Archives for category: Accountability

You have read here that the Texas State Board of Education approved five charter chains to grow in the Lone Star State and nixed three chains. One of those approved is a Gulen charter chain that was rejected in Alabama and Nevada.

Another of those that were approved is the Learn4Life chain, a California-based chain of more than 60 charter schools.

Learn more about Learn4Life here.

Will Huntsberry wrote in the Voice of San Diego about Learn4Life last year. Its a sweet deal for its leaders, not so much for its students.

John Helgeson, a charter school executive, has a great deal for a public servant.

In 2007, he helped found Charter School Capital, a for-profit Oregon company that loans money to charter schools and buys school properties. In May 2015, he also started making $300,000 a year as an executive vice president at Learn4Life, a nonprofit network of more than 60 charter schools that serves roughly 45,000 students in California.

Charter School Capital lends money to Learn4Life schools and pockets the interest. While working at Learn4Life – which is funded almost entirely by California taxpayers – Helgeson maintained an ownership stake in Charter School Capital. In doing so, Helgeson discovered a way to collect not just one, but two paychecks from California’s cash-strapped public school system.

Learn4Life, which operates nine San Diego locations, serves a unique group of students. Many are at-risk and have dropped or failed out of traditional high schools. The schools are publicly funded and often located in strip-mall storefronts. Students usually come in to meet with a teacher once or twice a week and complete work packets.

Since 2014, Charter School Capital has loaned more than $6 million to two Learn4Life schools in San Diego alone. A charter school borrowing money from a for-profit lender is normal enough. To have a key employee who profits from both is not.

Just two months after Helgeson came on board at Learn4Life, the company increased its business with Charter School Capital. Charter School Capital purchased the 100,000 square-foot corporate headquarters of Learn4Life in July 2015 – making Charter School Capital the landlord of Learn4Life. Now Charter School Capital wasn’t just profiting on its loans to Learn4Life. It was also profiting on a lease. And so was Helgeson.

“It sounds like a classic conflict of interest, where someone is serving two masters,” said Jessica Levinson, former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and a professor at Loyola Law School.

Carol Burris wrote about Learn4Life in her comprehensive report Charters and Consequences. Its schools have enormous dropout rates and very low graduation rates. By traditional indicators, they would be considered failing schools. Some have graduation rates as low as 0%, though 10-20% is more typical.

The Texas State Board of Education has very low standards for charter schools. How can it set standards for students and teachers when its standards for charters are so rockbottom?

In this article that appeared in The Atlantic, political reporter Grace Rauh rails against the failed leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio for his inability to open the public schools safely.

To be fair, equal blame for the chaos and confusion surrounding the reopening of schools must be allocated to Chancellor Richard Carranza, who appears to be overwhelmed.

School openings have twice been announced and postponed.

Remote learning has been riddled with technical problems, unequal access to technology, disrupted internet service, and a host of other issues.

Many parents, like Rauh, are furious.

She writes:

For weeks now, I’ve been the unpopular parent on the playground predicting with certainty for anyone who cared to listen that our children would not enter a public-school building in New York City this year. And sadly, I may be proved right. For the second time this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio has delayed the start of in-person school, largely because of a staffing shortage.

New York City has done what seemed impossible in April: It flattened the coronavirus curve and now boasts a positive-test rate of about 1 percent. In theory, the low case-positivity rate might have meant that public-school principals and teachers would feel comfortable opening up this fall. Many do not, however, and the mayor has utterly failed to overcome the problem.

He could have spent the summer months convincing the stakeholders that staggered schedules—with some kids learning at home each day—smaller classes, and improvements to air-circulation systems, along with commonsense precautions such as masks and frequent hand-washing, would be sufficient for an on-time start. He could then have worked with the Department of Education to make sure that these precautions were in place and that teachers knew what to expect.

Alternatively, he could have decided weeks, if not months, ago to start the school year completely remote and announced that the city would gradually move toward in-person learning if conditions allowed for it.

But the mayor chose neither of those paths. He set deadlines that he refused to put in the work to meet, sowing chaos and ongoing frustration for families and teachers alike. How on Earth did he not foresee a staffing shortage? De Blasio has failed our kids and is teaching them a lesson about political leadership that I hope they never forget.

Our children have endured six months of hardship and fear and Zoom calls and canceled plans, and far too many have lost loved ones to this virus. The start of school, though, was a bright spot on the horizon for my family and so many others.

But even as I told my children that September 10 (the first first day of school) was right around the corner, I tried to manage expectations. As many New Yorkers have discovered since the start of the pandemic, our mayor has not demonstrated the ability to manage large-scale operations or the energy to get things done. To put it bluntly, de Blasio doesn’t know how to lead New York City. Even worse, he doesn’t seem to care. At his news conference on Thursday, he did not apologize for the delay and asserted, oddly and insensitively, that because most public-school parents are low-income and live outside of Manhattan, they “understand the realities of life” and are “not shocked when something this difficult has to be adjusted from time to time.”

De Blasio worried about a teacher shortage, which was predictable. It is hard to have social distancing in classrooms that are already overcrowded. The only way to reduce class size to safe limits is to hire many more teachers, thousands more in a system with 1.1 million students. Union leaders (teachers and principals) worried about safe schools, lack of ventilation, lack of cleaning and safety supplies.

Chalkbeat reported:

A staffing crunch has forced the country’s largest school system to delay reopening school buildings for the second time. Estimates are that the city needs thousands more teachers — it’s not clear how many — to fill virtual and in-person classrooms.

The problem was brewing for months, with plenty of warnings from principals and experts. In the end, similar to previous big decisions, Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly brushed off concerns until the last minute, further eroding the public’s trust in his reopening strategy.

Now, principals and teachers say they’ve lost precious time that could have been devoted to improving instruction for a year unlike any other, and it’s unclear whether another delay will even solve the staffing conundrum.

Just two school days before buildings were set to reopen, de Blasio announced Thursday the city would instead pivot to a phased-in approach. Now, pre-K students and those with significant disabilities will be the first to return to classrooms on Sept. 21. Elementary school buildings open on Sept. 29, and middle and high schools two days later on Oct. 1. Full-day remote learning will start for all students this Monday.

Parents and students alike are sick of remote learning. Teachers are fearful for their health. Leadership involves planning and acting on the best information. That hasn’t happened.

Stay tuned.

What if?

What if Trump loses the election but refuses to accept the results?

What if he continues to say, as he will, that the election was rigged? He has actually said that the only valid election is one that he wins. He has prepared the public to believe that the election is a fraud.

Here are some suggestions from a group that’s thought about this dilemma. I don’t know the individuals involved but I think many people should be thinking hard about a potential and likely crisis of our system. Trump rules by creating chaos, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that he would cling to power by any means necessary. I picture him clinging to the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, his tiny hands grasping it to his large belly.

Read the report here.

Veteran teacher Stephanie Fuhr writes as a guest blogger for Nancy Bailey, explaining why laws that hold back third graders if they don’t pass the state reading test are wrong and should be abolished. She includes a sample letter that you can send to your state legislator.

This punitive idea is part of the so-called “Florida model,” a creation of Jeb Bush and his advisors. It is bad for children but it gives a temporary boost to fourth grade reading scores. The Florida model is a collection of practices that are not grounded in research or practice, but in the belief that punishment is the beat motivator.

Our blog poet on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Gates never gives without getting a tax break and never gives without strings attached.

That’s how you know it is not real philanthropy, but Billyanthropy.

“The Billyanthropist”

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you Common Core
And testing to the sky
I’d like to give you more

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you teacher VAMs
A lovely Chetty pie
And lots of charter scams

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you pseudo-science
And sellebrate the lie
With test and VAM reliance

Billyanthropist am I
Billyanthropy I do
Democracy I buy
Impose my will on you

The Texas State Board of Education inexplicably approved another Gulen charter chain—this one deceptively called “Royal Public Schools—though the only thing public about it is its name. Its leader is one Sonar Tarim, who tried and failed to open a charter in Alabama, and who was rejected in Nevada when he tried to open a charter chain there. All Gulen schools are connected with the reclusive Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. To learn more about Gulen schools, read this piece from the Washington Post written by Sharon Higgins, independent researcher. Also, see Mark Hall’s documentary “Killing Ed,” which is available online.

Like all Gulen schools, the boards and staff will be dominated by Turkish men and most contracts are likely to be directed to Turkish-owned firms. The New York Times reported on a pervasive practice by Gulen charter schools in Texas and in Georgia of directing contracts to Turkish firms.

Pastors for Texas Children opposed charter expansion, arguing that this was not the time to divert money from the state’s underfunded public schools.

PTC believes that in a time of economic fragility, when resources are scarce, approving the use of public funds for new schools is irresponsible. Although the board took no action on five of these new charter schools, we are grateful for their veto on three of them.

Pastors for Texas Children advocated against the approval of Rocketship Charter Schools, which applied to open new schools in the Fort Worth area. The board vetoed Rocketship. We also advocated against the approval of Royal Charter Schools, but the board approved them. The south and central San Antonio community overwhelmingly opposes Royal but, unfortunately, their testimonies went unheard.

South San Antonio Parents submitted a petition against Royal but it was ignored, and there was not enough time to allow them to testify.

A witness submitted testimony based on his personal experience. All to no avail.

Testimony of Walt Sims before the
State Board of Education Austin, TX
Thursday, September 10, 2020

Concerning: COFB Item 1. Consideration of the Commissioner of Education’s Generation 25 Open-Enrollment Charter School Proposals

Stance: I am against the approval of the Royal Public School charter

Howdy. My name is Walt Sims and I would like to oppose the new Royal Public School charter and read my testimony concerning the Gulen Movement as an American who spent over a decade amongst them. From everything I know and have witnessed, I firmly believe Soner Tarim is a member of this organization.

As for me, I am a Texan. I attended TX Boy’s State, high school in Tyler, and Texas A&M University. It was at A&M that I first came into contact with the Gulen Movement through their misleading Turkish Language and Culture programs on campus. Through a series of events, I have spent the last 12 years observing the Gulen Movement at its epicenter in Turkey. Over the years, I have been close to many members of this organization, including a fiancée, and I was both an educator as well as a graduate student in a MA & PhD program at their flagship university in Istanbul (Fatih University). It was through these varying relationships that I gained access to see how this religious organization from Turkey uses the education field to pursue power; not education.
Some problems I witnessed were:

*The lobbying of individuals (in many instances, illegal) in US politics, military, journalism, diplomacy and academics;

*Their use of the Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine to spy on, marginalize and discriminate against non- Muslims & minorities outside of the organization (violating laws and regulations wherever they went)

*The creation of a male dominated organizational structure where select groups are prioritized and dissent isn’t tolerated, and leads to blacklisting, harassment and threats;

*The indoctrination of individuals of all ages inside the residences and after-school programs (and through cultural exchanges) with their religious propaganda;

*The targeting & infiltration of the judiciary, media and law enforcement of Turkey through the use of graduates from their educational pipeline.

And to be 100% clear: when I first went to Istanbul, I had no desire for the truth to turn out as it did, for it has been an agonizing process. My proximity in observing this organization for so long was such that recently, even the Turkish government secretly arrested & incarcerated me for several weeks denying due process or basic rights, attempting to charge me as a foreign member of this organization (which they deem a terrorist organization).

I want my many years of sacrifice to make one thing clear: I followed the truth and the facts as they were, and had no horse in this other than the truth to protect Texans from what is being deceptively hidden from them. It is because of this, I have been writing to state and federal authorities, including Governor Abbott and the SBOE, ever since early 2011 to shed light on exactly who the Gulen Movement is at their core and how they are targeting Texas.

Therefore, I would strongly encourage the SBOE to oppose any educational institution affiliated in any way with the Gulen Movement or its members, including Royal Public School.

My opposition is not against charter schools in general, but specifically about those educational institutions that operate in conjunction with and in harmony with the Gulen Movement’s members.

Thank you,

-Walt Sims
8600 N Fm 620 Rd. 
 Austin, TX 77826 979-820-3508 waltcsims@yahoo.com

Yohuru Williams is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St.Paul, Minnesota. He is a noted scholar of Black history. And he also serves on the board of the Network for Public Education.

Dean Williams writes here about the activism for social justice in Minneapolis-St.Paul, inspired by the words of the late Congressman and civil rights icon, John Lewis.

Earlier this September, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a brave collection of principals and assistant principals banded together to take on the issue of equity and justice in education.

Lewis’s letter, though directed at Black Lives Matter activists in particular, encourages all of us to find ways to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” in order to advance the goals of justice.
The members of the alliance, now 159 strong, have branded themselves the “good trouble” coalition after the mantra of the late Congressman John Lewis, who, before passing away in July, wrote a final letter that sought to inspire a passion for activism around racial injustice.

In his last months of life, Lewis lamented the dangerous and deadly state of affairs in the United States: persistent unjust police violence against African Americans, the failed governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued efforts to erode American democratic practice at the highest levels of government.

And Lewis’s letter, though directed at Black Lives Matter activists in particular, encourages all of us to find ways to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” in order to advance the goals of justice—especially in tackling the most urgent issues of racial inequality, climate change, mass incarceration, economic disparities, healthcare gaps, and political division.

He also invited young people to consider how they might transform the future through studying history as a means of understanding our enduring struggles to achieve lasting peace and equality.

It is ironic that Cong. Lewis urged young people to study history as a means to “lasting peace and equality,” even as Trump demands a reactionary revision of U.S. history to glorify its “leaders” (no doubt including the Confederates who rallied to preserve white supremacy) and diminish or remove the role of African Americans in that history.

We have been warned! Students are”losing ground,” “falling behind,” and in desperate need of remediation.

Laura Chapman captures the debate:


The big promotion for this Covid-19 era is how to mitigate a “slide in learning.”

The so-called COVID-slide is made up by bean counters who think that the be-all and end-all of education is captured in test scores for reading and math.

Among these high profile bean counters is the Rand Corporation. I have linked you to the following article for their solutions to the slide problem. They think it is fine to just “recruit top teachers, with grade-level experience, and equip them with rigorous academic curriculums. They will operate for five or six weeks of the summer, with three or four hours of academics every day, as well as time for enrichment activities.” In addition they “they will establish a clear attendance policy.” https://www.rand.org/blog/rand-review/2020/07/the-covid-slide-how-to-help-students-recover-learning.html

Then there is the Brookings Institution, and like all test-centered promoters of a “Covid Slide” their experts rely on test scores in reading and math to make graphs and dire predictions about ” the slide,” as if the whole of education depends on test scores in two subjects. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/05/27/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-student-achievement-and-what-it-may-mean-for-educators/

One more example is a widely cited “white paper” from Illuminate Education. The white paper is nothing more than a sales pitch for FastBridge, which claims to be “the only assessment system to combine Computer-Adaptive Tests (CAT) and Curriculum-Based Measures (CBM) for screening and progress monitoring across reading, math and social-emotional behavior (SEB) so you get data surrounding the whole child.”

You can sign up to receive Illuminate Education’s playbook prepared by experts who “offer actionable advice for supporting students’ social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) functioning. Implement these tips to prepare students, mentally and emotionally, to learn after a spring and summer spent social distancing.” The white paper

Click to access covid-19-slide-whitepaper.pdf

In other words, if there were no test scores, especially in reading and math, the slide metaphor would not exist and the experts in test-centric instruction would have to be more thorough in thinking about the unfolding complexities of teaching and learning. They would have to think about the support students, teachers, and parents/caregivers really need. Those supports have nothing to do with testing.

Frankly, it’s hard to understand why Miami public schools chose for-profit K12 Inc. as it’s provider of remote instruction. Ten minutes or less on google would have turned up multiple articles about its terrible track record: high attrition, poor curriculum, low test scores, low graduation rates. NCAA strips accreditation for 24 schools using K12.

Wired tells the story in Miami, which recently severed its contract with K12.

ON THE MORNING of August 31, the first day of school, the 345,000 students in Miami-Dade County’s public schools fired up their computers expecting to see the faces of their teachers and classmates. Instead a scruffy little dog in banana-print pajamas appeared on their screens, alongside an error message. “Oh bananas!” read one message from the district’s online learning platform. “Too many people are online right now.”

A rudimentary cyberattack had crippled the servers of the nation’s fourth-largest school district, preventing its 392 schools from starting the year online. But even once the district had quelled the distributed denial-of-service attack and a local teen had been arrested for the crime, “Banana Dog” didn’t go away. If anything, the security breach merely obscured for a few days the crippling weaknesses in the district’s plan to move every aspect of its schooling—including a revamped curriculum—onto a platform that had only ever supported half as many students (and never all at once).

The platform was built by virtual charter school company K12, backed by one-time junk bond king Michael Milken and US secretary of education Betsy DeVos. Doug Levin, an education tech consultant, calls the decision to use K12 “atypical.” Another ed tech analyst, Phil Hill, calls it “weird.”

The rapid pivot to, and even faster pivot away from, K12 amounts to a case study in how not to deploy a massive new software project. It also illustrates how, in a few intense weeks of summer decisionmaking, a charter-school curriculum written by a for-profit company was chosen and installed, with little scrutiny, across one of the largest districts in the country.

Alberto Carvalho made the decision on his own, without consulting the board. They trusted him.

It was a disaster from the start.

K12’s software promised to replace all the other apps that schools had been using. “It was billed to teachers as the Rolls-Royce of software,” says Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. The district and the company rushed to implement it. At the end of August, all of Miami-Dade’s educators sat through six days of K12 training—and that’s when they started to panic.

The teachers received demo logins to try out the platform, but they didn’t work, and even the trainers struggled to access it, West says. From 8 am until 3:30 pm each day, teachers took notes without once trying the software themselves. “The training was make-believe, it was so, so complex,” says one teacher. “Even our techie teachers were lost.” On Facebook, teachers shared GIFs of dumpster fires and steaming poop emojis in response to the experience.

“That’s a very complex, aggressive undertaking. And to do it with 345,000 students and in less than a month? There’s a lot of hubris involved.”

PHIL HILL, EDUCATION TECHNOLOGY ANALYST
Once the school year began in earnest, technical challenges persisted. Some students struggled to log in. Uploads could be excruciatingly slow. A particular sore point was the platform’s unreliable built-in video conferencing tool, called NewRow. It had issues with sound and screen-sharing. After about 15 minutes, the video quality started to degrade. It didn’t work on iPads or iPhones.

And then there was the built-in curriculum. K12 provided content, though teachers could change or supplement it. The lessons had been devised for K12’s virtual charter schools: for-profit schools that are entirely online and receive taxpayer money for every student enrolled. When some Miami-Dade teachers examined K12’s materials, they were horrified by what they found. One teacher came across a quiz for second graders with one question: “Did you enjoy this course?” Clicking “yes” allowed the student to ace the test. Several classes relied on K12’s paper workbooks, which the students didn’t receive. “One thing our educators complained about was, the rigor was not there. It was a very watered-down curriculum,” Hernandez-Mats says.

Dana Milbank is a regular contributor to the Washington Post.

He says we should not be afraid of Trump’s efforts to sabotage the election. Yes, we can vote!


President Trump has done everything in his power — and some things outside his power — to sabotage the election.

He has suggested postponing the election and holding a re-vote, warned baselessly about rampant fraud and pushed his supporters to vote twice. The big-time Trump donor now running the post office has impaired mail delivery and sent misinformation to voters about mail-in ballots.
But here’s the good news: It’s not going to work.

Trump has succeeded in sowing confusion about the ability of the United States to hold a free and fair election. His allies in Congress have abetted the sabotage by refusing to give states the funds they need to hold an election during a pandemic while defending against foreign adversaries’ interference. But despite the attempts to incapacitate elections, the United States is on course to give Americans more ways to cast ballots than ever — and more certainty than ever that their ballots will be accurately counted.

“While it’s critical we be clear-eyed about the problems and keep up the pressure to do better, there’s been too much alarmism,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. “People have the impression that the election is not going to work and they’re going to have problems, which is absolutely not the case for the vast majority of Americans.”

The Brennan Center exists in part to sound the alarm about flaws in the voting system, so it’s worth noting that Weiser says “we’ve watched the election system improve before our eyes” — especially after a pandemic primary season characterized by closed polling places, long lines and chaos.

Among the encouraging signs:

Somewhere between 96 percent and 97 percent of votes cast in this election will have paper backup — assurance against fraud and interference — compared with only about 80 percent in 2016. If there’s a challenge to election results, there will be a paper trail to verify the outcome.

Trump’s attempt to cause chaos by telling his supporters to vote twice? All states have protections against that, and all battleground states (including North Carolina, where Trump has focused his vote-twice effort) have ballot-tracking bar codes on their mail ballots — so voters and election officials will know whether someone has already voted. Their attempts to vote twice may cause delays (particularly in Republican precincts) as people submit provisional ballots, and slow the counting, but there’s a near-zero chance they will succeed in voting twice, Weiser says.

Trump’s attempt to sabotage the post office to prevent mail-in balloting? Almost all states that have vote-by-mail also have multiple options for returning ballots. With a couple of exceptions, battleground states have some combination of drop boxes, early voting locations and election offices that will accept dropped-off ballots.

As for mail-in voting in general, elections officials and lawmakers in Democratic and Republican states alike have vastly expanded the availability, despite Trump’s attempts to discredit this long-standing and reliable method. Thanks to recent changes, all but six states — Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — now either send ballots automatically or allow voters to request them without needing a special excuse for doing so.

Likewise, all but six states (Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and parts of North Dakota) now offer some form of early voting (many with expanded locations and hours) so voters can avoid Election Day crowds.

Finally, after primaries plagued by precinct closures and a shortage of poll workers, the Brennan Center now expects the number of Election Day polling places to be close to 2016’s level, even if there’s a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Election officials, nonprofits, corporations and civic-minded volunteers are offsetting the shortage of poll workers and polling places caused by the pandemic. These range from LeBron James’s “More Than a Vote” movement to recruit poll workers to professional sports teams’ contributions of arenas as polling locations to hand-sanitizer donations from Anheuser-Busch.
Want to help? Sign up to be a poll worker at powerthepolls.org, or contact your local election office.

Certainly, there are still hurdles. The biggest problem may be voting misinformation, much of it amplified by the Trump administration. On Saturday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the U.S. Postal Service from sending out a mailer that gave incorrect voting information. There’s still some hope Congress will provide states with funds to send out correct information to voters — but Senate Republicans may block even that.

The best thing the rest of us can do is counter misinformation with accurate information, such as The Post’s interactive guide to voting in each state.

Above all, don’t inadvertently reinforce Trump’s vandalism with hand-wringing about voting problems. Yes, Trump is trying to sabotage voting. But the world’s greatest democracy knows how to hold an election.