Archives for category: Privatization

If anyone thought that the frequent scandals in the charter sector in Ohio would bring about a new era of accountability and oversight for charter schools, think again. The Ohio Department of Education has hired a charter school activist to run the state’s charter school office.

 

The Ohio Department of Education has hired charter school advocate RaShaun Holliman, the head of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, to lead its charter school office.

 

He started Monday in the position once held by Joni Hoffman, a longtime employee of the department who was part of last year’s data-rigging controversy involving online schools.

 

Hoffman and Frank Stoy, another key official in the charter school office, are retiring.

 

Whether Holliman will just promote charter schools, as he has in previous jobs, or will force Ohio charters to have better quality is unclear. He did not return a call to the OAPCS office and biographical information provided by the state and by that organization does not show any previous enforcement work.

 

The former principal of the Focus Learning Academy charter school in Columbus worked for the Georgia Charter Schools Association, where he handled communications and outreach, before returning to Ohio in late summer to head OAPCS.

 

But that non-profit organization that was once the leading voice for charter schools in the state has lost members and officially announced this week that it will shut down at the end of the year.

 

The hiring drew a few objections, given the national ridicule of Ohio’s $1 billion charter school industry both from comedians and political commentators, as well as from national charter supporters.

 

“You don’t hire an industry insider to be a tough new sheriff for the industry they were just advocating for,” said former state representative Steve Dyer, a frequent critic of charter schools. “It’s certainly an image problem.”

 

The funniest line in the story is this one:

 

Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute, an organization that promotes charter schools but also quality standards for them, understood that concern, but was less worried. Hirings of officials from traditional public schools happen all the time, he noted, without raising alarms of favoritism for those schools.

 

So, hiring an experienced superintendent to lead the state’s education department is equivalent to hiring an industry insider to police a scandal-ridden industry. The overwhelming majority of children in Ohio attend public schools, which consistently outperform charter schools. Will the new director of charter schools crack down on the frauds, grifters, thieves, and cheats in the charter sector? Or is this just another example of industry capture of the regulatory agency?

 

Robert Mann, professor of journalism at Louisiana State University, hopes that Donald Trump will pay attention to the disaster of former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s failed voucher program. Open the article to read the links.

 

“This is where the disappointment of Jindal’s voucher program enters the picture, as policy makers and the media will inevitably examine its dismal performance. At Jindal’s urging, in 2008 lawmakers created the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), enabling some disadvantaged students to leave public schools graded a C or lower and enroll in a participating private school. By 2014, more than 6,000 public school students attended one of 126 private schools.

 

“In 2015, Jindal bragged about his program. “For students attending private schools on public dollars, almost all of whom arrived several years behind, their lives are being turned around,” he wrote in a column on CNN’s website.

 

“If only that were true. In a paper published last year by the National Bureau for Economic Research, three scholars documented “the large negative effects” and the reduced academic achievements of scholarship program students in 2013, the first year after the program’s expansion.

 

“Our results show that LSP vouchers reduce academic achievement,” the researchers concluded, explaining, “attendance at an LSP-eligible private school is estimated to lower math scores” and “reduce reading, science and social studies scores.”

 

“Why? “We find evidence,” the researchers wrote, “that the negative effects of the LSP may be linked to selection of low-quality private schools into the program.”

 

“A comprehensive 2016 study of the program for the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans also concluded “an LSP scholarship user who was performing at roughly the 50th percentile at baseline fell 24 percentile points below their control group counterparts in math after one year. By year 2, they were 13 percentile points below.”

 

“Imagine that. Pluck kids from troubled public schools, put them into substandard private schools and — voila! — you’ve made their academic condition worse.”

 

 

Rosann Tung is a parent in the Boston Public Schools and is director of research and policy at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. In this article, she connects the meaning of the successful campaign to block the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts and the present moment, where public schools across the nation are under threat. The parent-teacher victory over the out-of-state billionaires was a resounding affirmation of public support for public schools. Please open the article to see the links to sources. Tung’s article is a good reminder of the importance of joining with allies in your district, town, city, or state. Every region has an organization that is supporting public education and opposing privatization. For help in finding your allies, contact the Network for Public Education.

 

Tung writes:

 

On November 8, Massachusetts voters decided to keep the charter school cap by voting “no” on Ballot Question 2, with only 16 (mostly wealthy) towns out of 351 voting “yes.” School committees in over 200 districts passed resolutions against Question 2, because communities want local control over their schools and understand that the charter industry forces them to run two parallel school systems, one of which is not fully accountable to the community.

