Archives for category: Closing schools

Writing in Forbes, Peter Greene explains why state takeovers fail. Greene retired as a teacher after 39 years in the classroom. They fail and fail, but state legislatures won’t stop imposing them on struggling school districts that need help. The usual traits of a “failing” school or school district: high poverty, high numbers of limited-English proficient students, high numbers of students with disabilities. Funny, one seldom, if ever, finds a school or district in an affluent white neighborhood that needs to be run by the state.

Greene writes:

Since policy writers and thinky tanks first started pushing the idea of identifying “failing” schools, the search has been on for a way to fix those schools. A popular choice has been the school takeover model, where the state strips the local school district of authority and then waves some sort of magic wand to make things better.

The Obama administration used School Improvement Grants as a tool, offering federal funds to schools that were “failing,” but those funds came with very strict rules about how they could be used. This is a good example of the Takeover By Puppetry model, in which the local officials are left in place, but they are only allowed to make certain government-approved moves or must only implement consultant-approved steps. The SIG program spent in the neighborhood of $7 billion. USED’s own report found that it “had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

That report, to which Greene refers, was released in the last day of the Obama administration’s eight-year term. It gave an F to a major part of the failed “Race to the Top.” $7 billion spent, nothing to show for it.

The more direct takeover approach has also been tried. Tennessee formed the Achievement School District; in this model, the state takes control of “failing schools” and lumps them into a state-run district. The initial promise was that schools from the bottom 5% would be catapulted into the top 25%. After a few years, they were not even close to achieving their, so they rewrote the goal. The head of the ASD moved on to another job. Versions of the ASD have been tried in several states and in cities (e.g. Philadelphia) and in almost all cases, they’ve been rolled back or shut down because they cost a lot of money and achieve few worthwhile results.

Greene lists five reasons that state takeovers fail. Open the link to read them all.

1) The Wrong Measure of Failure

How are we going to decide which schools are in need of taking over? The most common answer is by standardized test scores–which is a lousy answer. This bad definition is important because it biases the process in favor of bad solutions. A school may have a hundred problems, but if all we’re focused on is the test scores, too may real problems will be unaddressed. Worse, many important elements of children’s education will be swept aside to make room for more test prep–the exact opposite of what students in struggling schools need. This is like calling AAA because you’re stranded beside the road with three flat tires, a busted radiator, an empty gas tank, and failing brakes–and AAA sends someone to wax the car.

2) The Wrong Diagnosis

Takeover programs focus on school governance. The thesis of a takeover is that the school board, the administration, and probably the teachers, are the root of all the problems at the school. If we just take them out of the way and replace them with shinier people, then everything will just fall into place. Somehow, all these people who work in the district either don’t know how to raise test scores, or they just don’t care. Resources for the district, issues in the community, systemic lack of support for the school, poverty–none of that is on the table. The belief is that when the old bureaucracy (including unions) is swept away and replaced, preferably by a visionary CEO type who will whip the troops into shape, then everything will run so much better. Often the unspoken premise is, “If we could just run these schools like charter schools…” Here’s what Chris Barbic, who was supposed to be the visionary CEO of the Tennessee ASD, said as he was leaving the job:

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

I have always been partial to Greene’s third reason: the mystical belief that someone who works for the State Departmenf of Education knows how to fix everything. This is absurd. You would think even the Legislature knows that Superman or Woman is not in a desk job at DOE.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an in-depth audit of the federal Charter Schools Program, which was initiated in 1994 with a few million dollars by the Clinton administration. Thanks to astute lobbying by the charter industry, the modest program grew to $440 million a year with little or no accountability. Betsy DeVos pushed it aggressively to large charter chains, including for-profit chains.

You will be interested in this account of the audit, written by Valerie Strauss on her blog “The Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post, introducing an analysis by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

This audit demonstrates the power and persistence of the Network for Public Education, a small but smart advocate for public schools. NPE operates with one full-time employee and a small number of part-time employees. Our work is motivated not by greed but by idealism and a passionate commitment to the common good. We believe in well-funded schools with experienced teachers for all children.

The introduction by by Strauss and the analysis by Burris has many links, but none transferred when I copied it. I copied some, but not all of them. I urge you to open the original and find the links.

Strauss begins:

The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Inspector General has released a new audit of the federal Charter School Program that found some alarming results about how charter school networks have used millions of dollars in funding. Among other things, the audit found that charter school networks and for-profit charter management organizations did not open anywhere near the number of charters they promised to open with federal funding. This piece looks at the new audit and what it tells us.


