Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Here is a list of the school boards that have passed a resolution opposing “Question 2,” that would allow the state to open a dozen charter schools every year, with no limits. The school boards recognize that this would take money away from public schools and destroy public education in Massachusetts. Since Massachusetts is already the top-performing state in the nation on federal tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress), there is no good reason to open an unlimited number of privately managed charters. As the November 8 election grows closer, you can expect this list to grow longer. Currently, 112 school boards have voted to oppose Question 2. Zero (0) support the proposal. (Not all 112 may be on this list.)

A growing list of communities oppose lifting the charter cap

These communities have all gone on record against lifting the cap on charter schools. (Each community’s school committee has passed a resolution or issued a statement against a cap lift. The list also indicates communities in which another town body has gone on record against lifting the charter cap.) If your city or town is missing from this list, see if you can get them on board!

Berkshire Hills
Boston City Council
Cambridge School Committee,
Cambridge City Council
Deerfield, Deerfield Selectmen
Dennis Selectmen
Easthampton City Council
East Bridgewater
Fall River
Frontier Regional
Hampshire Regional
Hawlemont Regional
Lowell School Committee, City Council
Lynn City Council, Lynn School Committee
Mohawk Regional
Narragansett Regional
New Bedford
North Adams
North Middlesex
North Reading
Pioneer Valley Regional
Silver Lake Regional
Southern Berkshire Regional
South Hadley
Taunton School Committee, Taunton
City Council
Upper Cape Cod Regional Tech
West Springfield
Worcester School Committee, Worcester City Council

Sean Cavanaugh writes in Education Week about the soul-searching and market-sifting of PARCC, the federally funded testing consortium that is on the verge of collapse.

Arne Duncan plunked down $360 million to enable the creation of PARCC and SBAC. Both were designed to align with the Common Core State Standards.

PARCC started with 24 states and D.C. signed up as sites that wanted its tests (the vendor is Pearson).

However, PARCC is now down to 6 states and D.C.

One of the suggestions is that PARCC and SBAC merge, to minimize the cost of producing millions of tests.

What happens in the business world when no one wants what you are selling?

Who will be held accountable for this dud?

Stuart Egan, an NBCT high school teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrote an open letter to the Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Mark Johnson. Johnson is 32 years old. He worked for two years as a Teach for America teacher. He was elected to the Winston-Salem school board and is only halfway through his first term.

Egan writes:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

Johnson claimed in his statement:

“The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.”

Egan asks:

First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

It is a brilliant dissection of the usual rightwing claims about our public schools. It is sad that many TFA alums have aligned themselves with Tea Party Republicans, as Johnson has.

Stuart Egan demonstrates once again why tenure matters. It protects his freedom to speak.

Megan Tompkins-Stange recently wrote a book (Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence) about her study of certain big foundations. I posted EduShyster’s interview with her. She writes here about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its intention to remake American education, without asking parents or educators if they agree with the foundation’s plans.

She describes the Gates Foundation’s pivot from small schools to Common Core to “personalized learning.” Each pivot involved maximum imposition on districts and states eager for new money, and the money also had strings attached. The strings designed by the Gates Foundation.

As Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family foist their experiments on other people’s children, they have no accountability for their mistakes. Sometimes they don’t even seem to acknowledge them.

She writes:

But education is a public good: a fundamental human right to which citizens in a democratic society are entitled. It isn’t a private good that can be negotiated with, or directed by, private interests. This distinction is particularly important in low-income communities that are populated predominantly by people of color, where foundations have long concentrated efforts to pursue unproven innovations. These communities are often those most in need of support, where philanthropists feel they can make the biggest impact. That’s why cities in crisis like Detroit and New Orleans have become central sites for charter schools, many of which are low in quality.

However, while foundations may want to catalyze innovation on behalf of poor children, they must be careful to avoid treating schools and communities as laboratories, particularly when poor families are so susceptible to the threat of uninformed consent. In fact citizens are beginning to push back against foundation funding of ‘proof points’ in their districts, arguing that schools are not testing grounds for wealthy philanthropists to conduct their social experiments. In 2016, for example, the California NAACP called for a national moratorium on all new charter schools.