 

The ballot proposal would have allowed up to twelve new Commonwealth charter schools each year indefinitely. In addition, the proposal would have removed limits on the amount of money that districts can be required to pass through to charter schools, enabling situations in which charter school growth could eventually cause the collapse of urban public school districts due to loss of revenue. Raising the charter cap would have bled our districts of resources necessary for early education, engaging course offerings, and professional development, and crippled the system’s ability to improve public, accountable schools for all students.

 

Not all charter schools exacerbate inequities, but lifting the charter cap would have allowed the creation of more charters that do widen the opportunity gap for students historically marginalized by unequal systems – especially schools that are run by for-profit corporations or charter management chains, that lack transparency and accountability in their governance, or that follow practices such as inequitable enrollment, punitive discipline policies, or excessive focus on raising standardized test scores. Choosing to keep the charter school cap was a win for equity in our state’s public school system.

 

Given the election of Donald Trump as our next president, we need to use this win to continue the strong advocacy for equitable and accountable public schools that the No on Question 2 supporters organized. During the fight for Question 2, charter proponents raised over $26 million to support their cause, primarily from “dark money,” out-of-state, and corporate donors. The aims of these donors are aligned with those of our president-elect; Trump promises to further privatize public schools and reduce government’s role in public education. While Trump’s education platform lacks specifics and details, we know that he has promised to divert $20 billion from school districts and perhaps even eliminate the federal Department of Education.

 

Building on the grassroots victory over Massachusetts Question 2, we need to ensure that his administration’s policies do not succeed in: dismantling federal oversight for students’ rights to quality education; further privatizing public education through private and parochial school vouchers and the expansion of charter school chains dominated by large corporate interests; and traumatizing students of color and immigrant students through a culture of intolerance and government-sanctioned racism and xenophobia.

 

Given Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos, a pro-voucher billionaire, as Secretary of Education, the Trump administration will likely allocate Title I dollars to “school choice,” which includes a voucher program for students to attend private and parochial schools and the creation of more charter and magnet schools. This “portability” could reverse what 62 percent of Massachusetts residents just voted for – keeping funds in traditional public schools. Trump’s approach to improving schools through a market-based, competitive approach will reduce the ability of public schools and systems to improve due to funding and resource shortfalls. And it will widen the opportunity gap, since a disproportionate number of Massachusetts’ charter schools have zero tolerance discipline policies and disproportionately low enrollment of English language learners.

 

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, many educators have led emotional classroom discussions to help students process their reactions, which include sadness, fear, rage, and uncertainty. Students who are Muslim, LGBTQ, immigrant, undocumented, Latino, female, and/or of color describe anxiety over their civil rights and their futures in this country. Superintendents in urban districts around the country have tried to reassure students and families with public letters and offers of support and counseling. Now more than ever, under a Trump administration, we must provide civic education that promotes critical consciousness, teaches about structural inequality, and empowers students to voice their concerns, organize, and advocate for humane and equitable policies.

 

In the next four years, with Trump as president and with a Republican Congress, we must continue to demand inclusive, transparent, and accountable public schools that serve each community’s distinct needs and desires, rather than quasi-public, unaccountable charter schools and private schools. We must ensure that our public schools create greater opportunity for all of our students, especially those most marginalized by our inequitable systems.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press and a parent of children in a Detroit charter school, wrote a scathing critique of Betsy DeVos and her lack of qualifications to be Secretary of Education. He called his article “Betsy DeVos and the Twilight of Public Education.”

 

She is not an educator nor does she have relevant experience, he says. She is a lobbyist for school choice. The chaotic mess in Detroit is her handiwork. The city has many charter schools, and they are no better than public schools.

 

Thanks to her zealous lobbying, he says, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charters that just about any other state.

 

He writes:

 

“In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.

 

“What remains in short supply is quality.

 

“In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

 

“On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

 

“Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.

 

“For students enrolled in schools of choice — that is, schools in nearby districts who have opened their doors to children who live outside district boundaries — it’s not much better. Kids who depend on Detroit’s problematic public transit are are too far away from the state’s top-performing school districts — and most of those districts don’t participate in the schools of choice program, anyway.

 

“This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

 

“And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan….

