Archives for category: Charter Schools

Oakland has been a playground for the privatization industry for many years. The state took control of Oakland in 2003 because of a budget deficit and removed its school board. Billionaire Eli Broad selected its new superintendent (and his successors), and reformers took charge, opening charter schools and promising revolutionary improvement. Their goal was to turn the public schools into a “free market.” Five years after the takeover, Oakland had 32 charter schools and 111 regular public schools. Needless to add, there was no dramatic improvement in Oakland. Today, Oakland has the highest proportion of students in charter schools of any city in California.

Tom Ultican wrote here about the saturation of Oakland by billionaire privatizers, who just can’t leave the district alone and are determined to pour in more resources until there are no public schools left.

Four advocates of public schools are running for the school board.

They are: Sam Davis (District 1), VanCedric Williams (District 3), Mike Hutchinson (District 5) and Victor Valerio (District 7).

Tom Ultican posed this question:

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

If you live in Oakland, please support these candidates.

In the Public Interest, a nonpartisan group dedicated to protecting public services and the common good, writes about the school board election in Santa Clara County, California. The intervention of outside money makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to be competitive in local races:

California: Charter school politics is influencing the Santa Clara County Board of Education Area 1 race, with charter school proponents making large contributions to incumbent Grace Mah. “Charter school political action committees and representatives have contributed more than $200,000 to Mah’s campaign in the last three weeks, many of them large donations that came in after the most recent reporting period. The Charter Public Schools Political Action Committee (PAC) has made two large donations: $75,000 on Sept. 28 and $105,000 on Oct. 13, according to campaign finance reports. Other contributions came from Santa Clara Charter Advocates for Great Public Schools ($5,000) and Champions for Education PAC ($20,000) as well as members of the boards of directors of Rocketship Public Schools, ACE Charter School and Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. Mah’s campaign raised about $80,000 through Sept. 19, bringing her current reported total to about $290,000.”

Palo Alto Online reports that “campaign contributions in this race further underscore the charter school divide, with Mah receiving significant support from pro-charter organizations and Baten Caswell receiving large amounts from vocal critics of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, whose next renewal will come before the board in 2022.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report on Ohio charters, claiming that they were very successful. (TBF is a rightwing organization that supports charters and vouchers.) The Columbus Dispatch wrote that the report demonstrated that charter schools in Ohio are more successful than the state’s public schools. But Stephen Dyer reviewed the report and concluded that its findings are based on cherrypicking schools and manipulating data. In fact, he writes, Ohio’s charter sector continues to be low-performing compared to the state’s public schools, whose students lose funding to charters. The state has recently taken almost $900 million annually from its public schools to pay for a mediocre charter sector.

Dyer is a former state legislator who has written often about the charter industry. He is now Director of Government Relations, Communications and Marketing at the Ohio Education Association. (I served on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute from 1998-2009).

He writes:

Fordham Strikes Again

Cherry picking schools; manipulating data; grasping at straws

Look, the Fordham Institute has been improving lately, calling for more charter school oversight and talking a good game. But I guess sometimes old habits die hard, and in Ohio – the cradle of the for-profit charter school movement – those habits tend to linger especially long.

Take the group’s latest report – The Impact of Ohio Charter Schools on Student Outcomes, 2016-2019 – is yet another attempt to make Ohio’s famously poor performing charter school sector seem not quite as bad (though I give them kudos for admitting the obvious – that for-profit operators don’t do a good job educating kids and we need continued tougher oversight of the sector).

But folks, really. On the whole, Ohio charter schools are not very good. For example, of all the potential A-F grades charters could have received since that system was adopted in the 2012-2013 school year, Ohio charter schools have received more Fs than all other grades combined.

So how could the Fordham report claim, as the Columbus Dispatch headline writers put it: “Students at Ohio charter schools show greater academic gains”?

Simple.

Fordham ignored all but a fraction of the Ohio charter schools in operation during the FY16-FY19 school years, including Ohio’s scandalously poor performing e-schools (yes, ECOT was still running then), the state’s nationally embarrassing dropout recovery charter schools (which have difficulty graduating even 10 percent of their students in 8 years), and the state’s special education schools – some of whom have been cited for habitually billing taxpayers for students they never had.

In other words, they only looked at the best possible charter clusters in the state. And even though they essentially ignored the worst actors in the state (effectively ignoring how more than ½ of all charter students perform), the “performance gains” they point to are not impressive.

For example, “Students attending charter schools from grades 4 to 8 improved from the 30th percentile on state math and English language arts exams to about the 40th percentile. High school students showed little or no gains on end-of-course exams.”

Really? A not-even-10-percentile improvement? And none in high school? That’s it?

How about this: “Attending a charter school in high school had no impact on the likelihood a student would receive a diploma.”

So we spend $828 million a year sending state money to charters that could go to kids in local public schools to have literally zero impact on attaining a diploma?

Egad.

Another problem: the report says charter students have better attendance rates. No word on whether the fact all charter students must be bused by local school districts, which in turn don’t have to bus district students, had any impact on that metric.

(Hint: it does.)

The report found better performance from charter students in at least one of the math or English standardized tests in 5 of Ohio’s 8 major urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). Only in Columbus did they outperform the district in both reading and math.

The report ignores that ECOT took more kids from Columbus in these years than any other charter school in Columbus. And, of course, those kids did far worse than Columbus students.

But even cherry picking students. And data. And methodology, Fordham only found slightly better performance in one of two tests the study examined (again, Ohio requires tests in many subjects, but I digress) in 5 urban districts, better performance in both tests in 1 and no better performance in Cincinnati and Toledo, which lost about $500 million in state revenue to charters during these 4 years the study examined.

Of course, the study also ignored that about ½ of all charter school students do NOT come from the major urban districts, including large percentages of students in many of the brick and mortar schools Fordham examined for this study. For example, about 30 percent of Breakthrough Schools students in Cleveland don’t come from Cleveland. Yet Breakthrough’s performance is always only compared with Cleveland.

Ohio charter school performance isn’t complicated. Overall, it’s really not good, especially when you look at the approximately 50 percent of students who attend online, dropout recovery or special needs schools. Are there exceptions? Of course. But here’s what the most recent data tell us:

  • More than 34% of Ohio public school graduates have a college degree within 6 years. Just 12.7% of charter school graduates do
  • More than 58% of Ohio public school graduates are enrolled in college within two years; only 37.2% of Ohio charter school graduates are.

Why is this important? Because if charter schools performed the same as Ohio’s public schools, 750 more charter school students would have college degrees. Why does that matter? Because a college degree will allow you to make about $1 million more during your lifetime than not having it. So it can be said that Ohio charter schools are costing Ohioans about $750 million in potential earnings, just from one class of students!

Some more:

  • The average dropout recovery charter school has less than 0.5% of its students earning an industry recognized credential within 9 years and less than 0.2% of those students earn at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years.
  • In 52 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years
  • In 33 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned an industry recognized credential within 9 years!
  • In more than 1 in 5 Ohio charter schools, more than 15% of their teachers teach outside their accredited subjects
  • The median percentage of inexperienced teachers in Ohio charter schools is 34.1%. The median in an Ohio public school building is 6%.

During the time period this report examined, nearly $4 billion in state money was transferred from kids in local public school districts to Ohio’s privately run charter schools. And even if you look at the very best slice of the mud pie that is Ohio’s charter school sector, you get perhaps modest gains – not even 10 percentiles worth though – in a few of the schools.

But that didn’t stop Fordham from excitedly declaring at the beginning of its report that this study demonstrates that “Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters have proven themselves capable of providing quality options—and it’s time to give families across the state similar opportunities.” Or that “high-quality” charters should be expanded.

One more dirty little secret about “high-quality” charters? Historically, the “high-quality” school buildings in Ohio’s major urban districts actually outperform the “high-quality” charter schools in those districts.

So maybe the answer, especially during this pandemic, is expanding “high-quality” local public school buildings, or investing at least some of the $828 million currently being sent to Ohio’s mostly poor performing charter schools back to local public schools so they have a better shot at being dubbed “high quality”, thereby expanding the number of “high-quality” options for students?

Just a thought…

Nancy Bailey checks in on Betsy DeVos and reports that she is still hating on the public schools that the overwhelming majority of American students attend. Moreover, she discovers that charter schools are taking advantage of the pandemic to market their class sizes. Wouldn’t every public school teacher like to have small class sizes? Of course. But it won’t happen without funding to make it possible.

She writes:

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, a public school teacher interviewed in a CNN reportmentions that she’s teaching 42 third-graders remotely.  She’s uncomplaining, smiling, and forging forward positively.

It’s wrong to showcase charter schools as innovative due to class size when public school teachers across the country are juggling huge numbers of students under serious conditions to help them learn.

Where’s DeVos? Of course, never having been a teacher, she cannot understand what it’s like to manage 42 students remotely or in-person. It’s not in the job description she has been permitted to design for herself.

Nor does she care. DeVos’s goal is to privatize. The pandemic gives her a chance to falsely make the public think that charters, private, and religious schools are on the frontline of the disease, and real public schools and their teacher unions don’t have what it takes.

But the pandemic doesn’t discriminate between schools, and the charter school report is problematic. Lowering class size is hardly an innovative experiment. It’s a choice. Those in charge make those choices.

Peter Greene writes about a new push to expand charters in Maine by the same-old group that has failed in the past to disrupt the state’s devotion to public schools. Wake up, Maine! Don’t be fooled. They want you to divert money from public schools to privately managed schools run by entrepreneurs and corporate chains.

He begins:

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine’s little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn’t had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn’t infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry– the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote “high-quality options for all children within Maine’s public education system.” But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap

So what’s a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state’s education community?

So let’s meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It’s the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well– from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us…

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck. 
It takes its “inspiration” from “analogous” groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I’ve written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself “leaders” in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are “designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers,” you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about “restructuring the education system,” assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some “critical partnerships,” pay attention to the people they partner with.

Katherine Stewart and I were invited by the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss the assault on public schools by the religious right, libertarians, billionaires, and entrepreneurs.

Stewart is the author of an important new book called The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

Since Massachusetts was the birthplace of public schools, it was a fitting venue for our conversation.

Webinar recorded 30 September 2020 — Will Public Education Survive?: A Look at the Threats to Education Systems from Privatization and Religious Nationalism with Katherine Stewart and Diane Ravitch, New York University The rise of the Religious Right has coincided with the privatization movement in public schools. While some may feel that this is coincidental, there is reason to believe there is a directly causal relationship between these two factors. Two scholars, from different disciplines, will discuss how their work comes together to help explain the history and current state of efforts to diminish, if not dismantle, the American public education system. Katherine Stewart has written on the rise and increasing power of the Religious Right in her book The Power Worshipers. She will be joined by Diane Ravitch who has written extensively on education and, in her recent book Slaying Goliath, explores the history of the school privatization movement and the efforts to oppose it.

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In a post from 2019, Mercedes Schneider reviewed the spectacular career of a TFA “reformer” who became a star in Nevada, briefly disappeared, then resurfaced with a cushy job in the booming IDEA charter chain in Houston (Betsy DeVos’s favorite).

Alison Serafin flourished in Nevada when there was a Republican Governor. She was vice-president of the state board. She launched a start-up called Opportunity 180 to foster charter schools. She resigned from the state board in December 2015 since her Organization was seeking state funding. In April 2016 her Opportunity 180 won a $10 million grant to being high-performing charters to Nevada.

Opportunity 180 was supposed to create the Nevada Achievement School District, modeled on Tennessee’s failed program.

By 2017, Serafin resigned, and her name was scrubbed from the website of the organization she founded.

Not to worry. Now Serafin works for IDEA in Houston, which has big plans for expansion.

Reformers fail upwards.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the PAC called American Federation for Children, started by Betsy DeVos, is supporting pro-charter Republican candidates in Missouri. We frequently get comments from charter advocates who insist that charters are progressive but it is hard to sustain that idea when the money to expand them comes from plutocrats like DeVos and the Waltons.

JEFFERSON CITY — A political action committee supporting state Sen. Andrew Koenig accepted $50,000 last week from a Washington, D.C., group that supports expanding charter schools, according to state ethics commission records.

Including the contribution to Koenig, the American Federation for Children, formerly chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has poured $670,000 into Missouri races this year after legislators have continued to block efforts to allow more charter school options in the state.

By comparison, the group spent $200,000 in Missouri in all of 2018, the year of the last general election.

While proponents view charters as innovative alternatives to public schools, critics say the operations drain money from local districts. The issue is one of the most hotly contested in the Legislature, with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats scuttling recent expansion efforts.

Koenig is locked in a tight reelection race against state Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, in a legislative district that includes all or parts of Ballwin, Chesterfield, Kirkwood, Sunset Hills, Valley Park and other municipalities.

The 15th Senate District also includes some of the highest-rated public school districts in the state, covering all or parts of the Kirkwood, Lindbergh, Valley Park, Rockwood, Parkway, Mehlville and Hancock Place school districts.

Currently, charter schools only operate in St. Louis and Kansas City. A proposal this year would have allowed the schools to operate in any charter county — St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Jackson counties — or in any city with more than 30,000 residents.

Nebraska is one of the few states that has thus far managed to keep the privatizers out. That makes it a tempting target. Here is a message by one of the state’s strong advocates for public schools.

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As you know, Stand For Schools is dedicated to advancing public education in Nebraska. Our work involves not only advocating for evidence-based policies that would help schools serve all students better, but also being vigilant for and responsive to efforts to privatize our state’s public schools. 

Because Nebraska is one of only three states wise enough to avoid charter schools, private school vouchers, or scholarship tax credits, our state is viewed as prey by corporate reformers and proponents of school privatization. We have been aware of this target on the backs of Nebraska’s children and families for years, but something new and profoundly troubling has come to light this week. 

The American Federation For Children (AFC), an organization founded and largely funded by Betsy DeVos, is attempting to directly influence Nebraska elections.

Campaign filings reveal that William Oberndorf, a billionaire hedge fund manager from California, has donated $125,000 to Nebraska Federation for Children, and the organization is spending $25,000 in each of two legislative races in Nebraska

For decades, Oberndorf has spent huge sums of his fortune to influence elections and education policy across the country. Oberndorf succeeded Betsy DeVos as AFC board chair, so while he is not new to the school privatization agenda, his political campaign contributions are new to Nebraska.

Oberndorf was notably a board member of and major investor in Voyager, a computer software and hardware company masquerading as literacy curriculum, which not only produced negative academic outcomes but also cost taxpayers billions during the No Child Left Behind era – all while lining the pockets of Oberndorf and others. Government investigators would later find the entire organization was “very close to a criminal enterprise,” with referrals made to the Department of Justice.

Oberndorf’s large contribution caught our attention, but he is hardly the first out-of-state billionaire attempting to advance his agenda in Nebraska–a state where voters and nonpartisan legislators have rejected school privatization time and again.

Over the last few years, we have listened intently to testimony given at our State Capitol by paid fellows flown into the state by AFC. We read the editorial published in the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this year penned by a lawyer from another Koch-funded group, Institute For Justice. We have seen more than one nonprofit pop up in our state – one which failed to disclose their donors in a timely manner as required by federal law and another, Invest In Kids Nebraska, that is the local arm of AFC. And every year, we watch the governor host a rally on the steps of our Capitol coordinated and funded by National School Choice Week, which is itself an enormous web of dark money, special interests, and corporate lobbyists. 

The evidence is clear: School privatization does not benefit students or low-income families; it benefits wealthy privatizers like William Oberndorf. 

Nebraskans deserve to know about the presence of out of state money in our democracy and the attempted interference on education policy by special interests that will directly impact our schools and communities.

We are a state widely known and revered for our unicameral legislature. Our Second House is supposed to be the people of Nebraska and our best interests – not people like Californian William Oberndorf and his financial interests. Nebraska has some of the most lax campaign finance laws in the country, and that needs to change.

As always, Stand For Schools remains committed to advancing public education in Nebraska, and that means doing our part to inform the people of our state about threats to our public schools. We are a nonpartisan nonprofit that does not endorse any political candidate – but we believe Nebraskans deserve to know the truth about who is spending money in our elections. 

Stand For Schools is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing public education in Nebraska by advocating for evidence-based policies to close the opportunity gap and ensure schools have the resources they need to serve all students better – no matter their race, ethnicity, nationality, citizen status, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or
special need. You can find our organization’s Form 990 here. 

Some of us have spent years trying to explain to the public why school choice—charters and vouchers—is a bad idea. Samantha Bee does the job effectively in this video in seven minutes. She notes that school choice has had bipartisan support but that its enthusiastic advocates are people who hate public schools and want to turn them over to the free market or religious zealots , or both.

Samantha Bee has an excellent solution: Instead of using public money to drain the coffers of public schools, why not fund our public schools to be the best in the world?

Watch this and share it with your friends.