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Mercedes Schneider has been watching the money flowing in to Massachusetts from out of state to influence voters to lift the cap on charters.

While more than 100 school district boards have voted against Question 2, while the teachers’ union opposes it, it has the passionate support of hedge fund managers in New York City.

Thus far, about $12 million has been allocated to fight for charters; most of that money comes from out of state.

About half that much has been spent to defeat Question 2, mostly from the teachers’ unions, which understand that the charters will kill the union and remove teachers’ rights.

Will Massachusetts allow millionaires and billionaires in New York to create a dual school system in their state and privatize public money meant for public schools?

This post was written in 2014, but it remains relevant today. DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) raises large sums of money from hedge fund managers to promote charter schools. The free market has been very good to hedge fund managers, and they think that public schools should compete in a free market too. They are not in the game to make money, but to promote their ideology of free-market competition. DFER and its related organizations, like Education Reform Now, and Families for Excellent Schools, are spending millions of dollars in places as far-flung as Denver and Massachusetts. It may be confusing to the public to see “Democrats” promoting school choice and accountability, since these have always been Republican ideas for school reform. But, it made no sense to create a group called Republicans for Education Reform because Republicans don’t need to be convinced to private public schools.

Leonie Haimson, parent advocate (and a member of the board of the Network for Public Education), asks:

How did this happen? How did our electeds of both parties enable corporate interests to hijack our public schools?

Her answer:

A small band of Wall St. billionaires decided to convert the Democratic party to the Republican party, at least on education — and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – or our worst nightmares. And now we have electeds of both parties who are intent on helping them engineer a hostile takeover of our public schools, which has nothing to do with parent choice but the choice of these plutocrats.

What can you do about it?

Contact the Network for Public Education and find out how you can become active in your local or state organization that supports public schools and opposes privatization.

If you live in Massachusetts, join parents and educators who are fighting Question 2, which would allow unlimited expansion of charters to replace public schools.

Get involved.

Antonio Olmedo writes here about the new undemocratic, unaccountable Philanthrocapitalism, as embodied by the Gates Foundation:


In 2008, in their Ode to philanthrocapitalism, Bishop and Green claimed that philanthrocapitalists are “hyperagents who have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else”. Apparently, the fact that they “do not face elections every few years, like politicians, or suffer the tyranny of shareholder demands for ever-increasing quarterly profits, like CEOs of most private companies” or that they do not have to devote “vast amounts of time and resources to raising money, like most heads of NGOs”, situates them in a privileged position to “think long term”, to go “against conventional wisdom”, to take up ideas “too risky for government” and to deploy “substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it”. These new super agents can solve the problems of the world, and do it fast, cleanly, and absolutely.

Behind Bishop and Green’s philanthrocapitalim, Bill Gates’ creative capitalism, and David Cameron’s Big Society, which are closely related conceptions, is a new relation of ‘giving’ and enacting policy. This relation is based on a more direct involvement of givers in policy communities, that is a more ‘hands on’ approach to the use of donations. In previous writings we have referred to this new political landscape as philanthropic governance, that is the ways in which, through their philanthropic action, these actors are able to modify meanings, mobilise assets, generate new policy technologies and exert pressure on, or even decide, the direction of policy in specific contexts.

Democratic deficit

The problem here, or the problem for some of us, is that the claims and practices of new philanthropy are premised on the residualisation of established methods and traditions of democracy. They see no need to respond to or be accountable for their philanthropic investments to anyone else but themselves. This is what Horne indicates when he claimed that new philanthropists operate in a ‘para-political sphere’[1] within which they can develop their own policy agenda untrammelled by the vicissitudes of politics. What we are facing here is more than just givers who ‘vote with their dollars’[2]. As Parmar puts it: “the foundation-state relationship, therefore, is not a conspiracy – it may be quite secretive and operate behind the scenes, but it is not criminal enterprise. It is, however, strongly undemocratic, because it privileges the right people, usually those with the right social backgrounds and/or attitudes”. The direct involvement of new philanthropists in the para-political sphere enables “some individuals to act as their own private governments, whose power can be used to challenge that of the state and force it to re-examine its priorities and policies”

Gambling with children’s future

Essentially this is a simplification of policy, a cutting out of the messy compromises, dissensus and accommodations that attend ‘normal’ policymaking. But perhaps change is less simple than it seems initially from the perspective of great wealth! In a recent public letter from of Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a frank recognition that single-mindedness and a deliberate circumvention of traditional policy actors may not actually be constructive or effective in getting change done.

