Archives for category: Privatization

Own a charter school! Own four! The road to riches!

 

ProPublica reporters here tell the story of Baker Mitchell in North Carolina, who has discovered that the free market works very well indeed for those who know how to use it.

 

Mitchell has four charter schools in North Carolina. He is also closely allied with Art Pope, the multimillionaire libertarian. He is connected politically. What could possibly go wrong?

 

He boasts that students schooled at his sprawling, rural campuses produce better test scores at a lower cost than those in traditional public schools.

 

The schools, however, do more than just teach children. They are also at the center of Mitchell’s business interests. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through his chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

 

Unlike with traditional school districts, at Mitchell’s charter schools there’s no competitive bidding. No evidence of haggling over rent or contracts. The schools buy or lease nearly everything from companies owned by Mitchell. Their desks. Their computers. The training they provide to teachers. Most of the land and buildings.

 

The schools have all hired the same for-profit management company to run their day-to-day operations. The company, Roger Bacon Academy, is owned by Mitchell, 74.

 

It functions as the schools’ administrative arm, taking the lead in hiring and firing school staff. It handles most of the bookkeeping. The treasurer of the nonprofit that controls the four schools is also the chief financial officer of Mitchell’s management company. The two organizations even share a bank account.

 

Mitchell’s management company was chosen by the schools’ nonprofit board, which Mitchell was on at the time – an arrangement that would be illegal in many other states.

 

As the article points out, his schools get higher scores than the local public schools, but they enroll half as many needy children as the public schools whose money they poach.

 

Two of Mitchell’s former employees told ProPublica they have been interviewed by federal investigators. Mitchell says he does not know whether the schools are being investigated and that he has not been contacted by any investigators.

 

To Mitchell, his schools are simply an example of the triumph of the free market. “People here think it’s unholy if you make a profit” from schools, he said in July while attending a country-club luncheon to celebrate the legacy of free-market sage Milton Friedman.

 

It’s impossible to know how much Mitchell is profiting from his companies. He has fought to keep most of the financial details secret. Still, audited financial statements show that over six years, companies owned by Mitchell took in close to $20 million in revenue from his first two schools. Those records go through the middle of 2013. Mitchell since has opened two more schools.

 

Some people look at Mitchell’s political activities and his financial rewards, and they see conflicts of interest. Mitchell is making a lot of money. Mitchell says that it is his business how much money he makes. And that is that.

 

My view: all for-profit schools and colleges should be made illegal. They are a ripoff for students and they take money that taxpayers intended for public education, not for investors.

 

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/10/15/4233621_new-charter-rules-benefit-owner.html?sp=/99/102/110/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

 

 

Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher of history and world languages, has written an eloquent article about the corporate assault on public education and explains why this assault endangers democracy and the American dream of equal opportunity.

 

He begins in this way:

 

A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.

 

This assault also targets the moral and social vision that inspired the creation of public schools – the belief in a free and inclusive democratic society that unites all of us in a common destiny as we struggle together toward a just society and a better life for ourselves and our children.

 

Public schools were the welcoming gateway to equal opportunity for our nation’s children. The fate of Old Europe with its assigned stations in life, its divinely-appointed places in the order of things, was not to be ours as Americans. Inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, we would seek our fortune because this was America, the country where dreams came true; the land of promise, where pluck, hard work, and a bit of luck would carry the day.

 

This was the manifest destiny of the poor and marginalized who came to these shores, and public-school children were ushered into this grand tradition of exalted ideals. The poor and the homeless, the sick and the hungry could lay claim to our help because that is what a great nation did – took care of its own, especially those who through no fault of their own couldn’t care for themselves. This was a radiantly humane vision in a dark and indifferent world, a belief that would insure our survival in mutual concern as a compassionate people.

 

Public schools were the flame-keepers of this national creed enshrined in FDR’s New Deal, now under radical assault by corporate America and their neoliberal acolytes who would drag the 99 percent back into the Dark Ages of Social Darwinism, the law of the jungle where might makes right, and the poor and weak go to the wall.

 

The Gates, Broad, Walton, and Koch Foundations deserve special mention in unleashing Armageddon upon our public schools, all the while preening themselves hypocritically as angels of light. So intent are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their class warfare against their own country that the sacrifice of millions of public-school children as collateral damage means nothing to them.

Thanks to readers for sending this YouTube video of the Philadelphia Student Union at “School Reform Commission” headquarters.

 

The students chanted “Philly is a union town! The SRC has got to go! Save our schools!”

 

Watch it and feel good about the future.