 

“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located…

 

“The most accurate assessment is that charter schools have simply created a second, privately managed failing system. Yes, there are high-performing outliers — a little more than 10% of the charter schools perform in the top tier. But in Detroit, the best schools are as likely to be traditional public schools.

 

“DeVos and her family have not been daunted by these outcomes. It’s as if the reams of data showing just incremental progress or abysmal failure don’t matter. Their belief in charter schools is unshakable, their resistance to systematic reforms that would improve both public and charter schools unyielding.”

Indiana has one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, even though the state constitution explicitly forbids spending public money for religious schools. The state courts decided that the constitution doesn’t mean what it says. Former Governor Mitch Daniels initiated the voucher program and Mike Pence expanded it. Although born a Catholic, Pence is now an evangelical Christian.

 

Mother Jones investigated the Indiana voucher program and found that it has been a boon for religious schools, including many that teach creationism. Student performance in the voucher schools is poor; maybe someday the state will realize that it has to save kids who are failing to learn in mediocre voucher schools.

 

“One of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s pet projects as governor of Indiana was expanding school choice vouchers, which allow public money to pay for private school tuition. President-elect Donald Trump has said he’d like to expand such vouchers in the rest of the country, but what happened in Indiana should serve as a cautionary tale for Trump and his administration.

 

“Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

 

“In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out. “Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels declared after the voucher legislation passed. It was supposed to be a small program, initially capped at 7,500 vouchers. Full vouchers, worth 90 percent of the per-pupil spending in a school district, were reserved for families with incomes up to 100 percent of the cutoff for free or reduced-price school lunch, about $45,000 a year for a family of four.

 

“But in 2013, Pence and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature raised the income limits on the program so that a family of four with up to $90,000 in annual income became eligible for vouchers covering half their private school tuition. They also removed most requirements that students come from a public school to access the vouchers, making families already attending private school eligible for tuition subsidies, thus removing any pretense that the vouchers were a tool to help poor children escape failing schools.

 

“Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church- and-state issues.

 
“By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students.

 

“Opponents, including public school teachers and local clergy, sued the state to try to block the voucher program in 2011, arguing that it clearly violated the state constitutional provisions that protect taxpayers from having to support religion. They were also concerned that the money going to the religious schools was coming directly from local public school systems, draining them of critical funding in violation of the state constitution. But the Indiana state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the voucher program was constitutional because public money was going to the students and not to religious institutions directly….

 

“Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids in these schools aren’t performing very well on the state’s standardized tests, putting voucher schools among the state’s worst-performing schools. The three campuses of Horizon Christian Academy rank near the bottom. Two of its schools were once for-profit charter schools that lost their charters because they were badly underperforming. They reconstituted as private religious schools and now take taxpayer-funded vouchers. In 2015, less than 9 percent of the students at one of the Horizon campuses passed the state standardized tests in math and English, a rate worse than most of the state’s public schools from which the vouchers were supposed to provide an escape.

 

“A study by researchers at Notre Dame University published last year shows that in the first three years of the program, Indiana kids who left public schools to attend voucher schools saw their math scores decline in comparison with their peers who remained in regular public schools. The public school students saw improvements in their English skills, but the voucher kids’ results stayed flat. The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.”

 

This is what is in store for the nation in the Trump-Pence era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this post, Mitchell Robinson lays out the strategy of Betsy and Dick DeVos in Michigan, which they have since exported to other states in their well-funded campaign to destroy public education and substitute for it a marketplace of for-profit charters and publicly-funded religious schools.

 

Robinson, a professor of music education at Michigan State, writes:

 

 

“As Michiganders know, Betsy and Dick DeVos are religious and school privatization/choice/voucher zealots. They were humiliated by the twin failures of voucher legislation in 2000 and Dick’s loss in the Michigan governor’s race to Jennifer Granholm in 2006, and these dual humiliations resulted in the development of the DeVos’ “long-game” strategy to achieve their goals of privatizing public education:

 

*destroy the Democrats’ biggest single source of financial support by gutting teacher unions via Right to Work legislation
*capitalize on the elimination of the charter school “cap” to explode the number of non-regulated and for-profit charter schools in the state
*use charter schools as the mechanism to “blur the lines” between public and private/religious schools
use this “blurring” of boundaries between church and state to build public support for the redistribution of public funds to religious and private schools”

 

In the timeline that Robinson created, he includes the infamous secret video of Dick DeVos speaking at the Heritage Foundation in 2002.

 

He writes:

 

“One of my first encounters with the DeVos ideology of education was stumbling upon this video of a speech that Amway heir Dick DeVos (husband of Betsy, brother-in-law of Blackwater private mercenary army founder Eric Prince, Betsy’s brother), gave on December 3, 2002, at the Heritage Foundation (which is funded generously by the DeVos family foundations). The gist of this speech was Mr. DeVos’ argument that school privatization was an issue that was deeply divisive, and not at all popular with the public; so in order to get vouchers and privatization through the legislature a “stealth approach” was necessary: “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

 

At least we know where she stands. She is not neutral among the different sectors of K-12 education. She doesn’t like public schools. She wants unregulated competition among charters and religious schools, all funded by taxpayers.

 

A few years back, I visited Michigan and spoke to a group of district superintendents who collectively represented about half the students in the state. They described Michigan’s public school choice program, which obliterated district lines. Students could go to any public school, taking their dollars with them. Every district competed with every other district to lure students because total revenues rose or fell based on enrollments. Each district spent about $100,000 a year on radio and TV advertising, trying to “poach” students from neighboring districts. No one liked this approach. No one thought it was educationally sound. It was a colossal waste of money. Add to this the competition with charters, most of which operate for profit, and you have a state school system focused on dollars as the bottom line, not students or education.

 

 

 

Here is a great article in The New Republic by staff writer Graham Vyse, asking the crucial question, “Can Democrats Save Public Education from Trump and DeVos?” It acknowledges that the Democrats paved the way for the school choice agenda of the far-right by touting privately managed charter schools for the past eight years.

 

So the question now is whether Democrats will really fight for public education or will they continue the pretense that privately managed charter schools are “public?” Will they continue to endorse charters and oppose vouchers? Can you be half-pregnant?

 

As the Democrats aped the Republicans on key social issues, like education, they lost their unique identity. Now there are only 14 states with Democratic governors. If they keep pretending to be Republicans, there will be even fewer.

 

Andrew Cuomo of New York has used the same language as Trump, referring to community public schools as a “government monopoly,” and he endorsed legislation to compel the city of New York to give free space to charters, even those that are able to pay rent, like Eva Moskowitz’s fabulously wealthy charter chain. Dannell Molloy has been a champion for charter schools in Connecticut and gives them preference over public schools. Jerry Brown in California opened two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charter schools.

 

Will they fight the privatization agenda, now that it is the Trump agenda?

Jeff Bryant has written a stunning documentation of the damage done by the charter industry to public schools in North Carolina. It is worth your time to read it all. It is a preview of what lies ahead for public education in the Trump era, unless parents and educators and public-spirited citizens join to save their public schools. It is not a pretty picture.

 

The Tea Party Republicans in the legislature and Governor Pat McCrory in the state house set a course to undermine, underfund, and starve public schools while opening the state to charter schools, whether nonprofit or for-profit. Jeff Bryant shows how funding for the public schools is below 2008 levels, even though enrollment has grown by nearly 80,000. Public schools have had to make budget cuts, at the same time that charter schools and online charter schools take away students and funding. In North Carolina, as in many states, if a student leaves a charter school after October to return to the public school, the charter school gets to keep the full year of tuition and is not obliged to replace the student who left.

 

The board that oversees charter schools and decides which new charters to approve is filled with charter school advocates. As Donald Trump used to say, “It’s a rigged system, folks, it’s a rigged system.”

 

Bryant explains in detail how the for-profit charter management companies make money. He uses the example of National Heritage Academies, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hometown of Donald Trump’s designated Secretary of Education. Half their teachers may be uncertified, which means they have lower salary costs. But the real money is in the real estate.

 

Bryant writes:

 

How do these schools make a profit? The best answer the reporter for the Charlotte Observer could find was in management fees for the EMOs [educational management organizations], which In North Carolina equal to 7 – 19 percent of total school operational costs.

 

But based on my inquiries, that figure represents a very small part of the profit these schools make.

 

Out Of Michigan And Florida

 

“North Carolina is one those states that is new to the charter game,” Ellen Lipton tells me in a phone call to her office in Michigan – home of National Heritage Academies. NHA is based in Grand Rapids, where Betsy DeVos also lives.

 

“The low per-student funding that tends to characterize Southern states generally kept charter school operators from moving into those states,” she contends. “But now states like Michigan are getting saturated” so the charter chains have decided to move south.

