John Merrow posted an important reflection on the broader issues raised by the Atlanta cheating scandal.
““Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919 in ‘The Second Coming.’ Yeats was describing the world after the Great War, but it aptly describes American education today: polarized, shouting at, but rarely listening to, each other. We disagree about dozens of issues: the Common Core; whether ‘opting out’ of the Common Core tests is appropriate (or even legal); the role of unions; the effectiveness of charter schools; the federal role; the amount of standardized testing; how to evaluate teachers; poverty’s impact on children’s learning, and more.
“Now, out of the blue, we have two points of agreement: 1) Draconian punishment for the Atlanta cheaters is unjust, unseemly and counter-productive; and 2) students are the losers when adults cheat….”
“Everybody’s got a villain, whether it’s Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top; an obsession with ‘data-driven decision-making; education profiteers; greedy teacher unions; or a right wing vendetta against those same unions. 
“Can’t we agree on something else? I suggest two big ideas that everyone who is genuine about putting kid first can support. One, expose hypocrites and hypocrisies, wherever they may be. Two, school spending should be transparent, because we are talking about taxpayer dollars, and sunlight is the best disinfectant.
“Of course, the two are related, because hypocrisy often involves money and secrecy.
“To me, the biggest hypocrites are those who preach, “Poverty can never be offered as an excuse” (for poor student performance) but then do nothing to alleviate poverty and its attendant conditions. What they are saying, bottom line, is “It’s the teachers’ fault” when kids in poverty-ridden schools do poorly on tests or fail to graduate…..
“OK, poverty is not an excuse, but surely substandard housing, inadequate health care, poor nutrition, abuse and abandonment (all of which are more likely in high poverty areas) are factors in poor academic performance. So why are these hypocrites either standing by silently or actively opposing efforts to alleviate poverty and thereby improve the lives of students outside of school?….
“Even if these so-called “thought leaders” genuinely believe that poverty is not an excuse, shouldn’t they be outraged that most states are actively making things worse for poor kids ? At least 30 states are systematically shortchanging poor areas when they distribute education dollars, as the Hechinger Report made clear recently. “The richest 25 percent of school districts receive 15.6 percent more funds from state and local governments per student than the poorest 25 percent of school districts, the federal Department of Education pointed out last month. That’s a national funding gap of $1,500 per student,” Jill Barshay reports.”……
“We might want to start the investigation with charter schools, both the for-profit and the non-profit varieties  (because, when it comes to money, they’re almost indistinguishable). Rarely do they disclose how they spend their public tax dollars. And why should they, when their political enablers don’t demand it?
“I hope you are following Marian Wang’s reporting on this issue for Pro Publica. She documents how some charter operators are laughing all the way to the bank, taking your dollars to put in their accounts….
Merrow then describes an egregious case of charter profiteering, which he brought to the attention of Nina Rees, the Executive Director of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (who formerly worked for Dick Cheney and Michael Milken).
Merrow asked her in a letter:
“What I wonder is how many Charter Management Organizations  are playing fast and loose with the system. Here’s one case in point: We are looking into a CMO that is growing; its records indicate that its President owns the building his charter schools operate in, and so he bill the CMO for rent—a hefty sum. The CMO pays him a salary, a 16% management fee and an additional 7% or so for ‘professional development’ for the staff. In recent years he has added categories, notably ‘back office & support’ for nearly $300,000 and ‘miscellaneous equipment rent’ for $317,000. In FY 2008 he billed for $2.6M, but in FY 2012 the number climbed to $4.1M. His 5-year total is $15.8M….and he’s a CMO, not an EMO.
“We have a number of other examples, which prompts my questions: who’s minding the store, and whose responsibility is it?
“Is it the role of national organizations like yours to set standards for transparency? State politicians? I have no idea but would love to hear your thoughts.”
She said this was the authorizers’ responsibility.
Merrow summarized her response:
“She seems to be saying that her national organization bears no responsibility for policing the charter movement, for pushing states to write tighter rules, or for calling out the profiteers. That’s someone else’s job.”
And his last suggestion:
“Remedial education” is another money pit. Follow the money, you will discover that big bucks being spent on remedial education at every level, and, while some kids get ‘remediated,’ the situation never changes. The adults in charge may be wonderful, likeable human beings, but their jobs depend on a steady stream of failed students, meaning that they do not have a stake in fixing the system. I wrote about this three years ago when I announced that I was leaving PBS  to make my fortune in remedial education.
“Follow the money: How many millions of the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donated to ‘fix’ Newark’s public schools have gone to consultants? How much money goes into the trough labeled ‘professional development’ and is never seen again? How much are school systems spending on highly paid central office staff ($100K+ per year) whose job it is to go watch teachers they don’t trust to do their jobs? How much of the increase in college costs is directly attributable to spending on administrators? Quite a lot, according to the New York Times.
“Schools would be improved if we’d agree to: Follow the money. Call out the hypocrites. Demand transparency. And stop blaming teachers.”
A wonderful column!