Archives for category: Charter Schools

Entrepreneur Steve Perry opened a charter chain called Capital Preparatory Schools, which recently was a finalist for the Yass Prize, which acknowledges outstanding charter schools. The chain won a prize of $500,000, which it will use to expand. The first-place winner was Arizona Autism Charter Schools, which won $1 million. The Yass Prize is called a STOP award, meaning Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless.

On the federal government website for charter schools, the Yass prize is described thus:

The mission of the STOP Awards is to identify and support more best in class education providers who can tackle the challenges and deliver an education for students that is Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. The STOP Foundation for Education is not just a philanthropy. And the STOP Award is not just a prize. It’s a movement intended to transform education for everyone. Complete the online application form.

The prize is administered by the Center for Education Reform of Washington, D.C., which supports charter schools, vouchers, and virtual charters, and opposes public schools.

Capital Prep operates in New York City and Connecticut. Its schools were recognized for providing outstanding education, and because 100% of its graduates were accepted at four-year colleges and universities since 2006. Its school in Harlem was co-founded by musician Sean Combs, also known as P. Diddy.

Gary Rubinstein has a history of examining charter schools that claim miraculous results. He took a close look at the Capital Prep Schools and learned from state data that they are actually low-performing schools. Please open the link to see his documentation.

He writes:

The 100% college acceptance graduation rate….implies that the students at the school have been successful in their academics. So I thought I’d go to the public New York State data site to see if this is the case.

In general, the test scores at the Perry / P. Diddy school are some of the lowest in the city. Most notable is that in their 8th grade class of 71 students, exactly 1 scored a passing score of a 3 on the recent state tests…[Scores range from 1-5].

School wide, only 6% of the students in all grades got a 3 on the math state test.

For the older grades, I see that no students passed the Geometry or the Algebra II Regents exams.

Now I’m not saying that test scores are everything, but when only 1 out of 71 8th graders gets a 3 on the state test, this definitely runs counter to the image that the 100% college acceptance rate is supposed to indicate.

The New York Capital Prep schools have only been open for a few years, but the Connecticut Capital Prep schools have been around for over 15 years. So I also looked at the Connecticut publicly available data, which has a lot of useful information on it.

One thing I found was that their Four-Year graduation rate has been as low as 56% in recent years…

On the college readiness index, the school fared very poorly…

The college entrance rate for 2020 was not 100% but about 77%

That school also had 0% passing an AP exam even though 38% took an AP exam…

So anytime you see a claim that some school is beating the odds because they have a 100% college acceptance rate, you should know that there is usually more to the story than that one statistic.

Again, open the link.

Charter schools have managed to occupy an unusual spot in the spectrum of educational institutions: When it’s time to get public funding, they insist they are “public schools.” But in court cases where charters were fighting to be exempt from state laws governing employment practices or financial accountability, they insist they are not “state actors.” It is logically impossible to be both a public school but not a state actor.

In a current court case, a North Carolina charter chain wants the courts to declare that its schools are not state actors because they enforce policies for girls’ dress that is inconsistent with state and federal law.

Public schools are state actors. In effect, this charter chain wants to be declared “not a public school” even as it continues to be publicly funded. Why? It wants to preserve its right to ignore state and federal laws against discrimination.

Peter Greene explains the background of this case:

In the regularly pro-choice Wall Street Journal, Baker Mitchell and Robert Spencer want to complain about a court decision declaring that their charter schools are, in fact, public schools. This, they warn, “imperils the charter school movement.” Their complaint is a big pile of deep fried baloney.

The case that prompted this whinging

One of the charter schools operated by Roger Bacon Academy was sued by some parents over a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts (or skorts–but none of that pants-wearing stuff, ladies). Such a big deal. Who knew?

“We’re a school of choice. We’re classical in our curriculum and very traditional. I believe that the more of the traditional things you have in place, the more they tend to reinforce each other,” he said in a phone interview. “We want boys to be boys and girls to be girls and have mutual respect for each other. We want boys to carry the umbrella for girls and open doors for them … and we want to start teaching that in grammar school.”