Lipton is a Michigan State Representative who has spoken out against the spread of charter schools through the state’s Education Achievement Authority, an appointed agency, similar to the Achievement School District North Carolina created last year, that takes over low-performing schools and turns them over to charter operators.

 

According to Lipton, NHA has “fine-tuned” the business of chartering to ensure they make a profit. She points me to a recent investigative report by the Detroit Free Press that finds, “It is difficult to know how charter management companies are spending money … Unlike traditional school districts, the management companies usually don’t disclose their vendors, contracts, and competitive bid documents.”

 

“NHA is a business model based on, not necessarily educating kids, but on being a facilities management company,” Casandra Ulbrich, another Michigan source, tells me.

 

Ulbrich is currently serving her second eight-year term on the Michigan State Board of Education and also works in education administration at a state community college.

 

She tells me how the NHA business model works: First, NHA forms a charter school board to “invite” NHA to manage a new school. The governing board is not independent of the management company, and members of the board can serve on multiple NHA charter boards across the state, thus creating a network of charter school boosters the work on promoting these schools.

 

After securing a contract to manage the new school, NHA purchases a building – it could be a storefront in a strip mall or an abandoned warehouse – and requests approval from an authorizer to open a school there. After the authorization, the charter board signs a lease agreement with Charter Development Company, LLC to take over ownership of the building. Charter Development Company, which has branches in all the states where NHA has schools, has its home office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the same address as the home office of NHA.

 

Now NHA and its related enterprises own the building and its contents, even if desks, computers, and equipment have been purchased with taxpayer money. It receives rent payments from the district. It owns the curriculum the school teaches. And if NHA is ever fired, the charter board – and by extension the district – is in the awkward position of having to buy back its own school.

 

 

After a hard-fought election that produced a narrow margin of victory, State Attorney General Roy Cooper was elected the next Governor of North Carolina. Pat McCrory, current governor and Tea Party hero, conceded defeat.

 

Education was the leading issue for Roy Cooper. He railed against the actions of McCrory and the legislature, and he was elected even as the state voted for Trump. Maybe that’s a lesson for Democratic candidates in other states. Supporting public schools is wise and politically powerful.

 

This is what Governor-elect Cooper says on his website:

 

We need to make education a priority. Governor McCrory has prioritized huge tax giveaways to big corporations and those at the top while he cut teaching assistants and failed to provide the resources our children need and to pay our teachers what they deserve.

 

We have to give more pay and respect to teachers, and to treat them as the professionals they are. Among the top priorities are increasing teacher pay, reversing cuts to textbooks and school buses, and stopping teacher assistant lay-offs.

 

Teachers will ultimately know we respect them when our policy reflects our rhetoric. Reinstating a teaching fellows program to attract the best and brightest, providing opportunities for teachers to improve their skills as professionals, and making sure their kids are healthy and ready to learn in the classroom are vital.

 

North Carolina already ranks 46th in the country and last in the Southeast in per-pupil expenditures for public schools. Many good teachers are leaving for other states for better jobs, and class size has increased. That’s causing parents to lose faith in public schools and undermining North Carolina’s best jobs recruiting tool, our education system.

 

Similarly, I oppose vouchers that drain money from public schools. I support strong standards and openness for all schools, particularly charter schools. While some charters are strong, we see troubling trends, such as a re-segregation of the student population, or misuse of state funds without a way to make the wrongdoers reimburse taxpayers. We need to manage the number of charter schools to ensure we don’t damage public education and we need to better measure charter schools so we can utilize good ideas in all schools.

 

We must support early childhood education as well as our great universities and community colleges. Our approach to quality education must be comprehensive.

 

Here is his education agenda.

 

 

In one of the closest elections in the country, Governor Pat McCrory conceded at last to State Attorney General Roy Cooper in the race for governor.

 

McCrory came to office as the formerly moderate mayor of Charlotte. Once in office, he joined the far-right wing Tea Party majority in the General Assembly to pass legislation for charters and vouchers, to eliminate the respected North Carolina Teaching Fellows program (which required a five-year education commitment and produced career teachers) and replaced it with a $6 million grant to Teach for America, and enacted law after law to reduce the status of the teaching profession.

 

To understand the damage that McCrory and his cronies did to the state read this summary of five years of political wrecking imposed on the state.