Archives for category: Failure

A 38-year-old woman in McMinn County, Tennessee, was arrested and charged with raping multiple boys at McMinn Central High School.

ATHENS, Tenn. (WATE) – An Englewood woman has been indicted on more than 20 sex charges after investigators say she traded items for sexual encounters with male students who attend McMinn Central High School.

Melissa Blair, 38, is charged with 18 counts of aggravated statutory rape, four counts of human trafficking by patronizing prostitution and one count of solicitation. She turned herself in Tuesday and was booked into the McMinn County Jail on a $100,000 bond. She is not, nor has she ever been, a school employee.

This is the same county where the school board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel MAUS from the curriculum. They said it was inappropriate because, it contained nudity (of mice)

Seems to me that McMinn town officials and parents have a whole lot more to worry about than a book about the Holocaust. The reading list is the least of their troubles.

Remember when Trump bragged about his great skills as a deal maker? Emremember when he ridiculed everyone else who preceded him? Guess what? He was a conman on that claim like so many others, according to Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times.

The final tally is in, and the numbers are grim: Donald Trump’s huge trade deal with China — the deal he trumpeted as a “transformative” victory for the U.S. — turned out to be a massive bust.

The deal, it may be remembered, required China to make $200 billion in new purchasesof agricultural and manufactured goods, services and crude oil and other energy.

The idea floated by Trump was that the deal would end the trade war he had started with China, while producing a massive infusion of new income for American manufacturers and growers.

Today the only undisputed ‘historical’ aspect of that agreement is its failure.

None of those outcomes happened. Although the trade war stopped escalating, most of the tariffs Trump had imposed on Chinese goods remained in place, as did retaliatory tariffs China imposed.

More to the point, “China bought none of the additional $200 billion of exports Trump’s deal had promised.”

That’s the finding of a study just published by Chad P. Bown of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, who has assiduously tracked China trade since the deal was reached.

Fraud, scandal, embezzlement, failure: Nothing can slow the Republicans’ demand for charters and vouchers. The latest example of charter failure comes from Oklahoma, where the state auditor of Oklahoma reviewed the finances of the Epic charter schools and declared it was the worst abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of the state. And as yet there have been no consequences.

Oklahoma’s state auditor and inspector on Tuesday said mismanagement by co-founders of Epic Charter Schools is “the largest amount of reported abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state” — and she has no idea why the attorney general has not brought criminal charges in the case.

“I am shocked this hasn’t been prosecuted yet,” State Auditor Cindy Byrd told lawmakers at a joint meeting of the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ common education committee and Appropriations and Budget education subcommittee. “I do expect charges to be filed — or an explanation for why charges will not be filed….”

Byrd, a Republican serving her first term in elected office, noted that she accepted no campaign funds from education political action committees and has nothing against charter schools, parent choice in education or even free market enterprise.

She likened charter schools like Epic, which she described as “intentionally established” for charter school management companies to milk for profits — as the “Enron of public education.”

North Carolina has been in the forefront of destructive education policies ever since the Tea Party won control of the state’s General Assembly (legislature) in 2010. Charters, vouchers, TFA, high-stakes testing, hostile indifference to teachers, etc.

But the rightwingers in NC wanted more. They wanted their own version of the Tennessee Achievement School District. They knew that Tennessee lawmakers had created a special district containing the state’s lowest-scoring schools; these schools would show dramatic improvement if handed over to charter operators.

The North Carolina legislators ignored the clear evidence that the Tennessee ASD was a failure, despite the state’s investment of $100 million from Race to the Top funding. Failure was no deterrent, no way to dissuade them from launching the magic elixir of privatization.

In 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly created its very own Achievement School District, which was soon renamed the Innovative School District. Now we know it too has failed. The General Assembly is defunding it.

The Innovative School District was supposed to contain five schools, but every time a school was designated, its district fought to keep the school. The ISD opened with only a single school, and that one school had a principal, a superintendent, and a charter management organization. An awful lot of administrators for one school.

Alex Granados wrote about the collapse of this bad idea in EdNC:

In an experiment, a hypothesis is tested. In the case of the Innovative School District(ISD), the hypothesis was that some of the state’s lowest-performing schools could be improved if they were grouped into one district, given charter school-like flexibility, and turned over to the management of alternative operators.

To judge by the biennium budget passed by the General Assembly in November 2021, North Carolina lawmakers must have concluded that the ISD experiment did not yield the result of improving schools, at least not in the way it was originally conceived. What other conclusion can be drawn from the fact that lawmakers put an end to the project in their two-year spending plan?

Background

The Achievement School District bill was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. At the heart of the legislation was the creation of a district that would eventually include five low-performing schools from around the state that could be turned over to charter school operators.

It was originally called the Achievement School District and its first superintendent, Eric Hall, said at the time that it was modeled after similar experiments from other states that had “mixed results.”

“We have an opportunity as a state to redefine what it means in North Carolina,” Hall told the State Board of Education in 2017. But that redefinition never quite came to be.

A single school

The initial plan was that all five schools in the ISD would be up and running by the 2018-19 school year. It is now the 2021-22 school year, and there is still only one school. That is thanks to, in large part, massive resistance from some of the districts approached by the state.

The single school that was taken over as part of the ISD was Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County. And it’s been a tough journey both for the school and for the district — since its inception, the ISD has had four superintendents and the school has had three principals.

Current ISD Superintendent Ron Hargrave told the State Board of Education in December 2021 about visiting a kindergarten class at Southside-Ashpole on his first day. A teacher said to him: “‘Well, you’ll be number four,’ and she was talking about the number of superintendents who’ve come through there,” he said.

Hargrave replied, “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you don’t need a number five, because I’m here to stay.”

But turnover hasn’t been the only issue.

The nonprofit charter organization that was running the operation was ultimately relieved of its responsibilities by the State Board of Education. You can read about the difficulties with that organization, Achievement for All Children (AAC), in N.C. Policy Watch here and here.

‘No common ground’

Did Southside-Ashpole improve? According to data, no.

Trip Stallings, whose team conducted the external evaluation of the ISD when he was with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, said that a single school’s performance can’t really tell us anything about how well the ISD concept might work as a multi-school turnaround program.

“Because they only had one school in three years, you can’t really use that experience to validate or disprove the ISD approach,” he said. But there are a number of issues evident from even the experience of a single school that may have weakened the ISD structurally, according to Stallings.

One issue was that the legislation that created the ISD assumed there would be a wide variety of Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) vying to manage schools in the ISD. Instead, only three CMOs applied to manage Southside-Ashpole. The State Board of Education asked all three to resubmit their original proposals and, ultimately, the revised proposal from AAC was accepted.

“The real question is, ‘Why did other CMOs not apply?’” Stallings said.

Former ISD Superintendent Eric Hall presents to the State Board of Education Thursday, April 5, 2018. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Another problem, according to Stallings, was the disconnect among the operator, the State Board of Education, and the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) regarding how the ISD as a program should be implemented and managed.

“For example, none of the parties really reached agreement on the question of what this ‘charter-like flexibility’ means,” he said.

As a result, a superintendent, principal, and CMO leader all tried to assert separately how the single school in the district needed to operate. This led to confusion and dysfunction, he said.

Finally, Stallings said that the remote nature of the program was a “significant handicap.” DPI, AAC, and the school were all in separate locations and remote from each other not just geographically, but also culturally.

“They didn’t see many things in the same way,” he said. “For some issues, there was no common ground.”

According to the budget, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School will continue as part of the ISD until 2023-24 at the latest, when it will be returned to the Public Schools of Robeson County.

Craig Horn, a former Republican state representative from Union County, said this is terrible news. Not because he was a big fan of the ISD — he said he wasn’t — but because it is indicative of how the General Assembly operates.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, talking about the education portions of the budget at a 2017 press conference. Alex Granados/EducationNC

Horn, an influential legislator when it came to education, lost his seat when he ran for the state superintendent position and lost to Catherine Truitt in 2020. He was there for the inception of the ISD.

“I’m going to suggest that rather than sit down and work out the problems, it’s easier and faster to say, ‘Ok, we’re done. We’re not doing it,’” he said.

Horn had a lot of problems with the ISD program, but said that if it has failed, he hopes lawmakers have done their homework to understand why.

“If we can say that we did our homework, we actually talked to the people inside, we actually talked to parents and students, we actually made some adjustments and we’re still failing, OK, then we made an informed decision,” he said. “But my experience with the General Assembly is they don’t always make informed decisions.”

Preparing for transition

The State Board of Education heard from the current leaders of the ISD and Southside-Ashpole at the December 2021 meeting.

Derrick Jordan, associate superintendent of agency schools, told the Board that efforts to improve the school are still happening.

“There is absolutely still work to be done, but there is an unwavering commitment to improving outcomes for the students at Southside-Ashpole,” he said.

And Hargrave stressed to Board members that the students in that school are “full of potential.”

“It is a school full of children who desire to be loved and desire to be taught, and they have a hunger for learning,” he said.

Freddie Williamson, superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, said the district is ready to have the school back and is already working with the school and the ISD to prepare for a “smooth, seamless transition.”

There isn’t yet a timeline for the transition, but when Southside-Ashpole does return back to the control of Robeson County schools, State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine said she hopes it keeps innovation a priority. She said innovation takes a long time, and whatever the ISD, the new teachers, new principal, or the community have done, it should continue.

“Whatever is beginning to happen called innovation, let’s carry it forward,” she said.

Nothing on the record shows that there was either innovation or achievement at the one school in the experimental district. But whatever it is, says Ms. Oxendine, keep doing it, even though it yielded no improvement.

The full story of North Carolina’s failed experiment is fascinating. The bill to create the state’s Innovative School District was sponsored by Republican Rob Bryan. The money to promote the bill was supplied by an ultra-conservative businessman from Oregon named John Bryan (no relation to the legislator). After the bill passed, the state Board of Education selected Achievement for All Children (AAC) as the charter operator, although it had no experience turning around low-performing schools.

Here’s the context, which appeared in NC Policy Watch.

Mecklenburg County Republican Senator Rob Bryan sponsored the bill as a member of the House in 2016 that became law and created the ISD. That law specifies that the ISD can have up to five schools, selected from the lowest-performing in North Carolina.

Bryan argued at the time that the new district would provide much-needed reforms, but the following year, as Policy Watch reported, he received at least $5,000 as a “stipend” for his work with AAC.

Several other low-performing schools, including two in Durham, were targeted for state takeover in 2017, but resisted the move. Then-ISD Superintendent Eric Hall ended his pursuit of those schools.

That left Southside-Ashpole, which began operating as the state’s first and only school within the Innovative School District at the start of the 2018-19 school year. Southside-Ashpole has an enrollment of 270, 95% of whom are students of color: Black, Latinx and American Indian.

In its first year as an ISD school, there was a wholesale house cleaning at Southside-Ashpole: After Superintendent Allen abruptly left, the State Board of Education hired Ellerbe to replace her. School principal Bruce Major also suddenly resigned, and AAC then hired Bowen.

It remains unclear whether the changes were due to job performance.

Meanwhile, there has also been a major upheaval within AAC’s business partner, TeamCFA, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that provides financial, instructional and management support to more than a dozen schools in North Carolina and four in Arizona.

TeamCFA is AAC’s curriculum partner, according to the ISD website.

Tony Helton, one of the state’s most influential charter school leaders, resigned his $160,000-a-year post as southeastern regional director of TeamCFA last August. While holding that position, Helton also worked as chief operating office of AAC. He was replaced by Cotham.

TeamCFA was started by John Bryan (no relation to Rob Bryan), a retired Oregon businessman who has used his wealth to promote school choice causes.

John Bryan is also a major contributor to Republican lawmakers and was instrumental in helping to pass the North Carolina law that created the ISD. From 2013 to 2016, Rob Bryan’s campaign received more than $22,000 in contributions from John Bryan, state reports show. John Bryan also contributed to then-Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, NC House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in October that Bryan and the Challenge Foundation, which Bryan also formed, stopped funding TeamCFA. In his final founder’s letter, Bryan talked about passing on the responsibility to other private investors and philanthropists.

TeamCFA had received as much as 95% of its annual revenue from Bryan and the Challenge Foundation, the paper reported. TeamCFA also receives $510,000 annually from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The NC Republican leadership was heavily funded by John Bryan from Oregon. Bryan was the funder of TeamCFA. TeamCFA was the partner of the only charter operator that applied to manage the district that was created by legislation funded by John Bryan.

What happened to the 270 students in the one school in the Innovative school District? Well, they have had a constant turnover of principals and superintendents. They were Guinea pigs for legislators who don’t know them and apparently don’t care about them.

Gary Rubinstein began his career as a Teach for America recruit in 1991 and got to know many of the key figures in the corporate reform movement. He is currently a career high school teacher of mathematics in a New York City public school. Over time, he became disillusioned with the phony promises of TFA and charter schools and became one of the most tenacious critics of their hypocrisy.

KIPP, he notes, is considered the gold standard of charter schools. The organization has about 250 charter schools across the nation. It benefited from being featured in the nefarious film “Waiting for ‘Superman'” as a school that was able to “save” kids who were allegedly trapped in failing public schools. The implication of the film was that charter schools had some magic knowledge that enabled them to transform children who had been faring poorly in school. Mostly, that claim is a hoax, but it is good marketing for recruitment of students.

In this post, he reports on the crisis of KIPP in Tennessee. KIPP had seven schools. But in 2020, two were closed because of low test scores and low growth scores. Now two more are on the chopping block due to poor performance.

He writes:

In the cities of Memphis and Nashville, TN there are a lot of charter schools fueled, in part, by the Race To The Top money they received while Teach For America alumni were in leadership positions at the Tennessee Education Department. By 2019, they had grown to seven KIPP schools in Tennessee. In 2020 the network announced that they were shutting down two of those seven schools. The headline from the Chalkbeat, TN article contains the quote from the network ‘‘We’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise’. So as of 2020 they were down to five schools in Tennessee.

According to a new article in Chalkbeat, TN, this coming Tuesday, January 25th, the Shelby County school system will vote on whether or not to shut down two of the remaining KIPPs: KIPP Memphis Academy Middle School and KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary.

Rubinstein researched the remaining five KIPP schools [including the two at risk of closure] in Tennessee and discovered that none of them is successful.

The fact that the schools are even at risk of getting shut down for poor performance definitely should convince anyone that the ‘Waiting For Superman’ narrative that if you give charters flexibility in exchange for accountability, they will outperform the ‘failing’ public schools. But there might be some people who say “There’s bound to be a few bad apples in any bunch so maybe these are just some outliers and the ‘average’ KIPP is still very good.’

To see if that was true in Tennessee I went to the state web portal and looked up the test scores and the growth scores for all five of the remaining KIPP schools there. What I found was that not only did those schools have very low test scores, but all of them had the lowest possible ‘growth’ score (a 1 out of 5). Now I know that sometimes this ‘growth’ score is not the most accurate calculation but if reformers are going to use them to label some public schools as failing, then they would have to label all the KIPPs in Tennessee as failing too.

The Chalkbeat article says:

Three-year TN Ready test averages from the 2016-17 to 2018-19 school years show only about 6% of KIPP Memphis Academy Middle students reached or approached mastery in math, according to district records. During the same time period, about 10% of students reached or approached mastery in English. 

At KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary, about 10% of students reached or approached mastery in English and 18% in math, during the same period.

The CEO of KIPP Memphis defends the low test scores and low growth scores by pointing to the students’ disadvantaged backgrounds.

Rubinstein points out the irony of a charter school using this excuse:

The response from KIPP comes from the CEO of KIPP Memphis schools, Antonio Burt. According to the article “Antonio Burt, CEO of KIPP Memphis Schools, said he’s not satisfied with the two schools’ academic performance, but said many KIPP students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and often face greater learning challenges.” This is striking to me. The whole narrative of charter schools was that unionized teachers believe ‘poverty is destiny’ and use the economic status of students as an ‘excuse’ for low expectations and for low performance but that charters are ‘no excuses’ and will certainly not say that the students underperformed because of these ‘greater learning challenges.’ But Antonio Burt is saying what he can since he has to give the school board some reason to vote to not close these two schools.

The article in Chalkbeat noted that some board members were inclined to give Antonio Burt more time because he “received national acclaim for his work turning two low-performing Memphis schools into models of student achievement.”

That line was an invitation to Rubinstein to discover Antonio Burt’s prowess as a turnaround specialist who had received “national acclaim for his work.”

Rubinstein goes to the record and checks the data for the schools that Burt led in Memphis. Both of them were and remain among the lowest performing schools in the state.

Gary traces Burt’s career path and can’t find any schools that have been turned around by Burt.

So I see Antonio Burt as someone who has spent 2 years at one school, 3 years at another, then a year and a half overseeing eight schools. He hasn’t turned around any of those schools in any kind of lasting way yet he is hailed as a turnaround guru who will likely use that inaccurate title as a way to save the two KIPP schools from being shut down because they now finally have an expert to improve them.

On Tuesday, January 25, the Shelby County School board will decide whether to close the two failing KIPP schools or to leave them open.

You may recall that charter schools are supposed to be more accountable than public schools. When public schools post low scores, they are closed. When charters fail, they too are supposed to close. Let’s see whether that happens in Memphis. Or are charter schools–especially KIPP charter schools–held to a different (and lower) standard than public schools?

Paul Waldman is an opinion columnist for The Washington Post. In this article, he criticizes Democrats for failing to stand up to Republican slanders and lies about public schools. He raises an important point: Why aren’t Democrats fighting Republican lies about the schools? Why aren’t the billionaires who claim to be liberal speaking out against this vicious campaign to destroy our public schools? One reason for the silence of the Democrats: Arne Duncan derided and insulted public schools and their teachers as often as Republicans.

Waldman wrote recently:

For the last year or so, Republicans have used the “issue” of education as a cudgel against Democrats, whipping up fear and anger to motivate their voters and seize power at all levels of government.

Isn’t it about time Democrats fought back?
Republicans have moved from hyping the boogeyman of critical race theory to taking practical steps to criminalize honest classroom discussions and ban books, turning their manufactured race and sex panic into profound political and educational change. Meanwhile, Democrats have done almost nothing about it, watching it all with a kind of paralyzed confusion.

Look no further than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is pushing legislation with the colorful name of the Stop Woke Act. As the Republican governor told Fox News this weekend, we need to allow people to sue schools over their curriculums, not only because of CRT but also because “there’s a lot of other inappropriate content that can be smuggled in by public schools.”

If you liked the Texas bill that effectively banned abortion in the state, you’re in luck. Republicans apparently want to use a version of that bill’s tactic — putting enforcement in the hands of private vigilantes — to make teachers and school administrators live under the same fear as abortion providers.

It’s happening elsewhere, too. A bill in Indiana allows the same kind of lawsuits. And last week, during a hearing on the bill, a GOP state senator got in trouble for saying that “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position” on things like Nazism, because in the classroom, “we need to be impartial.” The state senator, Scott Baldwin, previously attracted attention when it was revealed that he made a contribution to the far-right Oath Keepers (though he claims he has no real connection to the extremist group).

Everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to outdo one another with state laws forcing teachers to parrot far-right propaganda to students. A Republican bill in Oklahoma would ban teachers from saying that “one race is the unique oppressor” or “victim” when teaching the history of slavery in America; its sponsor says that would bring the appropriate “balance” to the subject.

So ask yourself: What are Democrats telling the public about schools? If you vote for Democrats, what are you supposed to be achieving on this issue? If any voters know, it would be a surprise.
We’re seeing another iteration of a common Republican strategy: Wait for some liberal somewhere to voice an idea that will sound too extreme to many voters if presented without context and in the most inflammatory way possible, inflate that idea way beyond its actual importance, claim it constitutes the entirety of the Democratic agenda and play on people’s fears to gin up a backlash.

That was the model on “defund the police.” Now it’s being used on schools, which Republicans have decided is the issue that can generate sufficient rage to bring victory at the polls.
Devoted as they are to facts and rational argumentation, liberals can’t help themselves from responding to Republican attacks first and foremost with refutation, which allows Republicans to set the terms of debate. So their response to the charge that critical race theory is infecting our schools is something like this: “No, no, that has nothing to do with public education. It’s a scholarly theory taught mostly to graduate students.”

But that doesn’t allow for this response: “Republicans want to subject our kids to fascist indoctrination. Why do they want to teach our kids that slavery wasn’t bad? Why are they trying to ban books? Who’s writing their education policy, David Duke? Don’t let them destroy your schools!”


That, of course, would be an unfair exaggeration of what most Republicans actually want. Is a state senator who worries that public school teachers might be biased against Nazism really representative of the whole Republican Party? Let’s try to be reasonable here.

Or maybe being reasonable isn’t the best place to start when you’re being overrun. Maybe Democrats need to begin not with a response to Republican lies about what happens in the classroom, but an attack on what Republicans are trying to do to American education.

After Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship with a campaign largely focused on schools, Republicans everywhere decided that nurturing a CRT-based White backlash is the path to victory. That is their plan, whether Democrats like it or not.

This isn’t just coming from national Republicans. At the state and local level, far-right extremists are taking over education policy, leaving teachers terrified that if they communicate the wrong idea to students — like, apparently, being too critical of Nazis — they might get sued.

The implications of the GOP war on schools and teachers are horrifying, and with some exceptions, Democrats are watching it happen without anything resembling a plan to do anything about it. It might be time for all the party’s clever strategists to give it some thought.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the sad career of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for a decade. The ASD was created with $100 million in Race to the Top funding, a portion of the $500 million won by the state in Arne Duncan’s competition.

The ASD was launched in 2012, when advocates of privatization earnestly believed that charter schools performed miracles. The mere act of turning a low-scoring public school over to a private operator would free the school from regulation and bad teachers and inevitably produce high test scores. Over the years, this assumption has been proven untrue, and the ASD is a leading example of great promises that produced failure.

Gary has tracked the failure of the ASD to transform low-scoring public schools into high-performing charter schools. The irony, as he notes in this overview, is that many states have copied the Tennessee ASD despite its failure to achieve its goals.

Gary writes:

The mission of the ASD was to take schools in the bottom 5% and within 5 years ‘catapult’ them into the top 25%. They started with six schools and over a period of about five years expanded into around 30 schools. The plan was to turn the schools over to charter operators and then after the schools had been successfully catapulted, they would return to the original school district.

After five years, it was clear that at least five of the original six school were still in the bottom 5%. The other one had maybe risen into the bottom 10%. Barbic resigned, Huffman resigned, the ASD changed their mission to something a lot more vague.

Now, ten years after the takeover of the original 6 schools, we learn from Chalkbeat, TN that some of those original 6 schools are returning to their district. I’ve been tracking those six schools for the past 10 years: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Year after year, despite having been turned into charter schools, these schools barely budged in the rankings. One of the six, Humes, was already closed down and now, as reported by Chalkbeat, TN, two of them, Frayser and Corning are being returned to their districts even though they did not improve. Ironically, eight years ago Frayser was hailed as a miracle success story proving the effectiveness of the ASD.

There is no reason to celebrate the failure of a school, especially one enrolling vulnerable children. But there is every reason to point to the P.T. Barnum School of Charter School Propaganda. in did not achieve its goals. It disrupted the lives of children, parents, and teachers.

How shallow are the promoters of these grand plans that tear apart communities, then move on to another gig.

Denis Smith was a teacher and an administrator in West Virginia. He moved to Ohio where he worked in the State Education Department. His last position before retiring was in the office of charter schools (misleadingly called “community schools” in Ohio, even when they operate for profit).

He writes here in the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper.

The link works but doesn’t permit me to copy any print.

Here’s the basic story. The Republican legislature passed a charter law, and the Republican Governor (billionaire Jim Justice) signed it, despite promising the state’s teachers he would veto it.

He appointed cronies to the state’s new West Virginia Charter School Board. The board picked five new charter operators. One of the charter operators is Ron Packard, CEO of Accel, former CEO of K12 Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Accel has charter operations in many states. Its teachers are paid less than the national average but its CEO collected $19 million in a four-year period. Its bottom line is profit, not education or community, writes Smith.

Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey of Kanawha County issued an injunction barring the schools from opening because they violate state constitution. She ruled that the creation of a new school district within an existing school district is unconstitutional, unless a majority of voters in the existing district approve in an election.

Smith writes that the West Virginia law is “a flagrant attempt” to use public funds for private profit. He writes that public schools are democratic institutions owned by the community and operated by elected school boards. The initiation of charter schools is a blatant effort to destroy the public schools, a radical and wasteful decision that was never put to voters.

Paul Bowers was the education reporter at the Charleston Post and Courier. He wrote this post at my request. A reader alerted me to the billionaire-driven attack on public schools in Charleston, and I had the good fortune to find the journalist who knew the story.

Paul Bowers writes:

Every few years, South Carolina becomes a battleground for school privatization. It looks like 2022 is going to be one of those years.

Back in the 2000s, the New York real estate investor Howard Rich backed a series of South Carolina candidates pushing school vouchers, which would funnel public education funds into private schools. More recently, we have seen efforts by Gov. Henry McMaster and the state legislature to create a Tennessee-style “turnaround district,” to deregulate for-profit online charter schools via authorizer shopping, and to divert federal COVID-19 relief funds from public schools to private schools. Teachers and parents have had to fight these advances tooth and nail and have so far kept most of the damage at bay.

Lately it seems like the tip of the spear for privatization efforts in South Carolina is the Charleston County School District, a starkly segregated and unequal district anchored by a world-renowned tourist destination. The Charleston County School Board is scheduled to vote Jan. 10 on a proposal called “Reimagine Schools” that would allow a private third party to make decisions at 23 predominantly Black schools. I thought now would be a good moment to revisit the history of school board power struggles and dark-money campaigns in Charleston County.

The pressure to privatize the governance of public schools often comes from two of South Carolina’s billionaires, the chemical manufacturer CEO Anita Zucker and the debt collection agency CEO Ben Navarro. Sometimes working in tandem, sometimes independently, Zucker and Navarro tend to promote more charter schools and private takeovers of public schools.

Zucker and her advocacy organization, the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, were involved in a 2015-2016 effort to create a “turnaround district” at the state level, modeled after failed efforts in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Michigan. The proposal involved lumping the state’s lowest-performing schools into a new district and bringing in third-party operators to manage them. Similar bills were introduced in Georgia and North Carolina around the same time, but the idea never received serious discussion in the South Carolina Statehouse.

Navarro is best known nationally for his failed 2018 bid to buy the Carolina Panthers NFL team. In the financial world, he is known for his Sherman Financial Group, a privately owned firm that filed more lawsuits against defaulted credit-card debtors than others in the industry during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a recent Wall Street Journal investigation.

In the arena of education, Navarro is known for his private Meeting Street Schools, which are sometimes lauded as a model for improving the test scores of low-income students from at-risk communities. Since 2014, Meeting Street Schools has entered unique public-private partnerships with South Carolina public school districts, starting with the takeover of two elementary schools in North Charleston.

With a boost of private funding, the schools invest in wraparound services for students and their families, offer additional psychological support, place two teachers in each classroom, and operate on an extended school day and academic calendar. Those practices have a proven track record of success, but most schools in South Carolina lack the funding to carry them out.

Meeting Street Schools also heavily recruit staff from Teach for America and KIPP, and they preach the trendy mid-2010s gospel of “grit” – in fact, the disciplinary model is so gritty that one Meeting Street-run elementary school suspended one-quarter of its students in a single school year. Before opening the schools under new management, Navarro sought and received a special exemption from the state’s employment protections for teachers. As a result, Meeting Street principals can hire and fire teachers at will.

Navarro is also closely associated with the Charleston Coalition for Kids, a dark-money group that emerged in 2018 and immediately outspent all other donors combined on advertising for a slate of school board candidates. Much of the Coalition’s funding and spending is hidden from public view thanks to state election law and the group’s nonprofit status, but FCC records reveal it spent at least $235,000 on TV commercials alone in the run-up to the 2018 school board election – four-and-a-half times what all of the candidates combined raised for their own campaigns. (Local activists estimated the Coalition’s spending on Facebook ads, billboards, and other media might have cost additional hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

The Coalition spent big on the school board election again in 2020, investing $306,000 on TV commercials, including attack ads against two Black incumbents. Today 6 of the 9 sitting Charleston County School Board members have received backing from the Coalition.

A number of national organizations have taken an interest in Charleston school politics as well, including 50CAN (formerly StudentsFirst) and the Broad Foundation.

After failing to create a statewide turnaround district in 2016, the 50CAN affiliate SouthCarolinaCAN shifted its focus to the local level – specifically to Charleston County. When I interviewed then-Executive Director Bradford Swann in December 2016, he said his organization would be focused on “grassroots organizing” via a 5-month fellowship program for parents.

The result was Charleston RISE, a parent advocacy group that also operates a parent help hotline. Billboards advertising its services have appeared all over the county, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Charleston RISE trainees were among the founding members of the Charleston Coalition for Kids when it launched in 2018. Some RISE members said they helped vet school board candidates for the Coalition.

Currently the Charleston County School Board is deciding how to spend its share of the COVID-19 recovery funds provided under the American Recovery Act’s ESSER III program. Multiple local nonprofits submitted proposals on how to spend the money, but only one has gotten a public hearing.

On Monday January 10, the school board will vote on a proposal called Reimagine Schools that would target 23 low-performing schools in low-income and majority-Black parts of the county. Leaning on a “Schools of Innovation” law recently expanded by the state legislature, the proposal would authorize a takeover of individual schools by an unidentified “Innovation Management Organization.” The Schools of Innovation law also allows a school to hire up to 25% of its teachers in certain subject areas without a state teaching license.

The organization that proposed the Reimagine Schools plan is the Coastal Community Foundation, a relative newcomer to school board lobbying. The foundation and its CEO, Darrin Goss Sr., have promoted the Meeting Street Schools public-private partnership model as a way of getting around “bureaucratic” regulations. (Complicating matters further, the Coastal Community Foundation also administers an investigative fund and Education Lab for the local daily newspaper, The Post and Courier.)

The 9-member school board gave the Reimagine Schools proposal initial approval by a 6-3 vote in December without holding any community input sessions about it. All 6 members who voted to approve for the proposal had been endorsed by the Charleston Coalition for Kids.

Whatever the Charleston County School Board decides, the privatization push will continue in parallel at the state level. The state superintendent of education post is up for grabs this fall, and the first candidate to announce her run was Ellen Weaver, a charter school advocate with the conservative Palmetto Promise Institute. A central proposal in her platform is the creation of an Education Scholarship Account, a modified private school voucher program.

Sound familiar? If at first they don’t succeed, they give it a new name and try again.

***

Paul Bowers is a parent of 3 public school children in North Charleston, South Carolina. He was The Post and Courier’s education reporter from 2016-2019 and was part of a team that won the 2018 Eddie Prize from the Education Writers Association. Find him on Twitter at @Paul_Bowers and read his work at brutalsouth.substack.com.

Last week, I posted my thoughts on “Who Demoralized the Nation’s Teachers?” I sought to identify the people and organizations that spread the lie that America’s public schools were “broken” and that public school teachers were the cause. The critics slandered teachers repeatedly, claiming that teachers were dragging down student test scores. They said that today’s teachers were not bright enough; they said teachers had low SAT scores; and they were no longer “the best and the brightest.”

The “corporate reform” movement (the disruption movement) was driven in large part by the “reformers'” belief that public schools were obsolete and their teachers were the bottom of the barrel. So the “reformers” promoted school choice, especially charter schools, and Teach for America, to provide the labor supply for charter schools. TFA promised to bring smart college graduates for at least two years to staff public schools and charter schools, replacing the public school teachers whom TFA believed had low expectations. TFA would have high expectations, and these newcomers with their high SAT scores would turn around the nation’s schools. The “reformers” also promoted the spurious, ineffective and harmful idea that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, although this method repeatedly, consistently showed that those who taught affluent children were excellent, while those who taught children with special needs or limited-English proficiency or high poverty were unsatisfactory. “Value-added” methodology ranked teachers by the income and background of their students’ families, not by the teachers’ effectiveness.

All of these claims were propaganda that was skillfully utilized by people who wanted to privatize the funding of public education, eliminate unions, and crush the teaching profession.

The response to the post was immediate and sizable. Some thought the list of names and groups I posted was dated, others thought it needed additions. The comments of readers were so interesting that I present them here as a supplement to my original post. My list identified No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core as causes of demoralization that tied teachers to a standards-and-testing regime that reduced their autonomy as professionals. One reader said that the real beginning of the war on teachers was the Reagan-era report called “A Nation at Risk,” which asserted that American public schools were mired in mediocrity and needed dramatic changes. I agree that the “Nation at Risk” report launched the era of public-school bashing. But it was NCLB and the other “solutions” that launched teacher-bashing, blaming teachers for low test scores and judging teachers by their test scores. It should be noted that the crest of “reform” was 2010, when “Waiting for Superman” was released, Common Core was put into place, value-added test scores for teachers were published, and “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and other became media stars, with their constant teacher-bashing. For what it’s worth, the National Assessment of Educational Progress flatlined from 2010 onwards. Test score gains, which were supposedly the point of all this “reform” activity, were non-existent on the nation’s most consequential test (no stakes attached).

Readers also blamed demoralization on teachers’ loss of autonomy, caused by federal laws and the testing imposed by them, and by the weakness of principals and administrators who did not protect teachers from the anti-education climate caused by NCLB, RTTT, ESSA, and the test-and-punish mindset that gripped the minds of the nation’s legislators and school leaders.

Readers said that my list left off important names of those responsible for demoralizing the nation’s teachers.

Here are readers’ additions, paraphrased by me:

Michelle Rhee, who was pictured on the cover of TIME magazine as the person who knew “How to Fix American Education” and lionized in a story by Amanda Ripley. Rhee was shown holding a broom, preparing to sweep “bad teachers” and “bad principals” out of the schools. During her brief tenure as Chancellor of D.C., she fired scores of teachers and added to her ruthless reputation by firing a principal on national television. For doing so, she was the Queen of “education reform” in the eyes of the national media until USA Today broke a major cheating scandal in the D.C. schools.

Joel Klein, antitrust lawyer who was chosen by Mayor Bloomberg to become the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, where he closed scores of schools because of their low test scores, embraced test-based evaluation of schools and teachers, and opened hundreds of small specialized schools and charter schools. He frequently derided teachers and blamed them for lagging test scores. He frequently reorganized the entire, vast school system, surrounding himself with aides with Business School graduates and Wall Street credentials. Under his leadership, NYC was the epitome of corporate reform, which inherently disrespected career educators.

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, billionaire funder of charter schools and of candidates running for state or local offices who supported privatization of public schools. He claimed that under his leadership, the test-score gap between different racial gaps had been cut in half or even closed, but it wasn’t true. He stated his desire to fire teachers who couldn’t “produce” high test scores, while doubling the size of the classes of teachers who could. His huge public relations staff circulated the story of a “New York City Miracle,” but it didn’t exist and evaporated as soon as he left office.

Reed Hastings, billionaire funder of charter schools and founder of Netflix. He expressed the wish that all school boards would be eliminated. The charter school was his ideal, managed privately without public oversight.

John King, charter school leader who was appointed New York Commissioner of Education. He was a cheerleader for the Common Core and high-stakes testing. He made parents so angry by his policies that he stopped appearing at public events. He was named U.S. Secretary of Education, following Arne Duncan, in the last year of the Obama administration and continued to advocate for the same ill-fated policies as Duncan.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education despised public schools, unions, and teachers. She never had a good word to say about public schools. She wanted every student to attend religious schools at public expense.

Eli Broad and the “academy” he created to train superintendents with his ideas about top-down management and the alleged value of closing schools with low test scores

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which writes model legislation for privatizing public schools by opening charters and vouchers and lowering standards for teachers and crushing unions. More than 2,000 rightwing state legislators belong to ALEC and get their ideas directly from ALEC about privatization and other ways to crush public schools and their teachers.

Rupert Murdoch, the media, Time, Newsweek, NY Times, Washington Post for their hostility towards public schools and their warm, breathless reporting about charter schools and Teach for America. The Washington Post editorialist is a devotee of charter schools and loved Michelle Rhee’s cut-throat style. TIME ran two cover stories endorsing the “reform” movement; the one featuring Michelle Rhee, and the other referring to one of every four public school teachers as a “rotten apple.” The second cover lauded the idea that teachers were the cause of low test scores, and one of every four should be weeded out. Newsweek also had a Rhee cover, and another that declared in a sentence repeated on a chalkboard, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” as though the public schools were overrun with miscreant teachers.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, which undermined the autonomy of teachers and ironically removed teachers’ focus on content and replaced it with empty skills. The Common Core valued “informational text” over literature and urged teachers to reduce time spent teaching literature.

Margaret Raymond, of the Walton-funded CREDO, which evaluates charter schools.

Hanna Skandera, who was Secretary of Education in New Mexico and tried to import the Florida model of testing, accountability, and choice to New Mexico. That state has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, and the Florida model didn’t make any difference.

Governors who bashed teachers and public schools, like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gregg Abbott of Texas

“Researchers” like those from the Fordham Institute, who saw nothing good in public schools or their teaching

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who turned Denver into a model of “reform,” with everything DFER wanted: charter schools and high-stakes testing.

Poorly behaving students and parents who won’t hold kids accountable for bad behavior

Campbell Brown and the 74

The U.S. Department of Education, for foisting terrible ideas on the nation’s schools and teachers, and state education departments and state superintendents for going along with these bad ideas. Not one state chief stood up and said, “We won’t do what is clearly wrong for our students and their teachers.”

The two big national unions, for going along with these bad ideas instead of fighting them tooth and nail.

And now I will quote readers’ comments exactly as they wrote them, without identifying their authors (they know who they are):

*Rightwing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, (AEI), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Heritage Foundation, even the allegedly Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) for publishing white papers masquerading as education research that promotes privatization.

*Wall St moguls who invented Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to gamble on & profit from preK student test scores.

*Rogues Gallery. One body blow after another. A systematic 💦 water boarding with no respite. And then we add the Broad Foundation who sent Broad-trained “leadership” so drunk on arrogance and ignorance that the term “School Yard Bully” just doesn’t capture it.
Operating with the Imprimatur and thin veneer of venture capital, plutocratic philanthropy, these haughty thugs devastated every good program they laid eyes on. Sinking their claws instinctively into the intelligent, effective and cultured faculty FIRST.A well orchestrated, heavily scripted Saturday Night Massacre.

*Congress and the Presidents set the stage, but the US Department of Education was instrumental in making it all happen. They effectively implemented a coherent program to attack, smear and otherwise demoralize teachers. And make no mistake, it was quite purposeful

*This list is incomplete without members of Democrats for Education Reform. Add in Senator Ted Kennedy, whose role in the passage of No Child Left Behind was critical. Same for then Congressman and future Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who noted (bragged!) in his recent autobiography that he was essential in keeping President George W. Bush on track with NCLB.

*Let’s not forget Senate Chair Patty Murray. She has been an important player in keeping the worse of Ed Reform legislation alive.

*You have presented a rogue’s gallery of failed “reformers” that have worked against the common good. In addition to those mentioned, there has also been an ancillary group of promoters and enablers that have undermined public education including billionaire think tanks, foundations and members of both political parties. These people continue to spread lies and misinformation, and no amount of facts or research is able to diminish the drive to privatize. While so called reformers often hide behind an ideological shield, they are mostly about the greedy pursuit of appropriating the education that belongs to the people and transferring its billions in value into the pockets of the already wealthy. So called education reform is class warfare.

*The Clintons, whose 1994 reauthorization of ESEA set the stage for NCLB

*Don’t forget the so called ‘liberal’ media, publications such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe who have published pro charter piece after pro charter piece, while simultaneously dumping all over public schools

*I’d like to include a cast of editorialists like George Will, Bill Rhoden, and many others, who have parroted the plutocratic-backed Ed Reform line. Armstrong Williams would certainly be part of this.

*Going back even further into the origins of this madness, I would add to Diane’s excellent rogues gallery those unknown bureaucrats in state departments of education who replaced broad, general frameworks/overall strategic objectives with bullet lists of almost entirely content-free “standards” that served as the archetype of the Common [sic] Core [sic] based on the absurd theory that we should “teach skills” independent of content, all of which led, ironically, to trivialization of and aimlessnessness in ELA pedagogy and curricula and to a whole generation of young English teachers who themselves NOW KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF THE CONTENT OF THEIR SUBJECT, typified by the English teacher who told one of the parents who regularly contributes comments to this blog, “I’m an English teacher, so I don’t teach content.” So, today, instead of teaching, say, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as part of a coherent and cumulative unit on common structures and techniques and genres of poetry, one gets idiotic test-practice exercises on “inferencing” and “finding the main idea,” with any random piece of writing as the “text.”

*It’s driven by how teachers have been treated the past 4-5 years, especially during the pandemic. Teachers are first responders. We should have been on the list of first-to-be-vaccinated. Schools should have strict mask and vaccine mandates. Teachers are professional educators. We should not be told what and how to teach by ignorant, conspiracy-driven MAGA parents. Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and we teachers are motivated by a sense of civic duty. We are demoralized by attempts to destroy public education, led by anti-education bible-thumping “leaders” like Betsy DeVos and (in my home state) Frank Edelblut. Public education is being dismantled by gleeful right-wingers, while naive, well-intentioned moderates wring their hands and do little to defend it. It’s tiring to be under constant attack on the front lines, with no support. That’s why teachers are leaving today.

*One tiny example of a routine phenomenon. Teachers got the message pretty clearly: They were at the bottom of the pecking order. The absolute bottom. Micromanaged and undercut at every turn.Excellent points. The heavy handed top-down, bureaucratic demands for “data,” basically serve one goal, to justify the existence of administration.Don’t forget the voracious appetite of publishing companies…We had a district administrator prance around in our “professional; development days” tell use could not read novels or other picture books to the students…ONLY USE PEARSON.”And then 7 or so years later, the district made us THROW OUT every book from Pearson, and they bought new crap curriculum…that program was written by testing industry, not educators, I think it was “Benchmark,” real junk.

*I’d like to mention how I often lose my student teachers when they see the edTPA requirement. They switch majors, and the teaching pool gets even smaller.

*After Skamdera in NM came the TFA VAM sweetheart Christopher Ruszkowski. At least he had 3 years in a classroom, Skammy had none, but the Florida model, you know?

*Children’s behavior is in large part in response to the drill and kill curriculum and endless testing and teaching to the test that has been driving public education since NCLB and the back-to-basics movement that ushered it in. No room for creativity, no room for self expression, no room for innovation. Highly scripted Curriculum like Open Court turned children into little automatons, barking their answers like well trained dogs and turned teachers into task masters. It was a drive to dummy down the curriculum for fear of teaching too much free thinking. And a drive to turn teachers into testing machines and teacher technicians, easily replaced by anyone who can walk in a classroom and pick up the manual. Only it doesn’t work. It was and is developmentally inappropriate and the resulting rebellion in the classrooms if proof of that. No wonder teachers are leaving in droves!

*Under threat of closure of the MA school board in the mid 1800s, Horace Mann turned to the cheapest labor he could find, literate northern females, and deployed the Protestant ethic “teacher as a calling” trope to institute state free-riding on teachers (as opposed to the free-riding of which teachers are accused). Everything in this piece is correct except for the “almost” in the final paragraph. There’s no “almost” about it … free-riding on teachers is an operational feature of a system imported from Prussia, designed to produce cheap, obedient labor by underpaying women. As of 2012, teachers would need to make around 1/3 higher salaries to be paid on the same level as their professional peers. Everyone mentioned in the article is simply this generation’s enactment of the long-standing, systemic class war that preys on gender and race to continue and exacerbate inequity. While naming the current situation is very important, we also need to discuss, address, and shift these deep issues.

*It’s the boiled frog effect over the last 50 years that began as a response to mini-courses, sixties curriculum, obsession over college attendance, professors and teachers walking out to protest with their students, Viet Nam… and the Civil Rights Act. Since 1964, Intentional segregation influenced Local, state, and federal decision making on transportation, health care, insurance, zoning, housing, education funding, hiring, and more. When whites fled the cities and insured two sides of the tracks in towns and two systems evolved, quick fixes became that accumulation of bad decisions and leadership – and slowly, slowly, deterioration became acceptable.

*The list is not dated. It’s illustrative of the accumulation of negativity, quick-fix seeking, acronym-filled, snake-oil salesmen, desperate mayors and governors, obsession with rankings, publisher fixation on common core, NCLB votes hidden under the shadow of 9/11, and keep-everyone-happy state and national professional organizations.

*At the end of 2021 it is far right and left of politics and their rhetoric like CRT and homophobic slurs. So much for especially the “Christian Right.” In their god’s (yes lower case since not The Lord Jesus Christ’s New Testament words of love) name they exclude instead of include to share the good news/word.

*Data, data, data. Yesterday, I commented that I feel sympathetic toward the anti-CRT petitioners. I do. They’re not bad people. They’re just afraid of changing social rules. Their actions are demoralizing, but not dehumanizing. Wealthy corporations and individuals on the other hand , through their untaxed foundations, gave carrots to governments the world over to give the stick to education so that greater profits could be made through privatization and data monetizing. I was once called a 2. I was once labeled the color grey. I was numbered, dehumanized by test score data in an attempt to make education like Uber or Yelp. Not just demoralized, dehumanized. It’s not just who but what dehumanized teachers. It was the wrongheaded idea that education can be measured and sold by the unit. That idea was insidious. The marketing ploy to make my students into consumers who consider their efforts junk unless they are labeled with the right number or dashboard color was insidious. I have no sympathy for the investor class. They are not people with whom I disagree about social issues; they are hostile, corporate takeover wolves out to tear the flesh of the formerly middle and deeply impoverished classes for profit. Not one of the investors in education “reform” or any of their revolving door bureaucrats is any friend of mine. The list of who is long. The list of what is short.

*Jonah Edelman (Founder, Stand on Children); brother Josh Edelman (Gates Foundation: Empowering-?!–Effective Teaching; SEED Charter Schools); Charles & David Koch. Pear$on Publishing monopoly&, of course, ALEC (interfering in our business for FIFTY long years!)