Archives for category: Education Industry

Manu Raju, senior Congressional correspondent, for CNN, reported on Twitter that the parties are now battling over how much money to send to private schools.

@mkraju

Two sides are still going back-and-forth over a handful of issues, including how private schools should be treated in the more than $80B in aid for education. GOP had been pushing for $5B for private schools — but Dems had tried to cut that to be about $2.5 billion, per sources

This is both absurd and unfair.

In the CARES Act, nearly 100,000 public schools (and charter schools) received $13.2 billion, while thousands of charters and private and religious schools collected more than $6 billion. Charter schools were allowed to double-dip from both funds. Some of the wealthiest private schools in the nation collected hundreds of thousands or more, while the average public school got only $134,500. More than 85% of students are enrolled in public schools.

This is outrageous. A win for DeVos.

The federal CARES Act included the Paycheck Protection Program to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits survive the pandemic. Lobbyists for the charter industry slipped in a provision enabling charter schools to apply for PPP funding, even though they experienced no financial losses. Charter schools got a share of the $13.2 billion allotted to the nation’s early 100,000 public schools. The average public school received about $135,000 to meet the expenses of the pandemic. On the advice of their lobbyists, some 1200 charters also sought and won PPP funding. Thus charters drew funding from two sources; public schools were not eligible for PPP funding. Charters that applied for PPP funding won six times as much federal money as public schools.

The Arizona Republic reported that the Primavera online charter school in Arizona won a sizable “loan” (1% interest, forgivable), at the same time that its owner took a $10 million bonus.

Primavera online charter school, like many businesses this spring, sought help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to weather the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chandler-based school received a PPP loan of nearly $2.2 million, the largest forgivable loan among the 132 Arizona charter schools that obtained them.

But Primavera’s loan appears to have been more of a bonus than a lifeline. 

The school, which like all Arizona public schools didn’t lose state funding because of the pandemic, ended its fiscal year on June 30 with $8.8 million in the bank — almost double the annual payroll costs for its 85 teachers, records show.

The school also shipped $10 million to its lone shareholder: StrongMind, an affiliated company owned by Primavera’s founder and former CEO Damian Creamer.

The school’s annual audit indicates Creamer controls both Primavera and StrongMind, noting he has “the ability to influence the school’s operations for the benefit of StrongMind.” Primavera paid StrongMind nearly $23 million this past fiscal year for software and curriculum services, records show.

Creamer declined to comment.

An Arizona Republic review of more than 100 charter school financial records, audits and federal Small Business Administration documents found the overwhelming majority of the Arizona charter schools that obtained PPP loans didn’t need the money.

John Todd, a longtime auditor of Arizona charter schools, said there are numerous problems with fully funded charter schools getting PPP loans intended to help struggling businesses.

“The PPP loans are taxpayer dollars intended to help the needy, not the greedy,” Todd said.

A few charters, including Legacy Traditional Schools, repaid several million dollars worth of PPP loans after The Republic reported in August that Legacy and other operators had millions of dollars in the bank when they received loans.

Most charters that got loans didn’t need them

The Republic found that most of the charter schools getting PPP funds padded their cash balances (savings accounts), and a few for-profit charter operations, like Primavera, gave money away to shareholders that matched or exceeded their PPP loan amounts.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of small businesses have permanently closed because of COVID-19.

Further, The Republic found that PPP loans didn’t significantly enhance teacher pay at schools that received them. The 132 Arizona charter school loan recipients, on average, paid their teachers several thousands dollars less than the statewide average.The 132 charter schools receiving PPP loans increased teacher pay by an average of 5% — an amount similar to all 555 charter operations and 263 school districts.

Arizona public schools saw no major job losses or layoffs this year because the state Legislature fully funded schools and gave them additional money to raise teacher pay.

A 2018 Republic investigation found the state’s charter school industry, which gets more than $1 billion annually from the state general fund, has produced several multi-millionaires through self-dealing and lax oversight.

