Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

EduShyster posts a guest column by a Denver teacher who tells the inside story of the reformers’ current “success” story.

Denver has gone all in for school choice, and the teacher was bombarded with messages to market the school, come up with a “vision statement,” even as she and other teachers were coping with budget cuts that eliminated electives.

The students at my school were among some of the neediest in the state in terms of free and reduced lunch funding, and some of the most affected by trauma. In other words, they were students who needed the most support. The budget cuts began in my third year there, and only got worse as students left to attend other *choice* schools that were opening nearby. For students, that meant the loss of our only school-staffed, non-academic elective other than art: drama. For teachers, that meant rationing paper, although we considered ourselves fortunate relative to schools that were rationing toilet paper and paper towels.

Disruption became the only constant.

This year, it became very clear that the Denver Public Schools has shifted focus. Nearly 500 staff were cut, most of them teachers, including 372 full-time positions that, according to one news report, *will be completely lost.* For Denver’s students, nearly seventy percent of students relying on free and reduced lunches, that will mean larger class sizes, taught by less experienced teachers, not to mention the absolute absence of electives from some schools. It’s all about the Return on Investment, but what, exactly, is DPS investing in?

Open shut
shutterstock_121985983.jpg (1000×631)Much of Denver’s school reform has focused on the creation of new charter schools. Since 2005, DPS has opened more than 70 schools, most of which are charters. One of these opened near my former school, causing our enrollment to decline, which then triggered more budget cuts in our already bare-bones staffing. But at least my school stayed open. Forty eight schools have closed in the past ten years. In fact, DPS officials attributed the enrollment loss that triggered the most recent round of budget cuts and teacher layoffs in part to school closures.

It is a sad story. Remember it the next time you read something about Denver as a model of reform. In a way, it is. It shows how school choice destroys public education.

Today is beat up on ECOT day. It makes an easy target. Its owner William Lager rakes in tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers, which he profits from, and he uses a small portion of the profits to reward his benefactors in the Republican party of Ohio. Meanwhile his school has truly horrible results, but accountability is not for him! He has really good friends who take care of his operation.

But it is even worse than it appears.

Bill Phillis, a former deputy commissioner of education in Ohio (and now in his 80s, fighting to restore integrity to education), posted this newsletter on his Ohio Equity and Adequacy blog:

ECOT: If we can’t rig enrollment data and make staggering profits, we will have to close

In an early year of ECOT’s operation, this money-making machine was required to pay back a million dollars to rectify enrollment/student participation issues. In the context of the return of funds gained illegally, an Ohio Department of Education (ODE) person signed an agreement that ECOT would only be required to offer educational programming in order to receive funds, whether or not enrollees participated.

Now that ODE is in the process of auditing student participation, ECOT is protesting by legal action and engaging in political tactics to stir up their supporters. Their bevy of highly paid lobbyists is on high alert.

Some observations:

ECOT is demonstrating a high level of brazen behavior in protesting an audit of their suspicious enrollment/student participation practices. Possibly they believe their record of huge campaign contributions will give them cover.

The ODE person who signed a contract that has allowed ECOT to collect funds for students not participating should be investigated and prosecuted.

The provision of online programming ECOT-style can’t possibly cost as much as ECOT receives per student. The profit certainly must be really huge.

Personnel in districts losing students to the failed ECOT machine should be outraged and make every attempt to recover those students.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Do you want to know the definition of BRAZEN? Are how about chutzpah?

ECOT is suing the state to prevent it from auditing whether students log in and receive instruction. ECOT thinks it should be paid whether students log in for a minute or not at all.

Accountability is only for the little people, to paraphrase the billionaire Leona Helmsley. (She said “taxes are only for the little people,” but she was wrong. She went to jail.)

Denis Smith worked in the Ohio charter school office, and he saw the combustible mix of deregulation, money, and politics. This is a combination sure to produce scandal. And it has.

Smith reports here on the biggest scandal: the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). It has the lowest graduation rate in the nation, according to the New York Times. It is a for-profit virtual charter. Its owner William Lager is one of the state’s major donors to the Republican Party. His patrons protect him from scrutiny or accountability.

One of the supporters of ECOT is Andrew Brenner, chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee. He despises public schools.

Brenner has said previously that “public education is socialism.” But if we follow the Chairman’s logic (hmm, I thought only well-known socialists and collectivists like Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev were referred to as Chairman), we find illogic, viz., the Chairman of the Education Committee seems very much opposed to public education.

But the illogic gets worse.

Profits generated from the public funds received by charter school operators like Lager and White Hat Management’s David Brennan flow to their favorite Republican politicians in the form of contributions. These profits, snared by privately operated management companies with hand-picked, unelected boards not subject to full public transparency and exempt from 150 sections of state law, ultimately wind their way to committee chairs in the legislature as well as more senior leadership in the House and Senate.

To Chairman Brenner, this is capitalism at work. And capitalism is the very opposite of socialism, right? Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.

I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.

Public money for private purposes.

Jersey Jazzman, aka public school teacher and Ph.D. candidate Mark Weber, wrote a blistering reproach to the charter school cheerleaders who have persuaded Governor Chris Christie that charters accomplish more with less. This enables Christie to propose an outrageously inequitable plan that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

He shows how certain loud charter zealots in New Jersey have argued that charters in Newark are way better than Newark public schools, despite the clear evidence that the charters enroll a different demographic and have high attrition rates.

He points out that when honest critics point out the verifiable facts, they can expect to be slimed and smeared by the charter cheerleaders, who glory in the privatization of public schools.

Weber reviews the shameless attacks by charter zealot Laura Waters and refutes her claims with data, evidence, not rhetoric.

He concludes:

I’ve spent more time answering Waters’ post than it deserves; however, I’m doing so this time for a reason. Chris Christie has proposed a radical change in school funding — one that even Peter Cunningham agrees is pernicious for this state’s neediest children. Yet how does Christie justify his plan? With stories of charter school “success.” And who has sold this tale?

Laura Waters, Peter Cunningham, and the well-heeled charter school operators themselves. In their zeal to pump up charters and shoot down honest critics like Julia Sass Rubin, these fine, reformy folks have set up the students who attend New Jersey’s urban, public, district schools for a huge cut in their schools’ budgets.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t ever pretend that I don’t have a point of view. I’m a New Jersey public school teacher and I am damn tired of being blamed for things completely out of my and my colleagues’ control. I think the celebration of charter school “success” is largely a pretext for beating up teachers unions, gutting teacher workplace protections, and cutting back even further on public school funding, particularly in urban districts. I think charter cheerleading keeps us from having a real conversation about the structural problems related to race and economic inequality in America.

But now we’re seeing the consequences of unbridled charter love are even more dangerous than mere charter expansion. Charlatans like Christie are using the very arguments charter cheerleaders spout daily to make the case that we can simply turn our backs on urban schools and their students. So long as a few charter schools get better than average test scores — by whatever means necessary — it’s perfectly fine to cut the budgets of urban district schools.

This awful rhetoric can be laid directly at the feet of the charter industry and their willing saps in the media — and that includes the professional reformy propaganda machine that exists solely to counter informed critics like me or Bruce Baker or Julia Sass Rubin.

I won’t speak for Bruce [Baker] or Julia, but I’m pretty sure they’d agree with me when I say this: I am not against school choice or charter schools per se. I started my K-12 career in a charter school. I think there are worthwhile reasons for having charters and other forms of alternative schools. I have been teaching long enough to know not every kid is going to fit well in her neighborhood school, and that there are good reasons to offer other choices. I think there are charters that have practices that may well be worth studying.

So folks like me and Bruce and Julia may have a point of view our opinions, but we aren’t questioning charter cheerleading simply as a reflex; our criticisms are reasonable and informed by the evidence. Do you disagree? Fine, I’m happy to debate.

But understand: your ill-informed, statistically-inept charter cheerleading is no longer simply about justifying your own school; it’s now being used to excuse a wholesale defunding of our urban public schools.

Do you really want that on your hands?

Politico reports that Democrats for Education Reform, the hedge funders’ charter advocacy group, is not happy with the amendments to the platform proposed by supporters of public schools Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Chuck Pascal of Pennsylvania:

NO CANDIDATE LEFT BEHIND: While Democrats have yet to publish their most recent platform language, education-focused groups are already sniping about it. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the new language “represents a refreshing sea change in its approach to public education” and “makes it clear that Democrats are committed to ending the failed era of test-and-sanction.” AFT is pointing to amendments to the draft language it says were adopted in Orlando during the weekend platform meeting – amendments that voice support for parents who want to opt their children out of standardized tests, demand more accountability for charter schools, and oppose using student test scores in teacher evaluations. All of those stances are favored by teachers unions.

– But Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, called the amendments an “unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy” and said that these changes came about because the platform drafting committee “inexplicably” allowed the process to be “hijacked.” Your dutiful Morning Education scribes will post the final platform draft as soon as it’s available.

Wendy Lecker warns the people of Connecticut that the New Haven public schools have made a deal with the Relay “Graduate School of Education,” which trains robot teachers who value compliance and arrive with scripted lessons. Why contract with Relay, she asks, when there are highly reputable teacher education programs in the neighborhood?

When you consider that Connecticut is one of the highest achieving states in the nation on NAEP, you have to wonder how the charter industry captured the state’s political leadership.

A comment by a reader responds to the question of whether charters schools are public schools:

The use of the terms “government schools” and “public charter schools” are equally egregious. On June 14th the LA Times informed the public: “Charters are independently operated, free public schools.” The term”public charter school is becoming common usage. There Is No Such Thing as a “Public Charter School.”

***

Charters are not public schools. The term “public charter school” was developed by a PR firm to reframe the way we understand schooling in relationship to “public” and to democracy. Any public institution—school, library, zoo—is, at least in theory, funded by 
taxes from all the people in its jurisdiction—local, state and national—and is accountable to those who pay the taxes.

Most public schools are accountable to an elected school board made up of community 
members. Residents of that community have the right to be present at Board meetings, weigh in 
on votes and debates, and access public financial documents.


Charter schools are run by executive boards, committees or corporations whose members often 
live outside the community in which they are located and are not accountable to parents or 
the taxpayers/community members who fund them. 


If you don’t like what your traditional public school is doing, you can make your voice heard by 
addressing administrators, voting for new leadership or taking a leadership role yourself. If 
you don’t like what your child’s charter school is doing and you express yourself, you may be 
asked to leave. There is no democratic mechanism for spearheading policy change.



Public institutions are the motors of democracy. Their purpose is to 
promote and preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society: liberty, equality and 
the public welfare or common good. 


Public schools recognize that the welfare of everyone’s children and grandchildren is 
intimately linked to the welfare of all. Through support and oversight by the communigy, 
public schooling is intended to serve the common good and preserve fundamental qualities that sustain 
democracy beyond getting students “college and career ready.” If public schools have not always lived up to their promise then it is necessary to redouble our efforts to have them do so, not to abandon them.



When students leave public schools for charter schools they take their per pupil expenditures –which in California averaged $9, 794 last year–with them, leaving public schools with less revenue but the same overhead. The federal government also spends millions on charters at the expense of public schools. Taxpayers paid one consulting firm nearly $10 million to the U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools. That’s $10 million fewer federal dollars for public schools. The law forbids local districts, which in California are the main authorizers for new charters, from taking into account the potentially crippling impact of new charters on district financing when considering approving new schools. So even if you find an excellent charter to send your own child to, you are reducing the chances of every student remaining in the public school having their own excellent education.

Charter schools’ claim they enhance democracy is disingenuous. The highly touted freedom of individual parents to choose their child’s school comes at the heavy price of reducing two other essential functions of democracy: providing for the general welfare of a society that requires well funded public schools and insuring equal opportunity for all children. Competing with traditional public schools for space and funding reduces the quality of the remaining public schools, and ignores patterns of clear advantage for the children of savvy parents, thus assuring that some children will be better schooled than others.

Being publicly funded, charters cannot be considered private. However, their private governance and their marginalization of fundamental democratic values disqualifies them as public.

The most accurate label for charters is “Publicly–funded private schools.” Don’t let them abscond with our language. There is no such thing as a public charter school.

Nashville has a school board election coming up in August. It will determine whether the charter industry is permitted to invade the city with a free hand (the existing charters are already skimming the kids they want).

T.C. Weber, a Nashville parent, sums up here the current landscape of candidates.

Three current school board members are fighters for public education: Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Pinkston.

They are standing for re-election. Help them stave off privatization of the public schools.

Several candidates are endorsed by the nefarious and devious “Stand for Children.” Stand is popularly known as “Stand on Children.” Don’t vote for anyone they endorse, because they will fight for privatization and for anti-teacher policies. Stand for Children is supported by the billionaires. They do not stand for your children.

Politico reports on a panel discussion that takes place today. As you will see from the line-up, there are no high-level representatives of public schools. Only charter schools count, and public schools are supposed to learn from them.

NO CANDIDATE LEFT BEHIND: Last week, Hillary Clinton earned boos from some NEA delegates when she suggested that traditional schools and charter schools should share ideas to figure out what works. [http://politico.pro/29w3C8C ] Today, on Capitol Hill, a panel will be addressing this very issue during a discussion on “efforts to foster collaboration,” which was announced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Panelists include Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, Chris Pencikowski, head of Lee Montessori, Cassandra Pinkney, founder of Eagle Academy, and Kaila Ramsey, a teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary. The moderator is Nancy Waymack of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event starts at 2 p.m. in Cannon House Office Building, room 121.

Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch writes here about the Koch Brothers’ latest move to extend their influence in academia.

Here in North Carolina, where the Kochs’ home-grown junior partner Art Pope has played the role of right-wing financier and kingmaker for years, direct Koch tentacles have been somewhat less visible. Recently, however, this has started to change. Last fall, we reported on the establishment of a new Koch-funded propaganda shop at Western Carolina University to be dubbed the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise.

Meanwhile, as is noted in the Mayer piece, another Koch network shop has sprouted and is taking shape 200 miles to the east at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The Wake Forest operation is called the “Eudaimonia Project” and it is headed by James Otteson – the head of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake (where the project is based) and the same fellow who outlined the Koch plan at the California retreat in the above excerpt….

As with all of the academic centers in the growing (some would say “metastasizing”) Koch Empire, the Eudaimonia Project and its parent organization do little to disguise what they are all about. The goal is clearly to advance hard right market fundamentalist ideology by cloaking it in warm and fuzzy language and to thereby grace it with the veneer of academic legitimacy.

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You may not be surprised to learn that "Eudaemonia" means "human flourishing." It happens that humans can't flourish unless they live in a free enterprise, capitalistic society.

Those of us familiar with the verbal tricks of the reform movement will recognize the deceptive use of language to disguise its true meaning.

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