Archives for category: For-Profit

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

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

The article begins:

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

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

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

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

Among the cases the newspaper reviewed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic chaos is not unusual:

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

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

“The two Ivy Academies lasted only seven weeks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our wise friend Edward Berger took some time off from blogging, did some serious reflection, and has returned with some blockbuster posts.

This one is called “Never Again! Now the Evidence is Irrefutable.” He describes three groups of reformers.

http://edwardfberger.com/

He begins thus::

“While America was asleep at least three groups have moved to control American Education:

“Group one, the most damaging, is motivated by gaining access to the tax dollars citizens pay for public education. They hide behind a pretense of serving children and building America’s future. They are ruthless pirates who have no allegiance to anything but their own wealth and power. They are often hedge fund managers. Many are successful entrepreneurs who believe that because they created or inherited wealth, they are experts in every field…..

“Group two, a large mixed group made up of those who call themselves “education reformers.” Typically, these “reformers” do not have an education background, any legitimate certification, and any, or very little teaching experience. They have grand visions of themselves which manifest in a drive to change and profit from a system they are unable to accurately define and do not understand. None of these self-appointed change agents are focused on what our children need.
Those with this narrow, self-serving mindset accept that something is true without checking or affirming it. (i.e., Bad teachers are the problem). They claim to have hunches or insights that will correct problems. A woman who typifies this limited thinking is Michelle Rhee. She demonstrates a myopic way of thinking that is not productive. That is, if you threaten and hurt people they will get in line behind your assumptions or get out of your way. Bill and Melinda Gates are part of this way of thinking. If you devise tests that are designed to fail children and their teachers, you will motivate them and purge the profession – or so this tragic way of thinking plays out…..

“I have observed that almost every attempt to reform schools is accompanied by threats, punishments, bribes, and fear-generating ideologies. High Stakes Testing, Common Core, PARCC, the SAT, are all threat-based approaches. Most State testing programs are threat-reward based. (Teach what we tell you to teach and your school will get an “A” rating).
Fifty years ago many teachers used tests as threats and punishment. Today, teachers are aware of brain-based studies and no professional educators believe that fear, pressure, and student abuse are acceptable in a learning environment.
Why then does the USDOE (Arne Duncan), Pearson – a foreign company extracting billions of dollars from American schools – continue measurement systems that are not educationally viable, and in fact block learning? The answer is simple. They actually believe that people are motivated, learn, and work harder when they are threatened and under pressure. There is no evidence to support this, but of course, they are fact-adverse.

“Group three, is a collection of individuals and groups who cling to radical ideologies. At one end of the spectrum we find fundamentalists who advocate many types of non-scientific belief. We observe End Times preaching, and morality and sexual access based on the will of old white men. These sects or cults do not want public education. They reject equality between the sexes. They want to control what is taught. They want to control what the rest of us learn.”

These are the tried-and-true tenets of education in a democratic society:

“• We do not experiment on children.
• We honor and get to know each child, even those who are hurt and will not score well on summative tests. Unless the system is overloaded – not enough resources and too many children assigned to a teacher – no child is left behind.
• We honor a long history of One Nation united by our education system through common values, comprehensive curriculum, one overall language, and free K-12 education for every child.
• We reject the false assumption that schools can be run for profit. Profits take money away from children/schools. These are dollars that must go to services for children.
• School governance must follow democratic principles, starting with elected officials and elected school boards, and not mayoral control, politically appointed czars, or would-be oligarchs from the Billionaire Boys Club (think Eli Broad).
• We have a proven system of certification and competence. Educators are constantly evaluated by parents, administrators, peers, and students. This is the reason there are very few “bad” teachers.”

Allie Gross arrived to teach in Detroit as a Teach for America recruit. Her three years in a charter school opened her eyes. She saw classrooms without supplies, children promoted who were not ready and did not get the intervention they needed, she saw feckless leadership promoted to larger roles. And she saw the growth of an industry. In this article, she describes what she learned about “the charter school profiteers.”

Here is a sample of a fascinating and disturbing portrait of what is happening in Detroit:

“In charter-heavy Detroit, permissive regulations have created an environment ripe for mismanagement.

“According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Detroit ranks number two nationally for charter enrollment. The city is right behind New Orleans, with over half of its school-aged students attending a charter school in the 2012-2013 school year. That number will no doubt rise now that Michigan has lifted its cap on charter schools. Even more pernicious, the majority of them are run by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs). According to a report by the National Education Policy Center, Michigan has the highest proportion of for-profit EMOS running their charter schools — 79 percent of the total.

“Privatization and limited oversight have conspired to produce a new figure: the education entrepreneur. In the chaos of the Detroit school system, education entrepreneurs see an opportunity for experimentation, innovation, and venture capital. And the decentralized nature of charter schools works to their advantage. With little coherence across schools, the issue of serial education entrepreneurs emerges. Those with limited track records of success are able to wedge their ways into school after school, with nobody checking up on past performance.”

Someone sent EduShyster a copy of a pamphlet about how to put a positive message on privately managed charter schools.

The message is, of course, upbeat and positive. But it is not honest.

There is no confronting the number of charter schools that are low-performing or the number that close.

Nothing is said about charter schools that are run for-profit, squeezing out dollars from the classroom to pay off investors.

Nothing is said about the ineffectual virtual charter schools that make a lot of money but whose students have a high attrition rate, low scores, and a low graduation rate.

Nothing is said about the charters that get high scores by excluding students who are English language learners or have disabilities or misbehave.

And there is absolute silence about the charter schools that are corrupt and that have been closed because of embezzlement, conflicts of interest, and self-dealing. Nor will the reader learn about the states where private corporations are exempt from the laws banning conflicts of interest and nepotism.

It is possible to write a book about the good things charters can do by serving children who are ill-served in public schools, but those schools must be balanced against the charters that exist to get public money without public accountability.

There is more than one way to harm public education. Several states have passed legislation to allow tax credits for scholarships to private and religious schools. This reduces the money available to support public schools.

But it gets better! In South Carolina, smart investors can actually make a profit by making gifts to the tax credit (aka voucher) fund.

David Slade writes in the S.C. “Post and Courier” that “S.C. Tax Rule Creates a Way to Profit by Funding Private School Scholarships.”

He says that taxpayers can save up to $1.42 for every dollar they give to the tax credit program.

He writes that high-wealth donors benefit the most. One single donor in the last fiscal year gave $1.52 million and gained a profit between $100,000 and $638,000.

Privatization produces no academic gains for students but it is a really swell gain for canny investors.

Writing in The Atlantic, high school English teacher David Perrin tries to imagine what Mark Twain would think about Common Core testing.

 

He begins:

 

I’ve been teaching high school English in Illinois for over 20 years, but have only recently come to believe that I am complicit in a fraud. For nearly a decade, I have dutifully prepared college-bound students for the rigors of the ACT and the Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature and Composition exam. Even though I believe there’s an undue emphasis on testing in our current school culture, I have considered this preparation an important part of my job because these tests are important to my students both academically and financially. But I question what, if anything, the new Common Core test—which will include writing components graded in part by computer algorithms—will have to offer my students.

 

Perrin has no doubt that Twain would have skewered the Common Core curriculum, as he skewered the curriculum of his own time:

 

Mark Twain had an abiding concern with education, and he treated formal schooling derisively in his writings. His 1917 autobiography describes his education in the mid-19th century, at the dawn of the public school movement; his acerbic portrayal of Mr. Dobbins in the school scenes of Tom Sawyer is based on Twain’s remembrances of his own teachers and experiences. In one scene, set on Examination Day, Twain mocks the vacuous nature of writing instruction as he shows Tom Sawyer’s classmates reading their essays aloud: “A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of ‘fine language’; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out.” The examinations come to an abrupt halt when Tom and his friends hide in the garret, lower a cat on a string, and watch it snatch the wig off the teacher’s head.

In 1887, Twain penned an introduction to English as She is Taught, a parody of sorts written by a Brooklyn school teacher who had crafted together her students’ most outlandish and misinformed answers. Twain quotes his favorite passages: “The captain eliminated a bullet through the man’s heart. You should take caution and be precarious. The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the perennial time came.” His real target isn’t the writing itself but the school system that gave rise to such disjointed answers. “Isn’t it reasonably possible,” he asks, “that in our schools many of the questions in all studies are several miles ahead of where the pupil is?—that he is set to struggle with things that are ludicrously beyond his present reach, hopelessly beyond his present strength?” He notes, for example, that the date 1492 has been drilled into every student’s memory. In the book’s essays, it “is always at hand, always deliverable at a moment’s notice. But the Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another matter.”

 

Twain would have had fun at the expense of the Common Core standards and the computer-graded tests, writes Perrin:

 

The Common Core standards and their assessment tools would have given Twain plenty of fodder for his sardonic wit. The first “anchor standard” for writing at the grade 11–12 level declares that students will “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” This goal will be assessed by Pearson, one of America’s three largest textbook publishers and test-assessment companies. Pearson will, at least in part, be using the automated scoring systems of Educational Testing Services (ETS), proprietor of the e-Rater, which can “grade” 16,000 essays in a mere 20 minutes.

 

And he would have been suspicious of the profit motive of the corporations that are likely to make $1 billion or more by testing students. Perrin feels sure that Twain “would have almost certainly had something to say about essay-grading software and corporations that refuse to reveal their testing methods. With so little transparency, and with so many dollars and futures at stake, Twain might have condemned an “assification of the whole system….” He would not be one of those who stand with the corporations that stand to profit and the politicians who couldn’t pass the tests they insist upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If data and research matter, the worst reform in U.S. education is the virtual charter school.

The League of Women Voters–one of the few national organizations with integrity about education issues (I.e. has not been bought by the Gates Foundation) issued a report about these floundering “schools,” that typically have low test scores, high dropout rates, and low graduation rates. Only a devotee of the Jeb Bush reform school would want to invite these ineffectual schools into their state. Poor New Mexico. Its acting state commissioner Hannah Skandera used to work for the Jebster himself, so whatever Florida has done to bring in for-profit hucksters must be brought to New Mexico, of course.

So New Mexico has a K12 virtual charter (listed on the New York Stock Exchange, founded by the Milken brothers), and a Connections Academy, owned by the much unloved Pearson.

Here is the study conducted by the New Mexico League of Women Voters.

Here is an article by Bonnie Burn in the Las Cruces Sun-News explaining why the League of Women Voters opposes for-profit schools. Actually, she is wrong on one point. There is a growing body of research that shows the ineffectiveness of virtual charters. However, they are highly profitable.

Will the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak out against for-profit virtual charters? Will elephants fly?

This prize-winning story by investigative reporter Colin Woodard follows the money trail in Maine, as Governor Paul LePage seeks to make a name for himself in the world of digital learning. It was originally published two years ago, but remains relevant. Woodard dug through more than 1,000 documents that he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and his story won the George Polk award.

Laura Chapman writes in response to a post about OECD ratings for higher education in different nations based on ability of adults to answer standardized test questions. This comes as the U.S. Department of Education has declared its intention to rate, rank, and evaluate colleges and universities by a variety of criteria, then to tie funding to ratings. That is, to bring the data-based decision making of NCLB to higher education.

Chapman writes:

“OCED should not be messing around with ratings of higher education programs based on totally flawed assumptions, statistical and other wise.

“Meanwhile, two developments bearing on higher education in the United States are worth noting.

“ALEC, the conservative provider of model state legislation, wants to close a lot of public colleges and universities on a fast track.

“According to Politico (June 27, 2014) in ALEC’s next meeting members will consider endorsing the “Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act,” which would require all public universities to offer degree programs that cost less than $10,000 total for all four years of tuition, fees and books.

“What’s more, the bill would mandate that at least 10 percent of all four-year degrees awarded at state schools meet that price point within four years of the act’s passage.

“Universities would be encouraged to use online education and shift to competency-based models rather than the traditional credit-hour model to keep costs down. If members of ALEC endorse the bill, they will begin circulating and promoting it in state legislatures.

“I think the bait will be taken in state legislatures. This is a fast track toward the demolition of higher education with the political point of saving taxpayers money. The suggested cap on the cost at $2,500 a year for two full semesters of course work is about what my undergraduate program cost in the mid 1950s.

“I believe part of the intent is to devalue specific degrees, namely those in the liberal arts and humanities, and “impractical” sciences (e.g., archaeology, philosophy, and history) where competencies are not cut and dried and tend to consolidate over multiple years. The unstated agenda is for all public colleges and universities to function as engines for economic growth, literally as vocational schools, with on-line completion of specific tasks the primary evidence of competence. ALEC model legislation also opens the door for more degrees based on “skill sets” from life experience–not entirely without merit—but a can of worms and general attack on the value of formal education, leaving only a diploma or certificate as a credential worth the investment.

“Concurrently, the Gates Foundation is promoting the use of the same flawed measures being foisted on K-12 education for higher education, specifically a version of student learning objectives (SLOs) to rate teachers, courses, programs, and entire universities on their success in improving “outcomes.”

“Aided by first-year funds from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, nine states and 68 participating two-year and four-year institutions will document how well students are achieving key learning outcomes. The Association of American Colleges and Universities and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association appear to have bought into this version of K-12 accountability including a process that sounds just like that “multi-state” project known as the common core initiative.

“In essence, these institutions are being enticed to think that Peter Drucker’s debunked theory of management–by-objectives (The Practice of Management, 1954) is the best way to map learning outcomes of higher education, course by course, with “summative” grades for programs, and for the institution as a whole- one size fits all. The whole project is marketed as value-based education— a phrase that is likely to tempt statisticians into using all the new metrics into dubious evaluations of faculty performance. See http://www.aacu.org/”

Arthur Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ., points put that drug makers are not allowed to make unsubstantiated claims. They are required to gather evidence and to disclose possible negative side effects. They can make boasts, offer up dubious facts, and get away with it. They speak about the individuals’ “right to choose” without acknowledging the harm to the community’s public institutions.

In a thoughtful article, Camins says that the debate about school reform has been obscured by “the fog of war,” a public relations blitz that appeals to individualism and self-interest, replacing evidence and any sense of the common good.

He writes:

“One weapon in the arsenal of opponents of current policies has been to point out the absence of evidentiary support. In fact, there is no system inside the U.S. or around the world that has made substantial systemic progress through charter schools, merit pay or test-driven accountability. Resistance is growing, but so far this line of attack has not built enough widespread public understanding to deter policy makers. Maybe that is because the supporters of these policies have effectively obscured their real goals and values.”

He concludes::

“Stories of dysfunctional, conflict-plagued, private agenda-driven local school boards abound. There are countless examples school boards making uniformed decisions that do not serve the interests of children. However, privatization and shrinking of public participation in decision-making is not an antidote to ineffective, uninformed democracy. Public knowledge and clear-eyed evidence are. History is replete with evidence that the side effect of disenfranchisement in the name of improvement is benefits to the few and disaster for the many. Arguments that restricting democracy will benefit everyone have always been the coins of autocrats and self-appointed experts driven by blind faith or ideology and narrow self-interest.

“The drive to privatize educational governance, especially with respect to expansion of charter schools, has two unstated goals. One is to open up the vast education market to individuals looking for a new profitable place to invest their capital. Another is more cynical. Some people have given up hope for systemic improvement. Instead, they are willing to settle for a system that only provides an opportunity for those they deem to be the deserving and capable few among the unfortunate many. Hence, the negative disruptive side effects of school closings in poor communities are the price that the many will pay to save the lucky few.

“Let’s report the evidence and side effects so the public can decide: Which side are you on? Are you willing to give up your right to democratic participation and risk the future of your child or your neighbor’s to privilege the lucky few? Are you ready to give up on the common good?

“For the sake of clarity, I’ve attempted to present complex issues in binary terms. Assuredly, there are gradations. In reality, ensuring the wellbeing of individuals is inseparable from advancing the common good. The old labor slogan, an injury to one is an injury to all, said it simply, but well. Put another way, my personal gain is diminished or even negated when it comes at the expense of another.

“We need an educational system based on these values. I think, when asked, the public may agree.”

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