Archives for category: KIPP Charter Schools

Mila Jasey, a member of the New Jersey Assembly, proposed a three-year moratorium on opening new charter schools. She said it was time to pause and take stock of the charter law. Meanwhile, Governor Chris Christie is opening as many charters as possible in the state’s poorest, most segregated districts, with an occasional effort to place them in suburbs (which usually provokes intense parent resistance).

Now that parents and the Newark Students Union, as well as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, oppose Cami Anderson’s efforts to eliminate their neighborhood schools, the usual corporate reform narrative has gotten scrambled because students and parents in Newark are fighting to stop privatization.

So KIPP-NJ organized a rally of 100 parents in front of Assemblymember Jasey’s office to protest the moratorium. Note that the legislation would not close their schools, although the statements of demonstrators assume that it would.

The rally was called “Hands Off Our Future.” Again, the moratorium would have no bearing on any of the existing charter schools or their students. Note in the press release that questions should be directed to KIPP’s marketing and communications specialist.

I have been impressed by the clever and appealing slogans–the branding–of the charter chains. Last year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio in NYC threatened to reject some of Eva Moskowitz’s charter proposals, her supporters (“Families for Excellent Schools”) quickly produced $5 million for slick TV ads called “Don’t Steal Possible.” (You may safely conclude that the “families” who came up with $5 million overnight don’t enroll their children in public schools or charter schools.) That, plus $1 million or so of campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo from hedge-fund managers, turned the tide. Cuomo became a charter cheerleader, and he pushed through a bill protecting Eva’s expansion plans and guaranteeing free space in public schools and requiring the public schools in NYC to pay the charters’ rent in private space.

Clearly, public schools must have their own branding strategy. How about this:

“”Wall Street: Hands Off Our Public Schools”

“Don’t Steal Democracy”

“Our Children Are Not for Sale”

“Public Schools Belong to the Public, Not Corporate Raiders”

Do you have better ideas? The charter sector is rich and ambitious. They start with the schools in urban areas, but they have already begun to push into the suburbs and even small towns.

The end result will be a dual system: one for the motivated students and families, free to exclude those students it doesn’t want; the other–our public schools–for the kids who were rejected by the charters. I thought the Brown decision of 1954 settled the issue of a publicly-funded dual system. But it is back again, not based on race, but on something else, maybe grit, ability to succeed, motivation. One system for strivers, another for the rest. When I was in graduate school many years ago, an economist who studied international education told me that systems may be shaken up but they tend to revert to long-established patterns. Like a dual school system.

I was in Oklahoma a few days ago, I talked to a principal who shares a building with KIPP. He told me that the charter sends him students they don’t want, usually right before the state tests. That’s how the new system works.

When Julie O’Connor of the Star-Ledger called to ask me about a Newark KIPP charter school that got amazing results, I told her I had no information or knowledge about the school. I suggested she should consider three possibilities: 1) it is indeed a wonderful school; 2) it is not enrolling the same proportion of students with disabilities and English language learners as the public schools; 3) check the attrition rate over time. I directed her to Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, who have studied charter school performance in Néw Jersey (I have not). I published O’Connor’s comment and Baker’s response in the previous post. What follows is Mark Weber’s response.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher in Néw Jersey and a graduate student at Rutgers, working with Bruce Baker. He posted two other responses to O’Connor and “the KIPP Propaganda Machine,” referenced below in his first paragraph.

Here is the opening of Weber’s analysis:

“I really don’t want to keep debunking this past Sunday’s big, fat, wet kiss from the Star-Ledger’s Julie O’Connor to the TEAM/KIPP charter school in Newark — see here and here. But O’Connor has given us such a perfect example of reformy propaganda that it really does merit further deconstruction.

“O’Connor’s love letter to TEAM/KIPP is based on a collection of received truths:

“Urban public schools suck (and suburban schools aren’t that great, either).

“We’ve spent too much already on district schools.

“Charter schools are awesome because they “prove” that poverty can be overcome in our schools; they are also “doing more with less.”