Until recently, public opinion on the democratic responsibilities that accompany private philanthropy by the wealthy was fairly indifferent. A 2006 study, for example, found that 98 per cent of press coverage on philanthropy was neutral or positive in nature. But since then the debate has opened up, and school reform has become the centerpiece of efforts to highlight the dilemmas involved in ‘private funding for the public good’ as philanthropy is often described.

The key issue here is accountability, not stopping the flow of funding into schools that desperately need resources. Foundations are almost unique among large institutions in being free of accountability mechanisms with teeth, so long as they file some basic paperwork with the IRS and steer clear of openly partisan politics. A private corporation or a government department would not have weathered the cycle of interventions in schooling that the Gates Foundation has pursued over the last 15 years—they would have been held accountable for their failures and subject to greater scrutiny by the public.

That’s very difficult to do with foundations because they are self-funded, self-appointed and largely self-regulating institutions with no democratic mechanisms for debate and accountability, but it would certainly be possible for governments at the state and federal levels to mandate the inclusion of members of the public such as teachers, school superintendents, and independent education experts in deliberative processes around any major innovation, and to enforce regular Congressional reviews of foundations’ work whenever it aims to change national policy around public goods like education.

Foundations are notoriously insular institutions, which rarely welcome or seek out criticism, especially from the voices of affected communities. They also tend to resist attempts to regulate their activities—arguing that this would inevitably lead to political interference—but the balance of accountability has swung too far away from public oversight. Even small-scale measures like improving the diversity of boards of trustees have been opposed or watered down by foundation interests.

However, if foundations refuse to put their own house in order then democratically elected authorities have every right to step in. After all, if philanthropy is indeed ‘private funding for the public good’ (and receives tax benefits in return), then the ‘public’ must be involved in monitoring their performance.

The good news here is that the public is becoming increasingly aware of the foundations’ influence and their lack of accountability. They can mess up a district, a state, or the nation and walk away saying that their grand ideas were not implemented correctly. We have never actually heard an apology from Bill Gates about his teacher evaluation by test scores fiasco or the Common Core controversy or inBloom, nor will we get one when parents rebel against the farce of “personalized learning” by computer. Don’t expect an apology from Eli Broad for all the top-down corporatists that he sent out to school districts across the land. And the Walton family is digging in and investing hundreds of millions every year in the privatization of public education. No excuses! No apologies! No remorse!

Mercedes Schneider watched the debate about Question 2 in Massachusetts and read the transcript.

The Charter Lady, former Representative Marty Walz, who is now associated with the hedge funders DFER, thinks that the schools of Massachusetts are in awful trouble. Why? Because they have elected school boards. If only Wall Street financiers and friends of the Walmart-Waltons ran all the schools, then the state might amount to something.

How stupid is that? Massachusetts is far and away the top scoring state in the nation.

School boards across the state are furious. More than 112 have passed resolutions opposing Question 2. Not a single school board supports it.

If Walz had her way, then there would only be individual, non-elected boards comprised of corporate and financial executives to oversee a school or a network of schools. So, if any students leave a school or network (whether encouraged to do so by that school/network or not), then the school (or network) responsibility ends there.

Massachusetts would be free to emulate Louisiana’s all-charter Recovery School District (RSD), a “portfolio” district (one where “there is no single entity responsible for all children”)– and one where assistant superintendent Dana Peterson publicly admitted that he doesn’t know how many students just disappear from those portfolio-ed, New Orleans schools.

Mercedes adds:

Walz does not like that Boston Public Schools receives funds to offset its losing students to charter schools. Yet if there is to be compulsory education, there must be a system of schools in which students might enroll at any time. There must be a default system, a “catch all.” Otherwise, there will be students without a school to attend, for whatever reason, including the fact that Massachusetts charters are not required to backfill empty seats in all grades– which means the charters are off the hook for adding a single latecomer student to a number of grade level cohorts.

Unfortunately, the need for a catch-all combined with non-locally-controlled charters tends to create a dual school system– and a dual school system tends to foster segregation.

The Charter Lady is thrilled that out of state money is pouring in to destabilize communities and privatize public schools.

Her reasoning is seriously flawed, as is her knowledge of education and research.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is one of the most profitable charter schools in the nation. Its owner, William Lager, is one of the biggest donors to the Republican party in Ohio. ECOT offers K-12 instruction online and is paid full state tuition for every student. Most of this money is deducted from the funding of the local school district where each student lives. ECOT has the lowest graduation rate in the nation. According to the New York Times, in the 2014 fiscal year, the last year for which federal tax filings were available, the school paid the companies associated with Mr. Lager nearly $23 million, or about one-fifth of the nearly $115 million in government funds it took in.

The state recently asked ECOT to demonstrate that its students are actually logging on and participating in instruction. The issue is in court because ECOT says that the state is overstepping its bounds and the company has no obligation to demonstrate that its students participate even for a minute a day.

Here is the story.

The state’s fight over whether the giant ECOT online school deserves the $106 million in state money it receives hit the courtroom today, with ECOT lawyers saying the state is using rules that are “unenforceable” and the state saying the school’s objections are “absurd.”

The school and Ohio Department of Education are expected to be before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer French for the next three days to present their differing views on a crucial issue: Whether online schools have to show that students actually participate in their online classes, or just that the schools provide classes.

In opening arguments this morning, lawyer Marion Little said state rules and a 2003 contract with ODE only require the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to prove that students are enrolled, not that they are engaged in their lessons.

Little said that e-school funding is set by enrollment but the state this year has tried to “merge” the “distinct” and separate ideas of participation with enrollment to audit the school and put its funding at risk.

The original idea of charter schools, as espoused not by Albert Shanker but by people like Chester Finn Jr., was a deal: Autonomy in exchange for accountability.

ECOT offers a different deal: Autonomy without accountability. Just give us the money and trust us.

Myra Blackmon is one of the most astute commentators on education in Georgia. She writes often for AthensOnline. In this column,she takes issue with the advocates for an “Opportunity School District,” which is on the ballot on November 8.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the state to take over schools with low test scores. It guts local control. As we have seen again and again, state takeovers have repeatedly failed, because the state doesn’t know more than the local school board. The Tennessee Achievement School District, which is a model for Georgia, has not produced any results in its four years of operation. The low-performing schools in the ASD are still low-performing, still eligible to be taken over yet again, but by whom? The Educational Achievement Authority in Michigan has been a disaster.

So why is Georgia following these failed examples? Well, eliminating local control is recommended by the far-right ALEC. ALEC’s goal is privatization, not “rescuing” poor kids.

The proponents of this measure claim that they will “rescue” poor kids from “failing schools,” the usual mantra of privatizers. But the claim is a hoax and a deliberate effort to deceive voters.

Blackmon writes:

These rescuers must have been living on another planet if they haven’t seen their proposed “solution,” a state takeover with no accountability, go down in shame all over the country. They tried it in New Orleans and gave up because it didn’t work. They’ve been trying it in Nashville, and the confiscated schools are doing worse than they were when their “rescue” began. They tried it in Detroit and 11 of the 14 schools that were “rescued” are still failing.

The so-called “Opportunity School District” is among the worst of a long string of dangerous ideas and policies forced on local school districts in Georgia. It is a power grab, pure and simple, moving control of local schools from those closest to them to an unaccountable gubernatorial appointee who, from on high in Atlanta, will dictate local education policies and practices.

The language both on the ballot and in the enabling legislation sounds like a plan for everyone to hold hands and happily work to improve education. But that’s a lie.

These self-styled rescuers of poor children want to turn education over to their buddies in the privatization movement. They want accountability for everyone but themselves.

Rescue, my eye. Keep our opportunities local. Vote “no” on Amendment 1.

Mercedes Schneider reports here on the unprecedented spending on the Massachusetts ballot question on expanding privately managed schools. She includes the spending by both sides: those who want more charters and those who do not.

Most of the funding against charters comes from teachers’ unions and people who live in Massachusetts.

Most of the funding for charters comes from financiers and billionaires who do NOT live in Massachusetts.

Mercedes links to this article:

Boston radio station WGBH reviewed spending records on the charter referendum and found that charter supporters, based largely in New York City in the financial industry, have thus far spent more than $12 million to promote passage of Question 2. Question 2 would remove the cap on charter schools.

The opposition consists of billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, who gave almost $300,000, and the Waltons of Arkansas, who gave $1.8 million.

The chairman of the Massachusetts State Biard of Education gave $100,000 to the pro-charter, pro-privatization camp. Lifting the cap would strip resources from the state’s excellent public schools. Opponents have started a petition calling on the Governor (a privatization advocate) to oust the chairman of the state board because of the blatant conflict of interest.

Expect more money from Wall Street before November 8. This is a must-win for the privatizers.

Joel Warner writes an investigative article about the fight to bring transparency to California’s charter schools.

He describes the problems that many charter schools have encountered–or created–because of their lack of transparency. He might have added that they are not only non-transparent, they are also unaccountable in their use of public funds:

Since these charters are exempt from most school district laws, there’s nothing on the books compelling them to abide by California’s open-meeting and open-records rules. And these days, California is being singled out for lax oversight of its booming charter school industry. “I came away appalled,” says Carol Burris, executive director of the New York-based Network for Public Education, after a recent fact-finding trip to the state for a four-part series she’s writing on the state of charters in California. “I was really taken aback by how unregulated charters are in the state.”

Part of the problem, says Burris, is Governor Brown’s pro-charter stance; last year he vetoed a bill that would have banned for-profit charter schools in the state, a restriction that even many charter school advocates support. Another factor, says Burris, is that the California Charter Schools Association, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, has become a powerful lobbying force against many reforms, thanks to major funding from deep-pocketed charter advocates.

Charter critics contend that the absence of regulations contributes to the scandals that have plagued California’s charter schools, including:

Charter operators who were found guilty of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds.

A charter principal who moonlighted as an NBA scout on his school’s dime.

A charter teacher who claimed her boss told her to fly to Nigeria and marry her brother-in-law to make him a U.S. citizen.

Last year, a report by the Center for Popular Democracy, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute and Public Advocates Inc. concluded that charter school fraud and mismanagement had already cost California taxpayers more than $81 million. And last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates reported that more than 250 California charter schools – one-fifth of the state’s total – violated state law by excluding low-performing and other potentially undesirable students. In both reports, authors concluded that because of minimal oversight, such misconduct findings are likely to be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Such troubles don’t just generate headlines; they impact students, says Sarah Vigrass, a longtime K-8 teacher at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the state’s largest online charter school. In July, K12 Inc., the Virginia-based for-profit that manages CAVA, agreed to a $168.5 million settlement with California in the wake of a state Attorney General probe and a Mercury News investigation into whether the company had manipulated its success rates and attendance records. According to Vigrass, over the years she’s seen K12 reduce the quality and quantity of education materials it provides to its students – but she and her colleagues have no way of knowing why that might be happening.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor at California State University, chair of the California NAACP education committee, and a board member of NPE, says in the article about Governor Jerry Brown:

“Does he want his legacy to be the anti-democratic privatization of our public schools?”

Charles Pierce is an incisive blogger for Esquire. Whenever he writes about schools, he is right on. In this post, he warns people in Massachusetts against a Question 2, which would expand the number of charters by 12 a year forever. Pierce knows that hedge fund managers and billionaires the funding this campaign, and the proposal is deliberately deceptive, appealing to people to improve their public schools. The real purpose, as we know, is to undermine public schools and fund privately managed schools that do not answer to the community that pays the taxes to support them.

Pierce quotes liberally from Carol Burris’s excellent report on the lack of oversight of charters in California.

He writes:

“There’s now a bill before Governor Jerry Brown that would tighten the public accountability standards for charter operators within the state. The evidence is now abundantly clear in a number of states: As it is presently constituted, the charter school movement is far better as an entry vehicle for fraud and corruption than it is for educating children. The fact that the charter industry is fighting to maintain its independent control over taxpayer funds is proof that the industry knows it, too.”