Archives for category: Charter Schools

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.

The public schools in Livermore, California, got a big surprise when more than 500 students fled the district’s two charter schools to return to the public schools.


On the first day of school, more than 500 new students swarmed into Livermore public schools, the vast majority fleeing the city’s two embattled charter schools in light of a litany of accusations ranging from fiscal mismanagement to criminal wrongdoing.

The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District got nearly double the number of new students it was expecting as parents a few weeks ago began pulling their children out of Livermore Valley Charter School and Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory.

The company that runs the charter schools, the Tri-Valley Learning Corp., is facing allegations of financial mismanagement; illegally charging foreign exchange students tuition and transferring them to a school in Stockton against their will; an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for potential criminal charges; and, most recently, hiring a principal who made an online reference to empathizing with mass shooters.

The charges prompted state Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson to meet privately with charter school parents and school district officials Thursday.

“It’s the most serious set of allegations against a charter that I’ve ever seen,” Torlakson said.

Yes, students withdrew from the Livermore charter schools and returned to the public schools, and no wonder: the place is a mess.

Mercedes Schneider tells the story here.

It recruited 60 foreign students, charged them $31,300 each for tuition and boarding (which is illegal for a “public” school), reassigned two of them to another charter school in the same chain without the permission of their parents, and had more problems.

The district attorney is investigating the charter operator.

John Oliver was right.

Perhaps you don’t know who Peter Cunningham is. I didn’t know until he went to Washington as Arne Duncan’s chief PR guy (Assistant Secretary for Communications). I met Peter a few times, and I thought he was charming. We always disagreed with a smile or a laugh. He knew he would never persuade me, and I knew I would never get him to admit that Race to the Top was all wrong.

I recall a discussion of testing. I tried to persuade him that the most important things in life can’t be measured. He replied, “You measure what you treasure.” I of course responded, “what you really treasure can never be measured.” What about your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your pets? Come on! I love certain paintings, certain music, certain movies. How much? I don’t know. What difference?

Mike Klonsky has been arguing on Twitter with Peter.

Peter has decided that it’s too late to worry about racial segregation. Apparently he thinks that talking about poverty is a distraction from school reform. Peter has become the voice of corporate reformers. They have controlled the narrative for at least 15 years. Where are the success stories?

http://www.fixthemitten.com/blog/do-cornerstones-religious-charter-schools-have-a-separate-existence

A businessman named Clark Durant founded private schools and charters schools in Michigan.

The private schools are religious.

But this blogger says that it is hard to tell the difference.

Michigan’s state constitution specifically prohibits public funding of religious schools.

But:

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press has penned a glowing column about Cornerstone Schools. In the piece, Henderson writes about Cornerstone’s private schools and charter schools. He explains that businessman Clark Durant founded Cornerstone Schools 25 years ago; he describes the schools’ history and growth. He portrays Cornerstone Schools as constantly improving. He emphasizes that Durant recently reassigned a particularly effective principal from Cornerstone’s private high school to one of Cornerstone’s charter schools.

I’m sure Cornerstone provides a satisfactory education for many children — in both its private and charter schools. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it can be difficult to tell the difference.

Try a Google search for “Cornerstone Schools Detroit” sometime. Then check out the results. Are you looking at the website for Cornerstone’s private, religious schools? Or are you on the website for its charter schools? Can you tell?

Sure, you’ll notice that Cornerstone’s religious schools are headquartered at 6861 Nevada on Detroit’s east side. By contrast, Cornerstone’s charter schools are based at a location in Royal Oak. The private schools and charter schools have different telephone numbers, and their websites list different media contacts.

But they also share many similarities. The boards of directors have members in common, including Durant, Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren, and attorney John R. Nicholson. Both websites state, “We see transformed lives, for good; and a new city for all.” And both sites reference Cornerstone’s “Christ-centered” beginnings.

Christ-centered? Yes. You read that correctly. Unlike Cornerstone’s private schools website, the charter schools site does not explicitly mention “Jesus.” Nevertheless, the religious undertones are present if you know where to look. Under “The Cornerstone Charter Schools Story,” beneath the subtitle “Read More About Our History,” the website specifically recounts how Cardinal Adam Maida once “asked the community to help build cornerstones for the city,” and makes clear that Cornerstone’s charters grew out of “a Christ-centered schooling alternative . . . .”

With so much overlap between Cornerstone’s private and charter schools, one has to wonder whether the charter schools are simply an alter ego for the private schools. They certainly appear to be two sides of the same coin. Do they have separate identities? Or are they so closely related that they make up a single unit? One founder. Common directors. The free transfer of employees between the two. Similar websites. Identical mission statements. These factors strongly suggest a unity of purpose, and provide at least some evidence that one entity is a mere instrumentality of the other.

Since reformers are agnostic about public schools, they see no reason to distinguish between their “public” charter schools and their religious schools. Does the state constitution say it can’t be done. Ignore it.

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