Archives for category: Failure


Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported that the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are joining forces to fund a “breakthrough” in American education, despite the consistent failures they have experienced.

Are they slow learners or persistent?

Barnum writes:

The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund, announced Wednesday, is already funded to the eye-popping tune of $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Gates and Walton are also supporters of Chalkbeat.)

AERDF (pronounced AIR-dif) says its focus will be on what it calls “inclusive R&D,” or bringing together people with different expertise, including educators, to design and test practical ideas like improving assessments and making math classes more effective. Still, the ideas will have “moonshot ambitions,” said the group’s CEO Stacey Childress.

“One of our mottos for our program teams and the projects they fund is ‘heads in clouds and boots on the ground,’” she said.

It’s an unusually well-funded start for a new education organization, especially as big education funders have seen their influence wane in recent years after some of their ideas showed uneven results and prompted backlash. AERDF suggests these funders still have significant ambitions for improving education in the U.S., even if those efforts are less splashy — or controversial — than they once were.

The organization emerged from work that began in 2018, when CZI and Gates teamed up to invest in R&D. That resulted in a project known as EF+Math, which funds efforts to embed lessons in executive functioning — a set of cognitive skills related to self control and memory — into math classes.

“These executive functioning skills allow you to focus on what’s important, ignore distractions, let you think flexibly to solve problems and keep track of ideas,” said Melina Uncapher, the program’s director. “Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re strongly related to math skills.”

That effort, now part of AERDF, will start work in three school districts — Newark, New Jersey; Vista Unified in California; and Middletown, Ohio — this fall, said spokesperson Ed Wyatt.

You could write a book about their any failures. In fact, I already have written two. One is called Reign of Error and the other is Slaying Goliath.

What the billionaires refuse to recognize is that the root cause of poor academic performance is poverty. One experiment they might try is to raise the standard of living for targeted communities. Or they could fund hundreds of community schools with wraparound services for children and families.

Instead they prefer to search for the magic bullet that will overcome the obstacles in the lives of children who live in poverty. It appears that they learned nothing from their previous adventure into “education reform.”

A suggestion for the funders: Read Richard Rothstein’s Class and Schools.

Writing in Scientific American, Million Belay and Beatrice Mugambe complain that the Gates Foundatuon is steering African agriculture in the wrong direction.

Financed by Gates, the Cornell Alliance for Science is promoting the use of genetically-modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, petroleum-dependent machinery and artificial irrigation. The authors defend “agroecology,” which they describe as small-scale, ecofriendly, reliant on indigenous methods. Agroecology, they say, increases the variety, nutritive value, and quantity of foods produced while sustaining millions of small-scale farmers.

Gates’ grantees dismiss critics of agribusiness as irrational, unscientific, and harmful. But critics allege that the approach endorsed by Gates’ grantees are paving the way for multinational corporations to take over farming in Africa.

Their own organization, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), represents more than 200 million farmers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, women, consumers and others across Africa.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, interviewed scholar Tom Loveless about the failure of the Common Core on her weekly radio show called “Talk Out of School.” Loveless is a former teacher, professor, and researcher at the Brookings Institution.

Loveless recently published a book titled Tom Loveless’ book, Between the State and the Schoolhouse, Understanding the Failure of Common Core. [Use code BSSS21 to get 20% off when ordering from Harvard Education Press; offer expires 8/13/2021.]

It was one of the best discussions of Common Core I have heard. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote both Leonie and Tom to commend them. I added a footnote to their conversation. At one point, Leonie asked Tom why the CCSS sets out percentages of literary and informational text that should be taught in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Neither knew the answer.

Here it is: the authors of the CCSS copied the percentages from the NAEP guidelines for test developers. in grade 4, instruction should be divided 50%-50% between literary sources and informational text. In grade 8, the CCSS recommended division is 45%/55%. In grade 12, it should be 30%-70%.

NAEP does not offer these percentages as guidelines for teachers, but as guidance for test developers. There is no evidence that students learn more from fiction or nonfiction. But as Loveless has already demonstrated in an earlier study, the teaching of literature in the nation (based on NAEP surveys) declined after the adoption of Common Core by more than 40 states.

So, Common Core failed to improve achievement as measured by test scores and it failed to reduce achievement gaps among racial and SES groups. Unfortunately its only “success” was reducing the time devoted to teaching literature.


Gary Rubenstein has been following the tale of the so-called Achievement School District in Tennessee for a decade. It was started with $100 million of the state’s $500 million from the Race to the Top (remember “Race to the Top”?). The ASD pledged to raise achievement dramatically in the state’s lowest performing schools, and it failed. Several other states were so impressed by the idea of the ASD that they created their own similar efforts. By the state’s own records, none of them was successful.

When Gary saw that veterans of the ASD were convening at a virtual conference to talk about the lessons learned, he decided to join the meeting. He couldn’t believe the claims that were made about the “success” of the failed program. When he finally decided to ask questions of the panelists, he was told that his questions were unacceptable and he was censored. He wondered why the Chalkbeat reporter wasn’t asking the same questions. All it takes is a review of the published stats.

“Reformers” continue to promote the same failed ideas, without concern for easily ascertainable facts.

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reports on a research study that concluded that most state takeovers of low-performing districts were unsuccessful. Local school boards, it was believed, must be the cause of low test scores because they lacked oversight.

The study was written by Beth E. Schueler and Joshua Bleiberg and released by the Annenberg Insttitute.

State officials have taken for granted that the state education department knows better than local school boards how to run school districts. Yet, as the study shows, most have either made no difference or failed. In most cases, the districts that were “taken over” consisted of mostly black and brown children, whose communities lose a democratic institution and as well as a route to political power.

Barnum writes:

Now, a new national study casts significant doubt on the idea that states, at least, are better positioned to run schools than locally elected officials. Overall, researchers found little evidence that districts see test scores rise as a result of being taken over. If anything, state control had slightly negative effects on students.

Frankly, it was always a silly idea to think that state education departments were staffed by top-flight educators. They are working in schools and districts. Most people who work in state education departments (and the U.S. Department of Education) are administrators and bureaucrats, not educators.

Barnum goes on to summarize the study:

The paper is the most comprehensive accounting to date of a strategy that has appealed to policymakers in many states but also brought fierce blowback. The study doesn’t suggest that takeovers never succeed on academic grounds — there are clearexamples where they have.

But the successes appear to be more exception than rule, and the uneven academic results bring into sharp relief the costs of state takeover: the loss of democratic institutions, disproportionately in Black communities.

“These policies are very harmful to communities in terms of their political power,” said Domingo Morel, a Rutgers University political scientist who has studied and criticized state takeovers. “And then what the state says is going to improve — this research shows it’s not doing that either.”

The new study focuses on the 35 school districts from across the country that were taken over by states between 2011 and 2016. These takeovers often happened in small cities and the vast majority of affected students were Black or Hispanic and from low-income families…

To find out what happened next, Schueler and coauthor Joshua Bleiberg of Brown University used national test score data to compare districts that were taken over to seemingly similar districts in the same state that retained local control.

In the first few years of the takeover, the schools generally saw dips in English test scores. By year four, there was no effect one way or the other. In math, there were no clear effects at all.“The punchline is, we really don’t see evidence that takeover is benefitting student outcomes, at least in the short term,” said Schueler.

Many states, Barnum reports, have cooled on the idea of state takeovers, although there are two big exceptions: Providence, Rhode Island, which has already fired its new superintendent because his deputy had a bad habit of massaging boys’ feet without their permission. And Texas is eager to take control of the Houston Independent School District because it has one high school with very low scores, and a disproportionately high number of students needing special education and living in poverty. The students in both districts are majority black and brown.

Apparently, the voucher schools were embarrassed by the Ohio study showing that kids who use vouchers lose ground academically.

There were two ways to respond to that finding: 1) improve instruction in the voucher schools by requiring them to hire certified teachers; 2) obscure the data.

The voucher lobby chose the second route.

The Republican-dominated legislature is now vastly expanding the state’s failing voucher program. But a few years ago, it decided that voucher schools would no longer be required to give the same exams that students in public schools are required to take. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute worried about the change, because it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to draw comparisons between students in public schools and their peers in private and religious schools.

That’s the goal.

Many other states that offer vouchers allow those schools not to take the state exams. Some, like Florida, expect no accountability from voucher schools. Others ask those schools to administer an “equivalent” standardized test, which makes it impossible to compare voucher schools to public schools.

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

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Bob Braun was an education reporter for 50 years. After he retired from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, he began blogging and paid close and critical attention to the state takeover of Newark. This column, posted in 2014, is as timely now as it was when it first appeared.

Let’s get this straight. Those of us opposed to the structural changes to public education embraced by crusaders ranging from the billionaire Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—along with Governor Chris Christie and Microsoft founder Bill Gates—are not opposed to the reform of public schools. We oppose their destruction.

We do not oppose making schools more accountable, equitable and effective—but we do oppose wrecking a 200-year-old institution—public education—that is still successful in New Jersey.

Public schools give students from all backgrounds a common heritage and a chance to compete against privileged kids from private schools. We don’t want schools replaced by the elitists’ dream of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools, which can be money makers for closely aligned for-profit entities.

We oppose eliminating tenure and find laughable the idea embodied in Teach for America (TFA), an organization that recruits new college graduates for short stays in urban schools, that effective classroom instructors can be trained in weeks if they’re eager and want breaks on student loans—breaks that come with TFA participation. We oppose breaking teacher unions, reducing education to the pursuit of better test scores and using test results to fire teachers. We want our teachers to be well trained, experienced, secure, supervised, supported and well paid. We want our kids to graduate from high school more than “college and career ready”—a favorite slogan of the reformers. We want them to graduate knowing garbage when they see it—to understand mortgages, for example, rather than just solving trigonometry problems.

Don’t call it reform, call it hijacking. A radical, top-down change in governance based on a business model championed by billionaires like Eli Broad, the entrepreneur whose foundation underwrites training programs for school leaders, including superintendents—among them, Christopher Cerf, New Jersey’s education commissioner from late 2010 until this past February. The Broad Foundation seeks to apply to public institutions, like schools, the notion of “creative destruction” popularized for businesses by economists Joseph Schumpeter and Clayton Christensen. In a memo forced into public view by New Jersey’s Education Law Center, leaders of the Broad Superintendents Academy wrote that they seek to train leaders willing to “challenge and disrupt the status quo.”

Sorry, but it’s neither clever nor wise to disrupt schools, especially urban schools. Irresponsible, distant billionaires cause unrest in communities like Newark, a place they’ll likely never get closer to than making a plane connection at its airport. These tycoons say they want to improve learning—to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. I don’t buy that. The gap is caused by poverty and racial isolation, not public schools. They want reform that doesn’t raise taxes and won’t end racial segregation. So they promote charter schools that segregate and pay for them with tax funds sucked from public schools. Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, calls it “revenue neutral and nonintegrative” reform. What that means, Baker says, is “don’t raise our taxes and don’t let poor black and brown kids access better-resourced suburban schools.”

School reform once meant equity and integration. Now it’s called choice. Not the choice that would allow Newark kids to take a bus 15 minutes to Millburn. Not the choice that would allow the dispersion of disadvantage so the poorest attend the same schools as the most advantaged. It’s choice limited to a district. And choice limited to families who win a lottery for charter-school admission. “We’re letting poor parents fight it out among themselves for scrap—it’s Hunger Games,” says Baker.

Charters segregate. In Newark, where there are 13 charter schools, children with the greatest needs—special education kids, English-language learners, the poorest children—are stranded in asset-starved neighborhood schools. Disadvantage is concentrated, public schools close, and resources shift to charters. In Hoboken, three charter schools educate 31 percent of the city’s children, but enroll 51 percent of all white children and only 6 percent of youngsters eligible for free lunches.

Such skimming of the more able students lets proponents like Christie claim that charters outperform public schools. But charters serve a different population. In his devastating send-up of Newark’s North Star Schools, titled “Deconstructing the Cycle of Reformy Awesomeness,” Baker describes how charters achieve high test scores and graduation rates by shedding underperforming students. Half the kids—including 80 percent of African-American boys—dropped or were pushed out.

Charters are not the solution. “Overall, charters do not outperform comparable public schools and they serve a different population,” says Stan Karp, an editor at Rethinking Schools, an advocacy organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education. He adds, “Nowhere have charters produced a template for district-wide equity and system-wide improvement.”

Many suburbs have resisted charters, but state-run urban districts like Newark cannot. In Newark, Christie joined with then Mayor Cory Booker, a devotee of privatization, to bring in Broad Academy graduates Chris Cerf to be state schools chief and Cami Anderson to be Newark superintendent. They were awarded a pledge of $100 million from Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg to support school reform in Newark.

Suburbs cannot escape other reforms, including federal insistence on relentless, time-consuming annual testing to measure student achievement and teacher performance. While states can opt out of testing, the price in lost federal revenues can be high. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a national political action committee, applauds these changes as “bursting the dam” of resistance from unions to test-based evaluation and merit pay.

The coalition of foundations, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions promoting privatization is an opaque, multi-billion dollar, alternative governance structure. They include the Broad and Walton foundations; the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation; the Charter School Growth Fund and the NewSchools Venture Fund (a pair of nonprofit investment operations overseen largely by leaders of for-profit financial firms); the training and support organizations New Leaders for New Schools, the New Teacher Project and America Achieves; as well as the advocacy groups Stand for Children and Education Reform Now.

At its most recent summit of education reformers—including Newark’s Anderson—the NewSchools Venture offered workshops on “How Disruptive Can We Be?” and a seminar on charter schools that was advertised this way: “Charter schools are being brought into the center of reform strategies, not just to provide new options for some students, but to transform an entire public education system, based on a diverse portfolio of autonomous school operators.”

Why is school privatization such a draw for investors? Is it just philanthropy? No, there is also profit to be made from the $650 billion spent annually on public schools. Some charter school operations are profit making, including nearly two-thirds of charter school operators in Michigan and many in Florida—and Christie has been pressing to allow profit-making charters in New Jersey. Salaries for operators of charter school chains can run as high as $500,000 a year. The New Markets Tax Credit, pushed by charter supporter Bill Clinton when he was president, allows lenders to reap higher interest rates. Then there are rents paid by charter schools to charter-related profit-making companies like Newark’s Pink Hula Hoop (started by TEAM Academy board members); legal fees; and the sale of goods and services.

The costs of this movement: urban schools stratified. It’s an apartheid system, with the neediest warehoused in neglected public schools and a few lucky lottery winners in pampered charters. It is stratification on top of a system already stratified by all-white suburban districts and $35,000-plus private schools.

More costs: unconscionable amounts of time, energy and resources devoted to test preparation. The brightest young people, says Baker, will leave teaching to short-stay amateurs rather than endure the unpredictability of evaluations that rate a teacher “irreplaceable” one year and “ineffective” the next.

New Jersey ranks at the top nationwide in educational achievement, reports Education Week. We are second in “chance for success,” third in K-12 achievement and fifth in high school graduation. These statistics include urban schools; if properly funded, they succeed. Look at Elizabeth: good schools, no charters. Christie left it unmolested and provided millions in construction funds kept from other cities—perhaps because the school board endorsed him.

New Jersey is not the basket case Christie says it is. Urban schools are not failure factories. We don’t need a hostile takeover by Wall Street.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the North Texas School Boards Association by Zoom. Right now, Texas is ground zero for the charter industry. This is astonishing because the public schools in Texas far outperform the charter schools. The charter school lobby markets themselves as “saviors” of children, but they are far more likely to fail than public schools. This is a summary of what I told my friends in Texas:

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My father, who grew up in Savannah, never finished high school; my mother, who was born in Bessarabia, was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools.

I believe that all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have children in public school, have a civic obligation to support public schools, just as we must support other public services, like police, firefighting, public roads, public parks, and public libraries. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and no investment is more precious than investing in the education of our children. They are our future. 

Texas, like every other state, guarantees a free public education to everyone. The clause in the state constitution says:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

As constitutional scholar Derek Black shows in his book Schoolhouse Burning, the founding fathers of this nation wanted every state to provide free public education. They didn’t have it in their own time, but they saw it as essential to the future of the nation. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, the Founders said that any territory that wanted to become a state had to set aside one lot in each town for a tax-supported public school. Not a private academy supported by tax funds, but a tax-supported public school.

The leadership of Texas doesn’t care about the state constitution. Every time the legislature is in session, someone offers a bill to send public funds to religious schools, which are not public schools. Thus far, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans and the dedicated leadership of Pastors for Texas Children has defeated vouchers.

The Republicans who control the state have substituted charters for vouchers in their eagerness to provide alternatives to the right guaranteed by the state constitution. And they have not given up on vouchers.

Texas now has more than 800 charter schools. These are schools under private management, paid for with tax dollars. Contrary to their marketing strategy, they are not public schools. Some of those charters are part of big corporations, like KIPP or IDEA. Some are nonprofit schools that are managed by for-profit corporations. The GOP leadership wants more of them, even though the existing public schools are underfunded and have not recovered from a devastating budget cut of more than $5 billion in 2011.

When the idea of charter schools first emerged in the early 1990s, I was enthusiastic about their promise. I was in Washington, DC, working as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the first Bush administration. We heard from their sponsors that charter schools would be more innovative, would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy, would be more successful, and would be more accountable than public schools because they were free of most regulations. 

Three decades later, this is what have we learned: 

   a). Charter schools are not more innovative than public schools. The only innovation associated with charters is harsh disciplinary practices called “No excuses,” where children are punished for minor infractions of strict rules. The largest charter chain in Chicago, the Noble Network, recently announced that it was getting rid of “no excuses” because it is a racist policy, meant to force black children to adopt white middle-class values.  

    b) Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools. In most states, the charter associations fight any effort to impose accountability or transparency. They don’t want to be audited by independent auditors. The only time they are accountable is when they close their doors because of low enrollment or abject academic failure. 

    c) Charter schools do not cost less than public schools. They typically demand the same public funding as public schools, even though the public schools pick up some of their costs, like transportation, and even though they have fewer high-need students than public schools. In some states, like Texas, charter schools get more public money than public schools.

    d) Charter schools are less effective than public schools. Those that have high test scores choose their students and families carefully and push out those they don’t want. On average they don’t outperform public schools, and they spend more money on administration than public schools. In some states, like Ohio, the majority of charter schools are rated D or F. 

Charters are unstable. They open and close like day lilies. Sometimes in mid-semester, leaving their students stranded.

The worst charter schools are the virtual schools. 

The state pays the cybercharters full tuition to provide nothing more than a computer, a remote teacher, and some textbooks. They charge double or triple their actual costs.

Virtual charter schools have high attrition rates, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

There have been huge scandals associated with virtual charter schools.

In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow collected close to a billion dollars over 18 years. It was started by a businessman, who made generous contributions to political leaders. It had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. In 2017, ECOT was audited by the state and found to have collected tuition for phantom students. Rather than pay the state $80 million, ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018. No one was fined, no one went to prison, no one was held accountable.

The biggest scandal in charter history was the A3 virtual charter chain. It had a massive scheme to enroll fake students. Eleven people were indicted. Eventualy, the leaders of A3 agreed to repay the state $215 million.

The largest of the virtual charters is K12 Inc; it is registered on NY Stock Exchange. Its results are familiar: high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates. Their top executives are paid millions of dollars each. K12 is are operating in dozens of states.

Poor academic performance is not punished; financial fraud is not punished. There is no accountability. 

IDEA in Texas is in a class of its own when it comes to luxuries. They get hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, but they decided they needed to lease a private jet for their executives. When the story got into the newspapers, they dropped that idea. The media also reported that IDEA bought season tickets for special seating at San Antonio Spurs games. When the CEO decided to retire, he received a $1 million golden parachute. How many school superintendents do you know who got such a generous going-away present?

Charter schools claim that they “save poor kids from failing schools.” 

That’s not true. There are currently some 356,000 students in charter schools in Texas. Three-quarters of them are enrolled in charter schools in A or B school districts. The charter school students are being drawn away from successful schools in successful districts.

The charter lobby claims that there are long waiting lists. Don’t believe it. The so-called wait lists are manufactured. They are never audited. In Los Angeles, at least 80% of the existing charters have empty seats, yet still the lobbyists talk about wait lists. In New York City, charters buy advertising on city buses. When you have a waiting list, you don’t buy advertising.

The charter industry in Texas has a number of charter expansions already approved and expects to grow by 50,000 students every year. Unless the legislature plans to increase spending on education, charter growth will mean budget cuts for public schools. Charters in Texas currently divert $3 billion a year from public schools. Since they started, they have diverted more than $20 billion that should have gone to the state’s public schools. 

Charter schools in Texas are not more successful than public schools. Texas researcher William Gumbert reported that 86% of public school districts are rated either A or B by the state, compared to 58.6% of charter schools. Only 2.6% of public school districts were rated D or F, compared to 17.7% of charter schools.  

Texas Public Radio reported that graduation rates at charter schools were 30 points lower than the rates at public high schools. 

Two economists—Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer—studied the outcomes of charter schools in Texas. They concluded that charter schools have “no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.”

William Gumbert, an independent analyst in Texas, has calculated that graduates of charter schools enter college less well prepared and are less likely to perform well in college, compared to students who went to public schools. He reported that the 2019 state ratings showed nearly 40% of charters approved by the state have been closed. 

The charters claim that they can close historic achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is not true. According to careful research by analyst Gumbert, public schools do a better job of narrowing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students than charters in the same districts. 

Again, using state records, Gumbert found that graduates of public schools were more successful in college than graduates of charter schools. Public school graduates were more likely to have a higher grade-point average in freshman year than charter school graduates. First-year grade-point average has been shown to predict college graduation. 

Now the charter industry is lobbying for a vast expansion in Texas. They don’t want to have to deal with elected school boards or other elected officials. Democracy is a nuisance, an obstacle. So they are promoting SB 28, which would remove any elected school boards or elected municipal officials from the charter approval process. The state board of education could veto a charter application only with a supermajority. Only one appointed state official—the State Commissioner, appointed by the Governor– would decide whether charters may invade your district, recruit the students they want and locate the charter school wherever they want. That is a major blow to local control of schools. 

Why are state officials in Texas, why is the Legislature, opposed to local control of schools?

After three decades of experience, we have learned about the policies and practices of charter corporations.

First, many charter schools are run by non-educators. They see a business opportunity and they compete for market share. 

Second, they market charter schools by making extravagant claims. They promise that their students will be successful in school and will go to college even before they open their doors. As we have seen, this is usually false.

Third, the few that get high test scores do so by cherry-picking their students or by setting the standards so high that only high-scoring students choose to enroll. BASIS is an example of that. Students have to pass a certain number of AP exams to graduate, so average students need not apply. In Arizona, where most of the state’s students are Hispanic or Native American, the BASIS schools enroll mostly white and Asian students.

Fourth, some charter schools raise test scores by pushing out students who get low scores. That means excluding students with disabilities and students who don’t speak or read English. It also means counseling out or finding creative ways to discourage the kids who are discipline problems or the kids who perform poorly on tests. The most successful charter chain in NYC accepts kids by lottery in kindergarten. Then they begin weeding out those they don’t want, and after third grade, no new students are accepted. By senior year, most of the students who started in K or first grade have disappeared

Fifth, charter schools typically hire young and inexperienced teachers who cost less than older experienced teachers. The turnover is high—sometimes as much as half the staff leaves every year and is replaced by newcomers to teaching. 

Sixth, the true secret of charter expansion is the money behind them. They are supported by a long list of billionaires who want to eliminate public schools. They mock our community schools as “government schools,” but they might as well mock our community police officers as “government security agents.” Our community public schools belong to “we, the people.” We pay for them with our taxes. They reflect our community history. They have the trophies that our parents, our cousins, our aunts and uncles won at football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, chess, and debate tournaments. They are audited and overseen by our neighbors. We elect the school board, and if we don’t agree with their decisions, we elect another one. 

Don’t give your public dollars to entrepreneurs and corporations to educate your children. 

Don’t replace your public schools with a free market where schools compete for customers. Markets produce winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. Use your tax dollars to make your public schools the best they can be for all the children.

Whatever your political views are, these schools belong to you, not to Wall Street or libertarian billionaires or opportunists. Tell your legislators to support your public schools. 

School choice means that the schools choose.

Public schools must take everyone. 

School choice is a hoax.

Don’t fund failure.

At a time when there are so many divisions in our society, we need our public schools to teach appreciation for our common heritage as Americans and as Texans.

I especially appeal to those with conservative values: Conservative conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. People who want to blow up community institutions are anarchists, not conservatives.

Preserve and improve your community public schools for future generations. 

Billy Townsend was a school board member in Polk County, Florida. He saw up close and personal how charters were sucking the high-scoring students out of public schools and excluding the students with disabilities. He saw up close and personal how the state’s voucher program was serving as a refuge from high-stakes testing and enabling the restoration of racial segregation. Billy believes, as I do, that if the day ever comes when so-called reformers see the harm they are doing to kids and to our democratic institution of public education, they might repent. Will shame move them more than the pursuit of profit and power? Perhaps we are naive to think it might. But hope springs eternal that even the profiteers and entrepreneurs and shady fly-by-night grifters might someday see the light.

Billy has written a powerful series about the Jeb Crow school industry and how its sole purpose is to destroy public education without helping kids. All of the articles are referenced in this post, the last of the series. He has demonstrated how the voucher schools are highly segregated and low-quality. He refers to the choice schools as “failure factories” but now calls them “Jeb Crow” schools to credit former Governor Jeb Bush for creating the Big Lie that school choice saves children. It doesn’t.

Townsend throws out a challenge to reformers who are sincere, if there are any, about equity and helping kids:

Serious “reformers” — those who actually mean it when they use the moral, racialized language of equity in justifying punitive policies that destroy public education capacity — know today that their entire life’s work is bullshit that failed on its own terms. 

They know it. Every single one of them. Some of them will cry about America’s super awesome graduation rate; but they know that’s manipulated data bullshit, too. Mostly, they’ve just gone silent while think tanks beg to keep getting useless test data and grifters use the language and weaponry “reformers” provided them to demolish public education capacity for everyone. 

The question now: if, when, and how will “reformers” ever break their shamed silence about their failures and decide to help us fix them?

Jeb Crow means wealthier, whiter kids get high capital charters; more vulnerable, less white kids get no capital vouchers; and we kill/privatize public schools altogether.

The grifting and cheating by state education officials is breath-taking. They know that school choice is a cynical ploy to shift money from taxpayers to private corporations. They know that the corporation that handles the voucher funding now has assets of nearly $700 million. They know where power lies in Florida. They know how corrupt the Legislature is. But everyone goes along to get along.

If you read one thing today, read Billy Townsend’s reports on Florida’s massive crime against children and the state’s own future.