Archives for category: Charter Schools

Denis Smith used to work for the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversaw the charter schools. Now that he has retired, he can speak freely.


In this post, he reflects on the recall of faulty cars and airbags. And he wonders, what if faulty charters could be recalled?


The post is priceless for the number of links to industry malfeasance.


He includes a long list of charter industry failures, suggesting that embezzlement and cooking the books is not a one-off phenomenon, but a systemic failure.



Here are some examples of problems in that other, non-automotive, non-manufacturing industry:


A record 17 industry locations in one city – Columbus – closed in just one year.
One of the industry’s treasurers embezzled nearly $500,000 from several locations, earning a two-year prison sentence.
An executive in the industry, operating under a phony consulting contract, also embezzled about a half-million dollars, while employee salaries had to be cut in an economy move.
In Cleveland, five industry executives were charged with stealing nearly $2 million in a scheme that saw the creation of five shell companies to receive public funds. Even the board chairman, who owned the building in which the industry operated, was part of the fraud that was detailed in a 32-count indictment.
Three industry treasurers were singled out several years ago for their responsibility with more than $1 million in “questionable spending,” according to audit findings.

This was written before I spoke in Omaha, but the reporter was well prepared and got the gist. Actually when I spoke to him, I had not yet written my speech.


What I said in Omaha:


In a few words: You are too independent, too smart, too stubborn to follow everyone else over the edge of a cliff. You have saved tens of millions (maybe hundreds of millions) of dollars by losing Race to the Top. You are a model for the nation. And without having adopted any of the so-called “reforms,” Nebraska is one of the highest-performing states in the nation on NAEP. In fact, Nebraska outperformed every state that won RTTT except Massachusetts.


Nebraska surprised me. It dragged its feet implementing NCLB. It put in a proposal for Race to the Top, but fortunately lost. It has no charter schools, no Common Core. It didn’t get a waiver because the state doesn’t want to evaluate teachers by test scores. The state commissioner Matt Blomstedt has decided not to ask anymore but to wait and see if NCLB is overhauled.


The state is mainly rural so there is not much enthusiasm for charters except in Omaha, where there is a poor black community. Some black leaders think that charter schools will be a panacea. Some white legislators agree. But so far no action on that front.


Despite the fact that Nebraska avoided almost every part of the reform menu, its students did very well on the 2015 NAEP. The state was in the top tier, ranked 9th or 11th in the nation. It outperformed every Race to the Top winner except Massachusetts, which has been number1 for years.


Nebraska is a conservative state, in the best sense of the word. It doesn’t believe in following the crowd. It doesn’t want to blow up its public schools and hope for the best. It wisely decided to wait and see. No creative disruption. No experiments on children. Just common sense.


Also, being a state where people know one another in small cities, towns, and rural communities,  Nebraska loves its public schools. Even Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, sent his own children to Omaha public schools.


But there is a new governor, and he is convinced that Nebraska needs charters, vouchers, virtual schools, the whole bag of privatization schemes.



Hopefully the good citizens of Nebraska will persuade him that conservatives don’t destroy; conservatives conserve. Hopefully, they will inform the governor that Nebraska’s public schools are among the best in the nation.


If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

In a strange turn of events, Maureen Healey, the Attorney General for the state of Massachusetts, issued a brief defending the cap on charter schools. There is currently a strong push by charter advocates to lift the cap so charters can expand. She speaks on behalf of the Baker administration, but Governor Charles Baker (a Republican) supports charter schools.


Attorney General Maura Healey, acting on behalf of the Baker administration, moved Friday to crush a lawsuit that would overturn the state cap on the number of charter schools, forcefully challenging the argument that limiting these schools deprives children of a quality education.

The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court in September, names as plaintiffs five Boston students who were unable to secure charter school seats during the lottery earlier this year and were assigned instead to traditional Boston public schools that have been classified by the state as underperforming.

The defendants include James A. Peyser, Governor Charlie Baker’s secretary of education, and other Baker administration officials who are officially responsible for enforcing the cap, even though they strongly support lifting it to allow more charter schools.

