Archives for category: For-Profit

Charter schools have been the beneficiary of a myth, the myth that a free market in schooling will produce miraculous results. Unfortunately, like most myths, it is not true. Deregulation translates into lack of supervision and oversight. In the absence of supervision of public funds, scams, frauds, and corruption flourish.

Jeff Bryant here reviews some of the egregious examples of charter school corruption in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being transferred to the private sector, where no one supervises how those dollars are spent. Worse, the businesses that get the money spend large sums to hire lobbyists and to contribute to key legislators to make sure their charters remain free of oversight.

It is alarming that Congress is about to hand more money over to the same shady entrepreneurs and to encourage more of them to jump into the unregulated, very profitable charter industry.

The Detroit Free Press is running a week-long series about Michigan’s charter sector. The first story was about a $1 billion industry with no accountability and poor results. Most charters in the state operate for profit.

The industry’s response? National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter chain, bought up the advertising space around the story to tout their wares. See the screen shot.

Peter Greene comments here on the U. S. Department of Education’s decision to bail out Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a for-profit chain.

 

Not so long ago, the U.S. DOE pledged to monitor predatory for-profit colleges. Not so, it seems.  Not now.

 

Greene writes:

 

“Corinthian has a somewhat checkered past. Okay, checkered might be generous. They have grown prodigiously since being founded in 1995, acquiring around twenty other post-secondary institutions from Duff’s Business School to the American Motorcycle Institute. They operate the Everest College chain, plus a few others. They’ve been called “the nation’s worst private college chain” and have been sued more times than anybody seems to be able to count. The State of California in particular seems to be intent on driving them out of business, charging them with the usual predatory practices of marketing to poverty-level folks with promises of careers that never appear. This would also be the chain who got caught (by Huffington Post, of all people) hiring their own grads to keep their grad-employment numbers up.

They are, in short, exactly the kind of for-profit college that the feds said they were going to shut down.”

 

The announcement was made by Ted Mitchell, Undersecretary of Education, who served previously on the boards of for-profit education institutions and was CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, which is a major supporter of privatization efforts.

 

 

 

 

After a year-long investigation, the Detroit Free Press published a scathing report on the state’s thriving charter sector.

Charter schools receive $1 billion in taxpayer funding with virtually no accountability.

They get worse results than traditional public schools.

140,000 children attend charter schools in Michigan.

Michigan has more for-profit charters than any other state. The for-profit organizations are secretive about their finances because they are private.

“In reviewing two decades of charter school records, the Free Press found:

“Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.”

““People should get a fair return on their investment,” said former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins, a longtime charter advocate who has argued for higher standards for all schools. “But it has to come after the bottom line of meeting the educational needs of the children. And in a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”

“According to the Free Press’ review, 38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23% of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.

“Advocates argue that charter schools have a much higher percentage of children in poverty compared with traditional schools. But traditional schools, on average, perform slightly better on standardized tests even when poverty levels are taken into account.”

Some examples of charter abuses of the public trust:

“Michigan’s laws are either nonexistent or so lenient that there are often no consequences for abuses or poor academics. Taxpayers and parents are left clueless about how charter schools spend the public’s money, and lawmakers have resisted measures to close schools down for poor academic performance year after year.

“The Free Press found that questionable decisions, excessive spending and misuse of taxpayer dollars run the gamut:

■ A Sault Ste. Marie charter school board gave its administrator a severance package worth $520,000 in taxpayer money.

■ A Bedford Township charter school spent more than $1 million on swampland.

■ A mostly online charter school in Charlotte spent $263,000 on a Dale Carnegie confidence-building class, $100,000 more than it spent on laptops and iPads.

■ Two board members who challenged their Romulus school’s management company over finances and transparency were ousted when the length of their terms was summarily reduced by Grand Valley State University.

■ National Heritage Academies, the state’s largest for-profit school management company, charges 14 of its Michigan schools $1 million or more in rent — which many real estate experts say is excessive.

■ A charter school in Pittsfield Township gave jobs and millions of dollars in business to multiple members of the founder’s family.

■ Charter authorizers have allowed management companies to open multiple schools without a proven track record of success.”

Investigative journalist David Sirota asks why so many of the super-rich love charter schools.

The answer, with exceptions: profits and money and union-busting, all rolled in one.

Take Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark. At least $20 million went to consultants. Consultants!

Sirota writes:

“But, of course, a lot of corporate execs working for the firms who got Zuckerberg’s money did indeed personally profit off the pro-charter-school campaign. Additionally, in states where charter schools are for-profit enterprises, there are even more business interests with personal financial stakes in undermining traditional public education. And, again, there are all the profits inherent in the aforementioned tax credits. Meanwhile, there’s the whole anti-union element to the charter school movement. As any political consultant for a business group knows, if you get union-free charter schools to replace traditional public education, you damage the public sector unions – aka one of the few political forces with any resources to challenge Corporate America’s broader legislative agenda.

“Of course, this is the kind of thing you almost never hear about in the ongoing debate about education. Most often, that debate pretends the fight pits greedy self-interested teachers’ unions against purely altruistic corporate types who are so rich they couldn’t possibly have a financial motive in their education policy advocacy. Somehow, we are to believe that in the midst of their careers making as much money as possible in their chosen careers, every philanthrocapitalist suddenly is selflessly spending gobs of money with no desire to get any return on investment. Worse, we are asked to believe this even though there are myriad ways to engineer such a return on investment through the campaign to promote charter schools.”

Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 3, 2014:

In God We Trust? How about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

Blogger Rant:

At a recent school board meeting I voted against authorizing a payment to Agora Cyber Charter School. Why? During the NCLB regime, Agora never once made AYP; this year their PA School Performance Profile Score was 48.3 (scale of 100). In my district, our Middle School score was 94; our High School score was 96.4. Agora is run by K12, Inc., a for-profit company founded by convicted bond felon Michael Milken. K12 paid it’s CEO $13 million from 2009 through 2013 and spent our tax dollars on over 19,000 local TV commercials. I do not believe Agora should receive one cent of my neighbors’ tax dollars.

Instead of posting “In God We Trust”, how about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

An article in the Akron Beacon Journal shows how virtual charters design advertising campaigns to appeal to students who are unhappy and feel bullied at school

“With profits on the line, private charter school companies are advertising on television, radio, billboards, handbills and even automated telephone messages to entice students away from public schools.

“And with words such as free, flexible, one-on-one and find your future — and taking opportunities to play on fear — the privately run, publicly funded schools are being quite successful.

“Enrollment in Ohio charter schools now stands at more than 120,000 in nearly 400 schools, with seven more schools expected to open next year. These quasi-public schools enroll less than 7 percent of Ohio’s students and receive $912 million in state tax dollars, about 11 percent of all state funds set aside for primary and secondary education.”

Some charters spend as much as $400 per student on advertising. Some public schools advertise to lure students back. All the money spent on advertising is taxpayer dollars that should be spent in classrooms.

Some of the ads feature students who talk about how they changed their life by enrolling in an online school, free from bullying. But the reporters interviewed a student who was not happy with her experience:

“Gretchen Carle, 19, a former student at Howland High School near Warren, also went to ECOT to escape bullying. Her experience with the online school, however, was different, she said in an interview.

“There wasn’t a lot of interaction with the teachers like they said there would be,” Carle said. “You were on your own with everything. It was very hard for me until I got a tutor.”

“Carle’s parents, not the school, paid for the private tutor. She never graduated and declined to talk about what she is doing currently.

“A video, “I Choose Life Skills,” posted in October, features a testimonial by a student identified as Tanya. In it, she says she can work at her own pace, with a highly qualified teacher or, if she chooses, from home “in my comfy PJs.”

“At that point, she is shown relaxing in a recliner, with a computer on her lap, while eating grapes. She also promotes the flexible class schedule that allows her to keep an outside job to take care of her family while earning a diploma.
The 30-second advertisement ends with the student saying, “I choose free tuition. I choose to take control of my life. I choose Life Skills high school. What do you choose?”

It is curious indeed that Pearson has been so effective at buying a controlling interest in American education. It is curious because in school we were always taught that heathy competition produces better products, that America reveres an open field for new products, and that monopolies are clumsy and inefficient. We were also taught that the public sector belongs to the public, not to private corporations.

This post, by Jennifer Job of UNC Chapel Hill, follows the money in trying to understand how Pearson inverted these axioms. How did Pearson become a dominating force American education? She examines the tentacles of power. Maybe the CEO of Pearson should be our next Secretary of Education. But no, that would mean taking a salary cut.

Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.

The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:

“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.

“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.

“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.

“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”

Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.

“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”

Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.

“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”

Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.

In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.

Alan Singer asks why National Heritage Academies is still in business, in light of its business practices. For-profit companies are good at making profits, and that’s what NHA does well.

NHA has most of its charters in Michigan, where more than 80% of charters operate for-profit. It has ties to ALEC and conservative think tanks.

It also operates charters in other states.

Singer writes:

“In 2005, the State University of New York closed the Rochester Leadership Academy Charter School because of poor academic performance by its students. Four years later the former charter school’s board of directors sued the for-profit management company, National Heritage Academies. The suit claimed that National Heritage Academies failed to provide the promised “management, operation, administration, accounting and education” which resulted in the school losing its state charter. In addition, the board blamed the management company for the loss of over $2 million.

“In March 2010 the Rochester Leadership Academy Charter School board and National Heritage Academies reached an out of court settlement. National Heritage Academies agreed to “donate” $175,000 to a non-profit organization selected by the charter school, however because of a confidentiality clause in the agreement no other details were released to the public.

“National Heritage Academies is a for-profit corporation based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It operates 75 schools in nine states with approximately 50,000 students. In 2011-2012, it was the third largest for profit charter school company in the United States based on number of schools with second largest number of students.”

NHA also operates charters in Brooklyn. “In May 2014, the New York Daily News reported that National Heritage Academies charged its Brooklyn Dreams Charter School $2.3 million a year to rent space in a Catholic Church that the management company leased from the church for much less. The going rate for rental of this kind was between $14.25 and $25.50 per square foot, but National Heritage Academies charged the school $46.99 per square foot. While neither the management company nor the church would admit how much the company was actually paying to the Brooklyn diocese, the New York Post claimed it was only $264,000 per year. National Heritage Academies also charged another charter school it manages, Brooklyn Scholars, well over the market rate.”

A good business.

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