Archives for category: Charter Schools

We have had quite a lot of back and forth on this blog about Boston charter schools, in anticipation of the vote this November in Massachusetts about lifting the charter cap and adding another 12 charter schools every year forever. Pro-charter advocates argue that the Boston charters are not only outstanding in test scores but that their attrition rate is no different from that of the public schools, or possibly even less than the public schools.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher and is studying for his doctorate at Rutgers, where he specializes in data analysis.

In this post, he demolishes the claim that Boston charters have a low attrition rate. As he shows, using state data,

In the last decade, Boston’s charter sector has had substantially greater cohort attrition than the Boston Public Schools. In fact, even though the data is noisy, you could make a pretty good case the difference in cohort attrition rates has grown over the last five years.

Is this proof that the independent charters are doing a bad job? I wouldn’t say so; I’m sure these schools are full of dedicated staff, working hard to serve their students. But there is little doubt that the public schools are doing a job that charters are not: they are educating the kids who don’t stay in the charters, or who arrive too late to feel like enrolling in them is a good choice.

This is a serious issue, and the voters of Massachusetts should be made aware of it before they cast their votes. We know that charter schools have had detrimental effects on the finances of their host school systems in other states. Massachusetts’ charter law has one of the more generous reimbursement policies for host schools, but these laws do little more than delay the inevitable: charter expansion, by definition, is inefficient because administrative functions are replicated. And that means less money in the classroom.

Is it really worth expanding charters and risking further injury to BPS when the charter sector appears, at least at the high school level, to rely so heavily on cohort attrition?

Denis Smith used to work in the Ohio Department of Education charter office, and he knows lots about where various skeletons are hidden.

Did you know that charter authorizers are paid 3% of the proceeds for every charter school they authorize to open? That can amount to quite a lot of money, and it also creates an incentive for the authorizer to overlook problems. Why would he want to disturb the goose that is laying golden eggs for his company?

Denis describes a recent legislative hearing where these issues were discussed. Charter allies in the legislature made it clear that they don’t want to micromanage their friends, or for that matter, give them any responsibility, like dotting i’s and crossing t’s.

Legislators want charters to collect public money without oversight. Charter authorizers don’t want oversight. Charters don’t want oversight.

You can call that close to a consensus that public money should be handed over to the charters without any further delay or questions.

Jake Guth is a New Orleans native who graduated from public schools in that city and wanted to “give back.” So he signed up to teach in a charter school. It happened to be one of New Orleans’ super-star schools. Jake worked there four years. He has since moved on. He concluded that the school was setting students up to fail.

Guth writes:

There’s an old adage that if something seems too good to be true, than it likely is. Sci Academy, one of New Orleans’ top-rated charter schools, exemplifies that adage. As a success story/victim of New Orleans Public Schools, depending on which way you want to view it, I approached my job interview at Sci Academy with a big grain of salt. The Craigslist ad for a coach described an academically-driven school that was attempting to start an athletics program.

I still remember how blown away I was by my first visit to the school—how it was unlike any *public* school I’d ever seen: the polite kids I interacted with, the noticeable absence of discipline problems. The red flags should have gone up right away. Like the fact that I had no experience coaching. Or that I was given the keys to a room that was used as the school storage closet and told to clear it for a weight room. Or that there was no budget and the equipment was all donated, meaning that the helmets were well past the three-year certification usage limit and many of the pads were moldy. None of it mattered. I was 24 years old, a minority from New Orleans, and I’d landed what seemed like a dream job.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I drank the Kool-Aid and asked for refills. Being surrounded by mostly young, many non-certified educators, all of whom have really big dreams and aspirations of making a difference in the lives of kids, while being force-fed a steady diet of talk about perseverance and the *Stockholm Paradox* will do that to you.

I could see for myself that Sci was doing all the wrong things, yet claiming phenomenal graduation rates and supposedly putting kids in college *to succeed.* The Kool-Aid was losing its flavor. But I didn’t quit. I’d started advising students my first full year at Sci and I quickly built powerful relationships with them. I worried that, if I left, they might completely shut down towards an adviser who wasn’t able to reach them like I could, and who would then respond by punishing them for their failure to cooperate. I made a commitment to the 12 kids I was advising that I’d stay for a full four years in order to see them graduate….

The year after I signed on to start Sci Academy’s athletics program I joined the school’s mental health staff. I was picked to run an intervention group for behaviorally-troubled kids with IEPs, despite the fact that my only experience consisted of the six months I’d worked at the school.

The year after I signed on to start Sci Academy’s athletics program I joined the school’s mental health staff. I was picked to run an intervention group for behaviorally-troubled kids with IEPs, despite the fact that my only experience consisted of the six months I’d worked at the school. My Sci story isn’t unusual. The staff has a multitude of first-year teachers and teachers without completed certification, including the teacher of a SPED program for students with mild-to-moderate learning abilities. Burnout and frustration mean that *veteran teachers*—those with at least two years of experience at the school—end up leaving at an alarming rate. This past year alone saw nine staff members quit, eight of whom were *veterans,* in addition to four staff members who left mid-year. The result is that new staff members, including non-certified teachers, end up holding positions they aren’t qualified for, doing a further disservice to Sci Academy’s students.

While staff turnover has always been a problem at Sci, it got measurably worse two years ago as the school responded to a lawsuit alleging that by suspending students for trivial matters, Collegiate Academies, the network that Sci is part of, was violating their civil rights. The lawsuit resulted in a *drastic sweep* to install an In-School Suspension System as part of a concerted effort to keep more students within the school. Now, instead of suspending kids for disciplinary infractions, these students would be sent to a Positive Redirection Center (PRC). In theory the new system was intended for kids whose egregious misbehaviors were *disrupting the learning environment,* and included proper documentation, calls to parents, a *reflection guide* and mediation if necessary. In reality, however, teachers now had free license to send kids out of classes for trivial matters such as sucking their teeth, rolling their eyes, or my personal favorite, not working hard enough, a subjective judgment that was left up to the teacher.

Before long, the in-school detention center was overcrowded. The interventionists who ran the PRC quickly grew alarmed, then frustrated and finally exhausted by the sheer number of kids being sent out of class. It isn’t hard to imagine what happened next: kids started working the system and choosing to opt out of class when they didn’t want to be there. Once the school day was half over, kids would be sent home for disciplinary reasons without being counted against Sci’s suspension numbers. Other kids would simply walk off of campus. A divide formed between teachers and discipline staff, with both sides losing trust that the right decisions were being made. Meanwhile, significant numbers of kids, while technically *in school,* still weren’t in class. The system soon devolved into a mess that ended up burning out the very staff who’d been tasked with implementing the new system….

The school’s numbers games have added up to college persistence rate that’s far lower than Sci’s marketing materials would have you believe. I spoke recently to a member of Sci’s class of 2015, now at the University of Louisiana. I could hear the sadness in his voice when talking about what his classmates are up to and how so few of them are succeeding in college: *It is real sad how poorly my classmates are doing when they were told they were doing so great a year ago,* he told me. *It’s clear as day that we aren’t ready to be in a world that negates what Sci taught us about multiple chances and being able to extend deadlines. *

Of the 12 students I advised at Sci Academy, I saw seven of them finish with a diploma. As an adviser, I often went *off script* with my students. I didn’t force on them meaningless lessons about the Stockdale Paradox or insist that they believe in an ideal if they weren’t invested in it. I spent my time and energy building them up for whatever their futures might actually hold: teaching them how to write resumes, finding jobs and holding real conversations about life if college wasn’t an option. Some are studying, some are working on job training, some are working on independence—and that’s okay. I only wish that Sci Academy would have better prepared them for a realistic future.

In a warning to the people of Massachusetts and Georgia, this parent in Red Bank, New Jersey, explains her community’s fight against a charter school that has drained resources from the town’s public school and increased segregation by luring mostly white students.

She writes:

Many years ago, a small group of Red Bank parents started talking about how upset they were that the Red Bank Borough schools were terribly underfunded and terribly segregated, mostly due to the charter school in our small town.

For years, a group of us did our best to ignore the negative effects the Red Bank Charter School was having on our schools and community. We hoped these effects would go away, and magically we would be properly funded and less segregated. We worked tirelessly on fundraising, asking for community support (for arts, music, etc.) and doing our own recruiting of parents to help even out the segregation issue.

But as time went on, evidence of the negative effects caused by the charter school continued to present themselves — whether it was in annual cuts to our school programs, broken friendships and neighborhoods, or simply being exposed to class pictures from the mostly white charter school.

I tried to turn the other cheek and focus on our schools and making them better. I became highly involved in the Parent Teacher Organization and worked with state politicians on our arts programs and underfunding.