“To make her case, O’Connor gives us several talking points, clearly pre-digested by TEAM/KIPP for her easy consumption. Among them:

“One KIPP elementary school even outscored Montclair kids in 2013, a much higher income group.”

“In a city where almost half the students don’t graduate, nearly all its kids finish, and a remarkable 95 percent of them go on to college.”

“At last count, nearly 10,000 families were on a waiting list to get their children in.”

“There are others, and I’ll get to them in due course. But let’s take these three for right now. Are these points of data factually correct? Yes, absolutely.

“But are they true? That’s an entirely different question.”

“The master propagandist never puts a piece of data before the public that isn’t factually correct. Why would she? Facts are not malleable in and of themselves, but their application certainly is. And what O’Connor has managed to do here is tell a story that is certainly “factual,” but leaves out so much critical information that it can hardly be called “true.”

In the remainder of his post, he explains how facts can be used to misrepresent the truth.

Here is my take, for what it’s worth. The charter school in question seems to have good results, even after the exaggerations are stripped away. What we don’t know is whether the school excludes the students with the most severe disabilities, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We don’t know if it “counsels out” the students who are trouble-makers, whom the public schools are obliged to accept. We can assume that KIPP spends more per pupil than the district public schools (KIPP often receives multi-million dollar gifts from foundations, corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.

For these reasons, I long ago issued what I called “The KIPP Challenge.” The challenge was for KIPP to take over an entire impoverished district and show what it could do if it were tasked with the same expectation that public schools must meet: educate all children. Educate the children with the full range of abilities. Educate the children who don’t speak English. Educate the children just released from the juvenile justice system. Educate the gifted. Educate the kids who are turned off by school. Educate them all. No exceptions. No excuses.

The last time I wrote about The KIPP Challenge, a number of KIPP advocates reacted angrily, said this was not its purpose. But if KIPP wants to be considered a model for urban education, then it should indeed take on an entire district and prove that its good results are not enhanced by cherry-picking, skimming, or attrition.

Until it does accept the Challenge, it should not boast about its outcomes or claim to be superior to public schools that do accept all children. I am willing to be convinced. But, first, meet the Challenge.

I posted about the Néw Jersey Star-Ledger’s coverage of a KIPP charter school in Newark on May 10. I wrote that the newspaper seemed (to me) to be determined to write a positive report about the school. I referred the writer to Bruce Baker and Jersey Jazzman, both of whom have studied and written about charter schools in Néw Jersey.

The story did indeed treat the school as a miracle school that had closed the achievement gaps. Called Newark Collegiate Academy, the school is a KIPP school, formerly known as TEAM schools.

The writer, Julie O’Connor, commented on my post. She wrote:

“Hi Professor Ravitch. Just saw this post. Want to make sure you know that we have repeatedly invited Professor Baker to come in for an editorial board meeting to discuss and clarify his arguments, and he has refused. If he thinks we are misinformed, it’s certainly not willful. After his blog post – which seems unfair, given all those invitations — we’ve invited him again, and I hope he takes us up on the offer.

“I would be happy to talk to you about it, too. We’ve spoken in the past, although you may not remember, and you were a big help on my story back at Columbia, about New York City’s pregnancy schools (when those still existed!) When you say you “sensed nothing I said would make her stop and question her presumptions,” it took me aback, because that’s actually why I reached out to you.

“You deferred to Baker on this issue, and he refused to discuss it with me. I don’t think that does anybody good. I have found you to be quite adept at crystallizing your arguments. When I asked you if you view KIPP as an exception, or more of the same, you replied in your email that there are three possibilities: 1) KIPP students have high scores and go to college, 2) KIPP students are not representative of their district or 3) High attrition rates eliminate the students most likely to succeed [sic]. You said you didn’t know which it is, and that I should talk to Baker. But if you leave it to him to explain his research, and then he forces everyone to rely exclusively on his writings – which, frankly, are pretty obtuse – I don’t think you can dismiss me as a “propaganda machine.”

“The Mathematica study said KIPP’s success isn’t explained by demographics or attrition.
If you believe Baker’s research is better than Mathematica’s, I hope one of you will take the time to come in for a meeting with the editorial board and explain why.”

I sent O’Connor’s comment to Bruce Baker and Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman), and I invited them to respond.

Bruce Baker left the following comment on the blog.

“As I wrote to Diane,

===========================

“This is just bizarre. first of all, I have spoken with them several times on the phone in the past – at length – her boss Tom Moran in particular. And each time, I’ve been totally ignored or misrepresented. that’s why I took to e-mail and blogging this time.

“That aside, the last statement here is just plain stupid. This isn’t about “baker’s research is better than mathematica’s.” I point out that mathematica’s research is irrelevant to her argument in many ways.

“1) mathematica does not prove that TEAM is a miracle school as she argues, in terms of graduation. Mathematica studied/aggregated KIPP results nationally. Didn’t study TEAM specifically, or the outcomes she mentions.

“2) I provided her with critiques of the limitations of interpretation of mathematica’s study. I didn’t ever say it was bad. Just that she was totally misrepresenting it.

“3) I provided an analysis of the relative growth of all NJ schools to show where TEAM fit in that mix. Mathematica doesn’t do this. It’s a totally different (not better or worse) analysis, intended to put test score growth at TEAM into perspective, among all schools, statewide.

“This is just plain dumb!

============================

“Anyone reading this, please refer to my original post linked above to see where I refer to the Mathematica study, and how I refer to it.

“Mark Weber in follow up posts further elaborates on the misrepresentation of the Mathematica national KIPP (excluding NJ) study.

“Note that I spoke to Tom Moran for, oh, about an hour on the phone before he wrote this rah rah Hoboken charter piece:

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/09/in_hoboken_a_fight_over_racial_balance_in_charters_moran.html

“Sadly, I don’t have a transcript of my comments that day, which went entirely ignored.

related post:

https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/where-are-the-most-economically-segregated-charter-schools-why-does-it-matter/”

Mark Weber wrote in an email to me that KIPP Team Academy, the subject of the Star-Ledger inquiry, was not included in the Mathematica study of KIPP schools. Not all KIPP schools get the same results.

He then wrote a post about the Star-Ledger’s use of data to “prove” the success of the KIPP Team Academy. It is an instructive analysis. He called it a case study in charter school propaganda. I will examine his critique in greater detail in the next post.

Some while ago, a reporter contacted me and asked if I would comment on the stellar, incredible, miraculous results achieved by KIPP in Newark. I referred her to Bruce Baker and Jersey Jazxman, who have studied charter schools in Néw Jersey. I sensed that she wanted to write a positive story and nothing I said would cause her to stop and question her presumptions

  • ;
  • It turned out that nothing said by BB or JJ would dissuade her from finding a miracle at KIPP.

    Read Jersey Jazzman here: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-kipp-propaganda-machine-and-its.html

    Read Bruce Baker here: https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/the-willful-ignorance-of-the-nj-star-ledger/

    Chris left this comment on the blog so I hope he won’t mind if I post it:

    “Florida’s a mess. Here is a story I am working on for Education Matters.

    “Gary Chartrand is the chair of the state board of education

    “The State Board of Education over sees the Department of Education and hired commissioner Pam Stewart.

    “The Department of Education is handing out grants, 3.3 million dollars’ worth to only three winners, to foster partnerships between districts and charter schools.

    “Gary Chartrand is on the board of the KIPP charter school in Jacksonville.

    “Superintendent Vitti and the Duval County School board (Jacksonville) have applied for the grant. Vitti said, “KIPP is here to stay, and the KIPP expansion will occur with or without the grant,” Vitti said. “If there’s an opportunity to write a grant that benefits KIPP but also the school district, then I think it would be rather foolish financially to walk away from that.”

    “Gary Chartrand and the board of KIPP have given thousands and thousands of dollars to six member of the school board and thousands more to have the seventh Paula Wright defeated.

