Archives for category: Privatization

Mercedes Schneider has been reading the Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind). She has been reading it line by line. This is the fourth of five installments.


Mercedes finds that the statutory language is extremely supportive of “public” charter schools, which are public when they want the money but not “public” when it is time for an audit or accountability. The bill makes a few suggestions of reform, but none is strong enough to rein in the scandals that clutter the charter industry. If anything, the embrace of privately managed charters by Democrats shows the party’s abandonment of public education. We expect Republicans to advocate for school choice, but now Democrats are on the same side.

The Badass Teachers Association wrote a letter congratulating Hillary Clinton on her announced candidacy for the Presidency. They remind her of many strong statements she has made in support of public education. And they pose a list of issues that are very important to them and to teachers and parents across the nation.


This is an excerpt from the BATs letter to Hillary:


We have been reviewing the history of your educational platform with interest in anticipation of your announcement.


In 2000 you said:


“I’ve been involved with schools now for 17 years, working on behalf of education reform. And I think we know what works. We know that getting classroom size down works. That’s why I’m for adding 100,000 teachers to the classroom. We know that modernizing and better equipping our schools works. And we know that high standards works. But what’s important is to stay committed to the public school system.”


As an organization we could NOT agree more. We believe that when you add REAL educators to the table when discussing education policy, you do so because educators know what works.


In 2007 at the NYSUT Convention in NY you said,


“Public education must be defended, yes it has to be modernized but never doubt for a minute if we turned our back on public education we would be turning our back on America. I will not let that happen.”


We are pleased to hear those amazing words of support for public education. In your long history of public service, you have proven you can be a friend to education. You pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, arts education, after-school tutoring, smaller class sizes and the rights of families. As a college student in the 1960s, you even volunteered to teach reading to children in poor Boston neighborhoods. You fought to ensure voting access for African Americans and even worked at an alternative newspaper in the black community.
In 2007, you said of testing:


NCLB stifles originality and forces teachers to focus on preparing students for tests. You criticized the program as underfunded and overly restrictive.
You asked delegates at the NEA of New Hampshire, “While the children are getting good at filling in all those little bubbles, what exactly are they really learning?”
You continued, “How much creativity are we losing? How much of our children’s passion is being killed?”


We are hoping that statements like this follow you into the White House!


In 2007 you said of public education:


“The majority of children are educated in the public education system. So we have to support the public education system whether or not our children are in it or whether or not we have children. The public education system is a critical investment for the well-being of all of us.”


We could not agree with you more. We feel , like you, that an investment in strong public education is the best investment this country can make!


We were most happy to hear this statement that you made in 2007, “I do not support vouchers. And the reason I don’t is because I don’t think we can afford to siphon dollars away from our underfunded public schools.”


Many educators are skeptical of promises because they feel betrayed by President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose program differs not at all from NCLB (except that it is ever more punitive and has set off a national fetish for measuring teachers by student test scores, a practice unknown in any of the world’s high-performing nations). Teachers, principals, and the millions who work in public schools and support public schools are looking for a genuine commitment to strengthen our nation’s public education system and to stop expanding privatization.


Will Hillary Clinton win the support of educators? She has her work cut out for her to win their hearts and minds after the last seven years of test-and-punish-and-privatize. In 2000, before the charter industry evolved into a competitive and boastful sector, embraced by the Walton family and rightwing governors; before the federal government mandated high-stakes testing every year for every child from grades 3-8; before the U.S. Department of Education became the cheerleader for profit making enterprises, charter schools, the Common Core, and the testing industry; before Teach for America lost its idealism and turned into a richly funded temp agency; before the onslaught against collective bargaining and teachers’ due process rights; Hillary’s commitment to public education would not have been doubted. But Arne Duncan has managed to demoralize educators and turn the federal department of education into a source of unfunded mandates and bad, top-down ideas. Hillary Clinton will have to prove herself to educators and parents to win their support. They were fooled once.

A court decision handed down in California found that charters in Los Angeles are entitled to more space.

The California Supreme Court unanimously decided Thursday that the Los Angeles school district’s method for allocating space to charter schools may shortchange them classrooms.

