Archives for category: California

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

The tiny city of Cudahy, California, is locked in battle with the mega-powerful KIPP charter chain over KIPP’s determination to build a charter school on a toxic waste site. KIPP is avoiding the usual environmental review that would be required for public schools. Local environmental activists and parents are raising money to fight the KIPP machine.

Larry Buhl writes in “Capital & Main”:

At issue are a state law allowing different building standards for different types of schools, and a planning code, obscure to most local residents, that allows a charter school company to build a new school without thoroughly cleaning up the site’s alleged toxins.

Using a process that allows the company to skirt state environmental rules, KIPP SoCal Public Schools plans to build a new elementary school on land that its own reports show contains toxic substances including lead and arsenic. The company can do that because the regulations for building or renovating charter and private schools are less restrictive than for state-funded district schools, and because Cudahy has, according to critics and plaintiffs in a lawsuit, used the wrong planning code to approve the project.

If charter schools were public schools, there would be a full environmental impact review.

Will Huntsberry of Voice of San Diego writes here about one of the biggest scams in the history of charter schools (the biggest was probably the ECOT–Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow–scandal in Ohio, which cost the state about $500 million).

The two ringleaders of an online charter school scam that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Friday. 

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, as well as nine other defendants, including a superintendent, were charged back in 2019 as part of a complicated scheme that involved enrolling fake students into their online charter schools and collecting public money for each student...

“The general activity is you and your friend got these millions of dollars from the state and you funneled them into your pocket, correct?” asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link, while taking the pleas. 

Both answered yes. 

Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools. But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters. Lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices. 

Over a several-year period leading up to 2019, McManus and Schrock’s schools brought in roughly $400 million in revenue, prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office have said. 

As part of McManus and Schrock’s plea deal, they have agreed to turn over all remaining cash and assets owned by A3 and its subsidiary companies. So far, that includes at least $215 million that will eventually make its way back into state coffers. 

A3 may have misappropriated more than $215 million but that was all the cash and assets they had.

The next time someone insists that “charter schools are public schools,” ask them when was the last time that they heard of a public school stealing $215 million from the state.

A CREDO report in 2015 found that going to an online virtual charter was equivalent to a full year’s of lost time in mathematics, and almost half a year in reading. Yet numerous states are now considering legislating that would fund the child in any kind of school–charter, religious, for-profit, virtual, home schooling, Uncle Jed’s barn, whatever they want. We are rapidly advancing backwards to the 19th century.

UPDATE TO NEWS RELEASE: 50,000 signatures submitted to SBE-parents, educators urge waiving standardized testing

NEWS RELEASE                      

California Teachers Association                                                                                                                                                                                                                        February 22, 2021

1705 Murchison Drive                                                                                   

Burlingame, CA 94010

www.cta.org

Contact: Claudia Briggs cbriggs@cta.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Educators Call on State Board of Education to Seek Waiver from U.S. Department of Education Suspending Standardized Testing for Current School Year
More than 40,000 concerned parents and educators sign petition echoing concerns over undue pressure on students, technology inequities, and data reliability; call for focus on other supports in response to pandemic


BURLINGAME 
— The California Teachers Association (CTA) has submitted a letter to the State Board of Education (SBE) urging the California Department of Education (CDE) to submit a waiver requesting the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to suspend standardized testing for the 2020-21 school year. In the February 22, 2021, letter to the SBE, CTA cites problems with both feasibility of administration, useability and reliability of resulting data, and the cruelty of putting students, families, and educators through high stakes assessments in the middle of a pandemic. If submitted and approved, the waiver would suspend summative assessments required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), normally conducted in the spring.

Most California students are still engaged in distance learning, and many students still lack reliable internet bandwidth and access or inconsistent learning and testing environments. Educators have also expressed concerns about the validity and comparability of a statewide test administered under widely varying and largely uncontrolled circumstances. CTA is advocating for the suspension of high stakes tests that will take away precious instructional time and put unnecessary additional stress on students and their families.

CTA has also sent a letter to Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, Phil Rosenfelt, urging the USDOE to issue assessment waivers to states as soon as possible, reiterating educator concerns about the harm that standardized testing in the middle of a pandemic would cause.