 

The students disrupted the showing of the anti-union, pro-charter, anti-public school film “Won’t Back Down,” which was produced by Walden Media. Walden Media also produced “Waiting for Superman.” It is owned by Philip Anschutz, a rightwing billionaire who has many corporate interests, including the nation’s largest film chain and a fracking business. Odd that the School Reform Commission was showing that particular film, which was a total bomb when it was released commercially. The union is evil in this film, and a teacher and parent combine to use the parent trigger to convert their public school into a charter school.

Karen Yi and Amy Shipley of the Sun-Sentinel in Florida report on the multiple problems of Mavericks Charter Schools. The chain currently runs six charter schools for dropouts, five of them in South Florida. The charter chain started more than five years ago and has collected more than $70 million, of which $9 million was management fees for the company. Vice President Joe Biden’s brother Frank was once a paid employee of Mavericks; currently he is registered as a lobbyist for the chain.

 

The reporters write:

 

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company’s management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

 

Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

 

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

 

 

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollars at two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

 

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state tests for special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials.

 

The schools are overseen by volunteer governing boards, which pay the West Palm Beach-based company to manage the schools’ academics, finances and operations.

 

Administrators defended the schools, despite the financial issues and low grades.

 

Mavericks schools have been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get.

 

The Miami-Dade school district counted no more than 200 students during four visits to the Homestead school in February 2011. Yet the school had reported a 400-student count and 100-percent attendance on those days, the district found.

 

A Broward school district official discussed a similar discrepancy in a June 2012 email to district staff members. Broward school district officials accused the Fort Lauderdale school of inflating attendance numbers, according to the email.

 

An audit released by the Palm Beach County school district in 2013 found 300 discrepancies between the attendance records logged by teachers and those reported to the school district, and no evidence that 14 students enrolled by the Palm Springs school were actually taking classes, the report states. The school was forced to return $158,815…..

 

Jim Pegg, who oversees charter schools for Palm Beach County school district, “said problems with Mavericks in Education have frustrated district officials. State charter-school laws do not address the performance of management companies.
“The statute doesn’t give any kind of authority to hold those management companies accountable; we can only hold the schools accountable,” Pegg said. “We need to be able to have some authority with [management companies]. They are the ones taking the tax dollars.”

 

Mavericks and the many other for-profit management companies flooding Florida are an integral part of former Governor Jeb Bush’s “Florida miracle.” The schools can be accountable, but the management company that gets paid cannot be held accountable.

 

 

 

I just noticed that the blog has had 15,000,050 page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.

 

I am amazed and gratified.

 

Thank you to the readers who are here everyday, commenting, sending articles from your town, city  or state.

 

Thank for for engaging in thoughtful dialogue in the comment section.

 

Some of the best-read blogs have been written not by me, but by you.

 

The blog has become a hub of the resistance to high-stakes testing and privatization. I will continue to highlight the hard work you do to strengthen your public schools, to stand up for children, and to defend real education, as opposed to the massive machinery of data collection that is now promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation. I will continue to honor those parents, students, and educators who speak out for real education and for treating students and teachers with dignity. I will continue to support those who fight politically motivated budget cuts that hurt children.

 

Together we will do what now seems impossible. We will one day restore sanity to education policy, which is now completely off-track and determined to tag and label each of us as though we were cattle. The policies that govern federal policy are written for the benefit of the education industry, not for the education of our children. Our policies bear no meaningful relationship to love of learning. We will put a stop to it, because it is absurd. Not today, not tomorrow, but in due time, the cyborgs who now control education policy will return to the planet from which they came and allow us once again to educate our children for meaningful lives, not as pawns of the testing industry, not as consumers of tech products, not as data points, but as full human beings.

Stuart Egan, a teacher of English at West Forsyth High School in North Carolina, here reviews the Republicans’ desperate attempt to portray themselves as friends of public education after four years of attacking teachers and public schools. The Republican legislature has enacted charters and vouchers and done whatever they could think up to demoralize teachers and privatize public dollars. The crucial race in the state is between U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and State Rep. Thom Tillis, one of the architects of the new budget that strangles public education. Will teachers, parents, and friends of public education remember in November?

 

 

Egan writes:

“The current General Assembly is very scared of public school teachers and their supporters. And they should be: What had originally looked like an election year centering on economic growth has morphed into a debate about how our state government should better serve citizens. This GOP-controlled General Assembly has unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the N.C. constitution).

 

“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a public school system, in addition to several city systems. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of the counties — and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And they are strong in numbers.

 

“Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales more than six years ago. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools — which, by the way, also was declared unconstitutional.

 

“That is why the GOP powers passed a secretly crafted budget that included a “7 percent average raise for teachers.” But this budget is a pure political farce. It was really just a reallocation of money and a calculated way to give the public the illusion that the General Assembly is a champion for public education.”