    “WJCT Jacksonville’s public radio station did what I consider a puff piece on the district applying for the charter grant that left out a lot of important information. They didn’t mention that last year KIPP was protected by the states rule saying schools could only drop one letter grade, a rule that Chartrand had a hand in developing. KIPP’s real school grades are F, B, C(D) B. They also didn’t mention how KIPP spends about a third more per pupil, has longer days, smaller classes, requires its parents to at least be marginally involved and may or may not be counseling out under performers, only 64 of its first class of 88 finished. The piece made it sound like that KIPP is just better.

    “The Chartrand foundation at least partially funds WJCT’s education coverage.”

    The media loves the story of miracle schools. Imagine that! A school where 90% or more pass the state tests! Where 100% graduate. Where 100% are accepted into four-year colleges. Michael Klonsky once said to me, miracles happen only in the Bible. When the subject is schools, miracle claims should be carefully investigated.

    With that caution and skepticism in mind, we turn again to a post by a researcher who works for the New York City Department of Education and must remain anonymous. This is the same researcher who chastised the media for ignoring attrition rates at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools. In posting that article, I failed to capture the links to documentation (a terrible oversight, I admit). I include his/her links at the bottom of this article.

    Ed Reformers Are Most Like (a) Pinocchio (b) Beavis:
    Getting to the Bottom of the Reformer Distaste for Honest Analysis

    My short essay examining some of the dishonest claims about Success Academy’s data led to interesting debate on this blog.[1] Some of that discussion illuminated the dishonesty with which education reformers approach data and facts. I’ll limit this essay to the dishonesty reformers display in the charter school debate.

    Reformers tend to make two very different arguments about charter schools. Argument #1 is that charter schools serve the same students as public schools and manage to put public schools to shame by producing amazingly better results on standardized exams. Therefore, reformers claim, if only public schools did what charter schools do (or better yet, if all public schools were closed and charter schools took over), student learning would dramatically increase and America might even beat South Korea or Finland on international standardized tests. When it is pointed out that, as a whole, charters do no better than public schools on standardized tests [2], reformers will quickly turn their attention to specific charter chains that, they claim, do indeed produce much better standardized test results. So what’s the deal with these chains? Well, in every case that has been subjected to scrutiny their results are extremely suspicious. Here is a short list of examples:

    1. Achievement First in New Haven had a freshman class of 64 students (2 students enrolled later), and only 25 graduated- a 38% graduation rate- yet the school claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 62% attrition rate. [3]

    2. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) had a freshman class of 144 students and only 89 12th graders- a 62% graduation rate- yet the school (and Arne Duncan) claimed a 100% graduation rate by ignoring the 38% attrition rate. [4] As a 6-12 charter chain, DSST also manages to attrite vast numbers of their middle school students before they even enter the high school.

    3. Uncommon Schools in Newark disappears 38% of its general test takers from 6th to 8th grade.[5] Another analysis found that through high school the attrition rate was, alarmingly, much higher “Uncommon loses 62 to 69% of all males and up to 74% of Black males.”[6]

    4. BASIS in Arizona- “At…BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale…its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%.” [7]

    5. The Noble Network in Chicago- “Every year, the graduating class of Noble Charter schools matriculates with around 30 percent fewer students than they started with in their freshman year.” [8]

    6. Harmony Charters in Texas- “Strikingly, Harmony lost more than 40% of 6th grade students over a two-year time.” [9]

    7. KIPP in San Francisco- “A 2008 study of the (then-existing) Bay Area KIPP schools by SRI International showed a 60% attrition rate…the students who left were overwhelmingly the lower achievers.” [10]

    8. KIPP in Tennessee had 18% attrition in a single year! “In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.” [11]

    In every case these charter chains accepted students that were significantly more advantaged than the typical student in the district, and then the charters attrited a significant chunk of those students.

    Success Academy in New York City plays the same game. It accepts many fewer high needs special education students, English Language Learners, and poor students. [12] It attrites up to 1/3 of its students before they even get to testing grades and then loses students at an even faster pace. It selectively attrites those students most likely to get low scores on standardized tests. [13] It is legally permitted to mark its own exams (as are all New York City charter schools) while public schools cannot. It loses 74% of its teachers in a single year at some of its schools. [14] The author of the Daily News editorial that sparked the initial blog commented “even in the aggregate that wouldn’t seem to account for” the results. It is entirely unclear what he means by “in the aggregate.” But it is clear that he has his arithmetic wrong. A charter chain that starts with an entering class that is likely to score well on standardized tests, then selectively prunes 50% or more of the students who don’t score well on standardized tests and refuses to replace the disappeared students with others, can easily show good standardized test results with the remaining students. Any school could do this. It’s really not rocket science.

    Charter advocates usually first give argument #1 a try. When called on the data that clearly show high-flying charters engage in creaming and in pruning, which can account for most of their “success,” they quickly switch to argument #2. Argument #2 claims that charter schools play a different role than public schools. What exactly their role is can vary from “serving high-potential low-income students [14]” to serving as laboratories of innovation. The problem with argument #2 is that we don’t need charters to cream students (public schools could do that too…if it were legal), and charters as a sector are not doing anything innovative. Kicking out half of your class is no innovation, nor is it hard to create an environment that will encourage the half least likely to succeed to quit. The Navy SEALs have been doing that for years.

    At the policy level these two different arguments have led to much confusion. It is often unclear what charter advocates are defending as they switch back and forth between the two arguments. This makes it difficult to have sensible public discussion about charters and leads many to accuse charter advocates of hiding their true motivations (from privatizing education for profit to breaking unions).

    It is time that education policy makers demanded an honest accounting of charter practices. Metrics must be produced by every district clearly showing the demographics of charter school students, the attrition rate, and general data on which students are attrited. It is critical that the demographic data be as detailed as possible (e.g. specifying level of special education need, distinguishing between free and reduced price lunch, specifying level of English Language Learner status) since the charter sector and its advocates have in the past used broad categories to cover up important differences (e.g. claiming to serve the same numbers of English Language Learners as public schools while only serving advanced ELLs, claiming to serve the same number of poor students as public schools while serving much higher proportions of reduced as opposed to free lunch students, claiming to serve the same number of special needs students as public schools while serving only students with minimal needs).[15] With honest data in hand, the more important conversation about good teaching practices, engaging curricula, and effective students support services can begin. It is this conversation that will truly improve education for students. It is also the conversation that professional educators want to have.[16]

    [1] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/22/is-eva-moskowitz-the-lance-armstrong-of-education/
    [2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/24/the-bottom-line-on-charter-school-studies/
    [3] http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/05/30/another-big-lie-from-achievement-first-100-percent-college-acceptance-rate/
    [4] http://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/arne-debunkin/
    [5] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/truly-uncommon-in-newark /
    [6] http://danley.rutgers.edu/2014/08/11/guest-post-where-will-all-the-boys-go/
    [7] http://blogforarizona.net/basis-charters-education-model-success-by-attrition/
    [8] http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/04/no-bull-in-chicago.html
    [9] http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/tx_ms_charter_study/
    [10] http://parentsacrossamerica.org/high-kipp-attrition-must-be-part-of-san-francisco-discussion/
    [11] http://www.wsmv.com/story/22277105/charter-schools-losing-struggling-students-to-zoned-schools
    [12] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/12/fact-checking-evas-claims-on-national-television/
    [13] https://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/28/a-note-about-success-academys-data/. The high attrition rate before testing in 3rd grade may explain the data pattern noted in this http://shankerblog.org/?p=10346#more-10346 analysis.
    [14] http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/5156/why-charter-schools-have-high-teacher-turnover#.U_gqR__wtMv
    [15] http://edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/flypaper/2013/the-charter-expulsion-flap-who-speaks-for-the-strivers.html
    [16] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/when-dummy-variables-arent-smart-enough-more-comments-on-the-nj-credo-study/ I leave it as an open challenge to Ms. Moskowitz to voluntarily share this date (scrubbed of identifying student information of course) so that independent researchers can examine the Success Academy results. If she declines to do so we can only wonder what she is hiding.
    [17] I wanted to end on a positive note so I add this comment as a footnote. We can expect that reformers will resist allowing the national conversation to go in this direction since they have so little to contribute to it. So many have so little classroom experience and so little time in schools that they will do all they can to make sure the conversation does not turn in this direction. If it did, they’d be out of a job. So we can expect that, as long as reformers maintain their power base, the national conversation about education will be limited to accountability, choice, standards, VAMs… anything but discussion of actual classroom and school-level practices.