“Given widespread inequities in student access to technology and the internet, as well as the concerns both educators and parents have about the value of any data gathered from traditional annual testing in the midst of a global pandemic, we firmly believe testing would be detrimental to students, and of little use to teachers and school districts,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “These factors lead us to urge policy makers to instead focus on providing support to students in distance learning and their safe return to physical classrooms instead of on assessments of little value.”

petition by the California Teachers Association calling for the suspension of state standardized testing has so far gathered 40,000 signatures from parents and educators who are deeply concerned about the continuation of normal testing during this most challenging school year. That petition is being shared with the SBE and the USDOE.

More background on these letters, standardized testing, and CTA’s position on suspending testing this year can be found here

###

The 310,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3-million-member National Education Association.

Claudia Briggs, Communications Assistant Manager, California Teachers Association (EST 1863)

916.325.1550 (office) | 916.296.4087 (cell) | cbriggs@cta.org

The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education; to ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.

The Biden administration selected San Diego Superintendent of Schools Cindy Marten to become Deputy Secretary of Education, the #2 job in the Department of Education.

She has a long career as a teacher, as principal of a high-poverty school in San Diego, and as Superintendent of the state’s second largest district since 2013.

Louis Freedberg of Edsource describes her career in this article.

Marten has been superintendent of San Diego Unified since 2013. But before that she had been a teacher for 17 years, as well as principal of San Diego’s Central Elementary School, a school in the diverse City Heights neighborhood where 96% of students qualify for free and reduced-priced meals.

It was after several years at Central Elementary that she made the virtually unheard of jump from an elementary school principal to being superintendent of her district — not just any district, but the second-largest district in California and the 20th-largest in the nation.

Derrick Johnson, President of the national NAACP, tweeted his support for her candidacy.

The San Diego chapter of the NAACP, strong supporters of charter schools, has criticized Cindy Marten for the high suspension rates of black students (black students are 4% of the SD enrollment but 12% of suspensions). The critics do not note that the San Diego school board passed a resolution to replace suspensions with programs of restorative justice, which will drive down suspension rates.

No such voices complained about John King, when he was nominated to be Secretary of Education by the Obama administration, after Arne Duncan stepped down. King’s no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts had the highest suspension rate in the nation (nearly 60%), but no one mentioned it. He was “the king of suspensions,” but no one cared.

Marten is committed to child-centered education, with a heaping dose of the arts and play. She is a worthy choice to serve as Deputy Secretary of Education.

A teacher in California, who must remain anonymous to protect her job, wrote this post. CAASP testing is the Common Core test produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

“We are 100% virtual, and teachers just had to sign an affidavit regarding CAASPP testing. I cannot believe they are STILL going forward with this. They expect that kids will 1) be in a quiet place with no distractions, 2) have their cameras on at all times, 3) not be using any other materials except pencil/paper, 4) that kids will have earbuds/headphones so they can hear the audio portion, 5) that kids won’t talk about the test content with ANYBODY.

And then, teachers are 1) supposed to simultaneously monitor 20+ students’ cameras and computer screens, 2) write down every time a student looks away or commits some other infraction, 3) keep every kid from unmuting their microphones (impossible).

I have students who stagger their time on chromebooks because of limited Wi-Fi, students who are self-conscious and terrified to have their cameras on, students who have multiple siblings all trying to do virtual meetings at once, students who literally hide in the bathroom so they can concentrate on my teaching (until they are kicked out 10 minutes later), students who are home alone at 8-10 years old, and I could go on. How is this EQUITABLE? How will the results be ACCURATE? I just cannot understand the rationale behind going forward with CAASPP testing. Oh, and 99% of our student body has to take the CAASPP in order for our results to be valid. Do you think that is going to happen? I am not being negative; I’m being realistic. I am praying that the decision makers will come to realize how ridiculous it is to try and do this test virtually.”

The teacher who forwarded this post added this thought:

This is where we are in CA right now despite CTA’s push to cancel the test, everything is moving forward. I just finished two weeks of MAP testing, 200 students from my school of 1200 did not finish and yet they think we are going to do the SBAC test which is four times longer.

