Archives for category: Charter Schools

By now, you have read many tributes to Karen Lewis. She was an icon who fought the powerful. Teachers and parents trusted her because they knew she would never sell them out.

This is a beautiful tribute to Karen by Sarah Karp, one of Chicago’s most experienced education journalists. It captures Karen’s brashness, her fearlessness, her passion.

Some of her colorful quotes:

Lewis’ message resonated because she was willing to stand up for teachers at a time when teachers were under attack and somewhat downtrodden. She unapologetically labeled people as villains and enemies if she thought they disrespected public school teachers and public education.

Chief among them was former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Early on in her tenure as union president, she emerged from a meeting with Emanuel and revealed he had sworn at her. This came after she called the longer school day he was pushing a “babysitting” initiative.

“He jumped out of his chair and said, F-you Lewis,” she recalled. “And I jumped out of my chair and said, who the F do you think you are talking to? I don’t work for you.”

She called Rahm “the murder mayor.”

“Look at the murder rate in this city. He’s murdering schools. He’s murdering jobs. He’s murdering housing. I don’t know what else to call him. He’s the murder mayor,” she said during the school closing fight.

And she once told a group of community and business leaders that then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, who for years held up the passage of a state budget until his agenda was approved, was a new “ISIS recruit … because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people,” she said.

Writing in ohiocapital.com, Jeanne Melvin and Denis Smith denounced the central role that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute plays in directing education policy in Ohio. TBF is the think tank of the Ohio Republican Party; that party has controlled the state in recent years. It is curious that TBF directs education policy in Ohio since TBF is based in Washington, D.C.

Melvin is a parent activist, and Smith worked for the Ohio Department of Education.

In Ohio, TBF has been a strong advocate for high-stakes testing and school privatization. It has pushed charter schools and other conservative reforms in Ohio.

As the article says, TBF is an advocacy organization, not a think tank. Its policy positions are aligned with other conservative organizations, still promoting the failed reforms of the past two decades, unable to imagine schools that are not subject to high-stakes testing, unable to imagine schools that are not governed by carrots-and-sticks. TBF is also a charter school authorizer and collects a percentage of the state revenue for every student who enrolls in one of their charter schools. Many of their charter schools have failed. Most charter schools in Ohio are rated low-performing by the state.

Randall Balmer is one of Iowa’s most accomplished sons. After growing up in Iowa and attending its public schools, he went on to success as a historian, author, and professor, now at Dartmouth College. In addition to writing award-winning books about religion, he wrote a biography of President Jimmy Carter and won an Emmy for a three-part PBS series on the Evangelical church.

He wrote a compelling editorial warning Iowans against the Republicans’ plans to introduce a sweeping choice plan, which will divert students and funding from community public schools. He called school choice a “mirage.”

He began with plain truths:

As a graduate of Iowa public schools, I was saddened to read about the governor’s “school choice” proposal. Public education is one of our nation’s best ideas, and the persistent attempts on the part of politicians to undermine it with the misleading rhetoric of “choice” represents a real threat to the future of democracy.

Here we go again. Before either Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona or Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten have been confirmed by the Senate, key jobs in the Department of Education are being filled by staff from the Gates Foundation and DFER, both of which are champions of bad ideas and antagonists of public schools. From my experience in the U.S. Department of Education, it is customary to allow the Secretary and Deputy Secretary to choose their assistant secretaries, and the assistant secretaries choose their deputies. These appointments seem to have been made by the White House. Please note that the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development shapes policy for the Department. The administration previously announced a fervent supporter of high-stakes testing—Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust in New York—as the acting Assistant Secretary for that office.

Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers.

The Biden administration appointments, announced Feb. 3, fill spots in key offices, although nominees forthe top jobs in the office for civil rights and office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. (We gave folks a heads up about two of the most recent appointments hereand here before they were officially announced.) However, a few such jobs are being filled on an acting basis.

It’s difficult to discern just one trend or policy direction based on Biden’s Education Department appointments so far; those who’ve worked for and supported teachers’ unions in the past, for example, will be working alongside union skeptics and those who’ve drawn labor’s ire in the past. The administration announced its first set of department appointees last month, and it included two former National Education Association staffers.