In a decision written by Justice Goodwin Liu, the state’s highest court said the L.A. Unified School District’s formula may “undercount” the number of classrooms that charter schools are entitled to and should be replaced with a different method.

But whether the new method would lead to expansions for L.A. charter schools was unclear. The guidelines laid down by the court contained plenty of room for interpretation. Charter advocates predicted that at least some schools would get additional space. An attorney for LAUSD said no new charter school classrooms would be required.

The case was based on Proposition 39, which voters passed in 2000. It requires school districts to give charters facilities that are reasonably equivalent to those provided to students in traditional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded and independently run. Most are nonunion.

The court said L.A. Unified violated a state regulation by allocating space to charters based on the number of classrooms staffed by teachers across the district. The law requires other space — including rooms used for study halls or libraries — to be part of the equation, the court said.

“Counting only those classrooms staffed by an assigned teacher would effectively impute to charter schools the same staffing decisions made by the District,” Liu wrote. “But there is no reason to think a charter school would necessarily use classrooms in the same way that the District does.”

David M. Huff, who represented LAUSD, said the district already shares libraries and other non-teaching rooms with on-site charters. Although the district must use a different formula in allotting space, “the math works out the same,” he said.

As the state legislature considers vouchers for religious schools, a new poll of voters in Tennessee shows that they don’t want more school choice. They want charters to be reformed, meaning more transparency and accountability and stronger protections against financial fraud.

Voters ranked school choice dead last among their concerns.

“Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:

• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students

“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

“Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

*provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances

*require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts

*ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements”

Ira Shor writes:

“Big winners are private charters b/c they are authorized to loot even more public school funds. Leaving annual testing in place makes Pearson second big winner b/c they can buy politicians and state/local DOE’s to keep testing in place. Third big winner is Hillary–this ridiculous renewed bill so muddies the waters that Hillary can slither past having to explain where she stands on the last 5yrs of destructive ed reform. Rest of us need to push opt-out relentlessly along with campaign against private looting of public funds. The private war on public education has accomplished massive disruption of education, so a fed attack led by Duncan no longer needed, went far to finance, legalize, and privilege the Eva school world, all that’s needed from Eva’s pt of v now is constant stream of tax revenues, constant financing of charter sites, and constant exemption from public oversight, all of which are in place. For us, time to plan next big moves to rescue and renovate public education.”

This article is a brilliant essay by Bard College President Leon Botstein about the democratic and civic purposes of education.


It begins thus:


The initial motivations for the movement challenging the monopoly of public schools were ultimately ones of prejudice: White parents did not want their children to attend schools that were attended by blacks. This logic was then sanitized by appeals to religious liberty, insofar as parents fleeing integration attached themselves to religious movements. Evangelicals and observant Jews did not want their children to go to schools that idealized acculturation and assimilation into a secular society whose character promoted “godlessness.” The constituencies that wanted to circumvent integration allied themselves with those who resisted the separation of church and state. And no doubt, since school quality is dependent on local property taxes, the poorer the neighborhood, the worse the schools, making a mockery of the idea that public education was an instrument of social mobility for the disadvantaged. As the quality and extent of a person’s education increasingly determined his or her employment and income, the failures of public education became increasingly glaring, making the defense of public schools implausible.


The end result of these forces has been the elevation of privatization and the abandonment of the ideal of the common public school. Privatization and diversification have become the dominant objectives of school reform.


This is a bizarre turn of events. The nice way of looking at this development is to concede, “Well, privatization is a way we can actually confront the failings of the public schools.” I agree that American schools are not what they might be. But they never were. The reconciliation of excellence and equity was never achieved in the United States, and certainly not after the Second World War, when the rate of high school attendance climbed to 75 percent. But high academic standards had not been their primary purpose. Their purpose was basic literacy (essential for a now-extinct manufacturing economy) and the creation of a common national identity out of diverse groups. Following the glass-half-empty, half-full image, one could argue that the achievements of post-World War II public education were remarkable.