 

‘N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, “Now by providing the largest teacher pay raise in state history, we’ll be able to recruit and retain the best educators to prepare our children for the future.” He’s wrong. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is airing a campaign ad about his leadership in strengthening public education. He’s misleading you. That historic raise is funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
‘Also, the bulk of the pay raise comes in the lower rungs of the pay scale. The more experience a teacher has, the less of a raise he or she sees, down to less than one percent for many teachers with more than 30 years’ experience and advanced certification. And new teachers who start graduate work will never be rewarded for becoming better at what they do. In fact, this current budget ensures that no teacher who begins a career in North Carolina will actually finish that career here. No matter the qualifications or experience a teacher possesses, he or she will never receive a competitive salary like other states offer.
If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.

 

“Under this legislature, teachers and public education in North Carolina have been under siege.

 

“If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.

 

“If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop. Educate yourself, then please vote.”

Every once in a while, I post an article that I missed when it first appeared because it offers fresh insight. This article by Bruce A. Dixon appeared in Black Agenda Report. Dixon says that Race to the Top has been the leading, sharp edge of privatization. It is directly responsible for closing thousands of public schools in urban districts and turning over the keys and children to private management.

Dixon writes:

“The national wave of school closings not national news because our nation’s elite, from Wall Street and the hedge fund guys to the chambers of commerce and the business establishment, from corporate media and all the elite politicians of both parties from the president down to local mayors and state legislators are working diligently to privatize public education as quickly as possible. They’re not stupid. They’ve done the polling and the focus groups. They know with dead certainty that the p-word is massively unpopular, and that parents, teachers, students and communities aren’t clamoring to hand schools over to greedy profiteers.

“On every level, the advocates of educational privatization strive to avoid using the p-word. They deliberately mislabel charter schools, just as unaccountable as every other private business in the land as “public charter schools,” because after all, they use public money. So do Boeing, Lockheed, General Dynamics, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, but nobody calls these “public aerospace companies,” “public military contractors,” or “public banks.” For the same reason, corporate media refuse to cover the extent of the school closing epidemic, or local opposition to it, for fear of feeding the development of a popular movement against privatization, and Race To The Top, the Obama administration’s signature public education initiative, and the sharp edge of the privatizers, literally driving the wave of school closings, teacher firings, and the adoption of “run-the-school-like-a-business” methods everywhere.

“The privatizers know the clock is ticking. They know that no white Republican or Democrat could have successfully closed thousands of schools, mainly in the inner city and low-income neighborhoods without a tidal wave of noisy opposition. No white Republican or Democrat could have fired or replaced tens of thousands of experienced, mostly black qualified, experienced classroom teachers with younger, whiter, cheaper “graduates” of 5 week “teacher training” programs like Teach For America.”

Gentrification follows in the wake of school closings. As Kristen Buras writes in her book about New Orleans, privatization clears the way for land transfers.

Meanwhile, Congress sits idly by, watching Arne Duncan close and privatize thousands of public schools, which pushes out veteran black teachers, busts unions, and creates jobs for TFA. And Congress looks the other way as Duncan ignores the legal prohibition on controlling, influencing, or directing curriculum and instruction by imposing Common Core and Common Core testing on most of the nation’s children. Duncan is doing what Obama wants him to do. But why? Does anyone really believe that mass school closings and privatization improve education. Or is it not a declaration of utter educational failure on the part of this administration, which does not have a single idea about how to improve schools that need help?

Jeff Bryant, a sharp observer of education trends, points out that the well-funded corporate reform movement has hit a brick wall: they have lost the PR war against public schools and teachers, and they know it. It turns out that the public really does support their public schools, really does respect teachers, and thinks that their local public schools need more resources.

 

The evidence is everywhere, especially in their own publications. They write that they want a new conversation; they want a restart on accountability; they know that the public is rising up against their obsession with standardized testing. They surely know (although they don’t admit it) that charter schools do not outperform public schools unless they engage in skimming, and that many for-profit charter chains are frauds and scams that promise the moon but take public money away from public schools while providing a third-rate education to hapless children lured in by their advertising.

 

Do the reformers have any new ideas? No, it is the same old, same old. They will not give up their obsession with standardized testing; they will not give up their faith in test-based evaluation of teachers; they will not abandon their love of charters and other forms of privatization.

 

When you hear the reformers denouncing budget cuts or racial segregation or for-profit schools, when you hear them call for reduced class sizes and higher standards for new teachers, then you can believe in their sincere reformation. Until then, it is old wine in new bottles. Or old wine in old bottles, rebranded.

Journey for Justice, led by Jitu Brown of Chicago, has filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, on behalf of children and parents in Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans, claiming that they are victims of discrimination.

 

Their children, parents say, are the victims of reformers. Maybe they mean well, but the results for the children have been disastrous.

 

Far from being “leaders of the civil rights issue of our time,” as the reformers assert, the reformers are violating the rights of black and brown children.

 

Jitu Brown, founder of the Journey for Justice, is a spokesperson for the angry parents of these cities. He says “reform” is actually “a hustle.”

 

Brown, a lifelong Chicago resident who has been working with inner-city schools and neighborhood organizations since 1991, says that school choice has really just been an excuse for politicians to sack neighborhood schools and funnel government money to charter operators, which operate schools that on average take just 64 percent of the money that their district counterparts take.
Brown points to a number of examples in which, he says, Chicago Public Schools intentionally sabotaged successful schools in an effort to prop up charters, using tactics like offering laptops and iPads to lure high-performing students out of traditional public schools and into charters.
“These people are almost like drug dealers and the children are the narcotics, and they flip ’em until they’re able to finally make enough profit,” he says. “That’s how drug dealers work. It’s no different. It’s really no different.”
A report from the Chicago Teachers Union (pdf) released last year detailed how Simon Guggenheim Elementary School in West Englewood was set up for failure, while Jacob Beidler Elementary School, in East Garfield Park, was set up for success. The two schools have similar percentages of low-income students, and both are in communities facing high rates of violence, but Guggenheim, the report says, was denied resources in order to destabilize the environment.
Brown alleges that Chicago Public Schools has done this on several other occasions, citing examples like Beethoven Elementary on the city’s South Side. Once a high-performing school in a poor community, it was inundated over a number of years with students from closed schools in different neighborhoods around the city that ultimately dragged the school’s test scores down to a level where it is now failing.
“[The school district has] been closing schools in this neighborhood since 1998 as they’ve been trying to gentrify the area,” he says. “Those closings accelerated around 2004. We realized that it wasn’t really about school improvement; it was about freeing up that public area for the incoming gentry….”

 

“In Newark, students and their parents in the city’s South Ward boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, the school-choice enrollment plan that moved some children far from their neighborhood schools. Weeks later, hundreds of high school students walked out of class in protest.
“More than a month after school started, some parents say that hundreds of children still have not been assigned a school, and frustrations over transportation issues, uncertainty about where to send their children and dissatisfaction over closed neighborhood schools have led to many more not showing up for class.
“For me, as a parent, I know that my children deserve better,” says Sharon Smith, a mother with three children in Newark schools. “And not because they’re just mine, but because every child deserves the best opportunity that they can receive with education. But that’s not happening here. The parents here are stuck with whatever decision the district makes.”
Smith and other critics have chided One Newark on behalf of families without cars, who, she says, sometimes have to put children on two buses to get them to school. The plan doesn’t provide wholesale transportation, and many charter schools don’t offer it.
Zuckerberg’s $100 million matched donation has vanished, mostly into pockets of contractors and consultants and given to teachers unions as back pay. As Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, famously remarked in a New Yorker story about the debacle, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

 

 

The State University of New York’s charter committee approved another 17 charter schools for New York City, including 14 new Success Academy charter schools. By 2016, the chain run by Eva Moskowitz will have 50 charter schools serving some 16,000 students, this in a city where 1.1 million students are enrolled in public schools.

 

The state approved 17 new charter schools for New York City on Wednesday, substantially increasing the size of one of the city’s largest and most polarizing charter networks, Success Academy, and setting up a battle over where the schools will be located.

 

The state’s charter schools committee, part of the State University of New York’s board of trustees, approved 14 new Success Academy schools, which will bring the network to a total of 50 schools serving 16,300 students by 2016, the network said. The new schools would begin with kindergarten and first grade, and then grow each year as new grades are added. Three new Achievement First charter schools were also approved….

 

The new Success charters are approved for Districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan; 9 in the Bronx; 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 22, and 23 in Brooklyn; and 24, 27, 28 and 30 in Queens.

 

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Success Academy’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, winked at the negotiations — and, possibly, the court battles — that are to come.

 

“We look forward to working with the Department of Education to identify appropriate locations so that these schools can open and more children have an opportunity to receive the high-quality education they want and deserve,” Ms. Moskowitz said.

 

Charter schools receive public money but operate independently of the larger school system — and they attract vigorous, often vitriolic debate in New York City.

 

Why are her charters so polarizing? Could it be because she enrolls a smaller proportion of kids with disabilities and English language learners than neighborhood public schools and has a high attrition rate? Could it be her boasting about how much better her schools are than the public schools? Could be.

 

As we noted in an earlier post, the city is obligated by state law to pay Eva’s rent,wherever she locates, even though her coffers are overflowing and her chain is amply supported by billionaires. And according to press reports, the Moskowitz chain has rented corporate offices in Wall Street at a cost of $31 million over 15 years.

 

The lesson: Whatever Eva wants, Eva gets.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113,799 other followers