Archives for category: Charter Schools

Here is yet another example of the Florida “miracle,” wherein charter operators open and close as they miseducated children and waste taxpayer dollars.

Amy Shipley and Karen Yi of the Sun-Sentinel tell the woeful tale of the latest charter failure in Florida.

“The Broward School Board voted Tuesday to close two charter schools in Fort Lauderdale, citing poor academics and saying the schools failed to document how they spent $876,000 in taxpayer money.

The Obama Academy for Boys and The Red Shoe Charter School for Girls serve more than 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The schools have 90 days to appeal the termination or close down.

“We know the claims are exaggerated,” Corey Alston, who founded both schools three years ago and oversees day-to-day functions, told the Sun Sentinel. “We know many of them are wrong. We know this is the most recent attempt to target our schools.”

The district attempted to shut down the charter schools this March after the schools relocated and failed to secure a required certificate of occupancy, records show. Officials allowed them to remain open after the schools appealed the decision and submitted the necessary paperwork.

Alston said the schools would appeal the closure.

In termination notices sent to the schools last week, district officials said the schools failed to provide services for students with special needs and students who are not native English speakers. They also cited the schools for not providing an adequate reading program and poor record-keeping…..

“The community should be outraged,” said School Board member Rosalind Osgood. “For nine months [we've] just given away free money to people who are not following any of the rules … They keep coming up with excuses….”

Six Broward charter schools have closed or been ordered to shut down since the start the school year in August.

Alston told the Sun Sentinel the charter schools had been so successful they had turned away about 150 prospective students this year for lack of space.

Alston received probation for a felony charge of grand theft and a misdemeanor charge of corrupt misuse of official position as part of a plea deal last month in connection with his tenure as city manager of South Bay in Palm Beach County. The judge withheld adjudication on the felony charge. Those charges had no connection to his work with the Broward charter schools.”

There is one school in the United States where the “parent trigger” has been used to convert a public school to a charter school: Desert Trails in Adelanto, California.

 

According to this article in Capital and Main, the new charter is a disaster. Children with special needs are ill-served. Teacher turnover is outrageously high. Teachers buy supplies out of their meager salary.

 

Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education. The teachers also allege that they had to endure a bullying regime in which, they say, they were continually screamed at, spied on, lied to and humiliated in front of parents and their peers by Tarver and her deputies. Capital & Main spoke with the teachers, four of whom agreed to go on the record for this story. (“The High Desert is a small place and Debbie Tarver has a long reach,” said one teacher who requested anonymity.)….

 

The most telling outward sign that all was not right at Desert Trails, however, may be its startling turnover in administration and teaching staff. During its first year, teachers say, the charter lost a principal (Don Wilkinson) and a director (Ron Griffin) — both before the Christmas break — its vice principal, six classroom teachers and its behavioral specialist. In addition, only nine of Desert Trails’ first-year teacher roster — or 33 percent — are returnees this year. Desert Trails’ charter promises “less than five percent annual employee turnover.” And, teachers say, Desert Trails seems to be running true to form for the 2014-15 year, with four teachers jumping ship as of this writing — including two from the kindergarten level….

 

 

 

 

Many wealthy families want to leave a legacy, something to remind the world of their beneficence and power. Andrew Carnegie covered the land with free public libraries. Others have endowed museums, public parks, zoos, and many other monuments that the public would enjoy long after the family had gone.

The Kramer family of Minneapolis will leave as its legacy the destruction of public education in that city. They have devoted their considerable energy and power to building public support for charter schools and cutting away public support for public schools. Because of their role as advocates for charter schools, Minneapolis this year has 34,000 students, while the surging charter sector has 20,000. This year, the public schools expected enrollment growth of 900, but only two new students appeared. Meanwhile, the Board of Education bickers about “market share” and forgets their primary mission as stewards of a public trust, as Peter Greene explained.

What have the Kramers to do with the sinking fortunes of public education? EduShyster documented their leadership of the privatization movement in Minneapolis. She writes, in her cheeky fashion:

“Readers: meet the Minneapolis Kramers. Father Joel is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and took home $8 million when the paper was sold to McClatchy. These days he presides over Minnpost.com and a brood of young rephormers. Son Matt is the president of Teach for America, in charge of TFA’s “overall performance, operations, and effectiveness.” Son Eli, another former TFAer, is the executive director of Hiawatha Academies, a mini charter empire in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Katie Barrett-Kramer is a former TFAer who now serves as director of academic excellence at Charter School Partners, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of charters in Minneapolis, including the ones her brother-in-law runs.

“Now I have acquired a deep thirst just writing about the Kramer siblings and their dedication to the civil right$ i$$ue of our time. But there’s still more. Matt, who with his brother attended the tony Breck School (which I suspect is likely not a ‘no excuses’ school), also sits on numerous rephorm boards. Matt is the chair of the board of 50Can and a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

“And did I mention that the Kramers are avid supporters of young TFA school board candidate and life-long educator Josh Reimnitz, who moved to Minneapolis in May, and received an undisclosed amount of money from TFA’s political phund???

But what about Père Kramer? Has he no role in this touching rephorm tableau? Phear not reader. Papa Kramer’s online publication, MinnPost, serves as an influential booster for all of the Kramers’ assorted kauses, including Hiawatha Academies. There is nothing the slightest bit conflict-of-interest-ish about this as evidenced by this, perhaps the kraziest quote from an actual publication that I have ever encountered:

“And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: [Charter School Partners] employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer.”

It is difficult to think that any family in the U.S. wants to be remembered as the family that destroyed and privatized public education. But that is how the Kramer family of Minneapolis will be remembered. How very sad.

This is the talk, both written and video, that Wendy Lecker gave about charter schools at Public Education Nation in Brookyn on October 11. The event was sponsored by the Network for Public Education at the Brooklyn New School. Please read/watch. Lecker was terrific.

My, how time flies. It seems like only yesterday—actually it was early 2013– that Oprah began filming “the dramatic transformation of John McDonough High School in New Orleans for a film called “Blackboard Wars.” The star of the show was charter entrepreneur Steve Barr, who had founded the Green Dot charter chain in Los Angeles to national acclaim, then moved on to found a new chain called “Future is Now.” FIN was going to work its miracle on John McDonogh and Oprah was going to be there to capture it on film.

This was printed in The Advocate in January 2013:

“NEW ORLEANS — The students of John McDonogh High School will be at the center of a documentary series scheduled to air in March on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

In a news release sent by the network on Saturday, “Blackboard Wars” is described as telling the story of “the dramatic transformation of New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School, where more than half of its students fail to graduate.”

The series was filmed over the fall at the school, which has a reputation of struggling academics and violence, particularly after the gaining national media attention when a student was fatally shot in the school’s crowded gymnasium in 2003.

Six hour-long episodes have been filmed thus far.

Last summer, Steve Barr, leader of the charter operator Future is Now, took over the school, which was still failing after six years of being run directly by the Recovery School District.

Barr is known for his aggressive takeovers of schools in Los Angeles and for working closely with teachers’ unions, an unusual approach for a charter operator.

With “unprecedented access,” the news release describes following the adult stars of the show, “education maverick Steve Barr and no-nonsense principal Dr. Marvin Thompson as they embark together on an unpredictable mission to reinvent and revive the struggling school.”

Thompson, who was hired by Barr as a co-principal, previously worked as the superintendent of schools in Roanoke, Va., and then as president of an education consulting company. Barr also traveled around the country to recruit talented teachers.

At a panel discussion held Saturday in California, Thompson, Barr and the show’s producer, Eddie Barbini, addressed questions about distrust from the community, privacy, the use of the word “war” in the title and their educational philosophies.

Asked if he felt the school’s outcome was successful, Barr described his first visit to the school last year, when it was set to close, according to a transcript of the panel discussion.

He said of 261 students enrolled, it was rare to see more than 60 in attendance on any given day.

Currently, he said the school has 409 students and an attendance rate of approximately 80 percent.

One audience member at the panel discussion asked Thompson how, as principal, he could change the attitudes of students who didn’t want to learn.

“It’s not failure or inability to learn,” Thompson said. “It’s the desire to learn and someone to push them. Most of us in this room had someone to push us. … These young people don’t have that. So we have to meet them at their most fundamental level, which is their most basic self-esteem need, which is love first.”