The standards of American schools haven’t fallen if one considers that only after the end of the Second World War did the rate of high school completion surpass 50 percent. Before that, only a minority earned a high school diploma. So the project of attempting to educate 70 percent, 80 percent, perhaps 100 percent of Americans in a single system was never really tried until the 1960s. And even then, when it was about to be actually tried, the public system came under attack, thereby proving that if one wished to make public schools really democratic and excellent, it was going to be very hard indeed.


No other large, heterogeneous industrial nation has ever attempted the American ideal of a unitary democratic school system for all. And now, as the demand for unskilled labor decreases, the minimum standards of education have become higher and more rigorous. But privatization is now popular because many are saying that we ought not attempt to create such a universal democratic system, and that it is a poorly conceived and implausible ideal. Not only that, but the argument goes that since government is widely believed to be notoriously terrible when it comes to providing public goods, it may be better to deliver education through the private sector in a context similar to market competition in commerce.


I happen to think that the privatization of American education and the abandonment of public education is a strike against the very idea of democracy. It favors the rich even more than the recalcitrant inequities created by neighborhoods. And the fact that there is so little opposition to it, particularly among the privileged, is frightening to me. Not surprisingly, if one surveys the philanthropy of hedge-fund owners and Internet millionaires, the favorite charity of the fabled 1 percent is the funding of alternatives to ordinary public schools. That’s the idea every newly minted possessor of great wealth loves: the reduction of taxes—particularly taxes for public education—and the privatization of the American school. It has therefore become fashionable to attack teachers in the public system. Union-bashing is popular. And the unions, in turn, have not distinguished themselves as advocates of educational excellence. But have we ever addressed the question, as a matter of public policy, of who in fact our teachers are? Who now goes into teaching? Who has actually tried to do something to improve the quality of those who take on teaching in public schools as a career? Have we as a nation ever sought to recruit, train, and retain gifted teachers properly?”


Please read it all.

Kate Taylor of the New York Times got a rare look inside a Success Academy charter school and reported on a stressful, competitive, joyless environment. The photograph that accompanies the story is worth a thousand–or more–words. Little children, walking in straight lines, not a smile in sight. OOPS! THE TIMES REMOVED THE PHOTOGRAPH THAT WAS POSTED WITH THE ORIGINAL STORY. IT SHOWED TWO ROWS OF CHILDREN IN UNIFORMS, LOOKING DEPRESSED AND GLUM. IN THE WHOLE GROUP, THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE HAPPY FACE. WHEN THE STORY APPEARED IN PRINT, THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS GONE, REPLACED BY CHEERFUL CLASSROOM SCENES.

Its founder, Eva Moskowitz, now has 43 schools in her chain; with Governor Cuomo’s help, she will soon have 100. The goal of her schools is high test scores, and she gets them. Whatever it takes, including humiliating children in front of their peers. That works.  Not every one can deal with the stress. Not even teachers. Teacher turnover is high.

In a rare look inside the network, including visits to several schools and interviews with dozens of current and former employees, The New York Times chronicled a system driven by the relentless pursuit of better results, one that can be exhilarating for teachers and students who keep up with its demands and agonizing for those who do not.

Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea.

Incentives are offered, such as candy for good behavior, and Nerf guns and basketballs for high scores on practice tests. For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is “effort academy,” which is part detention, part study hall.

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores. Teachers who do well can expect quick promotions, with some becoming principals while still in their 20s. Teachers who struggle can expect coaching or, if that does not help, possible demotion.

Nothing matters but test scores on the state test. Two successive cohorts of eighth-grade students have applied for entry to New York City’s selective high schools, like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, and not one was able to pass the admissions test despite years of test prep.

Jasmine Araujo, 25, who joined Success through the Teach for America program, quit after half a year as a special-education teacher at Success Academy Harlem 3. She now teaches at a charter school in New Orleans. “I would cry almost every night thinking about the way I was treating these kids, and thinking that that’s not the kind of teacher I wanted to be,” Ms. Araujo said.

If test scores matter more to you than anything else, this is the place to send your child.

Peter Greene lives in Pennsylvania, where the previous governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican-controlled Legislature did their best to encourage corporate reform and to destroy public education. Corbett welcomed for-profit cyber-charters and every other kind of charter, and he slashed the budget for public education. The result can be seen starkly in Philadelphia, where many public schools have been replaced by charters, and the remaining public schools are stripped of programs, resources, and services.


