Archives for category: Accountability

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote a stunning expose of for-profit charter operators in Ohio. It was published in Valerie Strauss’s blog The Answer Sheet.

Burris writes:

Buckeye Preparatory Academy opened its doors in September 2014, promising “rigorous academic standards” for the 117 students who enrolled. It was started by the for-profit management charter company the Cambridge Education Group, founded by Marcus May. In 2017, three years after Buckeye opened, Cambridge tried to sever all ties with May, who was indicted and later convicted of racketeering and fraud in connection with the charter schools he ran. Buckeye never received a grade from the Ohio Department of Education better than an F during its four-year existence. At the end of 2017, Buckeye Prep was more than $1 million in debt.

That enormous deficit, which equaled nearly all of the tax dollars the school took in, was due, in large part, to the astronomical management costs charged by Cambridge.

According to the 2018 audit, the for-profit took 18 percent of all revenue received by the charter to manage the school. Cambridge also collected $93,398 in overhead fees, pulling a total of $383,505 from the $1.26 million in operating aid that the school received. As debt accrued, Cambridge was charging the school 5 percent interest on money the school owed.

An additional $41,490 went out the door to the authorizing sponsor of the school, Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, whose related for-profit organization, Kent Properties, LLC, was the school’s landlord, receiving $162,000 a year in rental costs.

At the end of the school’s audit, an addendum said that the management of Buckeye Prep was transferred from Cambridge to another for-profit, ACCEL Schools of Ohio, LLC.

On the surface, that transfer might appear to be a lifeline for the students who attended Buckeye Prep. But the small charter school at 1414 Gault St. in Columbus was — and would continue to be — a big moneymaker for for-profit operators and their partners.

The orphanage with no orphans

Some states, such as New Jersey, have only one state entity that authorizes charter schools. In Ohio, there are 20 active authorizers, called sponsors. Sponsors provide oversight, deciding whether a school opens and, later, whether its charter is renewed.

For Buckeye Prep’s sponsor, the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (BCHF), charter sponsorship is a lucrative business. According to BCHF’s 2017 audit, the foundation, involved with low-income housing, received over $3.1 million for sponsorship and services provided to 50 charter schools that year. Its related for-profit corporation owned the Buckeye Prep building and collected more than $162,000 in building and furniture lease payments during 2017, its final year.

[Biden promised to end federal funding of for-profit charter schools. A new report explains how they operate.]

As the failing school approached the date for charter renewal, its new operator, ACCEL, chose a sponsor that already managed many of its schools — St. Aloysius Orphanage. Despite its name, St. Al’s, as it is called, has not provided a home for orphans since the 1970s. It is a mental health service provider that also sponsors charter schools.

Compared with its other funding streams, charter school sponsorship provides the most income — over $3.6 million in 2019. However, while St. Aloysius collects the fees, it does none of the work. Instead, it hired a for-profit corporation, Charter School Specialists, paying out $2.3 million a year to the for-profit.

The relationship between sponsor and for-profit was so tight that in 2020, the state auditor had to remind schools that their sponsor was St. Aloysius, not Charter Schools Specialists, after several listed the for-profit as their sponsor.

In 2019, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance recommended — to no avail — that St. Al’s no longer sponsor charter schools based on its record of keeping failing schools open. Two years earlier, the same committee raised conflict of interest concerns because some school treasurers were employed by both the charter board and Charter Schools Specialists. That conflict of interest while overseeing the expenditure of millions of dollars in public funds was allowed to continue. In 2021, eight school treasurers were employees of the for-profit overseer and the charter schools’ boards, including Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, according to information obtained from the Ohio Education Department.

For-profit operators run more than 62 percent of the schools sponsored by St. Aloysius; many of them are other ACCEL schools.

ACCEL schools

In 2014, the online for-profit charter chain K12 Inc. announced a new, yet-to-be-named company financed by Safanad Limited, a Dubai investment company. Pansophic Learning was launched later that year as the Safanad/K12 joint venture. The name of its American-based charter school company is ACCEL Schools.

The CEO of both Pansophic and ACCEL is Ron Packard, formerly of K12 Inc., now known as Stride. Packard’s background is in finance, and he compounded the revenue of K12 by 80 percent — (a far higher percentage than its 2019-2020 graduation rate of 56.3 percent).

ACCEL’s primary strategy is to pluck schools from established for-profit chains that failed or are folding, including Mosaica, White Hat Management, and I CAN Schools.

With no shortage of failing charter schools to buy, ACCEL’s growth has been fast-paced. It now manages 73 charter schools (brick and mortar or online) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, and it is attempting to open schools in West Virginia.
[Yes, charter schools can be bought and sold]
Global School Properties, located at the same address as ACCEL and Pansophic in Virginia, is the real estate arm of ACCEL, which allows it to acquire properties and then basically rent their own buildings to themselves — with public funds — through the schools they manage.

ACCEL’s largest portfolio is in Ohio. Forty-six schools list ACCEL as their operator. However, we also found an additional 17 schools run by a superintendent with an ACCEL email address, all but two under the Constellation Schools brand. And in 2018, ACCEL bought out White Hat’s failing online charter school, OHDELA, resulting in a total of 64 schools in that state.

ACCEL and Capital Collegiate Prep

When ACCEL took over Buckeye Prep in 2018, it operated the school as Buckeye for one year — before shutting it down to put another in its place. The for-profit needed to find a board to act as the nonprofit face for the new for-profit-run school. ACCEL’s then vice president, Mark Comaduci, introduced community member Leslie Eaves to Amy Goodson and Carlena Hart, attorneys for Buckeye Prep, via email. Eaves was told to form a board, for which she served as president. She found three educators — Malcolm Cash, Renita Porter and Said Adam — and forensic accountant Rhonda Whitfield.

By January 2019, the new board was formed. In June 2019, Buckeye voluntarily requested contract nonrenewal (see closed community schools). The following day, July 1, Kent School, LLC, sold the school building to Global School Properties for $1,380,635, records show. St. Al’s would be the new sponsor, and the school would now be called Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy (CCPA).

From the start, the relationship between the charter school’s board and ACCEL was rocky. Unlike many of the boards recruited by for-profit operators, this board included seasoned educators who took their duties of governance seriously. According to emails between Eaves and ACCEL officials, including Ron Packard, the first problems arose with the terms of the management and lease agreements between the school and ACCEL.

Buckeye’s lease agreement was for $12,500 a month or 10.5 percent of state funds received, whichever was greater. ACCEL wanted to increase the lease by $5,500 a month, according to internal emails. In the end, the agreement was for 14 percent of revenue — state funding as well as additional federal entitlements if the grant application was prepared by ACCEL.

In 2020, the school that served only 135 students paid ACCEL’s related real estate company $145,006 in rent, with ACCEL projecting a rent payment of $319,840 for the very same building in 2025. At that rate, ACCEL would recoup what it paid in six years — precisely the length of the school’s charter. If the charter failed and closed, ACCEL would walk away with a million-dollar-plus building largely paid for by the taxpayers of Ohio.

The management contract charges the charter school 15 percent of all revenue received, with a few exceptions. But that is not where payments would end. A read of the management contract clarifies that ACCEL was in charge of, and would be compensated for, all of the school’s day-to-day operations — from the curriculum to student records to all personnel services.

The school was allowed to go into unlimited debt on which it would pay interest to ACCEL, making it nearly impossible for the school to leave the for-profit management company in the future. Financial records from 2020 show the school operating at a loss of over $420,000, with a 2021 projected loss of over $845,000.

Conflicts between the board and ACCEL ignite
The change in school management came with a wave of staff turnover, with just two teachers opting to stick with the new school, where many of the students were behaviorally challenged. ACCEL hired new and inexperienced teachers, and for the first two months, according to former board treasurer Whitfield, the campus didn’t have any pencils or paper in the classrooms. The situation was so dire that an organization that had performed an independent review of the charter school donated paper and pencils.

To get a grasp on student progress, the board authorized the use of I-Ready Assessment. However, ACCEL preferred to use its own assessment product called “Dr. Carr’s Scrimmages” to measure student progress. Carr, who became a vice president of ACCEL, previously worked for the defunct for-profit charter chain Mosaica. Student progress, and lack thereof, was discussed at length during the board meeting of February 2021, which can be found here.

The school’s principal, a former real estate agent, seemed unsure as to why the Scrimmages were being used. I-Ready results showed that most sixth-grade students were performing at two to three years below grade level in reading and math. That led to a discussion as to whether, given the poor progress made by sixth-graders, the school should expand to grade 7 or focus instead on expanding its kindergarten program. Board members expressed worry regarding a seventh-grade addition.

But the principal and the ACCEL superintendent, Ashley Ferguson argued in favor of adding a grade as being in the best interest of students and the school. Ferguson added, “We need to be up by 200 kids to eliminate our deficit. Two kindergartens would not do it.” [ Ferguson, a vice president of ACCEL Schools, attended board meetings as ACCEL’s “superintendent,” even though Shannon Metcalf is listed as superintendent on the state website.]

Board members resign

To get a better understanding of the school’s day-to-day operations, the board hired Tisha Brady in 2020 to serve as a compliance officer. What Brady observed appalled her.

