Archives for category: Accountability

State officials in Michigan approved a new emergency plan to rescue Detroit public schools from its crushing debt, most of which was accumulated since the state took control of the district.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Michigan’s Emergency Loan Board on Monday approved measures to implement a $617-million financial rescue and restructuring plan for Detroit’s public schools, over the vocal objections of elected school board members and others who attended the meeting in Lansing.

The board approved borrowing to retire or refinance debt, plus the transfer of assets from the old Detroit Public Schools to a new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

There were shouts of “Shame!,” “Jim Crow” and “Black lives matter” as the three board members left an auditorium at the Michigan Library and Historical Center through a back exit.

Critics say the plan treats Detroit public school students as second-class citizens because they would be the only Michigan public school students who could be taught by uncertified teachers. They also say much of the debt addressed by the plan was rung up while Detroit schools were under state control.

“We believe that the state owes the district considerably more, and we have asked continuously for an audit,” said Lamar Lemmons, president of the elected school board.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, has called the legislation “an historic plan to save Detroit schools – and the rest of the state – from a disastrous and unprecedented bankruptcy,” adding “this incredible investment by Michigan taxpayers will erase decades of debt and set the new district up for success.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, one of the nation’s leading advocates for school choice, commissioned a study of Ohio’s voucher program. To what must have been their surprise and disappointment, the study concluded that students in voucher schools perform worse than students in public schools.

I was a founding member of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation–now the Fordham Institute–and I will affirm that TBF told unpleasant truths, even to its own disadvantage and the disadvantage of its causes. I left the board in 2009, after I fell away from choice, competition, and accountability as answers to the needs of America’s students.

This is a study that does TBF proud, even though it disproves its foundational belief in school choice.

Here are the key findings:

There are now some 18,000 students receiving publicly funded vouchers in Ohio.

The voucher students are overwhelmingly low-income and minority, but somewhat higher-achieving and less economically disadvantaged than students who were eligible for vouchers but chose not to use them.

The public school students improved their performance, and the study attributes their improvement to the voucher program that they did not enroll in.

The effects: “The students who used vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state exams compared to their closely matched peers remaining in public schools. Only voucher students assigned to relatively high-performing EdChoice eligible public schools could be credibly studied.”

The study was led by Dr. David Figlio of Northwestern University.

This study adds to the mountain of evidence that public schools in Ohio outperform the charter sector and the voucher sector. Does anyone think that policymakers and legislators in Ohio will do anything to support their much-maligned public schools?

From time to time, you learn something and think, “That’s impossible.”

Chew on this. After the national embarrassment caused by the revelation that the water supply in Flint, Michigan, had a lead content that was hazardous for human consumption, the state’s Director of Environmental Quality resigned. Now, get this: Governor Rick Snyder picked an executive from the oil company BP to take his place!

His choice, Heidi Grether, was put in charge of external relations for BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. Nice preparation for dealing with the environmental problems in Michigan.

Eclectablog asks, what message is Governor Snyder sending to the public?

First, Snyder is telling us he’s unrepentant about his austerity-driven, pro-business and privatization agenda. Despite the tragic outcome of his emergency management in Flint, the abhorrent results of his privatization of veteran care and prison food, and the havoc that his business tax cuts have wreaked on our state budget, he will continue relentlessly pursuing the ideology that business interests top everything.

Second, Snyder is telling Michiganders that he sides with the interests of Enbridge over the protection of our most precious natural resource. Michigan faces an urgent environmental threat right now from the aging pair of oil pipelines known as Line 5 running beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Line 5 has exceeded its life expectancy, would not be approved today, and is operated by the company responsible for the greatest inland oil spill in U.S. history — also right here in Michigan.

Researchers have shown that due to the currents in the Straits, a spill would be catastrophic for the Great Lakes, decimating up to 700 miles of shoreline. And to meet this threat, Snyder appointed a former BP lobbyist who was heavily involved in the company’s response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico — the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

Not only was she involved, but she was proud to shield the company from consequences. In her LinkedIn bio, Grether boasts that she “Developed and implemented successful external relations strategies for the Gulf Coast in response to the DWH accident, thereby achieving no legislation adverse to BP being introduced in the Gulf states.”

A state study of Line 5, paid for by Enbridge, is underway, and the recommendations are expected in 2017. But before the results are made public, Enbridge will get at least five days to examine the results.

We can assume Grether has already been involved in the process, as the proposals for this study were assessed by an inter-agency team from Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office, the DEQ, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Agency for Energy, where Grether was deputy director immediately prior to her DEQ appointment.

