Archives for category: Privatization

I earlier reported that Steve Van Zant, superintendent of a small district, had been charged with conflict of interest for helping districts authorize charters in other districts (which is legal under California law), then getting contracts with the charters for his private business.

 

Now, crack reporter Maureen Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports the story (reprinted in the Los Angeles Times):

 

By the time Steve Van Zant left the Mountain Empire Unified School District in 2013, he had overseen the authorization of more than a dozen charter schools to operate in other districts throughout San Diego County — with several going on to hire his education consulting firm.

 

All the while, Van Zant coached at least one other district on how to approve out-of-town charters, according to emails obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune. As more districts approved far-flung charters, Van Zant’s EdHive consultant business took on some of the schools as clients.

 

The San Diego district attorney’s office arraigned Van Zant on Jan. 15 on a felony conflict-of-interest charge from an undisclosed incident in May 2010 while he was superintendent of Mountain Empire.

 

The district attorney’s office declined to disclose details of its investigation, and it is unclear whether the charge relates to his work with charter schools. According to the criminal complaint, Van Zant violated laws that prohibited him “from being financially interested in contracts made by him in his official capacity.”

 

The Union-Tribune has tracked a charter empire built by Van Zant by taking advantage of what some call a shortcoming in state law that gives districts a financial incentive to place charters in other school districts. By placing charters outside its boundaries, a district can raise new funds — up to 3 percent of a charter’s revenue — without any threat to enrollment or state attendance funds.

 

More than 80 out-of-district charters have been approved in San Diego County, the vast majority of which were authorized by small East County districts — several with help from Van Zant, who includes a list of charter clients on his LinkedIn professional network profile…

 

When Van Zant accepted the job in 2013 as superintendent of the Sausalito Marin City School District, he was positioned to devote even more time growing his consulting business. He would commute from his Mission Bay home for the three-day-a-week position in Northern California with a starting salary of $165,000 and still run EdHive, which recently opened an office in Symphony Towers in downtown San Diego…

 

 

California secretary of state documents show that Van Zant’s wife, interior designer Ingrid Van Zant, registered the corporation in 2011. Steve Van Zant listed himself as both president and vice president of EdHive in 2015 on financial disclosure forms filed with Marin County

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After leaving Mountain Empire in the summer of 2013, Van Zant helped usher through another charter in the Pine Valley-based district.

 

You are a charter God. Like Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting.’ – Former Alpine Superintendent Tom Pellegrino in an email to Van Zant
The former superintendent personally petitioned the Mountain Empire school board to authorize the County Collaborative Charter School. Van Zant would go on to serve as director, and he listed his EdHive consulting firm as the provider of back-office services in charter petition documents.

 

By soliciting business from the district so quickly after leaving office in Mountain Empire, Van Zant has raised questions about whether he violated the Political Reform Act, which calls for a one-year “cooling off” period before government officials can lobby their agencies — or do business with them — after leaving.

 

The County Collaborative charter enrolled 201 students in the 2014-15 school year, and lists Van Zant’s downtown San Diego EdHive office as the school’s address on a California Department of Education website. Van Zant is listed as the charter’s director, a position missing from financial disclosure documents filed in Marin after taking office in Sausalito.

 

 

 

NC Policy Watch reports that legislation is advancing that would permit for-profit charter operators to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools, the great majority of them in low-income minority communities. The models for the takeover is the Tennessee Achievement School District, the Michigan Educational Achievement Authority, and the elimination of public schools in New Orleans. However, sponsors of the legislation say that the North Carolina would be the same only different. It would be done the North Carolina way.

 

N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, the Republican from Mecklenburg County who chairs the committee and the leading proponent for achievement school districts in the legislature, said that the districts—pioneered, to mixed results in states like Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee—could be phased into North Carolina as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year.

 

“We are neither Tennessee, nor are we New Orleans,” said Bryan. “But what I’m looking to do here is do what’s right for North Carolina.”

 

Bryan authored a much-discussed draft of legislation last year that would have funneled five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools into the state-controlled achievement districts as a pilot program, although the notion did not gain any significant traction during the General Assembly’s long budget debates last summer.

 

The draft Bryan unveiled Wednesday had few differences from last year’s prospective bill, potentially ceding the power to hire and fire teachers and administrators to private, for-profit charter leaders. Pilot schools would be placed into a special state-run district, with a superintendent chosen by the State Board of Education who would have the power to negotiate operation contracts with private companies, effectively seizing control from local school boards.