Creamer is among the prominent figures who’ve made millions of dollars operating Arizona charter schools. His online alternative school boasts more than 20,000 full- and part-time students. Primavera paid Creamer $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018. 

A spokesman for StrongMind declined to say how much the company paid Creamer. 

Ian Kidd, superintendent of Pima Prevention Partnership, said financially strong charter schools that took PPP loans open themselves to criticism and scrutiny. 

“I don’t subscribe to making money off of students. It’s not appropriate,” Kidd said.

Kidd said he obtained PPP loans for his three charter schools, but the money was used to cover social and behavioral services for low-income, at-risk kids. His three charters had a combined negative $7,031 in cash balances, even after getting PPP loans.

The SBA, under pressure from news outlets, recently released specific figures for all PPP loan recipients. Previously, it released only the names of the borrowers and loan ranges above $150,000.

The earlier SBA records had indicated about 100 Arizona charter schools had received up to $100 million in PPP loans. The new data shows about 30 more charter schools got loans.

Several watchdog groups, including Accountable.Us, have panned the loan program for enriching companies that didn’t need the money while shutting out many minority- and women-owned businesses.

Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.Us, which compiled a database of all PPP recipients, said there has been widespread fraud and abuse of the program, including celebrities and wealthy companies getting loans. 

“The Trump administration’s faulty design and mismanagement of the Paycheck Protection Program let thousands of mom-and-pop businesses slip through the cracks without adequate aid while charter schools cashed in,” Herrig said…

Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who also is a member of the Charter Board, said she was astonished by The Republic’s findings.

“It saddens me those dollars are not going to students,” she said. “It’s very excessive. These dollars should be going where they are needed most, and that’s the students and instructional needs.”

Hoffman, a Democrat, said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-controlled Legislature should consider reducing state funding for full-time virtual charter schools like Primavera, which receives nearly the same per-student funding as brick-and-mortar schools that have more costs.

Ducey, at a news conference Wednesday, declined to answer questions regarding Hoffman’s proposal. He also declined to answer whether charter schools that received the PPP loans should return the money or have their state funding reduced by an amount equal to the loans.

Primavera's founder and former CEO Damian Creamer has been a major political donor to Gov. Doug Ducey, records show.

Ducey said the PPP loans were a federal issue, but added: “I want to make sure all public schools have available funding.”

Creamer has been a major political donor to Ducey, records show. 

Creamer spent at least $137,650 during the past two elections to mostly help conservative Republicans retain control of the Legislature. Among his political giving was $50,000 in December 2019 to the Republican Legislative Victory Fund, state campaign finance records show.

There has been no significant effort by Republicans in the Legislature to change the funding formula for online charter schools. A few of those lawmakers have financial interests in charter schools…

Paying shareholders, boosting reserves

In addition to Primavera, at least three other charter school operators that received PPP loans paid distributions to shareholders. Most of the rest put large sums in savings. 

The Republic found:

• The average Arizona charter school PPP loan was $393,055. Nationally, at least 5.2 million loans for small businesses were approved totaling $525 billion, with the average loan being $100,729, according to the SBA.

• The year-end cash balance for the 132 Arizona charter schools that received $51.8 million in PPP loans in April and May, increased by $62.6 million. Individually, cash balances increased for 87% of the loan recipients.

• Twenty-one charter schools that received PPP loans increased their cash reserves by at least $1 million, with Primavera seeing a $3.3 million increase.

Educational Options Foundation of Peoria, which got a $278,292 loan, saw its cash balance increase by $2 million to $13.7 million. The school has enough money to operate for four years without additional money. The state Charter Board only requires  schools to have one month of cash liquidity. A call to the school was not returned.

• For-profit charters Humanities and Sciences Academy in Tempe and Accelerated Learning Center in Phoenix made shareholder distributions of $388,770 and $230,000 this past fiscal year, respectively. Both amounts exceed the charters’ PPP loans.

The Montessori Schoolhouse of Tucson gave a shareholder distribution of $92,372, equal to about 72% of its PPP loan.

Calls to the three schools were not returned.

Jim Hall, a former public school administrator who runs Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, compiled financial records from charter schools that received PPP loans and said he concluded that they didn’t need the money. 

Hall said those loans should have gone to small businesses that have struggled to make payroll or mortgage payments. He said several of the charter operators engaged in “unmitigated greed.”

Up until now, the only districts with charters in Missouri were St. Louis and Kansas City, the state’s two biggest districts. But the state board just granted a charter for a new school in the Normandy district, one of the state’s poorest and lowest performing.

The state board of education approved the charter with six votes in favor, one against, and one abstention.

Normandy lost its state accreditation in 2012, triggering a student transfer law that bled it of funding and students. The state school board bumped the district up to provisional accreditation in 2017. Academics have improved in recent years but the district still struggles. Less than half of third-graders passed state math and reading assessments in 2019. Its high school graduation rate in May was 69%.

Because of the district’s obstacles, state board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, who previously served on Normandy’s governing board, voted against the charter.

“You can’t morally advance options and choice for one group by taking away the rights and choice of another,” she said...

Some elected leaders who represent the towns that make up the Normandy school district oppose this new charter, arguing all available resources should be poured into improving the district’s struggling schools.

Normandy’s school board is also skeptical of the encroaching school. Townsend went before the board Monday to offer partnership opportunities, but board member Ronald Roberts said the school’s track record doesn’t give him confidence for the future.

“It sounds like the community engagement process was disjointed, for lack of a better term, and there were missed opportunities for collaboration,” he said.

Other members called Townsend an outsider because she grew up in Chicago. She’s lived and taught in the St. Louis area for 18 years, including some in Normandy. She met with area parents and held virtual sessions this year to promote the new school.

Normandy educates children from 24 municipalities in near-north St. Louis County. Its enrollment has been dwindling for the past two decades, down to about 3,000 students from nearly 5,900 in 1991.

The Leadership School will start with 125 children in kindergarten through second grade with plans to grow a grade each year until hitting 450 students through eighth grade. The location of the school has not been determined. The Special School District will provide special education services, as it does for all public schools in St. Louis County.

No one suggests that the charter will somehow improve the education available for the 3,000 students in the district. The logic is that providing a charter for 450 students while abandoning the other 2,550 students is a good deal.

This is a fascinating article written by Paul Peterson of Harvard University about the origin of the charter school idea.

Many people credit the idea to Al Shanker and Ray Budde of the University of Massachusetts, but Peterson sets them straight.

Peterson is the foremost proponent of school choice, charters and vouchers, in the academic world. He has trained many of the other prominent academics who support school choice, such as Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf, both at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Educational Reform (sic).

Peterson writes about the original proposals by Budde and Shanker but then notes that their ideas were fundamentally transformed by Minnesota reformers Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan. Budde and Shanker wanted the charters to be district-controlled and friendly to unions.

Peterson writes:

Even though it is fashionable enough to credit Shanker for jump-starting the charter movement that even the Wall Street Journal is joining in, there is only a glimmer of truth to that urban legend. In actuality, Shanker did more to block charters than to advance the idea.

When putting together an account of the origins of charter schools for my book, Saving Schools From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, I had the opportunity to sort out what Shanker did and did not do for charters.  It’s true that Shanker, when first teaching in East Harlem, came to despise administrators who he felt were crushing the spirits of young teachers. So when he first encountered the charter idea advanced by Roy Budde, an unknown professor of education from upstate New York, Shanker, recalling life in East Harlem, gave charters his endorsement: “One of the things that discourages people from bringing about change in schools is the experience of having that effort stopped for no good reason,” he opined. So the Wall Street Journal story is not technically in error.

But charters only took off because others radicalized the charter concept Budde had devised. Reading Shanker’s column, Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie, at work on educational reform in Minnesota, saw potential in the charter idea. Delighted that the powerful Al Shanker had given it his blessing, they invited him to the Twin Cities to help peddle it to Governor Rudy Perpich and the state’s legislature.

But as they worked on the legislation that was eventually passed in 1991, Nathan and Kolderie fundamentally altered the charter concept.  According to the Budde model, charters were to be authorized by school districts and run by teachers. Central office administrators were to be pushed aside, but charter schools would still operate within collective bargaining arrangements negotiated between districts and unions.

Nathan and Kolderie instead proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate and apart from local district control. That opened charter doors not only to teachers but also to outside entrepreneurs. Competition between charters and districts was to be encouraged.  All of a sudden, charter schools were free of the constraints imposed by collective bargaining contracts districts negotiated with unions.

At this point, Shanker signed off, calling charters a “gimmick,” and teacher unions ever since have done their best to slow the movement down, insisting that charters be authorized only if local districts agree, as well as burdening charters with numerous regulations, including a requirement that they be subject to collective bargaining.  For Shanker and his heirs, the collective bargaining agreement always came first.

Thanks to Kolderie and Nathan, the charter idea was immediately embraced by rightwing foundations who really wanted vouchers, but realized that charters were an easier sell.

Thanks to them, more than 90% of charters today are non-union, are under-regulated, and have virtually no oversight.

Thanks to them, charters have drawn the support of not only right-wingers like Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch as a battering ram to use against public schools, but are a magnet for entrepreneurs, real estate speculators, corporate charter chains, and grifters.

Of course, they are some mom-and-pop or teacher-led charters trying to revive the original idea. But the industry far outweighs their efforts.

Journalist Florina Rodov taught for several years in a New York City public schools, but she was turned off by the testing craze and the paperwork. Then she heard about these remarkable new schools called “charter schools.” She heard they were academically superior, safe, free of the bureaucracy of public schools, and she applied to work in a charter school in Los Angeles. The principal told her that the school was like a family. It sounded wonderful.

But then her eyes were opened.

I soon realized there was a gulf between charter school hype and reality. Every day brought shocking and disturbing revelations: high attrition rates of students and teachers, dangerous working conditions, widespread suspensions, harassment of teachers, violations against students with disabilities, nepotism, and fraud. By the end of the school year, I vowed never to step foot in a charter school again, and to fight for the protection of public schools like never before.

On August 15, my first day of work, I dashed into the school’s newest home, a crumbling building on the campus of a public middle school in South Los Angeles. Greeting my colleagues, who were coughing due to the dust in the air, I realized most of us were new. It wasn’t just several people who had quit over the summer, but more than half the faculty — 8 out of 15 teachers. Among the highly qualified new hires were a seasoned calculus teacher; an experienced sixth grade humanities teacher; a physics instructor who’d previously taught college; an actor turned biology teacher; and a young and exuberant special education teacher.

When the old-timers trickled in, they told us there’d been attrition among the students, too: 202 of 270 hadn’t returned, and not all their seats had been filled. Because funding was tied to enrollment, the school was struggling financially.

Her first-person tell-all pulls the curtain away from the charter myth. On Twitter, Rodov describes herself as a “fierce advocate for public schools.” Read this article and you will understand why.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt kicked his own appointee off the State Board of Education who made the terrible error of trying to claw back millions from a for-profit charter school and supported a mask mandate in all public schools.

Gov. Kevin Stitt abruptly replaced one of his own appointees to the Oklahoma State Board of Education this week.

Kurt Bollenbach of Kingfisher, who was appointed in April 2019 to serve a four-year term, recently supported a high-profile move to claw back more than $11 million in state funding from Epic Charter Schools and a failed attempt to mandate masks in all public schools.

He also recently drew public criticism from school choice advocates for leading a delay of approval for a couple of private schools to begin accepting state-funded scholarships for disabled students and foster children over questions about whether the schools’ anti-discrimination policies met minimum state and federal requirements.

Stitt replaced Bollenbach by appointing a home-schooling parent who opposes mask-wearing during the pandemic to the State Board of Education.

Many elected officials wondered why Stitt would appoint someone to the State Board who has no knowledge of Oklahoma’s schools and no qualifications. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister praised Kurt Bollenbach, who was dumped by Stitt, apparently for being too responsible.

Hofmeister released this statement:

“Kurt Bollenbach has been an exceptional board member whose legal acumen, breadth of experience and commitment to excellence have been of great value to the State Board of Education. He is a man of tremendous principle and integrity. Of course, I look forward to meeting his successor on the board, Ms. Crabtree, and anticipate a good working relationship with her, but I will miss Kurt’s bold leadership.”

Melissa Crabtree is an ardent opponent of wearing face masks. She will, one expects, continue to oppose science and public health measures as a member of the state board.

As a reader in Okahoma said to me in an email, “I think I am living in bizarro world.”

In 2012, Tennessee created the “Achievement School District” (ASD) and promised that it would catapult the state’s lowest performing schools into high-performing schools. So confident were state leaders that they hired Chris Barbic, who ran a celebrated charter chain in Houston, and he was confident that the state’s weakest schools could be transformed within five years by handing them over to charter operators. Other states were excited by the idea and created their own state takeover districts.

The ASD failed, even though it was funded by $100 million in Race to the Top money. But Tennessee refuses to accept that taking over struggling schools and giving them to charter operators is a bad idea.

The North Carolina Policy Watch reported on Tennessee’s insistence on protecting failure. North Carolina created an “Innovative School District,” modeled on the ASD.

Greg Childress writes:

The state-run school district in Tennessee, the one on which this state’s Innovative School District (ISD) is modeled, has failed.

According to reports out of Tennessee, the Achievement School District (ASD), is working on a plan to return 30 ASD schools in Memphis and Nashville to their local districts by 2022.

State officials in Tennessee contend the district, which was established in 2012 to improve achievement in low-performing schools, “grew too quickly” and that “demand outpaced supply and capacity.”

Still, Tennessee officials aren’t giving up on the ASD. They’re billing the new proposal as a “reset” of the district, which has fallen short of its goals to move low-performing schools from the bottom 5 percent and into the top 25 percent.

Most ASD schools were handed over to charter school operators after being pulled from local districts.

“The Achievement School District remains a necessary intervention in Tennessee’s school framework when other local interventions have proven to be unsuccessful in improving outcomes for students,” officials said in a presentation obtained by Chalkbeat.

“The Commercial Appeal” in Memphis reports that most of the schools remain in the bottom 5 percent and that several have closed due to low enrollment. Teacher retention has also been a major challenge, the paper reports.

Tennessee school officials plan to stand by their Big Idea, even though its failure is clear even to them.

North Carolina’s “Innovative School District” has not fared any better. Although the state wanted the ISD to be a major reform effort, like the ASD, only one school entered the new district. NC had other low-performing schools, but whenever one was told to join the ISD, its leaders ran to their elected officials and got exempted.

To put it mildly, NC’s ISD has “struggled to get off the ground.”

Childress writes:

After only one year, state officials made wholesale leadership changes at ISD. The ISD got a new superintendent, the lone ISD school got a new principal and a new president was hired to lead the private firm that manages the school.

James Ellerbe, the ISD superintendent hired in July, reported this week that there are 69 schools on the state’s 2019 qualifying list, meaning the low-performing schools are at risk of being swept into the ISD.

The ISD will bring only one school into the state-run district next year. The school with the lowest performance score among Title I schools in the bottom 5 percent will be brought into the ISD.

The ISD was approved in 2016 by state lawmakers even though the ASD had showed little signs of success after being in business four years.

Not only is the NC ISD based on a failed model, its one school has both a principal and a superintendent!

All of which leaves unanswered question, why do failed reforms never die?


 

Audrey Amrein Beardsley writes here about Houston’s experience with value-added evaluation of its teachers.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) contracted with William Sanders’ SAS to provide a model to calculate the “value-added” of its teachers from 2007-2017.

Teachers objected that the method of calculating their scores was opaque. They couldn’t learn how to improve their practice because Sanders’ methodology was proprietary and secret.

Teachers were fired based on their VAM scores.

The Houston Federation of Teachers sued to stop the use of the “black box” method.

In 2017, a judge agreed and enjoined the use of VAM.

Thus by now, after a decade of VAMMING teachers, Houston should have identified and removed all the “bad” teachers and employ only “effective” or “highly effective” teachers.

But the state threatened to take over the entire district because one high school–Wheatley– has low test scores. Wheatley High School has a disproportionately large share of students who are poor and have special needs, has low scores, even though all of its teachers–like all of Houston’s teachers–were VAMMED for a decade.

If VAM were effective, HISD should be the best urban district in the nation.

All achievement gaps should have closed by now.

Why is the state–which has no expertise in running a large urban district–taking control away from the elected board?

Laura Chapman recently wrote about the policy of holding third grade students back if they didn’t pass the third grade reading test. One result of this initiative is to raise fourth-grade reading scores on state tests and NAEP.

 

She writes:

There is a national read-by-grade three campaign. The practice of holding students back a grade is not new, but in the olden days it was never based on test scores alone and certainly not based on scores from national tests. I am no expert in reading, but I have learned to question how questionable policies proliferate.

Right now, The Annie E, Casey Foundation is a source of the national “Read by Grade 3” campaign. It is financed by about thirty other foundations and corporations. You can read about the investors here: http://gradelevelreading.net/about-us/campaign-investors

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also the source of widely cited and dubious research about reading. For example, the Foundation sponsored “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (2010, updated 2012)” by Dr. Donald J. Hernandez, sociologist at Hunter College (more recently at the University of Albany, State University of New York). I find no evidence that this study was peer-reviewed. https://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/

In this study, the rates of failure in grade three reading were based on scores from the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. This test has 84 items said to increase in difficulty from preschool to high school. It is an oral reading test that includes items such as matching letters, naming names, and reading single words aloud.

To quote directly from the PIAT manual, the rationale for the reading recognition subtest is as follows: “In a technical sense, after the first 18 readiness-type items, the general objective of the reading recognition subtest is to measure skills in translating sequences of printed alphabetic symbols which form words, into speech sounds that can be understood by others as words. https://www.nlsinfo.org/content/cohorts/nlsy79-children/topical-guide/assessments/piat-reading-reading-recognitionreading

The author of Double Jeopardy then invented a way to treat scores on this oral test of reading “readiness” as if comparable NAEP scores for proficiency. But, NAEP reading tests are not administered until grade four! Moreover, according to NAEP, “Fourth grade students performing at the Proficient level should be able to integrate and interpret texts and apply their understanding of the text to draw conclusions and make evaluations.”
The author appropriated the standard for proficiency in NAEP, grade four, to make make judgments about the necessity for read-by-grade three policies based on an oral test in grade three. The study is not worthy of the publicity it has received.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation also financed a related study by Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., Smithgall, C., & Gwynne J. (2010). Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment? The executive summary, page 1 states: The results of this study do not examine whether low reading performance causes low future educational performance, or whether improving a child’s reading trajectory has an effect on future educational outcomes.”

So what was the take-away from this study?

The major conclusion, executive summary, page 4 is: “Students who are better prepared for a successful ninth grade year are more likely to have positive future outcomes, regardless of third grade reading status. The sooner that struggling readers are targeted for supports, the easier it will be to ensure that students are progressing on course toward strong performance in ninth grade, high school graduation, and college enrollment. NOTHING SUPPORTS GRADE THREE AS THE MAKE OR BREAK YEAR. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED517805

I looked at “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children” published in 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. The brief discussion of grade retention on 280-281 did not support the practice of grade retention. It also noted that grade retention policies differed in several ways. Simply repeating the same grade is not the same as repeating the grade with substantial and well-placed help. There is a single reference associating grade retention based on poor reading skill with dropping out of school. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED416465.pdf

Please look again at the Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsored “Read by Grade 3” campaign.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed.