Archives for category: Alabama

 

For some reason, the Gulen charter chain thought that it would be a good idea to open a charter in a rural county in Alabama. Residents of Washington County were outraged, and the charter didn’t enroll enough students to open. The state charter commission asked no questions of Soner Tarim, the leader of Woodland Prep, and gave the school a one-year extension.

But as veteran education writer Larry Lee reports, the commission members changed and now Tarim was asked tough questions about his enrollment and finances and demanded evidence, which he could not supply.

The school is being built by American Charter Development out of Springville, Utah.  Their construction manager was at the meeting.  When Henry Nelson wanted to know why so little progress had been made on the building, this guy told him that it rains a lot in Alabama and that was slowing them down.

Everyone in the room guffawed knowing that Alabama is suffering its worst drought in decades.

(State representative Brett  Easterbrook of Washington County attended the meeting and said to me afterwards, “If you can’t tell the truth about where you live and the weather, how can you believe anything these folks says?” )

 

Josh Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter reports that Montgomery’s first charter school has devolved into a chaotic messonly six weeks after opening. 

LEAD Academy, Montgomery’s first charter school, has been a chaotic mess since it opened less than six weeks ago, with staffing shortages leaving more than 70 students crammed into one class, angry teachers left without necessary supplies, student shortages threatening the school, extensive discipline issues and an ongoing fight between staff and the LEAD board over a strange contract that faculty members are being forced to sign several weeks after school has started, according to numerous LEAD teachers and employees who spoke with APR. 

Most of the issues have remained internal, with few details leaking outside of LEAD’s walls … until Friday, when the school’s first principal, Nicole Ivey, resigned unexpectedly. Almost immediately, rumors began to swirl and worried faculty members started to discuss the multitude of issues at LEAD. 

Two staff members who worked closely with Ivey said she ultimately resigned after a heated argument with LEAD board president Charlotte Meadows, who was pushing Ivey to require the staff to sign an at-will work contract which would allow the board to fire or reduce the pay of any LEAD employee without cause. But those staff members, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that they could be fired by Meadows, said Ivey’s resignation was likely inevitable due to a litany of mismanagement issues and odd decisions by leadership at the school….

For several weeks now, LEAD Academy staff members and their family members have been sending APR information about problems at the school. Prior to Friday, those issues ranged from the mundane to something just short of serious. But following Ivey’s resignation, a flood of information, including details of troubling safety issues and possible fraud allegations, came pouring in from LEAD staffers….

”This is the craziest place I’ve ever worked,” said one employee who has experience working in other school districts in Alabama. “There are no rules. They don’t follow the law. And when you ask Charlotte about it, or say that we can’t do something because it’s illegal, she’ll just tell you that ‘LEAD is a charter school and charter schools don’t follow laws.’”

”Lawless” is the word that teachers use most often to describe the school.

Read the story.

Then ask yourself, why do Alabama state leaders want to inflict this disruption and chaos on children? Why do Republican politicians think that schools like this are just what children in their state need? Do they want to dumb down future generations? Are they preparing children for a jobless economy where robots make decisions? What’s the game?

 

 

Terri Michal is an elected school board member in Birmingham. Betsy DeVos recently gave $25 million to Alabama from the federal Charter Schools Program, which she uses as her personal slush fund.

Federal Grants and Surplus Property: DeVos’s Solution to Help the Students of Birmingham, AL.

By Terri Michal

In Alabama we have a Legislature that appears to be perfectly fine creating legislation that targets our black and brown high poverty students in Birmingham.

We have education organizations and foundations that work against the very schools they are contracted to support.

We have a State Superintendent that is condoning the targeting of our students.

We have a real estate executive that in 2015 actively worked, unbeknownst to Birmingham City Schools (BCS), to get our charter school law passed while at the same time holding a contract to sell surplus properties for the school system. This information was just recently exposed. They are still under contract with BCS.  

