Archives for category: Rural Schools

Peter Greene writes about a new push to expand charters in Maine by the same-old group that has failed in the past to disrupt the state’s devotion to public schools. Wake up, Maine! Don’t be fooled. They want you to divert money from public schools to privately managed schools run by entrepreneurs and corporate chains.

He begins:

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine’s little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn’t had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn’t infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry– the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote “high-quality options for all children within Maine’s public education system.” But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap

So what’s a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state’s education community?

So let’s meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It’s the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well– from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us…

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck. 
It takes its “inspiration” from “analogous” groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I’ve written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself “leaders” in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are “designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers,” you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about “restructuring the education system,” assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some “critical partnerships,” pay attention to the people they partner with.

The Alabama Charter School
Commission decided to revoke the charter of Woodland Prep, which had not yet opened.

Blogger Larry Lee has the inside scoop.

He wrote:

In the end, it was as much a story about a very rural community that simply refused to quit fighting and standing up for what it believed in strongly. It was about a community that takes pride in its public schools and refused to be bulldozed by a group of education “experts” from out-of-state who were far more intent on making money than helping children.

It was widely believed that the charter was part of the Fetullah Gulen charter chain, one of the nation’s largest. For unexplained reasons, the charter decided to open in a small rural community where sentiment ran against it, commitment to the local public schools is strong, and local people look askance at Muslims (and possibly other religions).

Larry Lee wrote many posts about Woodland Prep. See here and here.

It is really dumb and insensitive for out-of-state people to plant themselves in a rural community, announce that they intend to open a school to compete with the local school and expect to be welcomed.

This powerful article appeared recently on the front cover of the New York Times Week in Review section.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn returned to his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon. They discovered that an extraordinary percentage of the hardworking, ordinary working class people Nick grew up with had died an early death. They asked “Who Killed the Knapp Family?” I regret that they include the obligatory swipe at “failing schools,” since the schools attended by this family did not fail them and did not kill them, but the rest of the article is indeed an indictment of the vast social, cultural, and economic unraveling of our society, as represented by this one community.

YAMHILL, Ore. — Chaos reigned daily on the No. 6 school bus, with working-class boys and girls flirting and gossiping and dreaming, brimming with mischief, bravado and optimism. Nick rode it every day in the 1970s with neighbors here in rural Oregon, neighbors like Farlan, Zealan, Rogena, Nathan and Keylan Knapp.

They were bright, rambunctious, upwardly mobile youngsters whose father had a good job installing pipes. The Knapps were thrilled to have just bought their own home, and everyone oohed and aahed when Farlan received a Ford Mustang for his 16th birthday.

Yet today about one-quarter of the children on that No. 6 bus are dead, mostly from drugs, suicide, alcohol or reckless accidents. Of the five Knapp kids who had once been so cheery, Farlan died of liver failure from drink and drugs, Zealan burned to death in a house fire while passed out drunk, Rogena died from hepatitis linked to drug use and Nathan blew himself up cooking meth. Keylan survived partly because he spent 13 years in a state penitentiary.

Among other kids on the bus, Mike died from suicide, Steve from the aftermath of a motorcycle accident, Cindy from depression and a heart attack, Jeff from a daredevil car crash, Billy from diabetes in prison, Kevin from obesity-related ailments, Tim from a construction accident, Sue from undetermined causes. And then there’s Chris, who is presumed dead after years of alcoholism and homelessness. At least one more is in prison, and another is homeless.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

“The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

 

 

 

The federal Charter Schools Program handed out $440 Million this year. Betsy DeVos uses this money as her personal slush fund to reward corporate charter chains like KIPP ($89 million), IDEA (over $200 million in two years), and Success Academy ($10 million). Originally, it was meant to launch start-up charters, but DeVos has turned it into a free-flowing spigot for some of the nation’s richest charter chains.

Last March, the Network for Public Education published its study of the ineptness of the Charter Schools Program, revealing that at least one-third of the charters it funded had either never opened or had closed soon after opening. About one billion dollars was wasted by this federal program.

Despite the program’s manifest incompetence and failure, Betsy DeVos asked Congressional appropriators to increase its funding to $500 million a year, so she could more efficiently undermine public schools across the nation.

House Democrats responded by cutting the Charter Schools Program to $400 Million ($400 million too much), but $100 million less than DeVos asked for.

Senate Republicans want to increase the funding for the destructive Charter Schools Program to $460 million, giving DeVos a boost of $20 million. The Senate Republicans added a special appropriation of $7.5 million for charter schools in rural districts. Is there a need for charter schools in rural districts that may have only one elementary school and one high school?

The best remedy for the federal Charter Schools Program would be to eliminate it altogether.

Charter schools are amply funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch foundation’s, hedge fund managers, and a bevy of other billionaires on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

 

 

Larry Lee writes about a small town in Alabama called Fruitdale. He describes the central role of the public schools in that community. It is the anchor of the community.

The charter lobby doesn’t care about Fruitdale, its history, its people, its future. They have dollar signs in their eyes.

He begins:

Sweet Jesus. It was hot, like really, really hot. But what do you expect on an August afternoon in the middle of a football field just 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?
I was there to watch the 2019 version of the Fruitdale Pirates practice. Fruitdale is one of five high schools in Washington County. It’s a 1A school, the smallest classification in Alabama high school sports. There are dozens and dozens of such schools across the state, places where Dollar General coming to town is a big deal. (Fruitdale recently opened one.)

Places where community and school are joined at the hip. Take away the school and you’ve jerked the heart from the community.

This August afternoon coach Johnny Carpenter was getting his 32 players ready for their first game against A. L. Johnson of Marengo County. Carpenter grew up just down the road in Citronelle, played football at Mississippi State and met a cheerleader in college who later became both his wife and an M.D. This is his first year as a head coach.

When you coach at this level, you do it all. From teaching class, to cooking ribs for a fund-raiser, to lining the field, to selling signs to merchants to help pay the bills and to actually coaching. His staff is another teacher/coach, John Hobbs. Former player Michael Dubose is a volunteer coach.
There was a pep rally before the first game. Elementary, middle and high school students sweated and yelled. Cheerleaders cheered. Players were introduced. Later that afternoon, fifth grade boys went home and ran around their yard with a football dreaming of the day they could be a Pirate scoring touchdowns and making tackles. Fourth grade girls jumped and pumped their arms and yelled for their team.

I know about dreams and memories. Fifty-nine years ago this fall number 83 of the Theodore Bobcats scored the only touchdown of his high school football career. Quarterback Charles Bryant threw a short pass to his left end, a 160 pound farm boy, standing in the end zone. That touchdown catch will always be mine. No one can take it away from me.

More than anything, that is what Fruitdale is all about. A small school in a small place where dreams are realized and memories are made.

 

I have written before about Arnold and Carol Hillman. See here and here. They were educators in Pennsylvania who retired to South Carolina. Being educators, they couldn’t really retire; they got involved. They created an organization called the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools, to raise awareness of the schools that are underfunded in impoverished rural areas (check out its Facebook page). They visited the public schools of Jasper County, met the students, and discovered their new purpose in life. Arnold created a club for boys called the Jasper Gentlemen. Carol created a club for girls called the Diamonds and Pearls. They raised money to pay for trips, experiences, blazers, pizza, and college visits. I hear from them from time to time. They are wild about these kids and want them to have good lives. They love them.

Here is their latest report:

 

Benefits of the ROSO (Reach One Save One) Program

By Carol and Arnold Hillman founders of SCORS (South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools)

Four Years Ago:

In 2015 Carol and Arnold Hillman approached Dr. Vashti Washington, then superintendent of the Jasper County Schools. They said, “We just moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and want to learn about public education in our new home. She directed them to Dr. L.R. Dinkins, who described his idea of the ROSO program (Reach One Save One). His vision was for a group of high school students to learn leadership, problem-solving and important life skills that would not only benefit them but teach them to mentor 5th graders who were in need of some special attention.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gentlemen were born.

Today:

May 22, 2019, was an exciting and tiring day. We took Carol’s group, “Diamonds and Pearls,” to the University of South Carolina. The 10 girls, who are freshman and sophomores at the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, SC, spent a wonderful day learning about the University in particular and about higher education in general.

Dr. Pedersen, Dean of the College of Education at the University, is a member of the SCORS steering Committee and is frequently in touch with us and other members of the committee. Carol had been describing her work with the young ladies to Dr. Pedersen when he extended an invitation to them.

