Archives for category: Charter Schools

As noted on this blog, the leader of the El Camino Real Charter High School in Los Angeles used the school’s credit card to charge exorbitant personal expenses while moonlighting as a scout for a professional basketball team. First class air tickets, luxury hotels, fabulous meals.

He repaid $6,000, which must have been a fraction of what he spent. And he agreed to resign, reluctantly. He leaves with a payout of $215,000 (apparently a one-year salary minus $6,000). Not exactly a golden parachute but surprising because he might well have been prosecuted for misappropriating school funds.

For the past eight years, we collectively have had to figure out how to cope with lovers of privatization who claimed that they were reformers. They wanted to “save poor kids from failing schools” by opening privately managed charters that were all too often academically weak and financially unaccountable. They liked to fire the entire staff of struggling schools and hail their courage for daring to disrupt the lives of students and teachers. They praised high-stakes testing as part of their civil rights activism. They loved first-year teacher far more than those who made teaching a career. They also claimed that their disruption was done in the name of civil rights, and that they were progressives.

But now they have a problem. Trump has adopted their agenda of replacing public schools with charter schools. Shall they show Trump some reformer love or shall they express revulsion for his bigotry? Or both?

Historian and teacher John Thompson reviews the reformers’ dilemma:

The press release for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) on the appointment of Amway heiress, Betsy DeVos, as Secretary of Education illustrates the moral and practical dilemmas faced by corporate school reform in the wake of the Trump election. DFER “applaud(s) Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.” However, DFER claims to be “deeply concerned by much of the President-elect’s education agenda, which proposes to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability.”
DFER Statement on President-elect Trump’s Nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education – Democrats for Education Reform

Notably absent is a condemnation of DeVos’s devotion to vouchers, for-profit, private charters, and accountability-free virtual schools. Neither does DFER mention that 80% of the charters in her state of Michigan are for-profit.

DFER also protests that “our children are threatened by many of the President-elect’s proposals, such as kicking 20 million families off of healthcare, deporting millions of Dreamers, and accelerating stop-and-frisk practices.” It criticizes “Trump’s bigoted and offensive rhetoric [which] has assaulted our racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, causing millions of American children to perceive that they are less than full members of our communities.” The corporate reform think tank gives little indication, however, as to how much it will cooperate with DeVos’s rightwing agenda and the bigotry of Trumpism.

The reformers’ dilemma is not new, but now there is a new urgency to their need to look at themselves in the mirror. DFER isn’t likely to ask whether years of reformers’ attacks on loyal Democrats made a difference in Trump carrying Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Neither are they likely to question their faith in data-driven accountability even if they reckon with the finding that DeVos’s American Federation for Children reported to the Wisconsin elections board it spent only $345,000 on state legislative races in 2012. It bragged in another document that it spent $2.4 million in helping elect nine pro-privatization legislators.

But, what will happen if reformers cooperate with the “co-founder and current chair of the boards at the anti-teachers-union state advocacy groups Alliance for School Choice and American Federation for Children (AFC) and a close friend of teachers union opponent Campbell Brown?”

Oh, yeah, DFER and other reformers have already teamed with Campbell Brown, The 74, and an alphabet soup of hedge fund entrepreneurs in their legal assault on the due process rights of teachers. They have also collaborated with others, such as Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz, who promise to work with Trump. But, what happens if reformers go along with for-profit charters and online schools in order to advance their scaling up of “public school charters,” and Trump’s overreach in domestic and foreign policies is so extreme that it brings their new allies and agenda down?

Or worse, what if they help Trump and his racist, sexist, and xenophobic policies are implemented?

Corporate reformers haven’t been shy about their funding from the Gates and Broad foundations, which is worrisome enough. One would think that they would have at least been squeamish about support from the Walton, Arnold, Bradley, and DeVose families. They should consider a 2014 analysis of the DeVos family’s rightwing agenda which concluded that they “sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement.” Richard DeVos Sr. “was an early member and funder of the Council for National Policy, a secretive network of hardline conservative leaders founded by Left Behind author Tim LaHaye.” Betsy’s father was a founder of the conservative Christian, anti-choice Family Research Council. Her brother founded the infamous Blackwater private security company.

Amway heir Dick DeVos beat Big Labor in its own backyard. Next up: your state.

Disgraced Texas congressman Tom DeLay advanced their agenda under the informal name of the “Amway caucus.” Other DeVos allies include gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson, Texas investor Harold Simmons, Jim Boop, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee,” who also was the chief architect behind the controversial 2010 Citizens United case” and, of course, Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

I’ve long tried to communicate with reformers. Despite their demonizing teachers, unions, education schools, school boards, and Democrats who see high-stakes testing and charters differently, many speak privately about the mixed feelings they felt when uniting with rightwing reformers. They did so, I’m often told, because they believed it was necessary for Democrats to prove their toughness by battling unions and other loyal party members. The Obama administration, for instance, supposedly adopted an ALEC-lite, Scott Walker-lite, and Betsy DeVos-lite education agenda in an effort to keep the far Right from completely destroying public schools. In doing so, they helped open the door to mass charterization, and electing a President with strong support from the Alt-Right.

Reformers must finally look in the mirror and contemplate the fact that they and their allies have common links to intertwined, mostly hidden, corporate funding networks that have choreographed an extremist, anti-government campaign. Media Matters explains about DeVos’s American Federation for Children (AFC):

AFC’s website also directs readers to visit websites for its “national allied organizations,” which include the State Policy Network of conservative think tanks (of which the Alliance for School Choice is listed as an associate member), the American Center for School Choice, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, Education Next, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), the Institute for Justice, K12 Inc., National School Choice Week (NSCW), Stand for Children, StudentsFirst, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The AFC website also lists “state allies,” many of which are also members of the State Policy Network.

Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

DFER claims that it aims “to return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America’s public education systems.” To do so, however, it embraced the edu-politics of destruction. It used the Billionaires Boys Club’s money to help pioneer a new type of public relations spin that has culminated in what is now called “post-fact.” DFER shared a false “bad teacher,” pro-charter narrative throughout a web of like-minded think tanks and interest groups. Now it must decide how much it will collaborate with a President of the United States who might even owe his victory to the Russian propaganda machine, spreading its fake news across the digital social networks that reformers also used to share their intellectually dishonest soundbites.

And that brings us closer to the real danger which DeVos represents for schools, and the nation. She is not just a run-of-the-mill corporate school reformer who pushes reckless market-driven policies in order to bring disruptive innovation to public schools. Contrary to her otherwise universal commitment to “choice,” DeVos vigorously campaigns against women’s right to choose. She brings the same zealotry to the Right to Life movement as she does to the promotion of vouchers and for-profit education ventures, and her financing of so-called Right to Work union-basting.

For DFER to honestly claim that it is working with DeVos and Trump in order to help children, it would have to believe that privatized jails and prisons, privatized water systems, and expanded Blackwater’s mercenaries were scaled up for the benefit of nonviolent offenders, the citizens of Flint, Michigan, and Iraqi noncombatants (and the American soldiers who faced the retaliation sparked by Blackwater’s abuses.)

Nikhil Goyal is a prodigy who wrote his first book when he was only a teenager in public high school. Happily, he uses his considerable skills as a researcher to analyze the Trump “billionaire wrecking crew” that is planning to tear down our nation’s public schools.

Donald Trump, a self-described billionaire, wants billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to take over the Department of Education. These two ultra-rich people have never attended public schools. Nor have they sent their kids to them. Yet they will likely accelerate the bipartisan dismantling of public education as we know it.

Private foundations, billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers have funneled billions of dollars either directly into the education system or the political process to influence policy. These groups are often staunch advocates of pro-market policies such as charter schools and school vouchers, which allows parents to send their kids to private schools using public money. DeVos has been described as “the four-star general of the voucher movement”…

Over the past two decades, as members of the ultra-wealthy rightwing DeVos family, Betsy and her husband, Dick, have been discreetly using their immense fortune to underwrite many of the major local and state crusades to privatize public education.

They helped pass Michigan’s first charter school law, pushed a failed Michigan school voucher referendum, helped get hundreds of pro-voucher and charter candidates for public office elected, proliferated charters, weakened teachers unions by advocating for right-to-work legislation in Michigan and warded off a proposed Detroit charter oversight commission in a state where 80% are run for profit with minimal accountability.
There are several flaws with vouchers. Their logic is based on empowering the individual over the state, rather than making systemic changes to funding, curriculum, assessment and teaching to achieve a high-quality, humane and equitable public system for all. Vouchers also siphon funds away from a cash-starved public system.

What’s more, studies have shown that school choice experiments in Chile and Sweden exacerbated existing inequalities. If we are to improve educational outcomes for all children, decades of research show that we must address the miserable social and economic conditions that profoundly affect schools: poverty, homelessness, inadequate healthcare, unsafe drinking water, food insecurity and gun violence. Reformers such as DeVos are not keen on the state redistributing their wealth to cure those ills…

The problem with this is that many charters are deeply segregated, push out low-performing and misbehaving students, and have been accused of “financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” totaling more than $200m in a single 12-month span. Moreover, the Obama administration preserved and expanded Washington DC’s private school voucher program, which was originally launched by former president George W Bush.

DeVos will find many allies across the aisle in Washington, from Senator Cory Booker (who served on the board of the Alliance for School Choice, of which she was chairman) to the Center for American Progress to Democrats for Education Reform. At least she is forthright about gutting public education, as she wrote in an editorial urging to abolish and replace Detroit’s public schools with a free-market system, whereas Democrats hide behind the guise of “civil rights” and “educational opportunity”.

Unfortunately, the Obama years sowed the seeds for DeVos to finish the task. Without well-organized resistance, it will happen.

Reformers have been trying to figure what to say about Trump and DeVos. It is embarrassing for people who call themselves “progressives” to acknowledge that their agenda of charters and choice has been embraced by the most rightwing president in the past century, if not all of American history. They want more charters, as Trump promises, but they have to distance themselves from a president who has been warmly embraced by the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups.

Shavar Jeffries of DFER and Peter Cunningham of Education Post (and former aide to Arne Duncan) try to wend their way through the political thicket in this article. THE LINK IS NOW WORKING. 

First, they list all the Democrats (like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo) who support school choice. But they include Albert Shanker without admitting that after promoting the idea of charters in 1988, he denounced them as no different from vouchers in 1993, when he saw the business groups vying to run schools for profit. Documented in my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 127-128, revised edition).

Second, they give a nod to their friends in the unions, neglecting to mention that 93% of charters are non-union and are endorsed by all the Red State governors and right wing think tanks as a way to break unions.

Their biggest concern seems to be that DeVos might not adhere to the accountability regime established by George W. Bush. For them, high-stakes testing is a civil rights issue. Critics of high-stakes testing know that these tests measure family income and cause immeasurable harm to children who are poor, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. Just look at the Common Core scores in any state: most kids “failed” a test that was a grade level or two above their real grade. The highest failure rates were among the children with the greatest needs.

Accountability belongs at at the top. That’s where crucial decisions are made about resources and leadership. Yet the “reformers” still want to pin it on teachers and students.

As for “choice,” the results of 20+ years of vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Detroit, and of charters there and  in other cities should persuade everyone that neither vouchers nor charters address the needs of our children, especially those who are poorest. Their most damaging result is to drain resources from the public schools that enroll all children, making them less able to do their job.

Campbell Brown will not be covering Betsy DeVos on her website The 74. Brown, an ex-CNN talking head, has been a vocal critic of teachers’ unions and tenure and a vocal proponent of non-union charter schools. (She is on the board of DeVos’ American Federation for Children and on the board of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain.) She filed a Vergara style case against teacher tenure in Minnesota, claiming that tenure denied the rights of black and Hispanic children, but the Minnesota judge threw out her claim because of lack of evidence of any link between tenure and test scores. Another lawsuit filed by Brown’s “Partnership for Education Justice” has been filed in New York state.


Politico writes:


CAMPBELL BROWN STEPS BACK FROM COVERAGE: Campbell Brown, editor-in-chief of The 74, is “recusing herself” from her website’s news coverage of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. That’s according to a note from Romy Drucker, CEO of The 74, which will post online today. The note comes after reporters and activists in the last week have raised questions about Brown’s ties to DeVos and the ethics of covering her in The 74, which Brown maintains is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site. Critics have labeled the site as advocacy journalism.


– “We’ve received some inquiries about The 74’s relationship with Betsy DeVos,” Drucker’s note says. “In particular, her family foundation’s philanthropic donations to the site, our disclosures of any possible conflict of interest, and our standing policy on editorial independence. While we typically allow our article disclosures to stand by themselves, the current situation is unexpected and unprecedented – and deserves further transparency and explanation.”


– Brown and DeVos are friends, and Brown sits on the board of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children. (DeVos resigned as chair last week after accepting Trump’s Cabinet offer.) In 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation helped launch The 74 with a two-year grant – the amount of which wasn’t disclosed to Morning Education. “The final disbursement of those funds, in the first quarter of 2016, means that the foundation is only an active donor through the end of this year,” Drucker’s note says. “Obviously, given Ms. DeVos’s potential role in the federal government, The 74 will not be seeking additional funding for 2017 or beyond.” The website receives funding from a number of other education reform organizations like the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has also funded education reporting at the Los Angeles Times. Last year, the American Federation for Children also sponsored a summit held by The 74 for Republican presidential candidates.


– Brown has also recused herself from covering New York’s Success Academy Charter Schools because she sits on the board. Drucker writes that The 74 will continue to post disclosures on articles that mention DeVos or the American Federation for Children. In a recent op-ed for The 74, Brown defended DeVos as Trump’s pick for education secretary. But when asked if she’d consider serving alongside her friend in the Trump administration, Brown said, “Absolutely not. Definitively.”



I posted this previously with the wrong link. This is the correct link:

Betsy DeVos, billionaire and Trump nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, is chairman of the board and chief funder of the American Federation for Children. 

The organization advocates for charters and vouchers. If you scan its activities and news releases, you won’t find any mention of public schools. On her website, they are the invisible dragon that the AFC wants to slay.

When the election was over, the staff compiled a list of the victories for school choice. School choice means schools choose; school choice means segregation. School choice means privatization. In DeVos’ world, school choice means autonomy without accountability. School choice means the death of public education.

Read the AFC memo here.

The DeVos family has had an outsize influence in Michigan, by its charitable contributions and its political contributions.

After the Detroit Free Press published a scathing series of articles about the corrupt, unaccountable practices in charter schools in the state, the legislature was shamed into drafting a law that would provide oversight of the charter sector.

The DeVos family gave out $1.5 million in campaign contributions to make sure that charter schools continued to be unregulated and unaccountable.

80% of the charter schools in Michigan operate for profit. No other state has so many for-profit operators.

Detroit is overrun with charters. It is at the very bottom of all urban districts tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, despite all its choice and competition. Or because of them.

Michigan doesn’t have vouchers, because the people of Michigan voted them down in 2000 when the DeVos family proposed an initiative to permit public funds to flow to nonpublic schools. The measure lost overwhelmingly, by 69-31%. No county in the state voted for it.

Milwaukee has had both charters and vouchers for more than 20 years, and it is among the lowest scoring urban districts in the nation, but ahead of Detroit.

Read what the New York Times wrote about charters in Detroit last June. DeVos now owns this mess.

Why should anyone open a charter school, get public money, and be free of oversight? Why should taxpayer dollars flow to religious schools when every state referendum on vouchers has gone down to inglorious defeat by large majorities?

Gary Rubinstein entered teaching via Teach for America, but unlike most TFA recruits, he made teaching his career. He is also TFA’s most incisive critic, sometimes a critical friend, other times a critic of TFA hypocrisy.

In this post, Gary deconstructs TFA’s statement on Trump’s nomination of choice zealot Betsy DeVos. TFA, like other reform organizations, is in a dilemma because they want to be on the side of social justice, but they also want to be on the side of the new administration, which will be very good indeed for TFA. More charters mean more jobs for young recruits. Billions of dollars for school choice are heading the way of the “reformers,” and it is hard for them to seem sad about that. Gary wishes the TFA statement had included a few good words on behalf of public schools and on behalf of teachers. It didn’t.

The TFA statement includes 11 policy priorities, and Gary analyzes each of them. He wishes TFA had called on DeVos to stop the teacher bashing. It didn’t. He wishes it had called on DeVos to protect the funding of public schools while promoting choice. It didn’t.

Read the whole post for links and analysis.