The miracle is already captured on film. The secret is out: No one was pushing those kids until FIN arrived.

Except the miracle didn’t happen.

In January, 2014, the news got out that McDonough was closing. Steve Barr said it was closing for renovations, and he didn’t want to disrupt “the culture.” Louisiana blogger Crazy Crawfish pointed out that enrollments were falling, test scores were abysmal, and costs were astronomical for the school. Some “culture.”

At a board meeting of the charter last spring, Steve Barr said there were too many high school seats in the Recovery School District, and McDonough was closing simply because of supply-and-demand.

“As John McDonogh High’s leaders begin the process of closing the New Orleans school, charter chief Steve Barr took the opportunity at a no-quorum board meeting Tuesday to give his explanation of what went wrong. He said the problem boiled down to supply and demand.

State Education Superintendent John White told him that New Orleans public high schools had 125 seats for every 100 students, Barr said. “It’s not management. It’s not we don’t know what we’re doing. You can’t run a high school with 300 kids.”

John McDonogh had 311 students as of Oct. 1, 2013, down from 389 the year before.

The state Recovery School District decided to close the historic New Orleans building for renovations, and Barr’s Future Is Now charter group will not be in charge when “John Mac” reopens. The school has posted dismal test scores in its first two years of a failed turnaround and was called “the most dangerous school in America” in an Oprah television network miniseries.

Tuesday was the charter board’s first meeting since the closure was announced. Two board members attended — John Hope and Charles Fenet — and no members of the public.”

So, no dramatic transformation, no turnaround. Steve Barr returned to California to become leader of the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform.

Mercedes Schneider explains what happened next:

“McDonogh closed in June 2014. As a part of washing its hands of New Orleans, Barr’s ironically-named Future Is Now (FIN) left behind equipment that the Recovery School District (RSD) (another ironic name) is auctioning off in the aftermath of the FIN-RSD divorce.

“On October 11, 2014, RSD auctioned off laptops that still had student information on them, including student social security numbers.”

More broken promises. More charter churn. Will Oprah return to New Orleans to report on the failure of FIN? To write FINIS to FIN? Don’t count on it.

I just watched the gubernatorial debate in New York. It included four candidates and is the only debate that will be held as Cuomo did not want to give his opponents any free air time. So there was Governor Cuomo, running on three lines (democrat, Working Families Party, Women’s Equality Party); His Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, running on three lines (Republican, Conservative, and Stop Common Core); Howie Hawkins, Green Party; and Michael McDermott, a Libertarian Party.

There were two education questions.

One was, what’s your position on Common Core? All four candidates opposed it. The Libertarian said his nine-year-old daughter can’t understand her homework, and neither can he. He said something along the lines of, “8+6=14, but why ask her to add 8+2+7-4-3?”

Cuomo insisted he had nothing to do with adopting Common Core and blamed it on the Board of Regents. He said he doesn’t appoint them, the Legislature does.

Then came a question on charter schools. Howie Hawkins opposed any expansion of them and said we must fully fund our public schools. Astorino said he was a product of public schools, his children attend public schools, and his wife teaches special education. He didn’t say where he stands on charters. McDermott denounced charters and said they undermine local control, which he strongly favors. Cuomo said nothing about charter schools and talked about taxes and other subjects. He changed the subject instead of acknowledging his fervent support for charter schools. Cuomo did not take credit for passing legislation that requires New York City to give free public space to charters or to pay their rent in private space.

The takeaway? None of the candidates supports Common Core (not even Cuomo, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the standards until recently and has insisted on making test scores the basis of educators’ evaluations), and charters (which enroll 3% of the state’s students, received no endorsement, even from their biggest cheerleader, Governor Cuomo.

