Archives for category: Privatization

The Education Research Alliance of New Orleans just released a study of why some charter teachers in the nation’s only all-charter district want to join a union. Their reasons sound very much like the reasons that teachers in public schools want a union. No one told them that the Waltons, charter lobbyists, and other supporters of the charter movement don’t like unions. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the teachers’ union was eliminated, and all the teachers were fired. Getting rid of the union and removing teacher voice was part of the plan.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has released a study on teacher unions in charter schools in New Orleans and Detroit. Drawing on detailed interviews with 21 teachers, the report offers insight what motivates teachers in charter schools to form a union and what barriers may stand in their way.

This report gives readers the rare opportunity to hear teachers’ perspectives on the process of organizing in charter schools. All the teachers interviewed came from schools where there was an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, to form a union.

“Understanding the role of unions is particularly important now, when schools are both facing the COVID pandemic and in a time when there are calls to address racism in our institutions,” said Huriya Jabbar, lead author of the report. “Schools need to listen to teachers and develop a shared understanding about the best way forward in these difficult times. In some schools, unions play a big role in those conversations.”

Researchers Huriya Jabbar (University of Texas at Austin), Jesse Chanin (Tulane University), Jamie Haynes (University of Texas at Austin), and Sara Slaughter (Tulane University) uncovered the following insights about union organizing in charter schools:

The most common motivation for organizing was improving teacher retention and job security. Lack of pay transparency and equity (e.g. men and women being paid unequally), unsustainable workloads, teacher burnout, and arbitrary firings were also major underlying concerns.

Teachers also often brought up the desire to advocate for their students, hoping to ensure that school policies were culturally responsive and that vulnerable students were supported.

Teachers who were in favor of unionization efforts reported shock at the severity of school administrators’ responses. Many alleged that administrators fired teachers who attempted to unionize or accused them of destroying the school “family.”

High teacher turnover and fear of being fired were major challenges that stymied attempts at union organizing.
There were notable differences between Detroit, where many charters are for-profit, and New Orleans, where they are all non-profit. Detroit teachers saw low salary as a major issue and complained that they were lacking basic resources like textbooks. Teachers in New Orleans did not emphasize salary levels as a major issue but were concerned about pay transparency.

“As more charter schools open in the U.S., it is becoming increasingly important to understand the needs and motivations of teachers who choose to work in these schools,” said co-author Sara Slaughter, Associate Director at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Read the study here.

Gary Rubinstein reviews Thomas Sowell’s recent book about charter schools and their enemies.

Thomas Sowell is an economist and a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution. He is African American and has long been highly critical of affirmative action and anything that smacks of lowered standards for black students. He is a hard-right libertarian. Many years ago, we were friends, and I invited him to lecture at Teachers College, where his views were not well received. He is 90 years old and still fighting, which I respect.

Rubinstein writes that the first four chapters of his six chapter book are a rehash of “Waiting for ‘Superman’” myths, such as the long discredited claim that the children in charters are precisely the same as those who are not in a charter. He loathes teachers’ unions and thinks that their opposition to charters is purely greed and self-interest. He identifies Mayor Bill DeBlasio as a fierce enemy of charters, which is absurd, since he gave up fighting them in 2014, after Governor Cuomo and the hedge funders defeated DeBlasio’s efforts to limit their expansion.

I gather from Gary’s review that Sowell singles me out as a critic, appropriately, but I have no idea what motive he attributes to me since I have no financial interest or self-interest in opposing charter growth.

After the first four chapters, he segues into a different mode, acknowledging that students who enter charters are more motivated than those who are not.

Gary concludes:

Chapter 6, the final chapter, is called ‘Dangers’ and it is about other ways that politicians and teacher’s unions undermine charter school growth. There are unfair charter caps. There are people who want charters to teach social justice to their students which he calls ‘indoctrination.’ He also does not like charters having to teach ‘sex education’ or ‘ethnic studies.’ Finally, he resents that some charter critics want the charters to have their meetings open to the public and to have their records open to public scrutiny. He says that this will make the board members targets of smear campaigns and have their homes vandalized.