Here are a few notable names from the latest round of appointments:

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers.  [I worked during the election on a committee on assessment chaired by Cardichon on behalf of Biden. I urged the committee to recommend a suspension of the federally mandated testing in spring 2021 and to propose the elimination of that part of the law. When my proposals were ignored, I resigned from the committee.]

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package. 

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments. 

Last year, DFER’s D.C. chapter under Taheri provoked controversy by singling out a candidate for the District of Columbia Council for wanting to cut police funding. Asked about the negative advertising, Taheri told the Washington City paper that the group wanted to inform voters about issues beyond education, and that the candidate’s position on police budgets was “deeply unpopular” with voters. (The candidate, Janeese Lewis George, who accused DFER of fearmongering, ultimately won her election.) The question of whether police should be in schools, and educators’ attitudes toward school resource officers, gained prominence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police last year. The City Paper’s story about DFER’s mailers focused on George was published three days after Floyd’s death. Taheri later said that the group’s mailers were a mistake. 

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer. 

Although Lee previously managed $10 million in annual education grants covering both K-12 and higher education, according to his LinkedIn profile, he’s now listed himself as an assistant secretary for higher education at the department as of this month. Garcia also has a background in higher education, and used to work on the Senate education committee for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is now chairwoman of the committee.

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students. 

In recent years, the foundation has shifted its focus to support higher education access for students of color and disadvantaged students. (Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides general operating support to Education Week, which retains sole editorial control over its content.) 

The full list of appointments announced Feb. 3 is here.

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-more-biden-harris-appointees

Peter Greene describes the shocked reaction of charter operators when Governor Tom Wolf proposed that they be regularly audited and that their payments should be aligned with 5heir services. Pennsylvania has a funding formula that is heavily tilted to favor the charter industry. Their lobbyists want to keep it that way.

In his 2020 budget speech, Wolf tried to soothe the industry and thread the needle, saying that Pennsylvania students should get a great education “whether in a traditional public school or a charter school” an noting that “Pennsylvania has a history of school choice, which I support.” But he also said that some charter schools are “little more than fronts for private management companies, and the only innovations they’re coming up with involve finding new ways to take money out of the pockets of property taxpayers.”

The 2021 budget has several features to tighten up Pennsylvania’s exceptionally loose charter industry. 

Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters will be audited. “Wait,” you say. “the cyber charters aren’t audited?” The answer is “barely;” six of the charters have never been audited at all, and the largest cyber charter in the state, Commonwealth Charter Academy, was last audited in 2012. 

The proposal also targets cyber charter funding, one of the deeply nonsensical features of the Pennsylvania charter landscape. Cybers get 100% of the same payment as a brick and mortar charter school–even though they have no bricks, no mortar, and none of the other expenses of an actual school building. Consequently, cyber schools in PA are making money hand over fist, and taxpayer dollars go to things like advertising ($1,000 per student recruited at one charter) and, no kidding, a cool robot dog. The governor proposes to set a statewide cyber tuition rate that is still mighty generous. The state’s in-house online education program costs about $5,400 per student per year, and the governor proposes a set $9,500 tuition rate.

The proposal also looks to fix the charter reimbursement rate for special ed. Currently, a charter gets the same high payment rate for all special ed students, whether they need a full-time aid and extensive specialized supports, or they just need a few adaptations in a regular classroom. That has made students with special needs into cash cows in PA. This is extra nuts because PAS actually has a tiered system for rating special needs–it just isn’t used when paying charters. The governor’s proposal is that charters should be paid an amount in line with the actual costs of educating the students.

The governor also proposes more oversight and accountability for the Education Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, Pennsylvania’s two tax credit scholarship (aka voucher) programs.

Wolf also plans to address Pennsylvania’s funding inequities, among the very worst in the nation, with a nearly $2 billion increase in school spending. So charters get less, and public schools get more (including getting to keep more of the public tax dollars they used to have to hand over to charters).

None of this is a hit with the school choice crowd. It’s a little nuts, really, because the governor’s proposal boils down to “Pay the charters what it actually costs to educate the students instead of paying them what it costs to educate the students PLUS a big fat taxpayer-funded bonus.” It’s an exceptionally not-very-radical proposal.