With his campaign chest of $45 million, Cuomo has a big lead over his challengers. But the Governor would not publicly endorse Common Core or charters. He left a sour taste, as there can be no doubt that his current rhetoric is campaign mode and that he will revert to supporting Common Core, high-stakes testing, teacher-bashing, and charters after he is re-elected.k

Alan Singer sees a pattern:

Andrew Cuomo gets large campaign contributions from hedge fund managers, and Andrew Cuomo becomes a charter cheerleader. This, despite the fact that charters enroll only 3% of New York state’s children. At the beginning of his term as Governor, he promised to be the students’ lobbyist. Who knew that he intended to be the lobbyist for the 3% while ignoring the vast majority of children, who are enrolled in public schools?

Singer notes some fascinating details about Cuomo’s support for charter schools:

“It is probably just a coincidence. Could charter school dollars pouring into Andrew Cuomo’s reelection campaign at the same time that new charter agreements are approved by New York State really be “Quid Pro Cuomo”? Readers and voters have to decide for themselves.

“One month before Election Day, the State University of New York Charter School Committee gave its approval for seventeen new charter schools in New York City, including fourteen new Success Academy charter schools. This will eventually give the politically connected network headed by its contentious chief executive, Eva Moskowitz, a total of fifty charter schools in the city with over 16,000 students. Three new charter schools were also approved for a group called Achievement First.

“According to Joseph Belluck, the committee chairman, “parents in the communities where these schools are do not care about the politics of this issue. They want their kids to have good schools, and they want their kids to have a good education.” That may be true. However, it is Belluck’s job to know about the political issues, especially about the influence of political contributions, and take them into account before these decisions are made. But again, maybe he did.

“Belluck, a partner in the Manhattan law firm, was appointed to the SUNY Board of Trustees in June 2010. Before founding his law firm in 2002 he was counsel to the New York State Attorney General. Belluck is a major Democratic Party contributor. According to the website Little Sis, between 2004 and 2012 he gave $134,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign and about $200,000 to other Democratic Party candidates and committees.

“According to at least one website, in 2010, Belluck donated over $50,000 to Cuomo’s successful gubernatorial campaign. New York Press reported that Belluck donated $21,900 to Cuomo in 2008, $34,000 in 2009, and $60,000 in 2012. The Albany-Times Union called Belluck Cuomo’s second largest donor. Belluck is so politically connected that his law firm includes Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson. Sampson, by the way, was indicted in 2013 by a federal grand jury. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole money from the sale of foreclosed homes. The charges are still pending.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that KIPP plans to double its enrollment in Los Angeles over the next six years.

 

KIPP has received many millions in gifts from the U.S. Department of Education, the Walton Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and others committed to privatizing the public schools.

 

“KIPP LA currently operates 11 schools that serve about 4,000 students; by 2020, the organization wants to grow to 9,000 students in 20 schools.”

 

In the second-largest district in the nation, 9,000 is not a significant number, but the ripple effect will cause the closure of public schools in the district.

 

 

 

 

Warren Simmons, president of the Annenberg Institute, here releases a set of rules for the operation of charter schools intended to make them transparent and accountable. The question he raises is whether charters can become not only more transparent and accountable, but can they operate without damaging public schools.

 

The report recognizes that some charters have no interest in accountability or transparency. Indeed, there are so many well-documented cases of fraud and abuse that it is hard to be sure that this industry can be regulated, especially when it has often made sizable campaign contributions to legislators in a position to write regulations.

 

The Annenberg report begins:

 

In the last two decades, charter schools have grown into a national industry with 2.5 million students, more than 6,000 schools, and a burgeoning market of management services, vendors, policy shops, and advocacy organizations. State laws and charter authorizing standards have not kept up with this explosive growth.

Although most charter operators work hard to meet the needs of their students, the lack of effective oversight means no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence, too many cases of fraud and abuse, and too little attention to equity. The standards and policy recommendations in this report aim to ensure that there is a level playing field between traditional public schools and public charter schools and that charters are fully transparent and accountable to the communities they serve.

 

Frankly, we can’t even be sure that the majority of charter operators are in the business for themselves or for their students. Many of the small one-off charters have been replaced by charter chains that operate as chains usually do: with a commitment to the bottom line. I don’t think that White Hat in Ohio or Imagine or K12 Inc. or Academica in Florida will change their operations in response to this report.

