Archives for category: Community Schools

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.

Jeff Bryant writes here about the decision by the Oakland, California, school board to close a number of schools because of a budget shortfall. Some of these schools were popular Community schools, offering services that benefited children, families, and the community. Bryant shows that the closure of these schools would not solve the budget shortfall.

Many readers of this blog used a Zoom link provided by friends in Oakland to listen to the crucial meeting of the school board when the vote was taken. I listened for four hours, as hundreds of students and parents spoke out against the closure of their beloved school. Not a single student or parent during the four hours I listened supported the closings.

The board was unmoved. Two members—Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams— voted against the closings, but the majority voted yea.

One of those who voted for the closings just announced that she was resigning. Shanthi Gonzalez is not waiting for the next election. She claimed that she was interested only in raising academic quality when she supported closing schools.

Shanthi Gonzales, who represents District 6 on the Oakland Unified School District board, announced Monday that she is stepping down from her position immediately, seven months before her term is set to expire.

In a lengthy public statement published on her blog on Monday morning, Gonzales denounced the increasingly hostile discourse surrounding public education in Oakland, which has led to protests, strikes, and personal insults lobbed at school board members. She also called out the lack of progress the district has made in supporting students’ academic needs, and slammed the Oakland Education Association teachers union and its supporters for resisting moves to improve the quality of schools…

Along with board president Gary Yee, Gonzales introduced a resolution in December for the board to consider closing schools because of deep financial troublesbrought on in part by years of declining enrollment. That resolution led to the board’s February decision to close seven schools over the next two years, and merge or downsize several others. Three of the schools slated for closure, Community Day School, Parker K-8, and Carl B. Munck Elementary School, are in Gonzales’ district. null

Opposition to the district’s closure and consolidation plan has been fierce. In recent months, community members have held marches, two educators have staged a hunger strike, and protesters have rallied outside the homes of Gonzales and other school board members. The Oakland Education Association teachers union staged a one-day strike that effectively shut down classes this past Friday. School board meetings have also been contentious, with regular heckling and disruptions at in-person meetings.

All the members who voted for the closings should be voted out of office.

The two members who opposed the schools’ closings are Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams. They are true leaders.

This year, for the first time since the federal Charter Schools program was established in 1994, the U.S. Department of Education is setting forth meaningful regulation of the program. This is a historic development and great news for those of us who have watched the charter industry escape accountability and transparency, while tolerating grift and profiteering.

As the Network for Public Education showed in two major reports (Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel), the federal charter program is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. Nearly 40% of the charter schools funded by this program either never opened or closed soon after opening. About $1 billion was wasted.

The Department has made a good faith effort to repair the negative aspects of the Charter School Program and to create regulations that would put guardrails in place for charter schools.

There are three key features to these regulations:

First, to qualify for federal funding, charters must develop an impact statement, describing the demographics that they will serve, whether there is a need for their proposed charter, whether the charter would intensify racial segregation in district schools, and how the charter would impact the local district schools.

Second, charters would have to demonstrate how they will serve the local community.

Third, charters operated by for-profit organizations would not be eligible for funding.

These are all significant reforms that have the potential to turn charters into good neighbors of public schools.

I urge you to write your own comment to support the Department’s bold effort to regulate the recipients of federal money for charters ($440 million). You can write 50 words in the comment or write a letter and attach it.

Please open this link to make a comment or send a letter:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/03/14/2022-05463/proposed-priorities-requirements-definitions-and-selection-criteria-expanding-opportunity-through#open-comment

Please read the letter that Carol Burris wrote on behalf of the Network for Public Education, posted here.

Comments from The Network for Public Education Regarding Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria-Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program (CSP)-Grants

Docket ID Number: ED-2022-OESE-0006

April 1, 2022

The Network for Public Education (NPE) writes in response to the invitation to submit comments regarding “Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria-Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program (CSP)-Grants to State Entities (SE Grants); Grants to Charter Management Organizations for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools (CMO Grants); and Grants to Charter School Developers for the Opening of New Charter Schools and for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools (Developer Grants).

NPE is a national non-profit organization with 350,000 subscribers. We network with nearly 200 national, state, and local organizations all committed to the same mission—to preserve, strengthen and support our democratically governed public school system. For the past several years, we have been deeply concerned by what we view as endemic corruption and waste in the Federal Charter Schools Program.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) must update its priorities and its requirements to address loopholes and flaws in the program that have resulted in for-profit run schools receiving grants, 12% of all CSP grants going to charter schools that never open, grants received by schools and charter management organizations that provide false and misleading information, and sub-grants issued to charter schools with a history of exacerbating racial segregation and that exclude, by policy or practice, students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners.

The Award of CSP Grants Charter Schools Operated by For-Profit Organizations

We strongly support the Department’s attempt to ensure that charter schools operated by for-profit management corporations do not receive CSP grants, specifically this language:

(a) Each charter school receiving CSP funding must provide an assurance that it has not and will not enter into a contract with a for-profit management organization, including a non-profit management organization operated by or on behalf of a for-profit entity, under which the management organization exercises full or substantial administrative control over the charter school and, thereby, the CSP project.

The federal definition of a public school under IDEA and ESEA is “a nonprofit institutional day or residential school, including a public elementary charter school, that provides elementary education, as determined under State law.” 20 U. S.C. §§ 1401(6) (IDEA), 7801(18) (ESEA) Similarly, the statutes define a “secondary school” as “a nonprofit institutional day or residential school, including a public secondary charter school, that provides secondary education, as determined under State law․” 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(27) (IDEA), 7801(38) (ESEA).

Former for-profit entities have created non-profit facades that allow the for-profit and its related organizations to run and profit from the charter school, following the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Arizona State Bd. For Charter Schools v. U.S. Dept. of Educ. in 2006 (464 F.3d 1003).

Ineffective provisions undermine the present regulations against the disbursement of funds from the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to charter schools operated by for-profit entities. We identified over 440 charter schools operated for profit that received grants totaling approximately $158 million between 2006 and 2017, including CSP grants to schools managed with for-profit sweeps contracts.

We offer as examples the recent CSP grants awarded to Torchlight Academy Charter School of North Carolina and Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy of Ohio. We also bring your attention to the audit of a charter school run by National Heritage Academies in New York. The State Comptroller specifically chides the charter board for the fees taken by a for-profit that played the role of applying for and managing grants. National Heritage Academies schools have frequently received CSP grants and operate under sweeps contracts.

The relationship between a for-profit management organization is quite different from the relationship between a vendor who provides a single service. A school can sever a bus contract and still have a building, desks, curriculum, and teachers. However, in cases where charter schools have attempted to fire the for-profit operator, they find it impossible to do without destroying the schools in the process.

Recommendations:

Many for-profit organizations operate by steering business to their for-profit-related entities. They are often located at the same address, and the owner of the management company or a member of the immediate family is the owner of the related entity. Therefore, it is recommended that wherever references to for-profit organizations appear, the phrase “and its related entities” is added.

(a) Each charter school receiving CSP funding must provide an assurance that it has not and will not enter into a contract with a for-profit management organization, including a non-profit management organization operated by or on behalf of a for-profit entity, under which the management organization and its related entitiesexercise(s) full or substantial administrative control over the charter school and, thereby, the CSP project.

Quality Control of Awards and the Importance of Impact Analysis

We strongly support the proposed regulations that seek to bring greater transparency and better judgment to the process of awarding CSP grants. We especially support the inclusion of a community impact analysis.

We are pleased that “the community impact analysis must describe how the plan for the proposed charter school take into account the student demographics of the schools from which students are, or would be, drawn to attend the charter school,” and provide “evidence that demonstrates that the number of charter schools proposed to be opened, replicated, or expanded under the grant does not exceed the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community.”

More than one in four charter schools close by the end of year five. A foremost reason for both public school and charter closure and the disruption such closures bring to the lives of children is low enrollment, as seen this past month in Oakland. In New Orleans, school closures have resulted in children being forced to attend multiple schools during their elementary school years, often traveling long distances. Between 1999 and 2017, nearly one million children were displaced due to the closure of their schools, yet only nine states have significant caps to regulate charter growth.

We applaud language that states, “The community impact analysis must also describe the steps the charter school has taken or will take to ensure that the proposed charter school would not hamper, delay, or in any manner negatively affect any desegregation efforts in the public school districts from which students are, or would be, drawn or in which the charter school is or would be located, including efforts to comply with a court order, statutory obligation, or voluntary efforts to create and maintain desegregated public schools…”

In some states, charter schools have been magnets for white flight from integrated schools. Other charter schools have attracted high achieving students while discouraging students with special needs from attending. And, as you know from the letter you received in June of 2021 from 67 public education advocacy and civil rights groups, the North Carolina SE CSP sub-grants were awarded to charter schools that actively exacerbated segregation, serving in some cases, as white flight academies The information requested by the Department is reasonable and will help reviewers make sound decisions.

In addition to our support for the proposed regulations, we have two additional recommendations to strengthen the impact analysis proposal.

Recommendations: (1) That impact analysis requirements include a profile of the students with disabilities and English Language Learners in the community along with an assurance that the applicant will provide the full range of services that meet the needs of students with disabilities and English Language Learners. (2) That applicants include a signed affidavit provided by district or state education department officials attesting to the accuracy of the information provided.

Regarding proposed rules regarding transparency, we note that in the past, schools were awarded grants without providing even one letter of support, or provided false information indicating support that did not exist.

We also strongly support the requirement state entities provide additional supervision of grants. Some will argue that they do not receive sufficient funding to provide supervision. We believe that funding is more than sufficient and we offer the following example as evidence.

In 2020, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools(PCPCS) received a SE grant of $30 million to open 18 new or expanded charters in the Commonwealth within five years. ESSA allows state entities to retain 10% of all grant funding with 3% dedicated for grant administration. That means that this small state entity would have access to $1 million dollars to supervise the CSP grant spending of eighteen schools. Given that it is a five-year grant, PCPCS would therefore be allowed to spend from CSP funding $200,000 a year to review applications and keep track of grant spending.

To date, three schools have been awarded grants according to the two co-directors hired to administer the program.

We strongly support all SE sub-grant review requirements. These include: (a) how peer reviewers will be recruited and selected, and (b) efforts the applicant must make to recruit peer reviewers from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups. We applaud the requirement for a review team. In some states, including New York, CSP sub-grants are routinely distributed as part of the charter authorization process.

To those proposals we suggest adding the following:

Recommendations: (1) That review teams must include at least one reviewer representative of the district public school community. (2) that a minimum point threshold be established for an award, (3) that applications be checked for factual accuracy, and (4) that applications be posted for public review and comment for a period of no less than 45 days before award decisions.

We also recommend that the Department retain funds from the Charter Schools Program to conduct audits of all Developer, CMO and SE subgrants to ensure the funds are being properly spent and that the conditions and aspirations as described in the applications are being met. Annual audits of 5% of all active awardees in each of the programs, randomly chosen by the Department should be conducted each year.

Priorities One and Two

We strongly support the proposed priorities, which we believe will help return the charter school movement back to its original purpose and benefit the children who attend charter schools. Priority one builds off the successful community schools’ movement. Priority two encourages cooperative activities between district and charter schools. We believe that these priorities should be absolute priorities.

Unfortunately, in many cases charter schools’ employee handbooks commonly require teachers to sign nondisclosure agreements that threaten legal action if they reveal the schools “trade secrets” including such things as “curriculum systems, instructional programs, curriculum solutions … new materials research, pending projects and proposals, proprietary production processes, research and development strategies, technological data, and technological prototypes.”

Recommendation

That the Department disallows grants or sub-grants to any schools that apply under priority two if the school or the CMO considers educational material confidential and proprietary and/or does not make publicly available financial, personal or contracting information.

Planning Grants to Unauthorized Charter Schools

According to a 2019 response to Representative Raul Grijalva by then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, 12% of all CSP grants between 2001 and 2019 were awarded to schools that never opened and were not expected to open. In most cases, these schools had never achieved authorization. Whether unauthorized schools can receive funding for planning purposes and how much can be awarded has been left up to the states. This has resulted in large amounts of federal CSP money in the pockets of people who provided no service to the public.

It has also resulted in egregious abuse, especially in Michigan, where charter schools have received more than $100,000 in awards before their authorization was approved. An in-depth review of such planning grants by Michigan State Board of Education President Cassandra Ulbrich revealed questionable submissions, including invoices that would-be charter operators paid themselves and excessive technology purchases.

Recommendation: A school’s planning amount before an authorization is limited to $10,000. If justifiable expenses exceed that amount, they should only be compensated following authorization.

Proposed Selection Criterion for CMO Grants

ESSA places the following restriction on grants awarded to State Entities: No State entity may receive a grant under this section for use in a State in which a State entity is currently using a grant received under this section. However, ESSA is silent regarding the awarding of grants to CMOs. This has resulted in CMOs having several active grants at the same time, with new grants being issued without proper inspection of the efficacy of former grants. For example, it has resulted in the IDEA charter CMOreceiving six grants in a ten-year period totaling nearly $300 million. These grants occurred under a leadership structure that engaged in questionable practices, including the attempted yearly lease of a private jet, related-party transactions, and the rental of a luxury box at San Antonio Spurs games.

IDEA received two awards, in 2019 and 2020, totaling more than $188 million even as the 2019 audit of the Inspector General found that IDEA submitted incomplete and inaccurate reports on three prior grants. The IG report also looked at a randomly selected sample of expenses and found that IDEA’s charges to the grants did not always include only allowable and adequately documented non-personnel expenses.

Recommendations:

That department regulations disallow the awarding of grants to any CMO currently using a grant received under the CMO program and that for any grant exceeding $25 million, the Department’s OIG conducts an audit before an additional grant is awarded.

I don’t often ask the readers of this blog to do anything other than vote. I urge you to write the Department on behalf of these urgently needed reforms.

The deadline for comments is April 13, 2022.

Jeff Bryant writes in The Progressive about the success of community schools in building trust between schools and parents. Rightwing activists and politicians have made an issue of the gulf between schools and parents and stirred up angry parents to demand “control” over what is taught.

He begins:

Leslie Hu remembers the very day, a Thursday in March 2020, when her school, Dr. Martin Luther King Academic Middle School in San Francisco, received word from the district office that Friday would be the last day the school would be physically open until further notice due to the coronavirus epidemic. Without waiting for guidance, she and a few other staff members, “immediately went into overdrive to connect with as many families as possible,” she tells me. 

Working late into the evening, the staff members made “wellness calls” to deliver messages of care and reassurance. “Our message was, ‘We are not abandoning you. What do you need? We still care,’ ” recallsHu, a community schools coordinator and social worker at the school.

The next day, they enlarged the circle of callers to other school staff members. By the following Wednesday, their wellness calls had reached nearly all of the 460 families with children at the school.

Their efforts yielded critical information about how families were affected by the pandemic and what kinds of challenges they faced.

The outreach effort then expanded to more in-depth interview calls to stay connected to families  handling the emergency. Within a month, they had reached out to every family. 

Their efforts yielded critical information about how families were affected by the pandemic and what kinds of challenges they faced—such as, whether a breadwinner had lost a job, whether the household had access to the Internet, or whether the family was facing an eviction notice. They also conveyed critical information to help families navigate the crisis, including how to pick up Wi-Fi hotspots and devices from the district, where there were open food pantries, and which local nonprofit organizations and community agencies were providing support for dealing with financial and mental health issues.

We knew there would be certain things our families probably needed,” Hu recalls. “But we didn’t make assumptions. We knew to ask open-ended questions.”

This outreach effort was so successful that, according to an article by the California Federation of Teachers, the San Francisco Board of Education used it as a model to create a districtwide plan to establishpermanent “coordinated care teams” for reaching out to families and checking on their well-being.

Looking back, Hu describes their response as something that came about intuitively. She and her colleagues didn’t wait for directives from higher-ups. Instead, they relied on a well-practiced behavior of “co-creating,” as she put it, with colleagues in a school where leadership responsibilities are shared rather than hierarchical.

The actions Hu and her colleagues took are not unique—stories of educators and school staff members rising to address the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic abound. But rarely do these reports delve into what took place before the response to the crisis occurred. They do not mention, for example, whether there was a particular school culture inculcated among staff members that guided how they responded, or whether there were structures and systems put into place beforehand that were set in motion once the crisis emerged.

The work that led to our wellness calls was due to an effort that took years,” Hu says, referring to the school’s decision in 2014 to transform its culture and operations to align with an approach known widely as community schools.

As Hu explains, “All the work the model requires you to do to build systems and structure to communicate with families paid off.”

The community schools model may just be the path to genuine educational reform. Not privatization. Not “no-excuses discipline.” Not harsh pedagogy of control.

Community schools.

What happens to schools when it is safe to reopen fully? Pundits call for more testing, longer school days, anything to make up for “learning loss.”

Gretchen Dziadosz, executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, has a better idea: community schools.

She writes in the Columbus Dispatch:

There is a cost-effective way to keep school doors open 12 hours a day and which provides organized services to students in addition to their normal in-person class time. These are schools in which parents don’t need to pay for after-school day care or private tutoring and students can complete their homework before they come home. Already overburdened, this solution prevents an increase in workload for educators. This solution is called the community schools model.

The most astonishing part is schools following the community schools model provide all these benefits at a fraction of the cost of hiring more teachers to work more hours. Such teachers, by the way, are in very short supply in many parts of the country.

There are already more than 5,000 U.S. community schools, and research shows they succeed in improving student achievement. This proven, successful model can be implemented in many more communities if policymakers, parents and schools have the desire to make it happen.

Imagine school buildings and programs open to families and students all year.

Imagine a school in which students have available tutoring, supervised homework time, mentoring, enhanced science, reading, art, music and sports programs, school clubs, programs with the local zoo or library, computer labs with internet access, dance classes, community theater, whatever the community chooses to provide.

Imagine a school in which the whole family can access programs such as COVID-19 vaccinations, eye exams, mental health services, GED programs, adult enrichment classes, tax services, insurance assistance and sports…

Working together with the school, community resources are brought into the school to improve access and opportunities for students and families. Students struggling with math might have community volunteer tutors. Students without broadband internet at home have access to the computer lab. Students who need reading assistance can work with the local library program.

Read more about how community schools can transforms schools and communities.