Archives for category: Charter Schools

This blog reported earlier on Professor Maurice Cunningham’s unearthing of the dark money used to promote charter expansion in Massachuseets. The big donors, he learned, were wealthy Republicans, and of course, Question 2 is being de eptively marketed as a means of “improving public schools. Passage of Question 2 would in fact give a stamp of approval to privatization of public schools and enable the establishment of more privately managed charters.

Now even the Boston Globe, which has consistently covered charters favorably, reports that the money behind Question 2 is hidden from public view.

“A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on screen, in accordance with state law. But the singularly bland names, including Strong Economy for Growth and Education Reform Now Advocacy, give no hint of who is writing the checks.

“Four of the five donors to the procharter committee are nonprofit groups that do not, under state law, have to disclose their funders, allowing the individuals backing the effort to remain anonymous.

“The cloak of secrecy surrounding the financing of what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history has frustrated election officials and underscored the proliferation of untraceable money in political races across the country.

“Would we like to see every donor disclosed? Absolutely,” said Michael J. Sullivan, the director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. “But the statute does not provide for it at this point. This dark money issue is a puzzle that every state is facing right now.”

Spending to push Question 2 is expected to exceed the $15.5 million spent by gambling interests to block efforts to ban casinos.

The Globe interviewed Professor Cunningham and listed the major groups funding the pro-charter campaign, most of which are funded by billionaires and hedge fund managers.

We have read earlier ( see here and here) about the principal of El Camino Real Charter High School. The school is very popular and academically successful. But its principal played fast and loose with the school’s credit card. While he was moonlighting as a talent scout for a professional basketball team, he flew around the country and charged hotels, first-class air tickets, and meals to his credit card. According to stories in the Los Angeles Daily News, the principal charged about $100,000 to the school’s credit card.

A Daily News investigation published in May found that El Camino’s Executive Director David Fehte had made numerous lavish charges to his school-issued American Express card, including $15,500 at Monty’s Prime Steaks & Seafood in 2014 and 2015, and several personal expenses, such as first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms. Fehte’s charges also included more than $6,700 for a four-day trip to the Michigan headquarters of Herman Miller, the designer furniture manufacturer, for himself and two other school employees when there was a showroom 25 miles from the school. Fehte has denied doing anything wrong.

My favorite credit card charge: that four-day trip to the Herman Miller showroom when there was a showroom only 25 miles from the school.

Kind of embarrassing. If he were in a public school, he would have been brought up on charges and fired.

The school, which converted to an independent charter in 2011, would have until Sept. 23 to remedy all the alleged violations if the notice is issued, district officials said. If it fails to do so, the LAUSD board could issue a “notice of intent to revoke” the school’s charter and then hold another public hearing. If the board ultimately approves revocation, the school would be forced to cease operations pending an appeal.

The school has been given “multiple opportunities” to review and improve its policies but “has failed to implement such improvements to this day,” leading to “an inability to determine how public funds are being used and identify specific instances of their use for personal expenses,” according to a district staff report on the alleged violations.

Now the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District is giving serious thought to revoking the school’s charter. It seems the principal, David Fehte, was not the only one who used charter funds for personal expenses.

Potential management issues involving El Camino came to light last year. In its latest documents, L.A. Unified accuses El Camino of demonstrating “an inability to determine how public funds are being used and identify specific instances of their use for personal expenses,” adding that “fatal flaws in judgment … call into serious question the organization’s ability to successfully implement the charter in accordance with applicable law and district requirements.”

According to L.A. Unified, a sampling of 425 credit card expenses by five El Camino employees, including Fehte, revealed that “countless expenses were incurred without adherence to any uniform procedure, and without verification of the necessary details.”

The school system also accused El Camino’s board of improperly conducting public meetings by, for example, taking action on items that were not listed on the agendas to be voted on.

In a series of articles, the Los Angeles Daily News reported on Fehte’s spending for such things as wine, first-class air travel and pricey hotel rooms.

Fehte has denied wrongdoing and said he inadvertently charged about $6,100 in personal expenses on his school credit card. He said he reimbursed the school as soon as these charges were pointed out to him.

Some of the expenses were incurred while Fehte was moonlighting as a college basketball talent scout for the San Antonio Spurs, according to the Daily News.

Public school parents might feel some resentment, because while Mr. Fehte was jetting around the country in first class, their own schools were underfunded.

They will just have to get over it. Charter schools are special, and they get special treatment. Especially in California, where the charter school lobby is rich and powerful and underwrites the campaigns of legislators and school board members.

If you want to learn more about charter scofflaws, read this:

http://thewire.k12newsnetwork.com/2016/08/19/a-charter-serves-up-more-kool-aid/

Teacher and historian John Thompson writes here about the reflection that seems to be occurring among “reformers” as they realize that their test-and-punish reforms produce limited gains and limited outcomes. He wonders how different our federal and state policies would be had reformers strived to implement research-based reforms instead of ideas that had intuitive appeal.

He writes:


Something important is stirring in terms of education research. We’ve always gone through cycles, mostly notably in the aftermath of the Coleman Report, during debates over the so-called “culture of poverty,” and during the contemporary data-driven, market reform era, where scholars have had to think twice when analyzing where the evidence leads. This last month, however, a variety of social scientists have candidly expressed the facts that corporate reformers deride as an “excuse.”

Heather Hill’s review of the Coleman Report recalls the seminal study’s finding, “One implication stands out above all: That schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context.” Hill reviews the subsequent analyses of Coleman, and the findings of Tony Bryk and Stephen Raudenbush, who “show that differences among schools accounted for about one-fifth of the variability in student outcomes.” The bottom line, she reports is that “schools still pack a weaker punch than many imagine.”

Neither did the Chalkbeat editors pull any punches. Its subtitles clearly convey the message that has been condemned as heresy over the last two decades:

Meanwhile, evidence mounted for one central conclusion: schools matter – but not as much as people might think; and

The logical conclusion: You can’t fix schools without trying to fix broader social inequality, too.

Similarly, Stephen Dubner’s begins his recent Freakonomics Radio program with the words, “in our collective zeal to reform schools and close the achievement gap, we may have lost sight of where most learning really happens — at home.” Dubner concludes, “Most of us probably think too much about cognitive skills and not enough about non-cognitive. Most of us probably put way too much faith in the formal education system, when, in fact, the path to learning begins way before then, at home.” In between, we hear from economist John List, “Schools only have kids for a handful of hours per day, but who, really, will mold kids through their lives are the parents.” Also, early education expert Dana Suskind concludes, that we need preventive, not remediative programs. “About the only way” that we can “move the needle,” she says, is through science-based programs which begin the learning process at birth or before.

Even the most steadfast true believers in accountability-driven, competition-driven reform seem to finally be facing reality. The first words of a NBER paper by John List, Roland Fryer and Stephen Levitt are President Barack Obama’s 2009 statement that, “There is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences … Responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.”

And, even the TNTP seems to be questioning its blind faith that the answers for poverty can be found inside the four walls of the classroom. Its modest pilot project taught Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling that, “We have a new appreciation for the annual catastrophe that is summer learning loss—and what a headache summer is for the families we work with in general. The out-of-school opportunity gap has received increased attention in recent years … because it is becoming clearer that it is a substantial driver of long term inequality.” After a year of working with real-life families in actual schools the TNTP acknowledges:

Some people argue the post-Katrina choice-based system has led to large, sustained improvements in performance and should become a model for the rest of the country. Others say it’s still largely a low performing system and the process of creating it profoundly disrupted its workforce and community.

That brings us to the research of Douglas Harris, the Tulane University Education Research Alliance, and their recent conference on early education in New Orleans. Harris has documented major post-Katrina gains in New Orleans test scores, while acknowledging that “critics are concerned that schools under reforms are too focused on test scores.” Moreover, he notes that “disadvantaged groups always see a smaller effect than the advantaged groups early in the reforms.” Especially before 2012 or so, there were “real horror stories about how special education students and others were suspended and expelled at high rates,” and “it remains unclear whether the problems are solved.” Harris sees “signs that high school dropouts are being under-reported,” and he says that NOLA’s decentralization can “negatively impact vulnerable groups.”

I sometimes question Harris’s confidence that oversight and accountability can mitigate such problems, but I trust his judgment in regard to the initial beliefs of NOLA reformers, “The original idea was that charters would create some degree of choice and competition, allow some schools more autonomy, facilitate innovation and diversify options. “Replacing” traditional public schools was almost never part of the conversation.” On the other hand, he doesn’t deny the current threat to traditional public schools, “Yet, this is exactly what is happening in New Orleans, Detroit, and some other cities (albeit to very different effect).”

I also sense that the participants in the ERA conference saw the multiple, often contradictory, outcomes of the radical NOLA reform, and that they are mostly preoccupied with addressing its remaining weaknesses. While they may or may not be fully aware of the national campaigns to impose their charter-driven system on cities across the nation, conference attendees mostly see the NOLA model as a “done deal” in their city. They are more concerned about the need to organize, fund, and implement early education programs than in other districts’ need to beat back corporate reforms.

I can appreciate those feelings, but I may have been alone in seeing one graphic as telling the most important story about New Orleans preschool, at least in terms of the lessons it holds for the rest of the country. Pre-kindergarten is only one part of the early education system that we need, but it is illustrative of the “opportunity costs” of the contemporary school reform movement. The percentage of NOLA’s students who attended pre-k dropped from 60% in 2007 to 40% in 2011. That’s a 33% drop at a time when the city’s schools were being funded at a level beyond the imaginations of most educators. Yes, the percentage of students who attend pre-k has increased since then, but in NOLA and across the U.S., we are now facing budget crises.

It’s bad enough that reformers let pre-school slide but, worse, the money for the gold-plated corporate reforms is gone. I doubt that anyone would claim that these reforms were cost effective, and now we have to tackle the complex early education challenge at a time when all of the participating education and social service providers face enormous budgetary constraints.

And that brings us back to the question of what would have happened if we had followed a science-based path to school improvement, as opposed to the test, sort, reward, and punish experiment, known as corporate reform. Granted, Katrina took New Orleans by surprise. It’s not like the city had the time and the inclination to study education research, debate policy options, and plan and implement the best possible reform policies. Not surprisingly, when offered a test-driven, competition-driven model, as well as enormous amounts of funding, they rushed the Billionaires Boys Club’s preferred approach into place.

On the other hand, if Katrina hadn’t hit during the accountability-driven, choice-driven craze, if edu-philanthropists had been assisting a science-based campaign to provide high-quality early education and to align and coordinate socioemotional supports, think of the great good that could have come from the rebuilding of New Orleans education and social service systems. In such a case, NOLA could have turned to state of the art, evidence-based solutions, not the endless edu-politics of destruction.

Yeah, in addition to the down sides of NOLA reforms, bubble-in scores are up. Those metrics probably reflect some meaningful learning, as well are the learning of the destructive habits that are nurtured by retrograde, teach-to-the-test instruction. Is there any doubt that students and families would have chosen humane, high-quality, aligned and coordinated early education programs over the competitive culture of today’s NOLA? And, had such a nurturing, science-based system been built in New Orleans, wouldn’t educators across the nation be welcoming – not shunning – help in replicating it?

In Washington state, supporters of public schools–Like the League of Women Voters–have filed a lawsuit to stop the legislature from funding charter schools, which the state’s highest court declared are NOT public schools, because their boards are not elected.

Somehow, across the state, major newspapers posted editorials opposing any effort to block charters, some using the exact same language. Do you find that odd? Parent activist Melissa Westbrook does. Read her account here.

She writes:

“There are many who are unhappy about the new lawsuit against the new charter school law. This includes several editorial boards across the state with some exceptions. What’s quite telling about their arguments are three things.

“Their arguments seem to be on the notion that this is a frivolous lawsuit and we should just leave the charter schools to do their thing.

“Another issue I found is that some of these editorials so closely mirror each other (down the the use of the word “distraction” in two headlines) that you would think someone faxed out talking points. The Times uses the word four times.

“Still another issue is that some of them are saying it’s the teachers union and “a coalition of groups.” Why wouldn’t they acknowledge who is in that group which includes parents and solid citizen, non-union groups like League of Women Voters and El Centro de la Raza? Why? Because they know it would not serve their viewpoint to be honest on who stood up to put their names on the lawsuit.

“It’s also of interest that some editorials leave out that there appear to be a couple of constitutional issues and instead, tell their readers it’s about “thwarting the will of the voters.” The Times goes so far as to say it’s an “intimidation tactic.”

“It’s a sad day when trying to stand up for the constitution is considered a bad thing. Maybe the people who wrote these laws should have thought of the constitution as they did their work (see Article 3, Section 22.) That names the role of the state superintendent and “public schools.” If the state superintendent is to oversee all public schools, does that mean he/she gets to oversee them in the same manner or do charters get a different oversight? And who decides? That role is not written into this law.”

Just to be clear: Fighting to privatize public schools is a good thing. Fighting to stop privatization is not. Why “distract” from what Bill Gates wants? He paid for the referendum.

Recently, Checker Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote an open letter to you, proposing that you stay the course with the failed reforms of the past fifteen years. Marc Tucker wrote an open letter to you, disagreeing with Checker. He said that all of Checker’s proposals were tinkering at the margins (Teach for America, New Leaders, scholarships, charter schools), and he recommended that you invest in improving the education system with an eye to the high-performing nations of the world. If Marc was thinking about Finland, my personal favorite, I endorse what he says; Finland emphasizes highly educated teachers, minimal testing, pre-school education, medical care, no charters, no vouchers, and lots of emphasis on creativity and play.

You may be tired of receiving open letters. But I want to put in my open letter now that it is open-letter season.

Dear Mark and Priscilla,

I hope you won’t mind some unsolicited advice from someone you don’t know. I am writing you because you have the resources and the energy to make a real difference in the lives of millions of children and families, as well as their teachers and schools. Your great wealth can be squandered–as it was in Newark–where your $100 million gift disappeared down a very dark hole and did nothing for the children of that city. Or your great wealth can be used to strengthen the one institution that touches the lives of most children: their public school.

I am a historian of American education. I used to be part of the “reform movement,” but after too many years, I recognized that the reforms popular among policy makers are useless and counterproductive. I defected from the reform movement, because it has the wrong diagnosis and the wrong solutions. I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history. I hope you too want to use your influence to make a genuine difference in the lives of children, instead of fattening the vast self-serving reform machine, which is already awash in millions and millions of dollars, all chasing the same failed ideas.

You need to understand that reformers live in an echo chamber. They talk to one another, they tell one another the same stories, they learn nothing new. They are sure that American public schools are failing, that public school teachers are ineffective, and that the steady application of standards, tests, punishments, and rewards will transform the lives of children; they believe that schools with low test scores should be privatized, turned into charters, and one day soon, there will be no more poverty. These assumptions are untethered to reality. Standards and tests will not help the children who typically score in the bottom half. Reformers slander a vital democratic institution and the millions of teachers who work for low pay because they have a sense of mission.

Despite what you may have heard, the test scores of American students are at their highest point ever. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. Dropout rates are at an all-time low.

Why the continuing despair about the state of the schools? Some of it comes from elites who never set foot in a public school. They attended the best private schools, and they look down on public schools and their teachers with condescension.

I am not suggesting that all is well. In fact, the great crisis in our society, reflected in our schools, is a direct result of the high rates of childhood poverty. To our shame, we have the highest rate of child poverty of any advanced nation. Nearly one-quarter of our nation’s children are growing up without food security, without assurance of a decent home, without access to regular medical care.

Surely you are aware of the work of Nadine Powell Harris, who has gathered powerful evidence of the lasting effects of childhood trauma. The trauma she describes is closely correlated with extreme poverty and the stress of poverty. And yet reformers blame the public schools and their teachers for the failure of our society! Why have other countries made successful efforts to reduce childhood poverty, but we have not?

Priscilla, I have read that you attributed your personal success to public school teachers who encouraged you. Today, there are millions of teachers working to encourage and inspire children just like you, working to convince them to believe in themselves. These teachers do so despite the vilification that reformers continually direct at them.

Here is my advice to you:

Please join the fight to preserve and strengthen public schools.

Please do not contribute to the movement to privatize public schools.

Please support efforts to create community schools, which are equipped to meet the needs of children.

Please support efforts to establish medical clinics in every school, where children can receive dental care, routine check-ups, and be tested for vision problems, hearing problems, and lead in their blood.

Please insist that schools have the resources to meet the emotional and psychological needs of children.

Please use your influence to assure that every school has a library with a librarian and lots of books and computers.

Please support the right of teachers to bargain collectively. Unions built our middle class, and that middle class is now feeling stressed and under siege.

Please do not support efforts to eliminate the due process rights of teachers. Schools need stability, and teachers need to know that their academic freedom is protected.

Please understand that the expansion of charter schools harms public schools, which enroll the vast majority of children. Charter schools are not better than public schools. Those that get high test scores often do so by keeping out the children who might get low scores. Charter schools, including those that cherrypick their students, take resources away from public schools, as well as their best students.

Mark and Priscilla, we are at a critical juncture: the very survival of public education is at risk.

Public schools welcome all students: those with disabilities, those who don’t speak English, those who have low test scores. They teach us to live with others who are different from ourselves and our family. They are a basic, essential democratic institution. Schools are not businesses. They are a public service, a part of our common inheritance as citizens.

Do no harm. Strengthen democracy. Strengthen the public schools whose doors are open to all. Stand with the parents and educators who say no to privatization.

The privatizers don’t need you. They have a herd of billionaires in their fold.

We need you. Please help us transform our public schools into the great instrument of democracy and social justice that they must be.

Join the Network for Public Education and support the parents and educators across the nation who are trying, often with bare hands, to roll back the deluge of money dedicated to high-stakes testing and privatization.

We need you. Bill Gates and Eli Broad do not.

Diane Ravitch

An outside auditor of Tennessee’s famed-but-failed Achievement School District found that the group’s finances were a mess.

The Achievement School District was created to prove that ASD could take control of the state’s lowest scoring schools (in the bottom 5% of the state) and move them to the top 25% in only five years. The clock began ticking in 2012, when ASD took over half a dozen schools. An independent study by researchers at Vanderbilt University found no evidence that ASD was on track to meet that goal. Gary Rubinstein analyzed the numbers and concluded that the original schools turned over to charters were still in the bottom 5% (although one rose to the bottom 7%). Of course, they still have a year to go, so let’s not rush to judgment! (Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada are all planning to create special districts modeled on Tennessee’s ASD, which supposedly knows how to turnaround low-performing schools even though it hasn’t. But when has failure ever deterred corporate-style reformers?)

But it turns out that the ASD’s finances were a mess, according to auditors.

It’s in charge of turning around Tennessee’s failing schools, but the state’s Achievement School District now has its own flunking grade from state Comptroller watchdogs.

The just-released audit by the Division of State Audit provides a blistering critique into what auditors say the agency’s lack of internal financial controls over basic functions.

So just how bad are things at the agency that directly manages five public schools and contracts with private charter groups to operate 24 other schools falling into the bottom five percent of schools statewide in terms of student performance?

Even as Division of State Audit accountants’ examination was still underway this spring, the state Department of Education, which had allowed the ASD to operate independently, informed the Comptroller’s office in April that it had staged an intervention and seized control over the ASD’s “fiscal and federal processes.”

As a result, the functions were transferred from Memphis to Nashville with a turnover of the ASD’s financial staff. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s staff told auditors they were hiring a fiscal director, fiscal manager, accountant, account tech, federal programs director and federal programs manager.

Problem areas cited by the Division of State Audit ranged from loose controls over spending, travel and credit cards to insufficient monitoring of the actual schools that ASD runs or contracts out.

Specific findings include:

1) The Achievement School District’s management did not establish adequate controls over several key human resources and payroll processes

State law directs that it “shall develop written procedures, subject to the approval of the commissioner, for employment and management of personnel as well as the development of compensation and benefit plans.”

“During our audit,” watchdogs wrote, “we found seven key areas where ASD did not establish processes over key human resources and payroll functions, including segregating duties; maintaining personnel files; verifying education credentials; documenting time and attendance; completing performance reviews; documenting approvals of bonuses and pay raises; and exiting employees.

2) The Achievement School District’s management “failed to implement adequate internal controls over its expenditures, travel claims, and purchasing card purchases

“Based on our testwork,” auditors wrote, “we found several deficiencies that indicate that ASD management did not establish adequate internal controls over expenditures and purchasing card purchases. Specifically, we noted that management did not properly approve expenditures, travel claims, and purchasing card purchases, nor did they provide adequate support for some transactions.

3) The Achievement School District’s fiscal management “did not perform sufficient fiscal monitoring of its direct-run schools and charter management organizations

“Considering the problems identified in previous Tennessee Single Audits,” auditors noted, “we inquired with management to determine if ASD management conducted fiscal monitoring of ASD’s Achievement Schools and charter management organizations; we found that ASD’s main office staff do not conduct such monitoring.

In one instance, auditors discovered there were payments of $5,895 to employees who no longer even worked for ASD.

Among other things, auditors also couldn’t find six expenditure transactions for a dental insurance premium, donation, coffee supplies, and accrual calculations, totaling $131,637, and for three travel claims for a flight and expenses involving charter school operators. That totalled $4,734 and, the audit says, “management could not provide supporting documentation.”

I read this story shortly after finishing a revealing memoir called Sex, Lies, and A Charter School: The Misappropriation of Your Tax Dollars. The author, Dikombi Gite, lives in Houston, where he was born. He became an engineer, but decided that he wanted to try his hand as a teacher and “give back.” He was sure he could connect with kids because he shared their life experiences. He didn’t have any teaching credentials, so he couldn’t be hired by the Houston public schools. He was hired immediately by a charter chain, where he struggled as a teacher. The chain is not identified, but it started in Houston and has (he says) 80 charters. Within months, he was moved into the office to manage the school’s books. What he learned in his brief life at the charter school was that the place appeared swell on the surface, but it was in fact riven by strife, affairs among staff members, fights among students, cronyism, nepotism, missing money, and more chaos than he could manage. Could the same story have been written about a public school? Perhaps. But not as likely because few of the teachers were professionals, and few of the administrators were professionals. People were hired and fired on a moment’s notice, no background checks. The thing that mattered most was attendance, because the flow of money depended on the head count. It is a well-written book (self-published by the author) and very revealing about what happens when there is no supervision, no oversight, no transparency, and no accountability. Funny, another book I was reading last night repeated the reformers’ claim that the key to success was school autonomy: no restraints, no constraints, no unions, no oversight. A grand theory. This book tells a different story. The author’s address is: POB 331753, Houston, TX. 77233. His email: Dikombi@yahoo.com

Two days ago, the Massachusetts Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Question 2, which seeks to lift the cap on charter schools.

Massachusetts teacher and daily reader Christine Langhoff expands on my early report (which she kindly sent to me as soon as the resolution passed). Thanks to Christine, I was able to circulate the good news before the daily press. It is kind of amusing seeing the complaint by the representative of DFER, the hedge fund managers’ group. Hedge funds are not generally viewed as champions of those without power; they lack numbers, but they are loaded with money and power. Parents and educators anticipate that the hedge funds and corporate interests will pour close to $20 million into their campaign for Question 2. Supporters of public schools can’t match the dollars, but they can knock on every door and alert every parent that the real goal of this deceptive campaign is privatization, not helping public schools.

She writes:

On Tuesday evening, August 16, the Massachusetts State Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution, by voice vote, in opposition to Ballot Question #2, which would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in the Commonwealth. Here is part of the text of the resolution, which was offered by Steve Tolman, President of the MA AFL-CIO:

Democratic State Committee Resolution Regarding Question 2

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and

WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and

WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and

WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and

For more, see: http://www.citizensforpublicschools.org/ma-democratic-committee-votes-no-on-2/

Liam Kerr, director of Democrats For Education Reform Massachusetts, was not amused.

“Tonight, a small group of state Democratic Party insiders hijacked a meeting and passed a resolution with little warning and no debate or discussion. Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton and President Obama support high-quality public charter schools. The Massachusetts party insiders are so out of step they won’t even listen to those who stand with low-income families and families of color desperate for a better education for their children. There was nothing democratic about this vote.”

The vote flew in the face of predictions by the pro-charter Boston Globe on Monday that it would be a divisive resolution:

“…forcing activists to take sides between two traditional party constituencies: minority and low-income families versus teachers unions…

A ballot proposal to expand charter schools across the state could drive a further wedge between Democratic Party factions when state committee members gather Tuesday night in Lawrence…

‘The charter school issue shows a genuine disagreement within the party, that there’s no consensus,’ said one party insider, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Democratic dynamics. ‘And both sides are really intractable. The notion of a middle ground on charter schools within the Democratic Party, or among the people that are going to be showing up to this meeting, it just doesn’t exist.’ ”

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/15/charter-school-ballot-question-divides-democrats/qIqGeI2yZ0TT22DcViXpLM/story.html

The Globe got it wrong about a lack of consensus, as today’s report indicated only a “smattering” of opposition to the resolution. It also quoted New England NAACP head Juan Cofield who thanked state Democrats:

“In an emailed statement, NAACP New England Area conference president Juan Cofield, who also chairs the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, said, ‘We applaud the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee for joining the campaign to save our public schools and opposing Question 2. They join more than 70 local communities and a broad coalition of families, parents, educators, students, and local leaders who understand that Question 2 is bad for our schools.’ ”

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/17/state-democratic-party-opposes-charter-school-expansion/ms3nulTB6g5lXNwdFIFWuN/story.html#comments

Even Boston’s pro-charter Mayor Walsh, himself a founder of a charter school, has publicly opposed Question 2, due to the projected $158 million it will siphon from Boston’s public schools next year without lifting the cap:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/17/walsh-says-lifting-charter-school-cap-would-burden-city-finances/ErNsr8eKtpvHvqht8rPKwK/story.html?event=event25

Here’s further reporting from State House News Service, much behind a paywall:

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 17, 2016…..

The Massachusetts Democratic Party on Tuesday night voted to oppose a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, putting the party at odds with some of its members in the Legislature.

“Our local communities cannot afford to lose even more money to charter schools,” said former Rep. Carol Donovan, a Democratic State Committee member from Woburn, in a statement. “Already, cities and towns [are] forced to make budget cuts every year due to the state’s underfunding of education and the money lost to charters. If this ballot question passes, it will create budget crises in hundreds of Massachusetts communities, and hurt the students who remain in our local district public schools.”

The party’s definitive position differs from the verdict of Democrats who run the Legislature and have differing opinions of charter schools. Legislative leaders were unable to broker a charter school compromise and have left the issue for voters to settle.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, have both taken on prominent roles backing passage of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or charter expansions in Massachusetts annually regardless of a statutory cap.

The Senate this year passed “The Rise Act,” tying charter cap increases to additional investment in local education, at an estimated cost of $203 million to $212 million annually for seven years.

The bill knocked by critics who noted the lack of dedicated funding in the bill, which they described as placing on unfeasible burden on increasing access to a form of public education that operates outside the control of local school committees.
Rather than seek compromise with the Senate, House leaders abandoned hope of a legislative solution, allowing the question to be decided by voters on Nov. 8.

http://www.statehousenews.com/?login=yes&trial=yes&path=cms/news.aspx&yr=2016&select=20161874

The RISE Act mentioned here would have made charters more transparent, holding them to standards similar to those for public schools, and was bitterly opposed by the charter lobby on those grounds, while public school advocates opposed the further funding of charters it would have enabled. The House failed to take up the measure.

http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/04/the_rise_act_better_public_edu.html

On Twitter, head of the MassTeachers Asociation, Barbara Madeloni used the hashtags #alltheygotliesand$ and #wegotpeoplepoweranddemocracy, pointing out the dark money flowing in from out of state to fund charter growth. Maurice Cunningham, a professor of Political Science at UMass Boston has been tracking that money:

http://blogs.wgbh.org/masspoliticsprofs/2016/8/2/hidden-money-behind-great-schools-strategic-grant-partners/

So far, not a great ROI in MA for the hedge funders.

Kristina Rizga, staff writer at Mother Jones, wrote about the decision by Black Lives Matter and the NAACP to call for a moratorium on new charter schools. Their statements agitated Democrats for Education Reform, and its executive director Shavar Jeffries expressed his disappointment, as did the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which supports both charters and vouchers. US News & World Report treated the disagreement as a fissure among communities of color and asked (in the link, if not in the article), “who speaks for communities of color?” A provocative question since DFER is comprised of white hedge-fund managers, who hired Shavar Jeffries–an African-American lawyer, as its spokesmen. It would be a reach, if not a bad joke, to say that the hedge fund managers of DFER speak for communities of color. BAEO is headed by Howard Fuller, an articulate African American who was trained as a social worker and served for a time as superintendent in Milwaukee; BAEO is funded by the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and other rightwing advocates of school choice. Who speaks for communities of color?

Rizga, who wrote an excellent book about a struggling public high school in San Francisco, writes here:

A few weeks ago, the Movement for Black Lives, the network that also includes Black Lives Matter organizers, released its first-ever policy agenda. Among the organization’s six demands and dozens of policy recommendations was a bold education-related stance: a moratorium on both charter schools and public school closures. Charters, the agenda argues, represent a shift of public funds and control over to private entities. Along with “an end to the privatization of education,” the Movement for Black Lives organizers are demanding increased investments in traditional community schools and the health and social services they provide.

The statement came several weeks after another civil rights titan, the NAACP, also passed a resolution, calling for a freeze on the growth of charter schools. The NAACP had equated charters with privatization in previous resolutions, but this year’s statement—which will not become policy until the National Board meeting in the fall—represents the strongest anti-charter language to date, according to Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor of education leadership and education chair of the NAACP’s California State Conference. “The NAACP is really concerned about unregulated growth of charter schools, and says it’s time to pause and take stock,” says Vasquez Heilig, who posted a copy of the resolution on his blog.

Such policy positions come at a time when parents, legislators, and philanthropists across the country—from Boston to Philadelphia to Los Angeles—are embroiled in fierce debates over the role of charters, particularly in poor, urban areas where most of these schools have been growing. Since 2000, the number of charters more than tripled, from about 1.7 percent to 6.2 percent of public schools.

Charter proponents—including prominent black educators like Secretary of Education John King Jr., Geoffrey Canada, and Steve Perry—argue that legislators need to continue this momentum for “choice” and competition among schools, citing the high test scores and college acceptance letters that many charter schools deliver. “We should not have artificial barriers to the growth of charters that are good,” King told reporters at the recent annual National Association of Black Journalists–National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention, adding that “charters should be a part of the public school landscape and can be a driver of opportunity for kids.”

Skeptics counter that charter schools contribute to racial and socioeconomic segregation, and that high percentages of charter school students in poor, urban districts can also contribute to the fiscal stress and the downward spiral of the traditional schools. Throughout the country, Vasquez Heilig noted, state charter laws vary dramatically: Some charter schools find ways to exclude disadvantaged children; others are created with explicit commitment to serve the most disadvantaged students. Vasquez Heilig argued that a moratorium would allow the public to investigate current practices and promote those that work the best.

“It’s time to pause and investigate: Should there be so many entities that are allowed to open them?” he said. “If you are not an educator, should you be allowed to open a charter school? Is there a due process for parents who feel that their kids were pushed out? How do charters schools make decisions about firing and hiring? How do they spend public money?”

Rizga then cites the major concerns about charters and their impact on children of color: cherrypicking; exclusion and suspension of students who might lower test scores; unregulated growth and lack of oversight; high suspension rates of students of color and students with disabilities; loss of resources by traditional public schools, which enroll most students.

Most significant in these developments is the fact that critics within the black community recognize that charter schools are a means of privatizing public education. The loss of public schools is a loss of democratic control and parent voice, and that does not bode well for communities of color, which already have trouble being heard by corporations and elites.

In a vote taken yesterday, the Massachusetts Democratic Committee voted overwhelmingly to oppose Question 2, which would permit the expansion of charter schools in the state, a dozen annually forever.

Dark money is pouring into the campaign already, mostly from billionaires, entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers (overlapping categories) to persuade the public of a lie: that passing Question 2 will “improve public schools.”

No, it will not improve public schools. It will allow the opening of more privately managed schools, which take money and resources away from public schools, thereby weakening them.

If you live in Massachusetts, get involved and support your public schools–the real public schools. Join Citizens for Public Schools, which posted this message and fights for public schools.

Massachusetts was the birthplace of public schools. It also happens to be the highest performing state on NAEP assessments. It does not need to privatize its public schools. It needs to strengthen them and support their teachers.

The resolution of the Democratic State Committee says:

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and

WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and

WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and

WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and

WHEREAS, charter schools use public funds, but local communities and their school committees have no control over their design, approval, operation or renewal; and

WHEREAS, Question 2 on the November 2016 ballot would allow the state to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose; and

WHEREAS, this would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just ten years and take away more than $1 billion a year from our local public schools within several years; and

WHEREAS, the Question 2 campaign is funded and governed by hidden money provided by Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers; and

WHEREAS, the unfettered expansion of charter schools, at the expense of local district public schools, that would occur if Question 2 passes is clearly at odds with the national and state party platforms, and would lead Massachusetts in the wrong direction;

THEREFORE, let it be resolved that the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee opposes Question 2

Carl J. Petersen is a parent of children in the Los Angeles school district. In this paper, he reviews the claim that schools get better if they compete. And he wonders, if competition improves schools, why does the Los Angeles school board insist on collaborating with those who want to put them out of business?

Petersen says that LAUSD has thrown in the towel. Instead of competing to show they are better than charters, they bow to the charters and throw the fight. Of course, it is true that the charter lobby, the California Charter Schools Association, is the richest lobby in the state. And it is true that CCSA and its allies will pour millions into the next school board race. Once in a while, a grassroots candidate can beat the CCSA millions, but it is not a good idea to count on it. CCSA is not willing to fight fair. It not only claims its schools are better, but it wants to buy every seat on the LAUSD school board so as to own the competition.

The charter lobby acts like Walmart. It doesn’t want competition. It wants a monopoly.

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