Archives for category: Ohio

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Education and dequacy writes:

The Ohio Department of Education will limit investigation to one Gulen Horizon Science Academy charter school.

After four former teachers in a Dayton Horizon Science Academy charter school testified on July 15 regarding serious irregularities in that school setting, some state board of education members called on the Department of Education (ODE) to investigate the whole chain of Gulen charter schools that operate in Ohio. ODE, however, has announced that only the Dayton charter school will be investigated.

Perhaps ODE officials are not aware:
that the FBI recently raided three Ohio Gulen charter schools and a total of 19 in various states.

that Los Angeles United School District is investigating the network of eight Gulen charter school authorized by that District. The investigation involves charter school funds being used for immigration costs, loans to the management company, some of which were not repaid.

of the FBI raid on the Des Plaines, IL headquarters of Concept Schools, the management company for Horizon Science Academies (Search and Seizure warrant, Case No. 14MZ87, dated June 17, 2014).
that some Horizon Science Academy board members refuse to respond to questions about their citizenship
that Concept schools have attempted to import nearly 400 Turkish teachers, arguing that Ohio’s workforce lacks high quality educators to fill positions.

The issues surrounding the Concept charter school chain, (Horizon Science Academies and Noble Science Academies) are systemic. ODE should be investigating the entire chain. The members of the State Board of Education, by virtue of their constitutional oath, are duty bound to force ODE to investigate, not only the Gulen chain, but all of charterland.

The lack of transparency and accountability inherent in Ohio charter school law should prompt the State Board of Education to fill the void by aggressively pursuing the misdeeds of charters.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Sometimes it is hard to believe that anyone cares anymore about old-fashioned things like integrity, honesty, accountability, and transparency, especially in the red red states where the charter chains have bought the legislature and the governor.

 

But look at this story.  All of these schools are associated with the Gulen movement, a Turkish chain of charters, the largest in the U.S. They get high test scores. but apparently they crossed the line, wherever that is.

 

 

The Ohio Board of Education ordered an immediate investigation of a chain of 19 charter schools in the state today after hearing allegations of test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds.

Former teachers from the Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School in Dayton testified at the board’s monthly meeting in Columbus about years of misconduct. Some said they had been afraid to come forward before finding new jobs.

One teacher said he’d made a previous complaint to the Department of Education but never heard back from agency officials.

“Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears,” promised Board President Debe Terhar. “We hear you and we will move forward with making sure this is investigated.”

Other board members said they were outraged and disgusted. Some said they were taken aback because they’d visited the schools and observed nothing questionable.

“Inside my blood is boiling,” said Deborah Cain, a board member from Uniontown. “It is almost incomprehensible.”

Kellie Kochensparger, a teacher at the school until last year, told board members of an incident in which school officials failed to tell parents that their children were suspended for having oral sex while other students watched at a school festival. The activity was caught on surveillance cameras.

“The school told parents the suspensions were handed out because the kids were outside of their assigned areas,” she said. “As a teacher and parent, when I questioned further, I was told that I ask too many questions and the situation was being handled.”

On another occasion Kochensparger said she was asked to make sure students completed all questions on a standardized state exam before allowing them to turn it in. When she told an administrator that it was not permitted and she would inquire of the Department of Education, she was forbidden from contacting the state.

“I know of one student who failed the 7th grade and then had to repeat the year with the agreement with (an administrator) that she would be promoted to the 9th grade if she passed 7th grade during the second attempt. She indeed completely skipped 8th grade and all associated curriculum,” Kochensparger said.

“I don’t think parents had any idea what was going on at the school. There was great emphasis on keeping parents happy and there was a culture of intimidation intended to discourage teachers from doing anything that could adversely affect the school’s relationship with parents,” she said. “Any teacher who asked too many questions was at risk of getting fired.”

The Chicago-based Concept Schools operate 30 schools throughout the Midwest, including the 19 Horizon Science academies in Ohio. Four are in Columbus. Like all charter schools, they are publicly funded and privately operated.

Some of the schools, including some in Columbus, are part of a broader probe by the FBI.

Could it be those free trips to Turkey for key legislators?

One of the curious aspects of the charter movement, beloved by both Republicans and the Obama administration, is the growth of Gulen charter schools. These are schools associated with a reclusive Turkish imam named Fetullah Gulen who lives in the Poconos but leads a vigorous political movement in Turkey. The Gulen schools have a board of directors composed typically of Turkish men, and most of their teachers are Turkish immigrants.

The Gulen charters are the nation’s largest charter chain. Texas has the largest number of Gulen charters.

As the Akron Beacon-Journal reports in a story by Doug Livingston, “Ohio taxpayers provide jobs to Turkish immigrants through charter schools.” The state has 19 Gulen charters. Some powerful state politicians have traveled to Turkey, and they return as supporters of Gulen charters. Gulen charters have innocuous names that do not reflect their ties to Turkey.

Livingston writes:

“A chain of 19 publicly funded Ohio charter schools, founded by Turkish immigrants, is taking the position that the United States lacks a qualified pool of math and science teachers and is importing perhaps hundreds of Turks to fill the void.

“The schools are run almost exclusively by persons of Turkish heritage, some of whom are not U.S. citizens — a new twist in Ohio’s controversial charter-school movement.

“In addition, the Horizon and Noble academies, run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, are related through membership, fundraisers and political giving to the nonprofit Niagara Foundation, which provides trips to Turkey for state, local and federal lawmakers.

“Among those touring Turkey has been State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, a Clarksville Republican on the powerful finance and appropriations committee and considered to be a leading candidate for House speaker next year. He was joined on the trip by at least four other state legislators and local government leaders from his area in southwest Ohio….

“However, as early as 2002, state audits found thousands of public dollars “illegally expended” to finance the U.S. citizenship process for Turkish employees — some fresh out of college with no classroom experience and broken English. Help with legal and immigration fees also extended to their children and families, including the spouses of directors.

“The auditor also cited suspect wire transfers, totaling $36,000, and checks made out to “cash” to repay personal loans issued by individuals in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Three of the Ohio schools have been visited by the FBI as part of a multistate probe. The agency said it is part of a white-collar criminal investigation.

“Federal agents have not disclosed details, only that the investigation originated in Cleveland, has spread to Indiana and Illinois, and may or may not be connected to previous investigations at related schools in Baton Rouge, La., and Philadelphia.
Last school year, these Ohio charter schools, called Horizon and Noble Academies, received nearly $50 million in public funding transferred from local school districts where students otherwise would have attended.

“At $50 million, Concept is among the larger players in Ohio’s charter-school movement, totaling $914 million last year. For years, charter schools have come under fire for poor academic performance and questionable finances…..

“Last school year, Ohio’s Turkish-run schools — which offer the Turkish language and promote themselves as specialized in math and science — enrolled more than 6,700 students.

“In Cleveland alone, $12 million was transferred from the municipal school district to Concept schools. Academies also exist in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Toledo and Youngstown.

“According to the Ohio Department of Education, the academies’ performance on state tests varies widely from school to school and year to year. In 2013, 12 received D’s, four C’s and three B’s….Former employees allege that Turkish employees generally are paid more than U.S.-born teachers, then asked to contribute as much as 40 percent of their pay to an Islam-based religious movement known as Hizmet that supports interfaith dialog.”

To learn more about the Gulen charter, read Sharon Higgins report on Valerie Strauss’s blog.

For a guide to the Gulen charter movement, read here. For a state-by-state listing of Gulen-connected charter schools, see this list compiled by Sharon Higgins.

In state after state, charter schools are proving that it is downright risky to turn public money over to deregulated corporations and unqualified individuals to run schools. The Detroit Free Press series on the scams, frauds, and corruption in many Michigan charters was an eye-opener for all those who are not part of the charter movement. The exposé of similar frauds in Florida by the League of Women Voters in Florida was enlightening to anyone other than free market ideologues. The same level of corruption–actually, even worse–exists in Ohio’s charter sector, where a small number of charter founders have become multi-millionaires, run low-performing schools, and are never held accountable.

One of the most colorful charter scandals occurred when a Cleveland charter operator was tried for funneling over $1million to his church and other businesses. The charter founder was a pastor, not an educator. His attorney said ““his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….”

The leader of California’s most celebrated charter school, with outstanding test scores, stepped down when an audit revealed that nearly $4 million had been diverted to his other businesses.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic exposed charters that were family businesses, giving contracts to family members and board members.

In Chicago, the head of the city’s largest charter chain resigned after the media reported large contracts given to family members of school leaders and other conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.

Last week, one of Connecticut’s most celebrated charter organizations was at the center of the latest scandal. Its CEO was revealed to have a criminal past and a falsified résumé. Two top executives immediately resigned, and legislators and journalists began to ask questions. No background checks? Accountability? Transparency?

Colin McEnroe wrote in the Hartford Courant’s blog that hustlers were cashing in on the charter school craze. Not just in Connecticut, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Ohio, Arizona, on and on.

McEnroe wrote:

“The message is always the same: The essential concept behind the charter school movement is that, freed from the three Rs — restraints, rules and regulations — these schools could innovate and get the kinds of results that calcified, logy public schools could only dream about. And they do … sometimes.

“But handing out uncountable millions to operators who would be given a free hand was also like putting a big sign out by the highway that says “Welcome Charlatans, Grifters, Credential-Fakers, Cherry-Pickers, Stat-Jukers, Cult of Personality Freaks and People Who Have No Business Running a Dairy Queen, Much Less a School.” And they’ve all showed up. This is the Promised Land: lots of cash and a mission statement that implicitly rejects the notion of oversight…..

“What else goes with those big bubbling pots of money? A new layer of lobbyists and donation-bundlers. The Free Press documented the way a lawmaker who dared to make a peep of protest against charter schools getting whatever they want suddenly found himself in a race against a challenger heavily funded by the Great Lakes Education Project, the “powerhouse lobby” of the Michigan charter movement. Jon Lender of The Courant recently showed how one family of charter school advocates had crammed $90,000 into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers.”

If there were more investigations, more charter scandals would be disclosed.

When will public officials call a halt to the scams, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption?

There is one defensible role for charter schools and that is to do what public schools can’t do. There is no reason to create a dual school system, with one free to choose its students and to cherry pick the best students, while the other must take all students. There is no reason to give charters to non-educators. There is no reason to allow charter operators to pocket taxpayer dollars for their own enrichment while refusing to be fully accountable for how public money is spent. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

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.

From Bill Phillis of the Ohio Adequacy and Equity Coalition:

Another charter school will close down: corruption, ethics, nepotism and poor performance, at issue.

The superintendent of the VLT Academy, a charter school of 600 some students, was making $140,000 per year; her daughter was making $92,000 per year for data entry; and her husband was making $62,000 in addition to running his company that performs the charter’s janitorial services, under a highest bid contract, for $323,000 per year. The family was receiving nearly $1,000 per student for central office duties and cleaning.

The board of this VLT Academy charter school recently voted to start closing procedures. The operator (family) is shopping for another sponsor. The current charter school sponsor is dropping authorization for VLT Academy.

This charter school, in six years of operation, has been rated academic emergency, two years; academic watch, three years; and continuous improvement, one year.

State officials, via the laws they have enacted, have invited this kind of nepotism, mismanagement and low academic performance in the charter school industry. At least a half dozen charter school accountability and transparency bills are pending in legislative committees, but are not being heard, in the 130th General Assembly. Apparently the current Governor and majority leaders in the General Assembly are either oblivious to or unconcerned about this kind of reckless charter school operation.

Remember, this wasted money was extracted from school districts to the detriment of public school students. Where is the outrage from taxpayers and public school advocates?

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

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?”

Ohio has some of the worst charter schools in the country, which avoid accountability because their owners contribute generously to elected officials.

Among the worst performing charters are those specifically designed for dropouts. Some of these schools teach students online. Can you imagine how ineffective it is to put a discouraged student in front of a computer instead of in a class with a live, empathetic teacher who knows how to engage the student in learning and how to get him to think anout improving his life chances?

This excellent story by Doug Livingston in the Akron Beacon Journal shows how poorly dropouts are served by certain charters. Yet state legislators give these low-performing schools even more money.

“Charter schools such as Life Skills, operated by Akron-based White Hat Management and targeting dropouts, are sending Ohio spinning off in the wrong direction. Dropout rates nationally are on the decline, but Ohio’s rate is on the rise.

“Granted, some dropout charter schools graduate nearly half of their students on time, a notable feat considering students enter these programs at least a year behind their peers in traditional high schools.

“But that’s not the norm.

“Many dropout charter schools, including White Hat’s chain of Life Skills centers, consistently report single-digit graduation rates. Over the course of last school year, more students dropped out of Life Skills than attended on the average day.

“Together, they are dragging down the state’s overall rate.

“After charter schools received the largest funding boosts per pupil in the most recent state budget, state legislators are toying with the idea of giving them more money to fix Ohio’s dropout problem at a time when charter schools are reporting record-high dropout rates.”

One of these schools had a 4.2% graduation rate.

“In the 2012-13 school year, more than 5,300 dropouts — a quarter of all Ohio dropouts that year — attended one of two online charter schools: the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or Ohio Virtual Academy. Collectively, these two charter schools have a dropout rate 45 times higher than traditional public schools, and 10 times higher than the state’s eight largest city school districts.

“Another 6,829 students ­— about a third of all Ohio dropouts — attended charter schools designed specifically for dropouts, among them Invictus and Life Skills. Last year, these dropout charter schools enrolled one percent of Ohio’s public school students but accounted for roughly the same number of dropout events as did public district schools, which enrolled 91 percent of Ohio’s students.”

A new report from Innovation Ohio shows that the state regularly Shortchanges public schools to favor charters. Charter operators give generous campaign contributions to the governor and legislators.

“Proponents have long claimed that community or ‘charter’ schools are the cure for much of what ails Ohio’s education system. If only parents had more “choice” over where their children attend school, they say, competition and the magic of the market would surely improve all schools.

“Equally important, boosters claim that charter schools are cost neutral to the state. Unfortunately, a data set recently produced by the Ohio Department of Educationi explodes that particular myth. According to the data, the way charter schools are funded in this state has a profoundly negative impact on the resources that remain for the overwhelming majority of kids — 1.6 million — who stay in Ohio’s traditional public schools. Actually, it’s even worse than that. In the vast majority of cases — even in many urban school districts — the state is transferring money to charter schools that perform substantially worse than the public schools from which the students supposedly “escaped.”

“Here are the facts:

 Because of the $774 million deducted from traditional public schools in FY 2012 to fund charters, children in traditional public schools received, on average, $235 (or 6.5%) less state aid than the state itself said they needed.

 More than 90% of the money sent to rated charter schools1 in the 2011-2012 school year went to charters that on average score significantly lower on the Performance Index Score than the public schools students had left.ii

 Over 40% of state funding for charters in 2011-2012 ($326 million) was transferred from traditional public districts that performed better on both the State Report Card and Performance Index.

“IO [Innovation Ohio] does not claim that all charter schools are bad, or that charters don’t have a place in Ohio’s education landscape. We do say that the way Ohio’s political leaders have chosen to fund charters has had a profoundly negative impact on the children who remain in traditional public schools.

“That impact can no longer be ignored, and IO believes it is incumbent on the Governor and the General Assembly to develop a funding system that is not detrimental to the majority of Ohio’s school children.”

The NCAA recently announced that it would not recognize credits from 24 virtual charters, all run by K12. One of them is the Ohio Virtual Academy.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coslition writes:

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): Will not accept credits from Ohio Virtual Academy after 2013-2014 school year

The credits from Ohio Virtual Academy, (OVA) operated by Michael Milken’s K-12, Inc., will no longer be accepted by the NCAA. (Michael Milken is the former “junk bond” guy). This year, OVA is extracting $85,171,828.28 from Ohio schools for students whose credits will no longer be accepted by the NCAA.

Why did the Governor, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Board of Education and the legislature not discover this fraudulent educational programming before the NCAA did? The report card of OVA has been available to these state officials for several years.

By the way, the CEO of K-12, Inc. had been paid in the range of $4-5 million annually before leaving the job a few months ago. This was in addition to several million dollars in company stocks.

There are other privately-operated, for-profit online schools in Ohio that have a similar report card to the OVA operation. The NCAA may wish to look at those operations. State officials should be first in line to investigate the efficacy of all of the for-profit online charter school operations.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net |
Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

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