 

Here is a summary of their recommendations: Read the full report for the detailed recommendations:

 

Traditional school districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children

School governance should be representative and transparent

Charter schools should ensure equal access to interested students and prohibit practices that discourage enrollment or disproportionately push-out enrolled students

Charter school discipline policy should be fair and transparent

All students deserve equitable and adequate school facilities. Districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure facility arrangements do not disadvantage students in either sector

Online charter schools should be better regulated for quality, transparency and the protection of student data

Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest; they should be strong and fully state funded

 

Meanwhile, Peter Greene has a test to tell whether or not a charter school is a public school. It must meet four criteria.

 

It must be financially transparent.

 

It must be accountable to the voters.

 

It must “play by the rules,” for example, hiring accredited teachers.

 

It must serve the entire population, not just those it wants to serve.

 

How many charters would pass this test?

 

 

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney in Stamford, joins the many others who complain that charter schools have been allowed to proliferate in an irresponsible manner, with minimal or no supervision. She writes that it is time to reassess the charter movement and to set new standards for accountability. Across the country, charter school frauds have been exposed, in which the operators are profiting handsomely while refusing to accept the same children as the neighboring district. The latest example is in North Carolina, where a local businessman is making millions of dollars by supplying goods and services to his four publicly-funded charter schools while insisting that he has no obligation to open the books to public scrutiny. Connecticut has had its own charter scandal, with the implosion of Jumoke Academy.

 

 

Lecker writes:

 

Almost daily, headlines are filled with stories of charter school fraud or mismanagement. Recent revelations about possible illegal practices in charter schools in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have led even charter supporters to try to distance themselves from the “crony capitalism” fueling this sector.

 

It is cold comfort that Connecticut officials are not alone in allowing unscrupulous charter operators to bilk taxpayers. It is time to reassess the entire charter movement in Connecticut.

 

Recall the original promises made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using “innovative” methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.

 

None of those promises have been kept. Charters cannot point to any “innovations” that lead to better achievement. Smaller classes and wraparound services are not innovations — public schools have been begging for these resources for years. Charter practices such as failing to serve our neediest children, e.g., English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and “counseling out” children who cannot adhere to overly strict disciplinary policies, are not “innovations” — and should be prohibited.

 

Charters often spend more than public schools. Charters in Bridgeport and Stamford spend more per pupil than their host districts. And while it appears that charters in New Haven and Hartford spend comparable amounts, they serve a less needy, and less expensive, population. Moreover, Connecticut charters need not pay for special education services, transportation, or, if they serve fewer than 20 ELL students, ELL services.

 

While Connecticut owes billions of dollars to our neediest districts, officials provide higher per-pupil allocations to charters. For example charter schools receive $11,500 per pupil from the state, but Bridgeport’s ECS allocation is only $8,662 per pupil. Bridgeport is owed an additional $5,446 according to the CCJEF plaintiffs, not including the cost of teacher evaluations, the Common Core, and other unfunded mandates imposed over the years.

 

Connecticut increased charter funding over the past three years by $2,100 per pupil, while our poorest school districts received an average increase of only $642 per pupil.

 

 

Here are Lecker’s proposals for reform of privately managed charter schools:

 

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s “Public Accountability for Charter Schools,” is a good starting point. The report outlines areas that demand equity, accountability and transparency: such as enrollment, governance, contracts, and management.

 

Connecticut must require, as a condition of continued authorization, that charters serve the same demographics as their host districts, through clearly delineated controlled choice policies.

 

Charter schools must maintain transparent and publicly available annual records and policies regarding enrollment, discipline and attrition. Charters must ensure that they do not employ subtle barriers to enrollment, such as strict disciplinary policies or requirements for parent participation as a condition of attendance. No such barriers exist in public schools.

 

Charters must prove that they meet the specific needs of the host community in a way the public schools do not. Charters must not be imposed over community opposition. State officials must assess the negative impact of charters on a district, including segregation and funding effects.

 

Charters must post all contracts and fully disclose revenues and expenditures. Charter officials, board members and employees must undergo background checks and disclose any relationships with contractors, state officials and others dealing with their school. Parents in charter schools must be allowed to elect charter board members.

 

Charters must show evidence annually that their unique educational methods improve achievement.

 

 

 

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