All in all, this was quite a strange read. I don’t imagine that many reformers want to be identified with his arguments from the last two chapters and since the first four chapters have already been done in 2010 with “Waiting For Superman”, this book is not one that I imagine will be remembered for being very relevant.

Still it is interesting to see how little is left in the reform defender’s arsenal.

It is interesting too that this most recent defense of charter schools comes from an economist who has long been recognized as a hard-edged rightwinger.

Jack Schneider is a historian of education. In this post, which he wrote at my request, he analyzes the new push for homeschooling. In the midst of the global pandemic, with millions of children quarantined at home, its not surprising that parents are compelled to be teachers. But how many parents will want to homeschool when real schools are one day available again?

Schneider writes:

Never let a good crisis go to waste. As any policy advocate knows, the destabilizing nature of an emergency creates a rare opportunity: sweeping change can happen quickly.

Both parties have a history of exploiting difficulties and disasters. During the Great Recession, for instance, the Obama administration pushed through a series of heavy-handed federal education reforms that might otherwise have met with stiff resistance. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most ambitious education proposals have come from Republicans, because the shuttering of schools has played to their advantage.

With state revenues shrinking before our eyes and schools forced online, conservatives have seized the opportunity to push for a number of long-standing pet projects: virtual schooling, spending cuts, union-busting, and privatization. Unthinkable in ordinary times, these ideologically-motivated reforms suddenly seem plausible.
Consider the recent push for homeschooling. The right has long made the case that public education is a waste of taxpayer funds and an offense to individual liberty. “Government schools,” as many conservatives deridingly call them, strip parents of their freedom to educate their children as they please; worse, they do so at an annual cost of nearly a trillion dollars. Homeschooling, by contrast, is defined by limited government oversight and costs taxpayers virtually nothing.

Homeschooling is no great evil. It predates formal schooling and has existed alongside the public education system for roughly two centuries. It also constitutes a small fraction of overall school enrollments in the United States.

Yet it is important to understand current advocacy for homeschooling as what it is: crisis-related opportunism. Homeschooling hasn’t suddenly become better or more appealing than it ever was. Instead, market-oriented conservatives understand that this is the best shot they’ve ever had at dismantling public education (an aim that Jennifer Berkshire and I detail in our book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door). Homeschooling, for those like Betsy DeVos, is a means to that end.

A recent article in Education Next—a publication created by the conservative Hoover Institution—offers a perfect case in point. It may lead with the classic ideological argument—that homeschooling offers “the freedom to explore education as families see fit, with limited government oversight.” But the real aim of the piece is to persuade readers that our concerns about homeschooling are “overblown.” It’s a play for respectability—ammunition for the policy siege to come.

Yet the evidence on offer is hardly compelling. As we learn, homeschooled children go to museums and libraries somewhat more often than their public school counterparts—largely because they are not at school all day. They are slightly more likely to visit a zoo or aquarium. And they are 17 percentage points more likely to do arts and crafts projects. We are also told, as if we couldn’t have guessed, that homeschooled children are more likely to participate in family activities.

And that’s just about all.

There are some nods to the fact that homeschooling isn’t uniform—that families often band together, employ additional internet-based resources, and sometimes even participate in school-based activities. But on the whole, there is little evidence that homeschooling is a viable large-scale alternative to public education.

To his credit, the study’s author, Daniel Hamlin, doesn’t make that claim. But we need to imagine how such studies will be transformed as they careen across the internet, and as they are weaponized by ideologically-motivated legislators.

We must remember, too, that there is a cost to homeschooling. Most children who are homeschooled probably turn out just fine, though the truth is we don’t actually know—we don’t have the evidence. For many children, however, a shift away from school as we know it would be devastating. Their academic experiences would be more limited and their social experiences much narrower. They would lose out on nutrition and health services, miss opportunities to build interracial and cross-class friendships, and experience far more idiosyncratic forms of citizenship preparation. All of this, as we know from educational research, would most severely affect the least advantaged—those from historically marginalized racial groups and low-income families.

Despite the limited evidentiary base for homeschooling, and the serious concerns we should have, we can be sure that the push for widespread homeschooling will come. The present crisis is simply too good to waste. And given the nature of this emergency, the case for channeling funds directly to families—even if it is at the expense of public school budgets—is an easy one to make.

