Archive | November, 2018

Thrive Charter Schools All Hat and No Cattle

17 Nov

Excellent public relations and marketing mask a substandard educational program at the inappropriately named Thrive Public [sic] Schools (TPS). The misleading name indicates that this private business is a public school. It is not. Four years of assessments confirm that both San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and the County Office of Education (COE) were correct in 2014 when they denied TPS’s charter petition.

January 7, 2014 SDUSD staff felt that TPS was not ready to open and reported to the board, “Staff recommends approval of the petition to establish Thrive Public School (Thrive) Charter School, for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2015 and ending June 30, 2020.” TPS leaders wanted a charter starting July 1, 2014. SDUSD board concluded TPS is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” and denied the petition.

Founder Nicole Assisi turned to Voice of San Diego which was founded by one of her benefactors, Buzz Woolley. They ran her public complaint in which she declared,

“It was not the finest hour for the SDUSD board of trustees, which ignored district staff diligence and its own existing policies to deny a school that would have served the influx of families in Mission Valley. The neighborhood, by the way, does not currently have a single public elementary school. Families drive miles to get to their ‘neighborhood’ school.”

“Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

March 27, 2014 COE staff reviewed the appeal and concluded TPS presents an “unsound educational program and does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of required elements.” Interestingly, one of the reasons for denial was that the petitioner did not clearly identify the intended location for the new school. None of the four current TPS schools are in Mission Valley.

On July 9, 2014, the State Board of Education (SBE) which has gained a reputation for rubber stamping charter school petitions approved the TPS charter unanimously. Many of the Brown appointed SBE board members come directly from the charter industry.

This November 13, the SDUSD board took up TPS’s new petition for a five year charter beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2024. Trustees unanimously rejected TPS’s renewal. In case of rejection the SDUSD staff  notes say, “Thrive must submit its renewal documents to the SBE by December 2, 2018, to comply with the SBE’s renewal submission timelines.”

Kristen Taketa reporting on the TPS decision for the San Diego Union said the state requires charter schools to either perform as well as comparable district schools on state testing, or it must improve its test scores over time. Taketa reported,

“The district’s analysis found that Thrive met neither of those benchmarks. … Thrive’s test scores have also declined every year since it opened in 2014.

‘“Where it may not capture the true value of what is happening and taking place at this school — as we’ve already said, the school is more than a score — it is the standard that we are stuck with,’ Trustee Mike McQuary said of the test scores at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“At the same time trustees claimed their hands were tied in denying Thrive’s renewal, however, trustees said Thrive was failing to meet an “extremely low bar” that all but two[out of 44] San Diego Unified charter schools have been able to meet in the past five years.”

In the Public Interest (ITPI), a bay area think tank, took a look at TPS’s charter renewal petition and noticed that the comparison schools listed were inappropriate because they did not serve a similar population. Even so, TPS outcomes were deficient.  ITPI stated,

“When comparing TPS to schools with similar student populations, the results are even starker. Below we examine TPS performance compared with a set of schools in San Diego Unified School District with similar student populations ….”

The ITPI policy brief is packed with charts that show Thrive students are not testing well. Three of their graphics follow.

Thrive Data Set 1

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Adjusted Peer Group Comparisons

Thrive Data Set 2

TPS and SDUSD Math and English Performance over Past Four Years

SDUSD’s staff report on the TPS petition contained many similar damning data sets. The TPS outcomes have fallen every year since its opening four years ago and schools in the peer group all significantly outperform TPS.

That data looks bad and even more troubling are the reports of uncontrolled bullying of SDUSD students by TPS students.

Thrive was the Creation of Big Money and Political Influence

Nicole and Danial FB

Daniel Assisi on his Facebook Page with TPS Founder and Wife, Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi, the founder of Thrive Charter Schools attended Coronado High School, a public school in Coronado, California. She matriculated to UCLA where she earned a multi-subject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School in the 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she worked until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. Her husband Daniel was director of Information technology at Camino Nuevo from 2006 to 2008.

