In a shockingly rare move, Néw York’s Board of Regents refused to approve a batch of charters recommended for renewal by Néw York City.

Regents’ chair Merryl Tisch has expressed her desire to expand the charter sector. But each of the schools delayed or denied had serious problems, either with low test scores or an unusually harsh disciplinary policy.

The flap last month over an Albany charter proposal may have made the Regents willing to exercise oversight.

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the California Charter Schools Association is shocked! shocked! to learn that some charters require parents to volunteer time or pay not to volunteer their time. He discusses a survey conducted by a civil rights group called Public Advocates, which reached this conclusion.



Apparently the California Charter School Association hasn’t heard of such a thing happening in practice or charter school policy, even though Public Advocates delivered the evidence to the public via parent whistleblowers and publicly available policy documents. Public Advocates’ report documented its year-long investigation into an inequitable and illegal practice by some of California’s charter schools, and calls for charter schools to end requiring payment in lieu of volunteer hours. Public Advocates is demanding that the state take immediate action to stop the practice and increase its oversight of charter schools more generally.


Heilig quotes the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:


At least 170 California charter schools are violating the state Constitution by requiring parents to volunteer up to 100 hours a year if they want their kids to participate in field trips and other activities or remain enrolled in the school, according to civil rights lawyers in a report released Thursday.


A survey of 555 California charter schools — about half of all charters in the state — found that nearly a third impose family volunteer time, with some allowing parents to pay $5 to $25 per hour to buy their way out of the commitment.


“One of the reasons it’s so alarming to us is it’s punishing a kid for something that’s not the kid’s fault,” said Hilary Hammel, attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and lead author on the report.


Hammel cited an Oakland parent who found on the first day of seventh grade that her son was not enrolled at his charter school because she had not completed the required volunteer hours the previous year. She was told she could either pay $300 on the spot or go buy three large boxes of paper.


She went and bought $80 worth of paper and returned to enroll her son.


Does that happen in public schools too?





Marian Wang of ProPublica writes that Néw York’s First Deputy Comptroller, Pete Grannis, can’t understand why charter school regulators in the state are uninterested in charter school accountability for public funds.

Grannis has contacted state and city officials about his concerns and received no response.

“Pete Grannis, New York State’s First Deputy Comptroller, contacted ProPublica after reading our story last week about how some charter schools have turned over nearly all their public funds and significant control to private, often for-profit firms that handle their day-to-day operations. The arrangements can limit the ability of auditors and charter-school regulators to follow how public money is spent – especially when the firms refuse to divulge financial details when asked.

“Such setups are a real problem, Grannis said. And the way he sees it, there’s a very simple solution. As a condition for agreeing to approve a new charter school or renew an existing one, charter regulators could require schools and their management companies to agree to provide any and all financial records related to the school.

“Clearly, the need for fiscal oversight of charter schools has intensified,” he wrote in a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week. “Put schools on notice that relevant financial records cannot be shielded from oversight bodies of state and local governmental entities.”

“It’s a plea that Grannis has made before. Last year, he sent a similar letter to the state’s major charter-school regulators – New York City’s Department of Education, the New York State Education Department, and the State University of New York.

“He never heard back from any of them. “No response whatsoever,” Grannis said. Not even, he added, a “‘Thank you for your letter, we’ll look into it.’ That would have been the normal bureaucratic response….”

“To Grannis, though, his efforts aren’t about politics. His office is “agnostic on charters,” as he put it. His office also audits the finances of traditional public-school districts, he pointed out.

“We’re the fiscal monitors. We watch over the use or misuse of public funds,” Grannis said. “This isn’t meant to be anti-charter. Our job is not to be pro or anti.”

His job is to monitor the use of public funds, wherever it goes. Apparently no one else cares.