Success was achieved. We restored our string instruments program with the help of our superintendent and many community partners. We also maintained our valuable elective classes such as Chinese, AVID (college-prep) and Project Lead the Way (engineering). We were making great strides through the leadership of our very smart administration, involved parents and community.

Then everything came to a head last year when the charter school asked to expand. We were faced with the already existing negative effects multiplying — less funding, deeper segregation. Our community was floored. But we pulled together to block the expansion. As we did, we had a chance to educate our larger community even more about the negative effects the charter school has on our district.

It was like unpeeling an onion, one layer at a time, and examining the funding model, segregation, student academic achievement, programming, budgeting, school communications, and more. And with each layer, we became more and more astounded and shocked. The data supported our deepest fears: We were indeed living in the most segregated neighborhood in New Jersey — yes, our “hip town,” our cool little town of Red Bank, the same Red Bank that Smithsonian magazine, The New York Times and many others have written about as one of the best small towns in America. The data and information we uncovered was the dirty little secret that creeped below the headlines.

Mike Klonsky comments this evening on an especially meretricious list of “children’s rights.”

http://michaelklonsky.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-tribunes-so-called-schoolchildrens.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+mikeklonsky+(SmallTalk)&m=1

A reformer’s dream. School choice (vouchers and charters).

No collective bargaining for teachers.

Merit pay.

School closings.

Here is Mike’s bill of rights for kids:

“A real student Bill of Rights might include items like:

The right to learn in a safe environment in a safe community.

The right to be well-fed, rested and clothed.

The right to opt-out of high-stakes, standardized testing.

The right to attend a racially desegregated public school.

The right to gender equality including freedom from LGBT discrimination.

The right to vote and have voice on important matters concerning school policy.

The right to think critically, free from censorship, locker searches and book banning.

The right to have a qualified, certified teacher in every classroom.

The right to the same level of funding and resources as students in the wealthy suburbs.

The list of student rights could and would be a lot longer, if students had any voice in compiling it. I’m quite sure that didn’t happen over at the Tribune.”

Charles Pierce blogs for Esquire, where he turns out spot-on posts about many issues. He lives in Boston, so he is well aware of the millions of dollars being spent to deceive the public into thinking that more charter schools means more money for public schools.

In this post, he explains that the issue is about siphoning money from public schools and sending it to privatized schools.

He writes:

The people seeking to blow up the cap on the number of charter schools here in the Commonwealth (God save it!) have turned on the afterburners in recent weeks, as we get closer to balloting in which a referendum on lifting the cap will be placed before the voters. The airwaves are thick with commercials about how lifting the cap on charter schools will provide more money to public schools, which is a dodge, because charter schools are not in any important sense public schools.

There is no public oversight. There is little public input. They are privately run and funded with public money. This is the same principle that has worked out so well with prison food.

In New York on Monday, Jonathan Chait jumps into the issue with both feet. (To his credit, Chait is quite clear that his wife works for a charter company.) He argues no less a case than that the referendum is “one of the most important tests of social justice and economic mobility of any election in America this fall.” Glorioski! And, of course, he characterizes the opposition to lifting the charter cap as wholly influenced by the all-powerful teachers union, which he casts as a thoroughgoing villain, and which he comes dangerously close to accusing of enabling racism—or, at the very least, as heedless to the concerns of the poor and disadvantaged.

This is noxious garbage; the great majority of the people represented by the teachers union work in classrooms that most of us wouldn’t walk into on a bet. And, anyway, as the very excellent Diane Ravitch points out, a huge number of local school boards have lined up against lifting the cap. These are not all puppets of the evil teachers union. Many of them are composed of people who have looked around the country and seen that an untrammeled charter system is an amazing entry vehicle for waste and fraud. Chait dismisses these people as the heirs to Louise Day Hicks or something.

Pierce reviews the millions pouring into the state from billionaires who live elsewhere, and he writes:

Call me crazy, but I don’t think Michael Bloomberg and the Walton family give a rat’s ass about educating children in Roxbury or Mattapan. I think they are running for-profit businesses that want to increase their profits and, in Massachusetts, they see a chance to make themselves more money, the way they have in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, and all those other places where education is considered an industry and children, essentially products. (Especially Sacramento, where Michelle Rhee, Queen of the Grifters, is married to Kevin Johnson, a truly horrible person.)

They are not campaigning for freedom of choice for Massachusetts children. They are campaigning for their own freedom to gobble more and more from the public trough. See also: Privatization, all forms of.

