“Astoundingly, the State Board once again abdicated its responsibility and approved this modified application without any scrutiny.

“The most outrageous illustration of the Board’s negligence was its treatment of the school’s new director, John Taylor. Taylor, who had worked at the Northeast Charter Schools Network, co-founded by Michael Sharpe, touted his success founding and running a charter high school in Albany, called Green Tech.

“One board member questioned his record there, based on an article in Albany’s Times-Union. The newspaper reported that when Taylor ran the school, performance was abysmal- with a four-year graduation rate of only 36 percent and only 29 percent of students passing the English Language Arts Regents exam.

“When confronted with this data, Mr. Taylor flatly denied this report, claiming he had wanted a retraction from the newspaper.

“A quick check of the New York State Education Department website proves that the Times-Union`s data were accurate. Moreover, my source confirmed that Mr. Taylor never requested a retraction.”

Furthermore, writes Lecker, the close connections of the cozy charter world demand scrutiny, yet there is none:

“The new application is rife with dubious connections. Derrick Diggs of Diggs Construction Company submitted a letter of recommendation for the initial BTWA. Now, Diggs Construction will be handling the renovations for the new BTWA’s temporary and permanent buildings; which cost several hundred thousand taxpayer dollars. Jeff Klaus wrote a letter of recommendation for the initial application. Klaus’ wife is Dacia Toll, CEO of Achievement First Charter chain. Achievement First now has a contract with BTWA to provide professional development; and Achievement First is subletting its vacant building to BTWA as its temporary home. BTWA will return to AF a building renovated on the public dime. Given the self-dealing that permeated FUSE/Jumoke, it is shocking that the Board did not probe these questionable relationships.”

Neither the State Commissioner nor the State Board is willing to scrutinize these relationships. The situation is ripe for more trouble. No one is minding the taxpayers’ dollars or the children’s well-being.

Sarah Garland, writing for the HECHINGER Report, says that the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” (1983) laid the groundwork for today’s regime of high-takes testing, longer school hours, and tougher accountability measures. The conservative Republicans he quotes express satisfaction with the Obama administration’s embrace of their agenda. The enduring puzzle: who stole the Democratic agenda of equity and teacher professionalism?

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.

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