But the pushback is already coming, because GOP leaders in the House and Senate are already prepped and ready to join the national push for more choiciness

This article was co-authored by a group of educators who oppose privatization. They have identified the primary driver of privatization in their different communities: The City Fund, subsidized primarily by corporate “reformers” Reed Hastings and John Arnold. The City Fund is led by experienced privatizers who have tried their hand in places like Tennessee and New Orleans, where the PR was great but the results were not. It opened its operations with $200 million in hand from its funders. Lots of money, no members, and a charge to go out into the nation and find cities where they could disrupt the local school board elections by underwriting advocates of privatization. They are undermining public schools and democracy at the same time. They should hang their heads in shame. They won’t.

The authors of the following are: Dr. Tracee Miller was an elected member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Dr. Keith Benson is president of the Camden Education Association. Christina Smith is Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition. Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6. Bobby Blount is a San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee. Don Macleay is a member of Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

They wrote the following article:


Education Privatization: Eerie Similarities in Stories from 15 Major US Cities

A new education reform movement has made its way across the country whose goal is not reform, but privatization. That coalition is led by billionaires forcing their extreme market bias onto our school system. Its framework steers tax dollars away from the public schools and toward their chosen consultants, partner groups, curricula, and other products and services without oversight from elected officials. The movement manifests in the expansion of charter schools and their enrollment, division of public districts into factions, incubation of community advocacy groups, promotion of anti-public school legislation, and influencing of state and local campaigns. 

To say that the proponents of this model engage in deceptive tactics would be a gross understatement. Aside from disguising their approach with buzzwords like innovation, transformation, and social justice, they funnel money through PACs, then through individuals and groups, to make their funding difficult to trace. This shroud of financial and ideological secrecy also makes the money, desperately needed in public education, easier for schools and organizations to accept.

One major national funder of this reactionary education philosophy is The City Fund. The City Fund distributes money from corporate school reform philanthropists, such as John Arnold and Reed Hastings, to local city organizations to accomplish the goals listed above. Its political organization, Public School Allies, makes campaign contributions to local school board candidates who are likely to adopt the same philosophy. “Reform” money has changed what used to be $1,500 local campaigns into $20,000 races for school board.The model being promoted by The City Fund and its affiliated organizations has been seen nearly to fruition in New Orleans and Indianapolis, and the stories being played out in other cities where The City Fund operates are eerily similar. 

We are education experts and advocates who represent cities and schools across the country that are being impacted by this movement and we refuse to be complicit. Our stories from Camden, Oakland, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis account for only a fraction of the cities where these movements are underway, and we hope that sharing our experiences will help others recognize the tactics wherever they appear.

Recent articles about The City Fund and its influence in St. Louis and in local school board races inspired us to contact each other. What we discovered is unsettling. The organizations funded by The City Fund present themselves as local grassroots organizations when nothing could be further from the truth. While propping up these local organizations with millions of dollars, The City Fund also places its own supporters on the organizations’ boards to influence their ideology and decision-making. These groups and their partner community advocacy groups have equivalents in at least 15 cities. A few examples of umbrella groups sponsored by The City Fund include The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, the Camden Education Fund in Camden, City Education Partners in San Antonio, redefinED in Atlanta, RootED in Denver, The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis, San Joaquin A+ in Stockton, REACH in Oakland, and New Schools in Baton Rouge. 

Naming more equivalent organizations here would be unhelpful, but recognizing their actions is critical to identifying their influence. In addition to the strategies listed earlier, organizations affiliated with The City Fund have engaged in a variety of similar behaviors. In most locations they have created a school-finder tool and promoted a common application for traditional and charter schools. These groups host community events or support the publishing of reports where skewed data imply the deterioration of public education, and often push the idea that charters are the only solution. They make similar demands of school boards and of individual board members to conform with their ideals, and react with similar misinformation when confronted by the public or the media.  The uniformity across cities is so striking that on several of our joint calls there was audible relief when one of us realized we weren’t the sole target of this deception.

These organizations are not home-grown local groups established to solve local problems, but are experts at pretending to be. While they employ well-meaning advocates who  are energized  by words like equity or opportunity and promote themselves as organizations who seek to understand community sentiment, these groups are the local arms of The City Fund, whose model seeks to, and has experienced frightening success in, advancing the privatization of public education. With privatization comes the loss of local control and democratic ideals. 

