Archives for category: For-Profit

The comments about the closing of ITT for-profit colleges by the U.S. Department of Education’s suspension of federal aid reminded me of another story that was published just a few months ago.

A group of men who are friends and former high-level officials in the Obama administration bought the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit provider of “higher education.”

The purchase of University of Phoenix involved one of the President’s closest friends, financier Marty Nesbitt, and former Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller. Miller had been in charge of cracking down on the for-profit higher education sector. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said that the purchase raises the “appearance” of impropriety. On February 16, 2016, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial called “Regulating For Profit,” accusing the Obama administration of driving down the stock price, so that former officials could then pick it up at a bargain price. (Sorry, I can’t give you the link, as the WSJ is behind a paywall, but you can find it by googling the article name.)

What does this mean? Closing Corinthian and ITT, while Obama pals take over University of Phoenix. I don’t know.

You may recall that the huge Corinthian College for-profit chain closed down last year, stranding over 16,000 students who were saddled with debt and worthless credits. The bankruptcy was precipitated when the U.S. Department of Education cut off federal funding after investigations revealed numerous frauds.

Now the ITT chain of for-profit colleges is going belly-up, after the Feds pulled the plug. The move leaves 35,000 students and employees out of luck. The students will have difficulty transferring their credits to another college or university since the for-profits are not respected by established institutions.

“Just days before the start of a new school term, ITT Educational Services, one of the nation’s largest for-profit educational companies, closed nearly all its campuses on Tuesday.

“The company cited the Education Department’s recent decision to bar the chain of colleges from using federal financial aid to enroll new students as the reason for the sudden shutdown.

“Except for a small school that operates under a different name, the move puts an end to an operation that has been accused of widespread fraud and abuse, leaving roughly 35,000 students and 8,000 employees in the lurch.

“ITT Educational Services, whose recruitment, lending practices and educational quality have been under scrutiny by federal regulators and state prosecutors for years, said in a news release that it had “exhausted the exploration of alternatives, including transfer of the schools to a nonprofit or public institution.””

Given their long-standing record of fraud, false promises, worthless degrees, predatory recruitment of veterans and low-income students, why did the Education Department allow them to get federal aid for so many years? At long last, accountability. Only the students are left holding the bag.

Chester Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Brandon L. Wright declare in the Wall Street Journal that public schools and elected school boards are dying a slow death and being replaced by charter schools. All three are associated with right wing think tanks (Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Walton Family Foundation).

Bear in mind that some 50 million children attend public schools, and fewer than 3 million attend charter schools. Bear in mind also that voters have never voted to replace public schools with privately managed charter schools. Americans have never been asked whether they want to pay their taxes to private corporations to run schools that can choose their students. The charter movement has flourished because of massive investments by billionaires like Gates, Broad, and Walton, political support by right wing groups like ALEC, right wing governors, and the unfortunate support of the Obama administration.

Public education, open to all, has for many years been considered an essential democratic institution and a basic cause of the great economic, social, and cultural success of our nation. Finn & friends hope for and celebrate its demise. They tacitly acknowledge that charter schools don’t get higher scores than public schools. They note that some charter operators are frauds. What they don’t admit is that they welcome the Hyper-segregation of American society. One of the reasons our society functions as well as it does is because public schools bring children from different backgrounds together, across lines of race, religion, class, gender, and ethnicity. It doesn’t happen enough, but the authors don’t care if it happens at all. They welcome the return of segregation as a step forward, not retrenchment from our ideals.

Similarly, they see no value in democracy. Elected school boards are a fundamental exercise of democracy. They are established in state constitutions. Yet the authors would wish them away and replace them with privatization.

This article and the book it is based on comes at a time when the privatization movement is staggering. Charters were just recently criticized by the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives, a collection of 50 organizations. Charter scandals are breaking into the mainstream media, most recently with the admission by an online charter founder in Pennsylvania that he stole $8 million from the school. And the CREDO study finding that students in online charters learn close to nothing. And then there was the John Oliver program on the shoddy and corrupt practices of charters that close overnight and charters that steal and cheat taxpayers. And there was the Washington State and NLRB decisions that charters are not public schools.

When the charter movement began, Finn and Manno wrote about the promise of charter schools: in return for public money, they would be held accountable for better results at lower costs. Now we know that charters are not held accountable, do not produce better results unless they cherrypick students, and do not cost less.

They write:

“America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in 43 states.

“As students return to school, the enterprise responsible for educating them is changing in ways that few people are aware of. Charters are fomenting a quiet revolution in governance in public education.

“The prevailing arrangement in America’s 14,000 school systems starts with an elected board. The board appoints a superintendent, who manages more-or-less uniform public schools staffed by a unionized workforce of government employees. This setup functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.

“This arrangement does not perform nearly so well in a country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens, where states make most education rules and furnish most of the money, where government intrudes in myriad ways, and where discontent with education outcomes is rampant. It doesn’t meet the requirements of people who change neighborhoods and cities as well as jobs and careers, and it’s ill-suited for an era of fervent agitation about equalizing—and compensating for—the treatment of children from different backgrounds, locales and needs.

“Nor does local control mean what it once did. Some 90 school districts today struggle to educate more than 50,000 students each in systems sprawling over many miles and run by massive bureaucracies. The Houston Independent School District is responsible for 215,000 pupils, Chicago for 400,000, Los Angeles for 700,000 and New York City for more than a million. The governance of these systems doesn’t work well when elected boards have evolved from panels of public-spirited civic leaders into gaggles of aspiring politicians and teachers-union surrogates.

“The feebleness of traditionally governed public schools explains the burgeoning alternatives. Yet far from undermining local democratic control, these new schools are reinventing it—down to small communities of families that now run their own schools, each with six or seven board members.

“Because these boards function more like nonprofit organizations than political bodies or public agencies, their members need not stand for election. Being generally union-free, they don’t have the headaches of collective bargaining. And with freedom to engage and deploy principals and teachers, and to adjust budget, curriculum and instruction to do their students the most good, charter schools are attracting to their boards selfless citizens and community leaders who see a plausible chance to promote change.

“The charter phenomenon is also reinventing the school district. Instead of geographically bounded municipal units run in top-down fashion, “charter management organizations” comprise virtual networks—confederations, really—of similar schools that may be located hundreds of miles apart, that mostly run themselves, but that can draw on the organization for expertise and services that individual schools may not be able to muster for themselves. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) started as a single classroom in Houston and now boasts 200 schools in 20 states. Eva Moskowitz’s high-performing Success Academy began in Harlem and now has 41 schools in four boroughs of New York City.

“Charters don’t answer every education prayer. Their test scores are all over the place, though the best studies show strong, positive effects for poor and minority children. Funded with about three-quarters of the per-pupil dollars that traditional schools receive, many charters have trouble making ends meet and rely heavily on private philanthropy and entrepreneurial energy.

“Established education interest groups—always more attentive to adult jobs than to kids’ learning—fight them relentlessly, as do a few civil-rights groups aligned with the unions. Some charter leaders and board members have been guilty of self-dealing and corrupt behavior.

“But that’s where democracy comes in. While autonomous in many ways, charters are ultimately accountable to public authority. They’re a new species of school, but they remain public schools, open to all comers, paid for by taxpayers and licensed by the state. If they fail to meet standards of academic performance and fiscal soundness, charters—unlike district schools—are supposed to be closed or restarted under fresh leadership. More than 1,200 charters closed between 2010 and 2015 even as more opened. Some states are still figuring out how to make this work, but most are getting better at it.

“Twenty-five years from its beginnings, chartering portends profound changes in the structure of American public education. That’s why the battles around it are about more than market share, test scores and discipline codes. They’re proxies for what’s really in dispute: power and control over a K-12 education behemoth that spends more than $600 billion a year and employs some six million adults.

“Local control as we’ve known it is growing obsolete. Let’s hail the kind of local control that charter schools embody. And welcome back to school, girls and boys.”

Messrs. Finn, Manno and Wright are the authors of “Charter Schools at the Crossroads,” out from Harvard Education Press in October.

Charter Schools Are Reinventing Local Control in Education

I have trouble thinking of K-12 education as a marketplace. But that’s just me. I know that the textbook and testing industries have their marketplaces. Now there is a new marketplace where investors hope to profit on edtech.

Apparently, Education Week now has a regular feature that showcases the latest entrepreneurial ventures, where equity investors jump in with a million here, a million there.

I suppose I should not be surprised. Edtech is the next big thing, or maybe it is the Big Thing right now, where investors see the chance of a killing.

Which reminds me that several commenters on the blog have pointed out that the most innovative education today is hands-on, doing things, making things, creating things without the aid of a computer. Low-tech is now innovative. That is sort of a hopeful sign that our children will not turn into avatars.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras is a licensed psychotherapist and a specialist on children’s screen addiction. In this article in TIME magazine, he asserts that the schools’ investment of $60 billion in new technology benefits the tech entrepreneurs, not the students. He calls it a hoax driven by the pursuit of profit.

He writes:

As the dog days of summer wane, most parents are preparing to send their kids back to school. In years past, this has meant buying notebooks and pencils, perhaps even a new backpack. But over the past decade or so, the back-to-school checklist has for many also included an array of screen devices that many parents dutifully stuff into their children’s bag.

The screen revolution has seen pedagogy undergo a seismic shift as technology now dominates the educational landscape. In almost every classroom in America today, you will find some type of screen—smartboards, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones. From inner-city schools to those in rural and remote towns, we have accepted tech in the classroom as a necessary and beneficial evolution in education.

This is a lie.

Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.

Why have we allowed this educational “Trojan Horse” into the schools, he asks. Answer: Follow the money.

The education tech marketplace represents a $60 billion market. Everyone in the industry wants to get a piece of the market. The salmon are working overtime to convince your school and school board that you must have the latest thing.

But Dr. Kardaras says: Wait. Look at the evidence of the harm that screen addiction does to children.

Apparently, leaders of the tech industry know this. We read five years ago about the hottest school in Silicon Valley where tech entrepreneurs send their own children. It is a Waldorf school in Los Altos that does not allow children to use technology in school. Instead they learn with their all their senses and bypass technology until they leave school.

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

In an amusing tour de force, NBCT teacher Stuart Egan (in North Carolina) poses the question, what if businesses were run like public schools?

Public Schools Aren’t Businesses – Don’t Believe Me? Try Running a Business as a Public School

No business leader could function under the same conditions.

Comparing schools to businesses isn’t like comparing apples to oranges, it’s like comparing apples to rocks.

For example:

“Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited. If you are a public school, then every cent, every resource, and every line item is open to scrutiny by a variety of inspectors. Be prepared to be constantly audited and have those findings be available and open to interpretation to people outside of your business, even when those people may not know how your business operates.

“Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you. ALL OF THEM. Furthermore, there would no negotiating on salaries. In fact they are all set, not by market standards or demand of talent, but by the government. Furthermore, the salaries of all of your employees will be fodder for politicians and the public alike, especially in election years.

“You must allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share. Actually, you won’t have stockholders. You have stakeholders. And everyone is a stakeholder because they pay taxes. And stakeholders have voting rights. You constantly have to answer to these stakeholders except everybody – EVERYBODY – is your stakeholder. In essence, you answer to everybody, even the homeowners and properties owners when they see that the value of their homes and property might be closely tied to the schools that service the area.

“Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business. These aren’t the rules and regulations or laws established by governing bodies, but rather curricula and other evaluation systems that are placed on your business by people who really have no background in your field.

“You will not get to choose your raw materials. If your business makes a product, you do not get to negotiate how your materials come to you. You do not get to reject materials based on quality. You must take what is given to you and you must produce a product that is of the same quality as a business that may have choice materials. That is unless you are a private school. But they get to charge money. Your business doesn’t.”

Schools don’t run like businesses. Businesses don’t run like schools.

Leonie Haimson has written a stunning article about stories in the New York Times that promote investments of Bill Gates without acknowledging that the writer’s outside organization is funded by the Gates Foundation.

She refers in amazing detail to two laudatory articles about Bridge International Academies, the corporation that is providing for-profit schools in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere. Gates is an investor in BIA. The Gates Foundation supports the organization that supports the journalist. BIA is encouraging countries like Kenya and Liberia to outsource their responsibility for primary school education to the corporation, which charges the families about $6 a month. Haimson points out that when the cost of uniforms and supplies and food are included, the total is far higher, and represents about a quarter of the family income. If there is more than one child, the cost may be 2/3 of the family income. You can be sure that the business is highly profitable, and it relieves the country of the necessity of building universal free public education.

The article goes into detail about the research on both sides of the issue, which is not reflected in the Times’ coverage.

Other articles in the New York Times have praised the “flipped classroom,” a favorite of Bill Gates, and edTech schools that Gates endorses.

I hope the Public Editor of the New York Times reads this timely and important critique of their coverage.

Our regular reader Chiara, who lives in Ohio and is a public school parent, is disturbed by the diversion of public dollars for private purposes.

She wrote earlier today:

“The US Department of Education is using public funding to support and expand a whole new category of for-profit providers:

“Arne Duncan ‏@arneduncan Aug 18
So important that short-term tech courses, where skill acquisition leads to real jobs, have access to Pell funding.”

“But don’t worry. They say they’ll regulate it this time. Which is exactly what they said about for-profit colleges and for-profit charter school operators.

“I’m not clear on why the public is funding GE employee training. Has GE fallen on hard times or something? Why are we paying to train their employees? Can’t they pay to train their own employees or did all the extra cash go to executive compensation?

“When did it become the responsibility of the public to pay for job training for specific companies and sectors? What happened to entry level jobs at these places, where they invest their own money in their own employees?

“This is risk-shifting, from the private sector to the public sector. We’re picking up the risk and the sector is getting a windfall benefit. If these employees we trained don’t work out at these companies the private sector entity has their exposure covered. It’s win/win for them and win/lose for the public.”

The Ugandan Parliament ordered the for-profit corporation Bridge International Academies to close its schools for failing to meet the nation’s standards. The linked report comes from Education International, which represents teachers’ unions around the world. Teachers’ unions think that children should be instructed by qualified teachers. Most children in Uganda cannot afford to enroll in a fee-paying school.

The Ugandan teachers’ union elected a member to Parliament, who championed their case against the for-profit schools.

In the latest turn in the saga between the Ugandan government and Bridge International Academies the country’s parliament has instructed management to close the schools until further notice. Bridge currently has 80 pre-primary and primary schools in Uganda run by American founders Jay Kimmelman and Shannon May.

According to Uganda’s Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, Bridge has the opportunity to reopen should they meet necessary standards. However, despite the order to cease operations, Bridge says it is business as usual.

Bridge, operating what are known as ‘low-fee,’ for profit schools in Uganda, Kenya, and most recently Liberia, is financially supported by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and education conglomerate Pearson Ltd. It is also receives funding from the World Bank and DfID-UK. Bridge’s business model, which depends on public money to operate fee charging schools run by unqualified teachers, faces a continuous barrage of criticism.

Although the company promotes ‘affordable’ education to some of the world’s poorest children, Bridge forces families to pay for inadequate scripted lessons read from tablets. Many children are left to learn in questionable environments, such as classrooms lacking proper materials, including desks, chairs and in some cases, toilets.

This is the response from Bridge:


Bridge International Academies statement on comments in Ugandan Parliament

Kampala, 9 August 2016: Bridge International Academies has expressed sincere concern over statements made in the Ugandan parliament this afternoon threatening to force 12,000 Bridge children out of school and 800 Ugandans out of work, by seeking the closure of Bridge International Academies. Bridge has been working in partnership with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all Ugandan children have access to a high quality education.

“We are waiting to receive the report referred to in Parliament and a copy of the Parliamentary Hansard to review the Ministry’s concerns”, says Michael Kaddu, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs for Bridge International Academies in Uganda. “We have been working closely with the Ministry to put the needs of the children first and come to a speedy resolution of any issues made known to us.”

“In the meantime, our academies are running as usual as we continue to work with the relevant educational authorities to uphold our commitment to our parents and communities to provide a world-class education to their children.”

“Bridge has been a great blessing to our community,” says Mrs Gertrude Kizza from the Nsumbi area of Nansana, the grandmother of two Bridge children and the LC1 of the Nsumbi community. “Prior to Bridge opening in Nsumbi, our children either had to travel a long distance to get to school or pay high fees for the local private schools. As a result, many children did not go to school. Since Bridge opened in February of this year, I have seen great changes in my grandchildren, who are now leaders in English and confidence.”
“As a Ugandan citizen I should have the right to give my grand-children a better future, which is why I sent them to Bridge”, says Mrs Kizza. “Now the government is taking away that right.”

Bridge now operates 63 nursery and primary schools across Uganda. Bridge teaches the Ugandan curriculum, using technology to prepare and support teachers, streamline administrative processes and monitor attendance and academic progress.

“I joined Bridge after teacher training college because I was excited by the idea of a school system were I would be prepared and supported to ensure children are learning”, says Patrick Mutegeki a teacher at Bridge International Academy in Nsumbi. “Working at Bridge has made me a better educator and has made me excited for the future of Ugandan children. Bridge pupils in Kenya had a 40% higher chance of passing the national primary exit exams than the national average, and have gone on to the best secondary schools in Kenya and the United States. I want those same opportunities for Ugandan children.”

Bridge International Academies is the 21st largest employer in Uganda, with close to 800 Ugandan employees and has already invested over UGX10bn in the Ugandan economy, with plans to invest another UGX25bn in the coming years.

Michael Barber and Joel Klein have written a report for the World Economic Forum about how to achieve greatness in education. Their report is titled “Unleashing Greatness: Nine Plays to Spark Innovation in Education.”

Michael Barber is the chief education advisor for Pearson. Joel Klein is the ex-chancellor of the New York City public schools, former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify (which lost $500 million and was sold off by Murdoch), and current chief policy and strategy officer to Oscar Health Insurance, which recently announced a radical downsizing.

The old ways no longer work, they say. What is needed for the future is “whole system reform,” which has happened or is happening (they say) in Madrid, Punjab, London, and New York City. Presumably, Barber takes credit for London and Klein takes credit for New York City. (I note, however, as a resident of New York City, that the schools continue to struggle with many problems, and no one refers to the “New York a City miracle” these days.)

Fortunately, Professor Stephen Dinham of the University of Melbourne in Australia took on the job of analyzing the Barber-Klein formula for greatness.

He sees the report as an illustration of what Pasi Sahlberg called the “Global Education Reform Movement” or GERM.

He writes:

“The terms ‘playbook’ and ‘unleash’ are loaded and instructive. A playbook, in sports, provides a list of strategies or moves for players and teams to follow. These are essentially step-by-step formulae intended to achieve success. In the case of this report, there are nine. Oh that education – and interrelated services such as health, employment and public infrastructure – could be reduced to such a simplistic list. The term unleash implies releasing from restriction and confinement, in this case, opening up education to ‘choice’ and the ‘free’ market. As I have noted, typically, ‘Choice, competition, privatization and the free market are [seen as] the answers to almost any question about education. (Dinham, 2015a: 3).

“Let’s now consider the latest simplistic recipe designed to address the ‘manufactured crisis’ in education (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Berliner & Glass, 2015), a crisis that is in danger of becoming reality if we ignore the evidence and follow such ideologically and financially underpinned and driven prescriptions (Dinham, 2016).

“The authors’ ‘plays’ are:

“Provide a compelling vision for the future

Set ambitious goals to force innovation

Create choice and competition

Pick many winners

Benchmark and track progress

Evaluate and share the success of new innovations

Combine greater accountability and autonomy

Invest in and empower agents of change

Reward successes (and productive failures).

“Detail on ‘how’ to achieve the above is lacking, although brief case studies where these have purportedly been successful are provided (e.g, New York, Chile). A common theme is the belief mentioned previously that deregulation, competition and choice will deliver an overall lift in educational performance. The evidence is however, either weak (e.g., on greater school autonomy) or contradictory (e.g., vouchers, charter schools, free schools, chains or academies) (Dinham, 2015a).”

Read both the report and the critique. Funny the authors don’t look at Chile and Sweden, two nations that took the path they recommend, with disastrous results.