Archives for the month of: September, 2015

Parents in the Hudson Valley of New York are outraged by Cuomo’s commission to review the Common Core standards and tests.

This is a region that encompasses both high wealth and high poverty. It had some of the highest opt out numbers in the state.

Here is a large sample:

After conceding that “evidence of failure is everywhere”, Governor Cuomo recently announced his fifteen member 2015 Common Core Commission. Billed as an opportunity to cure an “implementation” problem, the commission is notably lacking in any representation of elementary school parents, let alone critics of the Common Core. Parents across the Hudson Valley reject yet another pointless commission that ignores the concerns of parents and educators.

“A panel of advisors hand picked by Chancellor Tisch made recommendations about the Common Core Learning Standards to the Regents in February 2014 and the Governor himself was responsible for putting together a Common Core Implementation Panel who made recommendations in March 2014. Now, over a year and half later, the Governor admits that “failure is everywhere”. The Governor keeps asking for time to make common core work but my children have no more time to give. Their most formative years are being wasted and abused by this deeply flawed and developmentally inappropriate education reform which focuses on standardized testing and eliminates authentic teaching” said Joanne Tumolo, Mahopac public school parent and co-founder Putnam, Northern Westchester, Southern Dutchess Refuse the Tests.

Failure of the experimental Common Core Learning Standards comes as no surprise to the 220,000 families of public school children who chose to refuse NYS Common Core tests in the spring of 2015. While state education officials claim that the appointment of new test maker, Questar will address the public concerns, parents know that this is simply more of the same. Until New York State takes action to scrap the Common Core Learning Standards and halts the invalid use of discriminatory test scores to evaluate schools and teachers, opt out will grow.

Christine Zirkelbach co-Administrator of Hudson Valley Parent Educator Initiative said: “The Governor continues his charade of listening to the parents of New York State students by appointing a commission to review Common Core State Standards where the majority of the members are not professional, life time educators at all. Parents are not going to be appeased by another commission or rebranding of CCSS. Parents will continue to advocate for our public schools until local control is restored and the Governor and NYSED no longer mandate the corporatization of our children’s education.”

Bianca Tanis, Ulster County Public School parent and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education said “While the task force includes business leaders with no pedagogical knowledge, it does not include a single parent of an elementary school child. And of the 15 person panel, there are two teachers, only one of whom is an elementary school teacher. The panel is a sham and disgrace. Union leaders and politicians claiming to support the best interest of children should refuse to participate until the parents and teachers of the young children harmed by these experimental learning standards are represented.

“The Governor’s selected panel is very disappointing. There is not a single member who is an expert or a teacher of Math or English. The exclusion of parents of Special needs students and Special Educators is alarming. This task force is a farce and it’s another failed attempt by the Governor to mend a system that is failing miserably” said Suzanne DiAngelo Coyle, Rockland County public school parent and administrator of Stop Common Core Rockland County.

Who on this commission will actually do the work of reviewing the standards and the tests? This appears to be yet another “Cuomo commission” that has lots of sound and fury, amounting to nothing.

Blogger RiShawn Biddle has made a startling discovery: the American  Federation of Teachers has given money to progressive groups! Biddle is anti-union and strongly pro-privatization.

Another shocker: Randi Weingarten is paid almost as much as NYC charter leader Eva Moskowitz! Randi is president of a union with more than one million members. Eva oversees a small charter chain with fewer than 10,000 pupils (errata: scholars).

Biddle lists the organizations that have received AFT money. Included among them are:

Center for Popular Democracy, on whose board Weingarten sits, picked up $60,000 from AFT while its action fund received another $100,000; the group has done more than its duty for the union (and its goal of opposing school choice) by teaming up with In The Public Interest to publish a series of reports demanding “accountability” for public charter schools. In The Public Interest, by the way, picked up $50,000 from AFT for doing the union’s bidding. AFT gave $25,000 to Netroots Nation, another longstanding beneficiary of its largesse. It gave $27,000 to The Nation, which has become a prime venue for pieces that favor the AFT’s views on systemic reform; and handed $10,000 to Dissent, the progressive magazine that occasionally makes The Nation seem downright conservative.

Another key group AFT is funding is the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which has been worked actively on pay equity and other issues. This includes its Early Care and Education project, which has issued a steady stream of reports calling for preschool teachers to be better-paid; this dovetails nicely with AFT’s twin goals of regaining dominance in education policy and becoming the dominant union in the early childhood education space. The union gave $47,500 to IWPR in 2014-2015. AFT also poured $60,000 into Jobs with Justice and its education fund; gave $20,000 to Policy Matters Ohio; and handed out $50,000 to Public Policy and Education Fund of New York. United Students Against Sweatshops, which has actively opposed reform outfits such as Students For Education Reform and Teach for America on behalf of AFT, picked up $50,000 from the union last year. Americans United for Change picked up $90,000 from AFT in 2014-2015.

AFT also gave $250,000 to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which reports on the state of working Americans and on the importance of reducing poverty. Shocking!

If you scan the schedule, you will see that Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union was bought and paid for by the AFT for $7,664.

I can’t wait for RiShawn to do a report on the Walton Family Foundation, which spent $202 million to shape education policy and launch more privatized schools. I didn’t sum the total of all AFT contributions to civil rights groups, publications, and other progressive causes, but it seems to be far less than Walton’s $202 million.

The Néw York State Allies for Public Education, representing more than 50 grassroots groups across the state, denounced Governor Cuomo’s commission to review and revise the Common Core standards and tests. Yet th Cuomo commission includes no parent who opted out, no early childhood educator, but many who served on Cuomo’s last, failed commission.

NYSAPE describes the commission as”donor-driven,” chaired by the same banker who chaired the last Cuomo commission on standards and tests.

Opt out leaders promise to refuse the tests next spring.

“The Cuomo Commission consists of many members from his first unproductive Commission and will again be led by the same businessman, Richard Parsons, despite the public’s outcry for an educator-led process. Parents know the Common Core standards and the Common Core exams are damaging their children’s education, not because they are “confused”, but because the standards themselves are invalid.

“Governor Cuomo cannot use a political task force to get politics out of education. Until our children’s education is once again under the direction of real education experts and classroom teachers, parents will not comply. Continuation of an unreliable teacher evaluation system tied to test scores, inappropriate and untested Common Core curriculum in our classrooms and inappropriate exams will not be tolerated. A task force devoid of critics is pointless.” –Jeanette Deutermann, Long Island public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out.

“If the governor really wanted to fix this mess, he would have called back the legislature for a special session to undo the laws that got us here in the first place. It is time to get back our real learning in our kids’ classrooms and to local control by elected school boards. Without a fundamental improvement to the Common Core standards, the state exams and the way test scores are being unfairly used to stigmatize schools, teachers and students as failures, the number of parents opting out is guaranteed to sharply rise again this year.” –Lisa Rudley, Hudson Valley public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“Governor Cuomo is not trying to fix the problems with Common Core and testing. He is trying to make it salvage his reputation and his poll ratings, to make it ‘look like’ he is fixing these problems. These problems are not difficult to fix. Start by disconnecting tests from teacher evaluations to the extent allowable by Federal law, and then totally redo the standards and the exams by allowing New York teachers to rewrite them. But it appears that the Governor does not really want to do what is best for our children.”–Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“Cuomo claims Common Core is headed for a total reboot. Oddly enough, he has chosen 15 individuals as members who never had a problem with the standards to begin with. It is not often that you ask a bull to clean up the mess it has created in the china shop.” –Kevin Glynn, Long Island public school parent and educator.

“Governor Cuomo claims he is listening to parents, yet he has established another group that contains many of the same members as his previous commissions, which totally failed to provide answers to the education crisis created by the corporate reform movement. Polls show that the public is opposed to the Common Core, over-testing our children, and tying teacher evaluation to assessment results, yet the vast majority of Cuomo’s latest task force support the very policies rejected by New York families.” – Chris Cerrone, Western NY public school parent, school board member and educator.

​“For too long the majority of NYS Regents led by Chancellor Merryl Tisch have failed to provide the leadership necessary to protect children from harmful reforms. While the tide is changing with six Regents representing kids, the parents of Central NY see that Vice Chancellor Bottar has failed to protect kids and will call for his ouster.” –Jessica McNair, Central New York public school parent and educator.

“To show how off-base Cuomo is, in his speech he bragged about the teacher merit pay system he has imposed on the state. Teacher merit pay has never been shown to work to help kids learn, and this is one more sign of his willingness to waste millions of dollars of our taxpayer funds on untested or even damaging programs, in place of proven reforms like class size reduction.” –Lori Griffin, Northern New York public school parent and educator.

“Parents don’t just want politics out of their kids’ education. They want Andrew Cuomo and his political contributors to stay out of their classrooms. Parents across the state have vowed to continue refusing these harmful tests and practices to protect their children and their schools.”

Join NYSAPE. Help them resist political manipulation of our children and our schools.

Laurie Gabriel is a teacher who decided to take action to save her profession and students. She directed and produced an excellent documentary called “Heal Our Schools.” Below is her schedule of showings.

My favorite scenes: when she interviews three critics of teachers, then invites them to teach a lesson. It is hilarious!

Contact Laurie to show it in your community.

She writes:

Heal Our Schools Fall Screening Schedule – add your city to the list!

Heal Our Schools is a teacher-produced film about giving classroom control back to teachers.

NEED VENUES IN LA ON OCTOBER 18 AND ALBUQUERQUE NOVEMBER 20!

OCTOBER 2 – DENVER
10:00 am, Elvis Cinema, 7400 E. Hampden Ave.

OCTOBER 3 – DENVER
2:30 pm, First Unitarian Church, 4101 E. Hampden Ave.

OCTOBER 18 – LOS ANGELES
evening – looking for venue/charity to share in proceeds!

OCTOBER 19 – SAN FRANCISCO
7:00 pm, – First Unitarian Church, 1187 Franklin St.

OCTOBER 20 – SEATTLE
7:00 pm, Freedom Socialist Hall, 5018 Ranier Ave. S.

OCTOBER 24 – BOULDER / LAFAYETTE CO
2:00 pm, Running River School 1370 Forest Park Circle, Lafayette

NOVEMBER 5-7 MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Details pending

NOVEMBER 12 – 14 YAKIMA /TRI-CITIES WA
Details TBA

NOVEMBER 19 – SANTA FE NM
7:00 pm, Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Rd.

NOVEMBER 20 – ALBUQUERQUE
evening – looking for venue/charity to share in proceeds!

Call 719-213-6850 or email laurie@healourschools.org for more information.

This article explains the financial shenanigans of unscrupulous charter operators. Not every charter founder rips off taxpayers, but the public needs to know when charter schools are set up to benefit greedy investors, not children.

“Eileen Appelbaum, co-author of the important book Private Equity at Work, flagged an important article in Philly.com on how a secretive consulting firm that was previously investigated for corruption and a local law firm are engaged in complex, high cost bond deals to implement an asset stripping strategy that Appelbaum and her co-author Rosemary Batt have called out as a private equity enrichment scheme that impairs operating businesses. It’s bad enough to see this sort of thing take place in the dog-eat-dog world of Corporate America. It’s even worse to see it take place in charter schools, where the losers are students, by virtue of unjustifiably large portions of charter fees go to unproductive rental payments and financing fees, as opposed to education, and to taxpayers, who over time face inflated costs to fund profiteering masquerading as education.”

The article then refers to the scandalous real estate deal to finance a luxurious building for the String Theory charter school in Philadelphia.

“The nub of the looting strategy is the acquisition and leaseback of lavish buildings to house charter schools. Because charters are correctly perceived to be risky tenants, bond financings for these purchases are at junk bond rates, meaning high financing costs are heaped on top of what would already be unjustifiably high rental charges, by virtue of putting schools in educationally unproductive glamorous digs. And of course, in an environment where it’s business as usual to lard up bond deals that could be done on a plain-vanilla basis with far more complicated deals that lower interest rates a smidge in return for allowing consultants to charge hefty fees and the financiers to dump risks worth more than the cost savings on the hapless borrower through derivatives, the financial rent extraction can occur at an even greater scale on a high-cost financing.”

And this is a quote from a story at Philly.com:

“In 2007, Independence Charter School issued a bond for $18 million dollars with help from the PIDC for the purchase and renovation of the vacated Durham Elementary at 16th and Lombard streets. That school had been built in 1907 and maintained by the district with tax dollars for a century. Now, millions in debt and interest from Independence’s charter bonds are also being paid off with tax dollars.
In situations like these, [Rutgers professor Bruce Baker said, taxpayers are paying for the same buildings twice, while relinquishing public ownership of those properties.
“It’s not that anyone is doing anything ‘wrong,’ ” he said, “But rather that public policy permits a bad deal for the public — one that essentially gives away a public asset while charging transaction fees along the way.”

How long will this theft of public property be allowed to continue?

The cases cited in this article are not isolated. There are a growing number of charter schools that buy the property the school will use, using publicly-financed bonds, then pay rent to themselves, at exorbitant rents.

These practices have been perfected by for-profit charter corporations, but some faux-nonprofits do it too.

William Stroud is the principal of Long Beach High School in New York.

“Our lives have become increasingly commercialized in a modern, global society that everywhere promotes consumerism; surrounding us with images that link glamor and status with possessions. The desire to have more, new, “better” things infiltrates our sub-conscious, influences our daily behaviors, and compromises our value system in remarkable ways. What we have, becomes a substitute for who we are. Buy happiness.

“I often refer to the commercialization of public education, i.e. the contemporary takeover of schooling by a corporate elite that imposes its own paradigm rather than a vision of education as liberation; a system which would develop our full potentials as individuals, strengthen our sense of community with each other, define what it means to be a human being in the grandest sense – values, thoughts, and behaviors. Schools can provide a forum for us to explore how we can make the world a better place.

“Instead, the corporate leaders that guide educational policy, inspired by Milton Friedman’s ‘Freedom and Democracy’ and their own self-interest, have transformed public education into a marketplace. Education becomes synonymous with “achievement” results, and “choice” becomes the reform lever. Students and teachers are measured according to standardized test performance. Significance of data becomes more essential than quality of relationships. Public monies are “freed up” so private service providers can be contracted. And there’s the big money – sales in curriculum and assessment, and educational technology.”

A blogger called Education Alchemy wrote a post about some of the new board members in Maryland. Maryland used to be a reliably liberal state but it elected a Republican governor. He has moved swiftly to appoint conservatives to the State Board. The board will soon appoint a new state superintendent. The governor is pro-Common Core, pro-charter, pro-privatization.

Peter Greene has just discovered the most amazing fact about the U.S. Department of Education’s award of $157 million to the charter industry. The state that won the most money for charters is OHIO! Ohio, where there have been more charter scandals in the past few years than in any other state!

He says in the title of his post: Accountability is for public schools only.

Arne Duncan today held a press chat to announce that USED would be throwing more money ($157 million) at charter schools.

Throwing money at public schools is, you may recall, anathema to reformsters, who are concerned that while money has been thrown higgledy piggledy at public schools, it appears that insufficient amounts of the money have struck students in the test-taking parts of their brains.

Throwing money at public schools is bad, because we are just certain that they are wasting it and that the taxpayers are not getting a sufficient bang-to-buckage ratio.

But throwing money at charter schools is awesome, because we have no idea where the hell it’s going.

The department’s inspector general issued a report in 2012 that Lyndsey Layton calls “scathing.” The report suggests that the feds have been throwing that money at charters with blindfolds on. The Center for Media and Democracy has a more recent, more scathing report on the vast piles of money that has been thrown into charter black holes. “Gosh,” say the feds. “That’s a state problem. It’s up to them to exercise oversight. Not our problem.” Although, just in case you think USED is providing no oversight at all, I am happy to report they did send states a strongly worded letter, exhorting them to be more oversighty.

With all that, you’ll be unsurprised to discover that the top winner in the charter change chunking festival is the state of Ohio. Yes, that Ohio. The Ohio where hundreds of charters have failed in just about every way a charter can fail, the Ohio where the husband of the governor’s campaign manager had to resign from his ed department job because he was caught cooking the books to make charters look better (including some belonging to some political money throwers, proving that throwing money at politicians can also work well). That Ohio gets another $32.5 million to throw at charters. Even the journalists listening to Duncan’s news apparently felt the urge to question that decision, but USED assistant deputy secretary Nadya Dabby responded:

“Ohio has a pretty good mechanism in place to improve overall quality and oversight,” said Dabby, although she could not provide details. “We believe Ohio has put practices in place, although there ‘s always room for them to grow.”

Room to grow? Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another way would be to mention that under the Ohio charter law, helpfully written by charter lobbyists, any equipment purchased by charter operators with taxpayer dollars belongs to the charter operator as private property. Ohio is the state where the charter monitor for the state was fired for rigging grades to help the especially low-performing online charters.

It appears that Arne will keep throwing money at the charters as long as he is in office, no matter how little supervision or oversight there is.

You may recall a few recent posts about Nashville Prep, a no-excuses charter school that boasts of its high test scores. This is the school that assigned a book called “City of Thieves” to seventh graders and caused local consternation. The founder of the school insisted that the school was actually using a bowdlerized version of the book, with the salacious passages removed. The National Coalition Against Censorship criticized the school for using a “censored” copy of the book.

This is also the same school that posted videos on its website about its practices; one was called “Six Minutes in Ms. McDonald’s Fifth Grade Social Studies Class,” and it showed children responding robotically and chanting answers to the teacher’s questions. As soon as the video was mentioned on this blog, the school blocked access to viewers.

Guess what? The U.S. Department of Education has just awarded $9.6 million to RePublic Schools, the sponsor of Nashville Prep, to spread its model throughout the South.

The Department’s press release says:

The U.S. Department of Education announced today a grant totaling $9,599,599 million to RePublic Schools. This five year grant under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) will enable RePublic to replicate its school model to serve more students and families and expand its computer science education initiatives across the South. With this investment, RePublic will grow from serving 1,335 students in 2015-2016 to 7,215 students each year by 2022.

With the combined millions of the federal government and foundations, the RePublic model will open more schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

More of your taxpayers dollars going to compete with and undermine public education.

David Rutherford is in his first year as a member the the school board in Plainfield, New Jersey. He dug into the budget and discovered that the state of Néw Jersey is cheating the children of Plainfield. Since the election of Chris Christie, the state has ignored a law requiring that it fund schools based on student needs. Plainfield has been shorted by millions of dollars. Rutherford estimates that Plainfield is owed $70 million by the state.

Guess who has not been shorted? Charter schools, which have the backing of several prominent hedge fund billionaires in Néw Jersey.

Charter schools have been sucking students and dollars out of the Plainfield public schools.

Until now, the fiscally responsible Plainfield district had been running a surplus. But it won’t last.

Rutherford writes:

“But surplus is a finite resource, and long term the picture is far more grim. The state of New Jersey’s refusal to pay districts the funds they deserve and the over-funding of charter schools will become growing problems for which this district, and many others, must find difficult long term solutions. Millions of dollars in lost money will undoubtably have a grave impact on students and the community.

“Applying the Pressure

“We must demand that Chris Christie and the New Jersey State Legislature cease to steal from the neediest public school districts while keeping charter schools afloat. Language that allows for charter over-payment must be removed from next year’s budget.

“The Highland Park and Paterson Boards of Education have already passed resolutions demanding that the Legislature take a stand and eliminate that language. In fact, you can read Highland Park’s resolution, which has been accepted in principle by the New Jersey School Boards Association and should be up for vote at the next School Board Delegate Assembly meeting on November 26th.

“Seven million dollars in over-payments on top of $70 million in underfunding over the course of the past six years is nothing short of theft, and the blame falls on a bipartisan coalition of our leaders in Trenton. This includes the two-thirds Democratic State Assembly and Senate. They must be held accountable.”

 

If policies like Néw Jersey’s stay in place, districts like Plainfield will go bankrupt, setting them up for privatization. There will be many others in the same situation. Good news for hedge fund managers who want to destroy public education. Bad news for kids, teachers, public education, and democracy.