Archives for category: Accountability

A few months back, Whitney Tilson invited me to participate in an exchange of views. Whitney is a hedge fund manager and the founder of Democrats for Education Reform, a group of hedge fund managers who support charter schools and high-stakes testing. I gladly accepted his invitation. Our exchanges were posted, unfiltered, on his blog and this one. (See here and here and here.) After the three exchanges, I decided it was time for me to ask questions, so I sent him the piece below. I thought it would be the first of another three or four exchanges. Unfortunately, Whitney has been very busy and has not had time to write his response or continue the dialogue. I asked for and received his permission to post my statement/questions. He promised to answer at some point in the future.

Hi, Whitney,

I have enjoyed our exchanges, and I thank you for initiating this dialogue. It shows you are willing to listen, and that is a very important trait in our democracy. There are too many echo chambers, where people hear only what they already agree with. That doesn’t advance knowledge or understanding. I am reminded of something that Robert Hutchins said many years ago. He said you always have to keep listening to people you disagree with, because they might be right. So I will listen to you, and I hope you will listen to me.

I have a series of questions for you. We will likely have to cover these issues in several posts.

The topics are

1) The nomenclature of the reform movement you lead;
2) privatization (charters and vouchers);
3) high-stakes testing;
4) merit pay;
5) teacher evaluation;
6) Teach for America (you were there at the creation);
7) the future of the teaching profession;
8) the political goals of groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which you helped to found;
9) the long-term aspirations of the movement you lead.

First, let’s talk about nomenclature. Your side calls itself the “reform movement,” because you want to shake up and disrupt public education. People who believe in the importance of free and universal public education, like me, don’t think you are reformers. You don’t “reform” an institution by tearing it apart. Reform requires steady, persistent work, and it can be done best by those with knowledge of the institution they are changing. There have been education reformers numerous times in the history of American education. They always wanted to make the public schools better. They wanted better-educated teachers, higher salaries for teachers, more funding for schools, more equitable funding for schools, desegregation of schools, higher standards, better curricula, etc. Now, for the first time in the history of American education, we have a group of people who call themselves reformers but seek to replace public schools with school choice via privately managed charters and vouchers that may be used for religious schools. Unlike past reformers, this movement wants to replace public schools, not improve them. This is in reality a privatization movement, not a reform movement.

Speaking for the many educators and parents I know, we think that you are disrupters who are ill-informed about the challenges facing teachers and public schools. We think you are wrong to say that public schools are failing. In fact, as I showed in my last book, Reign of Error, students in public schools today have the highest test scores, the highest graduation rates, and the lowest dropout rates ever recorded. This is true for white students, black students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. This steady and incremental progress came to a halt in 2015, as shown in the latest national and state reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). After forty years of steady progress, the gains of American students came to a halt. This occurred after more than a dozen years of high-stakes testing.

We do not contend that all is well in public schools. We are well aware of the re-segregation of American education. We are aware of the low educational achievement of many students in poverty and students of color. Your side attributes poor test performance to bad schools and bad teachers. My side says that standardized test scores accurately measure family income and education, not students’ potential to make a contribution to society. The bell curve never closes; that is its design. Currently, half the children in our schools live in low-income homes, and nearly a quarter live in poverty. That affects their test scores. It is hard to concentrate on one’s studies when you have a toothache, when you are hungry, when your vision is poor, when you are homeless.

Your side has chosen to create escape hatches (charter schools) for the lucky few. Our side says it is dangerous to undermine a nation’s public education system by skimming away the best students in the poorest communities and draining resources from public schools to finance charters. What we urge is a comprehensive approach, one that does not privilege the few at the expense of the many and that does not destroy public education, which is a basic democratic institution. We can’t understand why your side is so antagonistic to public schools and so unwilling to help them. After all, that’s where most of the children of America are.

We think your ideas are doing enormous damage to public schools, to children, and to teachers. So we tend not to call you reformers, but to find a qualifying adjective or to play on the word.

This is what critics call your side: Some call you “deformers.” Some call you Rheeformers, recalling the tenure of Michelle Rhee as the leading spokesperson for your policies. Some call you “reformsters,” to differentiate you from real reformers who want to improve the conditions of teaching and learning in public schools for all students.

I prefer to use the term “corporate reformers” because it conveys your side’s belief in practices borrowed from the business world: incentive pay; reliance on Big Data for decisions; accountability measures attached to test scores: punishment for low test scores and rewards for higher test scores. Educators tend to value experience, whereas your side puts little stock in it. Educators typically are okay with unions, whereas your side thinks that unions are passe, dysfunctional, self-seeking, greedy, and resistant to change.

This is a long explanation of why we resist calling you “reformers.” I don’t expect you will agree with our nomenclature, but do you think the reasoning of your critics is off base? Do you have a plan to improve public schools or do you want to keep closing them and replacing them with privately managed schools?

Second, I agree that the struggle to improve education for all children is “the civil rights issue of our time.” But I don’t agree that the way to improve education for all is to promote school choice. I am old enough to remember when the cry for school choice was voiced by hardline segregationists. Men like George Wallace of Alabama and other racists across the South saw school choice as the answer to the Brown decision of 1954. School choice was the best way to entrench segregation. They enacted school choice policies, but the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly struck them down. The racist leaders knew that school choice would enable white students to stay in all-white schools, and they expected that Southern blacks would be too intimidated to leave all-black schools.

As to test scores, it is well documented that charters on average do not perform differently from public schools. Some have very high scores, some have very low scores, and most are about average. The exception is virtual charter schools, which have a terrible record and provide a poor quality of education.

It is well documented, including a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, that charters enroll significantly smaller proportions of students with special needs. When I looked at enrollments in Boston charters, I noticed that English language learners were underrepresented. Some Boston charters had no English language learners at all, even though their numbers in the public schools were high. When I looked at the data for charters in the South Bronx, I saw that they had half as many of the kids with special needs and half as many ELLs as the local public schools.

How will charters improve education for all children, not just for a select few? Should charters be allowed to enroll the children they choose and to avoid the children who might pull down their test scores?

The charter industry introduced the concept of for-profit schools funded by taxpayers. Some charter operators have become multimillionaires by the real estate deals they engineer while opening charters. Do you approve of for-profit charters? Eighty percent of the charters in Michigan operate for profit. Taxpayers assume that they are paying for teachers’ salaries, facilities, supplies, and other things that directly affect children; they don’t know they are paying off investors and shareholders.

Are you aware of the Gulen charter chain? This is a chain that is either the largest or second largest in the nation, tied or just behind KIPP. The Gulen chain is operated by Turkish nationals associated with the imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in the Poconos. Its schools have different names in different states, but all of them have boards dominated by Turkish men and a staff comprised largely of Turkish teachers. No other nation allows Turkish schools to receive public funding. Do you think it is appropriate for schools operated by foreign nationals to receive public funds and to replace community public schools? Since one of the fundamental responsibilities of public schools is to teach citizenship, can we expect that of schools whose board and staff are not Americans?

There are now towns and cities where public education is nearing bankruptcy in large part because charter schools drain their resources and trap them in a downward spiral. As they lose students and funding to charters, the public schools must fire teachers and cut programs. Some districts are teetering close to bankruptcy. Philadelphia has stripped its public schools of almost every amenity, even basic necessities. Erie, Pennsylvania, is imposing draconian cuts and may close all of its high schools, due to the loss of funding to charter schools; it is also cutting the arts and sports and other programs. Do you think this is a good or bad development?

Let’s turn to vouchers. I don’t know where you stand on vouchers. I used to think that charters were a firewall against vouchers, but I now see that charters pave the way for all kinds of school choice. Once parents begin to think as consumers, not citizens, then there is no limit to what they choose. Back when I was a conservative, I assumed that parents would always make the best choices for their children. I didn’t realize then that parents could be easily duped by propaganda, advertising, and slick marketing.

Despite the propaganda from the Friedman Foundation and ALEC, vouchers have not improved education or offered consistently better choices anywhere. The best private schools do not take vouchers, because they are not large enough to cover tuition. The schools that want vouchers tend to be poorly staffed religious schools that need more students. In many states, these religious schools teach creationism and teach other subjects from a Biblical perspective. I believe that parents have the right to make that choice, so long as they pay for it themselves. I don’t think that students who attend Fundamentalist or Evangelical schools receive an education that prepares them for the 21st century. Do you?

Before closing out the subject of privatization, let’s turn to Milwaukee. That city has had charters and vouchers since 1990. The voucher program expanded in 1998 after the courts approved it. By now, Milwaukee should have the best schools in the nation. But it doesn’t. While studies disagree, the best they can say is that the charters and voucher schools are no worse than the public schools. But on the National Assessment of Education Progress, Milwaukee is one of the lowest-performing urban districts in the nation, barely outperforming Detroit. And Governor Scott Walker wants to “help” by increasing the number of charters and vouchers, on the way to eliminating public education in Milwaukee.

Do you think that the corporate reform movement will help public education, which enrolls about 85-90% of all school-age children? If you think it will, please explain how and give examples. I think it is worth mentioning that more than 90% of charters and all voucher schools are non-union. Is it the intent of your movement to eliminate teachers’ unions altogether?

Thank you for listening and responding.

Diane Ravitch

The Columbus Dispatch reported the judge’s ruling against ECOT, which is fighting to block accountability and transparency for use of public funds.

“A judge today denied a request by the state’s largest online charter school to stop the state from requiring that it produce attendance records to justify the $106 million it got last year in state funding.

“Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French ruled in favor of the Ohio Department of Education, rejecting a preliminary injunction request by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow that would have immediately blocked the state from using log-in records and other data to determine how many full-time students actually attend the school

“The department has already completed its attendance audit on ECOT for last school year. The ruling means ECOT could be forced to repay tens of millions of dollars based on recent state calculations that its enrollment numbers last year were heavily inflated.

“French wrote that ECOT does not have a substantial likelihood of success on any of its claims in the lawsuit. A 2003 funding agreement at the heart of ECOT’s argument against the state was only meant to apply for the 2002 and 2003 funding reviews, French said.

“Enforcing an outdated 2003 agreement would be in violation of public policy,” French wrote. “The Court finds that if the funding agreement were interpreted in the manner that ECOT suggests, to require the state to continue paying hundreds of millions of dollars per year, without any ability to determine whether students are in fact participating in any curriculum at ECOT at all” would violate public policy.

“The ruling comes four days after the Department of Education informed ECOT that, based on its attendance audit, the district’s reported enrollment last year was inflated by 143 percent. Instead of the 15,322 full-time students that ECOT was paid for, the department said that based on log-in durations and other data provided by the school, the actual number is 6,313.”

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) lost in court today! This is an e-charter owned and run for profit by William Lager, who is a big donor to the Ohio GOP. The school has the lowest high school graduation rate in the nation but has never been held accountable for its poor performance.

Here is the story from Stephen Dyer of Ohio Innovation.

“Word came out a few minutes ago that ECOT’s lawsuit has failed. The school, which claimed to be the nation’s largest, now may have to repay Ohio taxpayers more than $60 million of the $109 million it received last year because the state determined ECOT could only verify it had 40 percent of the 15,000 plus kids it claimed. The state still pays ECOT so much per pupil that even with this cut(and including all of its revenue streams), ECOT can still clear as much as 22 percent profit after paying all of its staff.

“Now I know ECOT will use every maneuver to overturn this ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French. There will be appeals.

“But what a day this is for Ohio’s kids and taxpayers.

“Since Lager opened ECOT in 2001, Ohio’s taxpayers have sent the school $903 million. If the state’s recent determination that ECOT was overpaid by 60 percent last year were applied over the last 15 years, Ohio taxpayers have sent about $540 million for kids that ECOT never really had. That’s a staggering figure. And it’s not outrageous to make that assumption because ECOT was nailed by State Auditor Jim Petro during its first year of operation for the exact same thing.

“And what have we received for that? Certainly not high-quality education. ECOT earned only Fs on the new state report card — something it also achieved two years ago under the less difficult state report card regime.”

I confess that I once believed that Governor Jerry Brown of California would be a great friend to public education.

I was wrong.

Jerry Brown is in the pockets of the powerful charter lobby.

He previously vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters, soon after a series of investigative articles in the San Jose Mercury News showed that the for-profit online K12 Inc. schools were educationally disastrous bit highly profitable. From Governor Browm: let the profit-making continue!

This week, he vetoed SB 739, which would have established very modest regulation for charter schools that expand into other districts. Carol Burris explained it in this post:

“When the Van Zant story broke, the California Charter School Association agreed that the case raised legitimate concerns. However, legislation to address the problem of districts authorizing charters in other districts, and even other counties, was opposed by the California Charter School Association (CCSA) and vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. A present bill on the governor’s desk, SB 739, would put a small restriction on a district’s ability to open independent learning center charters in other districts by ensuring that the sponsoring district is fiscally solvent (does not have a negative certification), thus decreasing the profit generating motive.”

The California Charter School Association wants no restrictions, no limitations, no transparency, no accountability. They want for-profit schools, and they refuse to clean their dirty house.

And Governor a Jerry Brown dances to their tune. How sad. He doesn’t need their support. He doesn’t need their money. He won’t run for office again. Yet he has succumbed to the privatization movement, those who would destroy our communities and the public education system.

El Camino Real Charter High School used to be a public school. It was always a good school. But now it’s embroiled in a financial scandal because its principal used the school credit card to charge lavish indulgences, including first class air travel, meals, hotels, and other items connected to his other job as a talent scout for a major basketball team.

The teachers are not happy.

Taxpayers should be picketing too.

Jack Hassard is a Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University. A former high school teacher, he usually blogs about science education. But he has seen through the hoax of the Governor Deal’s constitutional amendment this November. The ballot asks voters whether the state should have the authority to intervene to help failing schools, yes or no. Readers of this blog know that this is a hoax, intended to deceive voters. The real purpose is to creat a special non-contiguous district consisting of the state’s lowest performing schools. They will be removed from their district and handed over to state control. The state will then transfer them to charter chains.

Every so-called opportunity school district has failed. This is a hoax and a fraud. The governor must know this. Since when were conservative politicians concerned about “saving” poor kids? Note that this reform is a substitute for reducing the poverty that blights children’s lives.

This is an ALEC-inspired program to erode local control and expand privatization.

Hassard explains that Governor Deal is taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s horrendous Citizens United decision that removed limits on political contributions. In this post, he describes the twisted trail of big-money that’s behind Governor Deal’s push to privatize public schools, which will create a money pot for entrepreneurs. Deal is pulling the wool over the eyes of the public.

Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney, explains here how disappointing the recent Connecticut funding decision is.

“As noted in my previous column, CCJEF trial judge Thomas Moukawsher refused to order the state to ensure adequate resources in schools, though determining constitutional adequacy was his responsibility. By contrast, the judge freely issued sweeping directives regarding educational policy.

“The judge issued far-reaching orders involving elementary and high school education and teacher evaluations. He also aired abhorrent views toward children with disabilities, which several commentators already addressed.

“This column addresses his orders regarding elementary education. I will address the others in subsequent columns.
Moukawsher observed that the educational disparities in secondary school begin in elementary school. (He actually acknowledged that they begin before elementary school, but declined to rule that preschool is essential.)

Moukawsher’s “fix” for elementary school was to order the state to define elementary education as being “primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school.”

“Most of us understand that to thrive in secondary school, children must develop skills beyond basic numeracy and literacy. From an early age, children must develop the ability to think critically, creatively and independently.
There is no real division among brain functions — cognitive, social and motor — so they all must be developed in concert. As neuroscientist Adele Diamond observed, “a human being is not just an intellect or just a body … we ignore any of those dimensions at our peril in … educating children.”

“However, Moukawsher ruled that elementary school should concern itself with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Moreover, he demanded that this definition have “force,” “substantial consequences” and be “verifiable” — code for high-stakes statewide standardized elementary school exit exams.

“The judge’s myopic focus was emphasized by his suggestion for giving the required definition “force.” He declared that the state definition “might gain some heft, for example, if the rest of school stopped for students who leave third grade without basic literacy skills. School for them might be focused solely on acquiring those skills. Eighth-grade testing would have to show they have acquired those skills before they move on to secondary school. This would give the schools four school years to fix the problem for most children.”

Many children who do not score well on standardized tests are poor and experience stress in their lives that inhibits learning. Others are just learning English. Others have disabilities. Any lag in reading does not mean a child cannot think at grade level or beyond. Moreover, many low-income children have limited exposure to the wide variety of experiences their more affluent peers enjoy. Yet Moukawsher’s prescription for “fixing” them is to limit their education to reading instruction. No art, music, physical education, social studies, science, drama, or field trips. This “solution” will leave our neediest children further behind developmentally.

Moukawsher’s proposal not only threatens to hinder development for our neediest children. It is not even an effective way to teach reading.”

Read the rest of her analysis. This is the same decision that the New York Times treated as historic. Apparently, no one at the Times actually read the decision.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and experienced educator, traveled Calofornia to learn about charter schools. What she discovered was an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds, powered by billionaires’ dough, but rife with fraudulent practices that cheat students and taxpayers.

Although Arizona was once called the “Wid West” of the unregulated charter industry, California now appears to have captured that title. Big payoffs for the adults, poor education for students.

Carol’s article appears on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post. After I read her introduction, I urged her to remember that the very worst states in relation to charters are scandal-ridden Ohio, Arizona (where nepotism and conflicts of interest are fine for charters, and for-profit charters don’t have to open their books to the public), and Michigan (where 80% of the charters operate for-profit).

This article is the second in a four-part series.

Jeb Bush has been advocating everything related to corporate reform for many years. As Governor of Florida, he imposed high-stakes testing, charters, simplistic accountability measures, letter grades for schools, and did whatever he could dream up to promote competition and choice. He tried to get vouchers, but was only able to get vouchers for special education (a program once described in a prize-winning article as a “cottage industry for graft”). He sought a constitutional amendment to make vouchers possible, and Michelle Rhee joined him to promote vouchers. But in 2012, voters said no by 58-42.

This fall, this hater of public schools will teach at the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, which is supervised by voucher advocate Paul Peyerson. Students will no doubt learn that public schools must be replaced by a free market. They will learn that choice will create Mira Les. They will learn that families should schools just as they choose milk in the grocery store: whole milk, 2% milk, 1% milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk. No one will tell Jeb about Sweden and Chile.

Saddest of all is that he is giving the annual Godkin Lecture, an honor once reserved for distinguished scholars.

As the evidence piles up that choice is no panacea, do you think he will apologize for the schools and communities he has disrupted?

Mercedes Schneider describes here the billionaire-funded plan to disrupt and privatize public education in Los Angeles, while deceiving the public and hiding the men behind the curtain.

Mercedes uses her superb investigative talents to follow the money and show the tight collaboration be tween the faux-Democrat Eli Broad and the far-right, union-hating Waltons of Arkansas.

She writes:

“It seems that the Walton-funded writing on the Los Angeles wall might well entail expanding charters as the answer to making all Los Angeles schools better. It also believes in bringing traditional school districts around to its market-driven-reform thinking via corporate-reform-group infiltration. Too, it seems that the Walton Foundation believes that grass roots support for its effort is a matter of getting the public mind in line with the Walton charter expansion priorities.

“The Walton intentions in incubating and expanding corporate reform fit hand-in-glove with the Broad intentions for Los Angeles. On its website, the Broad Foundation generously tosses around the term “public schools” even as it features KIPP, Success Academies, and Teach for America among its handful of “key grantees.” Furthermore, the Broad listing of current grantees is for the most part a corporate reform festival:

4.0 Schools
Achievement First
Achievement School District
Bellwether Education Partners
Bright Star Schools
Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
Building Excellent Schools
Center for American Progress
Central Michigan University Foundation
Charter School Growth Fund
Common Sense Media
Education Reform Now
Education Week
Great Public Schools Now
Green Dot Public Schools
Harvard University
IDEA Public Schools
Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
Leadership for Educational Equity
Michigan Education Excellence Foundation
Michigan State University – College of Education
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
National Center on Education and the Economy
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
Noble Network of Charter Schools
Orange County Public Schools
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Policy Innovators in Education Network
Progressive Policy Institute
Results in Education (RIE) Foundation
Scholarship Management Services
School of Visual and Performing Arts
Silicon Schools Fund, Inc.
Success Academy Charter Schools
Teach For America

“Note that Broad is currently funding ExED, and that Great Public Schools Now has two ExED reps on its board/team: William Siart and Anita Landecker. What this illustrates is the all-too-common corporate reform funding incest. (According to the Walton 2013 tax form, Walton has also given ExED $50,000, and the Waltons loaned ExED $5 million for Los Angeles charter school facility financing.)”