Gary concludes:

Accountability has been used as a weapon to fire teachers and close schools throughout the country based on highly flawed metrics. Obama and Duncan did a lot of damage with this one and maybe TFA feels that they used it in a fair way, even if I don’t. But that same weapon in the hands of Trump and DeVos should be something that TFA should be concerned about. I don’t think that this was something that TFA needed to ask the new Secretary to be vigilant. Based on the contempt she has shown for public schools and teachers over the years, it’s pretty clear that DeVos will use her power to try to make it even easier to fire teachers and close schools. This could have a negative effect on not just all the TFA alumni who are still working in public schools, but also for the ones who are at the few charter schools that try to keep their most needy students and whose test scores suffer for it. In the bigger picture, I think that having DeVos too strong on accountability will negatively affect so many students in this country.

Finally there’s policy number nine about using “evidence and data” to ‘drive’ “teacher improvement and development over time.” This is code for trying to use test scores and value-added metrics to rate teachers, no matter how inaccurate those metrics are.

More telling than the policies TFA chose to include on this list is the ones they chose to exclude. Knowing that DeVos is planning to use her power to divert funds from the public schools (and charter schools too) for vouchers for private schools, perhaps TFA could have asked that she not cut funding to schools. Knowing how much contempt DeVos has shown toward public school teachers, TFA could asked her not to bash teachers so much. Knowing that DeVos has funded reform propaganda sites like Campbell Brown’s The Seventy Four, TFA could have suggested that she spend time in public schools and see what great work is being done.

There’s a lot they could have said to help stave off the at least four year battle everyone in non-charter schools is going to have to fight daily. Instead they padded their valid concerns about discrimination with a bunch of reform code.

Of their nine policies that TFA is urging DeVos to consider (three of the eleven are basically saying, make schools safe for all students), six of them are things that she was already on board with. It’s the TFA way of saying “We are already in agreement with you on most things so you can trust us and work with us to help you out in general.” They seem to care more about their own survival and the continuation of Duncan’s reform strategies than they do about the potential damage that the Trump / DeVos duo can wreak on the children of this country.

Today is #GivingTuesday. Please give whatever you can to the Network for Public Education and help us as we fight efforts to privatize our public schools.

The Network has generated nearly 75,000 emails to members of the Senate, urging them not to confirm Betsy DeVos, who supports charters and vouchers, not public schools.

Please open this link and add your name. Share it with your friends. Our goal is to reach 100,000 emails. We can do it.

It is wrong to appoint a Secretary of Education who opposes public schools. Her nomination should be opposed by Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans are supposed to be protectors of tradition and community values. Public education is a central American tradition. Republicans serve on local school boards and state school boards. They too should vote to oppose DeVos’ radical attack on public education.

“When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

― Garrison Keillor, “Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America”

Please stand up against the vandals who would destroy the mortar that holds the community together.

And please give generously so we can fight on your behalf and on behalf of America’s children.

An investment group in Portland, Oregon, paid $72 million for five charter schools in Florida. The investors paid nearly $18,000 per student.

Do you think these are public schools? Do you think they are community schools?

School’s out: Portland investors pay $72M for charter school portfolio in Florida

Charter School Capital, an academic investment group based in Portland, just scooped up five charter schools spread throughout Florida for $71.74 million. The sellers were MG3 Development Group and ESJ Capital Partners, a pair of local real estate companies.
The deal illustrates how investing in nontraditional real estate like schools can be lucrative, especially when other markets like residential and commercial properties appear to be cooling down.

According to a news release from Colliers International Education Services Group, which brokered the deal on behalf of the sellers, the portfolio encompasses 295,992 square feet split among five schools in Riverview, Vero Beach, Coral Springs, Davie and Plantation. Colliers’ Todd Noel and Achikam Yogev worked on the sale.

MG3 Principal Hernan Leonoff told The Real Deal that his firm developed the schools in Riverview, Davie and Plantation, plus renovated the facility in Coral Springs while ESJ acted as the lead company in building the portfolio. MG3 had no involvement with the Vero Beach charter school.

The ownership varied between properties: for most of the schools, MG3 had a minority interest while ESJ, led by principals Arnaud Sitbon and Gabriel Amiel, was the majority owner.

The sale breaks down to about $242 square feet, but Leonoff cautioned that a school’s capacity for students is a better gauge of pricing because common areas can skew square footage.

The five schools can house roughly 4,000 students, he said, bringing the price to about $17,935 per enrollee. That’s significantly more expensive than the $16,641 per student that tennis pro Andre Agassi and his partner Bobby Turner sold their Boynton Beach school for in August.