Before the elections, Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York offered legislation to defer high-stakes for teachers based on the new Common Core tests. However, he never pushed his own legislation, and it was never passed. Now, he says that he wants a new system because he is disappointed that so few teachers were found to be “ineffective.” Some of Cuomo’s campaign supporters–like the hedge-fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform”– want to see teacher evaluation toughened and more teachers fired. Cuomo also appears to believe that if students don’t get high and higher test scores, their teachers are to blame and must be held “accountable.” Most research on teacher evaluation shows that the largest impact on test scores is students’ home life–poverty, nutrition, health, and other factors that affect their motivation and opportunity to learn.


He focused on the relatively few teachers who earned the lowest ratings in the 2013-14 school year, calling out New York City in particular, where 7 percent earned a “developing” rating and 1.2 percent earned an “ineffective” rating. (Just 2.4 percent of teachers in the rest of the state earned one of those low ratings.)
“It is incredible to believe that is an accurate reflection of the state of education in New York,” Cuomo said. “I think everybody knows it doesn’t reflect reality,” he added.
Cuomo did not say what he would consider a more realistic distribution of the four ratings, though he said his vision is to “reward the high performers and give the low performers the help they need.” His comments were the latest indication that he will mount an aggressive charge to change the teacher evaluation law for a fourth consecutive year, this time to make it more difficult for districts to ensure teachers earn top ratings.
The state only determines 20 percent of a teacher’s final rating, leading to a patchwork of plans across the state’s roughly 700 school districts. Cuomo said the current law gave a “disproportionate amount of power” to teachers unions, whose approval is required on all district plans.

Teacher Angie Sullivan wonders why her school is being turned around yet again and how many staff will be fired again. This is, of course, the idea embedded in Race to the Top, the idea that scores will go up if part or all of the staff is fired, and the whole school is disrupted and “turned around.” This approach negates the values of stability, consistency, and other old-fashioned notions in favor of disruption and chaos. “Creative destruction” usually turns out to be just plain old destruction, and it destroys trust.

Angie writes:

33 schools in Vegas are being considered for “turnaround”.

My principal announced Standford Elementary was one. No one could really understand why – because most of the staff turned over last year and most of us just got there. The former principal had turned it around – and then they moved her out and someone new in.

In 2013-2014 we taught one set of standards – and tested in another because at the last minute we became the test school for SBAC. Our old computer lab computers could not even run the SBAC tests. So we lost all our stars – mainly due to confusion, new staff, old technology, and general disruption.

So I’m out with all the holiday shoppers buying a suit – because tomorrow I have to not only do parent conferences and my regular busy day . . . I have to interview for half an hour in the middle of the day.

Very disruptive. Congratulations! And Happy Holidays!

Are there about 2,600 (80 x 33) Vegas teachers going through this interview process right before the holiday?

I guess if you are one of the 800 long term subs (they have driven off the licensed teachers) – you probably get to skip the interview?

Pricey Teach for America get to skip it too I bet.

Which suit will help me keep on teaching my at-risk kids that I love? Red? Purple?

What is the official color of destruction, disruption, and devastation?

I hope I don’t cry – I need all the self-respect I can get.

They keep saying not to worry – why do they call it an interview? Interview means . . . Worry.


Previously, the North Carolina state board of education rejected online virtual schools, which are eager to open up the “market” in that state. Now that the board is business-friendly, it appears that it may allow both K12, Inc. (launched by the Milken brothers and listed on the New York Stock Exchange) and Connections Education (owned by Pearson) to open. The issue will be decided at the next board meeting. 


These corporations receive full tuition, while giving students a “free” computer and instructional materials. Their parents are their coaches. It is a profitable business since the “school” has no facilities, no custodians, no playgrounds, etc. Online teachers monitor large numbers of screens and are low-paid. Essentially, the state is paying for home schooling. Online virtual charters typically have high attrition rates, low test scores, and low graduation rates.

Chris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, wants governors, schools, and parents to ban the use of handheld electronic devices for children under the age of 12.

Rowan lists ten reasons why he believes that these devices impair children’s healthy development.