That tension has raised questions in legal and political circles about how Baker, a Republican, and Healey, a Democrat, might respond to the lawsuit, which argues that the cap unfairly deprives thousands of Massachusetts students of their constitutional right to a quality education.

On Friday, Healey, acting as the attorney for Peyser and other education officials, made clear that the state intends to aggressively fight the suit. In two strongly worded legal filings, the attorney general argues the lawsuit should be dismissed on several grounds.

She contends that the argument advanced by the five plaintiffs that there is a direct link between the charter school cap and the poor education they claim to be receiving is “illogical, highly speculative, and remote.”

“Numerous other factors” other than the charter cap could be responsible for the poor performance of some schools, Healey writes. And simply opening more charter schools won’t necessarily help because there is no guarantee that they would be high-quality charters, she contends.

‘Numerous factors other than the cap could be responsible for the poor performance of some schools.’


“Not all charter schools in Massachusetts are high-performing,” Healey writes. “In fact, it is not unusual for the department or the board to impose conditions on existing charter schools, or close them because they do not perform as required.”
Healey also asserts that Boston has not, as the plaintiffs argue, reached its limit on the number of charter schools because it still has seats available in so-called Commonwealth and in-district charter schools, which are given more flexibility than traditional public schools, though not as much as full-fledged charter schools.



Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report writes a scathing commentary on Arne Duncan and John King. 


Unlike his underqualified predecessor, John King is highly qualified to nail down the gains of educational privatizers. For the last ten months, King has been Arne Duncan’s deputy, and before that he headed the New York State Department of Education. Like Duncan, he’s never taught in or administered a public school in his life. King started out as a charter school teacher and administrator, and eventually headed a chain of charter schools with exceptionally onerous disciplinary policies.

As commissioner of NY State Department of Education King was instrumental in forcing Common Core, a standard curriculum developed by non-educators and corporate consultants from the Gates Foundation, the testing industry and others, upon parents and schools while his own children attended a local Montessori school, which of course did not administer standardized testing. In New York King distinguished himself as a thin-skinned, tone-deaf bully, insisting in the face of widespread public opposition that cutting recreation, music, literature and real teaching in favor of Common Core’s “teach to the test” and other “run-the-school-like-a-business” practices were good for children and good for education.

There are two pieces of good news here. The first is that the $4 billion in stimulus funds the administration had under Duncan to coerce states and school districts into compliance is gone, and provisions of the successor to No Child Left Behind, which of course will institutionalize as much of the privatization regime as possible, are not yet finalized. The second is that like Arne Duncan, John King is no charmer, no persuader, and no salesman. He’s an arrogant autocrat in a highly public, highly visible position, committed to enforcing a set of massively unpopular policies. There’s a serious political opportunity here to galvanize and make visible a movement of national resistance to the juggernaut of school privatization. The Obama administration is well aware of this, and is transparently seeking to buy time with empty declarations of intent to reduce emphasis on standardized testing.


Jonathan Pelto notes the arrival of a new front group to promote charters in Connecticut. He also notes that the name is new, but the people are the same as the existing front groups.

“As Connecticut faces yet another massive state budget crisis, even more Pro-Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry money is flowing into Connecticut to help grease the charter school operators’ efforts to grab additional public funds courtesy of charter school aficionado and “education reform” groupie Governor Dannel Malloy.

“This time the corporate funded charter school lobbyists are calling themselves “Fight for Fairness CT” and are rallying in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.

“Charter school organizers are using, a website that was created by a New York City advertising company on October 23 2015.

“Although they are calling themselves by a different name, the group is actually the same controversial New York based charter school lobby group known as “Families for Excellent Schools” except when they call themselves “Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy.”

“While their primary purpose has been to support Eva Moskowitz and the other New York Charter School operators, Families for Excellent Schools arrived in Connecticut from New York last year and registered both Families for Excellent Schools AND Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy as lobbying entities with Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics.

“However, Families for Excellent Schools immediately created a new front group called Coalition for Every Child, setting up a website named

“When slapped for failing to register Coalition for Every Child with the Connecticut’s ethics office, the New Yorkers quickly changed their name to Families for Excellent Schools/Coalition for Every Child.

“This year Families for Excellent Schools has spent nearly $1.2 million lobbying in favor of Governor Malloy’s charter school and education reform initiatives.

“A quick glimpse at the newly formed will reveal the same logo as the old, although they did change the color from Yellow to Blue to go along with the new t-shirts that Families for Excellent Schools are handing out to charter school parents and students in New York and Connecticut.”

The charter school kudzu.

Howard  Blume writes in the LA Times that the LAUSD school board will make a decision on billionaire Eli Broad’s plan to put half the district’s children into privately managed charter schools, including national chains. You might say it is the Walmartization of public education in Los Angeles.

This is is not an easy decision because the state law was written when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger controlled the state board, filling it with charter advocates. The law gives a blank check to anyone who wants to open a charter.

“Until now, school board members have not been forced to take a position on the Broad proposal, though some have expressed concerns about charters draining money and higher-performing students from traditional schools. The union is hoping to lock in school board opposition early as it campaigns against the charter expansion.

“But officially joining the opposition also poses risks for school board members and the district. State law requires school systems to approve new charters regardless of the financial impact on the district. The Los Angeles Unified School District faces lawsuits if it rejects charters without cause. Moreover, a vote would force board members to take sides — and face the political consequences.

“At one level, the debate is a continuation of the last school board election, in which charters and unions, the major funders, battled to a split outcome. The result was not just about the candidates but about which approach to improving schools would lead the way in the nation’s second-largest system.
“Supporters see independently operated, publicly funded charters, most of which are nonunion, as a better alternative to regular schools. Unions and other charter critics would prefer to see more investment in existing campuses. L.A. has the most charter schools of any city.”

Would it it be just cause to say that the Broad plan is not in the public interest and that it would deny resources and equal opportunity to the other 50% in the public schools?

Can the school board approve a plan to destroy the system they were elected to support and improve? Should they neglect the needs of the other 50%? Isn’t it undemocratic on its face to allow a billionaire to buy as much as he wants of the public school system? Once it’s gone, it will be difficult if not impossible to restore.

Who who will hold Eli Broad accountable for his theft of a public institution?

This is ironic. While many readers of the blog question Hillary Clinton’s sincerity in her recent criticism of charters (all of which was true), the Wall Street Journal accuses her of selling out to Randi Weingarten. The editorial offers Eva Moskowitz’s charters as an example of charter excellence, even though they typify what Hillary was describing. I seem to recall that the owner of the WSJ, Rupert Murdoch, is a generous contributer to the Success Academy network.
Anyone who sells out would certainly find far more money on Wall Street than in the coffers of the AFT and the NEA.
The editorial says:
“Hillary Clinton has moved to the left of President Obama on trade, energy, immigration, student loans, health care and entitlements. But even we’re surprised by her latest move, which is to turn against charter schools as an engine of education opportunity.
“Most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation,” Mrs. Clinton said last weekend in South Carolina. She also acknowledged that “for many years now” she has “supported the idea of charter schools,” though “not as a substitute for the public schools.”
“Well, as Mrs. Clinton used to appreciate, charter schools are public schools—albeit freed from bureaucracy and union work rules. In her 1996 memoir, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote that “I favor promoting choice among public schools, much as the President’s Charter Schools Initiative encourages.” In 2007 she told a teachers-union conference in New York that “I actually do believe in charter schools.”
“Why the sudden change? Her press assistant explained to Politico that “Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That’s what she did here.” Sorry, that quote is from Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers that endorsed Mrs. Clinton in July, 16 months before Election Day. The National Education Association followed. Unions loathe charter competition, and Mrs. Clinton is returning the favor of these early endorsements.
“If Mrs. Clinton had looked at the evidence, she’d have seen a different story about charters and “the hardest-to-teach kids.” Charters don’t exclude difficult students. Like other public schools, they aren’t allowed to discriminate. Nearly every state requires a random lottery to choose students if there are more applicants than openings. The reason some charters turn away students is that they lack the resources to accommodate every desperate family trapped in a teachers-union compound.
“Charters serve some of the most troubled students, including a higher percentage in poverty than all public schools, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. In urban centers in particular, charters serve mostly minority students and include more who are learning English than do public schools as a whole.
“Mrs. Clinton knows these basic facts, so she may be tapping into the recent political melodrama over New York City’s Success Academy charter schools. Founder Eva Moskowitz runs tight ships, and students who misbehave can expect the once typical response called discipline. Ms. Weingarten has been running a political and media campaign against Success Academy, though its attrition levels are lower than district averages in the Big Apple. If you want to see public schools that really don’t tolerate disruptive students, go to your average rich suburban school.”

As we have read, Eli Broad is underwriting education coverage in the Los Angeles Times. His support came about the same time that the billionaire announced his plan to provide 260 new charters for half the students in LAUSD at a cost of near $500 million, which he and friends would assemble. Public education in the district would suffer a loss of students and resources and would be collateral damage.

To those those concerned about Broad’s plan for mass privatization, the LA Times has advice: “Stop whining.”

Good investment, Eli.

Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce stands by his charge that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had pulled a “full Scott Walker,” doing what he never acknowledged as a candidate.

The Mayor’s statement said, “The Mayor ‘has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools.’ The Mayor HAS said that he plans to ‘consolidate’ schools.”

Pierce responded:

“How can he consolidate schools if he does not close some?

“Oh, wait—if he leases some of the ‘consolidated’ school buildings to charter schools then the buildings will technically remain open. They just won’t be Boston Public Schools. Despite the expressed concerns of the Mayor’s office, the Blog post was sourced and linked to twelve relevant documents obtained in response to what Boston public school blogger Mary Lewis Pierce [no relation] described as a FOIA [Massachusetts Public Records Act] request.

“Among those records was an agenda for a meeting between the Boston Compact and Mayor Walsh and a Boston Compact talking points memo prepared for the Mayor in which the Mayor is scripted to announce and define Enroll Boston.

“Despite the claims of the Mayor’s office, the Blog post was neither untrue nor unsourced. However, the Blog is newly concerned by the reading comprehension levels of those entrusted with the education of Boston’s public school students.”

Here is a debate that is germane to our times.

Recently a video was widely distributed showing a police officer in South Carolina dragging a student out of her chair when she refused to obey orders. This incident, so vividly portrayed, generated much discussion about whether the police officer acted appropriately and whether schools should be patrolled by police.

Then came the heated discussion about suspending kindergarten children for breaking rules. This occurred after John Merrow interviewed charter founder Eva Moskowitz on PBS, and she defended the practice.

Now comes conservative economist Thomas Sowell, who argues in his syndicated column that schools are correct to use whatever discipline is needed to enable other children to learn.

Sowell writes:

“If the critics are right, and getting rid of the influence of uncooperative or disruptive students contributes to better educational results, then the answer is not to prevent charter schools from expelling such students, but to allow other public schools to remove such students, when other students can benefit from getting a better education without them around.

“This is especially important in low-income schools, where education is for many their only chance for a better life.”

Jonathan Pelto takes the opposite view. He argues that it is immoral and unethical for charters to “dump” students who might lower the school’s test scores.

Pelto writes:

“The undeniable truth is that while gobbling up massive amounts of scarce public funds, the vast majority of Charter Schools refuse to accept their fair share of students who need special education services and children who aren’t proficient in the English Language (So-called ELL students.)

“And when “the unwanted” do get into Charter Schools, the companies running the schools use immoral and unethical tactics to push out students that don’t fit their corporate profile.

“No real public school could ever engage in the abusive and unfair dumping practices that have become the norm in the Charter School Industry.

“In Connecticut, a leading example of a push-out strategy was the one utilized by the Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain. (See The “Shocking Numbers Of Kindergarten, First Grade Suspensions” at Achievement First Schools.)”

If charters continue to dump or exclude the students they don’t want, then they should be forbidden from comparing their scores to those of public schools that accept the students they reject.


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