We were fortunate that the Jasper County school district, on rather short notice, arranged for a small bus which allowed us to wend our way two hours plus across route 95 and then route 26 to Columbia.

After what the girls felt was an “all too short” visit to one of the USC’s bookstores, they had opportunities to interact with many of the members of the USC College of Education. They took a tour of the campus and even meet Pierce McNair, who is the legislative aide to Chairperson Rep. Rita Allison, chairman of the SC House Education Committee.

The girls, who had never visited USC before, were thrilled. It was so reassuring to learn about the many programs that are in place to help minorities succeed on this big campus. We learned that African American women have the highest completion rate of any group attending the University and saw an exhibit about major events that struck our country in 1968- assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy. Perhaps most impressive were the stories members of the Education Dept. shared with us about their own backgrounds and the many different jobs they held as they made their way to their present positions.

The Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Hodges, offered that he and his staff would be happy to come to Jasper County to speak to our students and staff.

Not only did our girls get to know the University, but the visit gave the Jasper County School District an opportunity to showcase some of their outstanding students.

The University is looking for good students, and our students are looking for good colleges. A visit such as the one we made is more meaningful that just completing on online application or reading that application.

You may have read an article posted on the scors.org website about how colleges, very frequently, do not mine rural students, either scholastically or athletically. We are hoping our visit opened new pathways and an understanding of our students, who are fair representatives of our part of rural South Carolina.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gents have been at this work for four years, many of the senior boys have become so competent that this year, the elementary school gave the Gents an additional group of fifth grade boys who were very troubled. The seniors did a special job with those boys and from what we can tell, had some positive impact.

We are pleased to report that next year will be our fifth year working with these two groups. This year was especially gratifying because out of the seven senior Gents, six will be off to college and one will enter the Marine Corps.

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Larry Lee is a native Alabamian who is an expert on rural schools. A few years ago, he wrote an excellent report about the rural schools of the state and how communities help them, take care of them, treasure them.

When he learned that the state charter officials granted a charter to a Gulen school in Washington County, he did some checking and this is what he found. 

“If you are looking for peace and quiet and not many neighbors, my advice is to head for Washington County, AL.  The first county north of Mobile County and bordered on one side by Mississippi and the Tombigbee River on the other, the last census showed only17,629 population.  For a county that covers 1,080 square miles, that is a density of 16.3 people per each one of them.  By comparison, density in Jefferson county is 592.

So it meets all of anyone’s definitions of “rural.”  And like most rural counties, its public school system is a major part of community life.  The Washington County school system has seven schools in five communities.  Communities that are remote from one another.  Chatom is the county seat.  From Chatom to Fruitdale is 14 miles, to Millry is 13 miles, to Leroy is 21 miles and to McIntosh is 26 miles.  These are where schools are located.  It’s easy to understand why 59 buses travel 3,200 miles a day ferrying students.

And I can testify from personal experience that there is not much except lots of pine trees, a few houses and some small churches between any of these sites.  Like the majority of rural school systems, Washington County is losing enrollment.  Twenty years ago there were 3,798 students.  Over the next ten years this decreased by six percent.  But in the last ten years, the decline was 24 percent.  During the last decade McIntosh high school dropped from 344 to 272.  That is 43 percent.

All of which leads to this question: why does Washington County need a charter school?

It’s a question on the minds of many local residents, the majority of whom don’t think they do.

Yet, because folks on the Alabama Charter School Commission apparently failed to do their homework and realistically consider the impact of a charter on a declining system, Woodland Prep has been approved to open this coming school year.

At best, it is a very questionable decision and one that leaves lots of people in Washington County wondering who is setting the rules and who are abiding by them.

For example, the charter law passed in 2015 says the charter commission should “take into consideration the quality of school options existing in the affected community.”  Washington County got a B on the state’s latest A-F report card.  The same score as Shelby and Baldwin counties, two of the top systems in Alabama.  (Of the state’s 67 county systems, only ONE received an A.)

So this is not a failing system, nor a C system or a D system.  It has an excellent career tech program with the only pipe-fitting program in Alabama.  They offer health science, building science, welding and  pre-engineering/drafting.  They also have dual enrollment courses with Coastal Alabama Community College.  Enrollment  has grown from 112 in 2013-14 to 192 last fall.

The law also says the commission should “require significant and objective evidence of interest for the public charter school from the community the public chart school wishes to serve.”   However, such support is almost non-extent.

Harold Crouch is in his sixth-term as mayor of Chatom.  He told me that not a single parent has told him they plan to send their child to the charter.  “I am opposed to the charter, my council is also and I don’t know a single public official in the county who supports it,” says the mayor.

Crouch also thinks those involved with the charter school have been overly secretive about what they want to do.  He  met with the charter board one time.  They wanted the city to give them a prime piece of property for the school site.  He told them they would have to make a proposal to the city council.  They refused to do so.

“This is not in the best interest of the county,” he adds.  “Our resources are too critical now.  We are struggling to do the things we need to do now.  Bringing in another school and taking money from the system we have makes no sense.”

The school system’s annual budget is $27.3 million.  Because a charter gets money intended for the local system, at 260 students (which is what their application says enrollment will be the first year), this would be a hit to the system of at least $1.5 million or more.”

Larry Lee went to Washington County and talked to local residents. No one understood why their county is getting a charter school run by a guy from Texas.

It will be interesting to see how many people sign up for this charter. Wouldn’t it be great if it opened with 2 students? Then it wouldn’t have the funds to pay Mr. Soner Tarim the $300,000 that he expects. And the charter school would go away and give up on its plan to grow its portfolio in rural America, dividing communities and defunding their  public schools.

Peter Greene noticed that Reformers have turned ttheir attention to rural communities, where they have a hard time getting established.

Imagine a guy or woman from New York or Chicago or New Orleans arriving in a small town or a rural community and telling the locals what they need to “save” their children from the local schools.

Greene explains why their pitch usually falls on deaf ears and why they don’t welcome corporate chains.

He gives four reasons why the charter operators get the cold shoulder.

Here are two of them:

“My children went to school in a tiny village where the two central institutions were the elementary school and the volunteer fire department. In rural and small town areas, grown adults still identify themselves by what high school they graduated from. Sporting events, school concerts, art displays–these are attended by all sorts of people who are not actual parents of the participants. Launching a charter school in this setting is about as welcome as having a guy move into the house next door and inviting your children to call him “Dad.”

“Rural Schools Run On Tight Budgets

“One does not remove a few hundred thousand dollars from a rural school budget without really feeling it. Most rural districts are lean operations already, without fifteen jobs like Assistant Vice-Superintendent in charge of Paper that can be easily absorbed. Transportation may be a huge chunk of the budget, and there really isn’t any way to tighten that particular belt. The minute a charter starts “redirecting” tax dollars away from a rural district, that district will feel the hurt.”

But he does have one example where a charter works. Let him tell you.

I endorse Paul Theobald for Congress in Nebraska. Paul is a professor, a farmer, and a historian of rural America. He would bring heart, soul, and brains to a Congress in need of them.

https://www.theobaldforcongress.com

https://www.omaha.com/news/politics/democratic-hog-farmer-rural-historian-paul-theobald-to-run-for/article_4c63b4ea-b9c2-11e7-b253-7783c930e8db.html

Arnold Hillman is co-founder of the South Carolina Organization for Rural Schools, with his wife Carol. They retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. But instead of relaxing, taking long walks, and fishing, they found themselves drawn to a new mission: helping the state’s underfunded rural schools. This is a good “retirement.” Some locals were amazed, seeing this couple throw themselves into helping local children and schools as volunteers.

They did not not fit the stereotype of retired Yankees,as a local wrote:

“Here’s the popular stereotype: they move here but for a long time still drive around with car tags from Ohio, Pennsylvania and such. They don’t change their cell phone numbers from 614, 309 or 315 to 843, 803 or 864. They walk around with sweatshirts from Ohio State and Michigan, not Clemson or USC…

“Well, I’d like to tell you about two Yankees I recently met and what they are doing here in South Carolina. In 2015, Carol and Arnold Hillman moved from Pennsylvania and re-located to the Sun City Retirement Community at Hilton Head. But unlike the stereotypes of newcomers who spend all their time playing golf and complaining with their fellow transplants about the locals, the Hillmans began to travel around the Lowcountry.

“One day they found themselves in Jasper County where they struck up a conversation with some folks about the schools – they had both been in education in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another and after some conversations with Dr. Vashti Washington, former Superintendent of Schools, they began volunteering at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School mentoring students.

“One can imagine the culture shock that followed. The nearly 100% African American students couldn’t understand why these old white folks from some place they had never heard of were hanging around asking questions. And the Hillman’s couldn’t understand the ‘cultural folk ways’ of teenagers in rural Jasper county – you get the picture.

“But the Hillmans were committed, “We didn’t care if the kids were good students or even if they were well behaved; all we wanted was to work with students.”

“Carol was soon meeting with a group of 10 girls. They talked about everything from the difference between credit and debit cards to how to choose a good college and the benefits of going into the military. They met right after the students ate lunch and Carol provided snacks. “Sometimes we weren’t sure if they came for the milk and cookies or to learn something, but we figured, ‘whatever works,” Hillman laughed.

“Carol’s story about one girl is truly inspiring. “Lauren (not her real name) explained that she was 16, had a baby with cerebral palsy and was living with her grandmother who had raised her. Grandma had cancer and Lauren was trying to take care of her, care for her baby and go to school. By now she was crying. It seems her greatest desire was to graduate with her class in June 2017, but she had missed so many days in the past year that she was failing too many classes.”

“All summer long Lauren and Carol stayed in touch by email as Lauren did not have a cell phone. “When she was down, I would remind her that she was smart and capable and that we would both be ecstatic when she graduated on time. When she was happy, I’d celebrate with her and remind her of how proud I was of her. She passed both of her summer school classes! Here it is, October of her senior year and so far, she is coming to school on a regular basis. I’m delighted to report that Lauren is on track to reach her goal of graduating on time.”

“Meanwhile, Arnold set up a program called Jasper Gentleman, 10 senior young men who could use some mentoring and who in turn helped younger students in fourth and fifth grade. Arnold explains, “Each of the young men were enthusiastic about doing the mentoring. They were also very interested in what was happening in the world and how they might achieve their goals. We spent months talking about colleges, the military, job possibilities, community happenings and how they might improve the high school. We took a trip to the branch campus of the University of South Carolina in Bluffton, arranged for an etiquette lunch (which turned out to be lunch without etiquette) and concentrated on the next steps in their lives.”

“Carol and I attended 11 basketball games, both home and away. A number of the Gents were on the team, but it was the community that encouraged us to go to the games and later on to community events. You see, rural people have been taken advantage of so many times across our country and are naturally suspicious of outsiders. Sometimes, Carol and I were the only snowflakes in the gymnasium. We became fixtures and the folks seemed to welcome us. Sometimes, at away games, they even saved seats for us. They are wonderful people, as are their children.”

“The Hillmans met with State Superintendent Molly Spearman about how their work in Jasper could be spread to other rural districts around the state. Spearman was encouraging to the Hillmans and they have since established the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools to help others learn from their experiences. Go to their website http://www.scorsweb.org and see how you can get involved.”

Are the Hillmans amazing or what?

As I read the story above out loud, I started crying. Why? I was moved by their goodness. Just two educators helping kids.

Arnold writes here about the misguided national narrative of teacher-bashing and public school-bashing.

He emphasizes the crucial role that public schools play in the lives of the state’s poorest children.

“Public schools are for everyone. They do not have the capacity, as to private schools and now even some “public”charter schools, to throw children out for whatever reason. They must deal with whoever walks through those school doors. Their job goes on even in the face of governmental obstruction, mass shootings, or the reduction of funding.

“Public schools still turn out the overwhelming number of American Nobel Prize winners. While other countries select their most talented to take international tests, we include everyone, and suffer for it. While media make fun of public schools by having characters say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I went to public school,” public schools still turn out the best and brightest.

“Public schools have taken generations of immigrants to this country and have taught them to be contributing citizens. When you hear a critic say, “Why didn’t the schools teach these kids . . .,” you might step back and ask, how many more things do you want the public schools to teach?

“Having traveled around South Carolina to visit our rural schools over the past 2 years, we have seen how educators are coping with the burdens put on them. There is not a moment in their day that they don’t put forth massive effort to help their students reach their potential. If you have not seen that effort, then you have not been in one of our rural schools.

“For all of their Herculean efforts, they do not complain. Once in a great while, you might see them stand up, as they did in the Abbeville case, or pleading with the legislature to provide them with the proper resources for their students. However, their primary goal is to teach the children and they do that so well.”

These two good people are definitely on the blog honor roll.