“… we’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make system-wide change.

The Bond Buyer reports that charter schools in California are seeking access to bonds for school construction, putting them into direct competition with public schools for the same money. Public schools have the advantage of stability and longevity; charter schools come and go with frequency. Public schools have higher bond rating than charter schools. Caprice Young, quoted in the article below, is a former president of the California Charter School Association, a powerful and wealthy lobby, and she now is CEO of Magnolia charters, which is part of the Gulen (Turkish) school chain.

The Bond Buyer reports (behind a pay wall):

LOS ANGELES — As California charter school enrollment has increased, so have conflicts over their access to school construction bond funds.

Enrollment at charter schools increased from 3.4% of the state’s K-12 population in 2005-06 to 9.2% in 2015-16, according to an Aug. 2 report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. The number of schools has grown from 560 to 1,207 over the past 10 years, according to the LAO report.

Some of these conflicts over state and local bond funds have come to the fore in Southern California, home to a large share of the state’s charters.

Rather than being subject to a state-oriented compliance-based accountability model, charter schools develop local charters, which are legal agreements between schools and their authorizers, and must comply with the terms of their charters, according to the LAO report.

The schools are exempt from most state regulations, but must meet three basic state requirements: provide nonsectarian instruction, charge no tuition and admit all interested California students up to school capacity.

Increases in charter school enrollment and declines in birth rates have caused Los Angeles Unified School District’s student enrollment to fall to 542,000, a 100,000 drop in a six-year period, according to school district figures released last year following an independent audit.

Charter schools were designed to offer parents an alternative, but in California, they fall under the jurisdiction of the school district in which they are located, which loses state per-student funding for each student that enrolls in a charter.

There has been friction between the district and charter schools over bond funding.

Los Angeles Unified officials say there is a level playing field, but charter school advocates disagree.

A district spokeswoman pointed to three school buildings occupied by Aspire charter schools. The buildings are brand new construction among the 130 new school buildings that have risen on school district property.

The school that Aspire Juanita Tate Academy occupies was built using $33.8 million of the district’s Measure R and Measure Y bond money, from voter approved measures that authorized a combined $7.855 billion of general obligation bonds.

The remaining $30.3 million came from grants funded by state general obligation bonds.

Aspire Firestone Academy and Aspire Gateway Charter Academy’s school buildings — both located on the same campus — were built using $59.5 million of the district’s Measure R, K, and Y money, local bond measures that together authorized $11.2 billion of debt. They also used $25.9 million from state bond funds.

None of the above Aspire schools were built using what the district calls the Charter School Bond Allocation, according to Los Angeles school officials.

The California Charter Schools Association filed a lawsuit against LAUSD on January 11 claiming that the school district has reduced an agreed upon allocation amount from 2008’s $7 billion Measure Q. The petition for writ of mandate asked Los Angeles Superior Court to compel LAUSD’s compliance with the California Public Records Act and void the school board’s decision to cut $88 million dollars from the charter school facility allocation under Measure Q.

The actual 2008 bond measure did not include a dollar amount for the charter school allocation, according to Emily Bertelli, a CCSA spokeswoman. But a separate document adopted by LAUSD’s board at the same time said that it would allocate $450 million to charter school projects – and they have since reduced that funding allocation more than once, she said.

In November 2015, CCSA sent a letter to the LAUSD board objecting to another reduction and requesting records justifying the reduction and showing how bond proceeds have been spent for charter schools. That day, LAUSD cut $88 million dollars from Measure Q for charter facilities, reducing the funds allocated for charters to $225 million and breaking its commitment to voters, according to a case summary on CCSA’s website.

“We have only just started to issue Measure Q bonds,” said John Walsh, LA Unified’s deputy chief financial officer. “We have issued just south of $650 million – and it is a $7 billion program. We don’t just earmark the first $450 million to go to charter schools.”

The language of Measure Q does say money will be allocated for charter schools, Walsh said, though not a specific amount.

Under the state’s 2000 Proposition 39, which allowed the state’s school districts to pass bonds with a 55% voter approval rate instead of the previous two-thirds threshold, districts were mandated to offer unused space at schools to charter schools.

“There are ways that we have used bond funds through the district’s facilities program to the advantage of charter schools,” Walsh said.

Allowing Aspire Schools to occupy the new buildings is one example of that, according to district officials.

L.A. Unified doesn’t approve a pot of money for charter schools, but handles funding on a project-by-project basis, Walsh said.

The danger for charter schools is that its relationship with a school district depends on the make-up of the school board.

There is an issue around competition for students, said Caprice Young, chief executive officer of Magnolia Public Schools, which operates ten independent charters.

“We have been thankful in California that we have a great partnership with the state treasurer’s office, which allows us to issue bonds that are tax-exempt,” said Young, who served on the Los Angeles Unified school board from 1999 to 2003 before founding the California Charter School Association in 2003.

Charter schools can issue revenue bonds through the California School Finance Authority, a conduit issuer that falls under the umbrella of the state treasurer’s office. School districts can also share the proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for school construction.

“With CSFA we pay for the bonds out of operating funds and that can be a lot more expensive,” Young said. “If we are given access to San Diego or Los Angeles GO bonds, there is a revenue stream from property taxes that we don’t have availability to. It cuts out a huge portion of public schools when we are not included.”

When school districts tax the public to create school facilities, charter schools should be included, Young said.

“And the way dollars are allocated needs to be fair and reasonable,” she said.

The difference in interest rates from issuing charter school bonds, which are typically rated BBB at the highest, and more often below investment grade, tend to be more in the 7% to 9% range versus the low 1% to 3% interest rates that LAUSD and SDUSD GOs are pricing at in today’s low interest rate environment, she said.

More than 60% of charter schools and charter school enrollment is in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego County, the LAO report said.

In the San Diego Unified School District, enrollment has stabilized at around 132,000 since 2007-08, but that is down from its peak of 142,260 in 2001-2001, according to district documents.

San Diego Unified has been largely a benevolent partner to its charter schools, charter school advocates said, though CSMA filed a lawsuit against that district too, at one point.

San Diego schools designated $350 million from its $2.8 billion Proposition Z of 2012 for charter school construction. “Facilities are a major challenge for all schools, but they are a particular challenge for charter schools,” said Miles Durfee, Southern California regional director for the California Charter Schools Association.

The law states that charter schools should get an equitable share of all bond issuances, Durfee said.

When Proposition Z passed, charter schools made up 12.5% of San Diego’s enrollment, but enrollment has grown to 15%, Durfee said. He thinks charter school’s share of the Proposition Z money should also grow. The percentage change would give charter schools an additional $20 million.

The language of Proposition Z says the percentage dedicated to charter schools could be reevaluated , but the language of the bond measure does not indicate a time frame, according to San Diego school officials.

Durfee said $40 million of the charter school allocation of Proposition Z has been spent on projects that are underway or almost complete and $304 million has been allocated to charter schools, but not spent. That leaves $6 million of the charter school pot not dedicated to a project.

That leaves San Diego charter schools that want to expand without many options.

The district established a Charter Schools Facilities Committee to advise on projects proposed by individual charter schools prior to consideration by the Board of Education.

Local charter school leaders help determine the best use of capital resources to address the facilities needs of local charter schools, according to San Diego school officials. Additionally, a representative of the charter schools is a member of the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee for the bond program.

Unlike traditional schools, if a charter school faces a financial crisis it doesn’t get bailed out by the state; it just closes, Young said.