RBA is owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr., one of the titans of charter profiteering. Back in 2014, Marian Wang profiled the “politically-connected businessman who celebrates the power of the free market,” and how he perfected the business of starting nonprofit charter schools and then having those schools lease their buildings, equipment, programs, etc. from for-profit companies owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr. Mitchell (now in his early eighties) thinks the rule is great:

The case bounced up through the various court levels until it landed in front of the full panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared that the rule was junk and had to be thrown out. Not a worthwhile call-back to what one dissenting judge called “the age of chivalry” as the majority noted such an age was also the age “when men could assault their spouses” and that chivalry “may not have been a bed of roses for those forced to lie in it.”

Nor did the court accept the argument that girls were still getting good grades. “We cannot excuse discrimination because its victims are resilient enough to persist in the face of such unequal treatment.”

So what’s the big deal? (Spoiler alert: that state actor thing)

Mitchell and Spencer are not whining about the loss of their ability to require girls to show their legs. They protest that the policy was created by parents; well, so was the lawsuit, so that hardly seems like a useful point. And it’s not the main concern,

The case hinged on the question of whether or not charter schools are “state actors” aka actual public schools. The court said, “Yes, they are.”

Mitchell and Spencer complain that no court has ever done such a thing and therefor: The Fourth Circuit’s finding appears to have been based on little more than the convention of calling charters “public charter schools” and their being mostly funded by public sources.

This is kind of hilarious, because the “convention” of calling these school public was created entirely, and purposefully, by the charter industry and its supporters. They have insisted loudly and often that charter schools are absolutely public schools, and have engaged in uncountable arguments with anyone who dares to say otherwise. Of course, they have also frequently insisted that they are private businesses when it’s convenient for fending off state scrutiny or grabbing PPP pandemic relief money.

And despite Mitchell and Spencer’s apocalyptic warnings, you know who applauded the court’s ruling?

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The importance of this case could not be overstated, as it was the first time a federal appellate court considered whether public charter school students deserve the same constitutional civil rights protections as district public school students. The en banc court clearly and unequivocally affirmed that charter schools are public schools and, accordingly, must be bound by the US Constitution. Moreover, public charter school students have the same constitutional and civil rights as their district public school peers.

Galen Sherwin, ACLU senior staff attorney, observed that the ruling was important because The court rightly recognizes that ruling otherwise would leave states free to establish parallel, privately operated public school systems in a constitution-free zone, free to implement race segregation, religious discrimination, etc.

So what are they really, really upset about?

The tell comes a little further down the piece.
The ruling comes at a time when the charter-school movement is growing. Oklahoma’s attorney general recently issued a legal opinion stating that religious organizations must be allowed to operate charter schools in the Sooner State. A key aspect of the opinion was a finding that charter schools are not state actors and, therefore, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause doesn’t prohibit the inculcation of religious values, as it does in government-run schools.

If charter schools are state actors, then that might get in the way of expanding religious charters. And sure enough– we find amicus briefs filed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington VA, Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and the Religious Freedom Institute. “These experts,” say the writers, confusing advocacy and lobbying with expertise, say the Fourth Circuit’s ruling would undercut charter schools.

Well, no. They would undercut the extension of private religious organizations into a sweet, sweet chance to get their hands on public tax dollars while still enjoying unregulated freedom to indoctrinate some students into their religion while also discriminating against whatever students they choose to discriminate against in a taxpayer-funded Constitution-free zone.

Are we done yet?

Of course not. The school has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their appeal. It invokes the 14th Amendment and features this kind of flag-waving:


North Carolina charter schools—like many throughout the Nation—build upon a critical insight: Empowering private entities to operate publicly funded schools with minimal government oversight supercharges educational innovation and expands parental choice. The decision below profoundly threatens this model.

“Supercharges innovation.” Sure. Making girls wear skirts is one hell of a supercharged innovation. My usual offer stands–name one educational innovation that has come out of the modern charter school sector.

Mitchell and Spencer want you to know that damn ACLU is behind this case, but they aren’t exactly being represented by a Mom and Pop firm. Aaron Streett is an attorney with Baker Botts, a multinational law firm (where both Amy Coney Barrett and Ted Cruz once worked), and that he’s the chair of their Supreme Court and Constitutional Law Group. Streett says that the majority opinion “contradicts Supreme Court precedent on state action…and limits the ability of parents to choose the best education for their children.”

The argument is simple enough–we are not a public school, so we should get to do whatever the hell we want (and be paid by taxpayer dollars while we do it).

It’s a tough call for the charter biz–if they aren’t public schools, then at this point they really aren’t much different from private voucher schools, so what’s the point of them? But if they want to market themselves as public schools, they can damn well operate under public school rules.