Ken Rice was an elected member of the Oakland Unified School District from 1997-2000. That was before the billionaire disrupters decided to take control of Oakland and turn it into their own petri dish for “reform” (i.e., privatization). Rice wrote the following description of the recent school board election, in which grassroots organizations stood together and beat the candidates of the out-of-district/out-of-state billionaires. He is a member of Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS), an Oakland-based organization composed primarily of retired public school teachers, administrators and school board members. When Ken Rice ran for school board, his race cost $12,000. Due to the intrusion of big money, grassroots groups are always outspent and usually overwhelmed. But Rice explains here how Oakland parents and educators fought back and won.

He writes:

Apparently Money Isn’t Always Everything–$300,000 Beats $900,000 In The Oakland School Board Elections!

In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools.” ~ Diane Ravitch 

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the petri dish for school privatization for the past two decades, might have an answer.  I ran and was elected to the Oakland school board and served one term (1997-2000).  I raised $12,000.  My opponent raised about the same amount.  In those days the school board elections were neighborhood races funded by local supporters. There was no out of state money or PACs involved. 

That began to change about ten years ago:  huge donations from individuals and foundations began to pour into Oakland school board races.  The money was funneled through the California Charter School Association and GO (Great Oakland Public Schools), a pro-charter organization.  The money also came from Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow), and several more.  The goal was to elect a pro-charter, Board of Education. Unsurprisingly, the pro-charter organizations were successful.  

The Oakland school board has approved about 65 charter school applications over the last twenty years–many of them in the last 12 years.   Of those charters, about twenty have closed their doors—in some cases during the academic year, causing great dislocation to families who had to find another school for their children mid-year.  OUSD now has 30% of its 50,000 students in charter schools—the highest percentage of students in charters of any school district in California. 

What is surprising is what happened in the 2020 election.  For the first time in memory no incumbents were running for any of the four of the seven school board seats up for election.  Thus, there was a possibility of greatly changing the make-up of the school board, whose majority has opted for policies of charter school approval, school closures and lack of responsiveness to the greater Oakland educational community.  This was an opportunity to flip the board . . . and flip it did!

The charter community recognized this opportunity, and poured almost $900,000 into electing their candidates for the four open seats! Yet when the votes were counted, three of their four candidates lost.

Trying to understand how and why this happened can provide an insight into the educational landscape of not only Oakland, but urban cities nationally.  While it might be early to know for certain why the charter candidates were defeated, we can make some educated guesses.

Strong Local Candidates

Two of the three candidates who won had deep Oakland roots.  Two had been teachers (one in Oakland, one in San Francisco) and the other had worked in Oakland’s after school programs.   Two had been community activists around school issues for years.  

Oakland elections are calculated by ranked choice voting (RCV).  When the RCV was tabulated, Sam Davis, the candidate in District 1 received 62% of the vote.  Sam built a stellar campaign focused around school communities. He held zoom meetings with each school community in his district hosted by a combination of parents and teachers who worked in those schools.  VanCedric Williams, in District 3, got 61%.  VanCedric, a public school teacher for almost twenty years, had strong support from the teacher’s union as well as other unions. Mike Hutchinson in District 5 got 56%.  Mike had run for the Board previously, networked with other education activists nationwide, and had built a reputation of challenging Board policies by going to Board meetings for years and reaching out on social media. 

Backing of the Teacher’s Union

Last year, teachers in Oakland led a successful strike. The union’s ability to drum up enthusiasm with their members was one contributor to that success.  Teachers recognized that if their future demands were to be met, they needed to have a responsive Board.  Specifically, the current Board was considering a plan that would close up to 24 schools in Oakland, mostly in Brown and Black communities.  At the same time, none of the 44 charter schools in Oakland were under threat of closure.  Teachers made the connection between a charter friendly board and school closures of the public schools and were determined to change the direction of the district’s “blueprint”.

Teachers phone banked, texted, walked to drop off literature, and held zoom meetings in support of the three candidates who won.  As Sam Davis noted, many voters tend to rely on their friends and neighbors who know something about the schools.  The friends and neighbors were telling each other to vote for the candidates they trusted.