 

The charter operators would be expected to help turn around academic performance in the schools.

 

As N.C. Policy Watch reported last year, lobbying for the movement was financed by Oregon millionaire and conservative private school backer John Bryan (no relation to Rep. Rob Bryan).

 

One of the researchers at Vanderbilt who studied the Tennessee ASD model and found it ineffective was in town to speak to a public education group about his study, but the legislative committee did not invite him to address them about what his group learned.

 

The state superintendent said that the public schools should lead any turnaround effort; the Tennessee study from Vanderbilt showed that the iZone schools, created and led by the public schools, outperformed the ASD charter schools:

 

“I believe that the taxpayers of North Carolina would get a better return on their investments by going with a model that has proven positive results,” North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch Tuesday.

 

To Atkinson, that means pursuing public school-led initiatives, offering low-performing schools greater support, access to preschool programs and more flexible calendar years.

 

As Atkinson points out, students in low-performing schools can lose two to three months of reading development during traditional schools’ summer break.

 

“We have to address these root causes or we’ll continue to have these conversations 10 years from now,” said Atkinson.

 

And then there was a startling statement, startling because it was plain common sense, which has been in rare supply since 2010 in North Carolina:

 

Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Forsyth County, blasted state officials during Wednesday’s committee meeting for failing to do enough to address the societal and economic causes of low-performing schools.

 

As Barbour pointed out Wednesday, low-performing schools in the state are disproportionately serving low-income and minority children.

 

“It sounds like a lot of talk,” said Hanes. “It sounds like we don’t really dig into what the real issues are. … And it sounds to me like we really don’t care a whole lot about poor people.”

Jersey Jazzman gets irked by those who boast about the superior results of charter schools in Newark. He wrote a critical review of Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize, because she ignored basic data about charter schools and she wrote that the charter schools operated with a leaner administration and more services. Not true, says JJ, who in his real life is a teacher and a graduate student at Rutgers University named Mark Weber.

 

In this post, JJ lays out in easily comprehensible graphs, using state data, what the real comparisons are.

 

First, he compares the results of a highly-touted charter school in Newark to a suburban public school and shows that the charter school lags. But wait, you think, that’s not a fair comparison, and that is his point.

 

I don’t point this out to suggest either that Montclair’s schools are superior, or that TEAM/KIPP’s schools are inferior. Without adequately controlling for at least the observed variations in each district’s populations (and acknowledging that there are likely many unobserved variations), any comparison between the two systems is utterly pointless. My point here is that facile, a-contextual, cherry-picked factoids like these are completely meaningless, and that people who bring them up time and again show themselves to be fatuous. 

 

Using state data, he demonstrates that Newark public schools spend more on instruction than the city’s charter schools; that NPS spends far more on student support services — guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists — than the charters; that NPS spends more on support personnel than charters; that NPS has lower administrative costs than ANY charter in Newark; that the costs of administrative salaries is lower in Newark public schools than most Newark charters.

 

Jersey Jazzman has a refreshing impatience with false claims. How long can “reformers” get by on propaganda?

 

Veteran educator Marion Brady has written a concise guide to the privatization movement.

 

He begins with an overview of the talking points and tactics of the privatizers:

 

“The pitch

 

“Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

 

“Tactics

 

“Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, iPads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)”

 

The key weapon in the privatization campaign is standardized tests. Privatizers use tests to “prove” that public schools are failing.

 

Here is a great line:

 

“If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, “The New Economics,” Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

 

“Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — a costly myth.”

 

And here’s the clincher:

 

“Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.”

 

 

 

 

 

The series about the new Every Student Succeeds Act is concluded. I want to thank Senator Lamar Alexander and his staff, especially David P. Cleary, chief of staff, for responding to my questions. I know that readers have additional questions or want clarifications of some of the statements. The new law is the result of negotiations between the two parties. Questions will inevitably arise as the new law is implemented. Meanwhile, feel free to submit your questions and you can be sure that Senator Alexander’s staff will answer them as best they can. Let me add that there are things in this law I like, and things I don’t like. I will spell those out in a separate post.

 

Here are the links to each of the posts written by Senator Lamar Alexander’s staff.

