Archive | April, 2016

To Diane Feinstein Re. John King

26 Apr

To: Senator Diane Feinstein

United States Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

From: Thomas Ultican

 

 

Dear Senator Feinstein,

 

Thank you for your courteous response to my entreaty to oppose the appointment of John King as the United States Secretary of Education.

 

The central point of what you wrote was:

 

“On March 14, 2016, I joined 48 of my colleagues to confirm King’s nomination.  While we may disagree on his nomination, please know that I respect your opinion and appreciate hearing your feedback.  I look forward to working with him as Congress continues to work towards providing a high-quality education to every student and ensure a successful future.”

 

I am writing back to share my belief that a shockingly large percentage of public education teachers feel abandoned by the Democratic Party. John Kings appointment was one more slap in the face. I personally am aware of several teachers who have reluctantly registered with the Green Party.

 

In 2008, teachers across America embraced the candidacy of Barack Obama. His spokesperson on education was Stanford University’s, Linda Darling-Hammond. Her embrace of standardized education gave me pause, but she was a professional educator with deep experience. I and others felt a great sense of betrayal, when Darling-Hammond was pushed aside for a political operative from Chicago with almost no professional experience as an educator, Arne Duncan.

 

Since then, the Obama administration has championed one horrible education policy after another. Duncan worked to de-professionalize teaching, privatize public education and make school a corporate profit center.

 

The “No Child Left Behind” legislation that was championed by the “liberal lion”, Ted Kennedy seriously damaged public education, undermined democratic control of schools and legitimized labeling schools and teachers as failures. And the testing schemes used to make those demoralizing judgments were not capable of such a determination.

 

Saddest of all is that minority teachers, because they often work in the poorest communities, have suffered the most from NCLB’s misguided accountability scheme based on unsound science.

 

The federal control of education has arrived with testing hell for students and enormous stress. All levels of education are dealing with dramatically increased mental illness manifested as student depression and self-mutilation. Despite the emotional and financial costs, testing score improvements have slowed and the scoring gap between minority students and white students has increased.

 

Standardized testing which has its American roots in the eugenics movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s is not a capable measure of good teaching or good schools. It is a fraud. As the education activist Steven Singer observed, “Practitioners like Carl Brigham used IQ tests to PROVE white people were just the best … He went on to refine his work into an even better indicator of intelligence that he called the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.”

 

My personal opinion is that standardized testing is a scam, a waste of both taxpayer and student money. SAT, ACT and Pearson should not receive one more penny from taxpayers for their harmful misleading products and public universities should be encouraged to drop these bogus tests as part of the application requirements. High school grades are still the most reliable indicator of success in college.

 

There were bad schools before NCLB and Race to the Top, before charter schools; however they were the result of terrible state policies and not teachers or schools. Privatizing public schools just makes stealing taxpayer money easier.

 

Before Katrina, the schools in the poorer sections of New Orleans were an abomination. It was normal for middle schools to have 55 children in classes, with no fans or air conditioning.

 

When charter schools came to New Orleans the minority communities embraced them because they hoped that finally some money would be put into their schools. Unfortunately, this story is turning uglier every day. Because the charter schools are independent, thousands of students have fallen through the cracks; there are more than 10,000 New Orleans’ youths between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school and are not working.

 

And the heroic black educators of New Orleans have been replaced by TFA teachers with no experience and almost no training.

 

These are the result of amateurs believing that professionalism in education is not important.

Obama’s “Race to the Top” has done more damage than NCLB for that same reason.

 

Yes, Dr. John King, Jr. has and appealing story and impressive credentials from well thought of Ivy League schools. He does not have deep experience as an educator and his ham-handed tenure as the New York Commissioner of Education accelerated the hatred for Common Core and standardized testing in New York. He was a failure. John King made the opt-out of testing movement so robust.

 

I think your colleague from Utah, Senator Mike Lee, made cogent points when he said:

 

“I have studied Dr. King’s professional record, most notably his time in New York’s Department of Education, and I’ve reviewed the transcript of his confirmation hearing. Based on the policies that he’s supported, the bipartisan opposition he has invited throughout his career and his uncompromising commitment to the designs of bureaucrats and central planners over the lived experiences of parents and teachers, I believe it would be grave error for the Senate to confirm Dr. King’s nomination at this time. Indeed, I believe it would be difficult for anyone to support Dr. King’s nomination on the basis of his record.

