Massachusetts will vote in November on Question 2, which would expand the number of privately managed charter schools, a dozen a year forever. The promoters of charters claim to be “saving” poor minority children. But the NAACP for New England sees through the propaganda.

The Chairman of the Education Committee of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP weighed in at the Boston Globe:

AUGUST 27, 2016

“IT IS precisely because of our grave concerns about the devastating impact on black and brown children that the NAACP is part of a broad-based statewide coalition to defeat Question 2, which would lead to unfettered charter school growth, taking billions of dollars in state aid away from local district public schools (“Charter question divides Democrats,” Metro, Aug. 16).

“The battle over this ballot question is not between teachers unions and low-income and minority families. On one side are those who believe that we must stop defunding the public schools that educate 96 percent of our students. On the other are those who support the diversion of billions of dollars of education resources to publicly funded, privately managed, selective, separate, and unequal charter schools.”

John L. Reed
Education Committee
NAACP — New England Area Conference
West Roxbury

John Oliver’s very sharp critique of charter schools went viral. In one week, it has had more than 5 million views.

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the strange events surrounding Manuel Alfaro, an ex-College Board employee who has been complaining loudly about the defects of the redesigned SAT.

His home was raided by the FBI, very likely searching to find out if he was the one who released 400 test items to the media.

The day after the raid, he wrote a long commentary about the flaws of the new SAT.

A reader informed me that there is an interesting program on charters in Douglas County, Colorado, on TV today, running on the MIND TV channel on Comcast. You might be able to find it in your area.

Might be airing at 1:30 pm but might different from region to region.

You might also want to contact Brian Malone to see his award-winning documentary Education Inc.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association conducted a study of costs, comparing charter schools and public schools, and concluded that the charter schools have higher salaries for those at the top and spend twice as much on administration as public schools.

Furthermore, the bulk of their revenue–as much as 84%–is taken away from public schools, leaving them in worse condition.

Charter-school administrative expenditures are nearly double those of conventional public schools, and their highest-ranking officials are paid far more.

They spend less on instruction than school districts, but more on support services and facilities.

And while charter-school enrollment has jumped significantly over time, payments to the schools are far outpacing their actual rates of growth in admission.

All that is according to a report on Pennsylvania’s charter schools issued Thursday by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, made up of nearly 4,500 school board members.

In a 35-page study that came after rounds of records requests during the last 15 months, the conclusions present a broad picture of Pennsylvania’s 173 charter schools, which have become part of an ongoing national debate about what effect the charter-school movement is having on traditional public schools.

“This is not intended to be any sort of an attack on charter schools,” said Andrew Christ, education policy analyst for the organization, during a conference call Thursday.

But, he said, “charter schools need to be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.”

Carol Burris writes in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet about the growing number of charter school scandals. She concludes that what they love best–no supervision, no oversight, no regulation–will be their undoing.

She notes that John Oliver was apparently the first major media figure to react with astonishment to the fraud and graft that has become a recurring theme in the charter movement.

And she describes the major scandals that have occurred in the few days after John Oliver’s broadcast: the charter school in Detroit that abruptly closed, stranding its students; the flight of 500 students from the Livermore charter schools in California back to their public schools; the financial scandals at a Los Angeles charter school where the principal charged tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses to his school credit card; the guilty plea by the founder of a Pennsylvania cyber charter school who admitted stealing $8 million in public funds.

How could these things happen over a long period of time with no one noticing?

Burris writes:

In January 2016, four university researchers published a paper likening the proliferation of charters to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. At the time, the paper received scant attention. How ironic that it may be a late-night comedian who might finally alert the nation to the charter crisis. As Oliver noted, “the problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market. And by the time it’s obvious the school is failing, futures may have been ruined.”

The truth is, the deregulation that the high-scoring charter schools love so much, also produces dismal charter failures, taxpayer fleecing and fraud. And that, in the end, could cause the whole charter system to collapse.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, reflects on the split between the NAACP/Black Lives Matter on one hand, and defenders of the charter movement.

Long before teachers were dragged into the corporate reform wars, we understood the need to speak diplomatically and see multiple sides of the charter school issue. Our union leaders made it clear that the AFT’s Al Shanker had supported the first generation of charter schools. We were reminded that charter opponents and supporters were all needed in the “Big Tent” coalition to promote civil rights, economic and social opportunity, and justice. Besides, who could criticize a poor, black parent who enrolled a child in a charter which provided an escape from a disorderly, dangerous, and failing neighborhood school?

Then charters were increasingly transformed from a way to promote innovation into tools for defeating unions. The “creaming” of students by charters left even greater concentrations of troubled kids behind in under-resourced traditional public schools. And the damage grew far worse when charter management organizations used bubble-in metrics as the ammunition in the campaign for the mass closures of schools. Even though there were not nearly enough high-quality charter and/or traditional public schools available to take their places, market-driven reformers rushed to close as many schools as possible. Presumably all the shortterm pain imposed on educators and students would lead to a time, somewhere over the rainbow, of “disruptive” transformation.

In decades of discussions with parents, I’ve developed a sense of how they will unfold – at least when conducted in a polite manner. It often takes a while before all stakeholders get into the give-and-take of trusting conversations, but until recently I’d mostly witnessed difficult but constructive communication among patrons. All sides recognized the vexing dilemmas and lamented society’s failure to offer holistic and respectful learning conditions for all. (Lately, as charters have doubled down on expansion, I’ve seen how these talks degenerate and how close we’ve come to fist fights among patrons.)

Many charter parents have other children whom charters would not accept or retain, so they see firsthand how the proliferation of choice has damaged our most vulnerable kids. Patrons witness the harm that out-of-control choice can do to one or more of their children, but they have no magic wand that would make charter advocates settle down. So, many accept the charter offerings to their children who were so favored, while mourning the damage done to the most disadvantaged kids.

Even parents who resort to No Excuses charters are likely to protest that they should not have to choose between a charter that offers a second class education, focusing on basic skills instruction, as opposed to the rich learning environments bestowed on suburban students. Usually, we were close to unanimous in resenting the choice between sending kids to charters or to often-violent and dysfunctional neighborhood schools – that were made much worse by the over-expansion of charters. The universal question remains: Why give up on providing an equal educational opportunity to all kids?

Kate Zernike’s New York Times account of the charter wars, pitting civil rights advocates against civil rights advocates, and liberals and neo-liberals against liberals and parents from all political perspectives, concisely summarizes the educational issue, as well as the emerging edu-political twist. While few question the benefits that charters have bestowed on some poor children of color, nobody should dispute the costs to our most disadvantaged traditional public school students.

Zernike writes:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students. … The groups supporting a moratorium (on charter school expansion) say, [excessive choice] concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

I would add that we should probe more deeply into what the winners in these charters win, and the magnitude of the harm inflicted on kids in schools who lose in these no-holds-barred conflicts. How much do students benefit when test-driven, competition-driven reforms help them post some higher test scores? Much (though not all) of the time, the growth of a few points represents increased learning. But, how valuable is that knowledge to the relative few who gain it? In contrast, how destructive is the harm to the majority? When some actually gain more basic skills, that’s fine, but how does that output measure up in comparison to the increased segregation and teach-to-the-test malpractice that is imposed on many more neighborhood and charter students?

I’ve heard testimonials by students who fled our inner city’s neighborhood schools. I’ve also listened to many, many more kids who describe the humiliation they felt, and how their education was stolen from them by test-driven, competition-driven reforms. Whether a steady diet of worksheet-driven instruction was imposed by charters or by traditional public schools threatened by charters, adults placed competitive bubble-in accountability over their educations.

And, that leads to the second issue implicit in Zernike’s article. She describes the vehemence of charter advocates who oppose the N.A.A.C.P.’s call for a moratorium on charter expansion, and in doing so she allows choice advocates to speak for themselves in their uniquely unfiltered manner. Zernike cites the pro-charter blogger, “Citizen Stewart” who “said a moratorium on charters would effectively make black parents ‘wards of the state.’” This Trump-style logic is not atypical of true believers in choice. Stewart illustrated the type of attacks on opponents that is the norm for so many corporate reformers. We who disagree agree with him supposedly take positions that are “just stupid.”

Zernike then cites Howard Fuller, who “argues that the criticism of charters ignores the patterns of racism in the United States.” Fuller blames traditional school districts, housing policies, and other institutions for creating educational and other problems. We who question silver bullets like charter takeovers cite those same realities as reasons for more holistic, aligned and coordinated, “win win” solutions. When civil rights advocates criticize charters for making conditions worse, however, Fuller says that that “is beyond the pale.” Fuller then adds something about himself that I don’t doubt, “I don’t understand it. I literally don’t understand it.”

In other words, Zernike gives us a glimpse of the pro-charter mindset that Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., describes as “hyperventilating.”
Stewart and Fuller aren’t alone in being unable to grasp their opponents’ side of complex issues. Corporate school reformers have been notorious for their inability to listen and respect alternative viewpoints. It’s not just that these charter supporters are devoted to competition and high stakes testing. Too many of them believe that we who disagree with them are evil. When education disputes become publicly intertwined with racial tension, however, the press gives them a higher profile. The public is now seeing what teachers have long had to deal with, ideologically-driven reformers who can’t handle the clash of ideas.

Harold Meyerson, the editor of The American Prospect, published a very important article in the Los Angeles Times about the toxic effect of the powerful charter lobby on the Democratic Party and on democracy itself.

He writes:

“At a time when Democrats and their party are, by virtually every index, moving left, a powerful center-right pressure group within the liberal universe has nonetheless sprung up. Funded by billionaires and arrayed against unions, it is increasingly contesting for power in city halls and statehouses where Democrats already govern….

“In California, political action committees funded by charter school backers have become among the largest donors to centrist Democratic state legislators who not only favor expanding charters at the expense of school districts, but also have blocked some of Gov. Jerry Brown’s more liberal initiatives.

In New York’s upcoming primary, such longtime charter supporters as Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a PAC seeking to unseat several Democratic legislators who’ve defended the role and budget of traditional public schools.

In future decades, historians will have to grapple with how charter schools became the cause celebre of centrist billionaires – from Walton to Bloomberg to Broad – in an age of plutocracy. The historians shouldn’t dismiss the good intentions behind the billionaires’ impulse: the desire to provide students growing up in poverty with the best education possible. But neither should they dismiss their self-exculpation in singling out the deficiencies, both real and exaggerated, of public education as the central reason for the evisceration of the middle class….

“In their mix of good intentions and self-serving blindness, the billionaire education reformers have much in common with some of the upper-class progressives of a century ago, another time of great wealth and pervasive poverty. Some of those progressives, in the tradition of Jane Addams, genuinely sought to diminish the economy’s structural inequities, but others focused more on the presumed moral deficiencies and lack of discipline of the poor. Whatever the merits of charters, the very rich who see them as the great equalizer are no closer to the mark than their Gilded Age predecessors who preached temperance as the answer to squalor.”

Allison Collins lives in the Bay Area and blogs about education. She has written an insightful post about the winners of the phony claim that American education is “broken” and “failing.”

Sure, there are problems, but American public education has been at the center of our national success, and we are now witnessing a determined effort to tear it down.

Why? Who benefits?

She writes:

There are some strong public schools and some that struggle. But talking about our entire public school system like it’s Armageddon is overblown, and does a great disservice to the many dedicated students, families and teachers that pour their time, money and love into our schools. More than anything, this harmful narrative seems to target urban public schools serving low-income, Black and Brown youth. There are hundreds of tiny miracles happening in our urban public schools each day that never get media attention. It’s time we analyzed why the “failing public schools” narrative is so pervasive nowadays. Who benefits when public schools fail?….

The multi-million dollar charter industry relies on the perception that charters are private school “lite” with a public school price. The best way for charters to differentiate themselves from traditional public schools is by selling themselves as the free-market (read: better) alternative to public schools which proponents paint as “bureaucratic” and “inefficient”. Most often, charters sell the idea that they offer specialized curriculum or enhanced instruction that can’t be provided in “failing” schools by veteran teachers. Teachers in charters are painted as spunky, innovative, dedicated in contrast to the old, burnt-out, “impossible to fire” teachers they say are the problem with public schools. (Stay tuned for more on this topic. As you can see, I’m just getting started!)…

Private and charter schools aren’t the only ones who thrive on trashing public schools. Profitable non-profits include: education think-tanks, curriculum developers, test creators and educational software developers who are always ready to jump in and provide a “quick fix”…..

“What’s wrong with urban public schools? We’ll tell you for just three easy payments of $19.95 … MILLION!” “Want to learn how to turn around your achievement gap? Hire our team of curriculum consultants and TFA wunderkind and we’ll save the day!” Talking about failing public schools is a real bummer, but MAN it really moves product!

Hysteria over our “broken system” has gotten so crazy that non-profits often serve as brokers and middlemen for billionaire funders like Bill Gates who favor investing in outsiders over districts who they fear will mismanage implementation. Yet, when dollars flow to non-profits to supplant the leadership in a district, it undermines rather than supports. The overall message to educators is, “We don’t think you can do it yourself… so we’ll do it for you.”.

If you want to help a district function effectively, you work with leaders to fix underlying problems, you don’t create workarounds or do the work. In this way, non-profits enable failure. They become complicit in creating and maintaining problems they then profit by fixing.

And then there are what she calls the “Chardonnay Liberals.”

But read it to learn why they benefit.

Greg Richmond, president and chief executive of the National Association of Charter Authorizers, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling on the state to overhaul the selection of those that can authorize charter schools. At present, the process is a free-for-all, and almost anyone can open a charter school. Local boards are authorizers; county boards are authorizers; if both of them turn down an applicant, the applicant can appeal to the state board and overturn the local and county boards.

California is awash in charter schools. According to a recent report by the ACLU, at least 20% of them engage in illegal discrimination to keep out the students they don’t want.

California also has had a steady parade of scandals, of charter owners who line their pockets with taxpayers’ money.

Will the state clean up the sector? Will it establish accountability and transparency, both for authorizers and for the charter schools? Or will the powerful California Charter School Association fight reform legislation every step of the way, calling in the debts owed by legislators who accepted their campaign cash?


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