Archives for category: Charter Schools

Allie Gross has reported in-depth on education issues in Detroit.

In this article, which appeared in Metro Times, she gives the context and background of the sudden closure of University YES Academy’s high school. High school students were told with only two weeks’ notice that they had to find a new school. One student she interviewed was just starting her senior year and was shocked to learn she had to find a new school at the last minute.

There is a backstory, and it relates to the school’s efforts to keep a union out.

“WHILE THE INSTABILITY FELT by the high schoolers at UYA Monday may seem like an isolated incident, it’s in fact one of several topsy-turvy occurrences that have transpired over the past few months — and really years.

“UYA, which opened its doors to sixth-grade students in the fall of 2010, came into local spotlight in the spring of 2015 when staff made public their desires to unionize. The decision was ill-received by the school’s then-charter management company, New Urban Learning (NUL), and by April NUL announced that it would be leaving UYA.

“We believe that a larger charter management organization with more resources and fresh ideas would better enable UYA to meet its 90-90-90 goals — game changing goals we believe are attainable,” the letter forwarded to the staff by Lesley Ester Redwine, the CEO of NUL, read.

“The news was crushing for staff, as the resignation of NUL meant that should the staff vote in favor of a union (which they did a few weeks later) they would have nobody to bargain with. At charter schools, the management company is the employer not the school board — which means the departure of the management company is also the departure of the employer the staff hoped to bargain with. More dispiriting, the departure of NUL (the employer) meant that everyone on staff was terminated and had to re-apply for their jobs. At the start of the following school year, only 17 of the school’s 68 employees had been there the year prior.

“While these were clear signs of instability there was one consistency. After leaving the school as NUL, Redwine created a new management company — InspirED Education — and submitted an RFP to run the school under the new company. The board decided to go with Redwine’s new company. In other words: the management company more or less stayed the same, but the obligation to bargain was gone. Redwine argued that she did not need to bargain because InspirED was not at the school at the time of the union vote and that the majority of the staff had changed since then.

“What complicates this story — and the instability seen at UYA — is what occurred next. In March the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint, alleging that Redwine created an “alter ego corporation” (InspirED Education) in order to avoid collective bargaining with the UYA staff, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation in the spring of 2015. By May the school’s charter authorizer, Bay Mills Community College (located about 342 miles aways from the school), sent a letter of revocation, saying the school was at risk of losing its charter.

“In June, reports Michigan Radio, the school board struck a deal with the authorizer, which promised to get the school back into “good standings” if it dropped Redwine’s management company and found a new company to run the operations.

“This is where things get particularly tricky.

“At the end of June Redwine signed a settlement with Michigan ACTS promising to bargain with the staff; however, two days before the settlement agreement was signed, the UYA board announced their intentions to sign a contact with New Paradigm, a local charter management company run by self-proclaimed “education entrepreneur” Ralph Bland. While the board essentially had to find a new management company to keep the school open, the move once again shook up the school. For a second year in a row, the entire staff was fired and asked to re-apply for their jobs, and once again the obligation to bargain was voided. The big difference this time around is how it would so directly affect the students.”

While the charter operators were playing their games, the students were an after-thought. They were referred to other charters managed by the same corporation.

It is a shameful story: a business run by people who are indifferent to their students.

Jersey Jazzman reports on what competition does to schools and communities. A new charter school in Bethlehem, PA., is recruiting students from the public schools by sending out mailers claiming that students who enroll in the charter school will be safe from drug dealers in the public school. Really.

A promotional mailer claiming to be from a new Catasauqua charter school paints Liberty High School students as drug users, sparking outrage among many Bethlehem residents.

Innovative Arts Academy Charter School denies it had anything to do with sending out the promotional mailer, which lists the school’s return address.

The postcard references the September 2015 drug arrest of a 17-year-old Liberty student and asks “Why worry about this type of student at school? Come visit Arts Academy Charter School. Now enrolling grades 6-12.”

It shows a stock image of a teenager holding their head in their hands and reprints a Morning Call headline: “Teen busted by Liberty HS officials with more than $3,000 of heroin, cocaine.”

Nothing like using defamation to recruit new students.

The school insisted it was not responsible for the mailer. The CEO of the charter school resigned.

Outsiders were wondering about the role of the real estate developer, who not only owned the building in which the charter was located, but loaned the charter $100,000.

Was it “all about the kids?”

The annals of competition.

