Archives for category: For-Profit

Tim Slekar, one of the pioneers of the Resistance invited me to talk with him on his podcast Busted Pencils. 

We talked about SLAYING GOLIATH.

This article in TIME summarizes my new book SLAYING GOLIATH.

Read the book to learn the stories of the brave heroes who have stood up to billionaires, financiers, and profiteers intent on harming the democratic institution of public education.

Andre Agassi entered the charter school industry in Las Vegas, where he opened his own charter school. After many setbacks and high staff turnover, his school landed on the state’s list of low-performing schools and was turned over to another charter operator. Agassi decided he was in the wrong end of the business.

Agassi joined a partnership with an investor to build charter schools, and they struck gold.

Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities sold the Franklin Academy at 5000 Southwest 207th Terrace in Pembroke Pines for $60.5 million to Erudite Properties, led by Scott Sznitken, Executive Director of Florida Charter Foundation, records show…

Turner-Agassi bought the property in 2015 for $10.1 million. The K-12 school was constructed in 2016. In total, the campus spans 40 acres, according to its website.

Turner-Agassi’s strategy is to act as a “bridge developer” for charter schools, fronting the cost for site selection and construction and then leasing the property to a charter school operator. The group then sells the property to the charter operator once it reaches its enrollment goal, according to Turner-Agassi’s website.

The strategy has proven successful in the past. In 2016, Turner-Agassi sold a Boynton Beach charter school for $22.3 million. The same year it also sold Franklin Academy in Cooper City for $20 million.

Turner-Agassi has developed 96 schools serving 48,976 students across the country. The fund plans to invest an additional $500 million to develop 65 more schools serving another 25,000 students, according to its website.

The first stop on my national book tour was Books and Books, a wonderful old-fashioned independent bookstore in Coral Gables in Florida. I talked with Mitchell Kaplan, the owner, who is determined to keep the literary life alive.

This is our discussion.

After the podcast, I met with the leadership of the United Teachers of Dade County. My presentation at the store was moderated by Karla Hernandez-Mats, the leader of the union and a dynamo.

The Republican legislature is hostile to public schools and would like every child to have a voucher to attend a religious school.

 

Nancy Flanagan, retired teacher of music for 31 years in the public schools of Michigan, is also a respected blogger. Her blog, Teacher in a Strange Land, has long been a source of wisdom and reality. She writes with the authority acquired from her years in the classroom.

In this post, she writes a wonderful review of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH. Better yet, she sets it in the perspective of a decade-long debate in which the billionaires, allied with the power of the federal government, portrayed themselves as the Davids, fighting those all-powerful teachers’ unions and their members, who were the real Goliaths (said Goliath).

Is this a picture of David, slingshot in hand? The Waltons ($150 billion), the Koch brothers ($120 billion—now divided in half since the death of David Koch), billionaires Eli Broad, Betsy DeVos, Philip Anschutz, Michael Bloomberg, John Arnold, Bill Gates, on and on. The 1% is armed not with an axe or a spear but with the power of federal law, imposed by state governments.

Not only is the 1% the Goliath of the story, they are the Status Quo. Don’t believe them when they claim they are fighting the Status Quo. Nonsense. They own it. No social movement was ever created by the rich and powerful. Genuine social movements rebel against the rich and powerful. They emanate from the millions who were left behind and excluded.

Flanagan writes in her review:

Diane Ravitch’s book—Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools—arrived at my house two days ago. Like all of her other volumes, this one is already highlighted, underlined and sticky-noted to a fare-thee-well. (Apologies to school librarians everywhere.)

Ravitch’s books are like that—they’re full of juicy, provocative information and the author tells it like she sees it. When she changes her mind, she tells you that, as well. Like The Death and Life of the Great American School System (2010) and Reign of Error (2013), Goliath is time-sensitive, including the most recent teacher strikes, elections and civic rebellions, and what they accomplished. Ravitch takes the temperature of the current education zeitgeist and finds reason for hope.

What’s happening to public education in America?

Ravitch is perhaps our keenest observer, and when it comes to strong, substantiated opinions, she doesn’t hold back. Absorbing a Ravitch book gives the reader a summation of facts, players and events that put disparate events and opinion into a comprehensive framework, a detailed portrait of right now.  Think of Death and Life as a warning, Reign of Error as blistering critique–and Goliath as we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore…

In short, it’s a really good book. It would be invaluable to anyone who wants a rundown on how education policy has morphed, over the past two and a half decades, from a locally controlled, state-influenced institution subject to incremental,  community-driven change–to a thoroughly commercialized venture heavily influenced by would-be ‘innovators’ and a federal power-grab.

Ravitch has done us all a favor by tracing the dark roots and substantial financial support for chipping away at neighborhood schools and public education. As always, follow the money…

Ravitch provides plenty of information and examples of how the real Davids in this fight, the Resistors, are making headway, on dozens of fronts. She is unsparing in her criticism of those who would damage or destroy public education for private profit. This has not gone down well with those who have invested in reforms and trendy disruptions.

There are not many people—Disruptors, if you will—who have empowered school privatization and are now willing to admit that their ROI yields are unimpressive and propped up by shaky data. Especially since those who have been educating kids, doing the work all along—teachers and school leaders—could have told them what will and will not make a difference.  Resistors have studied school improvement, up close and personal, for more than a century. It can be done, but it won’t involve destruction. Just more hard work.

Diane Ravitch has re-framed the argument and provided evidence that the great ship of public education may be turning around. That is a great gift. Thank you.

Thank you, Nancy Flanagan. It means a lot to me to know that the real experts, the educators who spent their careers as teachers, find my book valuable. It helps me ignore the slings and arrows of pundits and Goliath’s minions.

 

 

 

Shawgi Tell is a professor of education at Nazareth University in New York. He has taken note of states where charter schools are given ownership of public property, where they buy property and supplies with public money but keep title to their purchases if their charter should close. He has seen states that require districts to hand over empty buildings to charter owners for $1, which then becomes their private property. He thinks these transfers of public assets to private ownership are wrong.

He bases his argument on the belief that public property belongs to taxpayers, but charter schools are privately owned.

He writes:

Public facilities and infrastructure are produced by the working class and people and belong to the public. They exist in order to serve the common good and to contribute to the extended reproduction of society.

This collectively-produced wealth must not be handed over to competing owners of capital who are only concerned with maximizing profit as fast as possible, regardless of the damage caused to society and the environment. Socially-produced wealth must be off limits to narrow private interests. The aims and purposes of the private sector and public sector are not the same.

Non-profit and for-profit charter schools are not public entities. It does not matter how often they are called public, the fact remains that they are inherently privatized arrangements owned-operated by unelected individuals and companies. Yet they siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools and seize billions more in public facilities and assets. Most state charter school laws are deliberately set up to facilitate this massive transfer of pubic wealth to narrow private interests. Charter schools have long functioned as pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “schools” that “benefit kids.”

Charter school owners-operators have never stopped piously demanding that public school facilities worth millions of dollars be freely and automatically handed over to them. They righteously declare that they have an inherent right to public facilities produced by the working class. The consequences, of course, are disastrous for public schools and the public interest. For example, a new report shows that in 2018 more than $100 million was spent by New York City alone on charter school facilities.1 This is wealth and property that no longer belongs to the public that produced it; it is now in private hands, essentially for free.2 Even worse, existing institutions and arrangements provide the public with no recourse for effective redress.

One of the most recent surges in antisocial demands from charter school promoters for more public property comes from Washington D.C. where charter schools have a long record of serious problems. Charter school promoters in D.C. have launched an intense effort in recent months to lay claim to “vacant” or “unused” public school facilities worth millions of dollars. They have even cynically claimed that efforts to block them from seizing public facilities that belong to the public is tantamount to denying parents “school choice” and undermining “opportunity.”

But whether public school facilities are vacant or not, whether they are being used or not, they still belong to the public, not private sector actors who own-operate segregated and de-unionized contract schools plagued by racketeering, poor performance, low accountability, discriminatory enrollment practices, high employee turnover rates, inflated administrator pay, large advertising budgets, and frequent closures. How does any of this benefit the public?

It is amazing that private entrepreneurs have situated themselves to demand free public property, but they are doing it “for the kids.”

Craig Harris, investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic, wrote about the abysmal record of online charter schools. Despite their poor outcomes, they continue to be very profitable.

The biggest of the online charter companies is K12 Inc., whose schools regularly get bad results but whose revenue this year topped $1 billion for the first time.

State regulators mouth complaints about the low quality of online charters yet they are renewed again and again. As Harris points out, even school choice advocates (except for Betsy DeVos) believe that the online charters should be regulated, yet they continue to operate unimpeded.

Harris writes:

SAN DIEGO — By the time authorities brought charges against the owners of A3 Education earlier this year, the online charter school company had bilked California taxpayers out of $50 million, according to indictments handed up in May. 

The state would have lost another $200 million if authorities had not detected the scheme to inflate enrollment in the virtual charter school using names gleaned from youth sports league rosters, said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. League owners are alleged to have received kickbacks for providing names, according to the indictments.

A3 Education, a nonprofit management company that enrolled tens of thousands of California students at its peak, had sought out small school districts to authorize its online schools, knowing the districts would provide little oversight, authorities said.

The California case is the latest in a string of allegations of fraud and educational malpractice against virtual charter schools. These have included, among others, multimillion dollar scams in Ohio, Oklahoma and Indiana, and academic or financial problems that shuttered online charter schools in Georgia, Nevada and South Carolina.

California last year banned for-profit charter schools and this year adopted a two-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools. Neither law, however, would have affected A3 Education or its schools.

The Arizona Republic visited seven states to investigate the successes and challenges surrounding charter schools — the publicly funded but privately operated schools that many believed would revolutionize American public education through competition and innovation…

In Arizona, which has the most charter school students out of the states, no online charter school meets the state Charter Board’s academic standards. And Arizona’s largest virtual charter school, Primavera Online, earned the board’s lowest academic ranking and posted declining graduation rates for the last decade. That hasn’t stopped Primavera founder and CEO Damian Creamer from paying himself a combined $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018.

Primavera, which has a total enrollment of 22,000, reported a $10 million profit this year, while spending $6.9 million on teacher salaries. 

“These guys are definitely in it for the profit,” said Macke Raymond, director of the nonpartisan Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford University.

Negative headlines have, however, prompted prominent charter school leaders to call on regulators to clamp down on virtual charters, and for the industry to cut ties with the schools.

Todd Ziebarth, a senior vice president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said poor academic performance at virtual charter schools gives ammunition to teachers unions and others who oppose school choice, hurting high-quality charter schools and the broader school-choice movement.

“They make up a small percentage of charter schools, but a huge percentage of negative publicity,” said Tom Torkelson, chief executive of Texas-based IDEA Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest charter school operators. “They add no value. I would never send my kids to one.”

Torkelson argues that it’s time for online charter schools to go out of business.

But few states have enacted reforms, experts note, because when such proposals arise, virtual charter operators — flush with cash — have flooded key lawmakers with campaign contributions.

This proves that when a big charter corporation buys legislators, they stay bought.

Despite poor academic performance, virtual charter schools likely are here to stay because parents want that choice, said Raymond, the CREDO director.

However, CREDO notes in a study, low-performing online charter schools are not keeping their end of the educational “grand bargain” struck about 25 years ago, during the early charter movement.

That deal gave charter operators the freedom to teach kids in innovative ways with minimal red tape. By being allowed to run a school like a business, operators promised they would allow regulators to shut down poor performing schools. 

To fix the problems, Stanford researchers concluded that charter school authorizers “must step up their responsibilities and demand online charter providers improve outcomes for students.” And, states should examine the progress of existing online programs before approving any expansions.

Raymond said she still believes in a “cost-efficient and effective education through online” schools but the system “doesn’t seem to deliver on that.”

University of Colorado researchers agreed that states should slow or halt the growth of virtual and blended schools until their performance has improved, and student-to-teacher ratios are lowered.

But Miron, the Western Michigan professor, said changes are unlikely.

Even when prosecutors, like the San Diego County district attorney, crack down on one virtual school another will quickly pop up because the business is so lucrative, he said. 

“Even if a charter board fires them, it doesn’t affect them. They are not losing a building,” Miron said. “They don’t get punished for risky behavior. It’s a very different model for brick-and-mortar schools.”

 

 

Justin Parmenter is a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina.

In this essay, he documents the decade-long effort by Republicans to destroy public education in North Carolina and demoralize teachers. 

He writes:

Out of all the states that have struggled to provide a quality public education over the past decade, perhaps none have seen as precipitous a decline as North Carolina. Once seen as a regional model of progressive education policy, a succession of unfortunate occurrences has severely damaged our public education system. Activists now fight against difficult odds for the change students need most.

Shift of Political Power to Republicans and Impact on North Carolina Education Policy

Like many states, North Carolina was hit hard by the Great Recession and saw funding cuts that greatly impacted our schools. However, the nightmare for our public schools began in earnest in November 2010 when the Republican Party won control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives (Mildwurf & Browder, 2010) in North Carolina’s state legislature. The following year, Republicans gerrymandered electoral districts (Ballotpedia, n.d.a) to ensure they’d be able to hold onto power for the next decade and then set their veto-proof majority to work passing regressive education policies with no opposition.

The policies included significant de-professionalization of the teaching profession in North Carolina through revoking career status protection (Public Schools First NC, 2017) for teachers, terminating advanced degree compensation (Kiley, 2013), and eliminating retiree health care benefits (Bonner, 2017). The GOP majority lifted the cap (Leslie, 2011) on charter schools, worsening economic and racial segregation across the state given that charters serve an increasingly white population (Nordstrom, 2018). The legislature directed a billion dollars (Wagner, 2019) over a decade to voucher programs, despite the fact that the the schools participating in the program were not required to report on student achievement (Public Schools First NC, 2019). Additionally, the legislature cut thousands of teacher assistants (Campbell & Bonner, 2015) and created a school report card system, in which school ratings were highly correlated with levels of poverty (Henkel, 2016). Finally, state legislators passed a K–3 reading initiative (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, n.d.), which promised to improve results through increasing assessment volume and threatening our most vulnerable students with grade retention. And when K–3 reading achievement got worse, legislators added financial pay- for-performance incentives (Clark, 2016) based on questionable value-added data.
Many of these harmful initiatives were passed in budget bills rather than being moved through deliberative committee processes, eliminating the debate and public input so essential to the creation of effective policy. In addition to promoting a neoliberal education reform agenda, North Carolina’s lawmakers passed massive tax cuts favoring corporations and wealthy individuals, which have taken $3.6 billion in potential annual revenue (Sirota, 2019) off the table, all but ensuring schools will struggle for adequate resources for the foreseeable future.

In North Carolina’s 2016 general election, Republican Mark Johnson eked out a 1% victory (Ballotpedia, n.d.b) for the state superintendency—the first time in more than 100 years the office had been won by a Republican. State legislators immediately moved to transfer power away from newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education and give Superintendent Johnson unprecedented control of North Carolina’s public school system (North Carolina General Assembly, 2016).

As State Superintendent, Johnson has been a disaster. Having only two years as a TFA teacher, he was over his head. His inept leadership outraged teachers and provoked mass walkouts.

Parmenter says that teacher activism is exhausting but worth it.

This year there is an election for state superintendent. The Network for Public Education has endorsed educator Jen Mangrum for the post. There is a chance to revive public education in North Carolina.

 

 

This is a very engaging video interview of Tom Ultican, an expert on corporate education reform, explaining the federal takeover of public schools via No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Ultican goes into detail about the corporate assault on public schools in the Dallas Independent School District. He names names, starting with the misguided superintendency of Mike Miles, a Broadie who managed to drive out large numbers of experienced teachers. He identifies the funders of corporate funders, both billionaires and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

He gives a concise analysis of the money behind the “portfolio model,” charters, and privatization in Texas and Dallas.

Forbes’ education writer Wesley Whistle writes about the lawsuit filed by AFT against Betsy DeVos for her failure to protect the students who were defrauded by colleges and universities, mostly for-profit.

DeVos rolled back an Obama-era regulation intended to prevent colleges from loading students with high debts and worthless degrees.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has one more lawsuit to deal with this week. Yesterday, one of the largest teachers unions in the country filed suit against DeVos and the Department of Education (Department). The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is suing DeVos for repealing the “gainful employment” regulation that is meant to protect student borrowers from programs that load them up with debt that doesn’t yield a job with an income sufficient to repay their student loans.

The complaint from AFT—filed by the National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN)—says the repeal of the rule was illegal and didn’t provide the proper justification required in federal rulemaking. The lawsuit asks the court to reinstate the rule to protect students from low-quality degrees and unmanageable debt.

“With this lawsuit we are going to strike down DeVos’ illegal repeal of the gainful employment rule and protect students from schools that leave borrowers with worthless degrees and debt they can never repay,” said Aaron Ament, president of NSLDN, in a press release.

In her continued effort to repeal or rewrite higher education regulations, Secretary DeVos first delayed, then delayed some more, and finally repealed the 2014 gainful employment regulation in July 2019. The Secretary claimed the rule unfairly targeted for-profit colleges—an industry rife with predatory practices, fraud, and abysmal outcomes for students—even though it was not a regulation solely for for-profit schools.

Under the Higher Education Act, career-oriented programs (think welding or nursing) and all programs at for-profit colleges must show that they lead to “gainful employment” for their graduates. This provision has appeared in some form since the Higher Education Act was first passed in 1965. After years without specificity of what this actually meant, the Obama Administration issued a regulation to finally put some teeth on one of the few accountability tools in higher education.

The rule basically created a debt-to-income measurement so that if these programs left their graduates with sky-high debt and too little income to repay it they would lose access to federal student aid—grants and loans. Issuing this regulation was meant to protect students from programs that would saddle them with debt they’d either never repay or struggle to do so. And it would protect taxpayers from having to foot the bill for loans that won’t be repaid because low-quality programs didn’t get their graduates in jobs with salaries sufficient to repay their debt.

All kinds of programs failed the gainful employment rule. For example, a dental laboratory technology certificate program left graduates with median earnings under $7,000, well under the federal poverty level. And it impacted all degree levels and types of schools. A graduate certificate at Harvard even failed the test. It was far from perfect as it didn’t address the schools that failed to graduate their students but left them with debt they cannot afford, but it was a one of the few protections students had.

When DeVos repealed the regulation she said that transparency was enough and released new data on the College Scorecard that showed debt and earnings for each program. While that is a great step in the right direction, it is far from enough. Research has shown that transparency cannot replace accountability and isn’t sufficient to protect students and taxpayers. Reinstating this rule would go a long way to ensure students aren’t left with worthless degrees and unaffordable debt.