“The problem is not that Dr. King lacks experience; on paper, you might think that Secretary of Education is the logical next step in his career. After three years as a teacher and a brief stint managing charter schools, Dr. King has risen through the ranks of education bureaucracy, climbing from one political appointment to the next. But do we really think that someone who has spent more time in a government agency than in a classroom is better suited to oversee federal education policy. And, more to the point, what matters isn’t the jobs that someone has held but the policies that person has advanced.”

 

Dr. King has promoted the privatization of the American public school system and the demise of local democratic control of public schools. Charter schools are not public schools. No parent has the right to attend their board meetings, look at their records or vote for their leadership. They are private businesses – often fraudulent – draining education dollars away from students.

 

At this point, all I can say is please watch him vigilantly. It is totally predictable that he will attempt to arrogate power to himself in ways totally in opposition to the spirit of the recent education law, ESSA. It is totally predictable that he will ignore the counsel of professional educators in favor schemes put forward by testing and technology companies.

Charter School Movement Out of Control

3 Apr

In response to the polemic “A Nation at Risk”, charter schools were proposed as a means to improve education while finessing state education laws. They were essentially viewed as lab schools that would innovate and then transfer those innovations to the public school system. They have failed. Their academic performance which is often misrepresented as sensational is – at best – no better than public schools. Today, they are clearly driving increased segregation, harming community schools and increasing costs. Currently, the most powerful charter school promotions do not tout them as a way to improve education; rather they are now seen as a way to make money. It is time to stop school privatization which is actually leading to “A Nation at Risk.”

Investment Opportunity

Just search “charter school investment” and a list of articles from the New York Times, Forbes, Business Insider, the Washington Post and many more will appear. In March 2015, the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-sponsored an event in Manhattan called “Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” In the Business Insider report on this event, reporter Abby Jackson wrote:

 “Hedge funds and other private businesses are particularly interested in the growth and success of charter schools. The growth of charter networks around the US offer new revenue streams for investing, and the sector is quickly growing. Funding for charter schools is further incentivized by generous tax credits for investments to charter schools in underserved areas.”

Andre Agassi and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs are fronting charter school development. What are an uneducated tennis player and a misogynistic rapper doing running schools? The LA times reports, “Add Sean “Diddy” Combs to the list of millionaires trying to fix American education. At the charter school the music mogul is opening in Harlem, teachers will be called ‘Illuminators’ and social justice will be key.” I am not sure how much social justice and illumination students will get from the words of their founder posted by Mercedes Schneider on her blog:

 “Nigga hungry like Cujo

Smoking that Pluto

No ticking time like hand on the rope

Nigga feel beautiful

No park brake but a nigga in neutral”

 The Mythic Charter School Success

There often appears in the media stories about the amazing success of charter schools. Almost all of these success stories are based on standardized testing results. Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain in New York City is often held up as one of these amazing charter school successes. The New York Times reported in an article titled “At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’”:

 “Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.”

 Recently, Rutgers University researcher Mark Weber published a report about the amazing results in Newark, New Jersey at the North Star Academy charter school a member of the Uncommon Schools charter chain (that’s the no-excuses charter chain Secretary of Education John King came from) Here is the data proving North Star’s myth inspiring results.

 “Take the most recent PARCC exams in New Jersey. About 41% of the state’s 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on the test.

 In Essex County, high-income Millburn High School (2.2% economically disadvantaged) saw 57% of students scoring proficient or advanced on the assessment. The juniors at Livingston High School (1.5 % economically disadvantaged) earned 56.5%.

 A few miles away, the juniors at Newark-based North Star Academy (83.7% economically disadvantaged) earned an 80.6% pass rate.”

What Weber shows in his report is the attrition rate at North Star is huge. Every year classes get smaller and testing results improve. North Star has a comparatively small special education enrollment, few language learners and a high expulsion rate. Also Chris Christie’s old high school, Livingston and Millburn High School have high opt out rates. So on the tests that don’t affect the students (PARCC), North Star actually outperformed the two famous public high schools, but on SAT testing that matters to the students the results reverse. North Star with its extra assets from philanthropy is doing good work but it is hardly a miracle.

Worrisome – School to Prison Pipeline

On March 16, the University of California Los Angeles’s Civil Rights Project released the results of a first-ever analysis of school discipline records for the nation’s more than 5,250 charter schools. A disturbing number are suspending big percentages of their black students and students with disabilities at highly disproportionate rates compared to white and non-disabled students.

The press release outlines these key findings:

“Study finds many charter schools feeding ‘school to prison pipeline.’”

“The comprehensive analysis by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project identified 374 charter schools across the country that had suspended 25% or more of their entire student body during the course of the 2011-12 academic year. The comprehensive review also revealed:

  • “Nearly half of all black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 charter schools that was hyper-segregated (80% black) and where the aggregate black suspension rate was 25%.
  • More than 500 charter schools suspended black charter students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than that of white charter students.
  • Even more disconcerting, 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than that of students without disabilities.
  • Perhaps most alarming, 235 charter schools suspended more than 50% of their enrolled students with disabilities.”

 Who Runs Charter Schools

Fetullah Gulen is a Turkish Imam living in exile in western Pennsylvania. Gülen is a powerful and determined opponent of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the Gulen charter school movement which has grown to over 160 schools in the United States.

A lawyer named Robert R. Amsterdam penned a piece about Gulen for The Hill. He stated:

 “Our law firm has been engaged by the Republic of Turkey – a key NATO ally in a hotbed region – to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the operations and geopolitical influence of the Gülen organization, which is behind the Coral Academy of Science [serving on military bases in Nevada] and over 140 other public charter schools scattered across 26 American states.  Our investigation, still in its early stages, reveals that the Gülen organization uses charter schools and affiliated businesses in the U.S. to misappropriate and launder state and federal education dollars, which the organization then uses for its own benefit to develop political power in this country and globally.”

 Mr. Amsterdam also claims:

 “Aside from defrauding American taxpayers, the Gülen organization has an even more ominous objective in the United States.  The organization is one of the country’s largest recipients of H1-B “specialty occupation” visas, which it uses to import Turkish teachers into its charter schools, supposedly because local U.S. talent is not available to fill math and science teaching positions in its charter schools.  The Gülen organization illegally threatens to revoke these visas unless the Turkish teachers agree to kick back part of their salary to the organization.”

 Charter Power Politics Trumps Democracy

California’s Gulen charter schools are called Magnolia Public Schools. In Anaheim, California the local school district rejected the Magnolia Public Schools submission for a charter. Magnolia appealed to the Orange county Board of Education and was again rebuffed. However the state authorizer granted the charter. In a law suit filed by Anaheim school leaders, teachers, parents and others these allegations are made:

 “Magnolia illegally grants large contracts to affiliated vendors that have numerous overlapping connections with their own employees and board of directors. This nepotistic awarding of contracts to affiliated vendors poses illegal conflicts of interest, both individual and organizational, and is evidence of rampant self-dealing at the California taxpayer’s expense.

The audit found that over 69% of the transactions reviewed at the audited Magnolia schools were unaccounted for, evidencing weak internal controls and provoking larger concerns about how Magnolia’s funds are actually being used.

Magnolia has spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to secure H-1B visas for foreign teachers, the large majority of which hail from Turkey, which is not an approved employee expense under federal law.”

 The founder of the California Charter Schools Association, Caprice Young, is now leading the Magnolia Public Schools. The LA Times reported on the problems at Magnolia and Young’s ascension to leadership saying, “Critics have asserted that the Magnolia campuses are among more than 100 charter schools that have ties to a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. In an interview, Young said that she is not aware of any direct links with Gulen.” I wonder how many other charter school chains she is aware of that are dominated by Turkish teachers and administrators?

It is obvious that today’s charter school promoters are not concerned primarily (if at all) with the good of the community or children. It seems they only care about their business goals like achieving 1,000,000 California students in their privatized education system.

Fraud is rampant in charter school organizations and reports of student abuse are on the rise. Public schools in America never were failing and charter schools have caused a lot more harm than good. There are some wonderful charter schools and they should be saved, but do we really want useless cyber schools or suspect education at the local mall?

Do we really want to abandon democratic principles in favor portfolio districts (The operational theory behind portfolio districts is based on a stock market metaphor—the stock portfolio under the control of a portfolio manager. If a stock is low-performing, the manager sells it. As a practical matter, this means either closing the school or turning it over to a charter school or other management organization.)? Remember; stability is important for the development of healthy children and that is one thing charter schools and portfolio style churn do not provide.