The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city; fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to stop the corruption before it becomes so deeply embedded in our systems that it can’t be reversed. The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward their private programs and gain financial and political capital until we decide public education is too important to jeopardize for a scheme. We are all complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue now that we know the truth.

Co-authored by: 

Dr. Tracee Miller, former member of the Board of Education for St. Louis Public Schools; 

Dr. Keith Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and author of Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ; 

Christina Smith, Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition; 

Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6; 

Bobby Blount, San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee; 

Don Macleay, Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, watched the Senate confirmation hearings of Miguel Cardona for Secretary of Education. She was delighted to hear his responses on issues that matter to friends of the public schools.

She wrote for this blog:

On February 3, I tuned in and listened to Dr. Miguel Cardona’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education.  I was anxious to hear his response to questions about school choice, integration, equity, testing, and schools’ reopening.

I was curious to see if Dr. Cardona would, like his three predecessors, Duncan, King, and De Vos, carry the banner for charter schools and seek to expand the Federal Charter Schools Program. Was he someone who believed that setting schools in the arena to compete benefits students?  Does he prefer the private governance of schools?

The first question on school choice was asked by Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, who voiced his support for all manner of school choice.

Cardona had a practiced response. He did not mention vouchers. He gave the nod to charters saying that some are excellent, which is true. But then the incoming Secretary signaled where he would put his time and treasure.

“Most parents want to send their children to their neighborhood school. It is important to support all schools, including the neighborhood schools that are usually the first choice for families in that community.”

That statement gives me hope. Cardona did not fall into the trap of using the term “traditional public schools,” a term coined by the charter community. 

“Traditional public schools” is and was always meant to be a disparaging term. Cardona’s innovative elementary school was not “traditional.” The high school I led that had an enriched, challenging curriculum for all where support and racial integration of classrooms and activities were the highest priority was not “traditional.” 

Cardona deliberately chose the term–“neighborhood” to describe public schools. Unlike his predecessors he did not use “traditional” to distinguish them from charters.  And he stated that they are, as our friends at Journey for Justice remind us, “usually the first choice for families in that community.” 

If the listener did not understand what he meant by “neighborhood schools,” he clarified the term later.

He used the term “public,” then corrects himself, saying that charters are public schools (they are legally defined as such in his state). He then talks about the need to support neighborhood schools. He says, “Our neighborhood schools need to be schools where we want to send our children, and he calls neighborhood schools “the bedrock of our country.” Wow.

No person who has spent their life in public schools, especially in leadership, is universally liked. Miguel Cardona has his critics. But as I listened to Miguel Cardona, I was filled with hope. He is devoid of Duncan’s folksy goofiness, the arrogance of King, and the burning hatred of all things public of De Vos.

Miguel Cardona is a public school guy. He chose to spend his life walking among children in public school halls. He knows the road he is traveling, and the stars that guide his way will not be charter schools, vouchers, or billionaire reformers.  

Avi Wolfman-Arent writes at the Philadelphia PBS website WHYY about the uncomfortable dilemma of the “school choice movement.” At least some of the choice champions had not come to grips with the fact that their movement was funded by Trump supporters. Perhaps the reckoning might have caused them to wonder if they were being used. It’s easy to forget–or perhaps never realize–that the school choice movement was created by Southern segregationists, borrowing the rhetoric of libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It i worth pondering why and how the Democratic Party abandoned its longstanding belief in equitable, well-resourced public schools as a common good.

He begins:

When Philadelphia-area mega-donors Jeff and Janine Yass made headlines recently for their contributions to Republican politicians — some of whom tried to overturn the presidential election — it stirred up a familiar debate in local education circles.

The Yass family has a long history of donating to Republican politicians and conservative causes. They also are among the largest donors to Pennsylvania’s school choice movement.

Therein lies a dilemma that, for some Democrats who support school choice, has caused increasing bouts of self-reflection.

On the ground, many charter school employees and school choice advocates are left-of-center, motivated by a desire to shake up an educational system that they see as not acting urgently enough to help low-income students of color.

But the movement’s growth — and success — has long relied on the political and financial capital of conservatives, who see school choice as a way to inject free-market thinking into the educational bureaucracy.

None of this is new.