Among the negative effects, he says, are attention deficit disorder, obesity, increased impulsivity, delayed cognitive development, sleep deprivation, mental illness, aggression, decreased concentration, and exposure to radiationeission.

What do you think?

As readers know, I often criticize President Obama’s education policies, which are even worse than those of President George W. Bush.


But I am glad for his Supreme Court nominees, and now I am very happy that he has begun the process of normalizing relations with Cuba.


I visited Cuba as a tourist in February 2013 (yes, you can visit as a tourist if you call a tourist agent authorized to make arrangements by the U.S. State Department). Of the many people I spoke to, all were eager to see a new relationship between our countries. The people are eager for a new day. The embargo has impoverished Cuba. I flew with my friends on a charter flight from Miami to Havana. There are several every day. Once our nations have a normal relationship, it will be easier for us to travel in both directions. Cuba is a beautiful island with wonderful food, vibrant art and music, environmental treasures, and beautiful beaches.There are many tourists there from all over Europe and the Americas. We should be there too, engaging in commerce and tourism, enjoying our neighbors and their culture.

For years, Democrats wanted a larger role for the federal government in education for two reasons: equitable resources and civil rights.

Arne Duncan has managed to sour many Democrats on an expanded role for the federal government by abandoning those two goals and instead pushing an agenda of federal control over curriculum, instruction, testing, and teacher evaluation. Functions that once belonged to states and districts have been taken over by Arne’s wishes, not even by federal law. States lose Arne’s waiver from NCLB’s impossible mandate for 100% proficiency if they don’t do what Arne wants. His preference for charter schools and TFA and high-stakes testing is clear. His dictatorial style has ignored equity and civil rights.

John Kline, leader of the House Education Committee, said in an interview that his top priority was revising NCLB and reducing the federal role. Ten years ago, Democrats and educators would have objected. No more.

Paul Karrer, who teaches in California, says it is time for accountability. Taxpayers need it. The public demands it. And they are right!

Unfortunately, the search for accountability is upside-down. True accountability rests with those who design and lead the big systems, not with the front-line workers trying to make muddled ideas work.

“Accountability needs to be placed on the shoulders of those who created the education programs foisted on the education system. It is the programs which ultimately have the greatest impact. It is not just or even hardly ever the soldiers themselves fighting street-to-street, city-to-city, state-to-state, who win or lose wars. It is the plan. The education plans need to be evaluated and field-tested before they are implemented.

“For example — it was the plan to invade Iraq which was faulty and resulted in the war being lost. It was not the poor patriotic, highly motivated, well-equipped, well-trained folks who kicked in doors, ate desert dust for years, and lost life, limb, and mental health.

“And so it is with education. Teachers are the front-liners. They are in the trenches. They are fighting house-to-house, street-to-street, city-to-city.

“But the plan, well, the plan keeps on changing. First it was No Child Left Behind, like the invasion of Iraq, based on false information. In Iraq it was weapons of mass destruction, with NCLB it was fraudulent data manipulation in the bogus inception of its success in Texas. (High graduation rates actually were a product of massive numbers of low performing kids quitting school in ninth and 10th grade. Then the remaining higher-performing kids who stayed were pointed to as successful due to NCLB).

“Then President Barack Obama inflicted his Race To The Top on the foot soldiers in the teaching trenches. The plan: Evaluate teachers according to tests. Reward good ones based on testing. Hammer schools which couldn’t do this. Privatize, charterize, dissect the now-failing schools. Problem is, teachers don’t take the tests, kids with a zillion influences take the tests.

“Currently, teachers are fighting the war with a brand-new shiny plan. It is called Common Core. This plan requires massive computer use, new standards, and of course more testing of teachers, standardization and lots of untested optimistic bravado.”

In wartime, battles are lost by the planners, not the men and women in the trenches following the plan.

If you want to know what’s wrong with No Child left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core, do some serious evaluation, not just political preening. When big educational ideas fail, don’t blame the teachers, blame the politicians and honchos who imposed their plans on the schools without full investigation of their feasibility.


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