Search results for: "charter school failure"


Shawgi Tell, a Professor in upstate New York, thinks the public needs that charter school failure is widespread, commonplace, and underreported. Even now, mainstream publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal treat charter schools reverentially, as if they know how to perform education miracles.

Professor Tell assembles research showing the frequent failure of charters. 

Open the link to see a great cartoon.

He writes:

It is worth noting that both public schools and privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are victims of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, time-consuming, high-stakes standardized tests produced by large for-profit corporations that have no idea what a human-centered education looks like. Such corporations are retrogressive and harmful in many ways; they are not concerned with the growth and well-being of children, or the future of society.

The research on how damaging and unsound these expensive corporate tests are is robust, unassailable, and constantly-growing.

High-stakes standardized testing has nothing to do with learning, growth, joy, or serving a modern society and economy. Unsound assessments do not prepare young people for life. High-stakes standardized testing does not even rest on a scientific conception of measurement; it is discredited psychometric pseudo-science through and through.

Still, with these important caveats in mind, thousands of charter schools, even when they cherry-pick students with impunity, dodge tests and ratings, and massage or misreport test scores, perform worse on these flawed, top-down, widely-rejected corporate tests than public schools.

Philadelphia has experienced a long string of charter school failures.

Here is another one, in trouble both financially and academically.

Yet The business and civic leadership, egged on by the Boston Consulting Group, wants to close more public schools and open more charter schools.

Haven’t they figured out that deregulation and lack of supervision are not strategies for education reform, but opportunities for malfeasance?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the North Texas School Boards Association by Zoom. Right now, Texas is ground zero for the charter industry. This is astonishing because the public schools in Texas far outperform the charter schools. The charter school lobby markets themselves as “saviors” of children, but they are far more likely to fail than public schools. This is a summary of what I told my friends in Texas:

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My father, who grew up in Savannah, never finished high school; my mother, who was born in Bessarabia, was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools.

I believe that all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have children in public school, have a civic obligation to support public schools, just as we must support other public services, like police, firefighting, public roads, public parks, and public libraries. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and no investment is more precious than investing in the education of our children. They are our future. 

Texas, like every other state, guarantees a free public education to everyone. The clause in the state constitution says:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

As constitutional scholar Derek Black shows in his book Schoolhouse Burning, the founding fathers of this nation wanted every state to provide free public education. They didn’t have it in their own time, but they saw it as essential to the future of the nation. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, the Founders said that any territory that wanted to become a state had to set aside one lot in each town for a tax-supported public school. Not a private academy supported by tax funds, but a tax-supported public school.

The leadership of Texas doesn’t care about the state constitution. Every time the legislature is in session, someone offers a bill to send public funds to religious schools, which are not public schools. Thus far, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans and the dedicated leadership of Pastors for Texas Children has defeated vouchers.

The Republicans who control the state have substituted charters for vouchers in their eagerness to provide alternatives to the right guaranteed by the state constitution. And they have not given up on vouchers.

Texas now has more than 800 charter schools. These are schools under private management, paid for with tax dollars. Contrary to their marketing strategy, they are not public schools. Some of those charters are part of big corporations, like KIPP or IDEA. Some are nonprofit schools that are managed by for-profit corporations. The GOP leadership wants more of them, even though the existing public schools are underfunded and have not recovered from a devastating budget cut of more than $5 billion in 2011.

When the idea of charter schools first emerged in the early 1990s, I was enthusiastic about their promise. I was in Washington, DC, working as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the first Bush administration. We heard from their sponsors that charter schools would be more innovative, would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy, would be more successful, and would be more accountable than public schools because they were free of most regulations. 

Three decades later, this is what have we learned: 

   a). Charter schools are not more innovative than public schools. The only innovation associated with charters is harsh disciplinary practices called “No excuses,” where children are punished for minor infractions of strict rules. The largest charter chain in Chicago, the Noble Network, recently announced that it was getting rid of “no excuses” because it is a racist policy, meant to force black children to adopt white middle-class values.  

    b) Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools. In most states, the charter associations fight any effort to impose accountability or transparency. They don’t want to be audited by independent auditors. The only time they are accountable is when they close their doors because of low enrollment or abject academic failure. 

    c) Charter schools do not cost less than public schools. They typically demand the same public funding as public schools, even though the public schools pick up some of their costs, like transportation, and even though they have fewer high-need students than public schools. In some states, like Texas, charter schools get more public money than public schools.

    d) Charter schools are less effective than public schools. Those that have high test scores choose their students and families carefully and push out those they don’t want. On average they don’t outperform public schools, and they spend more money on administration than public schools. In some states, like Ohio, the majority of charter schools are rated D or F. 

Charters are unstable. They open and close like day lilies. Sometimes in mid-semester, leaving their students stranded.

The worst charter schools are the virtual schools. 

The state pays the cybercharters full tuition to provide nothing more than a computer, a remote teacher, and some textbooks. They charge double or triple their actual costs.

Virtual charter schools have high attrition rates, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

There have been huge scandals associated with virtual charter schools.

In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow collected close to a billion dollars over 18 years. It was started by a businessman, who made generous contributions to political leaders. It had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. In 2017, ECOT was audited by the state and found to have collected tuition for phantom students. Rather than pay the state $80 million, ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018. No one was fined, no one went to prison, no one was held accountable.

The biggest scandal in charter history was the A3 virtual charter chain. It had a massive scheme to enroll fake students. Eleven people were indicted. Eventualy, the leaders of A3 agreed to repay the state $215 million.

The largest of the virtual charters is K12 Inc; it is registered on NY Stock Exchange. Its results are familiar: high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates. Their top executives are paid millions of dollars each. K12 is are operating in dozens of states.

Poor academic performance is not punished; financial fraud is not punished. There is no accountability. 

IDEA in Texas is in a class of its own when it comes to luxuries. They get hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, but they decided they needed to lease a private jet for their executives. When the story got into the newspapers, they dropped that idea. The media also reported that IDEA bought season tickets for special seating at San Antonio Spurs games. When the CEO decided to retire, he received a $1 million golden parachute. How many school superintendents do you know who got such a generous going-away present?

Charter schools claim that they “save poor kids from failing schools.” 

That’s not true. There are currently some 356,000 students in charter schools in Texas. Three-quarters of them are enrolled in charter schools in A or B school districts. The charter school students are being drawn away from successful schools in successful districts.

The charter lobby claims that there are long waiting lists. Don’t believe it. The so-called wait lists are manufactured. They are never audited. In Los Angeles, at least 80% of the existing charters have empty seats, yet still the lobbyists talk about wait lists. In New York City, charters buy advertising on city buses. When you have a waiting list, you don’t buy advertising.

The charter industry in Texas has a number of charter expansions already approved and expects to grow by 50,000 students every year. Unless the legislature plans to increase spending on education, charter growth will mean budget cuts for public schools. Charters in Texas currently divert $3 billion a year from public schools. Since they started, they have diverted more than $20 billion that should have gone to the state’s public schools. 

Charter schools in Texas are not more successful than public schools. Texas researcher William Gumbert reported that 86% of public school districts are rated either A or B by the state, compared to 58.6% of charter schools. Only 2.6% of public school districts were rated D or F, compared to 17.7% of charter schools.  

Texas Public Radio reported that graduation rates at charter schools were 30 points lower than the rates at public high schools. 

Two economists—Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer—studied the outcomes of charter schools in Texas. They concluded that charter schools have “no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.”

William Gumbert, an independent analyst in Texas, has calculated that graduates of charter schools enter college less well prepared and are less likely to perform well in college, compared to students who went to public schools. He reported that the 2019 state ratings showed nearly 40% of charters approved by the state have been closed. 

The charters claim that they can close historic achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is not true. According to careful research by analyst Gumbert, public schools do a better job of narrowing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students than charters in the same districts. 

Again, using state records, Gumbert found that graduates of public schools were more successful in college than graduates of charter schools. Public school graduates were more likely to have a higher grade-point average in freshman year than charter school graduates. First-year grade-point average has been shown to predict college graduation. 

Now the charter industry is lobbying for a vast expansion in Texas. They don’t want to have to deal with elected school boards or other elected officials. Democracy is a nuisance, an obstacle. So they are promoting SB 28, which would remove any elected school boards or elected municipal officials from the charter approval process. The state board of education could veto a charter application only with a supermajority. Only one appointed state official—the State Commissioner, appointed by the Governor– would decide whether charters may invade your district, recruit the students they want and locate the charter school wherever they want. That is a major blow to local control of schools. 

Why are state officials in Texas, why is the Legislature, opposed to local control of schools?

After three decades of experience, we have learned about the policies and practices of charter corporations.

First, many charter schools are run by non-educators. They see a business opportunity and they compete for market share. 

Second, they market charter schools by making extravagant claims. They promise that their students will be successful in school and will go to college even before they open their doors. As we have seen, this is usually false.

Third, the few that get high test scores do so by cherry-picking their students or by setting the standards so high that only high-scoring students choose to enroll. BASIS is an example of that. Students have to pass a certain number of AP exams to graduate, so average students need not apply. In Arizona, where most of the state’s students are Hispanic or Native American, the BASIS schools enroll mostly white and Asian students.

Fourth, some charter schools raise test scores by pushing out students who get low scores. That means excluding students with disabilities and students who don’t speak or read English. It also means counseling out or finding creative ways to discourage the kids who are discipline problems or the kids who perform poorly on tests. The most successful charter chain in NYC accepts kids by lottery in kindergarten. Then they begin weeding out those they don’t want, and after third grade, no new students are accepted. By senior year, most of the students who started in K or first grade have disappeared

Fifth, charter schools typically hire young and inexperienced teachers who cost less than older experienced teachers. The turnover is high—sometimes as much as half the staff leaves every year and is replaced by newcomers to teaching. 

Sixth, the true secret of charter expansion is the money behind them. They are supported by a long list of billionaires who want to eliminate public schools. They mock our community schools as “government schools,” but they might as well mock our community police officers as “government security agents.” Our community public schools belong to “we, the people.” We pay for them with our taxes. They reflect our community history. They have the trophies that our parents, our cousins, our aunts and uncles won at football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, chess, and debate tournaments. They are audited and overseen by our neighbors. We elect the school board, and if we don’t agree with their decisions, we elect another one. 

Don’t give your public dollars to entrepreneurs and corporations to educate your children. 

Don’t replace your public schools with a free market where schools compete for customers. Markets produce winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. Use your tax dollars to make your public schools the best they can be for all the children.

Whatever your political views are, these schools belong to you, not to Wall Street or libertarian billionaires or opportunists. Tell your legislators to support your public schools. 

School choice means that the schools choose.

Public schools must take everyone. 

School choice is a hoax.

Don’t fund failure.

At a time when there are so many divisions in our society, we need our public schools to teach appreciation for our common heritage as Americans and as Texans.

I especially appeal to those with conservative values: Conservative conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. People who want to blow up community institutions are anarchists, not conservatives.

Preserve and improve your community public schools for future generations. 

The Network for Public Education has issued two reports documenting waste, fraud, and lack of oversight in the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP was created by the Clinton administration in 1994 at a time when there were few charters; it was intended to give aid to start-ups. Over the years it has evolved into a slush fund for rapacious corporate charter chains and for the advocacy groups that lobby for more charter funding.

In response to the NPE reports, the charter industry attacked them as cherry-picking, inaccurate, and union-funded, none of which is true.

Recently Betsy DeVos attacked NPE and its critique of the $440 million CSP program that is in her sole control.

NPE executive director Carol Burris responded to the critics by using the data offered by DeVos herself. DeVos’s numbers demonstrate that the NPE reports underestimated the number of charter schools that never opened (“ghost schools”) or that closed not long after opening.

She further showed that the charter lobby (which has received millions from the CSP program) has an obvious self-interest in keeping their federal money flowing and that their critiques of the NPE reports are inaccurate and riddled with error.

The worst thing that the industry and DeVos can say about NPE is that we support American public education and oppose privatization. This is true. We do. That doesn’t make NPE “biased.” It makes us good citizens.

Burris’s response is brilliant and well worth your time to read as an example of clear thinking and clear writing, supported by the evidence provided by DeVos herself.


In this post on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post, Carol Burris and I respond to Betsy DeVos’s putdown of the Network for Public Education’s meticulous documentation of the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program. Our report, “Asleep at the Wheel,” showed that the U.S. Department of Education had handed out hundreds of millions of dollars–close to a billion dollars–between 2006 and 2014, to nearly 1,000 charter schools that never opened or that closed soon after opening. DeVos, as you will see, dismissed the report out of hand, and we assume that she never read it. The report was carefully documented, with references drawn mainly from government sources, including the website of the U.S. Department of Education. And for an added bonus, we show that 42% of all charter schools in DeVos’s home state of Michigan that received federal funding either never opened or closed soon after opening. What will she do to correct the lack of oversight in her own department?

We write:

Here is a link to 109 Michigan charter schools, called “academies,” that were awarded Charter School Program (CSP) grants from 2006-2014 but either never opened or closed. That number represents 42 percent of all recipients. Those highlighted in maroon shut down. Those highlighted in tan are schools that received funds but never opened. You will find ample documentation for your staff to review our work.

As anxious as you are to open new charter schools, if nearly half of them do not make it, we suggest that something is wrong with the selection process.

In total, $20,272,078 was awarded to defunct Michigan charter schools. And yet, in 2018 you awarded the State of Michigan an additional $47,222,222.

Your home state is not alone. Posted here is a similar list from the state of Ohio showing the names of 117 charter schools (40 percent) that received CSP funds between 2006-2014 that also never opened or are now closed. The total of CSP awards to those schools is $35,926,693. Please note that in all of these states, far more charter schools have failed than just those that received federal SEA funds. In the case of Ohio, the list of closed charters (293) is nearly equal to the number of schools that are presently open (310).

Dare I say that the U.S. Department was scammed because of its own negligence?

Read on.

There is more about Louisiana, California, and other states.

We are talking here about our taxpayer dollars. There are needy schools in the U.S. Yet the Department of Education squanders money on failed and failing charter schools. This must stop!


John Thompson, historian and recently retired teacher, wonders how much longer Oklahoma’s low-performing Epic virtual charter school can survive scrutiny and continue raking in the big bucks. Even Republicans are beginning to wonder why they are pouring good money into this sinkhole. How long can a failing school avoid accountability?

Even many of the staunchest pro-charter corporate reformers are criticizing virtual charters for their poor outcomes and draining resources from public schools. For instance, Todd Ziebarth of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, criticizes the high rates of “churn” they contribute to, their low graduation rates, and low levels of student proficiency growth. Online charters don’t need to accept the costs that brick and mortar schools must fund, but fair is fair, and virtual schools like Oklahoma’s Epic charters also need to find money for expenses that neighborhood schools aren’t burdened with. 

Ziebarth notes that their poor performance means that virtual charters must find other ways to grow. They must pay for their “aggressive marketing” campaigns. For instance, Tulsa Public Radio reports, “Epic uses giveaways of big-ticket items like concert tickets to reward referrals, and it recently opened a heavily branded children’s play area at (Oklahoma City’s) Penn Square Mall.”

And recently, Epic supporters were forced to spend $180,000 for the 2018 political campaign season. Co-founder Ben Harris said that the reason why Epic ramped up donations was “we kinda felt like it was us against the entire traditional education establishment.”

I kid the private charter “juggernaut” leader. But, seriously, he may be facing more unanticipated operating costs. Until recently Epic has successfully evaded efforts to hold the virtual charters accountable. Republican Senator Ron Sharp became so frustrated at trying to obtain meaningful data on Epic’s performance that he used a wonky state-of-the-art research term to characterize the quality of their numbers; he said, “This is crap.”

After Epic Superintendent David Chaney was criticized for “skewing” the data, Chaney replied that they just did things “differently.”

But more costs may be coming to the virtual charter. A previous investigation into 2013 allegations of fraud by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was turned over to the Attorney General’s Office, but no charges were filed and no official conclusions were announced. But the Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reports that the OSBI is “once again” investigating Epic, so it is “now the target of scrutiny by state and federal law enforcement in addition to state lawmakers.”

Apparently Epic is being investigated for dually enrolling students who attend private schools. Eger reports that charter authorizers are provided a contract template which “specifically prohibits the funding or offering of any instruction to home-schooled students or private school students.” It also explains that “charter schools ‘shall implement and enforce policies and procedures prohibiting enrollment of students on a part time basis,’ with one or two limited exceptions allowed under state law.”

Epic’s Harris responded to questions on whether it is illegal to be paid for educating students attending other private schools by saying, “Not to our knowledge. And I would also say that we’re not aware of the specific situations that you’re talking about. It’s hard to imagine how they could fulfill our requirements while going to another school full time.”

Harris also told the World, “We don’t think that our private company should have to make any disclosures that any other private company shouldn’t have just because who our customers are.”  Eger explained however, that Epic’s co-founders are “both owners of Epic Youth Services LLC, a separate company with which the school contracts for its operation. That contract indicates an annual cost of $125,000 for ‘development services’” plus a 10 percent share of the school’s collected revenues as an ‘indirect cost allocation.’”

Eger “put that 10 percent into context,” explaining that “Epic Charter Schools has been allocated $112.9 million in state aid funding alone for fiscal year 2019.

Ironically, one of the institutions where potential misdeeds are being exposed is Facebook! The World reported:

Shelly Hickman, the school’s assistant superintendent for external affairs, then acknowledged that she had participated in an Epic parent Facebook group discussion just last week in which multiple Epic parents openly discussed how their children were enrolled in private schools and home school cooperatives and even receive credit from their Epic teachers for time spent and work done in those outside entities.

Despite its generous donations to 78 candidates for the legislature and state offices, pressure has increased since an interim legislative committee was unable to pry meaningful information from Epic this fall. Then Epic received $38.7 million in annual, midyear adjustments, as the Oklahoma City (OKCPS) and Tulsa (TPS) districts each faced $2.1 million in cuts. Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist, a longtime school choice advocate, complained that her district lost 496 students to Epic in the fall semester, as 196 Epic students returned to the TPS.

It won’t be easy to find understandable accountability information in the new Oklahoma Report Cards, but now that the press that is doing a great job in investigating Epic’s finance, they might also find readers interested in the virtual schools accountability data. In 2018, two Epic districts, Epic One on One Charter and Epic Blended Learning Charter, had nine schools. According to the Report Card, they enrolled 13,532. They reported test scores for 4,164 students or about 30 percent of their enrollees.

Despite their huge attrition rate, the Report Card said that both systems had attendance rates exceeding 99 percent.

Epic One on One reported 8,059 enrollees. It isn’t easy to find a meaningful presentation of the test score progress on its 2,433 test takers, but the seemingly hidden outcomes of the minority who persist until the spring testing is shocking. About 23 percent progressed to higher achievement levels.  About 36 percent of students remained on the same levels, while over 41 dropped into lower performance levels.

In theory, Epic’s Blended Learning charter would produce better outcomes. But, just over 25 percent progressed to higher achievement level.  Around 36 percent of students remained on the same levels, while a little over 38 percent dropped into lower performance levels.

Although the recent headlines have been dominated by Eger’s excellent reporting, for several years Oklahoma Watch’s Jennifer Palmer has done great investigative reporting on Epic. Until she documented Epic’s complex story, I just assumed that the virtual charter was just a case of socialism for the rich, a drag on public education funding which helped some kids who were uncomfortable in public schools but which damaged many more by increasing transiency. I no longer see it as an un-slayable dragon that must be endured. And wouldn’t it be great to see Epic held accountable by today’s federal government, as well as Facebook posts?


Recently I posted an article by pro-choice advocate Paul Peterson about the origins of charter schools. He wrote, “No, Albert Shanker Did Not Invent Charter Schools.” Shanker wanted teacher-led schools, schools-within-schools. He believed that their teachers would be union members and that the charters would be approved by the other staff in the school and by the local school board.

But, wrote Peterson, Minnesota rejected Shanker’s views and instead wrote a law in 1991 that allowed other authorizers besides the district, that cleared the way for entrepreneurs and other non-educators to open charters, and that were not bound to accept teachers unions. Shanker wanted charters to be Research and Development programs for public schools. Led by Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan, the Minnesota reformers wanted charters to compete with public schools.

A few states made school districts the sole authorizers of charters, and those states have few charters. Most, however, followed Minnesota’s lead, encouraging many authorizers, many kinds of charter management organizations, and the emergence of an aggressive entrepreneurial sector. The latter states have h7 drew of charters of varying quality.

So what happened to charters in Minnesota, the first state to launch them in 1992?

Rob Levine, native Minnesotan, writer, photographer, blogger, assays the failed promises of charters in Minnesota in this post.

Levine shows that the push for charters came not from teachers or parents, but from “a who’s who of the state’s business, civic, foundation, non-profit and political elite.”

“Key to that sales pitch: the idea that education is, at its heart, a business and should operate by the business principles that govern virtually every other sector of the economy, with a spoken goal of “breaking the government monopoly” on public primary and secondary education. The unspoken goals were many and varied but the budgetary results of those efforts are quantifiable: the conversion of nearly $1 trillion spent annually nationally on public primary and secondary education to private profit, and the breaking of the nation’s teachers’ unions.

“To make this palatable, charter boosters focused on a righteous idea: the creation of better and more educational opportunities for poor children of color. In the end, the change model they embraced was what’s sometimes called the Shock Doctrine. First you create and/or declare an emergency in a cash-rich public sector, then you propose the solution that inevitably results in the privatization of as much of the sector as possible.

“In a wide-ranging proposal to reform government called the Minnesota Policy Blueprint, Mitch Pearlstein, a leader in Minnesota’s “School Choice Movement,” admitted as much in his chapter on education policy. In Pearlstein’s view, the answer to the challenges of public education is obvious: all public schools should be converted to charter schools.
Today only two of Minnesota’s 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty.”

“It’s not hard to see why that conclusion appealed to Pearlstein. For decades, the teachers unions have been the bête noire to GOP lawmakers in state houses across the nation. As the founder and leader of a Republican “think tank”, the Center of the American Experiment, Pearlstein understood that unions would not be able to get a foothold in charter schools. He was right. Today, 22 years later, only two of Minnesota’s 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty.”

Charter promoters, he says, worked out a deal that the state would ignore segregation in return for higher test scores.

“Twenty five years later the results of those “deals” are clear. After adjusting for external factors charter school students do no better, and probably marginally worse, on standardized test scores than students at regular public schools. And charter schools are decidedly more segregated than their regular public school counterparts. By 2016 there were 93 “hypersegregated” schools in the Twin Cities – more than 95% children of color. Almost two-thirds of those schools are charters. Children of color in the state who attend charter schools are twice as likely as their regular public school counterparts to attend a highly segregated school…Today, according to a report from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, “Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters.”

The Big Daddy of charters in Minnesota is the Walton Family Foundation. Levine points out that “the Walton Family Foundation…has started or helped to start 30 percent of all charter schools ever opened in the state. In effect we’ve partially outsourced the starting up of new schools to the heirs of the Walmart fortune.”

Levine writes that there are 48,000 students in the Minneapolis schools, public and charter. 36,000 are in public schools. Reformers plan to add 30,000 new “relevant and rigorous seats.” He assumes they mean seats in charters. He foresees the withering away of public schools in Minneapolis.

Given the charters’ failure to fulfill any of their promises, he thinks the public might get tired of paying for them. But he worries that time grows short.

“A journalist once seeking to report on the Gates Foundation’s education activity lamented how difficult the job was because nearly everyone in the education community was taking his money. That’s how it is in Minnesota education policy discourse. The only voices making it through our media din are the ones with a steady stash of tax-exempt income. The reformers’ money guarantees a seat at every table.

“When they’re not dredging up or paying for bogus studies or polls, the foundations and organizations are sponsoring events to push their agenda. These events are then broadcast by local public media, presented as a “public service.” This is especially true for non-profit media the foundations contribute to, especially MinnPost, but also including Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT).

“Education reformers will need all that firepower because evidence and reason are always just around the corner. They can only make excuses for low test scores, all kinds of impropriety, incompetence and segregation for so long. Providing marginally better test scores at a few segregated schools won’t cut it. And it remains to be seen how long the voting public will take paying taxes to support schools while having little to no control over them. If we wait much longer to take action to end the failed experiment of charter schools it could very well result in the end of the Minneapolis public schools, and that’s just a start.”

Jeff Bryant, writing for the Education Opportunity Network, analyzes the U.S. Department of Education’s recent award of $253 Million to the Failing Charter Industry. He is especially appalled by the funding of charters in New Mexico, whose state auditor has identified numerous frauds in the charter sector, and whose public schools are shamefully underfunded.

He writes:

“Previous targets for federal charter grants have resembled a “black hole” for taxpayer money with little tracking and accountability for how funds have been spent spent. In the past 26 years, the federal government has sent over $4 billion to charters, with the money often going to “ghost schools” that never opened or quickly failed.

“In 2015, charter skeptics denounced the stunning selection of Ohio for a $71 million federal chart grant, despite the state’s charter school program being one of the most reviled and ridiculed in the nation.

“This year’s list of state recipients raises eyebrows as well.

“One of the larger grants is going to Indiana, whose charter schools generally underperform the public schools in the state. Nearly half of the Hoosier state’s charters receive poor or failing grades, and the state recently closed one of its online charter schools after six straight years of failure.

“Another state recipient, Mississippi, won a federal grant that was curiously timed to coincide with the state’s decision, pending the governor’s approval, to take over the Jackson school district and likely hand control of the schools to a charter management group.”

(Coincidentally, Stephen Dyer just posted about Ohio’s scandal-plagued charter sector. He wrote that nearly one-third of the charters that received federal funding never opened or closed right after they got the money, I.e., they were “ghost schools.”)

Worst of all, writes Bryant, is the $22.5 Million that will be sent to New Mexico, which has high child poverty and perennially underfunded public schools, as well as a low-performing charter sector.

What possible reason is there to fund a parallel school system when the state refuses to fund its public schools?

“According to a state-based child advocacy group, per-pupil spending in the state is 7 percent lower in 2017 than it was in 2008. New Mexico is also “one of 19 states” that cut general aid for schools in 2017, with spending falling 1.7 percent. “Only seven states made deeper cuts than New Mexico.”

“New Mexico’s school funding situation has grown so dire, bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service recently reduced the credit outlook for two-thirds of the school districts in the state, and parent and advocacy groups have sued the state for failing to meet constitutional obligations to provide education opportunities to all students.

“To fill a deficit gap in the state’s most recent budget, Republican Governor Susana Martinez tapped $46 million in local school district reserves while rejecting any proposed tax increases.

“Given the state’s grim education funding situation, it would seem foolhardy to ramp up a parallel system of charter schools that further stretches education dollars, but New Mexico has doubled-down on the charter money drain by tilting spending advantages to the sector.”

To make matters worse, charter schools are funded at a higher level than public schools, and the state’s three online charters operate for profit. Despite their funding advantage, the charters do not perform as well as public schools. There is seldom any penalty for failure.

The state auditor in New Mexico has called attention to frauds and scams that result from lack of oversight in the charter industry.

So the U.S. Department of Education under Betsy DeVos is now in the business of funding failure. Quality doesn’t matter. Ethics don’t matter. Undermining the educational opportunity of the majority of children doesn’t matter. For sure, money matters, but only when it is spent for privatization.

A few pundits predicted that DeVos would be unable to inflict harm on the nation’s public schools. They were wrong.

Another day, another charter scandal. This one is in Lauderhill, Florida, in Broward County.

“LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The Paramount Charter School was, by all accounts, a disaster for its young students, but now that the publicly financed, F-graded K-8 school is closed, there is a big question that remains: Where did the money go?

In all, taxpayers coughed up more than $3 million for the charter school in Lauderhill, which promised a first-rate education for its predominantly financially disadvantaged students.

“Now American Charter Development, the Utah-based charter school company that was Paramount’s landlord and primary investor, alleges it lost well over $1 million during the two years the school was in operation and suspects public funds were misappropriated.

“In our view, there’s been fraud,” Rob Giordano, senior vice president of business development at American Charter Development, told Local 10 News.

“Giordano said the company conducted its own examination of the school’s finances and found that, in addition to a nonprofit company that had been set up to run the school, called the Advancement of Education in Scholars Corp., there was a second for-profit company formed with an almost identical name.

“Giordano said his firm obtained Paramount bank documents showing large sums of money going to the for-profit company.

“It was tens of thousands of dollars in excess of $30,000 a month going to this shell organization,” Giordano said.”

Not to worry. This failed “public charter school” will be replaced by another. The taxpayers’ money? It’s gone, along with the time that children lost in this school.

In Oakland, California, a grand jury impaneled to investigate the oversight of charter schools reported that the schools were performing poorly and needed better management and more supervision. Despite results like this, the California State Board of Education, the legislature, and Governor Jerry Brown acquiesce to every demand of the California Charter Schools Association. CCSA has a rich PAC which they use to eliminate candidates who don’t support continued expansion of their private sector. They want more and more charter schools, no matter how pathetic their performance. At what point does evidence matter?

Although charter schools were intended to be an educational antidote to the city’s struggling traditional public schools, many of the city’s charter schools aren’t outperforming their district-run counterparts, and on average, performed worse last year in statewide results, according to an Alameda County grand jury report released this week.

The grand jury, which looked into Oakland Unified School District’s oversight of the city’s 37 charter schools, found that 19 scored below district averages for both charter and traditional schools in mathematics in statewide test results. And 17 charter schools scored below the district average in English. The panel reported that 15 charters scored below the district averages in both categories.

Measured against the state, the results are more troubling: 62 percent, or 23 of the city’s charter schools, scored below state averages in math, and 65 percent, 24 schools, scored below the state averages in English, according to results from the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, which replaced the API scores of previous years. Many of the schools performed similarly on past API tests, the report stated.

For that reason and a host of others, the panel recommended that Oakland Unified adopt a more rigorous oversight and approval process when authorizing and reauthorizing charter schools in the city. It also urged the district to increase its staffing at the Office of Charter Schools and to increase the number of on-site visits to charter schools and their board meetings to ensure stronger accountability, including fiscal and governance oversight, since they are funded on the taxpayer’s dime.

Here is a link to the Grand Jury report:

Click to access final2015-2016.pdf

Here are highlights:

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is comprised of 95 K-12 schools with an enrollment of approximately 48,000 students. Of the public schools within the city of Oakland, thirty-seven (37) are charter schools with a total enrollment of approximately 12,000 students. This represents nearly 25% of the total enrollment of the district.

However, the autonomy and independence granted to charter schools come at a cost. Charters operate without the same scrutiny as their district counterparts by the tax paying public. For example, a charter may change curricula, teaching methods, and budget allocation without approval from the authorizing district superintendent or the elected school board. They are also able to determine their own achievement standards, accountability, and systems of discipline or transfers between schools.

Using the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Test Results for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics for 2015, the Grand Jury determined that of the 37 Oakland charter schools that participated, 17 scored below the blended average of all Oakland unified public schools and 24 scored below the statewide average in English. Nineteen scored below OUSD averages and 23 scored below the statewide average in mathematics. Within these results, there were 15 Oakland charter schools that scored below OUSD averages in both categories. Many of these charter schools have been in Oakland for years and scored similarly on the previous API tests that are no longer in use.

The Grand Jury acknowledges that test scores are not the only measure of success, as many other factors such as school culture and non-academic support personnel, must be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it is a concern that some charters are not achieving expected results and yet may still be re-authorized.

Current legislation requires the authorizer to “monitor fiscal condition” of charters, but beyond an annual financial audit, there is no oversight of charter school’s long term financial planning or budgeting.

This growth in charter schools has altered the original intention of the charter movement from “experimental laboratories” to one that attempts to address the sub-par results in district schools.

Funding for special education services in each region is provided by the state on a per student basis. In 2010, the state allowed charter schools to withdraw from their SELPA district, and join any other such district they chose. Twenty-five of Oakland’s 37 charter schools withdrew from the Oakland SELPA reducing the funds available.

Because a SELPA district is intended to form collaborations and share special needs education resources across many schools, the departure from its SELPA of so many charter schools resulted in fewer funds for OUSD that still must serve the same broad range of special needs students including those with the most severe needs. The Grand Jury heard testimony that individual charter schools have fewer severely disabled students. The Grand Jury views this as creating an inequity for special needs students in Oakland’s district schools.

The OUSD Office of Charter Schools is understaffed and underfunded. Although they are managing to successfully comply with the current laws, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure the future success of the charter school program in the city of Oakland.

The state provides a formula for authorizer staffing levels that would require 13 full time employees to support Oakland’s charter schools. Current staffing was recently raised from five to six people.

There is no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of “less desirable” students by charter schools.

The Grand Jury heard testimony that some charter schools may counsel a student to leave that school for a variety of reasons including recurrent misbehavior or lack of achievement. Witnesses testified that this procedure would be unknown were it not for “whistleblowers.”
A charter school is governed by a board of directors that is not publicly elected. Members of such a board may have no expertise in education or have any particular qualifications for that role.

There is no requirement that the superintendent of the school district, or any member of the elected school board, attend charter school board meetings. The only oversight is through the current authorization and renewal process that requires some site visits throughout the school year.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.