The reason this is not surprising is that investigations into the Charter School Programs by the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that opposes the growth of charter schools, found that same problem, as well as others and reported it a few years ago. You can read my stories about their “Asleep at the Wheel” here and here. (The second report noted that the state with the most charter schools that never opened was Michigan, home to former education secretary Betsy DeVos, who has pushed to expand charter schools for decades.)


Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed. The federal charter program, which began in 1994 with the aim of expanding high-quality charters, had bipartisan support for years, but many Democrats have pulled back from the movement, citing the fiscal impact on school districts and repeated scandals in the sector. The Biden administration is making some changes to the program in an effort to stop waste and fraud and provide more transparency to the operation of charters.


This piece was written by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a former award-winning principal in New York. She has been chronicling the charter school movement and the standardized-test-based accountability movement on this blog for years. The Network for Public Education is an alliance of organizations that advocates for the improvement of public education and sees charter schools as part of a movement to privatize public education.


By Carol Burris


A new report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) entitled “The Effectiveness of Charter School Programs in Increasing the Number of Charter Schools” documents how states, charter management organizations, and charter developers often make wildly exaggerated claims regarding the number of charter schools they will open or expand to secure large grants.

The OIG, an independent watchdog of the U.S. Department of Education (the Department), found that for grants issued between 2013 and 2016, only 51 percent of the schools promised by Charter School Programs (CSP) recipients opened or expanded.


The OIG audit also exposed the sloppy record keeping and weak oversight that characterize CSP operations. Since 2006, the department has paid a private corporation, WestEd, millions of dollars to compile, check and update CSP records. WestEd’s present CSP contract exceeds $12 million. In total, WestEd has active contracts with the U.S. Department of Education worth more than $27.6 million. Yet an alarming number of grant records could not be found when requested by the OIG auditors. And while the Biden administration is attempting to clean up and reform the CSP, according to the independent OIG, more work needs to be done.


What did the Office of the Inspector General audit?
The audit had three goals. The first was to describe how the department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education tracked and reported the number of charter schools that opened and expanded using Charter School Program funds. A second goal was to determine whether CSP grant recipients actually delivered the number of charter schools they promised when they applied for their often multimillion dollar awards. Finally, the audit sought to determine how many schools were still open two years after CSP funding ended.


As its title stated, the audit was an attempt to measure the program’s effectiveness in fulfilling its mission. To conduct the audit, the OIG examined 2013 through 2016 CSP grant records. During that period, the department awarded 103 CSP grants to states, charter management organizations, or individual charter developers. Ninety-four were closely investigated by the OIG. The likely reason these years were chosen was that most grants are for five years. The auditors also found that the department often extends them further when grantees have not spent all of their money. Therefore, more recent grants were excluded because records were likely to be incomplete.

Incomplete and inaccurate records

The auditors noted that while the department, through WestEd, tracked spending and schools while grants were open, the tracking stopped as soon as the grant was complete. Therefore, the department had no way of knowing whether schools remained open beyond the years federal funds propped them up. This speaks to the purpose of the program — to open and expand high-quality charter schools.


When auditors asked the department to define the term high-quality, the department responded that the “CSP office does not determine whether a charter school is high-quality because state rules for determining high quality vary.”


“Additionally,” it said, “the determination of whether a charter school is a high quality is often the responsibility of charter school authorizers.” The department also told auditors that tracking a school’s existence after all money was doled out was not its job.


Even if the department wanted to do a quality check of schools as they were funding and expanding, the OIG found that there was no accurate base of information that they could rely on to determine whether they should continue what was often a multimillion-dollar grant. From the audit:


Although the CSP office created processes for tracking and reporting on charter schools that opened and expanded and charter schools that remained open through the grant performance period end date, those processes did not result in CSP grant recipients reporting precise, reliable, and timely information in their FPRs [final performance reports], APRs [annual performance reports], and data collection forms. The processes also did not result in the CSP office receiving all the necessary information to assess grant recipients’ performance or evaluate the overall effectiveness of the CSP.


Specifically, the department could not produce 13 percent of the required final reports from grantees and 43 percent of the required final data collection sheets. Auditors noted that grantees would report different numbers of schools opened or expanded among required collection forms and final reports. The accuracy of the final documents prepared by WestEd for the department was beyond the scope of the audit.

During our research for our second “Asleep at the Wheel” report, we found that the data collection sheets produced by WestEd and published in 2019 by then Education Secretary Betsy De Vos were replete with errors. Schools that had closed or never opened were reported as open or future. We also noted inaccuracies in recently submitted sheets we received from a Freedom of Information Act request, especially relating to the for-profit management status of the awardee.


But the OIG discovered a far worse problem yet. More than half of the schools that grantees committed to opening or expanding did not open or expand at all.

CSP grantees failed to meet commitments
Grant applicants asked for and received millions of dollars based on their promises to open and expand charter schools. However, when the auditors examined 94 grantee applications, they found that many grantees fell far short of their commitments.

The OIG determined that based on the commitments made in the 94 applications, state education agencies, CMOs, and developers promised to open or expand 1,570 charter schools using CSP funds.


As of July 2021, approximately 75 percent of the grant funding had been spent, yet grantees had only opened or expanded 51 percent of the charters they had promised.


This begs the question, where did millions of tax dollars go? I identified grantees by matching applications on the department website along with numbers in the data set with grant codes in the OIG report.


In its 2016 CSP application, the Florida Department of Education put forth what it called a “bold and ambitious plan to … develop a high-impact system to dramatically improve the opportunities of educationally disadvantaged students. The department said that it would use the grant to “support the creation of 200 new high-quality charter schools over the next five years.”

Florida received $70.7 million to achieve its “bold and ambitious” plan. According to the OIG report, it had only opened 33 percent — or 66 — of the schools it promised to open as of July 2021, although it had spent over 51 percent of the CSP funds.


Colorado’s 2015 application promised that it would open 72 charter schools with its over 24.2 million dollar grant. In the end, it opened fewer than half — just 33 — and expanded three schools. Nevertheless, it spent 87.5 percent of its funds.

Tennessee ambitiously promised to open 114 charter schools. It opened just 16, though it managed to spend 63 percent of its grant. These states are not outliers. The report shows a pattern.

And CMOs also failed to deliver. The KIPP charter network promised 65 schools for its jumbo $48,750,000 grant, one that well exceeded most states. It delivered 34 schools and expanded one.

Finally, there are grants to developers that the department directly provides. The Innovation Development Corporation received a $405,730 CSP grant to open The Delaware Met. It was open for just a few months before it was shut down. It also received and spent $72,000 to open DE Stem. That school was shut down before it even opened. Willow Public School, a Washington charter school, took and spent a $602,875 grant, opened, ran into trouble, changed its name, and then shut down.


The department and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools attribute the problem to authorizer reluctance and state caps on the number of schools that can open. Really? Every state that got a grant has a state board that can override local rejections of applications. State applicants and the department are also well aware of caps. Take the case of the 2018 $78,888,888 CSP grant to the New York State Department of Education, which was outside the scope of the OIG audit.

In the New York State application review, which you can find here, raters acknowledge that New York State had not even used up its previous grant which was open beyond its terms and that charter expansion would be limited by the state cap on the number of charters. Yet they gave the application high scores, and it was approved. Where did that 2018 money go? Over $10 million went to provide staff development in technology for charter schools.

Jumbo grants

Why do states and charter management organizations ask for jumbo grants knowing they cannot deliver? Because they want the money to fund their charter school operations.


States and charter management organizations get to keep 10 percent of the cut for grant administration and technical assistance to charter schools. The bigger the grant, the bigger the cut.

Therefore, KIPP was allowed to keep nearly $5 million for its charter management organization, even though it fell way short of its commitment. The Florida Department of Education secured over $7 million for administrative services on its grant.
Second, there are no guidelines about how much an individual charter school can get. We have seen grants as low as $250,000 and grants to schools of $1.5 million. When a state realizes it cannot or will not meet its commitment, it just doles out larger amounts.


Third, until President Biden, no prior administration did anything about it over the Charter School Program’s existence. Therefore, states, CMOs, and individual schools realized pretty quickly that they could create grandiose applications, sometimes including falsehoods, and there would be no real consequences if commitments were never met.

The present department has taken a terrible beating for creating modest CSP reform regulations which are still being fought by the charter trade organizations and their proxies, including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a charter school authorizer. Challenges include both a lawsuit and a Republican-sponsored bill to overturn the new rules.

But as the OIG audit shows, reforms are desperately needed.

.

A new study confirms what many critics of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendents’ Academy long suspected. Despite Eli Broad’s boasting, his program had no positive effects on student performance, but the “graduates” expanded privatization by charter schools.

Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Month 202X, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 1 –27

DOI: 10.3102/01623737221113575

https://doi.org/10.3102/016237372211135

 

Public-Sector Leadership and Philanthropy: The Case of Broad Superintendents

Thomas S. Dee

Stanford University

Susanna Loeb

Brown University

Ying Shi

Syracuse University

 

Using a unique panel data set on the 300 larg-est school districts, we examined the impact of Broad superintendents on a broad array of dis-trict outcomes. Our results indicate that the hir-ing of a Broad superintendent had no clear effects on outcomes such as student completion rates, enrollment, the closure of traditional public schools, and per-pupil spending on instruction or on support services. However, one exception to this pattern is particularly notable. We do find evidence that the hiring of a Broad superinten-dent results in a growing charter school sector. Specifically, we find that the hiring of Broad superintendents is associated with a trend toward increased charter school enrollment and a growth in the number of charter schools that extends beyond the short tenure of the typical Broad trainee.

We view the overall implications of these findings as nuanced. On the one hand, this Broad Foundation initiative was successful in placing new leaders with distinctive characteristics and training in a substantial number of U.S. school districts. Yet, we also find that these leaders had unusually short tenures and no clear effects on a variety of district outcomes.

Carol Burris writes in The Progressive about the alarming rate with which charters close. Parents should know this before enrolling their children and taking a chance.

She writes:

In May, a study by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) at Tulane University found that charter schools close at much higher rates than public schools, even when controlling for factors such as enrollment and test scores. Each year, roughly 5 percent of charters close, compared with 1 percent of public schools.

But REACH’s data likely underestimates the problem. Because so many new charter schools open each year, the closure rate is offset by the overall growth of the industry. And a new charter opening in Columbus, Ohio, is of little help to a student whose charter just closed in Memphis, Tennessee.

To more accurately capture the big picture, we at the Network for Public Education published a report on the long-term viability of charter schools. We looked at seventeen cohorts, each composed of all U.S. charters that opened in a given year, beginning in 1998 and ending in 2014. Our goal was to track these schools over time and see how they fared when compared with one another. We found that, by year three, an average of 18 percent of charters had closed. By year ten, the proportion of failed charters topped 40 percent.

Enrollment data for the year before each school closed indicated that charter schools opening between 1999 and 2017 have collectively displaced upwards of one million students—often with almost no warning.

The alarming rate of charter school closures prompted the U.S. Department of Education to direct federal startup funding to schools more likely to succeed. But even modest proposals have met stiff resistance from the charter lobby. For them, the closures are seen positively: It is “the sector working as intended,” Chalkbeat reported, citing National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Chief Executive Officer Nina Rees.

And she’s right—charter churn, including abrupt closures, is baked into the marketplace model that believes only the most popular performers should survive. The three recent closings in North Carolina, however, were not based on popularity, or even low test scores—they were the result of greed and fraud.

To prevent this, government officials at all levels need to tighten regulations and hold charter school boards accountable. Until government officials get serious about charter school reform, each parent or guardian who enrolls their child in a charter school deserves a notice that says, “Caution: This school could close with little to no warning.”

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher. He follows politics in Oklahoma closely. This article appeared first in the OkObserver.

The arc of the history of corporate school reform has been tragic; the survival of public education in a meaningful and equitable manner is in doubt in Oklahoma and much of the rest of the nation. To understand how and why this catastrophe happened, Tennessee provides perhaps the best case study.

This multi-generational assault on schools took off during the Reagan administration with its spin on A Nation at Risk, which misrepresented the report’s research. Back then, these attacks were largely propelled by two theologies: evangelical Christianity and a worship of the “Free Market.” Two decades later, corporate school reform was driven by Neoliberal ideology, and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was pushed by both Republicans and Democrats and resisted by bipartisan grassroots movements of educators, parents, and students. I will always love President Obama, but during his administration the Race to the Top (RttT) undermined teachers unions, increased segregation, and drove holistic instruction and teachers (who resisted “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test malpractice) out of so many schools.

The damage was made much worse when the Trump administration further ramped up the campaign to use charter schools and vouchers to undermine public education. Now, Tennessee is again at the front of the rightwing’s “nationwide war on public schools.”

The Progressive Magazine’s Andy Spears explains that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s “point person on education policy is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a private, Christian evangelical school located in Michigan.” Arnn “compared public school systems to ‘enslavement’ and ‘the plague,’” and “accused teachers of ‘messing with people’s children,’ saying they are ‘trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,’”

Spears reported, “Lee announced in his State of the State address that he’d reached an agreement with Arnn for Hillsdale to operate up to 100 charter schools in Tennessee.” Gov. Lee defended Arnn’s rhetoric, saying, “I’m not going to rebut someone who was speaking about left-wing problems in public education in this country.”

Clearly, Tennessee schools, like those in Oklahoma and many other states, are facing a new set of dangerous threats, and they do so after being weakened by the RttT, just as the RttT’s failure was made more predictable due to the damage done by the doomed-to-fail NCLB, which was a legacy of coordinated attacks on public education initiated by the Reagan administration.

In order to resist the latest ideology-driven falsehoods, lessons must be learned from Tennessee’s rushed corporate school reforms. Race to the Bottom, by former Nashville Board member Will Pinkston is a great example of what we need to learn about the last two decades of assaults that have left public education so vulnerable. Pinkston begins with an apology:

I helped sell the public on the Obama administration’s multi-billion-dollar Race to the Top competition. In my home state of Tennessee, Race to the Top delivered $501 million to benefit public schools — and along the way spawned some of the most-damaging education policies in modern American history.

Pinkston explained that the RttT was driven by the same “irrational exuberance” that the true believers in the “Free Market” expressed. Briefly and predictably, the half billion dollar gamble produced quick, temporary gains in the reliable NAEP test scores. Soon afterwards, scores stagnated and/or declined; after ten years they dropped to the pre-RttT levels.

Worse, Tennessee’s early education program did something that would previously have been thought to be virtually impossible. High-quality early education has a record of producing significant, often incomparable benefits, for the dollars invested. However, graduates from Tennessee’s pre-k programs were found to have “lower academic scores, more behavioral problems and more special education referrals than their peers who did not attend.” The author of the report on the longterm outcomes, Dale Farran, worried that the state’s “pre-K overall has become too academic, especially when it is enveloped by the school system, and children don’t get enough time to play, share their thoughts and observations, and engage in meaningful, responsive interactions with caregivers.”

From the beginning, the Tennessee teachers union (as would also prove true in Oklahoma) knew that data-driven, corporate reformers were ignoring the overwhelming body of social science as to why their quick fixes would backfire. But, states received “up to $250,000 each to hire consultants (McKinsey & Co. and The Bridgespan Group) to help them fill out their applications,” and establish “reward and punish” systems. I must add that in conversation after conversation with these smart Big Data experts, who “didn’t know what they didn’t know” about schools, they refused to listen to educators like me and social scientists explaining why their hurried, punitive corporate approach would backfire.

And as it became obvious that their mandates were failing, the blame game was ramped up and outsiders like the “American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative think tank with ties to the Koch brothers,” successfully pushed for “stripping teachers of collective bargaining rights.”

Perhaps the biggest fiasco was teacher evaluations where 35 percent of the evaluation would be based on invalid, unreliable student-growth data and algorithms that were biased against teachers in high-poverty schools. The most absurd model for firing teachers used data from students who they had not taught!

Secondly, the rush to expand charter schools led to a dramatic over-expansion of schools run by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) (as opposed to locally-led charters that might have been good partners.) CMOs were notorious for increasing economic segregation by not welcoming and/or “exiting” high-challenge students. Fortunately, Tennessee did a better job than Oklahoma of using the courts to push back on the worst of teacher evaluations and charters that would not retain higher-challenge students.

(On the other hand, pushback led by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister saved Oklahoma schools from a disaster which would have occurred if almost every student and teacher was held accountable for inappropriate Common Core test scores, as she pushed for more charter school accountability, and promoted high-quality early education.)

Based on his personal experience and scholarly research, Pinkston concluded, “intentionally or not, Race to the Top laid the groundwork for the attempted destruction of America’s most important democratic institution — public education.” And now, a huge increase in charter schools will advance a conservative curriculum which “relies on approaches developed by Arnn and other members of the 1776 Commission appointed by Trump to develop a ‘patriotic education’ for the nation’s schools.”

In response to the latest rightwing push described by The Progressive, Pinkston tweeted:

Fellow veterans of TN’s charter wars, just a friendly reminder: Long before Hillsdale, there was Great Hearts — which actually was pushed by Hillsdale. In the words of Nashville’s former top charter zealot Karl Dean: “It’s all connected.”

And that is why Oklahomans who are upset by Gov. Stitt’s attempts to expand charters and vouchers, ban Critical Race Theory, bully transgender students, and coerce educators into complying with these mandates should remember Tennessee’s history. Alone, those attacks would have been harmful. But today’s politics of destruction are on steroids. These assaults are more frightening because they are just the latest of destructive mandates, such as NCLB and the RttT, that have dramatically weakened public schools and undermined holistic and meaningful instruction.

During the last two decades, too many Neoliberal corporate reformers were able to “kneecap” public schools. Now we’re facing extremists who now want to go for the throat, and wipe out public education while it’s down.

Jan Resseger has established a reputation for writing well-researched, fearless articles about unjust education policies. In this post, she reviews a new book about the roots of corporate education reform. I have already ordered it.

She writes:

I remember my gratitude when, back in 2010, I sat down to read Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, which connected the dots across what I had been watching for nearly a decade: the standards movement, annual standardized testing, the operation of No Child Left Behind’s test-and-punish, Mayor Bloomberg’s promotion of charter schools in New York City, and the role of venture philanthropy in all this.

Now over a decade later, many of us have spent the past couple of months worried about pushback from the charter school sector as the the U.S. Department of Education has proposed strengthening sensible regulation of the federal Charter Schools Program. We have been reminded that this program was launched in 1994, and we may have been puzzled that a federal program paying for the startup of privately operated charter schools originated during a Democratic administration.

Lily Geismer, a historian at Claremont McKenna College, has just published a wonderful book which explains how the New Democrats—Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Democratic Leadership Council—brought a political and economic philosophy that sought to end welfare with a 1996 bill called the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” and envisioned privately operated charter schools to expand competition and innovation in the public schools as a way to close school achievement gaps. Geismer’s book is Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality. The book is a great read, and it fills in the public policy landscape of the 1990s, a decade we may never have fully understood.

In the introduction, Geismer explains where she is headed: “Since the New Deal, liberals had advocated for doing well and doing good. However, the form of political economy enacted during the new Deal and, later, the New Frontier and Great Society understood these as distinct goals. The architects of mid-twentieth century liberalism believed that stimulating capital markets was the best path to creating economic growth and security (doing well). The job of the federal government, as they saw it, was to fill in the holes left by capitalism with compensatory programs to help the poor, like cash assistance and Head Start, and to enact laws that ended racial and gender discrimination (doing good). In contrast, the New Democrats sought to merge those functions and thus do well bydoing good. This vision contended that the forces of banking, entrepreneurialism, trade, and technology… could substitute for traditional forms of welfare and aid and better address structural problems of racial and economic segregation. In this vision, government did not recede but served as a bridge connecting the public and private sectors.” (p. 8)

Geismer devotes an entire chapter, “Public Schools Are Our Most Important Business,” to the Clinton administration’s new education policy. She begins by telling us about Vice President Al Gore’s meetings with “leading executives and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. The so-called Gore-Tech sessions often took place over pizza and beer, and Gore hoped for them to be a chance for the administration to learn from innovators of the New Economy…. One of these meetings focused on the problems of public education and the growing achievement gap between affluent white suburbanites and students of color in the inner city…. The challenge gave venture capitalist John Doerr, who had become Gore’s closest tech advisor, an idea… The tools of venture capital, Doerr thought, might offer a way to build new and better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice, and competition… Doerr decided to pool money from several other Silicon valley icons to start the NewSchools Venture Fund. NewSchools sat at the forefront of the concepts of venture philanthropy. Often known by the neologism philanthrocapitalism, venture or strategic philanthropy focused on taking tools from the private sector, especially entrepreneurialism, venture capitalism, and management consulting—the key ingredients in the 1990s tech boom—and applying them to philanthropic work… Doerr and the NewSchools Fund became especially focused on charter schools, which the Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Council were similarly encouraging in the 1990s.” (pp. 233-234)

As she explains, the Clinton administration bought the idea that charter schools would be an effective way to end poverty. It encouraged the growth of the charter sector, not realizing that it was creating an industry that would fight accountability, lobby for more federal funding, and ignore frequent scandals and frauds.

It is a cautionary tale that reminds us that the best way to fight poverty is to raise incomes, create jobs, and support labor unions that will defend the rights of working people and advocate for higher wages and benefits.

Reader Christine Langhoff sent a warning that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is poised to take control of the Boston Public Schools. This would be a mistake. No state takeover has ever led to better education. The state is not wiser than the city. If anything, the state education department is far removed from daily practice, as it is simply another bureaucracy. The current board is dominated by advocates of choice. Apparently they are unaware that the root cause of low test scores is poverty. The best the board could do would be to reduce class sizes and to promote the creation of community schools, which makes the school the hub of valuable services for children and families. Such proven strategies are unfamiliar to choice advocates. They prefer a failed approach.

Christine Langhoff wrote:

It seems that MA DESE is poised to place Boston’s public schools under receivership, perhaps by a vote as soon as May 24. Doing so would fulfill the Waltons’ wet dream which has been frustrated since the defeat of ballot Question 2 in 2016, which would have eliminated the charter cap.

The board is appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, whose donors are, of course, the Waltons and the Kochs. Four members of the board have day jobs tied to the Waltons: Amanda Fernández, Latinos for Education; Martin West, Education Next; Paymon Rouhanifard, Propel America; and Jim Peyser, New Schools Venture Fund and the Pioneer Institute. Baker is a lame duck, which may explain the haste to pull this off.

No state takeover has yet been successful, and once a system enters receivership, there is no exit. BESE has pointed to low MCAS scores to say our schools are failures, but Boston’s scores, invalid as they may be during the covid pandemic, are higher that in the three districts the state runs: Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge.

The Boston Teachers Union has an action letter if anyone is so inclined to support public education in the city where it originated:

Jan Resseger, now retired, spent her career as an activist for social justice. Her recent essay was reposted by the Network for Public Education. It seemed appropriate to post it on the 68th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision of 1954. In trying to assess the meager progress towards the ideals of Brown—specifically, equality of educational opportunity—she lays some of the blame on No Child Left Behind and the corporate school reform movement,

Jan Resseger attended the recent Network for Public Education conference, where she took inspiration from speaker Jitu Brown, director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. Reposted with permission.

She wrote:

A highlight of the Network for Public Education’s recent national conference was the keynote from Jitu Brown, a gifted and dedicated Chicago community organizer and the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. His remarks made me think about the meaning of the last two decades of corporate school reform and the conditions today in his city and here where I live in greater Cleveland, Ohio. It is a sad story.

Brown reflected on his childhood experience at a West Side Chicago elementary school, a place where he remembers being exposed to a wide range of information and experience including the study of a foreign language. He wondered, “Why did we have good neighborhood schools when I went to school but our kids don’t have them anymore? For children in poor neighborhoods, their education is not better.”

Brown described how No Child Left Behind’s basic drilling and test prep in the two subjects for which NCLB demands testing—math and language arts—eat up up more and more of the school day. We can consult Harvard University expert on testing, Daniel Koretz, for the details about why the testing regime has been particularly hard on children in schools where poverty is concentrated: “Inappropriate test preparation… is more severe in some places than in others. Teachers of high-achieving students have less reason to indulge in bad preparation for high-stakes tests because the majority of their students will score adequately without it—in particular, above the ‘proficient’ cut score that counts for accountability purposes. So one would expect that test preparation would be a more severe problem in schools serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students, and it is.” (The Testing Charade, pp. 116-117)

Of course, a narrowed curriculum is only one factor in today’s inequity. Derek W. Black and Axton Crolley explain: “(A) 2018 report revealed, school districts enrolling ‘the most students of color receive about $1,800 or 13% less per student’ than districts serving the fewest students of color… Most school funding gaps have a simple explanation: Public school budgets rely heavily on local property taxes. Communities with low property values can tax themselves at much higher rates than others but still fail to generate anywhere near the same level of resources as other communities. In fact, in 46 of 50 states, local school funding schemes drive more resources to middle-income students than poor students.”

Again and again in his recent keynote address, Jitu Brown described the consequences of Chicago’s experiment with corporate accountability-based school reform. Chicago is a city still coping with the effect of the closure of 50 neighborhood schools in June of 2013—part of the collateral damage of the Renaissance 2010 charter school expansion—a portfolio school reform program administered by Arne Duncan to open charter schools and close neighborhood schools deemed “failing,” as measured by standardized test scores. On top of the charter expansion, Chicago instituted student-based-budgeting, which has trapped a number of Chicago public schools in a downward spiral as students experiment with charter schools and as enrollment diminishes, both of which spawn staffing and program cuts and put the school on a path toward closure.

As Jitu Brown reflected on his inspiring elementary school experience a long time ago, I thought about a moving recent article by Carolyn Cooper, a long time resident of Cleveland, Ohio’s East Glenville neighborhood: “I received a stellar education in elementary, junior high, and high school from the… Cleveland Public School system… All of the schools I attended were within walking distance, or only a few miles from my home. And at Iowa-Maple Elementary School, a K-6 school at the time, I was able to join the French Club and study abroad for months in both Paris and Lyon, France… Flash forward to this present day… To fight the closure of both Iowa-Maple and Collinwood High School, a few alumni attended a school facilities meeting held in October 2019 at Glenville High School… Despite our best efforts, Collinwood remained open but Iowa-Maple still closed down… Several generations of my family, as well as the families of other people who lived on my street, were alumni there. I felt it should have remained open because it was a 5-Star school, offering a variety of programs including gifted and advanced courses, special education, preschool offerings, and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).”

In his keynote address last week, Jitu Brown explained: “Justice and opportunity depend on the institutions to which children have access.” Brown’s words brought to my mind another part of Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood less than a mile from Iowa-Maple Elementary School. If you drive along Lakeview Road between Superior and St. Clair Avenues, you see a neighborhood with older homes of a size comfortable for families and scattered newer rental housing built about twenty years ago with support from tax credits. You also see many empty lots where houses were abandoned and later demolished in the years following the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Separated by several blocks, you pass two large weedy tracts of land which were once the sites of two different public elementary schools—abandoned by the school district and boarded up for years before they were demolished. You pass by a convenience store surrounded by cracked asphalt and gravel. Finally you pass a dilapidated, abandoned nursing home which for several years housed the Virtual Schoolhouse, a charter school that advertised on the back of Regional Transit Authority buses until it shut down in 2018.

My children went to school in Cleveland Heights, only a couple of miles from Glenville. Cleveland Heights-University Heights is a mixed income, racially integrated, majority African American, inner-ring suburban school district. Our children can walk to neighborhood public schools that are a great source of community pride. Our community is not wealthy, but we have managed to pass our school levies to support our children with strong academics. We recently passed a bond issue to update and repair our old high school, where my children had the opportunity to play in a symphony orchestra, and play sports in addition to the excellent academic program.

Jitu Brown helped organize and lead the 2015 Dyett Hunger Strike, which forced the Chicago Public Schools to reopen a shuttered South Side Chicago high school. Brown does not believe that charter schools and vouchers are the way to increase opportunity for children in places like Chicago’s South and West Sides and Cleveland’s Glenville and Collinwood neighborhoods. He explains: “When you go to a middle-class white community you don’t see charter schools…. You see effective, K-12 systems of education in their neighborhoods. Our children deserve the same.”

In the powerful final essay in the new book, Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy, Bill Ayers, a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, agrees with Jitu Brown about what ought to be the promise of public education for every child in America:

“Let’s move forward guided by an unshakable first principle: Public education is a human right and a basic community responsibility… Every child has the right to a free, high-quality education. A decent, generously staffed school facility must be in easy reach for every family… What the most privileged parents have for their public school children right now—small class sizes, fully trained and well compensated teachers, physics and chemistry labs, sports teams, physical education and athletic fields and gymnasiums, after-school and summer programs, generous arts programs that include music, theater, and fine arts—is the baseline for what we want for all children.” (Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy, pp. 314-315) (emphasis in the original)

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus.

After every conference, attendees say, “This was the best one yet.” They enjoy meeting people who are doing the same work to fight privatization of their public schools. By the end of the conference, attendees say they feel energized, hopeful, and happy to know that they are not alone.

I urge you to read Tom’s post. You will get a sense of the embarrassment of riches available to attendees.

I should add that the Nebraska Save Our Schools group shared the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. Nebraska is one of the few states that has managed to protect its public schools and keep out both charters and vouchers, despite being a Red State.

The Pastors for Texas Children, a co-winner of the award, has repeatedly blocked vouchers in the Texas Legislature and has consistently fought for funding for public schools. PTC has opened chapters in other Red states, where they mobilize clergy to support public schools.

A high point for me was interviewing “Little Stevie” Van Zandt, a legendary rock star and actor (“The Sopranos”), who is dedicated to getting the arts into schools, not as an extra, but across the curriculum. we had a wonderful conversation. He has funded lesson plans based on rock and roll, available free at his website TeachRock.

All of the general sessions were taped. I will post them when they become available.

Mercedes Schneider describes a new consulting team that is selling its services to states and districts. Most of its partners are protégés of Jeb Bush and learned his strategies of high-stakes testing, school choice, test-based accountability, and harsh treatment of teachers.

She writes:

Need help with your public or private business venture? Well, NY- and DC-based Ridge-Lane Limited Partners (LP) offers “venture development at the apex of public and private sector…”

Schneider reviews the bios of the firm’s principal actors, which are not reassuring.

She writes:

So, if you want to dip into some of this Ridge-Lane LP K12 “significant experience” (not in the classroom, mind you, but in Jeb Bush reforms, such as school grading, and Common Core, and PARCC, and pension funneling), then get your (or the taxpayer’s) proverbial checkbook ready so that these once state-ed superintendents can spin an income advising you out of those edu-dollars.

The Boss of bosses