Who knows if SCOTUS will hear this, or what they will decide. But regardless of how things end up, it looks like the charter movement’s days of being able to have things both ways may be coming to an end.

Kevin Welner, who is both a lawyer and a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote about these issues on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog last June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine could not exclude two religious schools from state funding when it provided public funding to other private schools, even though the religious schools openly discriminate against LGBT students, families, and staff, as well as non-Christians. The case is called Carson V. Makin.

Welner suggests that the Maine case may erase the line between charter schools and vouchers.

Welner wrote:

If charter schools are state actors, they cannot engage in religious teaching or discrimination. The Peltier litigation did not, however, involve any claim by the school that its sexist dress code arose out of protected religious beliefs. If religious-liberty claims were to be asserted around a comparable policy adopted by a charter school run by a religious organization, the state-action inquiry should be very similar, if not identical, and the charter school should be prohibited from engaging in discrimination.

But as today’s Carson v. Makin decision illustrates, the introduction of free-exercise protections could greatly complicate the overall analysis. If courts side with a church-run charter school, finding that state attempts to restrict religiously infused teachings and practices at the school are an infringement on the church’s free-exercise rights, then the circle is complete: Charter school laws have become voucher laws.

If the Supreme Court hears the Peltier case, if it decides that charter schools are not state actors, if charters may discriminate against girls, LGBT students, and non-Christians, then as Welner says, charters are no different from vouchers. But if they are not state actors, then charter schools are not public schools. But they are free to discriminate against any group, without regard to federal law. And they are free to teach religious doctrine and to close their schools to non-believers. States will then be directly funding schools that teach religious zealotry and openly engage in discrimination.

A loss for American democracy, but a victory for Donald Trump, who appointed three religious extremists to the Supreme Court; Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow President Obama to fill Justice Scalia’s empty seat on the Court after the Justice died in March 2016 (on the absurd grounds that it was too close to a presidential election), as well as his rush to allow Trump to name Amy Coney Barrett to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat only weeks before the 2020 election; the far-right wing Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, which selected the judicial candidates for Trump. And while it may be impolitic to say so, I blame Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for refusing to resign her seat in 2014 or 2015, when Obama would certainly have been able to replace her. She had had four bouts with pancreatic cancer, and good reason to step down and give Obama a chance to replace her. Instead she stayed on and died at age 87, gambling that Hillary Clinton would replace Obama. She lost her bet, and the nation has a Supreme Court that is imposing a deeply reactionary agenda.

You may have noted, if you have followed this blog for a long time, that I am a big fan of Peter Greene. Peter is a wonderful writer, has a great sense of humor, and was a classroom teacher for 39 years in Pennsylvania. In addition to his own blog Curmudgacation, Peter is a regular columnist at Forbes, where he educates business people.

He writes so much so quickly that I sometimes miss terrific columns. This is one that I missed. It was published in 2019 in Forbes. The topic remains pertinent. Just in the past few days, I have had to defend the proposition that charter schools are not public schools. They call themselves public schools, but that doesn’t mean it is so.

Peter Greene explains here why charter schools are not public schools.

Modern charter schools prefer to attach the word “public” to their descriptions. Many of the charter advocacy groups include “public charter” in their title. And truthfully, there are no regulations attached to the term–any school can attach the word “public” to its title without having to worry about any sort of penalty.

So technically, any charter school can call itself a public school. Heck, any private or parochial school can call itself a public school if it’s so inclined. But while modern charter schools are financed by public tax dollars, they are not truly public schools for the following reasons.

Transparency

When City Paper recently reported on the salaries of DC charter teachers and administrators, it required extra digging to come up with the information because charter schools are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In fact, City Paper reported that a teacher employed by the charter was not even allowed to see the salary scale for her own job. In 2014, when the New York state controller wanted to audit the books of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy, the charter leader took him to court and won, barring the state from trying to see how public tax dollars were spent.

Public schools are required to provide a transparent look at their finances. At times, some outlets have gone so far as to publish the salaries of individual teachers, and that’s perfectly legal. Nor are public school boards allowed to meet privately or in secret. Everything that happens in a public school is paid for with public dollars, and is therefor subject to public scrutiny. Charters deliberately avoid that level of scrutiny.

Subject To State Law

The details here vary from state to state (here’s a handy chart for looking up your own state), but charter schools generally don’t have to play by the same rules as public schools. Non-discrimination, health and safety, and school year length are often (but not always) exceptions–beyond the specific exceptions, charters operate as they will, and may in some states request additional waivers. So, for instance, many states do not require charter teachers to be certified. Public schools, meanwhile, must play by all the rules laid down by the state.

Student Population

Modern charter schools have a variety of techniques for controlling which students they serve. It begins with advertising, which signals which students are most likely to feel like the school is a good fit for them. Charters are not required to provide programs that meet all special needs; they don’t necessarily turn those students down, but if a school tells you that they do not offer the program that your child needs, will you really enroll there? And while lotteries are supposed to select students randomly, lotteries themselves often require committed parents willing to work their way through the paperwork and bureaucracy, so that the system allows parents to self-select for providing the kind of support and commitment that makes students more successful.

Once the student is in the school, there are a variety of ways to nudge the child out. We’ve seen the “Got To Go” list at Success Academy; families can be nudged out with repeated suspensions and disciplinary action.

Charter supporters note that some public schools, such as magnet or special program schools, do not accept all students either, and that is true. However, even if the child is not selected for the magnet school, the district is still responsible for that child’s education and will enroll her elsewhere. If a student has severe special needs that the district cannot meet in house, the district must still assume financial responsibility for providing the child with an education at some specialized facility.

When students walk out the door of a charter school, they cease to be the charter’s responsibility. But as long as a student lives within the public school’s designated area, that student is the district’s responsibility.

Local Control

Public schools answer to the public. They are run by elected school boards who must meet and take action in public. Charter advocates have expressed frustration with this system and even suggest that school boards be done away with. Many public systems have been attacked on this front, with their school boards thrust aside by state takeover or a switch to mayoral control. Such changes make those systems less public, and often are a step toward converting public schools to charters.

Charter schools could be operated by a locally elected board, but they almost never are. Instead, charter schools are owned and operated by private individuals or boards, sometimes located far away from the school itself. Sometimes control of the charter is separated from the community by a series of managerial handoffs–Group X technically owns and operates the charter, but they hire Corporation Y to actually run the school.

When municipal assets like water systems and parking facilities are handed off to private companies to run, we call it by its name–privatization. Turning a school over to a private company to own and operate is no different.

Why Bother?

Why do charter schools and their boosters insist on using the term “public”? Here’s what Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told Emma Brown of the Washington Post as he argued that charters are public schools.

And it’s a term that matters, he said: Americans have high regard for the importance of public education, and private schools carry connotations of exclusivity that don’t apply to charters.

In other words, “public” carries a host of connotations that are important for marketing purposes. Brown was interviewing Ziebarth in 2016 for his reaction to the National Labor Relations Board ruling that charters are private corporations.

We can talk another day about whether charter schools are helping or hurting, whether they’re good policy or bad. What we should not need to discuss is whether or not they are public.

Next time someone insists that charter schools are public schools, I can send them a link to this article.

There’s another tell that shows what charters are. When COVID began spreading, Congress passed a program for small businesses and nonprofits called the Paycheck Protection Program. The Small Business Administration gave out almost $800 billion to save jobs. Many private and religious schools applied for and received PPP grants, as did churches, synagogues, mosques, and businesses. Public schools were not allowed to apply for PPP money because there was another program specifically for public schools. Some charter schools applied for and received over a billion dollars of PPP money, while also collecting money from the public school fund. The average charter school received far more than the average public school because many of the charters double-dipped from both funds. If charter schools were public schools, they would not have been eligible for PPP money.

Josh Cowen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, has engaged in voucher research for two decades. Recently, he realized that the people and groups funding school privatization are the same as those funding other anti-democratic, extremist causes.

He writes:

There’s an old saying that “friends are the family we choose.”

The idea is that none of us played a part in the manner in whichwe were born or raised. We can’t help which city or state or country we grew up in, or whether we had two married parents or parents who divorced, whether one or both of our parents were straight or gay or whether we were only or adopted children. We can’t help which religious tradition—if any—we were raised in although we can decide for ourselves what we believe as adults.

Eventually we come to be known—and to know ourselves—by the company we choose to keep.

I spend a substantial amount of time these days talking to reporters about education policy—not just school privatization but other issues I work on like teacher retention or issues like the dreadful “read or fail” law that Michigan adopted during its Florida-mimicry days. I have a lot of experience trying to explain complicated policy areas to lay readers and writers.

By far and away the most difficult task in that activity has been explaining just how extreme, fringe and even dangerous much of the advocacy around school privatization and school vouchers actually is.

Others have reported at length how artificial the so-called “parents’ rights” groups are, but the drum that needs to be constantly tapped is that the real goal of a voucher system or its latest incarnation of “Education Freedom” is entirely radical.

Let’s walk through it.

First, when we talk about vouchers—or “scholarships” as they’re almost universally euphemized—we’re talking about a policy that’s had catastrophic impacts on student achievement. I’ve written about this here on Diane’s page and in media outlets across the country. You have to look to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on test scores, or to Hurricane Katrina, to find comparable harm to academics. Vouchers are a man-made disaster, and yet the intellectual and political drivers, from Betsy DeVos to Jay Greene, are the same people who were pushing for these policies 25 years ago.

That’s one form of extremism. DeVos herself admitted the Louisiana voucher program—where voucher test score drops were nearly double what COVID did—was “not very well-conceived.” If spending decades and millions of dollars on a policy that did that kind of harm isn’t dangerously radical, I don’t know what is.

But that kind of idolatry-level obsession with a particular public policy begins to make more sense when we look at the other forms of fanatism that voucher activists have linked up with in their organizing.

There’s election denial, for one thing. Voucher activism and research is funded by groups like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation—a key player in the Big Lie push to undermine confidence in the 2020 presidential outcomes. That foundation’s Board Secretary Cleta Mitchell has a starring role in the recently released January 6th Committee Report.

In a way that’s fitting. Vouchers work for kids like Donald Trump won the 2020 election. You have to suspend reality to believe either.

Next, there’s the extreme level of cruelty that voucher activists are increasingly embracing to push toward their goals. The Right-wing voucher-pushing Heritage Foundation has been pumping out screed after screed on topics ranging from book bans to diversity to transgender health care in its explicit exploitation of culture war divisions, and has all-but-encouraged the framing of public school educators as enemies to parents.

So right there that’s election denialism, anti-transgender, anti-diversity and book-banning marching arm and arm with school vouchers.

Add to that Greg Abbott’s busing of migrants to frigid northern cities on Christmas Eve and Ron DeSantis’s similar human trafficking this summer. Abbott is leading the privatization push in Texas with the help of Betsy DeVos staffers, and under DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay policies, Florida voucher schools are newly empowered to reject LGBTQ kids and parents on the taxpayer dime.

Add further an opposition to reproductive rights. In Michigan for example, the DeVos-backed voucher initiative was led by the same political operatives running the campaign against our constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to choose, and an amendment against voter rights expansions all at the same time!

None of this is an accident. The push to privatize education isfundamentally an effort to discriminate against vulnerable children and to undermine civic institutions ranging from public schools themselves to democratic elections. It’s that extreme.

But really, none of this is new. Many of the younger reporters I talk to have no idea that the voucher movement actually began as part of the South’s “massive resistance” to integration ordered by the Brown v Board of Education decision.

In that sense, it’s hardly surprising that today’s voucher backers want to expel LGBTQ children and lean into book bans all in the name of “values.” As the author William Faulkner once said, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

One of the tricks that advocates for school vouchers and other forms of privatization have been able to pull over the last two decades is to make the erosion of public education seem moderate—even reasonable.

But whether clinging for decades to a voucher policy failure that’s unprecedented in modern education, clinging in the same spirit to a failed presidential candidate’s baseless claims of an electoral victory, or a steadied push to stoke cruelty toward children as a means to an end, the school privatization movement and with it the Right’s attacks on public education are some of the most extreme forces operating today in American politics.

Extreme, and ultimately very dangerous. Defending public schools is becoming increasingly a movement to defend human rights.

Many of the same people who promote The Big Lie about the 2020 election also just happen to be promoters of charter schools and vouchers.

Patrick Byrne is one of them. He is the CEO of Overstock.com.

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about him here.

Patrick Byrne has been back in the news. Remember him? If you’ve followed Indiana politics – especially education politics – for the past decade, you very well may.

Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com, has as a prominent election denier trying to cast doubt on the fact that Donald Trump lost in 2020. He was part of an “unhinged” White House meeting Dec. 18, 2020, where he and others reportedly urged Trump to fight harder to overturn the results.

Byrne promoted the idea that 65% of all education spending should be in the classroom. A big, simple solution. George Will loved it. So did the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, and the legislature so they passed a law mandating it.

Byrne has made big contributions to organizations pushing charters and vouchers.

Byrne spent eight years as board chair of EdChoice, the Indianapolis-based pro-voucher organization started by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman. He stepped down in 2019, the same year he left Overstock.com after his affair with a Russian woman who tried to influence U.S. politics became public.

Election denialism and school privatization: two big, simple ideas that are wrong.

Early in the pandemic, an economist at Brown University named Emily Oster gained extraordinary media attention for the advice she offered. She wrote multiple articles declaring that it was safe to open schools even without the funds needed to pay for extra safety precautions. She wrote, she was written about, she became the go-to person with “evidence” that schools were safe from COVID.

Oster’s research is funded by leading rightwing and libertarian foundations, organizations, and individuals. As the linked article by epidemiologists Abigail Cartus and Justin Feldman explains, Oster’s emphasis on individualism and personal choice ring sweetly in the ears of the rightwing philanthropists.

They write:

Oster’s influence on the discourse around COVID in schools is difficult to overstate. She has been quoted in hundreds of articles about school pandemic precautions and interviewed as a guest on dozens of news shows. Officials from both parties have used her work as justification for lifting public health measures. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cited her study while announcing an executive order banning school mask mandates, while CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy referenced Oster’s research in anticipation of relaxing classroom social distancing guidelines. Oster also co-authored an influential school reopening guidance document that was released in early 2021.

But despite its prominence, Oster’s work on COVID in schools has attracted little scrutiny—even though it has been funded since last summer by organizations that, without exception, have explicit commitments to opposing teacher’s unions, supporting charter schools, and expanding corporate freedom. In addition to grantsfrom the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Walton Family Foundation, and Arnold Ventures, Oster has received funding from far-right billionaire Peter Thiel. The Thiel grant awarded to Oster was administered by the Mercatus Center, the think tank founded and financed by the Koch family.

Although she claimed that her work was evidence-based, the authors show that her evidence was never as conclusive as she argued.

Cartus and Feldman draw a straight line between Oster’s views about COVID and the billionaire-funded attack on public schools. It is no accident that the same people who support charter schools and vouchers also support Oster.

What’s in it for the billionaires? Oster spreads the gospel of choice, they write, a philosophy of looking out for #1, and ignoring social responsibility.

They write:

Oster is far from the only person to apply an economic style of reasoning to the U.S. education sector. There exists an entire ecosystem of “education reform” organizations that have spent decades attempting to subject schools to market conditions, promoting “school choice”, (i.e., charter schools, some of which are for-profit). This necessitates, among other stances, taking a harder line against organized labor. When the pandemic arrived, billionaires and right-wing interests invested in neoliberal “education reform” saw an opportunity to advance their interests: breaking unions, promoting charter schools, and undermining public education. Oster’s preference for individualism, the rhetoric of choice, and economic reasoning over structural and collective justice-based conceptions made her—as an impeccably credentialed and high-profile economist prior to the pandemic—a valuable “expert” ally in their crusade to reshape U.S. education. Indeed, when the pandemic began, these groups promptly expressed interest in funding her work on COVID in schools….

Throughout the pandemic, Oster’s advocacy has helped make the “data-driven” case for peeling away successive layers of COVID mitigations: first ending remote instructionin favor of hybrid learning, then ending hybrid learning in favor of a full return to in-person instruction, then eliminating quarantine for those exposed to the virus. The direction of her vision for schooling during the pandemic ultimately involves abandoning universal public health measures altogether, turning masking and vaccination into individual, personal choices that can be decided through cost-benefit calculations.

The irony of the Rightwingers’ support for Oster and her “data-driven” approach to COVID is that it stands in sharp contrast to their total disregard for data or evidence about charter schools and voucher schools. The evidence favoring charter schools over district schools is scanty; the evidence of the failure of vouchers is overwhelming. But the funders don’t care.