It is impossible not to be suspicious that Grether will bow to pressure from Enbridge to water down the recommendations. It is equally impossible to believe that Grether would actually advocate against the interests of a powerful company in the industry to which her entire career belongs — and to which, if history is a guide, she will likely return after her stint in state government.

Finally, Snyder is telling Michiganders he just doesn’t care what they think. In the 24 hours since the announcement, a torrent of criticism from environmental groups, media commentators, elected officials and others has rained down on Snyder and Grether. Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton, quoted in the Detroit Free Press, said: “It’s unfortunate that people choose to publicly criticize her within hours of her appointment, rather than reach out to meet with her and discuss her plans for the department.”

Heaton’s indignation is laughable because as of this writing, Snyder has not made Grether available to the media, despite numerous requests.

Launa Hall, a third grade teacher in northern Virginia, is writing a book of essays about education. This one appeared in the Washington Post.

She writes:

My third-graders tumbled into the classroom, and one child I’d especially been watching for — I need to protect her privacy, so I’ll call her Janie — immediately noticed the two poster-size charts I’d hung low on the wall. Still wearing her jacket, she let her backpack drop to the floor and raised one finger to touch her name on the math achievement chart. Slowly, she traced the row of dots representing her scores for each state standard on the latest practice test. Red, red, yellow, red, green, red, red. Janie is a child capable of much drama, but that morning she just lowered her gaze to the floor and shuffled to her chair.

In our test-mired public schools, those charts are known as data walls, and before I caved in and made some for my Northern Virginia classroom last spring, they’d been proliferating in schools across the country — an outgrowth of “data-driven instruction” and the scramble for test scores at all costs. Making data public, say advocates such as Boston Plan for Excellence, instills a “healthy competitive culture.” But that’s not what I saw in my classroom.

She put up the data walls with reluctance, and the more she saw of them, the more convinced she became that they served to humiliate children.

I regretted those data walls immediately. Even an adult faced with a row of red dots after her name for all her peers to see would have to dig deep into her hard-won sense of self to put into context what those red dots meant in her life and what she would do about them. An 8-year-old just feels shame….

It also turns out that posting students’ names on data walls without parental consent may violate privacy laws. At the time, neither I nor my colleagues at the school knew that, and judging from the pictures on Pinterest, we were hardly alone. The Education Department encourages teachers to swap out names for numbers or some other code. And sure, that would be more palatable and consistent with the letter, if not the intent, of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But it would be every bit as dispiriting. My third-graders would have figured out in 30 seconds who was who, coded or not.

The data walls made it harder for me to reach and teach my students, driving a wedge into relationships I’d worked hard to establish. I knew Janie to be an extremely bright child — with lots of stresses in her life. She and I had been working as a team in small group sessions and in extra practice after school. But the morning I hung the data walls, she became Child X with lots of red dots, and I became Teacher X with a chart.

Why does official policy these days aim to hurt children as a way of motivating them? What kind of motivation grows from shame?

Jersey Jazzman has pulled together many of the questions that have been raised about the Gulen network of charter schools.

We know that there are many of them, at least 160. That makes it the second largest chain in the nation, behind KIPP.

We know that Gulen charter schools typically deny that they are part of the Gulen network, even though their board is composed primarily of Turkish men, and many if not most of their staff is Turkish.

We know that they operate in many states under different names. In California, they are the Magnolia Science Academy charter schools. In Arkansas, they are LISA Academies. In Indiana, they are the Indiana Math & Science Academies. In Nevada, they are CORAL Academies of Math & Science. In Ohio, they are the Horizon Science Academies, also the Noble Academies. In Texas, they are the Horizon Science Academies. In these and other states, they operate under more than one name. To see the complete list of current Gulen charter schools, read Sharon Higgins’ blog here.

We know that a number of them have been raided by the FBI and that questions have been raised about their awarding contracts to Turkish contractors, even when they were not the low bidder.

We know that they are not financially transparent.

JJ writes:

Look, I won’t pretend we haven’t had problems — in some cases, big problems — with fiscal opacity in public district schools. But charter schools, because they are not state actors, are not subject to the same standards of transparency as public district schools. Once the money flows past the non-profit shell of a charter school and to its aligned management organization or property lease holder, all bets are off.

We are now seeing a very real and very serious consequence of this lack of transparency. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say our national security interests may have been compromised by allowing this network to flourish within our borders — and, again, for what?

It’s well past time to clean up the charter school sector. Standards of transparency and accountability have got to become much tougher. Americans have every right to know who, exactly, is running their schools and under what circumstances. If the Turkish coup and the growth of Gulen-linked charter schools teaches us anything, it’s that the consequences for not properly regulating the charter sector are potentially serious and far-ranging.

One more thing: I’ve noticed some rumblings on social media that criticism of Gulen-linked charter schools might be motivated by Islamophobia. I obviously can’t speak for every critic, but that strikes me as far too facile. The problem with Gulen-linked charter schools isn’t about the particular religion Hizmet subscribes to; its about the total lack of transparency in these schools’ management.

I have often posed the question on this blog about the wisdom of outsourcing American public schools to foreign nationals. The reason I ask this question is that the primary purpose of public schools–the reason they receive public funding–is to teach American citizenship. If they are controlled by citizens of Russia or France or Turkey or Venezuela or any other country, they are not qualified to teach American citizenship. Certainly, any country or any group of foreign citizens that wishes to open a school is welcome to do so, but they should not be funded by taxpayers. They should be private schools, free to teach the customs and laws of their country. The Gulen movement operates schools around the world, but the U.S. is the only nation that underwrites them with public funds. Why? Is it because the Gulenists have showered legislators with all-expense paid trips to Turkey?

As to the question of Islamophobia: I recently was invited to meet Robert Amsterdam, the D.C. lawyer who was hired by the Turkish government to investigate Fethullah Gulen’s activities in the United States. He is knowledgable about the Gulen schools and believes they are a source of funding for Gulen’s political activities in Turkey. He has met with numerous whistle-blowers. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but the U.S. government should be asking these questions.

I asked Mr. Amsterdam how he responds to the charge that critics of Fethullah Gulen are expressing Islamophobia. He laughed and said, “I am a lawyer. I was hired by the Turkish government. I am investigating Gulen on its behalf. The Turkish government is Islamic. How can anyone reasonably claim that the Turkish government is Islamophobic? That is absurd on its face.”

Mercedes Schneider describes here a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center to block the public funding of charter schools.

SPLC cites the state constitution, which requires that all public funds go to public schools that are overseen by the local district and the state. Charter schools are overseen by neither.

Currently the state has three charter schools operating in Jackson, with another 14 set to open this fall. Eleven of the 14 will be in Jackson.

Mercedes provides an excerpt from the lawsuit:

Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution provides that a school district’s ad valorem taxes may only be used for the district to maintain its own schools. Under the CSA, public school districts must share ad valorem revenue with charter schools that they do not control or supervise. Therefore, the local funding stream of the CSA is unconstitutional.

Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution forbids the Legislature from appropriating money to any school that is not operating as a “free school.” A “free school” is not merely a school that charges no tuition; it must also be regulated by the State Superintendent of Education and the local school district superintendent. Charter schools– which are not under the control of the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, the local school district superintendent, or the local school district– are not “free schools.” Accordingly, the state funding provision of the CSA is unconstitutional. …

The CSA heralds a financial cataclysm for public school districts across the state. … The future is clear: as a direct result of the unconstitutional CSA funding provisions, traditional public schools will have fewer teachers, books, and educational resources.

The SPLC is right to point out the devastating financial impact that the funding of charters will have on public schools. This is a point that is always overlooked, ignored, or dismissed by corporate reformers. As long as they get what they want, they don’t care what happens to the majority of children.

The New York Times’ coverage of the attempted coup in Turkey featured speculation that the backers of the coup were the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania.

The coverage tonight linked to an article published about him in 2012.

Prime Minister Erdogan and Gulen were once collaborators. Now they are enemies. Gulen has a power network inside Turkey. Gulen runs one of America’s biggest charter chains.

I ask again, why should foreign nationals take over the functions of local government in the U.S.?

The Gulen schools have different names. Check with Sharon Higgins’ blog to see if you have Gulen schools in your city or state.

Some Gulen schools, like the Magnolia charter chain in Los Angeles, claim they have no connection with Gulen. But when the board is controlled by Turkish men, you can bet that the school is a Gulen school.

EduShyster posts a guest column by a Denver teacher who tells the inside story of the reformers’ current “success” story.

Denver has gone all in for school choice, and the teacher was bombarded with messages to market the school, come up with a “vision statement,” even as she and other teachers were coping with budget cuts that eliminated electives.

The students at my school were among some of the neediest in the state in terms of free and reduced lunch funding, and some of the most affected by trauma. In other words, they were students who needed the most support. The budget cuts began in my third year there, and only got worse as students left to attend other *choice* schools that were opening nearby. For students, that meant the loss of our only school-staffed, non-academic elective other than art: drama. For teachers, that meant rationing paper, although we considered ourselves fortunate relative to schools that were rationing toilet paper and paper towels.

Disruption became the only constant.

This year, it became very clear that the Denver Public Schools has shifted focus. Nearly 500 staff were cut, most of them teachers, including 372 full-time positions that, according to one news report, *will be completely lost.* For Denver’s students, nearly seventy percent of students relying on free and reduced lunches, that will mean larger class sizes, taught by less experienced teachers, not to mention the absolute absence of electives from some schools. It’s all about the Return on Investment, but what, exactly, is DPS investing in?

Open shut
shutterstock_121985983.jpg (1000×631)Much of Denver’s school reform has focused on the creation of new charter schools. Since 2005, DPS has opened more than 70 schools, most of which are charters. One of these opened near my former school, causing our enrollment to decline, which then triggered more budget cuts in our already bare-bones staffing. But at least my school stayed open. Forty eight schools have closed in the past ten years. In fact, DPS officials attributed the enrollment loss that triggered the most recent round of budget cuts and teacher layoffs in part to school closures.

It is a sad story. Remember it the next time you read something about Denver as a model of reform. In a way, it is. It shows how school choice destroys public education.

Today is beat up on ECOT day. It makes an easy target. Its owner William Lager rakes in tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers, which he profits from, and he uses a small portion of the profits to reward his benefactors in the Republican party of Ohio. Meanwhile his school has truly horrible results, but accountability is not for him! He has really good friends who take care of his operation.

But it is even worse than it appears.

Bill Phillis, a former deputy commissioner of education in Ohio (and now in his 80s, fighting to restore integrity to education), posted this newsletter on his Ohio Equity and Adequacy blog:

ECOT: If we can’t rig enrollment data and make staggering profits, we will have to close

In an early year of ECOT’s operation, this money-making machine was required to pay back a million dollars to rectify enrollment/student participation issues. In the context of the return of funds gained illegally, an Ohio Department of Education (ODE) person signed an agreement that ECOT would only be required to offer educational programming in order to receive funds, whether or not enrollees participated.

Now that ODE is in the process of auditing student participation, ECOT is protesting by legal action and engaging in political tactics to stir up their supporters. Their bevy of highly paid lobbyists is on high alert.

Some observations:

ECOT is demonstrating a high level of brazen behavior in protesting an audit of their suspicious enrollment/student participation practices. Possibly they believe their record of huge campaign contributions will give them cover.

The ODE person who signed a contract that has allowed ECOT to collect funds for students not participating should be investigated and prosecuted.

The provision of online programming ECOT-style can’t possibly cost as much as ECOT receives per student. The profit certainly must be really huge.

Personnel in districts losing students to the failed ECOT machine should be outraged and make every attempt to recover those students.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Do you want to know the definition of BRAZEN? Are how about chutzpah?

ECOT is suing the state to prevent it from auditing whether students log in and receive instruction. ECOT thinks it should be paid whether students log in for a minute or not at all.

Accountability is only for the little people, to paraphrase the billionaire Leona Helmsley. (She said “taxes are only for the little people,” but she was wrong. She went to jail.)

Denis Smith worked in the Ohio charter school office, and he saw the combustible mix of deregulation, money, and politics. This is a combination sure to produce scandal. And it has.

Smith reports here on the biggest scandal: the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). It has the lowest graduation rate in the nation, according to the New York Times. It is a for-profit virtual charter. Its owner William Lager is one of the state’s major donors to the Republican Party. His patrons protect him from scrutiny or accountability.

One of the supporters of ECOT is Andrew Brenner, chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee. He despises public schools.

Brenner has said previously that “public education is socialism.” But if we follow the Chairman’s logic (hmm, I thought only well-known socialists and collectivists like Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev were referred to as Chairman), we find illogic, viz., the Chairman of the Education Committee seems very much opposed to public education.

But the illogic gets worse.

Profits generated from the public funds received by charter school operators like Lager and White Hat Management’s David Brennan flow to their favorite Republican politicians in the form of contributions. These profits, snared by privately operated management companies with hand-picked, unelected boards not subject to full public transparency and exempt from 150 sections of state law, ultimately wind their way to committee chairs in the legislature as well as more senior leadership in the House and Senate.

To Chairman Brenner, this is capitalism at work. And capitalism is the very opposite of socialism, right? Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.

I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.

Public money for private purposes.

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