Here he explains that it is not just urban districts like Philadelphia and York that are being cut down by “reformers,” but not-very-wealthy rural districts like the one he teaches in. People blame their local school boards, but even the most fiscally responsible local boards are falling victim to decisions made by the legislature.


He writes:


The closing of schools is rampant in my part of PA, and we aren’t alone. We’re a region of not-very-wealthy rural districts, but not-very-wealthy urban districts like Philly and York have also cut schools like a machete in a bamboo forest.


It is not a matter of declining student population, and it is not a matter of districts falling on tough times. It’s a widespread financial crisis, and it’s manufactured.


How to manufacture a statewide financial crisis.


Cut state funding. This puts the making-up-the-difference pressure on local taxpayers.


Take a ton of money away from public schools and give it to charters.


Create a huge pension funding crisis. This is its own kind of challenge, but the quick explanation is this– pre-2008, invest in really awesome stuff, and when that all tanks and districts suddenly have huge payments to make up, tell the districts they can just wait till later and hope for magic financial fairies to fix it. It is now later, there are no fairies, and a small district with an $18 million budget is looking at pension payments that go up $500K every year.


Oh, and pass a law that says districts can’t raise taxes more than a smidge in any given year….


The end result?


School districts are looking down the barrel of million-plus-dollar deficits. The two deficits for which I have now been a power point audience can both be entirely explained by the formula:


Charter Payments + Pension Payments + Other Tiny Obscure Cuts = District Deficit


In other words, a district that had a fiscally responsible year last year, that didn’t do anything crazy or odd or unusual and just left everything alone when planning for this year– that district is still facing huge deficits in their current budgeting cycle, unrelated to any choices that they made in managing their own local district.


Funny, last time I looked, it was states that have the primary responsibility in their constitutions for maintaining a “thorough and efficiency” (or some variation thereof) system of public education. But the legislators are passing mandates that shift the burden to local districts and sitting by while public schools are closed.


Is this part of a plan to privatize public education? What do you think?





Watch Superintendent William Cala, as he eviscerates the so-called reform movement, including charter schools, the private money that shapes the politics of education, the reformers’ indifference to poverty, their refusal to acknowledge the root causes of low test scores, and the mandate that we all have to raise our voices and take action to stop the takeover of our schools. Education “reform,” he says, is not about educating children, it is about money and power.

Ginia Bellafante has a dynamite article in The Néw York Times about a new protest organization called the “Hedge Clippers.”

The Hedge Clippers picket, demonstrate, and call attention to the political activities of the 1%. In addition to promoting the proliferation of charter schools, they lobby for low taxes–on the rich.

“Two weeks ago, several busloads of New Yorkers made a pilgrimage to Greenwich, Conn., to visit the waterfront estate of the hedge fund titan Paul Tudor Jones II, where, suffice it to say, they were not invited in to see the china. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and the protesters, many of them ordinary working people who have felt cheated by the inequities of a tax system that favors the rarefied few, were there to call attention to Mr. Jones’s educational agenda, built on the premise that the extravagantly rich know better how to teach reading, and to his support of Republican candidates and causes in the New York State Legislature that disadvantage the poor and working class.”

Mr. Jones was one of the funders last year of the multi-million dollar TV campaign to stop Mayor de Blasio’s effort to deny public space to charter schools and to charge rent to those that could afford to pay. Not only was that campaign to stop the mayor successful, but Governor Cuomo persuaded the legislature that all charters in Néw York City were entitled to free public space, regardless of their assets, and the city had to pay their rent if they were located in private space.

While fighting to protect and expand charter schools, the hedge funders supported a group called Néw Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which helped Republicans retain control of the State Senate. That is their guarantee that there will be no new taxes on the 1% and minimal new funding for traditional public schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo received millions from Wall Street for his re-election campaign, and he spoke at a charter school rally last year where he declared his fealty to charters. Only 3% of the students in Néw York state are enrolled in charter schools. In 2012, Cuomo said he would be the “students’ lobbyist.” Now we know that what he meant was that he would be the charter students’ lobbyist.


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