In 2008 Nicole became Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). At DeVinci Schools, she worked with Don Braun who played a key role in undermining the Inglewood Public School District. That same year her husband Daniel Assisi went to work for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

Nicole left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013 to start TPS. The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to start her “non-profit.”

Once she obtained the charter authorization from the SBE, money flowed. The known list of 2014 donations:  Buzz Woolley’s Girard Foundation granted her $108,000; Gate’s Educause sent $254,500; Charter School Growth Fund kicked in $175,000 and the Broad Foundation delivered $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund pitched in $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Destroy public education (DPE) careers pay well. Tax records reveal that Nicole’s start up “non-profit” has been lucrative. Her pay: year one $122,301; year two $133,747 and year three $142,541. Her husband holds a senior management position at the CCSA which means DPE money flows his way as well.

In 2017, TPS announced its big plan which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. A San Diego Union report said,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi. This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools” which noted,

“Schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

All Hat

The old cowboy expression all hat and no cattle perfectly describes TPS. Their team is politically connected, supported by deep pocketed foundations intent on privatizing public education and has excellent marketing support but their schools are not very good.

TPS has developed support from neoliberal and conservative politicians. Their listed supporters:

  • Dede Alpert,  Former Assembly Woman and State Senator
  • Ben Boyce, Manager of Public Affairs at Southwest Strategies
  • Lisa Corr, Partner, Young Minney and Corr, LLP
  • Rod Dammeyer, Chairman, CAC; Board Member, Ca. Charter Schools Ass. & High Tech High
  • Tom Davis, Director of Events and Corporate Sponsorships, CALSA
  • Jon Dean, Chief Information Officer, Summit Public Schools
  • Donna Elder, Dept. Chair of Educational Leadership and Teacher Education, National U.
  • Kerry Flanagan,Cheif of Staff, California Charter Schools Association
  • Stanley V. Heyman, President, Heyman & Associates
  • Ben Hueso, State Senator
  • Heather Lattimer,Associate Dean, USD School of Leadership & Education Sciences
  • Diane Levitt, Director of K-12 Education, Cornell
  • Chet Pipkin, Founder, President and CEO of Belkin International
  • Robert Schwartz, Senior Advisor, New Teacher Center
  • Rebecca Tomasini, Founder and CEO, The Alvo Institute
  • Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California
  • Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association
  • Matthew Wunder, Chief Executive Officer, Da Vinci Schools
  • Mark Wyland, State Senator

Looking elsewhere on their web-pages one finds that Boyce, Davis, Elder, Heyman and Flanagan are Thrive board members. With few exceptions, the other supporters are either school privatization friendly politicians or active participants in the DPE movement.

TPS’s board member and public affairs guy, Boyce, generates excellent media coverage. For example, KPBS ran two articles that appear to take TPS claims and publish them without fact checking. One of their articles describes how Thrive is doing a wonderful job with special education children. It claims, “At Thrive, students are in the 96th percentile for academic growth, meaning while all the students may not be at grade level, they’re improving more quickly than the majority of their peers nationally.”

The same PBS article stated, “Since opening three years ago, TPS’s special needs population has grown from 11 to 16 percent of the student body.” However, based on TPS’s report to the state the 2017-2018 school year special education student percentage was 9.2 percent.

A few years ago the former on camera CNN reporter, Campbell Brown, started a publication supporting privatized education called The 74. It is primarily funded by the Walton Family Foundation which was formed by the heirs of the Walmart fortune. The Walton’s also fund the Charter School Growth fund and other DPE organizations. Earlier this year The 74 ran a puff piece with the title “Thrive Schools: How an Innovative California Charter Network Grew to 700 Students & 4 Campuses in Only 4 Years Through a Focus on Math, Literacy & ‘the Light of Kindness’” Surprisingly, they described a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

The biggest national publicist for TPS is Tom Vander Ark. He has a long history of championing students at computer screens. He was also the first education advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Vander Ark described the TPS education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

On October 26 the New York Times ran three articles about the dangers of screen time for children. One was called, “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected.” The header for the article reads,

“America’s public schools are still promoting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.”

The children trapped inside the TPS schools are being sacrificed to the toxic ed-tech agenda.

Some Final Points

Thrive Public [sic] Schools is a private business that does contract work for the state government. There are two requirements for the label public school. One is being financed by tax payers which TPS is. The other is being governed by an elected body that sets and collects taxes which TPS is not. TPS is not a public school just like Hazard construction doing work for the county is not a public construction company. The public in the name is simply deceptive marketing.

For most of two centuries, public schools in America have been the incubators of democracy. Privatizing public education is undermining American democracy.

It costs more to run two or more school systems. Charter schools are in essence school districts. To finance multiple systems requires either higher taxes or per child spending in public schools must be reduced. The second option is the one being used. The experience of Kansas City Public Schools illuminates this issue.

Bad schools like TPS survive because they are good at marketing; have deep pocketed benefactors and political allies.

Charter schools have developed a history of fraud, abuse and instability. It used to be “another day another charter school scandal.” Now, it’s multiple scandals every day. Sure there are fraud and scandal associated with all large organizations but the charter industry is out of control.

We urgently need a moratorium on new charter schools until the obvious harm being visited upon communities by the charter industry is understood and students are protected.

Lessons from the Continuing Attack on Kansas City’s Schools

11 Nov

For three decades relentless harm has been visited upon public schools in Kansas City, Missouri. This city provides stark evidence for the fallacy of school choice and the folly of employing standardized testing results to gauge school quality.

Leaders from the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) presented at the recent Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. This article is in part based on that presentation.

The Major Cause of Racial and Economic Segregation

Richard Rothstein, Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, wrote about segregation as a function of government housing policy. He noted,

“With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords.

“The government had an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans.”

KC Population Change

Population Shift Graphic Presented by Kansas City Public School Leaders at #NPE18Indy

As Rothstein reported, the dramatic population shifts in Kansas City began with the establishment of the FHA in the mid 1930’s and accelerated with the VA guarantees after WWII. The graphic above shows that trend continuing.

In 2007, a popular Democratic state senator from Independence, Victor Callahan, led an effort to remove seven schools from Kansas City by transferring them to the Independence School District. He also claimed that the Kansas City school district should disappear. Gwendolyn Grant, leader of the Greater Kansas City Urban League, supported the move contending that a more racially homogeneous school board would be less contentious. The move was ratified by large majorities in both Kansas City and Independence. It seems that Kansas City’s school teachers provided the only opposition to the transfer.

As a result, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) became even more racially isolated. Today, the district is almost 90% minorities (65% black and 25% Hispanic). Ninety-percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches which indicates high rates of student poverty.

In 1998, Missouri legislators enacted a charter school law that affects only two cities, Kansas City and Saint Louis. Evidently, legislators from rural areas would not vote for the law unless it was restricted to cities with populations greater than 500,000 people of which there are only two. The state department of education informs parents,

“Any student residing in the Kansas City 33 School District or the St. Louis Public School District may choose to attend a charter school if they reside within either city.

“As of August 2018, there are 20 LEAs [Local Education Agency] in Kansas City operating within 40 buildings and 16 LEAs in St Louis within 36 buildings.”

Local education agency means it operates as a school-district.

In 1964 Kansas City’s school enrollment was 77,000 students. Since then, the District enrollment has plummeted to less than 15,000 students.

Kansas City School Enrollment

Historical Enrollment Data Presented at #NPE18Indy

KCPS’s Unique History Highlights Fatal Flaw in School Choice Agenda

Education commentator at Forbes, Peter Greene, states the charter school dilemma, “You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.”

Greene’s point was illustrated during the KCPS presentation in Indianapolis.

Springfield, Missouri is a small city of just over 150,000 people in the Missouri Ozarks. Its school district is almost exactly the same population size as KCPS plus the Kansas City charter schools.  The Kansas City student population totals 26,500 students and Springfield Public Schools have 25,800 students.

In Kansas City there are 110 schools operated by the equivalent of six district administrations. Springfield has 53 schools run by one district administration. Kansas City’s education environment is very difficult for parents to navigate with its 23 different types of schools. Choosing between k-2, prek-5, 1-7, 6-12 etceteras, parents have a difficult time knowing how to guide their child into a coherent program. In Springfield, the education path is clearly defined.

The next two charts are from the NPE presentation. They show some of the comparative financial outcomes of a public system and the hybrid privatized and public system in Kansas City.

Efficiency Comparison 2

Efficiency Comparison I between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

Efficiency 1

Efficiency Comparison II between KC’s Choice System and Springfield’s Public System

The KC/Springfield data strongly supports the obvious conclusion that maintaining classroom spending levels in public schools while expanding charter schools requires an increase in tax money. Without more money, the charter school experiment is being financed by reducing spending on public school students.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Forces in Kansas City

All public schools throughout America have been harmed by the federal test and punish theory of education reform. The major fallacy of this theory is the tool for measuring school quality is useless. Not only is standardized testing not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, because of the problem of error associated with testing, reality is often opposite from the results.

Throwing darts blind folded would be an equally accurate method for judging schools as standardized testing. Eugenics was the genesis for standardized testing and only the profit motive keeps the testing fraud alive. School grades consistently outperform SAT scores for predicting college success yet we continue forcing families to pay for these tests.

A new study “What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non–Test Score Outcomes,” by C. Kirabo Jackson professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University was recently published. The conservative publication Education Next carried an article by Professor Jackson describing his findings. He concluded,

“I find that, while teachers have notable effects on both test scores and non-cognitive skills, their impact on non-cognitive skills is 10 times more predictive of students’ longer-term success in high school than their impact on test scores. We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa.”

In the 1980’s a federal court ordered Kansas City to address the growing racial isolation. The method chosen was big spending on magnet schools and other expensive big ticket items in an attempt to lure white students back. It did not work nor did it raise the only measure of success that mattered – test scores.

Joshua M. Dunn an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado studied the Kansas City desegregation experiment. He wrote,

“In the mid 1980s, federal district court judge Russell Clark ordered a complete overhaul of the school district.   No expense was spared.  All told, the court spent more than $2 billion in its quest to improve the KCMSD.  Every high school and middle school and half the district’s elementary schools became magnet schools with special themes such as classical Greek, Slavic studies, and agribusiness.  Special themes required special facilities, such as petting zoos, robotics labs, and a model United Nations facility with simultaneous translation capability.  One high school was so extravagant it was dubbed the ‘Taj Mahal.'” [Note: KCMSD stands for Kansas City Missouri School District which was the name before 2007.]

Previous to 2009, the ongoing destruction of KCPS was based on stinking thinking; then the real destroy public schools (DPS) players arrived. John Covington, a 2008 graduate of the fake-unaccredited Broad Academy, became the Superintendent of schools on July 1, 2009.

The Broad Academy for school administrator training was founded by billionaire Eli Broad. His theory is that top school administrators need business backgrounds and education experience is not required; consultants can be hired for that. Broad has poured literally hundreds of millions of dollars into privatizing public education.

By 2008, Kansas City had closed 30 of its schools which reduced the number to 61 schools. During Covington’s first year he claimed that diplomas from KCPS “aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” His solution for this situation and a looming budget deficit was to close another 29 schools and layoff 285 teachers.

Fortuitously, his mentor Eli Broad had just updated his School Closure Guide.  The first line of the guide says, “This is a guide for school district operators considering school closures to address significant budgetary challenges.”

With no warning or explanation, Covington resigned in August, 2011. The reason finally came to light in a 2016 Kansas City Star article by Joe Robertson. Joe reported that Covington had told several head hunters that he had no intention of leaving KCPS:

“Then came a call from one of Covington’s contacts at The Broad Foundation. … Be ready, his contact told him, to receive a call from the foundation’s founder — Eli Broad.”

“The call came from Spain, Covington said. He (Broad) said, ‘John, I need you to go to Detroit’”

“That, Covington says, is the reason he left.”

“On Aug. 26, 2011, two days after he resigned as superintendent of the Kansas City Public Schools, John Covington was introduced as the sole candidate for chancellor of a new statewide school system in Michigan.”

Covington was the founding principle of The Education Achievement Authority. He administered the schools taken over by the state including fifteen schools in Detroit. The Authority was an abject failure.

Robertson’s article also noted,

“Reform-minded forces as powerful as state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the Kauffman Foundation saw a chance to completely reshape public education in Kansas City and came to roost while lawmakers fought unsuccessfully into the final minutes of the 2012 legislative session to give the state the immediate power to take over the district.”

Ewing Marion Kauffman was a graduate of public schools. Before his death in 1993 he spent money and time promoting public schools. He was an eagle scout and he established the Kansas City Royal baseball team. He would undoubtedly hate the idea that the $2 billion foundation he established is now being used to undermine public education in his city.

Kauffman Foundation money was used to bring CEE-Trust to Kansas City. It was a Bill Gates funded spin off from Indianapolis’s proto-type privatizing organization The Mind Trust. The CEE-Trust mandate was to implement the portfolio theory of education reform. When local’s got wind of a backroom deal that had given CEE-Trust a $385,000 state contract to create a plan for KCPS things went south. A 2017 Chalkbeat Article says, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” It became so bad that CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities.

Now the same local-national money combination is funding a new group, SmartschoolKC, with the same portfolio district agenda. The new collaboration is funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. The last thing students in struggling neighborhoods need is more uncertainty.
  2. Democratically operated schools in a community are the foundation of American democracy. Promoters of the portfolio model reject the civic value of these democracy incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer no longer have an elected board that they can hold accountable for school operations.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”

New Team Leading KCPS

KCPS Team

KCPS Team Presenting at #NPE18Indy – Photo by Ultican

Mark Bedell certainly made a positive impression at the recent NPE conference in Indianapolis.

Unlike many youthful school leaders in America, Bedell did not come from Teach for America. He actually studied education. He has a BA in history, a master’s in education leadership and a doctorate in school leadership. He worked for twelve years as a teacher and in various administrative positions for the Houston Independent School District.

In 2012, he accompanied his Houston colleague, Dallas S. Dance, to Baltimore when the thirty-one year old Dance became the Superintendent of Schools. By 2016, Dance was on his way to jail and Bedell’s positive reviews brought him to the helm of KCPS.

Linda Quinley prepared the data for the NPE presentation. She came across as very competent.

Jennifer Wolfsie is a former parent who navigated KCPS’s Byzantine system with her own children and is a KCPS Board member. She is a staunch advocate for public education. The Kansas City Star has published her opinion pieces.

Bedell says that he believes charter schools are not going away. He is proposing a model for public schools and charter schools working together under public school leadership for the good of all students in an integrated system. The proposal presented in some detail sounded well thought out with tough minded requirements for privatized schools.

However, some of us are skeptical if operating non-democratic schools harmoniously within a democratic system is feasible. It sounds eerily like the Systems of Schools proposal by GO public education in Oakland, California. Diane Ravitch commented,

“I first heard that claim from Joel Klein, who became chancellor after being pushed out as CEO of Bertelsmann. Zero education experience. That was 2002.

“Months after starting, he said he would transform NYC from a “school system” to a “system of schools.” Last week, I heard that the Broadie superintendent of Atlanta presented the same language as innovative.”

I think that Bedell and the present team have a chance to significantly improve the education landscape in Kansas City. The question is will they be led by their ideals or will they come under the influence of enemies of democracy and public education like Rex Sinquefield?

My Favorite School is Just 23 Miles from Downtown Kansas City in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Thomas J Ultican Elementary