What’s new is the reckoning forced by the Trump era, culminating in a violent insurrection that was fomented by Republican lawmakers — carried out with symbols of the Confederacy — who, on other days, could be a charter advocate’s best ally.

“For a period of time, this coalition was able to exist without some of the tensions we’re talking about threatening to rip it apart,” said Mike Wang, a veteran of the Philadelphia education scene who once headed a leading school choice advocacy group that lobbied in Harrisburg.

Will this unusual alliance survive? Can it find new political strength under an administration promising reconciliation and unity? Or will it disintegrate in an era of increasing political polarity?

At what point do well-meaning liberals understand that there is a fundamental contradiction between the free market and equity. The free market produces winners and losers, not equity.

The Pastors for Texas Children sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education seeking relief from the deluge of federal funding for charters that is inundating Texas and undermining its underfunded public schools. PTC asks for regulations to prevent harm to the public schools that enroll the vast majority of children.

Read its letter in the PDF attached here.

Jake Jacobs, an art teacher in New York City, a leader of New York BadAss Teachers, and a writer for The Progressive, read and reviewed Hillary Clinton’s policy briefing book in 2017 and reviewed the education section for Alternet. I missed his article, but it’s worth reading now to understand how advocates of privatization have inserted themselves into both political parties and use their vast wealth to control public policy and undermine public schools.

Jacobs points out that Laurene Powell Jobs “has been close with the Clintons since the late ’90s, also sat with Betsy DeVos on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. She set up billionaire “roundtables” with Clinton’s campaign advisors through 2015 while donating millions to Priorities USA, Clinton’s main PAC.”

Jacobs notes:

Notes taken by Clinton aide Ann O’Leary were made in interviews with Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed, President of The Broad Foundation (and former chief of staff to Joe Biden). According to the notes, the “experts” were calling for new federal controls, more for-profit companies and more technology in public schools — but first on the menu was a bold remake of the teaching “profession…”

Powell Jobs suggests letting principals “pick their teams,” making teachers individually negotiate salary (every teacher—really?), expanding online education offerings like Khan Academy and making teaching universities “truly selective like TFA and Finland.” This comment is perplexing because while Finland has demanding teacher vetting and training, Teach for America places inexperienced teachers in classrooms after a seven-week summer crash course...

Tying campaign donations to a singular issue like expanding charter schools might in days past been seen as a prohibited quid-pro-quo. But in this cycle, Podesta, O’Leary and [Neera] Tanden [director of the Center for American Progress and President Biden’s nominee to lead the crucial Office of Management and Budget, which sets priorities for federal funding] all busily raised campaign money from the same billionaire education reformers with whom they were also talking policy specifics.

But they did more than talk. On June 20, 2015, O’Leary sent Podesta an email revealing the campaign adopted two of Powell Jobs’ suggestions, including “infusing best ideas from charter schools into our traditional public schools.” When Clinton announced this policy in a speech to teachers, however, it was the one line that drew boos.

“Donors want to hear where she stands” John Petry, a founder of both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Success Academy, New York’s largest network of charter schools, told the New York Times.  Petry was explicit, declaring that he and his billionaire associates would instead put money into congressional, state and local races, behind candidates who favored a “more businesslike approach” to education, and tying teacher tenure to standardized test scores.
..

Not mentioning education would become important in the general election. This policy book shows a snapshot in time when wealthy donors were pushing Clinton’s and Jeb’s positions together, seeking more of the federal privatization begun under George W. Bush and continued by Obama...

This was predicted by John Podesta, who bragged just after the 2012 election about nullifying education policy differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Sitting next to Jeb Bush, Podesta proclaimed “ed reform” a bipartisan affair, telling donors “the Obama administration has made its key priorities clear. The Republicans are pretty much in the same place…this area is ripe for cooperation between the center-right and center-left”...

The 2014 policy book reveals some essential lessons about how education policy is crafted: in secret, with the input and influence of billionaire donors seeking more school privatization and testing—regardless of what party is in power. Even as the backlash against testing and the Common Core grew, Clinton’s advisors pushed her to embrace them. Clinton vacillated, then fell silent on K-12 policy, and as a result, education issues were largely left out of the election debate. Today, under Trump, privatization marches on worse than ever.