Archives for category: Scandal

The New York Times published a detailed investigation that explained how the Trump administration, acting through the Treasury Secretary, took control of the United States Postal Service and politicized it by selecting an unqualified Trump donor as Postmaster General. This is par for the course, as Trump has put unqualified Trump loyalists in charge of every agency.


WASHINGTON — In early February, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin invited two Republican members of the Postal Service’s board of governors to his office to update him on a matter in which he had taken a particular interest — the search for a new postmaster general.

Mr. Mnuchin had made clear before the meeting that he wanted the governors to find someone who would push through the kind of cost-cutting and price increases that President Trump had publicly called for and that Treasury had recommended in a December 2018 report as a way to stem years of multibillion-dollar losses.

It was an unusual meeting at an unusual moment.

Since 1970, the Postal Service had been an independent agency, walled off from political influence. The postmaster general is not appointed by the president and is not a cabinet member. Instead, the postal chief is picked by a board of governors, with seats reserved for members of both parties, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for seven-year terms.

Now, not only was the Trump administration, through Mr. Mnuchin, involving itself in the process for selecting the next postmaster general, but the two Democratic governors who were then serving on the board were not invited to the Treasury meeting. Since the meeting did not include a quorum of board members, it was not subject to sunshine laws that apply to official board meetings and there is no formal Postal Service record or minutes of what was discussed.

Nearly six months later, that meeting, along with other interactions between Mr. Mnuchin and the postal board, has taken on heightened significance as the Trump administration confronts allegations it sought to politicize the Postal Service and hinder its ability to handle a surge in mail-in ballots in November’s election. In interviews, documents and congressional testimony, Mr. Mnuchin emerges as a key player in selecting the board members who hired the Trump megadonor now leading the Postal Service and in pushing the agenda that he has pursued.

Mr. Trump’s animus toward the agency dates to at least 2013, but his criticism of its finances escalated once he took office and found new focus in late 2017, when he first bashed it for essentially subsidizing Amazon, another target of his ire. Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, whose coverage has often angered Mr. Trump.

“This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” the president wrote on Twitter on March 31, 2018, one of several such attacks over the years.

Twelve days later, he issued an executive order putting Mr. Mnuchin in charge of a postal reform task force. But it was not until earlier this year that the administration found a way to enforce its postal agenda — one that has now collided with the pandemic and the approaching election.

A few weeks after the February meeting with Mr. Mnuchin, one of the attendees, Robert M. Duncan, the chairman of the board of governors, who was appointed by Mr. Trump in 2017, threw a new name for postmaster general into the mix: Louis DeJoy.

Mr. DeJoy, a longtime logistics executive, was known for his hard-charging leadership style and his ability to convert disorganization into efficiency, as well his generous donations to the Republican Party, including to Mr. Trump. In October 2017, Mr. DeJoy had hosted a fund-raiser for the president’s re-election campaign at his North Carolina home.

His résumé was far different than recent postmasters general, most of whom had risen through the Postal Service ranks. Megan J. Brennan, who had announced in October 2019 her intention to retire as postmaster general at the end of January, began her career as a letter carrier in Pennsylvania.

Mr. DeJoy, who ran New Breed Logistics before selling it to XPO Logistics in 2014, would be coming from the private sector to assume control of a highly unionized, sprawling bureaucracy with more than half a million employees. His companies had experience working with the Postal Service, moving bulk shipments of packages from fulfillment centers and ferrying them to local Postal Service centers. But both companies had fewer than 10,000 employees, none of them unionized, and he had never worked in the public sector.

The companies were also the subject of a litany of complaints from workers, including more than a dozen lawsuits accusing managers — but not Mr. DeJoy personally — of presiding over a hostile environment rife with sexual harassment and racial discrimination and where workers were fired for getting sick or injured.

The board’s vice chairman at the time, David C. Williams, raised concerns about Mr. DeJoy’s candidacy and Mr. Mnuchin’s involvement, telling lawmakers during sworn testimony this week that he “didn’t strike me as a serious candidate.” Mr. Williams, a Democratic appointee, resigned before the vote as it became clear that Mr. DeJoy would be the pick.

Three months after the meeting in Mr. Mnuchin’s office, the board of governors announced Mr. DeJoy’s selection as the nation’s 75th postmaster general. Within weeks, he began carrying out changes, including cuts to overtime and limiting mail delivery trips. He curtailed postal hours and mandated that carriers must adhere to a rigid schedule. A July memo from the Postal Service warned that the changes might temporarily result in “mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks.”

The measures matched up with recommendations in the task force report, which blamed the Postal Service for losing billions because of waste, inefficiency and a failure to respond to declining mail volumes.

But the rapid-fire moves just months before the November election concerned Postal Service insiders, who said that, since at least the Obama administration, the agency had generally sought to avoid significant changes within two or three months of a general election.

Soon, mail was piling up at post offices, veterans were not receiving their medications, bills were arriving late and questions began surfacing about the ability of the Postal Service to handle what is expected to be a record number of mail-in ballots this November because of the pandemic.

Amid an outcry from lawmakers, civil rights groups and state officials, Mr. DeJoy suspended many of the changes on Tuesday, including some that had been underway before he took the helm of the Postal Service. Yet he made clear during a Senate hearing on Friday that he planned to move ahead with “dramatic” measures after the election, including raising prices and limiting overtime.

Postal Service employees and union officials say significant damage has already been done. Hundreds of mail-sorting machines have been removed, and the day-to-day changes have caused confusion and delays among drivers, carriers and other workers.

In his Senate testimony on Friday, Mr. DeJoy chalked that up to growing pains as the organization tries to get leaner. “We all feel, you know, bad” he told lawmakers upset about mail delays affecting their constituents..

Over the last two years, Mr. Mnuchin met privately on multiple occasions about postal matters with Mr. Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was confirmed by the Senate as a postal board member in August 2018, according to people familiar with the meetings.

Mr. Mnuchin also arranged a meeting with John M. Barger, a California lawyer and financial investment adviser who was recommended to the Treasury secretary by a mutual associate who knew of Mr. Barger’s work as chairman of the board of the Los Angeles County pension fund. After a meeting in Washington, Mr. Mnuchin recommended that Mr. Trump appoint Mr. Barger to the board of governors.

Mr. Barger was confirmed by the Senate last summer, and was tapped to lead the committee to select a new postmaster general. He attended the February meeting in Mr. Mnuchin’s office with Mr. Duncan.

S. David Fineman, a former member and chairman of the Postal Service’s board, called Mr. Mnuchin’s close involvement in the affairs of the Postal Service “absolutely unprecedented.”

During his tenure in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, he said the board had minimal interaction with the administrations, and “certainly no communication regarding the hiring of the postmaster general.”

Three whistleblowers in the U.S. Department of Education filed complaints that Betsy DeVos overruled internal reviews to award $72 million to the IDEA charter chain.

This is not the way federal grants are supposed to work. Funds are supposed to be awarded based on peer reviews and staff reviews, not awarded as plums by political appointees. This is political interference at the highest level. This award should be revoked.

I have often referred to the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program as DeVos’s private slush fund, and this grant proves that my hunch was right.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

A U.S. congressman is demanding answers from the U.S. Education Department, alleging department employees complained to his office about political interference in the awarding of a multimillion-dollar federal grant to the controversial IDEA charter school network.


Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the department Monday asking for details and records related to the awarding of the grant.

In an interview, Pocan said “three whistleblowers” told his office that professional staff evaluating applications for 2020 grants from the federal Charter School Program had rejected IDEA for new funding, deeming the network “high risk” because of how IDEA leaders previously spent federal funds.


But according to these whistleblowers, Pocan said, professional staff was overruled by political appointees who ordered the funding be awarded to IDEA. The identities of the whistleblowers were not revealed to The Post, nor were the names of the political appointees.


The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.


IDEA, a Texas-based charter school network with nearly 100 campuses in Texas and Louisiana serving nearly 53,000 students, said in a statement:
”Peer reviewers from education and other fields evaluate grant applications independently from Department of Education staff. In three of the last four Charter Schools Program competitions, spanning two administrations and including the most recent round of grants, the independent reviewers who evaluated applications gave IDEA Public Schools the highest scores of any applicant in the country. (In 2017, IDEA received the second-highest score.) All of the outside reviewers’ scores and comments are public on the Department’s website, and we encourage anyone doubting the strength of IDEA’s applications and our 20-year track record with students to read those reviews.”


Earlier this month, the Education Department announced it was awarding millions of dollars in new grants to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. IDEA was the top recipient, receiving $72 million over five years.

IDEA had previously received more than $200 million in funding over the past decade through the program.



But the network has been dogged by controversy. This month, IDEA chief executive Tom Torkelson resigned after publicly apologizing for “really dumb and unhelpful” plans that included leasing a private jet for millions of dollars and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on San Antonio Spurs tickets.

The Texas Monitor reported last month that Torkelson had flown on a private jet to Tampa to meet with DeVos to discuss “education philanthropy,” records show. The Monitor reported he was the only passenger on a jet that can hold nine people.


Last November, the Education Department’s inspector general criticized IDEA in an audit of data IDEA included in annual performance reviews it submitted to the federal government, required as part of the grants received from the federal Charter Schools Program.
The inspector general concluded that IDEA Public Schools “did not provide complete and accurate information” for all performance measures on annual performance reports over three years and did not report any information for 84 percent of the performance measures on which it was required to report over two years.

Still, IDEA had certified its annual performance reports were “true, complete and accurate.”
The audit also found IDEA “did not always spend grant funds in accordance with federal cost principles and its approved grant applications.”
IDEA acknowledged some of the findings, took issue with others, and agreed with all the recommendations from the inspector general to improve internal procedures.


That inspector general report, together with the suggestion that political appointees pushed through more grant money, should spark an even deeper inspection of IDEA, Pocan said in an interview.
“There needs to be an investigation,” Pocan said. “This would be completely improper to take a program that has to have inspector general reports and a lot of media attention about bad decisions they’ve made, and then to get a grant that wasn’t approved by the professional staff and instead given for political reasons.”

I posted yesterday that Betsy DeVos set aside more than $300 million of the billions in coronavirus aid to advance her personal agenda of undermining public schools. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who is chair of the House subcommittee that oversees education appropriations, criticized her misuse of the funds.

Chalkbeat has the story.

Betsy thinks the days of learning in physical buildings are obsolete.

I have often posted the research on virtual charter schools. The 2015 CREDO study showed the abject failure of online charter schools. Their results are abysmal. The most EPIC charter scandals are associated with virtual charters like ECOT in Ohio, now bankrupt, and the A1 chain in California, where 11 people were indicted for the disappearance of more than $50 million in state funds.

Betsy’s ideas are a proven failure.

Last year, two large online charter schools collapsed in Indiana at a cost of $86 million.

Now a new online charter has opened and hired some key employees of those that defrauded they public.

Last summer, as two large Indiana virtual charter schools collapsed under the weight of fraud allegations, a small new online program made its debut.

Indian Creek Online Academy was launched by a 2,000-student district south of Indianapolis experimenting with new ways of reaching students.

Officials with the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson district said they wanted to avoid the mistakes of the troubled virtual schools. But they also picked an outside management company whose leader had a history with those very institutions, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

Businessman Gar Hoover, the head of Indian Creek Online Academy’s management company, had previously served as chief operating officer for AlphaCom, a company accused in the $86 million alleged enrollment fraud and self-dealing scheme at the two virtual charter schools.

A state auditors’ investigation released earlier this month alleges that Hoover, who also served as a board member for Indiana Virtual School, signed off on a request for more than $96,000 in state funds based on inflated enrollment numbers. He’s listed as one of the parties personally responsible for repaying that amount, plus the cost of the auditors’ investigation.

A federal investigation has been launched into the fraud allegations. It is unclear whether Hoover’s role is included in the investigation.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Tim Edsell said he asked about Hoover’s history at Indiana Virtual School before the district contracted with his new company, American Online Education Services.

But Edsell wasn’t aware that Hoover was named in the state auditors’ investigation until contacted by Chalkbeat. After Chalkbeat sent him the state’s report, Edsell said he opened an internal investigation with the district’s legal counsel into Hoover’s connections to the virtual charter schools.

“I do have concerns,” Edsell said. “I want to be very thorough and comprehensive and accurate in our review.”

Edsell also didn’t know that Hoover had brought in a subcontractor with several other former employees from the web of companies paid millions in public dollars to operate virtual schools that served far fewer students than they received money for.

One of the very exciting episodes in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH describes the struggle in Massachusetts  surrounding a 2016 referendum to expand the number of charter schools in the state. The referendum was called Question 2. Yes on 2 received funding from billionaires (the Waltons and Bloomberg), DFER (hedge fund managers), and out-of-state groups whose donors were unknown. The last group is called “Dark Money” because it hides the names of the donors.

On February 26, I will be at the First UU Church in Cambridge at an event sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools, joined in conversation with two of the prominent figures in that campaign, Barbara Madeloni (who was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Union) and Maurice Cunningham (a professor of political science at the U of Mass whose blogs reported on Dark Money in the campaign),

The groups that fought Question 2 were teachers’ unions, civil rights groups, and local school boards.

The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated.

After the election, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigated the funding of the campaigns. It found that one of the funders of the “Yes on 2” side was a Dark Money front based in New York City. It required the group to disclose the names of its donors and fined the group nearly $500,000, which cleaned out its bank account. Not long after, the Dark Money Group (which had also stacked the deck in New York State without being exposed) collapsed and closed its doors.

Recently, the director of this state office retired, and parents thanked him for upholding the integrity of state elections.

This letter to the editor by a parent activist appeared in the Boston Globe.

 

Watchdogs have state’s outgoing campaign finance chief to thank
 

What a pleasure to read Matt Stout’s folksy portrait of Michael Sullivan, who retired last month as director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (“A career spent helping people ‘do things right,’ ” Business, Dec. 25). I met Sullivan at a “hackathon” sponsored by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The center needed volunteers to test computer software. We got pizza, and a little orientation from the state’s campaign finance chief, who trained neophytes to navigate Office of Campaign and Political Finance databases.

Behind the scenes, Sullivan’s staff investigated an unusual pattern of financial transactions. They discovered that Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York illegally solicited, received, and funneled funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot question committee to influence the 2016 Massachusetts election and increase charter school market share. Sullivan skillfully negotiated a six-figure fine.

Thanks to Sullivan, citizens can comb campaign finance data for evidence of expenditures that reveal fake-news media events. Remember those rallies with people wearing blue T-shirts demanding “Great Schools Now”? It turns out Great Schools Massachusetts paid for the T-shirts and had people show up at events to give the illusion of massive dissatisfaction with our public schools.

If only I had a “Great Schools Now” campaign T-shirt, I would give it to Sullivan in gratitude for providing me a political education I never received in school.

Peggy A. Wiesenberg

Boston

The public schools of Houston are going to be taken over by the incompetent State Education Department, which has never run a school district of any size and which has failed in its previous takeover efforts.

The Houston Chronicle hailed the pending takeover, while noting that the Houston Independent School District has been acknowledged in the recent past as the best urban school district in the nation (by the disreputable Broad Institute or Academy). Its editorial saluting the takeover by the state notes that 21 of HISD’s 280 campuses received “failing grades” from the state, and one (1) school–Wheatley High School–has a persistent record of low test scores. The failure of Wheatley–which has an even higher proportion of the neediest students than the rest of the district–triggered the state takeover.  This is a district where 80% of the students are “economically disadvantaged” and many are English learners. So, of course, the state commissioner and the editorial board of the newspaper blame low test scores on the elected school board. Apparently, they believe that democracy is the culprit, not poverty.

The citizens of Houston should rise up in protest. I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. The teachers are not the same. The schools are now majority-minority. The state would not dare to pull a stunt like this in one of its majority white districts.

The state commissioner, Mike Morath, is a software developer who was never a teacher or an administrator in a public school or any school. He served on the Dallas school board, which presumably makes him an expert. Despite the high rate of poverty in HISD, the graduation rate is 81%, but in Dallas it is 88%. This is considered a disgrace for Houston, but who knows how those graduation rates were manipulated? How many were the result of a one-week online credit recovery program?

It is understandable that the rightwing governor Greg Abbott would enjoy stripping democracy from the people of Houston, who don’t vote the way he likes. It is incomprehensible that the Houston Chronicle salutes this blatant removal of democracy from the people of Houston.

Don’t they know that the most important mission of public education is to teach democracy and the skills of citizenship, not to manufacture test scores?

What lesson do they think they are teaching the students of Houston?

I hereby name Governor Greg Abbott and Commissioner Morath to this blog’s Wall of Shame. People whose names are on the Wall of Shame have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror.

HISD at a crossroads: A four-part series by the Editorial Board

Thursday Dec. 26: Time for radical improvement
Friday Dec. 27: Learning from others, and our own past
Sunday Dec. 29: Road map to transformation
Monday Dec. 30: A call to action
Tell us what you think about HISD: What works? What doesn’t? What needs to change? Please use this online form to send letters to the editor. To access the form, point your browser to https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/submit.
https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/HISD-in-crisis-Looming-state-takeover-presents-14929858.php

HISD at a crossroads: Looming state takeover presents rare opportunity [Editorial]

The Editorial Board

 

A dark cloud has loomed over Houston ISD almost as long as Naomi Doyle-Madrid’s children have been enrolled in the district.
The nonprofit director despaired over the elimination of the arts program at the elementary school her oldest son attended — part of a round of “devastating” cuts to HISD’s magnet programs about seven years ago.
She had to slash through layers of bureaucracy to get special education services for her third-grader. She has seen school safety funds held up by red tape and shaken her head in frustration at school board squabbling and mismanagement that have brought the district to the brink of a total takeover by state education officials.
Now, as the Texas Education Agency prepares to appoint a board of managers to replace HISD’s elected trustees, Doyle-Madrid hopes crisis will turn into opportunity — and that the state intervention will serve as a wake-up call for district leaders and for everyone who cares about educating Houston’s children.
“We have to really shake up the structure in order to have any kind of relevant, effective long-term change,” she told the editorial board.
This is a defining moment for HISD which, at about 209,000 students, is the largest public school system in Texas and the seventh-largest in the country. Once regarded nationally as a leader in education reform, HISD has failed to end a cycle of low performance that has paved the way for state takeover. Among its challenges are a cluster of perpetually struggling schools, a dysfunctional board of trustees that has often placed petty politics above the needs of students, and the abrupt resignation of a superintendent.
Add to that the destructive legacy of segregation and racism, a student population where about 80 percent are economically disadvantaged and many are immigrants with limited English skills, and high teacher and principal turnover at low-performing schools.
It is a recipe for a school district sorely in need of repair. Or, as TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told the editorial board recently, “It is a story, essentially, of chronic neglect.”
HISD’s boosters, and we certain count ourselves among them, may flinch at that description of their district — still home to some of the nation’s best schools. For those in the right school zone or with the know-how to navigate magnets, HISD can deliver an excellent education. The district has an overall B rating and by some measures has improved year over year. But 21 of HISD’s 280 campuses received failing grades from the state this year, including Wheatley High School, whose seventh consecutive failure triggered a state law requiring TEA to either close the school or install a board of managers.
A pattern of inequity that harms low-income, black and Hispanic students persists across the district — as evidenced by wide achievement gaps and schools that underperform on standardized tests year after year. About one-third of elementary and middle school campuses have received at least one failing grade in the past five years under the state’s academic accountability system.
More than half of HISD students — about 117,000 — are not meeting grade-level expectations, Morath told the editorial board. Of those, the vast majority — about 104,000 — are low-income students.
In 2018, the district had an 81 percent four-year graduation rate, which is up from 64.3 percent in 2007 but still not where it should be. In Dallas, which also contends with many of the same challenges facing HISD, 88 percent of students graduated; in Fort Worth, 87 percent did. Houston cannot be OK with a system that sees 1 out of every 5 students fail to even complete high school.
Of those who do graduate, far too many HISD students are unprepared for college and the workforce. Only one-fourth of graduates enroll in college and earn an associates or bachelor’s degree within six years. Many needed remedial courses once they got to college.
The status quo simply cannot be allowed to continue. Not if we care about children. Not if we care about the future of Houston, a city hoping to produce a workforce and citizenry capable of powering one of the nation’s largest cities through the 21st century.
Not everyone agrees that a state-appointed board is the solution. At a series of community meetings in November, hundreds of parents, residents and educators spoke out in opposition to the move, saying it disenfranchises voters in mostly black and Latino district and puts a Republican-led state bureaucracy in control of local schools.
Those concerns are valid and must be taken into account by Morath. He has pledged to appoint a board that is representative of the city and to select members who “believe every child can learn.” That’s a good start, but he must also accept that even good ideas imposed by Austin without significant buy-in from the voters who pay for, and depend on, HISD will be doomed to fail. In our meeting with him earlier this month, he did not seem to have fully embraced the need to leaven with humility the extraordinary authority state lawmakers have vested in him, a sweeping power triggered by Wheatley’s failure.
But for all that, Doyle-Madrid’s optimism is well-founded. Finally, with so much at stake, the takeover will provide a means for great changes for the good. State takeovers of local districts have had a poor track record in the U.S., but we believe in Houston’s case a board of managers can serve as a springboard to revamp ineffective practices and initiate bold, innovative reforms.
If done correctly, and through close dialogue with stakeholders, nothing should be off the table. Regardless of who runs the district — a state-appointed board or an elected one — the main focus should be on meeting the needs of students by drawing from established best practices and turnaround models from other districts around the country.
District leaders should also make use of a scathing but detailed performance review of HISD conducted by the state Legislative Budget Board, which found dozens of flaws in operations, governance, education delivery and oversight, and issued 94 recommendations for change. The audit could serve as a road map for improvement.
The need for improvement is clear. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t also a lot that works well in HISD. Those programs — from wrap-around services to full-day pre-K to the district’s magnet program — should be targets for investment and expansion. Their success and the district’s overall B rating are why parents like Doyle-Madrid stick by the district. Her youngest child is in kindergarten, which she says gives her a vested interest in the long-term success of the district.
For far too long, district leaders have failed the children and parents of our community. It’s time for even HISD’s strongest defenders to recognize how urgently it must change. The state takeover presents challenges all its own, but it is also the best chance in years for the district to reinvent itself.

HISD at a crossroads: Learning from others, and our own past [Editorial]

While Houston has some of the highest performing public schools in the state and the country, the system overall is failing too many children. About 56 percent of students are not meeting grade-level expectations. That’s about 117,000 students who with each passing grade they are left further and further behind.
Even with a state takeover and the best intentions to improve the district, there is no magic formula that can work overnight. In some ways it’s the toughest job in Houston.
“It’s about getting the right teachers in front of kids,” former HISD trustee Cathy Mincberg, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, told the editorial board. “Sounds simple, but it islike brain surgery, it is like rocket science, to learn what works with what kid.”
But as big a challenge as turning HISD around is, it’s certainly possible. In fact, school districts and states around the country have recovered from far worse positions than HISD finds itself in, and proof of that, with lessons for HISD, is as close as Texas’ second-largest district four hours to the north, and in HISD’s own storied past.
The Dallas model
The Dallas Independent School District’s improvement strategy, known as Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, is based on strong leadership, incentives for highly effective teachers and a data-driven approach to education.
Under the ACE model, targeted schools were given an experienced principal with a track record of improving struggling schools. Those principals could then replace their entire staffs, if need be, with teachers who scored high on the district’s educator evaluation. Top-rated teachers could receive bonuses ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 if they worked at an ACE school.
While HISD has tried something similar to attract talent to poorly performing schools through its Apollo 20 and Achieve 180 program, it hasn’t had the success yet that Dallas has found with its ACE approach. Instead of very large investments in a small number of schools each year, Achieve 180 makes smaller investments in dozens of campuses. And while it has steered $5,000 bonus to teachers in the program, HISD does not require strong performance ratings from teachers, has seen high turnover, and failed to attract enough highly-rated educators to make an impact.
Dallas also renovated ACE campuses, invested in additional social services and extended the school day. The results: In just two years after it launched for the 2015-2016 school year, ACE students had made double-digit gains in reading and math scores and the achievement gap between minority and other students virtually disappeared.
Titche Elementary, for instance, had consistently failed state standards for more than a decade. It went from an ‘F’ rating to a ‘B’ by 2018, jumping from one of the worst campuses in the district for student progress to one of the best under Dallas’ internal School Effectiveness Indices.
All of this takes money — each ACE school costs an extra $1 million a year, and early data shows that some of the improvements fall out when the extra money was redirected. To sustain these and other reforms, Dallas-area voters approved an 13-cent tax rate increase in 2018.
But even more than additional funds, turning the district around required leadership. Though many of the reforms began under a predecessor, many credit Dallas ISD’s success to veteran superintendent Michael Hinojosa, a savvy leader and zealous advocate for the district in the community and in Austin.
“Offering reforms is one thing, implementing them is another — and you’ve got to have both,” DISD trustee Ben Mackey told The Dallas Morning News in September, when the board extended Hinojosa’s contract to 2024. “If leadership doesn’t say this is what we’re going to move forward on, it doesn’t happen.”
The kind of momentum Dallas is experiencing is something HISD has found before.
Best urban district in America
In 2002, HISD won the first-ever Broad Prize for Urban Education. The national award, which came with a $1 million prize to give scholarships to district students, recognized Houston for its student achievement and reduction in the achievement gap.
The award capped a decade of work by the trustees and superintendents to turn around a struggling district, even in the throes of political infighting, scandal and initial public disappointment. In his book, “Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools… and Winning! — Lessons from Houston,” former trustee Donald McAdams details this decade of growth and renewal.
As McAdams recounts, the district improved through reforms such as decentralization, school-improvement plans, school-based budgeting, changes in school attendance boundaries, management audits, employee performance evaluations, performance contracts for administrators, district charter schools and incentive pay for teachers.
“We once made a list of all the things we were working on, and it was, like, 99 things — and all 99 things had to happen in order for us to turn around,” said Mincberg, who was on the board from 1982 to 1995.
The leadership the district needed flowed from a joint belief by the board and the superintendent that student success had to be at the center of every decision they made
.
“There were mistakes all along the way, nothing was perfect,” Mincberg said. “But the board supported the superintendent and the superintendent supported student achievement.”
The changes made and continued efforts by stakeholders eventually netted HISD another Broad Prize in 2013, the only district to repeat the honor.
Even TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who will hold ultimate authority over the district for several years, says HISD has plenty of strengths on which to build.
“This was an award-wining urban school system that had seen massive improvement and much of those bones are still in existence,” Morath said.
Whether HISD learns from other urban districts or finds the lost spirit that once propelled its highly praised successes, the district has turned itself around before. It can do it again.

The Wall Street Journal published an expose of the College Board’s practice of selling student data, which is illegal in some states. The colleges buy the names and addresses of students, encourage them to apply, then reject them so they can claim they are “exclusive.” It looks good on the US News phony ratings when colleges have a low acceptance rate.

For 47 cents, the College Board will sell an individual’s information, feeding admissions frenzy

Jori Johnson took the practice SAT test as a high-school student outside Chicago. Brochures later arrived from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

The universities’ solicitations piqued her interest, and she eventually applied. A few months later, she was rejected by those and three other schools that had sought her application, she said. The high-school valedictorian’s test scores, while strong by most standards, were well below those of most students admitted to the several schools that had contacted her.

“A lot of the rejections came on the same day,” said Ms. Johnson, a 21-year-old senior film major at New York University, one of three schools that accepted her out of 10 applications. “I just stared at my computer and cried.”

The recruitment pitches didn’t help Ms. Johnson, but they did benefit the universities that sent them. Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns.

Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field.

The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities.

That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells. Colleges say the data helps them reach a diverse pool of students they might have otherwise missed.

The top 10% of universities don’t need to do this. They are buying some students’ names who don’t have a great chance of getting in,” said Terry Cowdrey, an enrollment consultant for universities and Vanderbilt University’s acting dean of undergraduate admission in 1996 and 1997. “Then the kids say, ‘well why did you recruit me if you weren’t going to let me in?’ They do it to increase the number of applications; you’ve got to keep getting your denominator up for your admit rate.

This morning, the Network for Public Education Action has published a major report on the role of Big Money in buying elections to control education and undermine democracy.

“Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools” examines several districts/states where the super-rich have poured in money from out-of-state to buy control of school boards and buy policy, with the goal of advancing privatization.

The case studies include: Denver, Los Angeles, Newark, Minneapolis, Perth Amboy, N.J., Washington State, New York City, Newark, Rhode Island, and Louisiana.

This carefully documented report deserves your attention. It names names.

The rich use their money to steal democracy and local control.

Their only idea is privatization. They use their vast wealth to take away what belongs to the public.

Read it. Share it with your friends and colleagues. Post it on social media.

If you want to help the Network for Public Education and the Network for Public Education Action Fund continue its work to support public education, sign up, donate, come to our annual meeting in Indianapolis on October 20-21.

Tom Torlakson, the outgoing state superintendent of public instruction in California, has created a task force to review the charter school laws in the state.

California has more charter schools than any other state. The California Charter School Association is the richest, most powerful lobby in the state and has been able to stymie any overhaul of the law. The CCSA has staunchly opposed any revision of the law that might require accountability or transparency from charter schools and that would, for example, bar conflicts of interest or for-profit charters.

Governor Jerry Brown, who has been a progressive leader on so many major issues, has been a faithful defender of charter schools, vetoing any legislative efforts to update the law.

But, it now appears that the new governor will be Gavin Newsom, and he has no debts to the CCSSA, which directed millions of dollars to Antonio Villairaigosa in the primaries, who ran a distant third.

Given the reshuffling at the top, it is time to fix the conditions that allow frauds and scandals to go undetected in the charter sector.

Responsible members of the charter industry should work diligently to remove the fraudsters and grifters from their sector, as should everyone.

Charters should not have the ability to appeal from the district board to the county board to the state board, where they are certain to win approval, no matter how ill-qualified their staff.

At present, given the lack of any accountability for the expenditure of public money by charters, the state has experienced many scandals. To learn more about the woeful state of California’s charter industry, read Carol Burris’s carefully researched “Charters and Consequences.”

The Torlakson commission has the chance to get the law right, which would benefit both public schools and charter schools.

It has taken nearly 20 years, and cost Ohio taxpayers $1 billion or more, but the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) died in court this week.

The owner William Lager became a millionaire many times over, supplying goods and services to his corporation.

The “school” had a high attrition rate and the highest dropout rate of any high school in the nation, but it was protected by politicians who received campaign contributions from Lager. The contributions were piffle compared to Lager’s profits.

After embarrassing stories, the ECOT authorizer withdrew its sponsorship. The state, after years of ignoring the horrible performance of ECOT and its huge profits, eventually got around to auditing it and found many phantom students and asked ECOT for an accounting. ECOT insisted that when students turn on their computer, they were learning even if they didn’t participate in activities.

ECOT attorneys argued that the state illegally changed the rules on how to count students in the middle of a school year, and that state law did not require students to participate in class work in order to be counted for funding purposes.

Perhaps foreshadowing the final decision, as attorney Marion Little’s argued before the court in February that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow should get full funding for students even if they do no work, Chief Justice O’Connor interjected, “How is that not absurd?”

After a long battle in court, the Supreme Court voted 4-2 to support the state in its decision to force ECOT to pay back money for students who never received instruction.

Since opening the school in 2000, Lager went from financial distress to a millionaire, with his for-profit companies, IQ Innovations and Altair Learning Management, collecting about $200 million in state funding for work done on behalf of ECOT. At its peak, the school was graduating more than 2,000 students annually, but also had the highest dropout rate in the state.

Lager and his associates also donated $2.5 million to Ohio politicians and political parties, the vast majority to Republicans, with the ECOT scandal boiling into a major issue ahead of the Nov. 6 election featuring the gubernatorial race between DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.

Be it noted that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a huge fan of online charter schools and was an investor in K12 Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Farewell, ECOT. You won’t be missed. Besides, K12 Inc. and other e-schools are rushing in to Ohio to grab your market share.