Archives for category: Network for Public Education

A letter from Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

First and foremost, we care about you. When we realized the 43% of our registrants were in a higher-risk group for Covid-19, we knew we had to reschedule.

Our conference hotel, the Philadelphia Doubletree, has been a wonderful partner, and within a few days, we will share a new 2020 date.

We ask that you be patient as we finalize plans and create a list of what you need to do. But, we wanted to let you know quickly in case you need to cancel a flight.

We are so disappointed that we will not see you in two weeks, but we look forward to seeing you in the not too distant future. An email with more detail will arrive in a few days.

Stay healthy and take care of those you love.

Valerie Strauss wrote a stunning dissection of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s lies to Congress in her recent testimony.

Was she lying because of ignorance or a desire to mislead the public? She lied about charter wait lists, about progress over time on NAEP scores, and about the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which spends $440 million to launch new charters, entirely at DeVos’ discretion.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/07/betsy-devoss-problem-with-numbers/

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a problem with numbers. As in, she sometimes cites numbers that just aren’t accurate.

DeVos, of course, is hardly the only government official to cite inaccurate numbers to make a point, but that’s no reason not to point it out when she does — and she did during two appearances in the last week before congressional committees when defending the Trump administration’s proposed 2021 budget.

Let’s look at a few examples from her testimony.

One misleading figure that gets repeated, and not just by DeVos, is this: There are 1 million students on waiting lists at charter schools throughout the country. DeVos uses the statistic to show there is enormous demand for charters — which are publicly funded but privately operated — but not enough schools to accept all children who want to go. That, the argument goes, is why charter expansion should be encouraged.

To be sure, some charter schools are indeed in high demand and do have long waiting lists. But on some of the lists, there are duplicates, children who are already in other schools and other issues.

The 1 million figure was first cited in 2013 when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools first made the claim. That alliance is led by Nina Rees, who worked for former vice president Richard B. Cheney. The alliance quickly revised the number it cited — to a minimum of 520,000 when it acknowledged that students were on duplicate lists.

In 2014, Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and founder of the National Education Policy Center, wrote a policy brief titled “Wait, Wait, Don’t Mislead Me,” which gave nine evidence-based reasons the waiting list numbers from the charter alliance should not be believed. These include no external verification, the same students on multiple lists and students who were never removed from waiting lists after lengthy periods.

In 2016, WGBH in Boston came to the same conclusion when it investigated charter waiting list numbers used to justify lifting the cap on charters. There were students on waiting lists who were happily enrolled in another school, with no desire to leave. Citizens for Public Schools found the waiting list for Boston Public Schools and Boston charter schools to be comparable. Ultimately, voters rejected a statewide referendum to lift the cap on charter.

And yet DeVos used that debunked number when defending her budget before Congress.

DeVos also talked about scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP. It’s often referred to as “the nation’s report card” or the “gold standard” in student assessment because it is seen as the most consistent, nationally representative measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s and because it is supposed to be able to assess what students “know and can do….”

NAEP scores are eagerly anticipated as evidence that schools are — or are not — making progress, and DeVos says, on this score, they aren’t.

According to DeVos, there has been no growth on NAEP scores in the last 20 years. She said the federal government has spent “over a trillion dollars at the federal level to close the achievement gap in the last 40 years” but “that achievement gap has not closed one bit.”

Not exactly.

According to Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, the achievement gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students have been narrowing for decades — although unsteadily….

The gaps are still large, to be sure, but to say they haven’t budged is just not accurate.

The source of DeVos’s statement that $1 trillion has been spent over 40 years to close the achievement gap is unclear. The Education Department did not respond to a query about it.

During testimony last week before a House appropriations subcommittee, DeVos had an exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) about charter schools in which, again, she tossed out questionable numbers.

As I reported here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/02/28/four-especially-testy-moments-when-betsy-devos-testified-capitol-hill/ ), Pocan raised the issue of fraud in the federal Charter Schools Program, which has approved $3.3 billion for the expansion of charter schools since 1994. Forty percent of operating charter schools were created with money from the program.

Pocan referred to two reports about problems with that program released last year by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Network for Public Education, which was co-founded by education historian and public schools advocate Diane Ravitch.

One report said the program had wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of poor management or other reasons. The other report focused on hundreds of millions of dollars spent on charter schools that got federal funding but never opened. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/03/25/report-us-government-wasted-up-billion-charter-schools-still-fails-adequately-monitor-grants/)

When Pocan referred to the 2019 reports, DeVos said they had been “debunked,” which Pocan noted was not true.

She also essentially denied there were problems with the program, saying the percentage of charter schools that received federal funding and closed was tiny. She instead attributed the assertions to “propaganda from an individual who has it in for charter schools.” (It is unclear to whom she was referring. But if she meant Ravitch, whom she has criticized before, she may not have known that who does indeed oppose charter schools — did not write the reports, which you can read about here and here.)

As it turns out, some of the facts she disputed from the reports came from her own letter to Congress, an audit report of the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, Texas newspapers and other reports from her department.

Pocan told DeVos the Texas-based IDEA charter school chain had received more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. He then noted that IDEA had planned to spend millions of dollars to lease a private jet before backing off following bad publicity, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury box seats at San Antonio Spurs games. He also mentioned that IDEA board members were selling and brokering property to the charter chain they governed. (Tom Torkelson, chief executive of IDEA, publicly apologized for “really dumb and unhelpful” financial decisions.)

Pocan asked DeVos if she thought charter schools that receive federal funding should be allowed to use that money to purchase private jets, and she responded by saying it was a “hypothetical question” and that “there is no funding going to charter schools that would even address something like that.”

Actually, it was not hypothetical. The excesses of the IDEA charter chain described by Pocan were reported in the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Monitor and other news organizations and occurred during the years the chain was receiving grants from the federal Charter Schools Program.

In 2017, DeVos’s Education Department gave IDEA a grant of $67.2 million — even though it had not completed two other five-year grants. The next year, the department gave IDEA another grant for nearly $117 million.

Pocan continued, saying “the same group” — IDEA — had given incomplete and inaccurate information to the department during a three-year period. DeVos responded by saying, “Everything you are citing is debunked, ridiculous.” Pocan was citing an audit report by DeVos’s own Office of Inspector General.

At one point, DeVos circled back to the Network for Public Education reports and added that “the report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda, fewer than 2 percent of schools didn’t open.” Later in the conversation with Pocan, she dropped that percentage to 1.5 percent.

That percentage was wildly different from the one included in a letter she wrote to Congress on June 28, 2019. That letter, signed by DeVos, states: “Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future.”

If you do the math, you will come up with 12 percent. The two Network for Public Education reports came up with a similar percentage — a little over 11 percent.

Throughout the discussion, DeVos denied that 40 percent of the charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program either opened and then closed or never opened at all. She said the 40 percent figure “was nothing but propaganda.”

As noted above, in her letter to Congress, DeVos said 5,265 schools had received funding through Charter School Program grants.

According to the 2019 Charter School Program Overview (see slide 8), 3,138 charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program during the same time period were open in 2016-2017. That means 2,127 schools never opened or closed — which represents 40.4 percent of all charters funded from active grants during those years.

As every reader of this blog knows, Mercedes Schneider is a relentless, dogged, and accurate researcher. She has the skills to dig through IRS reports and other online data that connect the dots and reveal how big money and Dark Money are controlling organizations and elections, thus endangering our democracy. In addition to teaching high school English in Louisiana, she has a doctorate in research methods and statistics. She’s good at taking a complicated subject and teaching it.

In 2018, Mercedes was invited to do a workshop at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Indianapolis with Andrea Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti about digging for data. The session was packed.

So many people wanted to learn more that Mercedes decided to write a book sharing her knowledge.

This is the book, published by Garn Press.

Mercedes announced the book.

My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon.

Garn Press will have the book available for purchase on March 03, 2020.

About the book:

In A Practical Guide to Digital Research, Schneider draws on her years of experience as an educational researcher to offer an easy-to-read, easy-to-digest, concise tutorial for equipping both novice and more experienced researchers in navigating numerous research sources. These include nonprofit tax form search engines, newspaper archives, social media sites, internet archives, campaign filings/ethics disclosures, teaching credential search engines, and legal filings. Also covered are tips on conducting both email and in-person interviews, filing public records requests, and conducting pointed, fruitful Google searches.This powerful, practical text is built upon a foundation of actual examples from Schneider’s own research in education—examples that she dissects and explains as a means of teaching her readers how to effectively make these valuable lessons their own. Though Schneider’s own research is chiefly in the education reform arena, the resources, skills and techniques offered in A Practical Guide to Digital Research transcend any single research field and are indispensable for confronting a variety of research queries. Useful as a classroom text or for independent research study, the book provides foundational learning for those new to research investigation as well as surprising, valuable lessons for more experienced researchers challenging themselves to learn even more.

For those interested, Amazon allows readers to view the book, including its table of contents.

The the idea for this book stems from a presentation I participated in with colleagues Andres Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti on tracking the funding related to the promotion of market-based education reform titled, “Where Did All This Money Come From??: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” at the 2018 Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis.

I know you will love this book. I predict that Bill Gates, John Arnold, Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch will not.

And a reminder: there are still a few openings at the 2020 annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia on March 28-29. It will be at the Doubletree Hilton.It is a great opportunity to meet your allies from a rossthe nation. Please register now!

Jan Resseger, tireless champion for social and economic justice, reflects on the fading reputation of the charter industry. The decision by the Trump administration to axe the federal Charter Schools Program (DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charter chains) is the latest affront to an industry that once was regarded as the great hope for innovation and effectiveness but got overwhelmed by scandals and profiteering.

Resseger credits the dramatic turn in the public reputation of the charter industry to the work of the Network for Public Education and its executive director Carol Burris.

Burris brings to her work the experience of a veteran educator, a teacher and principal who spots scams quickly. Burris also has a rock solid sense of integrity that makes her unwilling to tolerate organizations that are designed to benefit the adults, not the students. She is the quintessential embodiment of the “David” I wrote about in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. She works with passion and dedication because of a sense of mission, not for love of money. She is a mortal threat to the Goliaths who wear the fake mantel of education reform. She can’t be bought and she can’t be stopped. Unlike the hirelings of Goliath, she really does work for the children, for whom she has worked all her life.

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.

 

Apparently, Ed Deformers—themselves richly endowed with millions and millions from billionaires such as the Waltons, the Gates, Broad, Bloomberg, Koch, etc.—have descended to claiming that the Network for Public Education is funded by “Dark Money” and the big, bad teachers’ unions. Evidently they are troubled to have any dissent to their self-serving narrative that only privatization can “save” America’s children from the terrible public schools and teachers who have educated 90% of all Americans.

Mercedes Schneider performs a compare and contrast here, reviewing the tax filings of billionaire-funded “Education Post” with that of NPE. Of course, a fair comparison would have pitted NPE funding vs. not only “Education Post”, but also billionaire-funded The 74, The Center for Education Reform, Democrats for Education Reform, The City Fund, and the dozens of other front groups that have oodles of money but no members. (NPE has nearly 400,000 followers who pay no dues).

On one side is EdPost:

Started in 2014, Education Post is an ed-reform blog and the brainchild of California billionaire, Eli Broad. Right out of the starting gate, EdPost (actual nonprofit name, Results in Education Foundation) had $5.5M to play with in its first year.

EdPost’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1M for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Moreover, in his position as a founding member of EdPost’s board, Stewart was compensated a total of $422,925 for 40 hrs/wk across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” (To dig into that EdPost history, click here and follow the links.)

Deutsch reviews NPE’s revenues and reports a cumulative total from 2016-2018 of: $659,300.

What a haul!

But oh, those salaries!

In 2016,

Diane Ravitch was president and was not compensated.

Carol Burris was executive director and is the only compensated person listed on the tax form; her total 2016 compensation was $41,108 (40 hrs/wk), most of which was spent working for NPE (33 hrs/wk), and the remainder, for NPE Action (7 hrs/wk).

(Point of fact: Burris actually works at least 60 hours per week.)

But wait! In 2018, Burris’s salary for her full-time job was $55,000 a year. What a scandal!

No one is in NPE for the money.

The most amazing fact about NPE is how much it has accomplished with one full-time staff member and minimal resources. See:

A state-by-state report on support for public schools;

Online learning: What Every Parent Should Know;

Charters and Consequences;

Billionaires hijacking public schools;

The real story in New Orleans;

Student privacy,

School privatization toolkit,

The waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal Charter Schools Program (here and here).

Whoa! That’s a lot of bang for the buck. One full-time employee, two part-time employees (Darcie Cimarusti and Marla Kilfoyle) and all that productivity!

Is ”EdPost,” with all their millions, jealous of NPE?

Or just sore because they have lost the war of ideas, now that their boasts have flopped and Betsy DeVos is the face of their billionaire-funded “movement”?

 

 

Join your friends, allies, and other members of the Resistance in Philadelphia, March 28-29.

Now is the time to register!

 

 

Last week, John Merrow posted his congratulations to readers for matching up with an algorithm that selected them to make a substantial contribution to a worthy organization.

In this post, he cancels his congratulations and explains why he was in error–or just kidding around.

John Merrow has good news for you! 

You have been selected as a winner by his crack marketing team to do a good deed!.

Since he has selected the Network for Public Education as one of his honorees, I urge you to open his link.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, responds here to critics of NPE’s “Asleep At the Wheel,” the landmark analysis of the deeply flawed federal Charter Schools Program and invites comments and criticisms.

NPE wants readers to scrutinize the report carefully. If there are any errors, we will promptly correct them.

She writes:

Examining a list of nearly 5000 charter schools to determine which were open, closed or never open was a difficult and tedious task. There is no common standard when it comes to state reporting on closed charter schools—some states give lists of closed schools. Others do not. Many states only give a list of currently opened schools. Even those lists are not often up to date and rarely indicate if the school’s name has changed.

 In the case of unopened charters that received federal CSP funds there is no list at all. We (myself along with two part-time staff, Darcie Cimarusti and Marla Kilfoyle), would hunt for school information on the internet if a school in the database was not on the open or closed list and had no NCES number. Some of the schools that never opened had shells of Facebook pages and odd commercial information that is meaningless, but nevertheless pops up.

And then there are charter name changes, takeovers, charters turning into public schools and other complications with which we had to contend. Often we needed to make a judgement as to whether or not the school was indeed the school that had received the grant. We did the best we could, realizing that there would be some errors. We promised we would correct any mistakes we made and we will.

 We also knew that school choice advocates and groups opposed to public education would attempt to discount our work by finding error as a means to convince policymakers to disregard the report.

 On December 12 William Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a right wing think tank that promotes vouchers and charter schools, and Jim Bender of  School Choice Wisconsin  did just that in their blog on Fordham. They claimed to have found ten schools on our list of 132 Wisconsin closed or never opened schools that were open. They said these were “glaring” errors and it was not an “honest” report and therefore the entire 40 plus page report should be discounted.

 Let’s go through those “ten glaring errors” (they actually list 11 schools) one by one. The first name in bold is the school they say is open. The second name in bold is the school on our list of closed schools. 

Banner Prep of Milwaukee—may indeed be open, but we listed the Banner School of Milwaukee, which according to the list of closed schools on the website of the Wisconsin  Department of Education closed in 2015.

 Class Act Yes that is open. But we do not have it on the list of closed schools.

Etude—Perhaps this is also a different school because the Etude School, which is the name we list, closed in 2011 according to the state list. The NCES number (551365002690) associated with the school that got the grant does not return a school when you search here.

 Island City Academy. That was our error and we will correct it. Island City Research Academy is closed. 

Jedi Virtual K12  We list Jedi Virtual High School as closed. According to the state list it closed in 2011. In 2007 it had 14 students. In 2018 it had 13. Jedi Virtual High School was awarded a $400,000 grant.

 Lincoln Inquiry School. If you pop in the NCES number of the school given the grant, (551668002180) up comes a public school—Lincoln Elementary. It may have once been a charter but the school that received the grant is now a public school.

 Mead Elementary School. According to the school closure list, it closed in 2008. The NCES number returns no school.

 Milwaukee College Prep 36th St. and College Prep North closed in 2016 according to the closed independent charter schools’ list. The first NCES number comes up as no school, the second did not have an NCES number when given the grant. They were independent charters. Milwaukee College Prep 38th St. got a grant but that is not on our closed list. Perhaps the authors got the streets confused.

 Hmong American Peace Academy the school listed by us as closed is HAPA/International Peace Academy. International Peace Academy closed in 2013. This may be a school merger, since the initials fit. If the merger occurred before they got the grant, we will take it off the closed schools list.

 Mc Kinley Academy received a grant and we do not list it as closed. We list McKinley Middle Charter School as closed. According to Wisconsin’s closed schools list. There is a Mc Kinley Middle School that closed in 2012 in one location, and another that closed in 2018. The search by NCES number (551236001631) results in no school coming up.  Mc Kinley Academy has a different NCES number (550861002701).

 You can find a list of closed independent charter schools and closed public schools (district charters are on the closed public schools list) at: 

https://dpi.wi.gov/cst/data-collections/school-directory/directory-data/published-data

 We will remove Island City Academy from our list of closed schools, and further research the school merger.

 We will continue to review our list and keep track of charter failures. We welcome corrections to our lists with documentation which can be sent to info@networkforpubliceducation.org.  We will periodically do updates adding and removing names as information becomes available.

 Here is the bottom line. The Department of Education should report to Congress and the public on its $4.1 billion dollars investment in charter schools by providing transparent listings of schools that never opened, schools that have closed and why those schools failed.  The public deserves transparency and accountability not only from charter schools, but from the program designed to start them. The data that is available, limited as it is, shows a clear and undeniable problem.