Backing of Other Groups:  Building a Coalition

The three candidates were endorsed by the Democratic Party.  This wasn’t an accident.  Educational activists pushed the local democratic clubs to endorse candidates who would not be friendly to charters and wouldn’t owe their election to big money.  These clubs, in turn, pushed the local Democratic party.  In California the state Democratic party has taken a critical stance towards charter schools, and this was replicated locally.  Organizers noticed that as people walked to the polls on election day, many of them carried the Democratic Party door hanger with them. Some of these candidates were also endorsed by :

  • The Alameda Central Labor Council
  • SEIU 1021
  • State Assemblyperson Rob Bonta
  • State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond
  • Network for Public Education

Also, other community organizations like Educators for Democratic Schools, Democratic Socialists of America, and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club helped to call, text, and walk precincts.

The Word is Out

You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, or so Lincoln believed.  Over time, the general public has begun to understand that there is an attempt to buy their votes.  As I dropped off a flier at one home, a parent came to the door and asked, with hostility, “This isn’t the candidate who is getting all that money from Bloomberg, is it?”  Several media sources reported on money from Bloomberg ($500,000 from Bloomberg alone!) and others pouring into Oakland.  

After recovering from the astonishment that anyone would spend that kind of money for a school board election, voters became leery of candidates receiving those huge amounts of money.  In District 1 where I live–and the charter candidate received nearly $300,000!–I found glossy fliers in my mailboxes more times than I could keep track of.

It is profoundly disturbing and a huge threat to our democracy that this big money trend has filtered down to local school board races. The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage, and when the new board is seated in January, it will have a clear pro-public school majority.  With appealing candidates and strong ground games, Oakland voters have shown that big money can be defeated. While Oakland will never go back to the days when a local neighborhood candidate spent only $12,000 to be elected, this recent victory over out of state billionaire bucks and their agenda sends a clear signal that our community will not be bought.

(Ken Rice is former OUSD board member, a member of Educators for Democratic Schools and currently has a daughter attending an OUSD school.) 

The school district of Burbank, California, is embroiled in a bitter debate about book banning. The books in questions are about racism, and black parents are complaining that the books are racist. Among the books that parents want removed are: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the most censored books in American literature; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I wrote a book about censorship of language on tests and in textbooks and of books used in school. It is called The Language Police. I recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the history of these practices.

The Los Angeles Times describes the controversy:

During a virtual meeting on Sept. 9, middle and high school English teachers in the Burbank Unified School District received a bit of surprising news: Until further notice, they would not be allowed to teach some of the books on their curriculum.

Five novels had been challenged in Burbank: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Theodore Taylor’s “The Cay” and Mildred D. Taylor’s Newbery Medal-winning young-adult classic “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.”

The challenges came from four parents (three of them Black) for alleged potential harm to the public-school district’s roughly 400 Black students. All but “Huckleberry Finn” have been required reading in the BUSD.

The ongoing case has drawn the attention of free-speech organizations across the country, which are decrying it as the latest act of school censorship. The charge against these books — racism — has been invoked in the past, but in contrast to earlier fights across the country, this one is heavily inflected by an atmosphere of urgent reckoning, as both opponents and defenders of the novels claim the mantle of antiracism.

The debate within the district comes after a summer of mass protests calling for an end to the unjust treatment of Black people. As a result, many institutions and school districts like BUSD are taking a hard look at themselves, their policies, curriculums and practices, in many cases publishing antiracist statements. And while book banning has a long history in America, the situation in Burbank — once a sundown town that practiced racial segregation — is freshly complicated.

In the abstract, it’s a dispute about the meaning of free speech and who gets heard. More specifically, it’s about what should be taught to the district’s roughly 15,200 enrolled students — who are 47.2% white, 34.5% Latino, 9.2% Asian and 2.6% Black — and how Burbank can move forward on race boldly but sensitively...

A week after teachers learned of the removal, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to BUSD urging the district to allow teaching of the books while the challenges are under review. On Oct. 14, PEN America released a petition calling for the same.

“[W]e believe that the books … have a great pedagogical value and should be retained in the curriculum,” read letter from the NCAC.

