Archives for category: Accountability

The Los Angeles school board voted not to renew five charters, and required the removal of the leader of a sixth charter. That leader had acknowledged charging many thousands of dollars for first-class air travel, hotels, and meals while moonlighting as a scout for a pro basketball team.

Three of the five charters that were not renewed are a Gulen charters.

The five can appeal to the county board and the state board. They undoubtedly expect a reversal as the county board loves charters and the state board is under the thumb of pro-charter Governor Jerry Brown. After meeting him a few years ago, I thought he was a hero (especially after he railed against Race to the Top as an effort to subvert state control). But he turns out to be an admirer of privatization. He started two charters when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters.

Here is a report on the meeting by Karen Wolfe, a parent activist. She points out that charter renewals will cost the district 6,000 more students, leading to more budget cuts. She expects the county board might overturn the school district’s non-renewal.

There is something creepy about the way charter students and parents are bused to hearings in matching T-shirts, obviously to intimidate the board or legislators. Call them the charter Orange Shirts. Charter Troopers. The charter leaders should stop using the kids as political pawns.

The Milwaukee Public Schools, teachers and parents celebrated a victory over a vindictive legislative cabal that hoped to start the privatization of the public schools. Their marks on the state report card (another fraudulent measure of schools) improved so much that its schools were safe from the takeover.

It’s a huge victory for MPS and the many public school advocates—including Schools and Communities United, the teachers’ union and MPS parents—who pushed back on the takeover.

MPS had been targeted for a takeover via the Abele-controlled Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), inserted into the state budget last year by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). The OSPP had no legislative hearings, was the subject of zero official forums in Milwaukee, lacked adequate funding and wasn’t requested by anyone in Milwaukee who truly understands the challenges urban schools face. Rather, the OSPP takeover was imposed on MPS by suburban lawmakers and agreed to by a county executive who lacks a college degree and has no experience in education policy. It was simply a way to privatize public assets and deprive Milwaukeeans—primarily black and brown Milwaukeeans—the right to vote for school representatives.

Carol Burris, a veteran high school principal in New York state, recently retired and became executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is currently completing a four-part series on charter schools in California and will write additional reports about privatization in other states.

She writes here about an important court decision in California that was released yesterday.

Just how important was this decision? It was a Court of Appeal decision that overturned the Superior Court decision in Shasta County. So, it is binding law throughout California and overturns the trial court’s incorrect decision (essentially that out of district in county resource center are allowed since not specifically prohibited by the charter schools act).

Carol Burris writes:

Readers who have been following our NPE series on charters in California are familiar with the storefront charters and not-for profit shells of K12 that are multiplying across the Golden State. Many of these charters have terrible graduation rates–some as low as 0%. Students rarely check in–some have the requirement of going to a center only once every 20 days.

Their explosive growth was a result of small elementary districts colluding with charter chains that operate charter “learning centers” in order to get revenue, even though the charters are not in their district, and sometimes not even in the same county. The charters promise these districts that they will not open in their district but rather in other districts which, in turn, lose both revenues and students.

Although the legislature tried to rein in this predatory practice, the bill they passed was recently vetoed by Jerry Brown who opened two charter schools himself [when he was mayor of Oakland] and has an “anything goes” attitude towards charters–including for profits. Luckily, the court had more sense.

Yesterday The Court of Appeal called the practice a violation of the law. It is a stunning victory against these charters, which had the full support of the California Charter School Association (CCSA). CCSA, which is funded by billionaires such as Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, the Waltons and Doris Fisher, is now the most powerful lobby in the state. The Court of Appeal reversed a lower court decision and its decision covers the entire state.

You can read more about the decision and its implications here.

Congratulations to the Anderson Union High School District who had the guts to stand up for its taxpayers and students. Congratulations also to the San Diego law firm of Dannis, Woliver and Kelley that carefully argued a complicated law and to the California School Boards Association who lent their support.

Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Salon, notes that both the Washington Post and the New York Times warned the NAACP not to pass the resolution to halt the expansion of charter schools. Both editorials were condescending and misinformed. Fortunately, the NAACP ignored them and did what was best was kids and American education.

Their editorials were wrong, writes Rosenfeld.

He writes:

The New York Times called the NAACP’s proposal “misguided,” while The Washington Post snidely declared, “Maybe it should do its homework.”

But both newspapers are misguided and uninformed about what the charter school industry is doing to America’s public schools. Their attempt to influence the NAACP board’s vote this weekend reveals that they don’t understand or care to understand how the industry is dominated by corporate franchises with interstate ambitions to privatize K-12 schools.

What do the drafters of the NAACP resolution understand that these editorial boards do not? They know that the charter industry was the creation of some of the wealthiest billionaires in America, from the Walton family heirs of the Walmart fortune, to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, to Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, Mark Zuckerberg and others, including hedge fund investors. These billionaires have pumped billions into creating a new privatized school system where those running schools can profit and evade government oversight. These very rich Americans aren’t trying to fix traditional public schools, but create a parallel, privately run system that’s operating in a separate and unequal world inside local school districts.

He adds:

How separate and unequal is the charter world? Their most antidemocratic accomplishment may be destroying the tradition of local control over schools by allowing private charter school boards to replace locally elected and appointed officials. These boards do not have to be composed of district residents, don’t have to hold open meetings, don’t have to bid or disclose contracts, and do not have to publicly reveal much of anything about their operations. As a result, privatizers have been able to tap into more than $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies in recent years, of which at least $200 million has been misspent or vanished in a spectrum of self-dealing scandals documented by public interest groups and investigative reporters in every state where charter schools exist.

The Times, at least, admits that there have been problems with poorly functioning charters. Trying to sound reasonable, the editorial cites a respected Stanford University study saying better charters have had good academic results, even though the opposite has happened in cities like Detroit, where half the students attend “significantly worse” charters. They cite demand from parents as evidence that the schools must be working, not mentioning the industry’s marketing routinely trashes traditional K-12 schools. And they say it’s disingenuous for the NAACP to claim charters have reintroduced segregation, because many inner cities are predominately non-white….

The Times and The Post fail to see the charter school industry for what it is — a privatization juggernaut. It receives massive funding from the richest Americans, who incorrectly blame traditional schools for not solving poverty. It benefits from seductive marketing that goes unquestioned, with major media often acting as its propaganda wing. In too many communities, charters present a false hope, as many local activists and parent groups have found. Scarce funds are redirected from traditional schools, students are cherry-picked as communities are roiled and divided, and better educational outcomes are not guaranteed.

Why are the Times and the Post both indifferent to the dangers of privatizing our nation’s public schools? Why do they think it is naive and unreasonable to insist on charter school accountability?

I was in the U.S. Department of Education when the idea of charter schools was first floated. The idea, at the time, was that they would gain autonomy in exchange for accountability. Now they get autonomy with no accountability. The NAACP thinks that is wrong. Public money should be accompanied by public accountability, not by freedom from any accountability at all.

Kevin McCorry read the report from the federal Office of the Inspector General and learned that the major malefactors of the charter industry are the big corporate management chains.

He writes:

Some charter schools operate like islands — day-to-day they run independently of any higher or centralized power.

Others contract with a management organization — sometimes part of a big network, sometimes not. Sometimes for-profit, sometimes not.

It’s these charter management organizations, or CMOs, that have been criticized recently by the Office of the Inspector General inside the U.S. Department of Education.

In a September report, the OIG warned that CMOs pose a “significant risk” to both taxpayer dollars and performance expectations.

The report studied 33 CMOs in six states and found that two-thirds were cause for concern, with internal weaknesses that put federal tax dollars at risk.

Pennsylvania was one of the states investigated, and the report echoed much of what Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has already flagged about CMOs in the state.

He testified on the issue at a hearing in Allegheny County last week.

“When you have the larger management companies running a broad chunk of schools, we view that as a major issue,” he said. “If you were not allowed to find out the salary of your school district superintendent, what would be the outcry in your district?…There would be pitchforks at that meeting. In many of the management companies, we don’t even get to see the salaries let alone the costs.”

In the federal report, five Pa. CMOs were studied — four in Philadelphia and one in Chester. Two in Philadelphia checked out, but the other three rang alarm bells.

The report did not call out organizations by name.

There’s only one charter school in Chester, though, Chester Community Charter. It’s run by CSMI Education Management, a for-profit entity headed by Vahan Gureghian, a wealthy, politically influential player in state politics.

The report says he wrote checks to himself for $11 million dollars without seeking board approval in 2008-09.

This isn’t illegal in and of itself, but like the rest of the red flags in the report, the Inspector General says this raises concerns about the potential for waste, fraud and abuse.

The NAACP is right. It is time for accountability and transparency.

Leonie Haimson, one of the nation’s leading champions of student privacy, posted a detailed description of the Summit/Facebook platform, now in use in more than 100 schools (mostly public schools), and soon to be found in your own district or school, whether it is public or private.

She writes:

Summit is sharing the student personal data with Facebook, Google, Clever and whomever else they please – through an open-ended consent form that they have demanded parents sign. A copy of the consent form is here.

I have never seen such a wholesale demand from any company for personal student data, and can imagine many ways it could be abused. Among other things, Summit/Facebook claims they will have the right to use the personal data “to improve their products and services,” to “conduct surveys, studies” and “perform any other activities requested by the school. ”

The Terms of Service (TOS) limit the right of individuals to sue if they believe their privacy has been invaded:

As the Washington Post article points out, the TOS would force any school or party to the agreement (including teachers) to give up their right to sue in court if they believe their rights or the law has been violated, and limits the dispute to binding arbitration in San Mateo CA – in the midst of Silicon Valley, where Facebook and Google presumably call the shots. This is the same sort of abuse of consumer rights that that banks and credit card companies have included in their TOS and that the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now trying to ban.

–The CEO of Summit charters, Diane Tavenner, is also the head of the board of the California Charter School Association, which has aggressively tried to get pro-privatization allies elected to California school boards and state office, and has lobbied against any real regulations or oversight to curb charter school abuses in that state.

You will not be surprised to learn that the big money behind this privacy invasion venture is Bill Gates and Laurene Powell Jobs.

In my view and that of many other parents, the explosion of ed tech and the outsourcing of student personal data to private corporations without restriction, like this current Summit/Facebook venture, is as risky for students and teachers as the privatization of public education through charter school expansion. In this case, the risk is multiplied, since the data is going straight into the hands of a powerful charter school CEO – closely linked to Gates, Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs, among the three wealthiest plutocrats on the planet.

Gates has praised Summit to the skies, has given the chain $11 million, and has made special efforts to get it ensconced in his state of Washington; Zuckerberg is obviously closely entrenched in this initiative, and Laurene Powell Jobs has just granted the chain $10 million to launch a new charter school in Oakland.

Don’t let them data-mine your child.

Get informed. Contact Leonie or other privacy advocates. Leonie’s email address is included in her post.

The NAACP’s decision to call for a moratorium of charter school expansion until laws can be revised to provide accountability and transparency. This decision sent shock waves inside the corporate reform echo chamber. Would they still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights ipissue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?

The right wing reform headquarters called the Center for Education Reform in D.C. put out a press release accusing the NAACP of caving in to pressure from teachers’ unions. Of course, that implies that the corporate-funded conservatives at CER care more about black children than the NAACP and its national convention. Hard to believe.

Then Shavar Jeffries of the Democrats for Education Reform (the hedge fund managers’ pro-charter advocacy group) issued a statement saying that the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois would be shocked to see the NAACP turn against charter schools and privatization.

Jersey Jazzman calls out Jeffries for apparently never having read DuBois. JJ points out that DuBois was clear about his commitment to an elite education for “the talented tenth.” Maybe Jeffries was acknowledging that charters are only for a small elite (which Mike Petrilli called “the strivers”). If so, that case should be stated openly and clearly, instead of pretending that charters could save “poor kids in failing schools.”

JJ also notes that DuBois was a Marxist and it was unlikely that he would support the privatization of public education. Or that he would be able to tolerate an alliance with Wall Street and hedge fund managers.

The national board of the NAACP decided last Saturday to endorse the resolution passed at its general convention, calling for a halt to charter expansion until charters meet the same standards of accountability and transparency as public schools. This was a reasonable decision. It was not anti-charter, it was pro-accountability. It was a responsible decision, made with great courage; after all, both the New York Times and the Washington Post had written editorials urging the board to reject the resolution passed by its general convention last summer and to protect the freedom of charters to ignore accountability, cherrypick students, kick out students with low scores, and live by different standards from those imposed on public schools that accept all students.

Some in the charter advocacy sector responded with rage and attacked the NAACP, even though it is the nation’s most important civil rights organization. It is absurd for charter advocates to say they are fighting for civil rights, then to trash the organization that has been fighting for civil rights for over a century.

Peter Greene writes here about the response of some leaders of the charter industry. They belittled the NAACP for its decision, instead of listening and paying attention to what it actually said. This is the same disrespect that whites have shown to blacks for centuries in this country. At least, read their resolution and think about it before denouncing the NAACP or charging that it was bought by the teachers’ unions. At least, give the board and the members the respect of assuming they acted from experience and conviction, not from nefarious motives.

Greene writes:

If I had to guess (and, of course, I do), I’d say the freak-outery is that this is a PR set-back. The charter movement depends a lot on the ability of the rich white guys pushing charters to be able to gesture at some Actual Black Persons who support charters and agree that charters are the best thing that white folks have ever done for them. This whole holleration is not about policy or politics, but instead centers on their bastard child, PR optics.

It may be simpler than that. Many of the charter backers are in it to make money. A moratorium on launching new charters would hurt their bottom line, and they are simply businessmen who have hit an obstacle to expanding their business revenue. It’s PR perhaps with a side of money-grubbing.

But charter fans do have options here. They could, instead of arguing that the NAACP can be dismissed because they are now ignorant dupes, actually listen to what they’re saying.

I say this as someone on the Support Public Ed side of the debate, where many of us really blew it in the early stages by suggesting that support for charters among parents of color was only happening because they had been misinformed and duped. But they weren’t. They were responding to what looked like the best available solution to the problem of underfunded, under-resourced, just generally crappy poor schools.

The lesson for some of us? It’s a mistake to dismiss someone’s concerns just because you disagree with their method of addressing those concerns. If someone comes running out of a building wearing a tin hat and shouting, “I’m wearing this tin hat because the building is on fire,” discussing the anti-fire efficacy of tin hats is useful, but denying the flames shooting out of windows is not.

So if charter fans were smart, they would look at things like the NAACP resolution and say, “Well, we clearly have some problems that need to be addressed, because these folks are certainly responding to something that they see going on.” They could look at this as something more than a lost skirmish in a PR battle, but an opportunity to gather some actual information.

Or Allen and her posse can keep trying to write off the NAACP as a group of ignorant dupes, blame it all on the teachers’ union, and keep wondering why, even though they’ve thrown away their tin hats, everything feels so very warm.

The Arizona Republic is a conservative newspaper. Since, 1890, when it was founded, it has never endorsed a Democrat for President. Until now. It published an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton and said that Donald Trump was neither conservative nor qualified.

Then the death threats began. On her show tonight, Rachel Maddox put this into context. Forty years ago, she said, an investigative reporter for the newspaper was murdered by a bomb placed in his car. Now, the callers invoke the name of the assassinated reporter, Don Bolles.

This was the response of the newspaper’s publisher to the death threats. It is magnificent. It gives us hope for the survival of basic democratic values long after this vicious, degrading election is over.

Please read it.

Perhaps you read the editorial in the New York Times a few days ago, blasting teacher education programs and approving John King’s new regulations to judge them by the test scores of the students who graduate from them. The editorial cites the Gates-funded National Council on Teacher Quality’s claim that 90% of teacher education institutions stink. NCTQ, you may recall, publishes rankings of teacher education programs without ever actually visiting any of them. It just reads the catalogues and decides which are the best and which are the worst, based in part on their adherence to the Common Core and scripted reading programs.

I agree that the entry standards for teacher education programs must be higher, and I would love to see online teaching degree programs shut down. But King’s new rules don’t address entry standards or crummy online programs. Their main goal is to judge teacher education programs by the test scores of the students who studied under the graduates of the programs. They will discourage teachers from teaching in high-needs districts. They will allow the U.S. Department of Education to extend its test-crazed control into yet another sector of American education. This is federal overreach at its dumbest.

John Merrow, who knows much more than the Times’ editorial writer on education (the same person for the past 20 years or more), has a different and better informed perspective.

He writes that the problem is not teacher education but the underpaid, under-respected profession.

The federal government thinks that tighter regulation of these institutions is the answer. After all, cars that come out of an automobile plant can be monitored for quality and dependability, thus allowing judgments about the plant. Why not monitor the teachers who graduate from particular schools of education and draw conclusions about the quality of their training programs?

That’s the heart of the new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education this week: monitor the standardized test scores of students and analyze the institutions their teachers graduated from. Over time, the logic goes, we’ll discover that teachers from Teacher Tech or Acme State Teachers College generally don’t move the needle on test scores. Eventually, those institutions will lose access to federal money and be forced out of business. Problem solved!

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., announced the new regulations in Los Angeles. “As a nation, there is so much more we can do to help prepare our teachers and create a diverse educator workforce. Prospective teachers need good information to select the right program; school districts need access to the best trained professionals for every opening in every school; and preparation programs need feedback about their graduates’ experiences in schools to refine their programs (emphasis added). These regulations will help strengthen teacher preparation so that prospective teachers get off to the best start they can, and preparation programs can meet the needs of students and schools for great educators.”

Work on the regulations began five years ago and reflect former Secretary Arne Duncan’s views.

John Merrow says that the Department is trying to solve a problem by issuing regulations that will make the problem worse. Teacher churn and attrition are at extraordinary high levels. The regulations will not encourage anyone to improve teaching.

He writes:

Strengthen training, increase starting pay and improve working conditions, and teaching might attract more of the so-called ‘best and brightest,’ whereas right now it’s having trouble attracting anyone, according to the Learning Policy Institute, which reported that

“Between 2009 and 2014, the most recent years of data available, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35% reduction. This amounts to a decrease of almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009.”

Merrow writes, in the voice of wisdom, a voice that has been non-existent in Washington, D.C., for the past 15 years:

I am a firm believer in the adage, “Harder to Become, Easier to Be.” We need to raise the bar for entry into the field and at the same time make it easier for teachers to succeed. This approach will do the opposite; it will make teaching more test-centric and less rewarding.

This latest attempt to influence teaching and learning is classic School Reform stuff. It worships at the altar of test scores and grows out of an unwillingness to face the real issues in education (and in society). While it may be well-meaning, it’s misguided and, at the end of the day, harmful.

Listen up, New York Times editorial writer!