Archives for category: Education Industry

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association conducted a study of costs, comparing charter schools and public schools, and concluded that the charter schools have higher salaries for those at the top and spend twice as much on administration as public schools.

Furthermore, the bulk of their revenue–as much as 84%–is taken away from public schools, leaving them in worse condition.

Charter-school administrative expenditures are nearly double those of conventional public schools, and their highest-ranking officials are paid far more.

They spend less on instruction than school districts, but more on support services and facilities.

And while charter-school enrollment has jumped significantly over time, payments to the schools are far outpacing their actual rates of growth in admission.

All that is according to a report on Pennsylvania’s charter schools issued Thursday by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, made up of nearly 4,500 school board members.

In a 35-page study that came after rounds of records requests during the last 15 months, the conclusions present a broad picture of Pennsylvania’s 173 charter schools, which have become part of an ongoing national debate about what effect the charter-school movement is having on traditional public schools.

“This is not intended to be any sort of an attack on charter schools,” said Andrew Christ, education policy analyst for the organization, during a conference call Thursday.

But, he said, “charter schools need to be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.”

Carol Burris writes in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet about the growing number of charter school scandals. She concludes that what they love best–no supervision, no oversight, no regulation–will be their undoing.

She notes that John Oliver was apparently the first major media figure to react with astonishment to the fraud and graft that has become a recurring theme in the charter movement.

And she describes the major scandals that have occurred in the few days after John Oliver’s broadcast: the charter school in Detroit that abruptly closed, stranding its students; the flight of 500 students from the Livermore charter schools in California back to their public schools; the financial scandals at a Los Angeles charter school where the principal charged tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses to his school credit card; the guilty plea by the founder of a Pennsylvania cyber charter school who admitted stealing $8 million in public funds.

How could these things happen over a long period of time with no one noticing?

Burris writes:

In January 2016, four university researchers published a paper likening the proliferation of charters to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. At the time, the paper received scant attention. How ironic that it may be a late-night comedian who might finally alert the nation to the charter crisis. As Oliver noted, “the problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market. And by the time it’s obvious the school is failing, futures may have been ruined.”

The truth is, the deregulation that the high-scoring charter schools love so much, also produces dismal charter failures, taxpayer fleecing and fraud. And that, in the end, could cause the whole charter system to collapse.

Harold Meyerson, the editor of The American Prospect, published a very important article in the Los Angeles Times about the toxic effect of the powerful charter lobby on the Democratic Party and on democracy itself.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-meyerson-charter-school-democrats-20160826-snap-story.html

He writes:

“At a time when Democrats and their party are, by virtually every index, moving left, a powerful center-right pressure group within the liberal universe has nonetheless sprung up. Funded by billionaires and arrayed against unions, it is increasingly contesting for power in city halls and statehouses where Democrats already govern….

“In California, political action committees funded by charter school backers have become among the largest donors to centrist Democratic state legislators who not only favor expanding charters at the expense of school districts, but also have blocked some of Gov. Jerry Brown’s more liberal initiatives.

In New York’s upcoming primary, such longtime charter supporters as Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a PAC seeking to unseat several Democratic legislators who’ve defended the role and budget of traditional public schools.

In future decades, historians will have to grapple with how charter schools became the cause celebre of centrist billionaires – from Walton to Bloomberg to Broad – in an age of plutocracy. The historians shouldn’t dismiss the good intentions behind the billionaires’ impulse: the desire to provide students growing up in poverty with the best education possible. But neither should they dismiss their self-exculpation in singling out the deficiencies, both real and exaggerated, of public education as the central reason for the evisceration of the middle class….

“In their mix of good intentions and self-serving blindness, the billionaire education reformers have much in common with some of the upper-class progressives of a century ago, another time of great wealth and pervasive poverty. Some of those progressives, in the tradition of Jane Addams, genuinely sought to diminish the economy’s structural inequities, but others focused more on the presumed moral deficiencies and lack of discipline of the poor. Whatever the merits of charters, the very rich who see them as the great equalizer are no closer to the mark than their Gilded Age predecessors who preached temperance as the answer to squalor.”

Allison Collins lives in the Bay Area and blogs about education. She has written an insightful post about the winners of the phony claim that American education is “broken” and “failing.”

Sure, there are problems, but American public education has been at the center of our national success, and we are now witnessing a determined effort to tear it down.

Why? Who benefits?

She writes:

There are some strong public schools and some that struggle. But talking about our entire public school system like it’s Armageddon is overblown, and does a great disservice to the many dedicated students, families and teachers that pour their time, money and love into our schools. More than anything, this harmful narrative seems to target urban public schools serving low-income, Black and Brown youth. There are hundreds of tiny miracles happening in our urban public schools each day that never get media attention. It’s time we analyzed why the “failing public schools” narrative is so pervasive nowadays. Who benefits when public schools fail?….

The multi-million dollar charter industry relies on the perception that charters are private school “lite” with a public school price. The best way for charters to differentiate themselves from traditional public schools is by selling themselves as the free-market (read: better) alternative to public schools which proponents paint as “bureaucratic” and “inefficient”. Most often, charters sell the idea that they offer specialized curriculum or enhanced instruction that can’t be provided in “failing” schools by veteran teachers. Teachers in charters are painted as spunky, innovative, dedicated in contrast to the old, burnt-out, “impossible to fire” teachers they say are the problem with public schools. (Stay tuned for more on this topic. As you can see, I’m just getting started!)…

Private and charter schools aren’t the only ones who thrive on trashing public schools. Profitable non-profits include: education think-tanks, curriculum developers, test creators and educational software developers who are always ready to jump in and provide a “quick fix”…..

“What’s wrong with urban public schools? We’ll tell you for just three easy payments of $19.95 … MILLION!” “Want to learn how to turn around your achievement gap? Hire our team of curriculum consultants and TFA wunderkind and we’ll save the day!” Talking about failing public schools is a real bummer, but MAN it really moves product!

Hysteria over our “broken system” has gotten so crazy that non-profits often serve as brokers and middlemen for billionaire funders like Bill Gates who favor investing in outsiders over districts who they fear will mismanage implementation. Yet, when dollars flow to non-profits to supplant the leadership in a district, it undermines rather than supports. The overall message to educators is, “We don’t think you can do it yourself… so we’ll do it for you.”.

If you want to help a district function effectively, you work with leaders to fix underlying problems, you don’t create workarounds or do the work. In this way, non-profits enable failure. They become complicit in creating and maintaining problems they then profit by fixing.

And then there are what she calls the “Chardonnay Liberals.”

But read it to learn why they benefit.

Peter Greene analyzes the Vergara case, now case closed after the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from its billionaire backers.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will spur innovation. Peter says, “What?” What teacher will dare to be different when they may be fired at any time for any reason.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will attract more bright young people to teaching. Peter says, “What?” More people will be drawn to teachers if there are no job protections?

Peter refers to a mass email by Jeanne Allen at the pro-choice, pro-charter, pro-voucher Center for Education Reform in D.C., and he writes: :

“Yes, being able to hire and fire teachers at will would totally drive innovation because… reasons? It’s the Dread Pirate Roberts School of Management (“I’ll probably kill you today.”) But then, Allen also assumes that hiring and firing are only based on years of experience– wait– hiring is based on years in the classroom??!! In fact, firing is pretty much always on turning out to be bad at teaching. Now, maybe she means layoffs based on years of experience, but as we see in places like Chicago, that’s not even true everywhere. At any rate, we know that the traditional system promotes stability and protects the district’s investment in teaching staff.”

Be sure to read the comments, where Jeaane Allen responds and Peter parries.

Levi B. Cavener teaches in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at Idahospromise.org.

Coming soon to a town near you Idaho: Charter school cronyism

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State’s education world including the multimillion dollar broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

With a desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs.

The PIE charter petition also states that the California nonprofit Education In Motion (EIM) will have exclusive ability to appoint PIE’s board of trustees. Pay no attention to the fact that the California Secretary of State also lists Mr. Hall as agent of that nonprofit at precisely the same California address shared with PMG, which he presides over.

In other words: an out-of-state group (with Mr. Hall listed as agent) has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees to the charter — not the local community. Hand-picked trustees then contract with Mr. Hall’s vendor to manage the charter, in perpetuity. Now, that’s a good business model!

Idaho’s laws regarding charters was written to prevent this apparent type of conflict of interest. It states that “No more than one-third (1/3) of the public charter school’s board membership may be comprised of nonprofit educational services provider representatives.”

In this case, an entity under agency of Mr. Hall has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees which subsequently contract his management services. Some would say that means Mr. Hall controls more than the ⅓ share allowed, and in fact, has de facto control of the entire board.

All of which leads full circle back to the loss of local control because an out-of-state entity is not only in charge of an Idaho school, but is also the recipient of a lucrative business relationship with the school. Isn’t that cronyism? You know, favoring close friends, or, yourself?

But wait, it gets better: PIE withdrew its application from Caldwell School District before trustees voted on the charter proposal, and then resubmitted it to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). That end-around step means that no elected officials will have an opportunity now to vote on opening PIE in Caldwell going forward.

That result is because the IPCSC members who will vote on granting PIE’s charter are appointed by a governor whose tenure has been littered with these types of conflict-of-interest episodes.

And the appointed commission may very well vote to grant a California nonprofit, with Mr. Hall listed as agent, the ability to appoint trustees in Caldwell, Idaho. Which will then engage in a substantial financial contract with an entity also helmed by Mr. Hall. Because that makes sense.

But these are the sorts of things that occur when the public loses control of making fundamental decisions about its local schools when that control is exported to charter schools along with their out-of-state management groups.

And for all the rhetoric about the “freedom” to have “choice” in our public schools, PIE suggests that we have given away every modicum of the freedom to run the schools in our community to a California nonprofit and business partners. Only in Idaho…

A Florida judge supported parents who fought for alternatives to the mandatory state reading test. Some districts permitted alternatives, others insisted that children would be retained in third grade if they didn’t take and pass the third grade test.

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/judge-issues-mixed-ruling-on-floridas-third-grade-retention-law/2291108

“A Leon County circuit court judge has come down in favor of families challenging Florida’s third-grade retention practices, ruling that school districts ignored the children’s right to alternative forms of promotion and the state Department of Education allowed that to happen.

“In her order, Judge Karen Gievers highly criticized the Hernando County school district for its “illegal refusal” to allow students to have a portfolio option to demonstrate their reading abilities, as permitted in statute. Notably, she also included report cards “based on classroom work throughout the course of the school year” as an acceptable option.

“Gievers took a further step in undercutting Florida’s long-time reliance on testing by validating the Opt Out Network’s use of “minimal participation.”

“The statute does not define participation,” Gievers wrote in her order. “The children were present on time, broke the seal on the materials and wrote their names, thus meeting their obligation to participate.”

The article calls this a “mixed” ruling, but I think it looks like a home run for parents who didn’t want their child’s future to be tied to one standardized test.

No surprise: Most students in Rhode Island “failed” the Common Core PARCC tests. As I have explained many times, the tests were designed to fail most students. They are aligned with NAEP Proficient, which most students have never reached, with the sole exception of those in Massachusetts, where slightly more than half have reached that standard.

What is the point of giving a test that is too hard for most students?

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote to say that the tests were designed to show college readiness, and only 40% (or less) are college ready. But 70% enroll in college. Thus, he writes, a remediation crisis in college.

But really, why should schools test third graders for college readiness?

Colleges set their own admission standards, they can accept or reject whoever they want.

I wonder if Michael Phelps or Simone Boles would have tested “proficient” on PARCC?

I posed these questions to him:

Making the passing mark so high that most kids fail is insane. Does that make them smarter? Will they be denied a high school diploma? Will they be retained in grade? Will the schools become giant holding pens where most kids never get past third grade?

Mike is never at a loss for words so I expect he will answer.

Only hours after losing its lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, the Silicon Valley-funded “Students Matter”filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, claiming that the state’s restrictions on magnet schools and charter schools discriminated against inner-city children.

Curious. Why isn’t this group suing the state for not giving the neediest schools the funds to reduce class sizes and provide social and medical services to the children?

“California-based educational-advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit charging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet and charter schools harm city children and violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Students Matter, a group best known for bringing an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in California, filed a 71-page complaint Tuesday charging that “inexcusable educational inequity” in Connecticut was primarily the result of state laws “that prevent inner-city students from accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options.”

“The group is taking aim at laws that have put a moratorium on new magnet schools, limit the expansion of charter schools, and set per-student funding levels for districts participating in the Open Choice program in which city students attend suburban schools.

“A statement from Students Matter said, “Year after year, these parents have tried to avoid sending their children to failing public schools by trying to enroll them in magnet schools, charter public schools or other adequate public school alternatives.”

“However, the group contends that children have been “forced to remain in failing schools” because laws prevent magnets and charters from “scaling and meeting the need for high-quality schools demanded by Connecticut’s population.”

Hmmm. If students have a constitutional right to attend charter schools, do charter schools have the right to refuse admission?

I wonder if TIME Magazine will give the story a cover, as it did for Vergara, claiming that Silicon Valley knows how to fix failing schools. Or the cover it gave to Michelle Rhee, holding a broom, saying that she knew how to fix the public schools of D.C.

I have an idea: since David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Students Matter, knows how to fix low-scoring schools, why doesn’t he offer to take over a district in California and show us how to do it?

Calling John Oliver! The charter lobbyists have been criticizing Oliver for his expose of charter fraud last Sunday. Unfair, they say. Untrue, they say. Slanders charters, they say. Let’s see how they fit this story into their narrative.

Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, pleaded guilty to stealing $8 million from the school and diverting it for his personal use. Trombetta’s school was often featured on television as the nation’s first virtual charter. With an enrollment of 10,000 students from across the state, Trometta had receipts of $100 million a year. What to do with all that dough rolling in from taxpayers?

I have written about this scandal on several occasions, from the time Trombetta was charged in 2013. (See hereand here and here. Another cyber charter leader in Pennsylvania, June Brown, who ran the K-12 Agora Charter, was arrested and charged with stealing $6 million.

The Associated Press reports:

“PITTSBURGH (AP) — The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.

“In entering his plea, Nicholas Trombetta, 61, who headed the school, acknowledged using the money to buy, among other things, a Bonita Springs, Florida, condominium for $933,000, pay $180,000 for houses for his mother and girlfriend in Ohio, and spend $990,000 more on groceries and other items.

“He manipulated companies he created and controlled to draw the money from the school, also spending it on a $300,000 plane, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said.

“Trombetta was making $127,000 to $144,000 annually at PA Cyber when he ran the illegal tax evasion scheme from 2006 to 2012. He faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 20.

“By running the money through the companies or their straw owners, Trombetta avoided income taxes, though prosecutors haven’t said how much. Most of the siphoned money was squirreled away in Avanti Management Group, which functioned as Trombetta’s retirement savings account, Kaufman said.

“This case reflects the priority we’ve placed on protecting against fraud in education,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

“The school, founded in Midland in 2000, had more than 11,000 students across the state when Trombetta was charged three years ago and still has more than 9,000. As a public institution, it’s funded by federal, state and local taxes. Districts across the state pay the school to educate any students who opt to enroll in PA Cyber instead of a bricks-and-mortar school.

“Trombetta almost didn’t plead guilty Wednesday when his attorney, Adam Hoffinger, began sparring with Kaufman, who had to describe the complicated conspiracy to the judge.

“Kaufman said Trombetta used Avanti, the National Network of Digital Schools and other companies in the scheme. The Network of Digital Schools markets a curriculum developed in conjunction with PA Cyber and sold it back to the school, while Avanti provided unspecified management services, the prosecutor said. Avanti had four owners who pretended to be equal 25 percent partners when, in reality, Trombetta owned 80 percent of the firm, Kaufman said.”

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