The bitter struggle over COVID in schools, conducted with the rhetoric of “choice,” opened up space for an alliance between affluent white liberal parents and a right-wing propaganda infrastructure devoted to destroying unions and public schools. For instance, John Arnold, the former Enron executive behind the eponymous Arnold Ventures (which funds Oster), has used the pandemic to attack teacher’s unions and further his goal of dismantling public pension funding, much of which is allocated to unionized public school teachers. The pandemic also provided an opportunity to increase charter school usageat the expense of public school enrollment. It gave plutocrats like the Waltons yet another chance to attack teachers’ unions by painting their demands for safer working conditions as irrational. By advocating reopening in a seminar at Bellwether Education Partners (another Walton grantee) during a period when the Chicago Teachers Union was campaigning for stronger COVID rules, Oster helped the Waltons do precisely that.

To see all the links and read the full article, open the link.

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports on a disturbing possibility in the Hoosier state: charter schools are eyeing property taxes as a source of additional funding.

I remember when charter schools were first launched, in the late 1980s, their advocates (and I was one at the time) made three promises: one, they would get better results than public schools (they don’t); they would be more accountable than public schools (they are not); and they would cost less because they eliminate bureaucracy (they insist on the same funding as public schools).

Hinnefeld wonders whether it would be “taxation without representation” if property taxes were allocated to privately managed schools.

Unfortunately, the heavily gerrymandered legislature gives the privatizers whatever they want.

Will they draw a line now?

David Brooks is a regular commentator on PBS Newshour every Friday night. He is typically banal but inoffensive. This past Friday, he was both banal and offensive.

Judy Woodruff asked him and his colleague Jonathan Capehart to choose people who deserve something nice or a piece of coal in their Christmas stocking. Brooks said he would give the President’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain a model train set for his stocking, but he would give ”the teachers’ unions” a piece of coal because they bear a large share of the blame for the “long, overly overly long” school closures that affected “student attainment” (he meant test scores, not attainment) and that have impaired the “lifelong prospects of a generation of young people,” widened inequality, and impaired social mobility (view here, at 10:51 minutes in or the last segment of the hour). He didn’t name any other villains, just the unions.

This is wrong on many counts.

The teachers’ unions didn’t cause the closures. The pandemic did.

Many teachers were fearful for their lives. Some were immunocompromised or lived with family members who were vulnerable. They reasonably wanted reassurance that schools would reopen safely, and that’s what the AFT demanded in a series of policy documents—starting in April 2020–calling for a safe reopening. By that, the union meant regular testing and sanitizing, masking, social distancing to the extent possible, and ventilation in classrooms. The Trump administration wanted the schools open with no money for safety measures.

Districts went online not because the unions told them to but because the CDC recommended it, and normal concern for the safety of staff and students prevailed.

No one knew at the time what the right course of action was, so school boards and superintendents erred on the side of caution, to protect the lives of staff and students. Was this unreasonable? As a grandmother, I don’t think so.

Stay open and take chances or close the school and shift to virtual learning? It was a tough decision, and it was not made by the teachers’ unions.

Success Academy in New York City is a high-profile charter chain. Its teachers are not unionized. Its CEO Eva Moskowitz decided to close the schools and go virtual in mid-March 2020. In January 2021, Moskowitz decided to close the schools for the year, go virtual, and shorten the calendar by a month. Other non-union charter schools followed SA’s lead.

During the shutdowns, teachers taught virtually, and some double-tasked by teaching some students online and some in their classes.

The demands and uncertainties of the pandemic, coupled with the absurd attacks on teachers for teaching honestly about U.S. history and the outlandish claims that teachers were”grooming” their students for sexual deviance, were profoundly demoralizing. Many teachers left the profession. The number of new entrants has shrunk. Not a word of sympathy or concern from David Brooks.

As for his assertion that the lives of an entire generation have been blighted because of school closings, that is simply hysterical speculation. Very few students liked virtual learning, nor did teachers. But it was necessary for a time. There is no reason to believe that students were irreparably harmed. They are resilient and will bounce back if their teachers get the resources they need and lower class sizes.

It would be far better to hear Brooks advocate on behalf of teachers on national television rather than trot out the tired rightwing cliche about “evil” teachers unions.

Teachers need support, not disrespect. They have had a much more difficult three years than David Brooks.

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For David Brooks’ benefit, here is the AFT reopening plan issued in April 2020.

https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/media/2020/covid19_reopen-america-schools.pdf

This post was also written for Judy Woodruff, so that she won’t be blindsided the next time David or any other guest spouts anti-union, anti-teacher propaganda.

Gary Rubinstein is a mathematics teacher but also a close observer of boasting about miracle schools. He watches the charter sector closely and has exposed many hoaxes. He was first to report that Tennessee’s highly praised Achievement School District never achieved any of its goals. Here, he reviews the attrition rate at Success Academy, which has attained high test scores by curating its students. Success Academy has received national acclaim for its “miraculous” scores. Rubenstein explains what is behind the curtain.

Rubenstein writes:

Success Academy is the largest charter network in New York City. With 40 schools and 20,000 students, Success Academy is known for its high 3-8 standardized test scores and their rigid rules. Success Academy also celebrates the annual 100% college acceptance rate among its graduates.

Success Academy is a K-12 program and, until recently, the only time that you could enter the school was either in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade. The size of the first graduating cohort in 2018 was 16 students. The answer to the natural question of how many students started that cohort originally was 73 which meant that approximately 25% of the students who started with Success Academy eventually graduated from there. I say ‘approximately’ because it isn’t fully accurate to just divide 16/73=22% and conclude that 78% of the cohort left the school for one reason or another. Not counted in the 16 is the students who were still in the school but had been left back one or more years. It seems that about 6 more of the students from that cohort graduated a year later so maybe the true number is 22/73=30% is more accurate. But there’s another factor that, until now, has been impossible to factor in. Some of those 22 students are students who transferred into the school after the first year so you would have to subtract those students from the 22 to get the actual attrition rate. The only way to get that kind of data is to do a FOIL request which is exactly what I did.

Success Academy had 315 Kindergarteners in 2008. The graduating class of 2021 had 110 students. Without this new data, it would seem that their persistence rate is about 35%. But this new data I received shows that only 69 of the graduating class had started with the school as kindergarteners. So a more accurate estimate is 69/315=22% which is a little lower than the 25% I had originally estimated.

It is also interesting that 41/110=37% of the graduating class were from the backfills even though the backfills were from a pool of about 100 students. So about 41% of the backfills graduated vs 22% of the original cohort. A reason for this discrepancy could be explained by the way that Success Academy manipulates their backfill students to guarantee that the backfilled students are ‘better’ than the students they replaced. As I reported previously, lower performing students applying to be backfill students are often told that they have to repeat the grade they just graduated from which surely discourages some of them from accepting their backfill offer while higher performing students are not required to repeat the grade.

Please open the link and read the post.

We saw this coming. The charter movement, widely praised in the press, opened the door to school choice and consumerism. Now, as we see in Oklahoma, the state may soon have its first Catholic school charter. When the charter movement started, it promised that charter schools would be innovative, accountable, cost less than public schools and be transparent. As we have repeatedly seen, charter schools are not innovative, avoid accountability, demand the same or greater funding than public schools, and are not transparent.

Oklahoma shows where the charter movement is heading: charter schools are becoming a pathway to vouchers.

A Catholic charter school funded by taxpayer dollars is likely coming to Oklahoma soon, based on a recent ruling of the state’s outing attorney general, with support from the re-elected governor and off newly elected state superintendent of public education.

For decades, Baptists have fought against public funding of parochial schools of all kinds, but a recent series of rulings by the United States Supreme Court appears to have opened the door to that very reality. And Oklahoma’s strongly Republican leaders appear ready to walk through that door.

John O’Connor

On Dec. 1, Attorney General John O’Connor — who is Catholic — and Solicitor General Zach West wrote a non-binding legal opinion that says a current state law blocking religious institutions and private sectarian schools from state funding of public charter school programs is unconstitutional and should not be enforced.

Already, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City “states it is willing to adhere to every jot and tittle of state law and intends to apply for a charter,” reported Andrew Spiropoulos, the Robert S. Kerr Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

That means for the first time, government funding for public schools could also flow to Catholic schools and other faith-based schools.

And that’s not good news to Charles Foster Johnson, who helped found the group Pastors for Oklahoma Kids.

“It’s perfectly fine for those Oklahoma charter schools to become religious schools if they no longer receive public tax dollars from the people of Oklahoma,” he said. “But the last thing the devout religious folks of Oklahoma need is for their state to entangle itself in the establishment of religion through the funding of religious schools masquerading as public charter schools. All true religion, whether in congregation or class room, is voluntary and free. It must remain unencumbered by state intrusion.”

Charles Foster Johnson

Pastors for Texas Kids has noted that Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation for per-student spending on public education. The state’s public schools serve 703,650 students, accounting for 93% of the school-age population.