Brady, a former lobbyist for School Choice Ohio and longtime supporter of charter schools, has soured on charter management organizations running schools. During a December 2021 interview with me [ Carol Burris, the author of this post], Brady expressed her concerns regarding where Ohio’s charter schools were going. “[For-profit management] is absolutely not in line with the supposed principles of school choice programs,” she said. “This is simply a cash grab using disadvantaged students as ATMs to launder public funds into the pockets of a private corporation.”

Meanwhile, the concerns of the board grew. It was difficult for the board to get a handle on expenditures and purchases, even with Brady’s assistance. During the June 14, 2021, meeting, the board objected to the $53,000 spent by ACCEL for smartboards for the school. During classroom visits, board members noticed that the smartboards were generic dry erase boards. The meeting minutes noted a prior concern regarding a large expenditure for a curriculum that was missing, as well as a refrigerator that was removed by a vendor. Eaves, the board president, objected to the lack of inventory control of school purchases, according to the minutes.

When Brady and Whitfield entered the school to inventory the items and see how they were being used, they both said, an ACCEL teacher assaulted Whitfield with a cart. Whitfield filed a complaint with the police department and the professional conduct division of the Ohio Department of Education, as well as with ACCEL.

“My concern was for the students in the classroom. I worried about what the kids had witnessed,” Whitfield said. Whitfield resigned from the board a month later. Eaves had previously resigned in October. The school’s website now lists only four board members, still including Whitfield, who is gone — a violation of law that requires five board members, which ironically St. Al’s had used to put the board on probation in the past.

Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy expands

Despite worry over student performance, a slim majority of the board decided to add the seventh grade. According to Whitfield and Brady, one teacher teaches all subjects on a rotating basis and out of certification. But, those seventh-graders, no matter how poorly prepared, increased the head count, which in turn increased ACCEL’s fees for both rent and management. The school goes further into debt, and ACCEL collects interest.

And so, it will continue until the school’s charter is up in 2025. ACCEL could walk away from the failing school, sell the building to another for-profit, and move on to another failing school.
Right now, nearly half of all charter schools in Ohio are run by for-profits. Most of these charter schools are located in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. The state of Ohio has known about the cycle of for-profits repeatedly preying on failing charter schools for years.

There is more: Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, which was no more than the retread of a failing school, received a $250,000 Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) implementation grant.
Half of all of the grants distributed by Ohio from its 2015 CSP State Entities grant were given to schools run by Ron Packard’s ACCEL.

The article contains many links to sources. To see them all, open the article.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the sad career of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for a decade. The ASD was created with $100 million in Race to the Top funding, a portion of the $500 million won by the state in Arne Duncan’s competition.

The ASD was launched in 2012, when advocates of privatization earnestly believed that charter schools performed miracles. The mere act of turning a low-scoring public school over to a private operator would free the school from regulation and bad teachers and inevitably produce high test scores. Over the years, this assumption has been proven untrue, and the ASD is a leading example of great promises that produced failure.

Gary has tracked the failure of the ASD to transform low-scoring public schools into high-performing charter schools. The irony, as he notes in this overview, is that many states have copied the Tennessee ASD despite its failure to achieve its goals.

Gary writes:

The mission of the ASD was to take schools in the bottom 5% and within 5 years ‘catapult’ them into the top 25%. They started with six schools and over a period of about five years expanded into around 30 schools. The plan was to turn the schools over to charter operators and then after the schools had been successfully catapulted, they would return to the original school district.

After five years, it was clear that at least five of the original six school were still in the bottom 5%. The other one had maybe risen into the bottom 10%. Barbic resigned, Huffman resigned, the ASD changed their mission to something a lot more vague.

Now, ten years after the takeover of the original 6 schools, we learn from Chalkbeat, TN that some of those original 6 schools are returning to their district. I’ve been tracking those six schools for the past 10 years: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Year after year, despite having been turned into charter schools, these schools barely budged in the rankings. One of the six, Humes, was already closed down and now, as reported by Chalkbeat, TN, two of them, Frayser and Corning are being returned to their districts even though they did not improve. Ironically, eight years ago Frayser was hailed as a miracle success story proving the effectiveness of the ASD.

There is no reason to celebrate the failure of a school, especially one enrolling vulnerable children. But there is every reason to point to the P.T. Barnum School of Charter School Propaganda. in did not achieve its goals. It disrupted the lives of children, parents, and teachers.

How shallow are the promoters of these grand plans that tear apart communities, then move on to another gig.

Catherine Truitt, the Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina sneered at critical thinking, as she put forth her own definition of what education is for.

North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan wrote:

A Little Soma Made in 1984 Cooked At F451 Degrees For You? Why Every Teacher Should Be Insulted By State Superintendent Truitt’s Words

“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

– FAHRENHEIT 451

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which [leaders] control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

– ALDOUS HUXLEY, AUTHOR OF BRAVE NEW WORLD

“The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.”