“Charter schools have to be nimble and they have to have balanced budgets, which isn’t the case for traditional school district schools,” Young said.

A charter school has to purchase a property immediately after it identifies it as a good location, and build right away, Young said.

“If we don’t buy the land, someone else will,” Young said. “If we don’t build right way, we have an operating expense that is not being offset by revenues from students.”

A charter school does not have the luxury that a district has to take its time acquiring a property and then take years to build a school, Young said. If it operated in that manner, she said, a charter school would close.

Our valued reader Laura Chapman had a long career as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant in the arts. It is always a pleasure to post one of her careful essays. A teacher from Hawaii recently wrote to ask if she could read Laura’s research on SLOs, as that is her state’s preferred method of evaluating teachers.

Laura had previously posted this study on Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog Vamboozled.

So if you want to know more about SLO and its relation to management by objectives, read Laura’s work.

In New Jersey, David M. Aderhold, the superintendent of schools of West Windsor-Plainsboro, called out Governor Christie’s “reforms” for the frauds they are. He says it is time to fight back. I add him to the honor roll for his independence and support for children and public education.

http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/09/22/op-ed-what-the-public-doesn-t-know-can-hurt-our-students-our-schools/

He writes:

“The unspoken message is that the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Board of Education believe they can change educational outcomes by implementing a system of standardized tests, data points, and accountability measures. They believe that if you create “valid” and “reliable” assessment instruments, that all students will magically succeed. Through a blind allegiance to standardized assessments, the NJDOE and NJSBOE have failed to provide the support, programs, and professional development that would work to ensure that all students succeed….

“As a community of parents and educators, we must come together to rebuff the politicization of public education and insist that these changes are met with opposition and disapproval. We cannot remain on the sidelines as upheaval from the politics of education clouds what is best for our children. We must remain vigilant and centered on the essence of our work, which is to ensure the highest-quality educational experience for all students.”

In a shocking story in Reuters, we learn that the newly redesigned SAT will have negative effects on many students–especially those who are neediest–because of the mathematics portion of the exam.

Renee Dudley writes for Reuters:

In the days after the redesigned SAT college entrance exam was given for the first time in March, some test-takers headed to the popular website reddit to share a frustration.

They had trouble getting through the exam’s new mathematics sections. “I didn’t have nearly enough time to finish,” wrote a commenter who goes by MathM. “Other people I asked had similar impressions.”

The math itself wasn’t the problem, said Vicki Wood, who develops courses for PowerScore, a South Carolina-based test preparation company. The issue was the wordy setups that precede many of the questions.

“The math section is text heavy,” said Wood, a tutor, who took the SAT in May. “And I ran out of time.”

The College Board, the maker of the exam, had reason to expect just such an outcome for many test-takers.

When it decided to redesign the SAT, the New York-based not-for-profit sought to build an exam with what it describes as more “real world” applications than past incarnations of the test. Students wouldn’t simply need to be good at algebra, for instance. The new SAT would require them to “solve problems in rich and varied contexts.”

But in evaluating that approach, the College Board’s own research turned up problems that troubled even the exam makers.

About half the test-takers were unable to finish the math sections on a prototype exam given in 2014, internal documents reviewed by Reuters show.

The problem was especially pronounced among students that the College Board classified as low scorers on the old SAT.

A difference in completion rates between low scorers and high scorers is to be expected, but the gap on the math sections was much larger than the disparities in the reading and writing sections.

The study Reuters reviewed didn’t address the demographics of that performance gap, but poor, black and Latino students have tended to score lower on the SAT than wealthy, white and Asian students.

In light of the results, officials concluded that the math sections should have far fewer long questions, documents show. But the College Board never made that adjustment and instead launched the new SAT with a large proportion of wordy questions, a Reuters analysis of new versions of the test shows.

The redesigned SAT is described in the College Board’s own test specifications as an “appropriate and fair assessment” to promote “equity and opportunity.” But some education and testing specialists say the text-heavy new math sections may be creating greater challenges for kids who perform well in math but poorly in reading, reinforcing race and income disparities.

Among those especially disadvantaged by the number of long word problems, they say, are recent immigrants and American citizens who aren’t native English speakers; international students; and test-takers whose dyslexia or other learning disabilities have gone undiagnosed.

“It’s outrageous. Just outrageous,” said Anita Bright, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University in Oregon. “The students that are in the most academically vulnerable position when it comes to high-stakes testing are being particularly marginalized,” she said.

College Board CEO David Coleman, the chief architect of the redesign, declined to be interviewed, as did other College Board officials named in this article.

Read the rest of the article, which contains more detail.

Some states plan to use the SAT as a graduation exam, which should not happen because the test was not designed as an exit exam but as a measure of college readiness. In the past, testmakers would warn states against misusing their test, but this is apparently not happening now. The College Board is supposed to be a nonprofit, but the SAT is its biggest money maker. Now that nearly 900 colleges and universities are test-optional, meaning that students seeking admission to not need to supply either SAT or ACT scores, the College Board has to maintain its revenues and does not warn about the misuse of the SAT.

What will those states that use the SAT as a high school graduation test do when half the seniors can’t “pass” it? What will the young people who can’t get a high school diploma do?

Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of education in Massachusetts, is a huge supporter of charter schools, Common Core, and PARCC testing (he was chair of the PARCC group). He approved a charter school for Brockton, despite loud community opposition. He recently met with parents at the Brockton High School, and when he mentioned the new charter for Brockton, he was met with boos and hissing. The Brockton charter was not ready on time, but received state permission to open in Norwood, 22 miles away. Chester defended the charter on grounds that it was able to recruit nearly 300 students from the Brockton public schools. Parents were unhappy because the Brockton public schools have seen budget cuts, which they attribute to the charter school.

Brockton High School, which has been repeatedly honored (including a front-page story in the NY Times) for excellence, enrolls more than 4,000 students. The charter school, New Heights, will enroll 315 (not there yet). The thousands of students at the public high school will lose programs so that the state can open a charter school to serve the same community.

If New Heights reaches an enrollment of 315 students by October, it will receive $3.96 million in state and local funds, based on early projections, Reis said.

Brockton parents like Dominique Cassamajor said that money would be better spent on Brockton Public Schools, including the elementary school attended by her 9-year-old daughter, especially when the district is already dealing with a difficult budget.

“I don’t like it at all,” Cassamajor said. “I know people who have kids in the new school, but it’s just taking away funds from Brockton Public Schools. Everybody has their choices. But to me, it’s taking away money from most of the kids. The classroom already has a deficit. That’s why we are doing the Brockton Kids Count campaign.”

So what is the logic in Brockton? Open a charter for 315 kids and take resources from the high school that serves 4,000+ kids?

Cheri Kiesecker is a Colorado parent who pays close attention to technology that invades student privacy.

She left the following warning as a comment:

In response to the question about GAFE. Below are a few links that may be of help.
GAFE, Google, Chromebooks… seem to suffer transparency issues on how they track and use and analyze student data. When parents have asked to see what data points Google collects, how that information is analyzed, who it is shared with, there are no transparent answers.

Many privacy organizations and advocates have concerns and questions about the algorithms used and data collection/ sharing in GAFE.
Google Chromebooks are pre-set to send student data, all user activity, back to Google.

This article explains how ChromeSync feature tracks students. Some schools purposely leave the SYNC feature on. Others, however, turn off Sync before asking students to use Chromebooks. MANY schools and parents are NOT AWARE of the Chrome Sync tracking feature.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/10/internet-companies-confusing-consumers-profit

This blog does a great job explaining GAFE issues in Where The Sidewalk Ends: Wading Through Google’s Terms of Service for Education:

Google defines a narrow set of applications as “core” Apps for Edu services. These services are exempt from having ads displayed alongside user content, and from having their data used for “Ads purposes”. However, apps outside the core services – like YouTube, Blogger, and Picasa – are not covered by the terms of service that restrict ads. The same is true for integrations of third party apps that can be enabled within the Google Apps admin interface, and then accessed by end users. So, when a person in a Google Apps for Edu environment watches a video on YouTube, writes or reads a post on Blogger, or accesses any third party app enabled via Google Apps, their information is no longer covered under the Google Apps for Education terms.

To put it another way: as soon as a person with a Google Apps for Education account strays outside the opaque and narrowly defined “safe zone” everything they do can be collected, stored, and mined.

So, the next time you hear someone say, “Google apps doesn’t use data for advertising” ask them to explain what happens to student data when a student starts in Google apps, and then goes to Blogger, or YouTube, or connects to any third party integration.” read more…

https://funnymonkey.com/2015/where-the-sidewalk-ends-wading-through-googles-terms-of-service

EFF COMPLAINT against GOOGLE

The privacy watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a complaint with the FTC about Google’s deceptive tracking of students.
Chrome books are set to send back students’ entire browsing history to Google but that is not all.

Google’s Student Tracking Isn’t Limited to Chrome Sync

Many media reports on (as well as at least one response to) the FTC complaint we submitted yesterday about Google’s violation of the Student Privacy Pledge have focused heavily on one issue—Google’s use of Chrome Sync data for non-educational purposes. This is an important part of our complaint, but we want to clarify that Google has other practices which we are just as concerned about, if not more so.
In particular, the primary thrust of our complaint focuses on how Google tracks and builds behavioral profiles on students when they navigate to Google-operated sites outside of Google Apps for Education. We’ve tried to explain this issue in both our complaint and our FAQ, but given its significance we think it’s worth explaining again.

To understand what’s going on, you first have to understand that when it comes to education, Google divides its services into two categories: Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which includes email, Calendar, Talk/Hangouts, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites, Contacts, and the Apps Vault; and everything else, which includes Google Search, Blogger, Bookmarks, Books, Maps, News, Photos, Google+, and YouTube, just to name a few.

Google has promised not to build profiles on students or serve them ads only within Google Apps for Education services. When a student goes to a different Google service, however, and they’re still logged in under their educational account, Google associates their activity on that service with their educational account, and then serves them ads on at least some of those non-GAFE services based on that activity.

In other words, when a student logs into their educational account, and then uses Google News to create a report on current events, or researches history using Google Books, or has a geography lesson using Google Maps, or watches a science video on YouTube, Google tracks that activity and feeds it into an ad profile attached to the student’s educational account—even though Google knows that the person using that account is a student, and the account was created for educational purposes.

This is our biggest complaint about Google’s practices—that despite having promised not to track students, Google is abusing its position of power as a provider of some educational services to profit off of students’ data when they use other Google services—services that Google has arbitrarily decided don’t deserve any protection. read more

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/12/googles-student-tracking-isnt-limited-chrome-sync

Google and other apps may be “free”, but as privacy experts warn, your child’s data is the price. GAFE is just one example of needing transparent and enforceable privacy laws to protect students and why schools and teachers should read the privacy policies, terms of service surrounding data collection and use…and communicate that information with parents before signing a child up for GAFE or any app. Ideally, every parent should be given the choice to opt-in, as many parents are not aware of data privacy issues surrounding edtech.
…and as privacy groups warn, Google is playing with [COPPA] fire in promoting GAFE to children under 13.

http://www.cio.com/article/2855414/google-will-target-kids-with-redesigned-versions-of-its-products.html

I just donated to this gofundme campaign.

I hope you will too.

David Gamberg is the enlightened superintendent of schools in Southold and Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island.

Here is his vision: Play. Children learn happily when they have time to play.

I have visited his schools.

I ate vegetables that the children raised.

I enjoyed the musical performance.

At the center of learning in his schools are physical activity, music, the arts, gardening, and much more. Southold has a superb robotics team.

It also has one of the highest opt out rates in the state.

Congratulations, Dr. Gamberg, for setting a wonderful example for educators everywhere!