So, expect to see a sudden influx of research (and research-like products) that tells us to put our concerns aside, to embrace homeschooling for the time being, and to allow policy leaders to blaze a new trail. But read carefully, and remember that any changes implemented now may endure far into the future.

Thomas Ultican continues his investigation of the tentacles of billionaire reformers, this time focusing on the tumultuous career of John Deasy, who resigned as superintendent of the Stockton, California, school district.

Ultican shows how Deasy rose to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, how Justin tenure there was marked by controversy as he walked in lockstep with the Eli Broad-Bill Gates agenda of charter school expansion, high-stakes testing, and huge investments in technology. His controversial decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads and tech curriculum led to the end of his tenure in L.A.

On to Stockton, where the Mayor and three school board members were closely allied with the billionaire agenda.

A sad and cautionary tale about the destructive billionaire-funded movement to gut public schools.

In this article that appeared in Forbes, Peter Greene reviews the implications of the Network for Public Education’s report of charter school closures.

When parents choose a charter school for their child, they are gambling that the school will be around for another three or four years or longer. The odds are not good.

He writes:

Within the first three years, 18% of charters had closed, with many of those closures occurring within the first year. By the end of five years, 25% of charters had closed. By the ten year mark, 40% of charters had closed. Of the 17 cohorts, five had been around for fifteen years; within those, roughly half of all charter schools had closed (anywhere from 47% to 54%). Looked at side by side, the cohort results are fairly steady; the failure rates have not been increasing or decreasing over the years.

Charter advocates have often argued that charter churn is a feature, not a bug, simply a sign that market forces are working and that weaker schools are being sloughed off. But the NPE report notes that these closures represent at least 867,000 students who “found themselves emptying their lockers for the last time—sometimes in the middle of a school year—as their school shutters its door for good…

Charter supporters may argue that this is all just the market working itself out, but that’s hardly a comfort to parents who must go through shopping, application, enrollment and adjustment to the new school yet again. As the report acknowledges, there are charter schools doing some excellent work out there, but for parents, enrolling a child in a charter school—particularly a new one—is a bit of a risk. It’s one thing to see market forces work in a sector such as restaurants, where new businesses come and go and very few go the distance; if you discover that your new favorite eatery has suddenly closed, it’s a minor inconvenience. It’s another things to see such instability in a sector that is supposed to provide stability and education for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

This story in the Middletown (Connecticut) Press shows that charters in the state debated whether it was ethical to take federal money intended to help small businesses and nonprofits that might go bankrupt. Some took the money, others decided against it. The Connecticut Charter Schools Association encouraged the state’s charter schools to go for the money. Among those that did were members of large charter chains supported by billionaires.

Note the comments of Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Education Committee (and a DFER favorite), who sees no dilemma, and of Connecticut’s Rep. Jahana Hayes, who acknowledges the ethical problem.

Journalist Emilie Munson writes:

As the coronavirus reshapes education, over half of Connecticut’s 22 charter schools received Paycheck Protection Program loans this spring and summer, collecting a total of at least $12.5 million to $16.5 million in federal support unavailable to traditional public schools, a review of Small Business Administration data and school board minutes shows.

The popular forgivable loans proved a source of division among charter school administrators, some of whom thought it was improper for the schools to apply for the money, while others said it was irresponsible not to….

Bruce Ravage, founder and executive director of Park City Prep in Bridgeport, applied for a PPP loan in July, after learning more about the program and realizing he would be “crazy” not to, he said. The school recently was approved for a loan of $441,000, he said.

“We’re a business that serves a very, very needy population of students and I want to be sure that I have the resources available to provide whatever it is going to take,” Ravage said. “There are corporations that have a lot more money than us that applied for this.”

Tim Dutton, director of Operations at the Bridge Academy in Bridgeport, said his school chose not to apply for a loan because it did not lose revenue or lay off employees during the pandemic, and they knew they would receive federal emergency funding.

“The decision on the Paycheck Protection Program was really just the ethical one. I didn’t think it was about bailing out schools,” Dutton said. “PPP would not be appropriate as it would look like ‘double dipping.’”

On May 13, the school board of Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport voted against applying for a PPP loan, believing the school was likely ineligible because it was still receiving a steady stream of state and federal funding, school board minutes show. Just over a month later, the school was approved for a PPP loan of $350,000 to $1 million, SBA data shows…

When asked about PPP loans for charter schools, House Education and Labor chairman Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said his priority is simply securing funding for public schools, adding he does not want to “draw red lines all over the place.”
A member of the committee and former 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5, said however she wants to “push for effective guardrails that prevent charter school waste, fraud and mismanagement.”
“Far too often, malicious actors in the charter school industry siphon much needed funds away from public education and from students in need,” Hayes said in a statement. “Public charter schools accessing both pots of relief funds amounts to double dipping and feeds into the skepticism and criticism that so many have surrounding charter schools. Applying for funds both as a school and a nonprofit drains resources from the public schools and communities that need it most, undermines student’s ability to learn, and threatens the very promise of equal education.”

Floridians, and everyone else, want to know the answer to this question. Some believe that keeping schools open during a pandemic will destroy them; some fear that opening them during a pandemic will destroy them. Take your pick.

Thanks to Peter Greene, I discovered a Florida blog called Accountabaloney, written by two savvy Floridians who are fed-up with their state’s absurd education policies. Sue and Suzette, welcome!

They write here about a podcast by Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, questioning whether Betsy DeVos’s newfound enthusiasm for opening real public schools is another front in her war to destroy them.

Listening to the “In the Weeds” podcast, they realized that another con was happening:

Some will read the title and dismiss it as a conspiracy theory. That is exactly what we used to hear if we equated “ed reform” with privatization five or so years ago, when the education reformers were still hiding their desire to privatize public education. In Florida, they now make few attempts to conceal their mission. We hope you will read this summary, subscribe at Patreon, listen to the entire “In the Weeds” segment, and draw your own conclusions. Will the Covid pandemic be used fundamentally alter public education in Florida?…

Keep in mind, the Commissioner Corcoran is a strong proponent of “school choice” and privatization, pushing as both a legislator and as the commissioner for the expansion of charter schools and private school voucher programs. Shortly after he was appointed as commissioner, he was reported saying his goal was to move 2/3rd of Florida’s 2.7 million public school students into private options, envisioning a system where most students attended charter and private schools.

After calling for the campus closures of Florida’s public schools in response to the pandemic in March, at the April 1st State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner Corcoran praised Florida Virtual School (FLVS) for re-allocating $4.3 million of its reserve funding to purchase the servers necessary to expand its capacity be capable of serving the entire Florida student population (2.72 million). He suggested that, should the closures remain necessary, FLVS could serve the entire state’s virtual needs…

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Ron DeSantis redefined public education saying “if it’s public dollars, it’s public education,” an idea celebrated by DeVos.

I’m so glad to read this post. Florida is very likely the worst, most corrupt state in the nation when it comes to education policy.

The National Education Policy Center released a report recently by Kristen Buras, one of my favorite scholar-writers. It focuses on dramatic racial disparities in New Orleans as the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the city. Her earlier book about the privatization of the public schools of New Orleans is powerful and, aside from my review, did not get the attention it deserved. It is titled Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.

NEPC announces the new report by Buras:

BOULDER, CO (July 28, 2020) – To inspire support for public health directives, many warn COVID-19 does not discriminate—everyone’s susceptible. The reality is more complicated. We are not “all in this together.” Racism ensures this, and New Orleans’ experience following Hurricane Katrina illustrates one way that racial inequities play out in times of crisis.

In a report released by the National Education Policy Center, “From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities,” professor Kristen Buras of Georgia State University draws on history, storytelling, and political analysis to describe how the government neglect that disproportionately affected communities of color during Katrina is again evident during the COVID-19 crisis, with similar devastating results.

On August 29, 2005, Katrina struck New Orleans with disastrous effects. Yet while Katrina is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, Buras argues that government neglect and market-driven public policy generated the worst effects, especially for communities of color. Despite forecasts that Katrina could kill tens of thousands, federal, state, and local governments did little to protect those in geographically vulnerable neighborhoods or evacuate those without cars. In New Orleans, African Americans were left to drown in floodwaters and dehydrate on rooftops, disproportionately suffering an array of harms.

But the harms did not end there. As floodwaters receded, policies aimed at privatizing assets in African American neighborhoods, including public schools, were enacted, compounding racial inequities wrought by a history of white supremacy.

Almost 15 years later, on January 20, 2020, the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was detected. Despite warnings that a pandemic could wreak physical and economic havoc, the federal government failed to take preventative action.

As a result, communities of color are again suffering disproportionately, with African Americans and other racially marginalized groups overrepresented among those who have died from the virus. Yet states have been slow to produce racially disaggregated data or provide racially targeted healthcare and other support. Instead of coordinating a federal response to the crisis and corresponding disparities, policymakers have advocated free market solutions, leaving states to compete for lifesaving medical supplies. The CARES Act, ostensibly passed to assist vulnerable communities, has been used to consolidate the wealth of corporate elites.

Katrina and COVID-19 have been framed as “natural” disasters—one ecological and the other biological—but Buras contends that government inaction and racism have been most responsible for the disproportionate harms experienced by communities of color. With COVID-19, African Americans and other marginalized communities risk infection as low-paid workers, struggle to access food and healthcare, worry about rent and eviction, confront a digital divide amid shuttered schools, and die at higher rates.

The experience of Katrina, then, has policy implications for the current moment, including concerns over profiteering and who will have a voice in rebuilding communities disproportionately affected by economic shutdowns and school closures.
Professor Buras ends her report with race-conscious, equity-focused policy recommendations spanning health, education, housing, labor, and democratic governance. These are necessary, she concludes, to realize an equitable future and hold accountable those whose negligence has inflicted and compounded harm for communities facing the crisis of not only COVID-19, but racism.
In sum, Professor Buras’ report critically analyzes the following:

*Reliving Katrina
*The Effects of Disaster Are Not Natural: Federal Neglect Kills—And Kills Unequally
*Crisis Reveals Preexisting Inequities and Exposes Tolerance for Racism
*Profiteering and Privatization Dispossess Communities of Color
*The Question of Who Has a Voice in Rebuilding the Economy Is Critical
*Negligence Is Racist and Criminal
*Toward an Equitable Policy Future

Find From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities, by Kristen L. Buras, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/katrina-covid

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.

Democrats for Education Reform is a group of Wall Street hedge fund executives that decided that schools would improve if they were privatized and adhered to business principles, like pay for performance, no unions, testing, accountability, and private management. DFER likes mayoral control and state takeovers, not elected school boards. Above all, it is mad for charter schools, which honor the principles of business management. DFER has not been dissuaded by the failure of charters to produce better results than public schools. It has not been moved by the charters’ practices of skimming, exclusion, and attrition. It ignores the cascade of charter scandals.

Peter Greene explains the origins of DFER here. The billionaires who founded DFER knew it did not have to win converts within the Republican Party, which embraced privatization. Its target was the Democratic Party, which had a long history of support for public schools.

Peter wrote:

DFER is no more Democratic than my dog. There’s not enough space between their positions and the positions of the conservative Fordham Institute (though I think, on balance, Fordham is generally more respectful of teachers). But for the privatizers to be effective, they need to work both sides of the aisle. Also, RFER would sound too much like a pot advocacy group.

So they’re not really Democrats. And they don’t want to reform education– they just want to privatize it and reduce teachers to easily replaced widgets. And they aren’t particularly interested in education other than as a sector of the economy. I suppose I have no beef with their use of the word “for,” as long as they put it with the things that they are really for– privatization and profit. So, Apoliticals Supporting Privatization and Profit. ASPP. Much better.

To learn more about DFER, read the BadAss Teachers report.

Campaign cash changes minds, DFER knew. And it soon had an impressive stable of Democratic electeds on board. When Andrew Cuomo first ran for governor of New York, he quickly learned that the path to Wall Street required a commitment to charter schools, which meant a visit to DFER offices. He has been a faithful ally ever since.