In fairness, I don’t think Bloomberg or the Waltons expect to make a profit. They don’t need the money. I think they have a dedication to the free market (it works for them), and you can be sure that the opening of more charters will attract profiteers and entrepreneurs. It has happened everywhere else. Why would Massachusetts be immune? Deregulation and privatization will undermine Massachusetts’ excellent school system. School board members understand the threat, which is why more than 100 school boards have passed resolutions against Question 2, and not even one school board supports it.

EduShyster interviews two scholars (that is, grown-ups with doctorates at universities, not children in no-excuses charter schools) about their new study of the marketing and branding of schools. In the brand new world of school choice, schools have to find ways to attract both students and teachers.

Sarah Butler Jessen and Catherine DiMartino wrote a study called “Privatization, Choice, and Online Marketing” for the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Jessen and DiMartino explain to EduShyster that aggressive charter schools flood their target zones with mailings in order to produce more applicants than there are openings. This helps to brand them as “popular.”

Investigative journalist George Joseph writes in “The Atlantic” about the disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic children who are suspended by charter schools, some as young as 5 or 6 years old.

He writes:

In New York City, although the charter-school student population represents just under 7 percent of the district’s total enrollment, charter schools accounted for nearly 42 percent of all suspensions, according to the latest available state data, from 2014.

Over the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, of the 50 New York City schools with the most student suspensions, 46 were charter schools in 2013 and 48 were charter schools in 2014. Looking at suspension rates, 45 were charter schools in 2013 and 48 were charter schools in 2014. (These suspension rates control for student population and do not double-count students who receive multiple suspensions.)

An analysis of the schools with very high suspension rates found that they are concentrated in majority-black neighborhoods.

Laurene Powell Jobs has given away $100 million to 10 schools, with the goal of reinventing the high school. Ms. Jobs is the widow of Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple. She is very active in the corporate reform movement. She is on the boards of Teach for America, NewSchools Venture Fund, and Stand for Children.


The ten prizes come from XQ: The Super School Project. The high school redesign competition has financial backing from the Emerson Collective, an organization launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

“The Super School Project was born out of the conviction and commitment that every child from every background has a right to a quality education that prepares them for a future none of us can easily predict,” said Russlynn Ali, the chief executive officer of the XQ Institute, in a press release. (Ali has long worked in the education policy arena, including a stint as an assistant secretary for civil rights in the Obama administration.)

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in D.C., recalls the efforts of the New American Schools Development Corporation, which held a competition in 1991 to redesign the American school. It gave away $50 million. No traces remain.

A charter chain in Arizona is being sued in federal court for allowing the teaching of religion in school. One of the board members of the chain is a son of a member of the state board of education, appointed by Governor Douglas Ducey.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports:

A national organization filed suit Wednesday against an Arizona charter school with ties to a member of the state Board of Education, accusing it of using state funds to illegally teach religious doctrine.

The federal court lawsuit claims that Heritage Academy, with three campuses in Maricopa County teaching grades 7 through 12, is violating the First Amendment, state constitutional provisions and Arizona laws through the instruction provided to students as well as the required reading.

Attorney Richard Katskee, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that specifically includes teachings of founder, president and teacher Earl Taylor Jr. that the Ten Commandments, including those that mandate the worship of God, must be obeyed to attain happiness.

Other teachings, he said, include that socialism violates God’s laws.

And Katskee said the school engages in a form of proselytizing by telling students “they are duty-bound to implement and instruct others about these religious and religiously based principles in order to restore the United States to freedom, prosperity and peace.”

Among the academy’s board members is Jared Taylor, who is Earl’s son. Taylor was one of Doug Ducey’s first appointments last year to the state Board of Education.

Neither Taylor would comment on the specifics of lawsuit. But the elder Taylor said he has answered similar allegations in the past for the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

Calls to Whitney Chapa, the board’s executive director who has access to those files, were not immediately returned.

And gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss had no comment on the lawsuit.

Under Arizona law, private and even for-profit corporations can set up charter schools. They are considered public schools, entitled to state aid and cannot charge tuition.

They are exempt from some — but not all — of the regulations that govern traditional public schools. And there is a specific requirement that a charter school “ensure that it is nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies and employment practices and all other operations.”

There also is a state constitutional provision that bars the use of public money for religious instruction and a separate one forbidding the use of state taxes for any sectarian school.

Does the explicit language of the state constitution matter any more?