Archives for category: For-Profit

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.

Arne Duncan left his post last winter, after serving for seven years as Secretary of Education. In this post, Zoe Carpenter reviews his legacy.

The short version is that he opened doors for the booming education business. The longer version is that he did nothing to reverse the resegregation of American schools, but his efforts have been a boon to the testing industry and the charter industry.

Thanks to Arne, many entrepreneurs were encouraged to sell stuff to schools. The U.S. Department of Education is a marketing machine for the tech industry. Wanna buy a new ap? Check with ED. How else to explain the transition of almost every public school in the nation to online testing, even though studies show that students test better when they use paper and pen/pencil? Did anyone ask for that?

Other changes that Arne was responsible for: an explosion of publicly funded private schools (charter schools); Common Core; closing thousands of public schools in black and brown communities; massive collection of personally identifiable student data; data mining.

How many billions were wasted on ed tech and Common Core that might have been spent to reduce class sizes and improve teachers’ salaries or to encourage desegregation?

Carpenter credits Duncan with cracking down on the for-profit higher education industry, but this is an exaggerated claim. Corinthian Colleges collapsed, not because Duncan forced it to, but because it lost market share. Other for-profit colleges continue to lure veterans, minorities, and poor people with promises that will never be kept and to send them off with high debts and a worthless degree. The for-profit higher education industry is still making profits and ripping off veterans and poor people with false promises and worthless degrees.

Arne may have left us with a time-limited parlor game: what was the dumbest thing Arne said?

“Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to the public schools of Néw Orleans.”

“I want to be able to look into a second graders’ eyes and tell whether he is headed for a good college.”

“Teachers have to stop lying to their students and dummying down the standards.”

“The opt out movement consists of white suburban moms who are disappointed to discover that their child is not as brilliant as they thought he was.”

Can we ever forget Arne and his campaign to open public education to the needs of edu-business?

Georgia’s K12 Cyber Academy rakes in millions yet gets poor results for many of its 13,000 students.

The state’s largest “school” collects $82 million a year, but the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement gave it a D for poor performance.

Georgians spend tens of millions of dollars a year on one of the biggest online schools in the nation, yet nearly every measure indicates the high-tech, online education model has not worked for many of its more than 13,000 students.

Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

The charter school’s leaders say they face unique challenges, with large numbers of students already behind when they enroll. They have plans to improve results but also claim the state’s grading methods are unfair and inaccurate. However, the state disagrees, and if the academy cannot show improvement soon, the commission that chartered the school could shut it down.

Since it opened with a couple thousand students in 2007, the academy has grown to become the state’s largest public school, with students from all 159 counties. In the 2015 fiscal year alone, it reported receiving $82 million in state and federal funding.

The academy earned a “D” for 2015 from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The academy scored near the bottom in the state that year for “growth,” a measure of how each student did on standardized state tests compared to others with similar past performance.

The graduation rate of 66 percent lagged behind the state average by 13 percentage points. Reading ability in third grade, a key marker of future academic success, also lagged, with 47 percent of its students able to digest books on their grade level versus a state average of 52 percent.

The State Charter Schools Commission, established in 2013 as an alternative to going through a school district to start a charter school, authorized the academy in 2014-15. The commission requires its schools to meet annual academic, financial and operational goals in three of the first four years of operation. The academy, which had operated for seven years under the Odyssey Charter School in Coweta County before obtaining its own charter, did not perform as required in its first year as an independent school. It scored one out of a possible 100 points on the academic portion of its evaluation, which assesses performance, mainly on standardized tests, compared to traditional schools. The results for 2015-16 are still being calculated.

There have been similar reports about virtual charter schools from other states, most recently from California, where the K12 operation is being investigated by the State Department of Education and the Attorney General’s office.

CREDO at Stanford reported that a student attending a virtual charter school lost 180 days of learning math and 72 days of learning in reading.

If the K12 school were a public school, state authorities in every state would have shut it down by now.

The burning issue is why don’t they?

Denis Smith worked in the Ohio charter school office, and he saw the combustible mix of deregulation, money, and politics. This is a combination sure to produce scandal. And it has.

Smith reports here on the biggest scandal: the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). It has the lowest graduation rate in the nation, according to the New York Times. It is a for-profit virtual charter. Its owner William Lager is one of the state’s major donors to the Republican Party. His patrons protect him from scrutiny or accountability.

One of the supporters of ECOT is Andrew Brenner, chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee. He despises public schools.

Brenner has said previously that “public education is socialism.” But if we follow the Chairman’s logic (hmm, I thought only well-known socialists and collectivists like Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev were referred to as Chairman), we find illogic, viz., the Chairman of the Education Committee seems very much opposed to public education.

But the illogic gets worse.

Profits generated from the public funds received by charter school operators like Lager and White Hat Management’s David Brennan flow to their favorite Republican politicians in the form of contributions. These profits, snared by privately operated management companies with hand-picked, unelected boards not subject to full public transparency and exempt from 150 sections of state law, ultimately wind their way to committee chairs in the legislature as well as more senior leadership in the House and Senate.

To Chairman Brenner, this is capitalism at work. And capitalism is the very opposite of socialism, right? Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.

I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.

Public money for private purposes.

The New York Times published an article about how critics of public schools now call them “government schools.” This is supposed to conjure up an image of a faceless, unaccountable bureaucracy, like the IRS, not your neighborhood public school whose teachers you know well.

I first heard this term used at the Hoover Institution. At first I didn’t know what they were talking about, then I realized that the public schools were, in their minds, “government schools,” a heinous institution that should be replaced by private schools, vouchers, religious schools, charters, home schooling, anything but those hated “government schools.” I began to wonder if they referred to highways as “government highways” and found a way to avoid them; if they referred to public parks as “government parks,” to be avoided or privatized; if they referred to public beaches as “government beaches.”

Privatization always has a bottom line: profit. And as Peter Greene recently pointed out, the difference between for-profit charter schools and non-profit charter schools is an illusion. The nonprofits like to grow, increasing their revenues and salaries for top administrators. They too exclude the hardest-to-educate children (they cost too much, which affects the bottom line).

One area where privatization has been a major failure is privatized prisons, publicly funded but privately managed. They produce profit. They do not reduce recidivism because they want more prisoners, not fewer.

Our faithful reader John Ogozalek, who teaches high school in upstate New York, sent a letter this morning on the same subject. I decided to let him tell the story:


You probably saw this New York Times article about the efforts to redefine public schools in Kansas.

It’s another fascinating example of how linguistics is being used to twist the argument over school reform.

Once again, the public good is demonized and complicated challenges are reduced to a simplistic need to “rebrand”.

I’m also in the middle of reading a very lengthy piece in Mother Jones (August 2016) about the for-profit prison industry.

The parallels to the for-profit school industry are scary: lack of adequate training for staff, the obsession with profits over people and outright cheating to get around government safeguards…gag rules to keep employees from speaking out. And, of course, ALEC rears its ugly head once again.

I taught many years ago in the New York State prison system. It was for about as long as the reporter for Mother Jones worked at the for-profit prison in Louisiana. Of course, there are very significant differences between the New York State Department of Corrections and the Corrections Corporation of America -not the least of which is the low pay, non-union labor force that the CCA relies on to make money for its shareholders.

And, interestingly enough, the shareholders of for-profit prisons includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Are their tentacles missing from any corner of the U.S.A.?)

My time teaching at the prison was invaluable -not only for helping me understand the huge role that this industry plays in our democracy but also for giving me a way to connect to former students who end up incarcerated. (I recently went to see one young man I taught years ago. The prison he’s in looks like a child’s drawing of a medieval fortress. Visitors walk up to the massive, rusticated castle and enter a thick, steel door that opens right out of the prison wall. If it wasn’t so frightening you might feel like you’re part of a cartoon. To see someone you knew as a child emerge from deep within that stone labyrinth is heartbreaking.

All Americans should visit a prison, I think -especially if you know someone who works as a corrections officer. It is a tough job and I respect the people I worked alongside. Shane Bauer makes it clear in his Mother Jones investigation that the COs at the for-profit prison are sort of prisoners in a manner, too. They’re treated as cogs in a brutal human assembly line.

I remember quitting my job at the correctional facility 30 years ago. It was a very happy moment as I walked up to the razor wire fence on my way out. The Superintendent (i.e. warden) had tried to convince me to stay. “It’s a growth industry,” he said, citing the career I was giving up. Hell no!

I could afford to leave. I didn’t have a mortgage, no kids going to college. I’m not the quitting sort but it was clear I had to go.

It’s very unsettling to now see public schools nationwide being turned upside down by some of the same forces that have made some prisons so incredibly inhumane now. Frightening is a better word. I sit at my desk some days and imagine how it will feel when I walk out of school for the very last time.

-John O.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris reached a settlement of $168.6 million with mega-virtual charter K12 Inc. This settlement reflects the good investigative reporting of Jessica Calefati of the San Jose Mercury News, whose investigative reporting led to Harris’ review of K12’s finances and practices.

There are two more investigations underway: one by the California State Department of Education and the other by the State Controller. Now that virtual charters have been discredited by studies and thrown under the bus by the rest of the charter industry, this aspect of the industry may finally be on the skids.

“California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Friday the state Department of Justice has reached a $168.5 million settlement with for-profit online charter school operator K12 Inc. over an array of alleged violations of false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws.

“The settlement comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published a two-part investigative series on the publicly-traded Virginia company, which runs a network of profitable but low-performing online charter schools serving about 15,000 students across the state.

“Harris’ office found that K12 and the “virtual” academies it operates across the state used deceptive advertising to mislead parents about students’ academic progress, parent satisfaction and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission.

“The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 and its affiliated schools collected more state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data and that the company improperly coerced the non-profit schools it operates to sign unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.”

Politico reports that K12 Inc. disagrees with the characterization of the settlement:

– Speaking of charter schools, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Friday that virtual charter school operator K12 Inc. will pay $168.5 million to settle [] alleged violations of the state’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws: . But K12 pushed back on the settlement amount – preferring not to include $160 million in financial relief that Harris’ office says will be provided to certain schools that K12 manages. Instead, K12 CEO Stuart Udell said the company will only pay $2.5 million to settle the case, and another $6 million for Harris’ investigative costs. Udell said his company admitted no wrongdoing. “The Attorney General’s claim of $168.5 million in today’s announcement is flat wrong,” Udell said. “Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement, just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated.”

– The settlement is another black eye for the virtual charter industry, which just last month had three reform-minded groups calling for it to be improved, or else problems such as low graduation rates will “overshadow the positive impacts this model currently has on some students.” [] More from Kimberly Hefling:

Throughout this presidential campaign, we have been treated (or subjected) to statements by both Democratic candidates Clinton and Sanders about charters: They don’t like “private charters” (Sanders) or “for-profit charters” (Clinton).

There are no “private charters.” All charters receive public funding. That’s what makes them so attractive to investors. That secure stream of government funding.

At the very least, we can be glad that Clinton is opposed to the for-profits, which rip off taxpayers and divert public funding to their stockholders and owners. Let’s hope that means she is prepared to cut off federal funding that goes to the scam artists of the charter world. No more 3-card Monte with public dollars.

But is there a difference between “for-profit charters” and “non-profit charters”?

Peter Greene says it is a distinction without a difference.

He writes:

In this scenario, I set up my non-profit school– and then I hire a profitable management company to run the school for me. The examples of this dodge are nearly endless, but let’s consider a classic. There’s the White hat management company that was being dragged into court way back in 2011. This particular type of arrangement was known as a “sweeps contract,’ in which the school turns over close to all of its public tax dollars and the company operates the school with that money– and keeps whatever they don’t spend. The White Hat story is particularly impressive, because the court decided that White Hat got to keep all of the materials and resources that it bought with the public tax dollars.

Or consider North Carolina businessman Baker Mitchell, who set up some non-profit charter schools and promptly had them buy and lease everything– from desks to computers to teacher training to the buildings and the land– from companies belonging to Baker Mitchell. From Marian Wang’s 2014 profile:

To Mitchell, his schools are simply an example of the triumph of the free market. “People here think it’s unholy if you make a profit” from schools, he said in July, while attending a country-club luncheon to celebrate the legacy of free-market sage Milton Friedman.

Real estate grabs

All charter schools– even the non-profits– can get into the real estate business as a tasty sideline for providing a school-like product. Charter producers can find money to fund a building and then– voila– they own a tasty piece of real estate. Remember– thanks to some Clinton-era tax breaks, an investor in a charter school can double the original investment in just seven years!

In fact, there are real estate companies in the charter school business. And this can be a particularly terrible deal for the taxpayers. Bruce Baker lays out here how the public can pay for the same building twice– and end up not owning it. Read the whole thing– it’s absolutely astonishing.

Write a big fat check

If you have the giant cojones for it, you can just write yourself a big fat check with all those public taxpayer dollars. To use one of everyone’s favorite data points– Carmen farina is paid $200,000 to oversee 135,000 employees and 1.1 million students. Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain handles 9,000 students, for which Moskowitz is paid almost half a million dollars. And while Moskowitz gets plenty of attention, she is by no means unique….

And that’s just the profit issue

This is before we talk about every anti-democratic, school-destroying, segregation-spreading, education-failing, community-disrupting, and achievement-gap-increasing aspect of charter schools. As readers of this blog know, while charters can (and once were) a good thing, the modern charter movement has turned them into one of the most destructive forces in education today.

But we’re going to maintain focus

We’re going to stick to one point, and the point is this– to pretend that there is a substantive difference between profit and non-profit charter schools is either willfully ignorant or deliberately misleading. I’ve said it many times– a modern non-profit charter school is just a for-profit school with a good money-laundering plan.