1. ESSA and Testing

2. ESSA and Teacher Evaluation

3. ESSA and the Bottom 5% of Schools

4. ESSA and Opt Outs

5. ESSA and Special Education

6. ESSA and Teacher Education

7. ESSA and Charter Schools

8. ESSA and the Federal Role

9. ESSA and Common Core

Despite the documented failure of the Tennessee Achievement District, the Charlotte Observer thinks it is worth a try to copy the same model in North Carolina. In Tennessee, the ASD was created to take over neighborhood public schools that rated in the lowest 5% in the state based on test scores and give them to charter operators. Within five years, starting in 2012, those charter schools would rank in the top 25% in the state. But the ASD schools are not on track to show any improvement.

 

Gary Rubinstein demonstrated that four of the original six schools in the ASD remained in the bottom 5%, while the other two are in the bottom 6%.

 

A recent Vanderbilt study concluded that the ASD schools were ineffective, although they held out hope that they might get better over time.

 

Ron Zimmer of Vanderbilt said the study showed that the district’s own innovative public schools outperformed the charters:

 

Zimmer’s team, which was asked by the state to keep tabs on progress from the outset, zoomed in on test data more closely than the typical measures of “below basic” and “proficient.” While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

 

“It may be a little disappointing to those who were advocating for the Achievement School District that we haven’t seen better results at this point,” Zimmer says.

 

The Vanderbilt researchers found more encouraging results with the turnaround efforts known as iZones led by local districts in Memphis and Nashville.

 

Chalkbeat Tennessee stressed that if the state wants real improvement, it should look to the iZone model run by the Shelby County public schools.

 

Days before the Tennessee Achievement School District is to announce whether it will take over five more Memphis schools next year, Vanderbilt has released a study suggesting the city’s low-performing schools would be better off in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.
The study, released Tuesday, shows that iZone schools have sizeable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal. That means that students at ASD schools are performing mostly at the same low levels they likely would have had their school not been taken over by the state-run school turnaround district.

 

A little over a year ago, two Metro Nashville school board members complained that the ASD (which now manages 27 charter schools) wanted to take over one of Nashville’s high-performing public schools as a way of boosting ASD’s lackluster performance. Parents were outraged, as they were in many of the other takeover schools.

 

While the charter movement is allegedly predicated on parental “choice,” that choice seems to vanish when appointed ASD officials decide to impose a charter school on a community. The ASD is pushing forward despite protests by parents, teachers, community members, a variety of elected officials from the community (including current and former school board members), and even the MNPS Director of Schools.

 

Why, under these circumstances, would the ASD insist upon a hostile takeover of Neely’s Bend when other local schools clearly require more attention? The answer is simple: The ASD is trying to save itself. It has cherry-picked a school to boost its own dismal performance. This is a prime example of a government bureaucracy attempting to justify its own existence.

 

Although originally conceived as something very different, the ASD has become a way for state officials to hand over neighborhood schools to charter operators. This has not proven to be an effective solution. Despite higher per pupil expenditures (the exact amount has not been revealed), the ASD is underperforming. In Memphis, where nearly all ASD schools are located, district-operated schools outpace ASD schools, and, in fact, the ASD overall showed negative growth in every single subject area in 2014.

 

The ASD did take over Neely’s Bend, and just last month the Black Caucus in the Legislature called for a halt to ASD expansion because of community opposition and no results.

 

Why should North Carolina adopt a model that has shown no results? What is it about failure that the Charlotte Observer editorial board likes? Why not adopt proven practices that strengthen public schools–like reducing class size, adding a health clinic– instead of handing them over to privately operated charters?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Wagner, who was deputy commissioner of education in New York when Jihn King was commissioner, is now commissioner in Rhode Island. He brings with him the tattered faith in charter schools and standardized testing that marked King’s tumultuous tenure.

 

Wagner wants public schools to be more like charter schools. It seems only fair that public schools should be freed of the mNdates that charter schools are relieved of.

 

 

However, some questions should be cleared up.

 

 

Will ill public schools be free to exclude students with disabilities, like charter schools?

 

Will they be free to exclude students who don’t speak English?

 

Will they be free to adopt “no excuses” disciplinary codes?

 

Will they they be free to suspend children as young as 5, repeatedly?

 

Will they be free to pay their CEO $400,000-500,000?

 

Will they be free to break their teachers’ contract?

 

These are a few questions that should be answered before moving forward.

A reader who consistently supports charter schools sent s link to an article on Campbell Brown’s website and flung down the gauntlet: Here is proof that Newark charter schools made impressive gains! I dare you to refute it!

 
I turned to Jersey Jazzman, the expert on New Jersey charter data, and he wrote this devastating critique of Richard Whitmire’s praise for Newark charters.

 
He writes:

Bruce Baker and I looked at Newark’s test scores — both charters and NPS — over the period of “reform” in the city’s schools. We found no evidence that Newark has seen any positive changes that couldn’t be explained by overall, statewide trends (I’ll have a similar analysis of graduation rates out soon).

 

In addition, the data in the post under review was available only to the author, not to the public. Please read Jersey Jazzman’s post for a clear understanding of charters in New Jersey and the politicization of research about them.

Tom Cahill describes the five famous billionaires who are intent on dismantling public education, especially public education for African American children.

 

He writes that “The charter school movement is particularly insidious, as it’s essentially a form of institutionalized racism veiled in altruism.”

 

They call themselves “reformers,” but in fact they are destroying a vital democratic institution.

 

The process, he says, begins with Common Core standards that disregard all individual or local differences. That is followed by high-stakes testing that fails most students.

 

Finally, schools are labeled as “failing” due to the lopsided evaluation process, and privately-run charters are forced onto inner-city populations, paving the way for the privatization of public education in predominantly black and latino communities. (Actually, the “failing schools” narrative was launched prior to Common Core. Arne Duncan started closing public schools in Chicago when he was Superintendent. NCLB prescribed school-closings as an antidote to low scores. Low test scores, wherever they came from, were used as weapons to replace public schools with charter schools. Common Core just speeded up the demolition strategy.)

 

The five white billionaires he points to are: Mark Zuckerberg; the Walton family; Carl Icahn; Bill Gates; and Rupert Murdoch.

 

The list of billionaires who want to privatize the public schools should include Eli Broad, John Arnold, Michael Dell, the Koch brothers, and Michael Bloomberg. I may have missed a few billionaires, but you get the picture. The free market worked for them; why should schools operate in a free market? Why pay attention to the mounds of research showing that charter schools do not get higher test scores when they enroll the same children? Why care that minority children are enrolled in charter schools with harsh and punitive discipline policies that would not be allowed in public schools? Why care if there is no evidence that charter schools and Teach for America do not “close the achievement gap” and have no discernible impact on reducing poverty?

 

Jeff Bryant has an excellent article in Salon about the year that the out-of-touch Establishment reformers saw their narrative of failure collapse. 

 

He writes:

 

A well-funded elite has labeled public education as generally a failed enterprise and insisted that only a regime of standardized testing and charter schools can make schools and educators more “accountable.” Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum have adopted this narrative of “reform” and now easily slip into the rhetoric that supports it without hesitation.

 

But in 2013 a grassroots rebellion growing out of inner city neighborhoods from Newark to Chicago and suburban boroughs from Long Island to Denver began to counter the education aristocracy and tell an alternative tale about schools.

 

The education counter-narrative is that public schools are not as much the perpetrators of failure as they are victims of resource deprivation, inequity in the system and undermining forces driven by corruption and greed. In other words, it wasn’t schools that needed to be made more accountable; it was the failed leadership of those in the business and government establishment that needed more accountability.

 

The uprising has been steadily growing into an Education Spring unifying diverse factions across the nation in efforts to reverse education policy mandates and bolster public schools instead of punishing them and closing them down.

 

2015 became the year the uprising reached a level where it forever transformed the hegemonic control the reformers have had on education policy.

 

NCLB is gone, and the battle for control of children’s education now shifts to the states, where parents and educators have a shot at taking back their schools. Hillary Clinton let slip her skepticism about charter schools and her recognition that teachers should not be evaluated by test scores.

 

The bigger, more important story emerging from 2015 is that the American public is increasingly at odds with a reform movement that seeks to remake schools into an image promoted by wealthy private foundations, influential think tanks and well-financed political operations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

 

The evidence against the education establishment’s case piled up as the year rolled on, and the narrative of public education policy will never be the same.

 

The reformers are not about to give up and go away–yet. But as it becomes clearer that their goal is to destroy public education, their claims of “good intentions” ring hollow and the mask of reform falls away. As some point, the big money propping up this hoax will pull out. Wise investors don’t like to throw good money after bad. The Status Quo is failing, and the reformers own it now.

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