Archive | October, 2016

Education and the Commercial Mindset

21 Oct

Samuel E. Abrams has created a masterpiece of research and reason illuminating the successes and failures of the forces favoring privatization of public education. His new book published by Harvard University Press is Education and the Commercial Mindset.

Starting with Chris Whittle and his infamous Channel One on TV and the ill-fated Edison Education, Abrams documents the triumphs and failures of profit based education. He shares the thinking and biographies of key characters working to privatize education and includes voices warning about the unsavory consequences of this agenda; not only in America, but worldwide.

Evidence of Valuable Education Reform Policies

My big take-away from this book was solidified in the last two chapters that discussed privatization efforts in Europe and South America. It explains why both Chile and Sweden have begun undoing their privatized systems. Abrams wrote:

“Much as many Chileans at the same time were protesting their nation’s long-standing system of for-profit school management, initiated in 1981, Swedish critics started to raise their voices in opposition. The Chilean adversaries would soon prevail, with President Michele Bachelet declaring in January 2015 that her government would phase out for-profit school management.

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.” (Page 275)

The one country in Scandinavia that plotted its own course, Finland, has a very similar population distribution as its neighbors yet on PISA its scores are significantly better. Finland also achieved about the same result differential when compared to the United States. Here is a chart I reproduced from the book (Page 287):

pisa-results-graphic

To address a chronic teacher shortage – especially in science classes – Norway, Denmark and Sweden have all introduced Teach for America type programs. Now there is a Teach for Norway, a Teach for Denmark and a Teach for Sweden. On the contrary, Finland sets itself ”apart from not only Sweden but also Denmark and Norway as the only Nordic nation requiring all teachers to have a master’s degree before taking over a classroom.” (Page 280) The Finn’s significantly boosted teacher pay to equality with other professions and reduced class sizes. There is no teacher shortage in Finland.

Where Norway, Sweden and Denmark have embraced standardized testing of certain critical classes like language and mathematics, Finland has chosen to monitor its schools using sampling techniques similar to the NEAP testing in the United States. In addition, Finland samples all classes including music and art.

The Finns also have a different attitude toward who should be leading education than their Nordic neighbors or the United States. Abrams reports, “Of the many officials I interviewed at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the FNBE, FINEEC, and the Helsinki Department of Education, all had been teachers for at least four years and several had taught more than ten.” (Page 289)

If the intention is great education and not merely profiting from tax payers or creating education on the cheap, then the Finish results indicate three important policy principles to consider:

1) Put highly trained well paid teachers in every classroom.

2) Respect the professional judgment of educators and have them lead education.

3) Significantly reduce class sizes.

For Profit Education and Modern Reform Efforts

In the spring of 1991, George Bush announced his America 2000 education agenda and the New America Schools Development Corporation (NASDC). NASDC was defined as “a private-sector research and development fund of at least $150 million to generate innovation in education.” (Page 20) Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill was named as its first chairman. The Regan administration published “A Nation at Risk”, which was written by leaders in the business community and NASDC was clearly a business community driven entity charged with fixing America’s “failing” public schools. Abrams described the committee:

“O’Neill was soon after replaced by Thomas Kean, president of Drew University and former Republican governor of New Jersey. Kean’s fifteen fellow board members comprised some of most powerful people in American business, including Louis Gerstner, chairman of RJR Nabisco; Frank Shrontz, chairman of Boeing; Lee Raymond, president of Exxon; James R. Jones, chairman and CEO of the American Stock Exchange; John Ong, chairman of BF Goodrich; and Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League. Their mission was to lead the way in breaking the mold of conventional schooling.” (page 21)

America had turned its back on professional educators and put its faith in these powerful CEO’s to remediate all that was believed plaguing public schools. A few years latter Diane Ravitch would derisively label this CEO led reform effort “corporate education reform.”

Concurrent with Bush’s America 2000, Chris Whittle had sold his Channel One and was putting together a for profit education organization called the Edison Project. Whittle was the consummate salesman. “In a coup that made the front page of the New York Times on May 26, 1992, Whittle lured Benno Schmidt from the presidency of Yale University and thereby brought the Edison Project national attention and clout overnight.” (Page 27) As Abrams documents, Whittle and Schmidt made grandiose claims regarding the future of the Edison Project:

“Despite this lack of experience in K-12 education, Schmidt, along Whittle, spoke with conviction about what ailed it and what should be done. They contended that no cause in the United States was as pressing as K-12 education and no remedy as promising as for-profit management. In the front-page article in the New York Times announcing Schmidt’s decision to leave Yale to lead Edison, Schmidt and Whittle forecasted that Edison could have a revolutionary impact. Whittle placed the company’s mission in the context of the Cold War and employed the language of historical inevitability: ‘You have to have a West Berlin for East Berlin to fall, and what we’re really doing here is building West Berlin.’ Schmidt added: ‘The reason this hasn’t been done before is that this thing is a matter of D-Day dimensions. Only someone with a high tolerance for risk would even be willing to contemplate it.’ Schmidt predicted, ‘If this venture succeeds, there’s nothing that could be done, aside from changing human nature that could be more constructive for our society.’” (Page 28)

Toward Edison’s Failure

Abrams obviously spent a lot of time not only researching but visiting various facilities and interviewing key actors in the story of privatized education in America. It is fascinating to learn how many of the leaders in the Edison Project have continued the quest to privatize America’s schools. I think two episodes involving Edison are particularly illustrative of privatized failure; one in Baltimore and the other in Philadelphia.

Citizens in middle and working class neighborhoods were not interested in replacing their public schools with for profit schools. However, blighted neighborhoods like those in Baltimore which became the locations for HBO’s The Wire, were fertile markets for Edison. In March of 2000, the Maryland School Board identified seven Baltimore primary schools that were not performing well and they selected Edison to run four of those elementary schools. The other three schools continued under the supervision of the local school district.

The bottom line was Edison came in with some really good people and made many facilities upgrades, but the three schools that stayed in the public system outperformed the Edison schools on language arts and math testing. When the only metric for good education is testing data, it signaled the eventual end for Edison in Baltimore.

In 2000, Tom Ridge paid Edison $2.7 million dollars to study Philadelphia’s schools and make recommendations. Abrams writes about the reaction to this contract:

“Even Brandon Dobell, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston who was bullish on Edison, expressed disapproval of the arrangement. Along with Howard M. Block, an analyst at Bank of America Securities, Dobell took the consulting contract to mean that Edison would end up running a cluster of the city’s schools and, on that account, forecasted greater earning potential for the company. A report Dobell coauthored termed the contract ‘a strong endorsement for the Edison value proposition – perhaps the strongest we have seen thus far in Edison’s lifetime.’ Indeed, Edison’s stock spiked 6 percent on the day of the announcement of the contract. Yet Dobell saw the conflict of interest inherent in commissioning a study from a company that stood likely to recommend its own services. ‘This contract is a bit strange,’ Dobell said to a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘It is kind of like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.’” (Page 104)

Eventually, after much political upheaval, Edison was awarded 23 Philadelphia schools. While Abrams details many issues faced by Edison, it was the intractable problems plaguing public schools; poverty, lack of funding and bad education policy dictated from above that were beyond Edison’s ability to conquer.

I am reminded of a story I heard from a New Orleans resident about why parents there initially embraced the charter movement. As a young woman, going to underfunded schools in the black community, she had been in middle school classes with 55 students. Furthermore, the administration would only allow teachers to run the classroom fan for 10 minutes every hour. It was oppressively hot and students would watch the clock like a hawk so they got the fan on immediately when it was time. After Katrina, political leaders said they were going to put money into schools in her neighborhood. That was new and sounded good.

Pennsylvania finances its schools almost exclusively with property taxes. In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student. Even though Edison got some extra funding they could not overcome this double whammy that has also vexed the public schools system. Education on the cheap, does not work; especially in blighted neighborhoods.

In 2013, Edison ceased to exist. The bulk of EdisonLearning was sold to a supplementary educational services company in Camden, New Jersey, called Catapult Learning.

Abrams also does a thorough job of documenting the rise of the charter school industry, especially the no-excuses charters. It is fascinating to see how many young executives at Edison became key leaders in the charter school industry or went to work for foundations like the Fisher Foundation which support charter schools.

Both the for profit education initiative and charter school development were led by people with no deep education experience or theoretical knowledge. For example the famous KIPP charter school chain was started by two “Teach for a Minute Boys” with no education background and only two years elementary school teaching experience.

Abrams presents convincing arguments that KIPP and other no-excuses charter systems cannot possibly be scaled up to educate all American children. These systems have a history of burning out teachers and they rely on public schools to take in the children they expel or council out.

For people interested in public education, Education and the Commercial Mindset is an important asset. The privatization movement has been fueled by a misunderstanding of effect and cause. Public schools were struggling, not due to misguided pedagogy or “bad teachers”, but from bad policy and an unwillingness to adequately fund education in poor communities. The top down and misguided federally driven remedies and for profit cannibalism have only made the problem worse.

 

Charter School Scourge Invading Sweetwater

1 Oct

Chula Vista, California

On Monday evening (9/26/2016), the board of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) had petitions from three charter schools; two requesting charter renewals and one for a new school. The two renewals are co-located charters that were started by SUHSD’s previous board (four of the five resigned as part of plea deals) and the new petition is for an independent study charter.

My first teaching job was in SUHSD as a paid certificated intern, teaching 3 out of a possible 5 classes a day while completing a master’s in education at UCSD. At my new job, I was soon regaled with stories of corruption in Sweetwater instigated by superintendent, Ed Brand. I never witnessed direct evidence of this widely and firmly held belief. Brand’s first stint as SUHSD Superintendent was from 1995 to 2005.

It was surprising in 2011, when the SUHSD Board brought Brand back. He had resigned as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified in 2006, less than a year after leaving Sweetwater to assume that position.

An article in the San Diego Union speculated that Brand was pushed out in San Marcos for unethical hiring and political practices. It says in part:

“… accounts have emerged of other things not in keeping with San Marcos Unified’s image. They include Brand’s ordering the hiring of a teacher, whose husband is a state education official, even though a panel of elementary school principals in charge of hiring voted not to offer her a job; a staff party for management aboard a 112-foot historic yacht; and two outsiders infusing cash into a school board candidate’s campaign.”

The state education official was Scott Himelstein then Deputy Secretary of Education/Chief of Staff and later Acting Secretary of Education for the State of California. In that capacity he served as chief policy advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on K-12 and higher education.

William D. Lynch was a source of outside money and according to the Union article cited above, “The High Spirits yacht, where Himelstein hosted the party, is owned by multimillionaire businessman William D. Lynch….” Lynch is an ally of Brand’s and of state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin, former superintendent of San Diego city schools. Lynch is also a philanthropist who runs the William D. Lynch Foundation for Children, which promotes literacy. Scott Himelstein is the foundation’s former president.

Given who he associates with it was not surprising to learn that Ed Brand promotes privatizing public schools. Upon returning to Sweetwater, he started working on a new charter school idea. His dream was to develop a k-16 charter system and with support from several long time cronies, he had a charter proposal written. Susan Mitchell who has an almost forty-year working relationship with Brand was the lead petitioner for the school originally named Ivy League Prep Academy but soon renamed Stephen H. Hawking Math and Science Charter School.

Like Mitchell, most of the stated charter school founders also had similar long term associations with Brand. Before the courts and voters replaced the SUHSD school board, Brand was able to open a second charter school named Stephen W. Hawking II Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math Charter. The schools were started as K-6 schools not through 16.

Co-Location

After the passage of proposition 13 in 1978, it became almost impossible to pass a bond issue for the construction of new school facilities in California. Amendments that gutted proposition 13’s 2/3 requirements for passing bond measures always looked popular initially but were soundly defeated come election day. In 2000, proposition 39 was narrowly written so it only reduced the requirement to pass school bonds and it required a 55% majority. A big loud political battle ensued but proposition 39 prevailed.

The charter school industry was able to slip a clause into proposition 39 that required school districts to make any excess capacity available to charter schools. This crucial point was barely noticed and not debated publically at all.

Co-location is a very disruptive unsound education policy. As Gary Cohn reported in Huffington post:

 ‘“One of the difficult things about having a charter school co-located on a district public school campus is that . . . the two schools end up competing for those things that are necessary to provide a quality education for the students,’ says Robin Potash, an elementary school teacher and chair of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Proposition 39 Committee. ‘That includes competing for the same students.”’

 In a July 10, 2015 article for La Prensa, Susan Lazzaro wrote:

“Community advocate Maty Adato asked the Sweetwater Union High School board a provocative charter school question at the June 22 board meeting. Trustees were deliberating on the renewal of facility contracts for Stephen Hawking charters I & II. The charters are for grades K-6 and Adato wanted to know if Sweetwater, a 7 -12 district, must give up unused classroom space to a K-6 charter.”

This is a question that seems bound for the courts because besides being bad policy, in order for this co-location mandate to be hidden in proposition 39, the law had to be poorly written. Lazzaro also noted a question from one of the five new board members, Paula Hall, “What happens, she asked, if the charter schools want more of our classroom space?” Another question without an answer.

Hawking I is co-located with Castle Park Middle School and Hawking II is co-located with Southwest Middle School. This is a clear illustration of the irrationality of the charter school movement from the standpoint of the taxpayer. In these two campuses there are four administrations doing the job that two administrations did 5 years earlier. The charter school movement is driving up the education cost per student which means either class sizes must increase or school taxes must increase; probably both.

In addition, taxpayers within the school district’s boundaries obligated themselves with bonds and other taxes to pay for these schools. Now, the buildings have been partially taken out of public control and their elected representatives no longer have legal authority to represent constituent interests.

The charter school movement puts tax dollars outside of democratic control with little accountability. Even with strict public accountability, malfeasance and criminality occur. It should come as no surprise that fraud and abuse are escalating in this low accountability charter school era.

A fundamental charter school theory postulates that elected representatives developed emasculating education code depriving public schools of the opportunity for innovation and improvement. Charter schools freed from accountability promised to untie this Gordian knot and market forces were expected to drive improvement. After 20 years, we see that charter schools are better at marketing than public schools but only rarely match the public school teaching prowess. For the first time nationally, education progress appears to have slowed with the rise of charter schools.

pisa-2000-to-2012

Independent Study Charter

 Carol Burris, the Executive Director of National Public Education is currently publishing a series of articles about the charter school movement. In the second installment carried by the Washington Post she writes about independent study charters.

“Although the original intent of the independent charters may well have been to scoop up at-risk kids and give them a second chance, the lack of criteria for student placement, along with inadequate regulations have led to obvious abuses. There are now far too many independent learning charter schools whose operators, some with no background or expertise in education, make substantial salaries, ….”

The third charter school petition at Monday’s school board meeting was for a proposed new independent study charter, ACATL Leadership Academy. Their Facebook page describes ACATL’s vision:

“ACATL Leadership Academy’s (ALA) mission is to create an educational system that ensures social justice by acknowledging, understanding and healing institutionalized racism, poverty, and marginalization.

“ALA will be a non-classroom based 9-12 grade charter high school within the Sweetwater Union High School District, and will be a reed in our community known for its innovation, flexibility and strength.

“ALA will serve students 14 thru 22 years of age and will set a goal of recapturing students who have left the traditional school system. ALA will partner with students, parents and family (relatives), and community organizations to address social justice issues our youth encounter in San Ysidro, California – the San Diego International Border region of the United States.”

 This sounds great, however, taxpayers have already established Learning Centers at every high school in the SUHSD.

The public school system also provides an Adult School in San Ysidro  which is an opportunity local taxpayers are providing for “recapturing students who have left the traditional school system.” Now taxpayers are being asked to compete with themselves and support yet another facility with no real needs assessment.

In other words, publically financed schools are already performing the same function ACATL proposes with the advantage of having highly trained experienced psychologists, councilors and certificated teachers working with students. This request for taxpayer money to be taken from Sweetwater schools to finance someone’s heartfelt dream makes little sense, but California’s charter school law pretty much guarantees ACATL will get a charter.

Carrol Burris in the article I cited above also spoke to the profit motive of these kind of schools:

“In addition, running independent learning centers can be very lucrative. One of San Diego County’s largest networks of independent learning centers is the Altus Institute. It advertises on billboards and runs ads in movie theaters and on television.  Altus operates Audeo Charter, Audeo Charter II, the Charter School of San Diego and Laurel Academy. It has a total K-12 enrollment of about 3,000 students and takes in tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue. Like Learn4Life, its learning centers are located in malls and office buildings. Its younger students are home-schooled.

“In 2014 compensation for Altus Institute President Mary Bixby was $371,160 — exceeding the total pay plus benefits of the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District that serves nearly 130,000 students. Bixby is a board member of the charters, a full-time employee of one of the schools and also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”

 Segregation by Choice

Last year a new charter school, Imperial Beach Charter, opened up next door to my high school. A local resident remarked to me, “the people west of 13th street don’t want their kids going to school with those kids at Mar Vista Academy.”

A blogger going by the moniker educationrealist posted this observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.)”

 I recently reviewed Mercedes Schneider’s new book, School Choice. On page 22 she writes:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not.”

This following table shows the demographic difference between the Mar Vista Academy (the public school) and Imperial beach charter.

School Hispanic or Latino White not Hispanic English Learners Free & Reduced Price Meals
Imperial Beach Charter 514 (59%) 250 (29%) 160 (18 %) 544 (62%)
Mar Vista Academy 714 (82%) 45 (5%) 277 (32 %) 679 (78%)

Conclusions:

Too often, charter schools are just rouges to make taxpayers finance private schools.

Charter schools have not shown significant educational improvements and they come with significant risks. Last year the Center for Media and Democracy reported:

“Nearly 200 charters have closed in California, nearly one of every five that have opened. Their failures have included stunning tales of financial fraud, skimming of retirement funds, and financial mismanagement, material violations of the law, massive debt, unsafe school conditions, lack of teacher credentials, failure to conduct background checks, terrible academic performance and test results, and insufficient enrollment.”

In other words, many charter schools are unstable and they have shut down with no notice even mid-way through a school year.

Charter schools increase the cost of education because of the required redundant administration for the same number of students and private sector administrative incomes are normally much higher than public employment rates.

All of the charter requests to SUHSD should be denied, but under present law if that happens either the county or the state will grant the charter. Past time for an immediate moratorium on new charter schools in California. Unwinding this unstable costly charter school system will benefit students and taxpayers.

The charter school industry wasn’t an organic development. Politicians and their wealthy masters created it with massive incentives. The federal government is spending billions on promoting charters plus foundations such as the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Edith and Eli Broad Foundation and the Fisher Foundation provide unimaginably large sums of money toward these privatization efforts yearly. If the elites succeed in destroying and monetizing our public education system, the opportunities for middle and working class people will significantly diminish. Just look at Detroit to see what the future holds for the poor.

The charter school movement is undemocratic and irrational. It needs to end.