Only hours after losing its lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, the Silicon Valley-funded “Students Matter”filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, claiming that the state’s restrictions on magnet schools and charter schools discriminated against inner-city children.

Curious. Why isn’t this group suing the state for not giving the neediest schools the funds to reduce class sizes and provide social and medical services to the children?

“California-based educational-advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit charging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet and charter schools harm city children and violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Students Matter, a group best known for bringing an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in California, filed a 71-page complaint Tuesday charging that “inexcusable educational inequity” in Connecticut was primarily the result of state laws “that prevent inner-city students from accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options.”

“The group is taking aim at laws that have put a moratorium on new magnet schools, limit the expansion of charter schools, and set per-student funding levels for districts participating in the Open Choice program in which city students attend suburban schools.

“A statement from Students Matter said, “Year after year, these parents have tried to avoid sending their children to failing public schools by trying to enroll them in magnet schools, charter public schools or other adequate public school alternatives.”

“However, the group contends that children have been “forced to remain in failing schools” because laws prevent magnets and charters from “scaling and meeting the need for high-quality schools demanded by Connecticut’s population.”

Hmmm. If students have a constitutional right to attend charter schools, do charter schools have the right to refuse admission?

I wonder if TIME Magazine will give the story a cover, as it did for Vergara, claiming that Silicon Valley knows how to fix failing schools. Or the cover it gave to Michelle Rhee, holding a broom, saying that she knew how to fix the public schools of D.C.

I have an idea: since David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Students Matter, knows how to fix low-scoring schools, why doesn’t he offer to take over a district in California and show us how to do it?

Calling John Oliver! The charter lobbyists have been criticizing Oliver for his expose of charter fraud last Sunday. Unfair, they say. Untrue, they say. Slanders charters, they say. Let’s see how they fit this story into their narrative.

Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, pleaded guilty to stealing $8 million from the school and diverting it for his personal use. Trombetta’s school was often featured on television as the nation’s first virtual charter. With an enrollment of 10,000 students from across the state, Trometta had receipts of $100 million a year. What to do with all that dough rolling in from taxpayers?

I have written about this scandal on several occasions, from the time Trombetta was charged in 2013. (See hereand here and here. Another cyber charter leader in Pennsylvania, June Brown, who ran the K-12 Agora Charter, was arrested and charged with stealing $6 million.

The Associated Press reports:

“PITTSBURGH (AP) — The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.

“In entering his plea, Nicholas Trombetta, 61, who headed the school, acknowledged using the money to buy, among other things, a Bonita Springs, Florida, condominium for $933,000, pay $180,000 for houses for his mother and girlfriend in Ohio, and spend $990,000 more on groceries and other items.

“He manipulated companies he created and controlled to draw the money from the school, also spending it on a $300,000 plane, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said.

“Trombetta was making $127,000 to $144,000 annually at PA Cyber when he ran the illegal tax evasion scheme from 2006 to 2012. He faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 20.

“By running the money through the companies or their straw owners, Trombetta avoided income taxes, though prosecutors haven’t said how much. Most of the siphoned money was squirreled away in Avanti Management Group, which functioned as Trombetta’s retirement savings account, Kaufman said.

“This case reflects the priority we’ve placed on protecting against fraud in education,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

“The school, founded in Midland in 2000, had more than 11,000 students across the state when Trombetta was charged three years ago and still has more than 9,000. As a public institution, it’s funded by federal, state and local taxes. Districts across the state pay the school to educate any students who opt to enroll in PA Cyber instead of a bricks-and-mortar school.

“Trombetta almost didn’t plead guilty Wednesday when his attorney, Adam Hoffinger, began sparring with Kaufman, who had to describe the complicated conspiracy to the judge.

“Kaufman said Trombetta used Avanti, the National Network of Digital Schools and other companies in the scheme. The Network of Digital Schools markets a curriculum developed in conjunction with PA Cyber and sold it back to the school, while Avanti provided unspecified management services, the prosecutor said. Avanti had four owners who pretended to be equal 25 percent partners when, in reality, Trombetta owned 80 percent of the firm, Kaufman said.”

As readers of this blog know, deregulation of charters leads to fraud, graft, and abuse. On this site, I have documented scores of examples of fraudsters and grifters who take advantage of weak (or no) oversight to enrich themselves and to strand children in bad schools.

A few days ago, John Oliver ran an excellent segment about charter schools and the fraud associated with them. He barely scratched the surface. Charter supporters are furious and are saying that he “hurt” children, he savaged children, etc. (This is a familiar tactic; when I criticized the improbable test scores in New York City almost a decade ago, I was told that I was “hurting children and their teachers” by questioning the validity of the dramatic rise in scores.)

Fraud is a feature of deregulation, not a bug. When no one is looking, some people steal. Not everyone steals, but many do. That is why Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California are scamming taxpayers. No one is demanding accountability. Politicians get paid off by charter friends, then cripple any effort to oversee them Ohio and Michigan spend $1 billion a year to subsidize charter schools, which are lower-performing than public schools.

The corporate reformers and privatizers are bombarding John Oliver with tweets and messages attacking his show.

Please let him know you support him.

Please take the time to contact John Oliver by writing him at management@avalonuk.com.

And tweet him @iamjohnoliver.

Don’t let the charter industry intimidate him.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went to an open meeting with parents and other concerned citizens where the topic was the impoverished district of Camden, which has been under state control for three years.

In the meeting, education activist and Camden resident Sue Altman debated Governor Christie and didn’t back down. This video is going viral.

All Christie knows about education is that 1) it costs too much, and, 2) charters do a better job for less.

Altman explained that the charters don’t enroll the same demographic as the public schools.

Public ed advocate/Camden resident Sue Altman stood up and held her ground against Gov. Christie for nearly 6 minutes – correcting him on how long the state’s run Camden schools, calling him out on the hypocrisy of planning far less for Camden than his own administration’s report says is needed, reminding him the kids there can’t even drink the schools’ water….At one point, Christie just gives up and throws Altman the microphone.

For context about the event and about Camden, read this post by Professor Steven Danley (who happens to be Sue Altman’s husband).

Sue is a star. The way she handled the Governor, with knowledge, persistence, wit, and a smile is a lesson to all of us.

PS: I corrected this post to show that Sue is not yet a parent. She and Steve were married this summer.

In Detroit, the University YES Academy convened its high school students to tell them to find another school because the charter school would not be opening.

Officials for University YES Academy held an impromptu meeting today to tell high school students they needed to find another school to attend. Only parents and students were allowed in the meeting, and they were barred from using recording devices.

“What are our kids supposed to do?” a parent told Metro Times reporter Allie Gross. “Another black school closed down. More black kids cannot be educated.”

The school’s management company, New Paradigm, handed parents and students a list of six other schools, including one of the company’s own schools, Detroit Edison Public School Academy, Gross reported from outside the meeting.

Students criticized New Paradigm for waiting until the last minute to announce the school’s closure.

“They call about everything else, but they don’t think to call about closing the school,” a student told Gross.

The University YES Academy, at 14669 Curtis St., will continue to teach K-8.

The school fought off a union drive in 2015.

In November, voters in Massachusetts will be confronted by Question 2, whose purpose is to lift the present limit on charter schools. The campaign to lift the cap is supported by Republican Governor Charlie Baker and his appointees. It is also supported by the usual rich white guys who love charter schools for other people’s children. Their goal is privatization of public schools. This is a crucial vote, because if the hedge funders and billionaires can win in Massachusetts, they can win anywhere. That is why it is so important to stop them. The Democratic State Committee passed a resolution opposing Question 2. The corporate reformers are falsely claiming that Question 2 will “improve public schools.” This is a lie. It will suck money out of public schools and permit more privatization in the state that invented public education.

Peter Greene writes here about the Question 2 campaign. He notes that the proponents of charter schools have hired the same public relations outfit that created the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry.

Watch for the same lies, the same effort to hoodwink the public into believing that up is down, war is peace, ignorance is strength, and privately managed schools are “public schools.” Don’t believe it.

Steven Singer writes here about the corporate reformers’ war against teachers’ unions. In the comfortable, well-heeled world of hedge fund managers, they have every right to lead the fight to reform the public schools, but the unions do not. The unions don’t care about kids; teachers don’t care about kids. Only hedge fund managers really truly care about kids. Why should teachers or their unions have anything to say about their working conditions or their pay? Are they just greedy and selfish. So what if teachers earn less that the hedge funders’ secretaries?

Singer says the battle over the future of public schools has reached a critical juncture. The corporate reformers have lost control of the narrative. They want to hide behind benign names, like “Families for Excellent Schools,” hoping to hoodwink the public into thinking they are the families of children who want charter schools, when in fact, they are billionaires who live in places like Greenwich or Darien, Connecticut, and have never actually seen a public school, other than driving past it.

They don’t want the public to know that they want to divert money from public schools to the privately managed charters, but they can’t admit it so they say that are “improving public schools.” Which they are not.

To understand reform-talk, you have to recognize that words mean the opposite of what they usually mean.

Helping public schools means taking resources away until they collapse.

Improving academic achievement means testing kids until they cry and the test scores have lost any meaning.

Singer writes:


Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle going on over public education. But the two sides fighting aren’t who you think they are.

The fight for public schools isn’t between grassroots communities and well-funded AstroTurf organizations, they say. Despite the evidence of your eyes, the fight isn’t between charter school sycophants and standardized test companies, on the one hand, and parents, students and teachers on the other.

No. It’s actually between people who really care about children and those nasty, yucky unions.

It’s nonsense, of course. Pure spin….


When corporate education reformers sneeringly deprecate their opponents as mere unions, they’re glossing over an important distinction. Opposition to privatization and standardization policies doesn’t come from the leadership of the NEA and AFT. It comes from the grassroots. This is not a top down initiative. It is bottom up.

This is how it’s always been. There is no political organization directing the fight to save public education. The Democrats certainly aren’t overly concerned with reigning in charter schools. It was grassroots Democrats – some of whom are also union members – who worked to rewrite the party platform to do so. The Clinton campaign is not directing anyone to opt out of standardized testing. However, voters are demanding that Clinton be receptive to their needs – and some of them are union members.

There is no great union conspiracy to fight these policies. It’s called public opinion, and it’s changing.

That’s what scares the standardizers and privatizers. They’ve had free run of the store for almost two decades and now the public is waking up.

They’re desperately trying to paint this as a union movement when it’s not. Unions are involved, but they aren’t alone. And moreover, their involvement is not necessarily an impediment.

The needs of the community and the needs of teachers are the same.

Both want excellent public schools.

Both want the best for our students.

Both want academic policies that will help students learn – not help corporations cash in.

And both groups want good teachers in the classroom – not bad ones!

The biggest lie to have resonated with the public is this notion that teachers unions are only concerned with shielding bad teachers from justice. This is demonstrably untrue.

Unions fight to make sure teachers get due process, but they also fight to make sure bad teachers are shown the door….

Unions stand in direct opposition to the efforts of corporate vultures trying to swoop in and profit off of public education. Teachers provide a valuable service to students. If your goal is to reduce the cost of that service no matter how much that reduces its value to students, you need a weak labor force. You need the ability to reduce salary so you can claim the savings as profit.

THAT’S why corporate education reformers hate teachers and their unions. We make it nearly impossible to swipe school budgets into their own pockets.

Checker Finn wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan (as did Marc Tucker and I, in large part to counter what Checker wrote).

Many readers wondered why anyone would write an open letter to the founder of Facebook and advise him what to do about reforming American education.

Nancy Bailey puts those concerns, that skepticism, and that sense of outrage into a post directed to Checker Finn.

Finn just wrote a letter to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for all of us to see, like we are the bystanders in their goofball, grand design of schools. Schools will no longer be public–other than they will still receive our tax dollars.

It is hard not to be struck by the arrogance of it all.

If one understands what a democracy is, and how it relates to public schools, they will be puzzled as to why Finn isn’t writing a letter to the American people–you know–the ones who are supposed to be the real owners of their schools.

But instead, he writes to Chan and Zuckerberg. He wants them to think about school reform. He sees them as the owners of America’s schools. They, like Gates and the other wealthy oligarchs, assume they know best how children learn because they made a lot of money and got rich.

She is especially repulsed by his reference to “personalized learning,” which is now a euphemism for sitting in front of a computer and letting the computer teach you. Some call it CBE, competency-based education, since the computer uses algorithms to judge your readiness for the next question or activity. The idea that computers might teach children with special needs is particularly troubling.

But real education is an exchange between people, not a machine and a person.

I have known Checker Finn for many years, almost forty. Our friendship was impaired when I left the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and publicly rejected school choice and high-stakes testing. I have always had a fondness for Checker and his family. But Checker went to Exeter, and his wonderful children also went to elite private schools. I don’t begrudge them that, but I think Checker really is out of touch with public education and with the work of teachers in public schools. I am not making excuses for him, just explaining why I think he really doesn’t understand the disastrous consequences of the ideas he has promoted and believes in–for other people’s children.

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