Now, thanks to an old organization, the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, renamed New Schools for Alabama, we can add Betsy DeVos to that dogpile. Like the cherry on top of a sundae, Betsy DeVos is the final piece needed to serve up Birmingham City Public Schools to the power-hungry politicians and the gluttonous corporations they work for.

So, what was it exactly that DeVos did to make their charter school dreams come true? She awarded New Schools for Alabama a $25 million-dollar grant to open 15 charter schools, a majority of which no doubt will be in Birmingham.

However, New Schools wasn’t the only one that got a gift, I did too.  What was it? The Federal grant application that New Schools filed in an effort to receive that CSP Grant. It brought together, in one document, the entire cast of characters that’sworking to undermine public education in Birmingham, Alabama.

When I began reading it, I didn’t really know what I was looking for.

But the first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that they had no problem saying they were targeting Birmingham, along with 3 other districts. Now, finally, for all of those in this city who refuse to believe we are targets for privatization, it’s right there in the application in black and white. I guess we can now put that ‘conspiracy theory’ to rest.

Second, I noticed the people and organizations that wrote letters in support of New Schools for Alabama and the grant that would be undermining our public schools; Alabama Sen. Del Marsh (R), U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D), State Superintendent Eric Mackey, the Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation, the Daniel Foundation, and A+ Education Partnership, just to mention a few.

Third, and possibly the most disturbing, was the fact that the Executive Director of NSFA, Tyler Barnett, used data gathered from our voucher law, the Alabama Accountability Act, to justify targeting our black and brown students for charter schools.  Here’s what he said:

Of Alabama’s 76 state-designated failing schools—meaning, the bottom 6% of schools in academic achievement—72 had at least a 90% poverty rate.  And of the 38,420 students in those failing schools, 96% are Black or Hispanic.

Ninety Six percent are Black or Hispanic!! How in the world can Mr. Barnett, or anyone else for that matter, take this data andthen twist it to blame the schools and/or the students for ‘failing’? Especially knowing the same Sen. Del Marsh that wrote the recommendation letter for this grant was also responsible for bringing us the Accountability Act.  Just as they are targeting our students for charter schools, the Accountability Act targets our black and brown students and labels their schools as failing.

This data is garbage, the only purpose it serves is to strengthen the systemic racism that exists in public education in Alabama. If you are thinking to yourself, ‘it’s the poverty’, it’s not.  Approx. half of our public-school students that live in poverty in Alabama are white.

Finally, the most surprising thing I found was this, in reference to what our charter school law says about acquiring real estate:

Already, this law has been exercised by a charter applicant in Birmingham City Schools, which sold a historic but underutilized school building in the fall of 2018 so that an emerging charter network could restore the building for school use.

Wait, what?  I am a board member for BCS, I would like to think that I’d know if we sold a building for charter school use.We did attempt to sell one property last fall, but the sale fell through in February, a month after the NSFA Federal Grant Application was submitted.

If we were to believe that the information in this federal application were true, and why wouldn’t we, the reason I didn’t know the surplus property was going to be a charter school is, more than likely, because of three little words that come after the buyer’s name on our real estate sale agreement, ‘and/or assigns’.What these three words do is allow the person buying the property to assign the sale to a third party.  So, if it says John Smith and/or assigns, then maybe John Smith is buying it, and maybe he’s just making a quick buck for his services and passing the sale on to a third party.  As a BCS school board member, I don’t really KNOW who’s buying our property.

One bit of information I left out; New Schools for Alabama is still legally the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools(ACPS). This coalition’s sole purpose was to get the charter school law passed in Alabama.  Once it did that, the organization went dormant.

Now they have rebranded themselves with a new name, a new board and a new purpose.  Part of their new purpose is to help prospective charter schools buy and/or lease property. (Surprise!!)

In light of this very generous offering from our public-school hating Secretary of Education, I decided it was time to revisit the old board of ACPCS, just to refresh my memory.  

Right away I came across the name of J. Michael Carpenter.  I can tell you, I was more than a little surprised to find out that it was the same J. Michael Carpenter that founded Bloc Global,the real estate company that Birmingham City Schools has had under contract to sell surplus properties since 2011. Could this be how NSFA knew that we sold property to be utilized as a charter school?

So, let me explain this again in very simple terms.  As a Birmingham City Schools Board member I discovered that the real estate company that we have under contract to sell  our surplus property was, in part,  founded by and currently still under the direction of, the very same person that sat on the board of the coalition that is  responsible for helping write our charter school law and lobbying for its passage. Legally that coalition (ACPCS) is the same entity doing business as New Schools for Alabama. NSFA wrote the CSP Grant Application that stated the BCS board sold property in the fall of 2018 to someone for charter school use.

 Is your head spinning? Well so is mine. I knew none of this information until recently. I’m very concerned and upset that as an elected member of the BCS board I had to spend days doing research to uncover all of this myself.  

Yet, I know this is how things work in Betsy’s world.  The world of charter schools is one big land grab full of backroom deals and shell games. Now, with this new information and the $25 million dollar grant it appears the final piece of the charter school puzzle is in place in Birmingham.

Land???  Check.

Betsy DeVos was sad to see that Alabama had only four charter schools. So she awarded $25 million to an organization tasked with generating more private charters to drain money away from the state’s underfunded public schools.

The state charter commission has been mired in controversy since giving its approval to a Gulen charter school in a rural district where it was not wanted.

The rationale for charters is that they have more flexibility than public schools, but if flexibility from state regulations is needed, why doesn’t the state grant flexibility to its real public schools? Why doesn’t it abolish burdensome regulations and mandates for community public schools?

Next time you hear a pundit say that DeVos doesn’t have the power to do damage, think of her unilateral control of $440 million in the federal Charter Schools Program, which has become her personal slush fund.

Larry Lee writes about a small town in Alabama called Fruitdale. He describes the central role of the public schools in that community. It is the anchor of the community.

The charter lobby doesn’t care about Fruitdale, its history, its people, its future. They have dollar signs in their eyes.

He begins:

Sweet Jesus. It was hot, like really, really hot. But what do you expect on an August afternoon in the middle of a football field just 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?
I was there to watch the 2019 version of the Fruitdale Pirates practice. Fruitdale is one of five high schools in Washington County. It’s a 1A school, the smallest classification in Alabama high school sports. There are dozens and dozens of such schools across the state, places where Dollar General coming to town is a big deal. (Fruitdale recently opened one.)

Places where community and school are joined at the hip. Take away the school and you’ve jerked the heart from the community.

This August afternoon coach Johnny Carpenter was getting his 32 players ready for their first game against A. L. Johnson of Marengo County. Carpenter grew up just down the road in Citronelle, played football at Mississippi State and met a cheerleader in college who later became both his wife and an M.D. This is his first year as a head coach.

When you coach at this level, you do it all. From teaching class, to cooking ribs for a fund-raiser, to lining the field, to selling signs to merchants to help pay the bills and to actually coaching. His staff is another teacher/coach, John Hobbs. Former player Michael Dubose is a volunteer coach.
There was a pep rally before the first game. Elementary, middle and high school students sweated and yelled. Cheerleaders cheered. Players were introduced. Later that afternoon, fifth grade boys went home and ran around their yard with a football dreaming of the day they could be a Pirate scoring touchdowns and making tackles. Fourth grade girls jumped and pumped their arms and yelled for their team.

I know about dreams and memories. Fifty-nine years ago this fall number 83 of the Theodore Bobcats scored the only touchdown of his high school football career. Quarterback Charles Bryant threw a short pass to his left end, a 160 pound farm boy, standing in the end zone. That touchdown catch will always be mine. No one can take it away from me.

More than anything, that is what Fruitdale is all about. A small school in a small place where dreams are realized and memories are made.

 

Alabama needs to fund its public schools properly but instead it is opening dubious charters and now a for-profit K12 Inc. online virtual school.

K12 makes a lot of profit but gets awful results. Low graduation rates, low participation, low teacher salaries. Just what a state would not want if it actually wanted to improve education.

Online virtual for-profit charter schools are the bottom feeders of the education industry. Even Reformer-Disrupters despise them.

Kevin Huffman (ex-husband of Michelle Rhee) was Commissioner of Education in Tennessee. He recognized that the Tennessee Virtual Academy was the worst School in the state. He tried to close it. He couldn’t.

Politics. Money.

 

The Alabama Education Association has filed a lawsuit against a proposed charter school associated with the Gulen Movement.

The school, Woodland Prep, applied to open in rural Washington County. The state hired the National Alliance for “Public” Charter Schools to review charter applicants, and it rejected the proposal. The state charter commission approved it anyway.

Local people were outraged about the opening of a charter, which was sure to draw away money and students from the local public school. The founder, Sonar Tarim, planned to pay himself a large salary,

Despite the uproar, the charter was expected to open but it delayed its opening for a year after only 50 students showed up, while the school projected an enrollment of 260 students.

School employees in south Alabama today filed suit against a planned charter school, alleging the charter’s approval and contract was obtained through fraud and deception. The lawsuit also alleges the charter is illegally recruiting students from nearby Mississippi.

 

Mercedes Schneider posted a review of the meteoric rise of a young alumna of TFA. 

West Virginia Public Radio asked this young woman for her opinion of the new charter law in that state. She sharply criticized West Virginia for letting districts act as authorizers, which goes against charter school gospel that the best laws have multiple authorizers that compete to open multiple charter schools.

I read the interview, saw her picture, and I swear I thought she was 14 years old. Maybe 21, since she was a college graduate.

She is now “director for state advocacy and policy with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

What was her relevant experience?

She worked for Michelle Rhee in D.C. as a “program manager,” whatever that is.

She was education policy director for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, then executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools. (Bentley, a very far-right Republican, resigned in 2017 because of a sex scandal.)

How many “public” charter schools are there in Alabama? Two.

Reformworld offers great career opportunities for ambitious young people. You can achieve very little, then be asked to opine on public radio about important state legislation that was designed to harm public schools.

Schneider writes:

Alabama’s charter school law allows for multiple authorizers, as NSFA notes on its “start a school –> process” page:

Groups applying to open a charter school in a district that has registered as an authorizer must first apply to the district. Should the district deny the application, applicants can appeal to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission (APCSC). The decision of the APCSC is final. Groups applying to open in a district that has not registered as an authorizer must apply directly to the APCSC.

So then, why only two charter schools in four years? Isn’t market-based reform about quantifiable results?

Why would WV pro-school-choice legislators seek advice from someone whose AL charter school policy advocacy resulted in a scant two schools in four years?

Why, indeed.

Schultz has an impressive title: director for state advocacy and policy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

No reason to check for the substance behind it.

 

Larry Lee has been following the saga of the Gulen charter that plans to open in a rural county in Alabama.

In this post, he notes that the Texas State Board of Education turned down the same charter leader that Alabama’s charter commission approved.

He wonders what led a bipartisan majority in Texas to reject the charter application.

Texas has many Gulen charters. Why did they reject this one?

 

Larry Lee reminds one and all that what matters most in education is not what happens in the State House or the think tanks or the conferences, but what happens when teachers meet students.

He writes:

All the battles we wage in the legislature, all the money spent to lobby, all the grand schemes we import from distant think tanks, all the paperwork we choke principals with, all the talk about “data driven”, all the hand wringing because we are not ranked number one in such and such.

Then I visit a school and the world I have just described is a million miles away.  A room of fourth graders could care less about what may happen in the statehouse.  Neither does their teacher.  Once again I am forcefully reminded that there are no classrooms at the state house, in the state capitol, in the think tanks or in the Gordon Persons building that houses the Alabama Department of Education.

I am reminded that education is all about what takes place when a teacher and her students interact.  It is just that plain and simple.

Unfortunately we have hordes and hordes of folks who seem to have forgotten this.  Or did they ever know it?