– 1984

“We’ve got to redefine what the purpose of K-12 education is. Some would say it’s to produce critical thinkers. But my team and I believe that the purpose of a public K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary plans of their choice so that they can be a functioning member of the workforce.”

– STATE SUPERINTENDENT CATHERINE TRUITT, JANUARY 6TH, 2022

That last statement is a hell of a statement from the top ranking official for public education in the state – especially that part about free thinking.

In her short tenure as state super, Truitt has said many things to insult teachers, demean advocacy for public schools, and belittle the profession.

This is the most insulting – not just because as a teacher my job is to help students become critical thinkers, but as a parent of young lady who has graduated from public schools and a son about to enter high school, I don’t want the person who makes the biggest decisions about our schools to think of my children (and others’ children) as “functional members of the workforce.”

It’s almost like saying that our job as public school teachers is to create good workers for those who can profit from them.

Writing in “PoliticsNC,” Alexander H. Jones was incredulous. He wrote:

In my years of following state politics, I have heard North Carolina Republicans say stupid, outrageous, incomprehensible and otherwise foolish things. Pat McCrory said Caitlin Jenner would have to use the men’s shower if she ran track at UNC-Chapel Hill. Larry Pittman and others declared that the State of North Carolina has a right to nullify U.S. Supreme Court decisions within its borders. And so forth. But nothing I have heard echoing out of right-wing avenue was more utterly discrediting to a public servant than what DPI leader Catherine Truitt recently said about the purpose of K-12 education. Read on, if you can stomach it.

““We’ve got to redefine what the purpose of K-12 education is,” she declared. “Some would say it’s to produce critical thinkers. But my team and I believe that the purpose of a public K-12 education is to prepare students for the post-secondary plans of their choice so that they can be a functioning member of the workforce.” In one quick stroke, the leader of public education in North Carolina discounted and disparaged critical thinking, the foundation of an enlightened citizenry. In saying this she definitively sided with the forces of political authoritarianism and capitalist plunder, the two great foes of the American experiment that have always fought against liberal education.

Open the link and read the rest of his post.

Five years ago, Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced his plan to “save” the state’s lowest performing schools. He called it “Schools of Hope.” The idea behind the plan was to turn public schools over to charter operators.

Corcoran believes in choice. He despises public schools. He wants to replace public schools with vouchers and charters. His wife ran a charter school, and he was Speaker of the House of Representatives before Governor DeSantis put him in charge of education. Corcoran, needless to say, is not an educator.

Billy Townsend tells the sad ending to Corcoran’s bold (but old) idea: Florida’s first charter “School of Hope” is, utterly predictably, abandoning all “hope” in Jefferson after just 5 years.

The failure of a plan to turn low-reforming schools to charter operators should not be a surprise. It has been tried and failed elsewhere: the Achievement School District in Tennessee absorbed $100 million of Race to the Top money without meeting its goals; the Education Achievement Authority in Detroit was an expensive fiasco. Despite the failures of these “models,” other states created their own charter districts, with the same results.

Townsend describes Florida’s own fiasco:

Jefferson County’s public school system is tiny — about 800 kids. Its test scores are historically the lowest of Florida counties. This made it a showcase for Richard Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” charter law, which was designed to convert zoned public schools with low test scores into unzoned charter schools. The Jefferson experiment predates the “Schools of Hope” law. But when the state seized Jefferson’s three-in-one school campus and converted it into a charter school run by the Somerset company, it was touted as the first “School of Hope.”

Here’s how NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in 2019:

Two years into Jefferson County’s transformation, the still-unproven charter-district “experiment” is being used to justify a potentially massive expansion of charter schools in the state’s poorest communities. A state law dubbed “schools of hope,” first passed in 2017 and broadened this year, offers millions of dollars to charter schools that open near traditional public schools that have struggled for years. Jefferson County is home to the first charter “schools of hope.” Neighborhoods in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville are next.

Five years later, Somerset is straight-up abandoning the kids and community of Jefferson County without explanation. They’re abandoning the “schools of hope” project.

And no other charter “schools of hope” seem willing to tackle the Jefferson challenge. They apparently see no “hope,” as an industry.

So Richard Corcoran’s DoE is admitting abject failure and converting the Jefferson School back to nominal district control — under the direction of what’s called an “external operator.” In some cases, Richard Corcoran’s DoE and Board of Education also saw personal opportunity to make a buck in that transition away from Schools of Hope.

Bidding for that “external operator” role — for the transition and presumably beyond — is what led to the scandal that saw DoE Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey and state Board of Education Member Andy Tuck resign in grifty disgrace. You can read my deep dives on the scandal in parts 1 and 1.5., linked above.

Yes, that’s all pretty gross.

Townsend explained the difference between charter schools and “external operators.”

Charter companies and external operators do not always grift; but when they do, which is often, they do so in different ways.

Charter schools, as shown yet again in Jefferson, pick and curate the kids they want to serve. They don’t do ESE, generally, unless it’s a special ESE charter. Charters routinely cut-and-run from any child who does not easily throw off an acceptable contribution to a charters’ aggregate test scores. In Somerset’s case, it’s cutting-and-running from an entire community, which it swaggered into boasting about “hope.” This was entirely predictable. I predicted it; basically everyone who pays any real attention predicted it. I generally referred to “schools of hope” as “schools of fraud” back in 2017. I was right.

External operators, if they’re sorry or lazy, just skim public money off the top of a school to add nothing but boring professional development power points and “critical observations” and “data analysis.” In Polk, under the orders of legislators like Kelli Stargel and Colleen Burton, the taxpayers have fed these people millions of dollars of your money. The external operator grift is just attaching yourself to a giant flow of free money and tick-sucking it. External operators do no operating. They bring no scale because they have none.

Introduced with great fanfare five years ago, “schools of hope” is yet another fraud on the children, their community, and taxpayers. But especially the children.

Townsend wasn’t the only one to connect the dots and spot grift. The Tampa Bay Times did as well.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Education Department is under fire for trying to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a company whose CEO has ties to the state’s education commissioner.

Records and interviews show that, before the Florida Department of Education asked for bids, it was already in advanced talks with the company to do the work, subverting a process designed to eliminate favoritism.

The company is MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa of Tampa, a longtime colleague of the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran.

During a bidding process that was open for one week, MGT was the only pre-approved vendor to submit a proposal — pitched at nearly $2.5 million a year to help the struggling Jefferson County School District with its academic and financial needs.

Billy Townsend, a former school board member in Polk County, Florida, warns that the state education leaders are rotten. In this post, he accuses several of them of engineering a plan to protect their private interests.

He writes:

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and Senior Chancellor for K-12 Jacob Oliva should both immediately resign over the state Department of Education’s Jefferson County state bid corruption scandal. If they don’t, Gov. DeSantis should fire them.

That’s how bad it is. The scandal already quietly took down Melissa Ramsey, former DoE Executive Vice Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools, and former state Board of Education Member and Chairman Andy Tuck. Their resignations were first reported — a month after they happened — by Jason Delgado of the “Florida Politics” website. But Delgado’s story did not detail the most overtly corrupt act.

In sum: Melissa Ramsey directed her immediate DoE subordinate to draft a proposal response for Ramsey and Tuck’s personal company to a DoE Request for Quote (RFQ) to support Jefferson County schools as they transition away from charter school control back to district control.

To restate because it sounds crazy: over a few days in November, DoE Senior Chancellor for K12 Oliva (legitimately, it appears) ordered a state employee to craft a state RFQ for the Jefferson County support work. Vice Chancellor Ramsey then ordered this same state employee — her direct subordinate — to write SIP’s proposal responding to the same government RFQ that same subordinate had just written. 

Just days before, at Jacob Oliva’s direction, this same subordinate had personally drafted the same Jefferson RFQ that Ramsey was now directing her to respond to on behalf of Ramsey and Tuck’s company — known as Strategic Initiatives Partners, LLC (SIP).

Ramsey then submitted the proposal — with sitting Board of Education member Tuck’s enthusiastic support. At the time of the submission, the company’s documents also listed Oliva as a company official along with Tuck and Ramsey.

Conflict of interest much? When the Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation, Ramsey and Tuck resigned. With their resignations, the OIG closed the investigation—case closed—but Townsend insists the case should be reopened to investigate the corruption that enables public officials to betray the public trust.

Townsend identifies the district at the heart of the scandal:

It’s not remotely surprising to me that Florida’s awful, cynical state Department of Education and Board of Education have now shipwrecked themselves on blatant conflict of interest in the tiny, poverty-stricken, majority-black, three-school Jefferson County system.

Five years ago, DoE worked closely with openly conflicted legislators to turn Jefferson County public schools over to charter company Somerset. Here’s how Florida NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in her excellent and thorough 2019 account of the Jefferson charter “experiment.”

In particular, Senate education committee chair Manny Diaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican, helped secure legislation and funding in 2017 that aided Somerset’s efforts in Jefferson County. Then a committee chairman in the state House of Representatives, Diaz was instrumental in making the district’s transition to charter schools possible.

Diaz is a top administrator at a private college also affiliated with [politically connected charter chain] Academica. Doral College was created in 2010 to offer advanced courses at charter schools, including Somerset Academy schools. Somerset alone pays Doral College more than $100,000 a year in public money for delivering college-level courses at the network’s schools, including in Jefferson County. And Diaz’s boss — the president of Doral College — has led the transition to charter schools in Jefferson as a consultant for Somerset.

Now the charter company — Somerset — is quietly dumping all the kids of Jefferson, as charter schools tend to do. It doesn’t want to operate Jefferson’s schools any more.

It’s not really clear why Somerest is bailing on Jefferson at the end of its 5-year contract; but I suspect it’s because serving Jefferson’s challenging, traditional school enrollment isn’t easy or profitable enough. When you’re a franchise-based “choice” business like Somerset, it doesn’t pay to operate in places that take a lot more overhead than you’re willing to commit to “succeed.”

Keep that in mind while considering the detailed educratic nihilism I’m about to show you. This massive, barely-reported DoE scandal makes it easy to forget the flesh and blood kids and teachers and communities that become the playthings of grift. We shouldn’t.

Townsend devotes three posts to plumbing the corruption swirling around impoverished Jefferson County. It’s remarkable that so many charter grifters see lucrative business opportunities in poor, mostly minority school districts, not only in Florida but in other states like Michigan.

Townsend calls the second post #1.5 because it is an extension of #1.

He writes:

It was prompted by an anonymous contact I received who pointed to a politically-connected company called MGT that’s all over the DoE/Jefferson bid corruption investigative report in cryptic ways.

MGT is a so-called “external operator,” called in by the state to help operate schools with school grades of D or F in certain “turnaround” circumstances. They are essentially consultants who lead or support local district personnel in school “turnaround.” They are not full-on charter companies, like Somerset, Jefferson’s current operator. When I was a Polk County School Board member, we dealt with an external operator (not MGT) for a few schools.

I should be clear that nothing in the report accuses MGT of wrongdoing — or DoE personnel of wrongdoing in relation to MGT.

However, I was perplexed by MGT’s presence in the report even before my “source” urged me to look closer. I left them out of part 1 because it was already so long.

But I still have lots of questions related to a couple of strange MGT facts identified by investigators. I want to share them with you…

Townsend notes that 25 companies were invited to submit proposals but only MGT responded. He further notes that MGT was in business with the state’s education commissioner in the past.

Curious and curioser.

It is great when good things happen, especially when they prove the power of the pen. Backstory: an anonymous reader of this blog left a comment asking whether I was aware that a billionaire (Ben Navarro) was promoting privatization of the Charleston public schools. I was not, so I started googling. Every local news story was written by Paul Bowers, the education writer for the Charleston Post and Courier. I found Bowers on Twitter and invited him to write for my blog about what was happening in Charleston. He agreed and sent me his article last Friday night. I quickly realized this was a national story that needed more exposure than my blog alone. I sent it to Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post blog “The Answer Sheet,” and she agreed that we would post it simultaneously on Saturday morning.

We knew that the Charleston school board was holding an important meeting on Monday January 10, where they were expected to approve the privatization plan, called “Reimagine Schools.”

As Bowers wrote on his own blog:

The Charleston County School Board is preparing to vote Monday, Jan. 10, on a proposal called “Reimagine Schools” that would affect 23 predominantly Black schools in the district, potentially turning them over to management by an unnamed private third party.

Paul Bowers attended the school board meeting, not as a reporter but as a parent. He reported the results of the meeting here.

The school board stalled the privatization plan. Professionals spoke out eloquently against it. It may come back in the future, so vigilance is required. But for now, thanks to Paul Bowers, it’s off the table. Here is the account in the Post and Courier.

Read Bowers’ story and enjoy knowing that bad things can be stopped by shining a bright light on them and educating the public. Not always. But it’s sweet when it happens.

I received the letter at the bottom of this post at the beginning of January. I thought it deserved a response.

This was my response:

Dear Jonah,

You don’t know me but I have followed your career. As the son of illustrious parents, much was expected of you.

Stand for Children was a great idea, when it actually defended children and public schools.

But somewhere along the way, you changed and Stand for Children changed. In 2007-08, you began to accept gifts of millions of dollars from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” and you began leading campaigns against teachers, their unions, and public schools. You demanded test-based evaluations of teachers, a useless metric that punished teachers who taught the neediest children. You boasted at an Aspen summer meeting in 2011 (which I attended) that you had outsmarted the Chicago Teachers Union by hiring all the best lobbyists. The big political donors gave you money to support pro-charter candidates in school board races.

Early supporters of Stand for Children started to call it “Stand on Children.”

I agree with all the goals you describe in your letter, and I must ask you if you will continue to promote charter schools, even though they drain money from public schools; whether you will continue to support test-based evaluation of teachers, even though it has consistently failed; whether you will continue to support school board candidates who favor charter schools and privatization.

If you truly intend to reject donations from “ultra-wealthy political donors,” if you truly reject all forms of privatization, including charter schools, if you truly mean to demand “that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism,” then we can stand together. Please let me and the Network for Public Education know where you stand on the issues that could unite us.

Diane Ravitch


On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 10:36 AM Jonah Edelman <info@stand.org> wrote:

Diane,

Reflecting on 2021, I see reasons for hope. The widespread availability of vaccines. A return to in-person learning. An economy that rebounded with record speed due to bold government action.

At the same time, there is cause for grave concern. Tens of millions of children and young people are struggling to recover academically, socially, and emotionally from the pandemic. Tragically, instead of using their power to help children and young people get on track, politicians are passing bans on conversations about race and discrimination that deny children the honest and unbiased understanding of the past they need to create a better future. At the same time, extremists are targeting and harassing school board members, principals, teachers, parents, and even students who want an accurate portrayal of U.S. history with diverse viewpoints.DONATE

Public education is the pathway to economic opportunity and the backbone of a healthy democracy.

That is why we must stand together against the politicians, media moguls, and ultra-wealthy political donors who are stirring up fear and hate and conspiring to make public education a political battleground at the expense of our children’s learning and well-being.

And it is why, together, we must continue to use our collective voice and votes to ensure that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism and the harm it does to us all.

We are deeply grateful for your partnership and support, and we hope you will continue to stand with us in 2022.

Standing together with you,

Jonah Edelman

Stand for Children

2121 SW Broadway #111

Portland, OR 97201

Leonie Haimson assesses Bill de Blasio’s record on education after eight years as Maor of New York City. He succeeded Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who served for 12 years and completely upended the schools, first, by getting the state legislature to give the mayor total control of the city’s public schools, then by closing scores of schools and replacing them with hundreds of small schools and charter schools. De Blasio had served on a local school board and offered the hope of restoring stability and ending Bloomberg’s era of constant disruption. (New York City has a two-term limit for its mayor but Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to make an exception for him and themselves).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reviews de Blasio’s record here.

She begins:

When he first ran for Mayor, Bill de Blasio portrayed himself as a leader who would make a host of progressive changes in our schools. He promised to be a far different leader than Michael Bloomberg, who had expanded high-stakes testing, proceeded to grade teachers and schools primarily via test scores, closed dozens of public schools displacing thousands of students, and helped charter schools expand in their place.

Bloomberg and his schools chancellors had done all this by ignoring community opposition, and despite any tangible evidence that this was the right way to improve education, particularly for disadvantaged students. Though Bloomberg had promised during his campaign to lower New York City schools’ excessive class sizes, they increased sharply during his administration, and by the time he left office he said he would “double the class size” if he could, and that would be “a good deal for the students.”

De Blasio said he would do things differently: to listen to and be responsive to parent and community concerns, de-emphasize test scores, and focus on improving public schools rather than providing space and funding to help charter schools expand. Instead of closing schools, he pledged to increase equity and strengthen learning conditions, including by lowering class sizes.

And yet his record on each of these issues was decidedly mixed. He did attain his primary goal in education – to provide universal, publicly-funded pre-kindergarten to every four-year-old, but in a manner that could have been better achieved, as will be discussed later.

There were some bright spots in the de Blasio record, including the Community Schools initiative, begun in the fall of 2014, in which schools partnered with community-based organizations to provide after-school programs, mental health supports, and other resources. By 2018, more than 200 community schools had been established. An independent study found that in these schools, there were lower rates of chronic absenteeism, more students graduating on time, and in elementary and middle schools, higher math scores and fewer disciplinary referrals.

Open the link to read the rest of this important article.

Alexandra Petri writes humor columns about the news for The Washington Post. She wrote about Ted Cruz’s abject apology on the Tucker Carlson Show for calling the 1/6 insurrectionists a bad name. He called them terrorists, as he had done many times. Uh-oh. The Trump Party insists that the crowd who entered the U.S. Capitol, smashed windows, pummeled police officers, and ransacked the building were friendly and patriotic tourists, walking peaceably through a revered building. The very few troublemakers were Antifa or the FBI. Cruz forgot the party line, and he is very apologetic.

Petri wrote:

Have you ever watched a wind sock deflate until it is just a sad polyester shell crumpled on the pavement? Have you ever left some soft cheese near a hot stove and come back to find a demoralized puddle in its place? Have you ever failed to properly care for a houseplant so that not only do you watch it die, but you spend several weeks witnessing it wither, crumple and lose all dignity?

Relatedly, did you see Ted Cruz on with Tucker Carlson on Thursday night?

Here is what I will say about that interview: Personally, just personally, if I were having exploratory surgery to make certain that no hint of a spine remained in any nook of my body I might have overlooked, I would not do it on national television. If I were plucking my voice out and giving it to Tucker Carlson to add to yet another of his magic seashells in the hopes that, in exchange, he would give me legs for 2024 — I would do that somewhere where the cameras were not rolling. I know that Ted Cruz has always loved soup, gelatinous, oozing, always taking the shape of its container. However, I did not want to watch him become soup. Some processes ought to be private.

I would take more joy in watching Ted Cruz be berated for his words (one of the few unalloyed delights that remain to us) if the words in question were not his description of Jan. 6, 2021, as a “violent terrorist attack”; I would also take more joy if the person doing the berating were not Tucker Carlson, complaining that this was no way to describe the very fine people who had so kindly vouchsafed their presence in the Capitol and if Carlson were not wondering why Cruz would utter such hideous slander.

“You told that lie on purpose,” Carlson began by saying, “and I’m wondering why you did.”

“I wasn’t saying the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists,” Cruz said, truckling. “I wasn’t saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting Trump are terrorists.” He went on: “Tucker, I agree with you. It was a mistake to say that yesterday, and the reason is what you just said, which is we have now had a year of Democrats and the media twisting words and trying to say that all of us are terrorists.”

The interview could not have been a more vivid reminder that the Republican Party has been undergoing a Change for some time. It would be bad enough if everyone in the GOP shocked the country by simply showing up one day transformed: new blandly smiling faces, new gelatinous substance barely holding their bodies upright, new minds wiped perfectly clean. But it’s somehow worse that it is all happening in public.

We have to watch the slow melting away of the original worried face, the replacement of the vestigial spinal column, the painful extraction of the memories. It is sickening to see, even if the victim is Ted Cruz. If anything, it’s more stomach-churning, because he is so eager and so transparent about it. He is thrilled to be undergoing this lobotomy! He tweeted out the interview himself!

There are some metamorphoses you simply do not sign up to look in on. If you had told me a decade ago that I would have to watch Ted Cruz oleaginously beseech Tucker Carlson to allow him to see the five fingers the party prefers rather than the four he knows are really there, I would have gone into another line of work.

Yes, here are the new parameters for acceptable Republican speech, and here, right on time for his scheduled reprogramming and groveling, is Ted! He knows which way the wind is blowing, and he will do his best to become a windbag that blows in that direction, whatever humiliating deflation is required first.

Donald Cohen is the executive director of “In the Public Interest” and co-author of an important new book The Privatization of Everything. He titled this column, which originally appeared in the Washington Post.

He writes:

Reforming public education with market-based reform is “like using a hammer to cook an omelet”

Trying to fix public education with market-based reform is like using a hammer to cook an omelet. It’s just the wrong tool.

That’s one of the main points in The Privatization of Everything, a new book that I co-authored with Allen Mikaelian, which explains why market rules don’t apply to every single aspect of human activity—including education.

The recent announcement by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg that he’s investing $750 million to expand student enrollment in charter schools was a harsh reminder that the decades-long experiment with market-based education reform isn’t working. Charter schools have been in existence for decades, but they haven’t proved to be the panacea their supporters claimed.

To the contrary, many communities see charter schools (and voucher programs) as harming district schools that educate most American schoolchildren.

That’s why what a growing number of public schools are doing to actually improve educational outcomes—and create strong ties among families, students, educators, and communities along the way—is so promising and refreshing.

Over the past few years, public schools from places as diverse as the suburbs of Tampa and Los Angeles have been implementing what’s called the “community school” approach.

Community schools bring together local nonprofits, businesses and public services to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families and nearby residents. Their goal is to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, safe and in a better position to learn.

These benefits then extend to the surrounding community—which has been especially crucial during the pandemic.

Like, Florida’s Gibsonton Elementary, which organized an effort to have the local government install new streetlights near campus, immediately increasing attendance—which, among other things, helped improve test scores.

And Texas’s Reagan High School, which doubled enrollment, increased graduation rates, and avoided closure by launching mobile health clinics and parenting classes, changing its approach to discipline, and expanding after-school activities.

And so many more community schools around the country.

Many of these schools are succeeding because the community school approach treats public education as the public good that it is. Like with coronavirus vaccines and other public health measures, no child should be excluded—there should be no winners and losers.

In his recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg concludes, “We need a new, stronger model of public education that is based on evidence, centered on children, and built around achievement, excellence and accountability for all.” I agree.

Read the full version of this article in the Washington Post.

You can buy The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back at your local independent bookstore or from Bookshop.org.

Stay in touch,

Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest