Only hours after losing its lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, the Silicon Valley-funded “Students Matter”filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, claiming that the state’s restrictions on magnet schools and charter schools discriminated against inner-city children.

Curious. Why isn’t this group suing the state for not giving the neediest schools the funds to reduce class sizes and provide social and medical services to the children?

“California-based educational-advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit charging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet and charter schools harm city children and violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Students Matter, a group best known for bringing an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in California, filed a 71-page complaint Tuesday charging that “inexcusable educational inequity” in Connecticut was primarily the result of state laws “that prevent inner-city students from accessing even minimally acceptable public-school options.”

“The group is taking aim at laws that have put a moratorium on new magnet schools, limit the expansion of charter schools, and set per-student funding levels for districts participating in the Open Choice program in which city students attend suburban schools.

“A statement from Students Matter said, “Year after year, these parents have tried to avoid sending their children to failing public schools by trying to enroll them in magnet schools, charter public schools or other adequate public school alternatives.”

“However, the group contends that children have been “forced to remain in failing schools” because laws prevent magnets and charters from “scaling and meeting the need for high-quality schools demanded by Connecticut’s population.”

Hmmm. If students have a constitutional right to attend charter schools, do charter schools have the right to refuse admission?

I wonder if TIME Magazine will give the story a cover, as it did for Vergara, claiming that Silicon Valley knows how to fix failing schools. Or the cover it gave to Michelle Rhee, holding a broom, saying that she knew how to fix the public schools of D.C.

I have an idea: since David Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind Students Matter, knows how to fix low-scoring schools, why doesn’t he offer to take over a district in California and show us how to do it?

Calling John Oliver! The charter lobbyists have been criticizing Oliver for his expose of charter fraud last Sunday. Unfair, they say. Untrue, they say. Slanders charters, they say. Let’s see how they fit this story into their narrative.

Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, pleaded guilty to stealing $8 million from the school and diverting it for his personal use. Trombetta’s school was often featured on television as the nation’s first virtual charter. With an enrollment of 10,000 students from across the state, Trometta had receipts of $100 million a year. What to do with all that dough rolling in from taxpayers?

I have written about this scandal on several occasions, from the time Trombetta was charged in 2013. (See hereand here and here. Another cyber charter leader in Pennsylvania, June Brown, who ran the K-12 Agora Charter, was arrested and charged with stealing $6 million.

The Associated Press reports:

“PITTSBURGH (AP) — The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.

“In entering his plea, Nicholas Trombetta, 61, who headed the school, acknowledged using the money to buy, among other things, a Bonita Springs, Florida, condominium for $933,000, pay $180,000 for houses for his mother and girlfriend in Ohio, and spend $990,000 more on groceries and other items.

“He manipulated companies he created and controlled to draw the money from the school, also spending it on a $300,000 plane, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said.

“Trombetta was making $127,000 to $144,000 annually at PA Cyber when he ran the illegal tax evasion scheme from 2006 to 2012. He faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 20.

“By running the money through the companies or their straw owners, Trombetta avoided income taxes, though prosecutors haven’t said how much. Most of the siphoned money was squirreled away in Avanti Management Group, which functioned as Trombetta’s retirement savings account, Kaufman said.

“This case reflects the priority we’ve placed on protecting against fraud in education,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

“The school, founded in Midland in 2000, had more than 11,000 students across the state when Trombetta was charged three years ago and still has more than 9,000. As a public institution, it’s funded by federal, state and local taxes. Districts across the state pay the school to educate any students who opt to enroll in PA Cyber instead of a bricks-and-mortar school.

“Trombetta almost didn’t plead guilty Wednesday when his attorney, Adam Hoffinger, began sparring with Kaufman, who had to describe the complicated conspiracy to the judge.

“Kaufman said Trombetta used Avanti, the National Network of Digital Schools and other companies in the scheme. The Network of Digital Schools markets a curriculum developed in conjunction with PA Cyber and sold it back to the school, while Avanti provided unspecified management services, the prosecutor said. Avanti had four owners who pretended to be equal 25 percent partners when, in reality, Trombetta owned 80 percent of the firm, Kaufman said.”

Michael Hynes is a veteran superintendent of schools in New York. His district–Patchogue-Medford– is one of those where about half the students opted out of state testing. He has a better vision for education than that of New York State or the federal government.

He writes:

Public Education and what it stands for has been taking a beating not only in New York but across this great nation for far too long. It is my belief that the people who think they know all the answers (policy makers and corporate reformers who are non-educators) are getting in the way of the leaders who understand what our students truly need and deserve.

There is no better time than right now since there is a four year moratorium in New York related to the development of new standards, teacher/principal evaluations and state assessments. Now is the time for our school leaders to have a collective voice about a number of items we have solutions to.

Nobody likes to live in regret….my biggest fear is ten years from now, history will question why school leaders didn’t push back or voice their concerns against the agenda of changing public education. Now is the time to have our collective voices known. A compendium of our ideas and opinions will be sent to the Board of Regents, Commissioner of Education, the heads of the Senate and Assembly and our Governor. It is my hope to have this information ready for the public by November.

Here is a letter that was sent to every NY Superintendent:

Dear Superintendent Colleague:

It is a privilege and honor serving our school communities as educational leaders. It is a remarkable experience like no other. As superintendents, we are entrusted and responsible for our communities’ most prized possessions, the children. We are responsible for everyone’s safety as well as a child’s academic, social and emotional growth. It is a tightrope walk between the balancing acts of educator and politician twenty-four hours a day… seven days a week.

Like any leadership position, a school leader deals with obstacles on a daily basis. But the impediments we face have grown tremendously because of the mandates our state and federal governments have put in place over the past several years. These mandates are at a point that I believe is interfering with our work to best serve our children and our communities. And while there is much anti-public school sentiment that we read about in the news, there is also a rising awareness of the harm that is happening as well as growing frustration among our parent bodies and community leaders. In light of the harm our schools and children have endured, and to put our schools back on the right track, I write to suggest that now is the time to speak out against:

• The overemphasis and overreliance on assessing our children

• The disproportionate use of state tests to evaluate students and teachers

• The hard push for technology as a substitute for teaching and the lack of professional development

• The demonization of teachers and administrators

• The over emphasis on ranking and sorting students and staff into impractical and unrealistic categories

• The early push to be college and career ready, even in Kindergarten

• The insufficient discussion about alternate paths for students, such as vocational school or military opportunities

• The chronic government underfunding of special education

• The use of un-validated and not-fully-transparent tests that have high stakes attached

• Curriculum that sets unachievable standards for our most vulnerable learners

• Protecting personally identifiable student data

The list can go on and on. I realize we have many educational leaders who are relentless advocates for their school district and students. They are innovators within their domains but are hesitant to voice their apprehensions outside of their schoolhouses. The messages from the state have led many to stay quiet, but I believe that now is the time we can act as a whole. By acknowledging our shared concerns, we can send our own message that the time for change and for putting children first is now.

I would love to see New York State educational leaders push for more recess, play and begin redirecting the important focus toward educating the “whole child.” Together we can concentrate on supporting all our children by addressing their social, emotional and academic needs. Now is the time to promote more project-based learning opportunities for our schools. Together we can push the pendulum toward a thoughtful school that will harvest the talents of our students so they are
educated … and move away from a clinical habitation where students are trained to perform well on standardized tests. Parents, students and educators are looking toward our educational leaders now more than ever.

As a beginning, I am looking to collect the thoughts/opinions of superintendents from across the great state of New York in a qualitative nature that support the bulleted items above as well as other issues you think need attention. My hope is to collate the majority of our sentiments on the above mentioned items listed in this letter and with your permission, send a compendium to our state’s education policy makers, including the Board of Regents, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the heads of the Senate and Assembly, as well as the head of the Education Committees, and Governor Cuomo. I am happy to include anonymous postings if that is what anyone wants. I am requesting that your statement is limited to 300 words or less. It would be beneficial if your statements were sent via email to me at mhynes@pmschools.org no later than Friday, September 30th. Once completed I will send
you a copy.

Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience with any questions you may have. Thank you for your time and continued commitment to all our children.

Respectfully yours,

Michael J. Hynes, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

No big surprise here: Most students in Maryland did not pass the PARCC tests.

A majority of Maryland’s students failed to meet academic benchmarks on state standardized tests linked to the Common Core this year, a disappointing result for educators and state officials who had hoped to see major upticks as teachers and students become familiar with the exams.

New data released this week showed that many grade levels saw overall passing rates of about 40 percent in the second year of testing using PARCC exams, which are intended to measure readiness for college and careers. Maryland students in grades three through eight showed gains in math, but English scores remained flat.

“We’re sure not seeing a heck of a rise on these results,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Forty percent is nowhere near good enough, and the gains, where there are some, are small.”

State data showed that most grade levels saw improvement in math, with proficiency inching up nearly three points in seventh grade and almost eight points in third grade. Third-graders did best, with 44 percent meeting or exceeding expectations, and eighth-graders lagged, with just 22 percent meeting or exceeding expectations. There was little change in English scores in third through eighth grades, with 37 to 40 percent of students reaching performance targets.

As I have pointed out many times, both of the federally-funded Common Core tests (PARCC and SBAC) set their passing marks so high that most students were expected to fall short of “proficient.” Long ago, the test developers decided that NAEP proficient was the right benchmark, even though most students consistently fail to reach NAEP proficient. Only in Massachusetts have half the students in the state reached that goal.

Put another way, the Common Core tests were designed to fail most students. That allegedly would inspire them to try harder and every year they would do better and better until everyone reached NAEP proficient.

That was the theory. But it remains to be seen whether the majority who allegedly “fail” will be incentivized to try harder or will give up.

Meanwhile, only seven states and D.C. still administer the PARCC exam, which is developed by Pearson. Originally there were 24. Most have abandoned PARCC.

As readers of this blog know, deregulation of charters leads to fraud, graft, and abuse. On this site, I have documented scores of examples of fraudsters and grifters who take advantage of weak (or no) oversight to enrich themselves and to strand children in bad schools.

A few days ago, John Oliver ran an excellent segment about charter schools and the fraud associated with them. He barely scratched the surface. Charter supporters are furious and are saying that he “hurt” children, he savaged children, etc. (This is a familiar tactic; when I criticized the improbable test scores in New York City almost a decade ago, I was told that I was “hurting children and their teachers” by questioning the validity of the dramatic rise in scores.)

Fraud is a feature of deregulation, not a bug. When no one is looking, some people steal. Not everyone steals, but many do. That is why Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California are scamming taxpayers. No one is demanding accountability. Politicians get paid off by charter friends, then cripple any effort to oversee them Ohio and Michigan spend $1 billion a year to subsidize charter schools, which are lower-performing than public schools.

The corporate reformers and privatizers are bombarding John Oliver with tweets and messages attacking his show.

Please let him know you support him.

Please take the time to contact John Oliver by writing him at management@avalonuk.com.

And tweet him @iamjohnoliver.

Don’t let the charter industry intimidate him.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went to an open meeting with parents and other concerned citizens where the topic was the impoverished district of Camden, which has been under state control for three years.

In the meeting, education activist and Camden resident Sue Altman debated Governor Christie and didn’t back down. This video is going viral.

All Christie knows about education is that 1) it costs too much, and, 2) charters do a better job for less.

Altman explained that the charters don’t enroll the same demographic as the public schools.

Public ed advocate/Camden resident Sue Altman stood up and held her ground against Gov. Christie for nearly 6 minutes – correcting him on how long the state’s run Camden schools, calling him out on the hypocrisy of planning far less for Camden than his own administration’s report says is needed, reminding him the kids there can’t even drink the schools’ water….At one point, Christie just gives up and throws Altman the microphone.

For context about the event and about Camden, read this post by Professor Steven Danley (who happens to be Sue Altman’s husband).

Sue is a star. The way she handled the Governor, with knowledge, persistence, wit, and a smile is a lesson to all of us.

PS: I corrected this post to show that Sue is not yet a parent. She and Steve were married this summer.

In Detroit, the University YES Academy convened its high school students to tell them to find another school because the charter school would not be opening.

Officials for University YES Academy held an impromptu meeting today to tell high school students they needed to find another school to attend. Only parents and students were allowed in the meeting, and they were barred from using recording devices.

“What are our kids supposed to do?” a parent told Metro Times reporter Allie Gross. “Another black school closed down. More black kids cannot be educated.”

The school’s management company, New Paradigm, handed parents and students a list of six other schools, including one of the company’s own schools, Detroit Edison Public School Academy, Gross reported from outside the meeting.

Students criticized New Paradigm for waiting until the last minute to announce the school’s closure.

“They call about everything else, but they don’t think to call about closing the school,” a student told Gross.

The University YES Academy, at 14669 Curtis St., will continue to teach K-8.

The school fought off a union drive in 2015.

In November, voters in Massachusetts will be confronted by Question 2, whose purpose is to lift the present limit on charter schools. The campaign to lift the cap is supported by Republican Governor Charlie Baker and his appointees. It is also supported by the usual rich white guys who love charter schools for other people’s children. Their goal is privatization of public schools. This is a crucial vote, because if the hedge funders and billionaires can win in Massachusetts, they can win anywhere. That is why it is so important to stop them. The Democratic State Committee passed a resolution opposing Question 2. The corporate reformers are falsely claiming that Question 2 will “improve public schools.” This is a lie. It will suck money out of public schools and permit more privatization in the state that invented public education.

Peter Greene writes here about the Question 2 campaign. He notes that the proponents of charter schools have hired the same public relations outfit that created the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry.

Watch for the same lies, the same effort to hoodwink the public into believing that up is down, war is peace, ignorance is strength, and privately managed schools are “public schools.” Don’t believe it.

Bill Phillis posts disturbing news about one of the nation’s lowest performing schools, a virtual charter name ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

He writes:

“$3 million of Straight A state funds went to Straight D-F ECOT in 2014

What kind of twisted process was conjured up to permit the transfer of $2,951,755 of Straight A state funds to the ECOT man in 2014? This disgraceful governmental malfeasance is an affront to Ohio taxpayers.

This $3 million went to a business enterprise that has collected nearly a billion dollars from school districts but cannot verify that students are being engaged in learning for more than an average of one hour per day.

The travesty of the ECOT saga is that state officials in charge of the Statehouse may continue this colossal waste of tax money. As the August 19 Columbus Dispatch editorial suggests, ECOT appears to be running the clock out hoping that the legislature will eventually permit online operators to collect funds merely on the basis of enrollment.

Public school officials, educators and advocates should confront their legislative representatives and the Governor on this matter.”

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614-228-6540 | ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net |

Ohio E & A
100 S. 3rd Street
Columbus OH 43215

This just in from the parent advocacy group, Parents Across America:

Contact: Laura Bowman, PAA-Roanoke Valley: 540-819-6385
Julie Woestehoff, PAA interim executive director: 773-715-3989

Our Children @ Risk

Parents raise alarm about EdTech’s harmful effects on children’s
academic, intellectual, emotional, physical and social development

Echoing the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report, Parents Across America (PAA)
today declares, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose
on America the takeover of public education by digital technology that
threatens our children’s health and well-being, captures their private
data, and undermines the best elements of their education, we might
well view it as an act of war.”

PAA has spent extensive time looking into recent writing and research
that raise red flags about the impact of the EdTech explosion on our
children. This high-pressure movement has brought a mishmash of digital
devices and online and other pre-packaged programs into our schools,
where they are promoted as “personalized,” “competency-based,”
“student-centered,” or “self-directed” learning, terms which we refer
to together as EdTech.

Today, PAA released a position paper and a series of reports, including
a 35-page background paper, detailing some of the many threats to
children’s health and well-being, parental control, family privacy, and
the quality of teaching and learning by this latest effort of corporate
reformers to profit from our children’s education and undermine
democratic public schooling.

PAA’s executive director, Julie Woestehoff, explains, “What we have
found out about the EdTech push alarms us, and should alarm any parent.
First of all, there is actually very little research addressing the
many news ways that EdTech is being used in our schools — our children
are truly being used as guinea pigs. What we do know about children and
screen time is based in part on new studies and in part on previous
research into children’s use of television, video games and computers,
which can help us anticipate some of EdTech’s health effects. And
EdTech’s teaching and learning track record is not positive. Yet
corporate reformers and the new federal education law, the Every Child
Succeeds Act, or ESSA, are investing heavily in EdTech and increasingly
pressuring its widespread use.”

Leader of PAA’s chapter in Roanoke, VA, Laura Bowman, says, “We are
speaking out for balanced, healthy classrooms for our children. We
strongly oppose the push to increase student screen time, replace
teachers with packaged lessons delivered by digital devices, and
continuously test students, data-mining the results. We are very
concerned that the massive and growing use of EdTech is displacing
valuable elements of schooling without providing clear benefits, and
threatening our children’s right to a healthy and educationally-
appropriate school environment.”

PAA is not against the appropriate use of technology in schools. Just
as the group opposes standardized test misuse and not the tests
themselves, they challenge technology use that reduces schooling to a
data-mining computer game, and not technology itself. We know that our
children need to master technology, and we acknowledge that parents
must work harder to monitor their children’s use of technology at home.
But we also strongly feel that schools, school districts and states
must become far more cautious, diligent, transparent and accountable
about their technology decisions.

PAA believes that, in the face of strong pressure from the parental
opt-out movement, and criticism that the misuse and overuse of
standardized tests harms children and their education, corporate
reformers and “Big Testing” have changed their tactics.

These education profiteers are promoting even more lucrative testing
and teaching strategies, mostly tied to the Common Core State Standards
and the PARCC or SBAC national tests.

These products help Big Testing continue to control the curriculum and
access vast amounts of student data. Meanwhile, students are spending
increasing hours glued to computer screens and other digital devices
which leaves less time for interacting with other children, adults or
their own imaginations, and exposes them to new dangers.

We have prepared a set of informational materials for parents covering
PAA’s specific concerns about EdTech’s:

-harmful effects on children’s mental and emotional development,

-negative impact on student intellectual and academic growth,

-damaging physical effects,

-depersonalization and other ways of undermining the educational
process,

-questionable value and effectiveness,

-continuous testing of students, often without obtaining consent from
or even informing students or parents,

-threats to student data privacy, and

-hugely lucrative benefits for private companies.

Parents must be alerted to these potential risks, and be prepared to
challenge and, if necessary, opt out of school-based technology that
may be harmful to our children.

Based on these and other concerns, we call on legislators and education
policy makers to consider our list of recommendations found at http://p
arentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/EdTechRecs8-20-
16.pdf.

Please see our documentation paper (http://tinyurl.com/edtechdocu) and
reports (http://tinyurl.com/PAAEdTechreports)for more detailed informat
ion, references and background.

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