    Gary Rubinstein was one of the earliest members of Teach for America. He is today its most incisive critical friend or friendly critic. In this post, he remembers the days that Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg presented their KIPP plan to a TFA audience and were boed off the stage. Now, however, they are superstars.

    Gary reviews KIPP’s current record. Currently, he says, KIPP has an attrition rate of 40%. Their college graduation rate is higher for low-income students than other schools.

    However, he writes:

    “Another thing I noticed in the annual report is that the SAT scores from their juniors are horrific. Now I’m not the one who says that test scores are everything, but reformers do, so when I see KIPP Newark, which has gotten a lot of attention lately, and KIPP Washington DC with SAT scores in the 1200s, that’s about 400 per section which you could get by answering about five questions per section and leaving the rest blank, I have to wonder how well those students will succeed in college.

    “Funded, in part by the Waltons, KIPP is a bit like the Walmart of charter schools. And just like Walmart may have some good things about it — maybe prices there are low, I don’t know — KIPP might be good for the kids who are a ‘good fit’ for it. But also like Walmart, the negatives of KIPP seem to outweigh the positives. This is why the gut instinct of those 1996 corps members back in the day was correct.”

    Other writers have criticized the concept of “grit” on grounds that it seems to suggest that poor kids are poor because they don’t try hard enough, and that this shifts the responsibility for poverty for the economic system to the individuals. So many privileged kids seem to float through life on a soft pillow that it is hard to credit their success in school or life to grit, since their families smooth their paths for them as much as possible.

    Jeffrey Aaron Snyder has other objections to grit. He signed up for an online course on grit education taught by David Levin of KIPP and the more he learned, the less impressed he was.

    What is grit? He explains:

    “Inspired by the field of positive psychology, character education at KIPP focuses on seven character strengths—grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. These seven strengths are presented as positive predictors of success in “college and life.” Grit, for example—a term Angela Duckworth used to mean “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”—has been shown to correlate with grade point averages and graduation rates. Levin envisions that character education will be woven into “the DNA” of KIPP’s classrooms and schools, especially via “dual purpose” instruction that is intended to explicitly teach both academic and character aims.”

    But Snyder found three reasons to doubt what he was taught.

    “There are three major problems with the new character education. The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

    “There may be an increasingly cogent “science of character,” as Levin says in the introductory video to his online class, but there is no science of teaching character. “Do we even know for sure that you can teach it?” Duckworth asks about grit in the same online video. Her answer: “No, we don’t.” We may discover that the most “desirable” character traits are largely inherited; stubbornly resistant to educational interventions; or both. We already know that grit is strongly correlated with “conscientiousness,” one of the Big Five personality traits that psychologists view as stable and hereditary. A recent report emphasizes that simply “knowing that noncognitive factors matter is not the same as knowing how to develop them in students.” The report concludes that “clear, actionable strategies for classroom practice” are few and far between. Consider the fact that the world’s “grittiest” students, including Chinese students who log some of the longest hours on their homework, have never been exposed to a formal curriculum that teaches perseverance.”

    Snyder finds grit detached from any moral values. He writes:

    “The second problem with the new character education is that it unwittingly promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point-of-view. Never before has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values, and ethics. From the inception of our public school system in the 1840s and 1850s, character education has revolved around religious and civic virtues. Steeped in Protestantism and republicanism, the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” As an influential 1918 report on “moral values” put it, character education “makes for a better America by helping its pupils to make themselves better persons.” In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas.

    “Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives. Why is this distinction important? While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber. When your character education scheme fails to distinguish between doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw. Following the KIPP growth card protocol, Bernie Madoff’s character point average, for instance, would be stellar. He was, by most accounts, an extremely hard working, charming, wildly optimistic man.”

    It could be that grit is the same thing as character, in which case it is nothing new.

    Funny, when I was in elementary school in the 1940s, we had one long row of grades for academics and another long row for behavior. Today it would be called grit.

    Bob Braun has written one of the most moving, powerful critiques I have ever read of the heartless destruction of neighborhood public schools. What is it all about? To quote Braun: “money and power and greed.”

    He writes:

    “Sad. There’s a word rarely heard in the context of the state’s war on Newark’s neighborhood public schools. Sad. Yet the story of how a cruelly tone-deaf state bureaucrat named Cami Anderson is singlehandedly destroying a community’s neighborhood schools is just that. Sad. And nothing more illustrates that sadness than the brave but probably futile effort of one successful neighborhood school to remain alive despite Anderson’s promise to give it to privatized educational entrepreneurs who include former business partners of the recently resigned state education commissioner.”

    Hawthorne Avenue School is not a failing school. It ranks well in the city and state. It has string parent involvement. But Cami has promised it to her friends at KIPP.

    To get ready for the transfer, she has devastated the school:

    “Anderson’s treatment of Hawthorne—and similar schools throughout the state’s largest district—has been a nightmare. A sad nightmare. She stripped the school of its librarians, its counselors, its attendance personnel. She has ignored constant pleas to repair crumbling walls and leaking ceilings—promising repair money only after she gave the building to TEAM Academy, the local name for KIPP charters, and the Brick schools. The head of TEAM Academy, Tim Cardin, is a former business partner of Christopher Cerf, the recently-resigned education commissioner. All three–Cardin, Cerf, and Anderson–worked for the New York City schools.”

    Cami Anderson has no sense of shame.

    The Walton Family Foundation released its list of grantees in the education world, and once again, the foundation put its huge resources into privatizing American public education.

    The billions that hard-working families spend at Walmart are used to support privately managed charters and vouchers and to undermine democratic local control and traditional public schools.

    Some of the biggest recipients of the Walton family’s largesse are Teach for America (nearly $20 million), which staffs non-union charters; KIPP charter schools ($8.8 million); the Charter Fund, Inc. ($14.5 million); The Children’s Scholarship Fund (which gives our school vouchers) $8.56 million; and the California Charter School Association, $5 million. Parent Revolution got almost $2 million, the Black Alliance for Educational Options got $1.3 million.

    Read the list and see who favors the privatization of public schools. Aside from a few dollars tossed to the Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, it is a rogues’ gallery of privatization and teacher-bashing.

    The Walton Family Foundation helped to underwrite the attack ads against New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, because he dared to turn down three charter school proposals. Two of the three schools did not exist, so no child was evicted. The third rejection was meant to stop the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s charter school inside PS 149 in Harlem, which required the eviction of severely disabled students to make room for her desired new middle school. Apparently the theory of the billionaires is that students with high test scores deserve public space more than profoundly disabled students, who have lesser rights.

    As a result of pressure by the billionaires, the legislature passed a budget that gutted mayoral control by saying that the mayor was not allowed to reject any charter approved by Bloomberg’s school board; that the mayor was not allowed to charge rent to charters, even though they had just won a lawsuit declaring that they could not be audited by the State Comptroller because they are not “a unit of the state”; giving charters the right to expand in any public school where they are now co-located, without regard to the needs of the children already enrolled in that school; and requiring that the city pay the rent of any charter that rents private space. So, with the help of the Walton Family Foundation, the charter schools, which are not public schools and are not subject to public audit, get free space and may kick public school students out of their buildings.

    This was a shameful law, purchased by people of vast wealth. They are intent on busting unions, crushing the teaching profession, and harming one of our democratic institutions. Their maleficent influence is unchecked. The money they spend each year is meant to transfer public funds to private hands. They use their power to hurt the very people who have made them wealthy, destroying their communities at the same time.

    The age of the robber barons is back.

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