Archives for category: Charter Schools

Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy invited me and several others to submit questions for John King’s press conference at the National Press Club. I was interested in knowing what he thought about the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on new charter schools until there were assurances of accountability and unless they stopped diverting resources from public schools. You will note that Secretary King continued his full-throated advocacy for more charters and said that it was up to states to make the rules. Not only does he completely ignore the existence of the nation’s public schools, not only does he disregard the NAACP, he intends to keep shoveling hundreds of millions of federal dollars to new charter schools with no expectation of accountability or transparency.

Husseini wrote:

Some of the questions I got from folks were asked at the “news maker” event with Education Secretary John King at the National Press Club yesterday. Here are those questions — as asked by the moderator, which may be slightly different than how they were submitted — along with King’s responses. Here’s full PDF. Here’s full video. (Part of the first question here was from Diane Ravitch, as was the last question, below. The middle question was from my partner, Emily Prater, who is a third grade teacher at a Title I school in Washington, D.C.

MR. BALLOU: Charter Schools. You’ve said, “What I worry most about is we have some states that have done a really great job with charter authorizing and so have generally high quality charters and have been willing to close ones that are underperforming. On the other hand, you have states who’ve not done as good a job, 17 places like Michigan. We have a history of a low bar for getting a charter and an unwillingness to hold charters to high standards. What’s your view on where charter authorizing should be by the time you leave office, and how do you plan to get there? As someone who cites your own education in New York for saving your life and trajectory, and what of non-charter public schools? For some time, one of the arguments against charters was over resources about charters getting better resources than public education.

And there’s actually a second question sort of tied to this. A few days ago, the NAACP’s national; board called for a moratorium on new charter schools until laws are revised to make charters as accountable and as transparent as public schools. Do you agree with them, that charter schools should meet the same standards of accountability as public schools? And if you do, will you stop funding new charter schools as they recommend?

SECRETARY KING: So, let me start with this. We are fortunate, I think, as a country to have some high performing charters that are doing a great job and providing great opportunities to students. Charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically, but go on to college at much higher rates than demographically similar students and succeed there. That’s good, we should have more schools like that and I think any arbitrary gap on the growth of high performing charters is a mistake in terms of our goal of trying to improve opportunity for all kids.

That said, where states are doing a bad job on charter authorizing, that has to change. You know, I’ve talked about the example of Michigan. We have states that have set a low bar for getting a charter, and then when charters perform poorly, they fail to take action to either improve them or close them, which is the essence of the charter school compact. Charter schools were supposed to be a compact, more autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. And yet, some states have not followed through on that compact. That is a problem.

Now, those decisions are made at the state level, they’re made based on state law. What we’ve done in the administration over the last eight years is two things. One is we’ve provided resources to improve charter authorizing in states and worked with states to strengthen their practices around reviewing the quality of charters, reviewing the quality of charter applications.

And two, we’ve invested in increasing the supply of great high performing charters. But, to the extent that what folks are saying is they want states to do a better job on charter authorizing, I agree. But where we have states that are doing a good job on charter authorizing and we have charters that are doing great jobs for kids that want to grow, they should be able to. And I think this is an issue where we’ve got to put kids first. We’ve got to ask what’s best for the students and parents.

As Arne would often point out, students and parents aren’t as concerned about the governance model as they are about is my child getting a quality education? We’ve got to be focused on that, which is one of the reasons why I think arbitrary caps don’t make sense, is we shouldn’t limit kids’ access to great opportunities.

MR. BALLOU: A lot of teachers have been writing. (Laughter) What do you propose to do about the equality of pay between teachers and administrators, for example, like yourself? One teacher says, “I worked 12 hours yesterday, I didn’t have time for lunch. Did you have time for lunch? I make $47,000 a year. How much do you make,” which of course is public record. “I can’t go to the bathroom when I need to. Can you go to the bathroom when you need to? And please don’t talk about how great teachers are. We don’t need empty rhetoric. We need resources, we need policies that actually help us teach, not help profiteers.” How do you– a pretty upset teacher there.

SECRETARY KING: Yeah, look. I think we see across the country, we see states that have not made the investment they should in their education system. We did a report earlier this year, the department, looking at the difference in state investment in prisons versus K-12 education. And what we found is that we see over the last 30 years rate of increase in investment spending on prisons that is three times as high as the rate of increase in spending on K-12 education.

That suggests to me that as a society, we haven’t put our resources where we should. So, are there states that should be spending significantly more on teacher salaries? Absolutely. And should we be paying more to teachers, especially teachers who are willing to serve in the highest needs communities and the highest needs fields where we have real demand? Absolutely. And the President’s proposed that. The President proposed a billion dollars for an initiative called Best Job in the World that would support professional development, incentives, career ladders for teachers who teach in the highest needs communities.

So we agree about the need for more resources and focusing those resources on teachers. One of the places I worry most about is in early leaning. We did a study on preK pay and found that in many communities around the country, pre-K teachers are making half what they would be making if they were working in an elementary school, which again suggests that our priorities are not right.

So this is a place where I agree with the questioner, we need to invest more resources in educators. We should pay our teachers very well because we know that teachers are essential to the future of our country. And we need to make sure the working conditions are good. It’s not just a question of teacher pay. I think of a place like Detroit, you know. If the water is leaking from the ceiling and there are rodents running across the floor, those working conditions are not ones that are going to make teaching a profession that people want or a profession people will want to stay in over the long term. And so we’ve got to make sure that working conditions are strong.

And the final point I’d make, is this is one of the reasons that supplement, not supplant, is so important because if you consistently under-resource the highest needs schools, the result will be poor working conditions in those schools and the inability to retain the great teachers that our highest needs students need.

MR. BALLOU: We’re running quickly out of time. Had an issue with one of your senior staff who had to resign over waste fraud and financial abuse. Have you been able to clean up the issues in the Inspector General’s office?

SECRETARY KING: So, this is about an employee in our IT department who made mistakes and was accountable for those mistakes, chose ultimately to resign. He’s no longer with the department. We have a very strong team around our IT and we are very focused, as folks are across the administration, on continuously strengthening cyber security. This is actually cyber security awareness month. Just came from a cyber security convening at the department this morning. We’re very focused on making sure that our IT systems are as strong as possible, that we protect the security of data. And that we insure that we’re providing good services.

So for example, is a tool that we’ve built and through our investment in the strength of our IT systems, and work across the administration to leverage technology on behalf of taxpayers and students, allows students to find information about every college, to find out about their graduation rates, how much people make who’ve graduated from that school, how able folks who’ve graduated from that school are able to repay their loans. It’s a great tool that we’ve made available and that is continuously evolving to try to provide services.

So IT is really a strength now of the department. But as is true across– for any employer, there are sometimes employees who make mistakes and we have systems in place to insure that that’s dealt with.

Brilliant reader Chiara, who lives in Ohio, wrote this timely observation:

“U.S. Education Secretary John King on Wednesday weighed in on a swirling schools controversy, criticizing what he called “arbitrary caps” on the growth of high-quality charter schools, publicly funded but, in many cases, privately operated K-12 schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Appearing at the National Press Club, King said the USA is “fortunate, I think, as a country, to have some high-performing charters that are doing a great job providing great opportunities to students — charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically, but go on to college at much higher rates” than students at similar neighborhood public schools. “That’s good. We should have more schools like that, and I think any arbitrary cap on that growth of high-performing charters is a mistake.”

Obama Administration continues their 8 year practice of advocating exclusively for charter schools and completely ignoring the existence of public schools.

King’s statement is nonsense. He has it backward. Obama and DC REQUIRED states to arbitrarily lift caps on charter schools regardless of quality in order to receive federal money. They made no distinctions on ‘quality’ or which states- they cheerled every single charter school expansion in all 50 states.

They just handed 71 million dollars to expand the worst charter sector in the country in Ohio. They weren’t even aware that Ohio’s charter sector is a disaster.

This isn’t about “quality”. It’s about an ideological preference for privatized schools and outright hostility to existing public schools and it permeates DC.

None of these people ever talk about improving public schools. It is all charters all the time in the echo chamber. They couldn’t be bothered to act as advocates for public schools when state after state gutted funding during Obama’s terms. Not a peep out of any of them. But, threaten charter schools and the whole gang rises up in anger!

Ridiculous that they’re all public employees. Public employees who oppose public schools. They should find work in the private sector.

Boston Marty Walsh, a supporter of charter schools, explained in an opinion piece in The Boston Globe why he will vote NO on Question 2, the referendum to increase the number of charter schools by 12 per year indefinitely.

He wrote:

“My reasons are clear. Question 2 does not just raise the cap. Over time, it would radically destabilize school governance in Massachusetts — not in any planned way, but by super-sizing an already broken funding system to a scale that would have a disastrous impact on students, their schools, and the cities and towns that fund them.

“This impact would hit Boston especially hard. Twenty-five percent of statewide charter school seats, and 36 percent of the seats added since 2011, are in Boston. Each year, the city sends charter schools a large and growing portion of its state education aid to fund them. This funding system is unsustainable at current levels and would be catastrophic at the scale proposed by the ballot question.

“For one thing, state reimbursements to cover the district’s transitional costs have been underfunded by $48 million over the last three fiscal years, a shortfall projected to grow into the hundreds of millions if the ballot question passes.

“In addition, our charter school assessment is based on a raw per-student average that does not adequately account for differing student needs and the costs of meeting them. This system punishes Boston Public Schools for its commitments to inclusive classrooms and sheltered English immersion, as well as everything from vocational education to social and emotional learning.

“If those factors don’t tilt the playing field enough, there’s a kicker. Because our charter school assessment is based largely on the district’s spending, the more high-needs students are concentrated in district schools — and the more we have to compensate for withheld reimbursements — the higher our charter payments grow. Currently, our charter school assessment is 5 percent of the city’s entire budget. Under the ballot proposal, it would grow to almost 20 percent in just over a decade. It’s a looming death spiral for our district budget, aimed squarely at the most vulnerable children in our city. It’s not just unsustainable, it’s unconscionable.”

Adam Haber is running for the New York State Senate on Long Island. He lives in a district with great public schools and supports them. If you live in his district, get out and help him get elected.

The State Senate is sharply divided and currently controlled by Republicans, who pass pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-teacher legislation with frequency. The balance of power is tipped to the Republicans by a small number of “independent Democrats” who regularly caucus with the Republicans. One of those “independent Democrats” ironically is an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who would love to get vouchers or tax credits for religious schools. Governor Cuomo has refused to help his own party gain new members of the State Senate because he is able to use the divided control of the Legislature to rein in the liberal Democrats who control the State Assembly and don’t support the governor’s pro-charter agenda. Cuomo also supports tax credits for religious schools, which wins the loyalty of certain voting blocs (Orthodox Jews and Catholics).

So it is very important for the Senate Republicans to beat back anyone who might threaten their tenuous control, especially a supporter of the public schools attended by 90% of the children in the state.

The Senate Republican Campaign Committee is flush with cash from Wall Street and the usual billionaires who want low taxes and charter schools.

His opponents do not want to take a chance on the possibility that a strong supporter of public schools might disrupt their anti-public school cabal. So what do they do to strike out at Adam Haber? On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, they release anti-Semitic ads against him.

Is this the Trump Effect, a response to his attack on “political correctness?” PC in Trump’s telling, means not making remarks about other people’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, body size, looks, etc. In this Brave New World, bigots are free to express their bigotry.

I learned about this ugly incident from a public school parent in Port Washington on Long Island.

She wrote:

“Adam Haber is a father and school board member in Roslyn, New York. He is running as the Democratic nominee for a seat in the New York State Senate for District #7. During the Yom Kippur holiday period, he was the target of an anti-semitic advertisement on Facebook and Instagram.

“Mr. Haber held a press conference to denounce this anti-semitism

“The ADL responded to the incident against Mr. Haber and also to others against NYS Attorney General Schneiderman.

“Sadly, it took Mr. Haber’s opponent three days to even respond on Facebook to residents who demanded that she denounce the ad. When she finally commented, she did nothing to address the hurt and anger felt by Mr. Haber and other residents. (Comments criticizing her conduct were deleted.) She claims she did not know about the ad yet still has done nothing publicly to insist the ad be removed or to hunt down the perpetrators. Her campaign is being funded by the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee which would not deny it sponsored the ad. She has not renounced them or returned their funds. Her most recent campaign filing shows that Ms. Phillips received $400,000 from the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee. Hence, Ms. Phillips actions speak volumes.

“I believe Mr. Haber is being targeted because he is a pro-public education candidate and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee knows he can’t be bought out by charter school backers. The Real Estate Board of New York is also funding his opponent as well. This was reported by Nick Reisman today, “Filings made public late last week show REBNY is spending in two Long Island districts: the 5th Senate district in Nassau County on behalf of incumbent Carl Marcellino and the 7th Senate district, where Republican Elaine Phillips is defending an open seat being vacated by Jack Martins.”

“A petition has been started calling on the leadership of the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee to apologize. It was written by a young man (educated in our local public schools) who was deeply and rightfully disturbed about this incident.

“Mr. Haber is the product of public education, he serves on a public school board, he comes from a family of public school educators, he is a friend of the opt-out movement. He is committed to protecting student data privacy and providing quality public education for all children. Please help by encouraging people to sign the petition and if they live in State Senate district #7 to vote for Adam Haber. Here is a link to his campaign website

“Here is a link to a Facebook page started on behalf of Mr. Haber by Long Island Public Education Advocates You will see some familiar faces. We are behind Mr. Haber and determined to overcome the dark money and damaging forces which are backing his opponent and seek to destroy public education.”

The Los Angeles school board voted not to renew five charters, and required the removal of the leader of a sixth charter. That leader had acknowledged charging many thousands of dollars for first-class air travel, hotels, and meals while moonlighting as a scout for a pro basketball team.

Three of the five charters that were not renewed are a Gulen charters.

The five can appeal to the county board and the state board. They undoubtedly expect a reversal as the county board loves charters and the state board is under the thumb of pro-charter Governor Jerry Brown. After meeting him a few years ago, I thought he was a hero (especially after he railed against Race to the Top as an effort to subvert state control). But he turns out to be an admirer of privatization. He started two charters when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters.

Here is a report on the meeting by Karen Wolfe, a parent activist. She points out that charter renewals will cost the district 6,000 more students, leading to more budget cuts. She expects the county board might overturn the school district’s non-renewal.

There is something creepy about the way charter students and parents are bused to hearings in matching T-shirts, obviously to intimidate the board or legislators. Call them the charter Orange Shirts. Charter Troopers. The charter leaders should stop using the kids as political pawns.

The Milwaukee Public Schools, teachers and parents celebrated a victory over a vindictive legislative cabal that hoped to start the privatization of the public schools. Their marks on the state report card (another fraudulent measure of schools) improved so much that its schools were safe from the takeover.

It’s a huge victory for MPS and the many public school advocates—including Schools and Communities United, the teachers’ union and MPS parents—who pushed back on the takeover.

MPS had been targeted for a takeover via the Abele-controlled Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), inserted into the state budget last year by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). The OSPP had no legislative hearings, was the subject of zero official forums in Milwaukee, lacked adequate funding and wasn’t requested by anyone in Milwaukee who truly understands the challenges urban schools face. Rather, the OSPP takeover was imposed on MPS by suburban lawmakers and agreed to by a county executive who lacks a college degree and has no experience in education policy. It was simply a way to privatize public assets and deprive Milwaukeeans—primarily black and brown Milwaukeeans—the right to vote for school representatives.

Carol Burris, a veteran high school principal in New York state, recently retired and became executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is currently completing a four-part series on charter schools in California and will write additional reports about privatization in other states.

She writes here about an important court decision in California that was released yesterday.

Just how important was this decision? It was a Court of Appeal decision that overturned the Superior Court decision in Shasta County. So, it is binding law throughout California and overturns the trial court’s incorrect decision (essentially that out of district in county resource center are allowed since not specifically prohibited by the charter schools act).

Carol Burris writes:

Readers who have been following our NPE series on charters in California are familiar with the storefront charters and not-for profit shells of K12 that are multiplying across the Golden State. Many of these charters have terrible graduation rates–some as low as 0%. Students rarely check in–some have the requirement of going to a center only once every 20 days.

Their explosive growth was a result of small elementary districts colluding with charter chains that operate charter “learning centers” in order to get revenue, even though the charters are not in their district, and sometimes not even in the same county. The charters promise these districts that they will not open in their district but rather in other districts which, in turn, lose both revenues and students.

Although the legislature tried to rein in this predatory practice, the bill they passed was recently vetoed by Jerry Brown who opened two charter schools himself [when he was mayor of Oakland] and has an “anything goes” attitude towards charters–including for profits. Luckily, the court had more sense.

Yesterday The Court of Appeal called the practice a violation of the law. It is a stunning victory against these charters, which had the full support of the California Charter School Association (CCSA). CCSA, which is funded by billionaires such as Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, the Waltons and Doris Fisher, is now the most powerful lobby in the state. The Court of Appeal reversed a lower court decision and its decision covers the entire state.

You can read more about the decision and its implications here.

Congratulations to the Anderson Union High School District who had the guts to stand up for its taxpayers and students. Congratulations also to the San Diego law firm of Dannis, Woliver and Kelley that carefully argued a complicated law and to the California School Boards Association who lent their support.

Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Salon, notes that both the Washington Post and the New York Times warned the NAACP not to pass the resolution to halt the expansion of charter schools. Both editorials were condescending and misinformed. Fortunately, the NAACP ignored them and did what was best was kids and American education.

Their editorials were wrong, writes Rosenfeld.

He writes:

The New York Times called the NAACP’s proposal “misguided,” while The Washington Post snidely declared, “Maybe it should do its homework.”

But both newspapers are misguided and uninformed about what the charter school industry is doing to America’s public schools. Their attempt to influence the NAACP board’s vote this weekend reveals that they don’t understand or care to understand how the industry is dominated by corporate franchises with interstate ambitions to privatize K-12 schools.

What do the drafters of the NAACP resolution understand that these editorial boards do not? They know that the charter industry was the creation of some of the wealthiest billionaires in America, from the Walton family heirs of the Walmart fortune, to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, to Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, Mark Zuckerberg and others, including hedge fund investors. These billionaires have pumped billions into creating a new privatized school system where those running schools can profit and evade government oversight. These very rich Americans aren’t trying to fix traditional public schools, but create a parallel, privately run system that’s operating in a separate and unequal world inside local school districts.

He adds:

How separate and unequal is the charter world? Their most antidemocratic accomplishment may be destroying the tradition of local control over schools by allowing private charter school boards to replace locally elected and appointed officials. These boards do not have to be composed of district residents, don’t have to hold open meetings, don’t have to bid or disclose contracts, and do not have to publicly reveal much of anything about their operations. As a result, privatizers have been able to tap into more than $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies in recent years, of which at least $200 million has been misspent or vanished in a spectrum of self-dealing scandals documented by public interest groups and investigative reporters in every state where charter schools exist.

The Times, at least, admits that there have been problems with poorly functioning charters. Trying to sound reasonable, the editorial cites a respected Stanford University study saying better charters have had good academic results, even though the opposite has happened in cities like Detroit, where half the students attend “significantly worse” charters. They cite demand from parents as evidence that the schools must be working, not mentioning the industry’s marketing routinely trashes traditional K-12 schools. And they say it’s disingenuous for the NAACP to claim charters have reintroduced segregation, because many inner cities are predominately non-white….

The Times and The Post fail to see the charter school industry for what it is — a privatization juggernaut. It receives massive funding from the richest Americans, who incorrectly blame traditional schools for not solving poverty. It benefits from seductive marketing that goes unquestioned, with major media often acting as its propaganda wing. In too many communities, charters present a false hope, as many local activists and parent groups have found. Scarce funds are redirected from traditional schools, students are cherry-picked as communities are roiled and divided, and better educational outcomes are not guaranteed.

Why are the Times and the Post both indifferent to the dangers of privatizing our nation’s public schools? Why do they think it is naive and unreasonable to insist on charter school accountability?

I was in the U.S. Department of Education when the idea of charter schools was first floated. The idea, at the time, was that they would gain autonomy in exchange for accountability. Now they get autonomy with no accountability. The NAACP thinks that is wrong. Public money should be accompanied by public accountability, not by freedom from any accountability at all.

Kevin McCorry read the report from the federal Office of the Inspector General and learned that the major malefactors of the charter industry are the big corporate management chains.

He writes:

Some charter schools operate like islands — day-to-day they run independently of any higher or centralized power.

Others contract with a management organization — sometimes part of a big network, sometimes not. Sometimes for-profit, sometimes not.

It’s these charter management organizations, or CMOs, that have been criticized recently by the Office of the Inspector General inside the U.S. Department of Education.

In a September report, the OIG warned that CMOs pose a “significant risk” to both taxpayer dollars and performance expectations.

The report studied 33 CMOs in six states and found that two-thirds were cause for concern, with internal weaknesses that put federal tax dollars at risk.

Pennsylvania was one of the states investigated, and the report echoed much of what Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has already flagged about CMOs in the state.

He testified on the issue at a hearing in Allegheny County last week.

“When you have the larger management companies running a broad chunk of schools, we view that as a major issue,” he said. “If you were not allowed to find out the salary of your school district superintendent, what would be the outcry in your district?…There would be pitchforks at that meeting. In many of the management companies, we don’t even get to see the salaries let alone the costs.”

In the federal report, five Pa. CMOs were studied — four in Philadelphia and one in Chester. Two in Philadelphia checked out, but the other three rang alarm bells.

The report did not call out organizations by name.

There’s only one charter school in Chester, though, Chester Community Charter. It’s run by CSMI Education Management, a for-profit entity headed by Vahan Gureghian, a wealthy, politically influential player in state politics.

The report says he wrote checks to himself for $11 million dollars without seeking board approval in 2008-09.

This isn’t illegal in and of itself, but like the rest of the red flags in the report, the Inspector General says this raises concerns about the potential for waste, fraud and abuse.

The NAACP is right. It is time for accountability and transparency.

The NAACP’s decision to call for a moratorium of charter school expansion until laws can be revised to provide accountability and transparency. This decision sent shock waves inside the corporate reform echo chamber. Would they still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights ipissue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?

The right wing reform headquarters called the Center for Education Reform in D.C. put out a press release accusing the NAACP of caving in to pressure from teachers’ unions. Of course, that implies that the corporate-funded conservatives at CER care more about black children than the NAACP and its national convention. Hard to believe.

Then Shavar Jeffries of the Democrats for Education Reform (the hedge fund managers’ pro-charter advocacy group) issued a statement saying that the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois would be shocked to see the NAACP turn against charter schools and privatization.

Jersey Jazzman calls out Jeffries for apparently never having read DuBois. JJ points out that DuBois was clear about his commitment to an elite education for “the talented tenth.” Maybe Jeffries was acknowledging that charters are only for a small elite (which Mike Petrilli called “the strivers”). If so, that case should be stated openly and clearly, instead of pretending that charters could save “poor kids in failing schools.”

JJ also notes that DuBois was a Marxist and it was unlikely that he would support the privatization of public education. Or that he would be able to tolerate an alliance with Wall Street and hedge fund managers.