Books written by or featuring people of color are “disproportionately likely to be banned,” said James Tager, PEN’s deputy director of free expression research and policy. “That is a decades-long trend that advocates and observers have seen.”

Big real estate interests managed to defeat Prop 15, intended to raise taxes on commercial real estate to produce billions for public schools.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

SACRAMENTO —  

California voters have rejected Proposition 15, a ballot measure that sought to force large businesses to pay higher property taxes but likely fell victim to concerns about its economic impact on employers and consumers amid the pandemic-sparked recession.

The defeat, projected by the Associated Press on Tuesday, came with unofficial results showing almost 52% of votes were cast against the measure — a level of opposition that remained consistent through the early counting of ballots on Nov. 3 and the week that followed. While returns won’t be certified until early next month, the AP analysis concluded that there are unlikely to be enough ballots remaining to change the outcome.

“California voters understood the very real threat Proposition 15 presented to small businesses, farmers and consumers,” Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement. “Voters in California smartly recognized that enacting the largest tax hike in California history would have been devastating to jobs, our economy and California’s future competitiveness.”

Since its inception, Proposition 15 was a fight about a different ballot measure — Proposition 13, the 1978 landmark initiative that created a tight cap on property values and tax rates. The new proposal’s supporters spent years crafting their plan to strip high-value business properties from the protections provided by Proposition 13, arguing that it had allowed powerful corporations to avoid paying property taxes they could easily afford. The November ballot measure could have generated as much as $11.5 billion a year for public schools and local government services once fully implemented.

Where Proposition 13 sets the value of a property by its purchase price and caps the annual tax at 1% of the value, Proposition 15 would have generated new tax revenue by allowing more frequent valuations of commercial and industrial property holdings worth $3 million or more. Some lower-valued properties would have also been swept into the system because their owners have large portfolios of property across California.

Proposition 15 was explicit in its protection of residential property tax rules, though some of its opponents ominously warned that it was the first step toward a complete overhaul, or outright repeal, of Proposition 13...

Voters were not swayed by the promise of new, substantial tax revenue. Approximately 40% of the revenue would have been sent to K-12 schools and community colleges, while the remaining 60% would go to counties, cities and special districts for services such as law enforcement and fire suppression. The Berkeley poll found that less than a majority of middle-aged voters and those who described themselves as moderates or conservatives believed the new tax revenue was needed.

Howard Jarvis, chief sponsor of the controversial Proposition 13, signals victory as he casts his own vote at the Fairfax-Melrose precinct. June 6, 1978 photo by Ben Olender/Los Angeles Times. For From The Archives.
[Howard Jarvis, sponsor of Prop 13, which starved California’s schools]

While the homeowner tax protections of Proposition 13 have remained strongly popular over the last four decades, liberal interest groups and labor unions believed few voters realized that the low-tax rules also applied to multimillion-dollar corporations. Numerous studies revealed that many of these companies, many headquartered in Southern California and the Bay Area, operate in facilities where land values have changed very little since the 1970s — even as new businesses and homeowners alike pay taxes on property assessed more closely to market value.

Business groups that funded the opposition effort — contributing to a campaign with combined donations of more than $125 million — sought to divert attention away from large corporations and focus on Proposition 15’s potential impact on small businesses. Their advertising campaign hammered away at the fact that business owners who lease their location are often required to pay some, or all, of the building owner’s property taxes.

Jane Nylund, parent activist in Oakland, reports on the good news from that district. Oakland has been the Disrupter/Reformer playground for nearly twenty years. For most of those years, billionaire Eli Broad picked the superintendents.

Jane Nylund writes:

Good morning, the good news out of Oakland is that our grassroots campaigns for 4 school board seats beat back Bloomberg and his privatization machine. The board flipped 3 out of 4 seats, to elect the following:


District 1-Sam Davis

District 3-VanCedric Williams

District 5-Mike Hutchinson

District 7-Clifford Thompson


In addition, Oakland’s Measure Y, which passed by a whopping 77%, will provide $750 million for new school building construction/rehabilitation for our crumbling infrastructure. 


Measure QQ, giving 16 and 17-year olds the right to vote in school board elections, also passed by a wide margin.


In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools.