Tag Archives: Austin

A Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA

29 Sep

First it was KIPP, then it was YES Prep and now IDEA has become the point of the destroy public education (DPE) spear in Texas. KIPP flourished because GAP founders Don and Doris Fisher gave them big money. YES Prep so excited Oprah that she presented them with a million dollar check during a TV interview. Now, John Arnold has given IDEA $10 million to expand into Houston and the El Paso based Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development has pledged another $10 million for IDEA to expand into El Paso.

The oddest DPE inspired plan of all comes from Austin, Texas. In 2016, the Austin American Statesman reported that the relatively small KLE foundation is committing $16 million to IDEA. Odd because that represents more than half of the foundation’s assets and is 20 times greater than any previous grant. The Statesman article says, “The financial gift … will more than double IDEA Austin’s previous expansion plans by 2022, and the charter school says the donation will help it boost enrollment to 20,000 students, more than 12 times as many as it has now.”

A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says about the IDEA growth initiative, “Those plans include expanding to 173 pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools from Texas to Louisiana and Florida by 2022 — a goal of serving 100,000 students compared to 35,595 today.”

YES Prep, KIPP and IDEA have many similarities. All three charter school systems were started by Teach for America (TFA) alums. None of the founders had more than three years experience teaching, nor did they have any education training other than a five week TFA summer course. It is perplexing when industry leaders like Walton, Fisher, Broad and Gates lavish inexperienced and untrained school founders with millions of dollars.

Marketing and Publicity Are IDEA’s Strength

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer wrote,

“IDEA is one of the hottest charter chains in Texas today, based in the Rio Grande Valley, with a recent expansion into Central Texas. The chain just won a $29 million federal Race To the Top grant, an extremely competitive program that only one other Texas school won (another charter, Harmony Public Schools).”

“IDEA is part of a preferred class of charters in Texas today, along with KIPP, Yes Prep and Harmony.”

This was written in December, 2012, the day after community members in Austin had succeeded in driving IDEA out of their neighborhood.

The other charter system that won Race to the Top money is believed to be part of Fethullah Gulen’s charter empire. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Long criticized by conservative Texans for alleged ties to a controversial Turkish scholar, the state’s largest charter school system now faces attacks from inside the Turkish government.” Turkey’s leaders accuse the Gulen cult of fermenting the coup attempt against President Erdogan and financing it with charter school money.

The IDEA internet site’s biography of co-founder Tom Torkelson states,

“By 2009, the U.S. News and World Report ranked IDEA Donna College Preparatory as the 13th best high school and second best charter high school in the nation. Also in 2009, IDEA Public Schools was the first-ever charter organization to be named the best school system in the state of Texas and received the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. Today, The Washington Post’s latest rankings of America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked all seven of IDEA’s eligible College Preparatory high schools in the top 200 high schools nationwide and in the top 50 in Texas.

A Huffington Post article describes the U.S. News school ranking methodology, “[The] rankings today were derived from its list of top high schools published in 2009 based on participation rates and how students in those schools performed on math and science AP exams.” U.S. News uses advanced class registration rates and testing data for their rankings. These are not a valid measures of school or teacher quality.

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which is total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.

The H-E-B Excellence in Education award is given out by the H-E-B stores. In 2016 Caleb Swaringen a teacher at IDEA College Preparatory McAllen recieved $1,000 for himself and $1,000 for his school for receiving the H-E-B leadership award. H-E-B, with sales of more than $23 billion, operates more than 380 stores in Texas and Mexico. H-E-B awards are based on recommendations from the public.

2016 was a very good year for IDEA publicity. At the National Charter Schools conference, Gregory McGinity, executive director of The Broad Foundation, announced that IDEA had won the $250,000 broad prize. Broad also gave IDEA another $392,333 that same year.

IDEA claims “Since our first graduating class in 2007, 100% of our seniors have been accepted to colleges and universities nationwide.” They claim they educate underserved students and that their schools outperform other schools (meaning on testing).

Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd and The Texas Public Policy Foundation just published a new paper calling for Texas to streamline the charter application. They note that charter school growth has slowed and blame the onerous application process. They ask, “Why are public charter schools growing at slower rates if they have served communities so well?”

What Happens When IDEA’s Claims are Examined?

The name, IDEA Public Schools, is misleading. IDEA is not a public school. Just like a construction company contracted by a city to replace sewer lines is not a public corporation. In a recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris explained that to be a public school requires two aspects: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

Diane Ravitch recently noted that courts have ruled that charter schools are not public schools. She shared,

“They are privately managed corporate schools. Federal courts have ruled that charter schools are ‘not state actors.’ The NLRB has ruled that charter schools are “not state actors.”’

In 2011, Austin’s then Superintendent of Schools Meria Carstarphen contracted with IDEA to assume the management of two elementary schools. Much of the community was outraged.

Statewide Organizing Community eMpowerment (SOCM) sponsored community forums on the IDEA question. They recounted,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A humorous Austin blogger who goes by Walter Crunkite related an incident from the first meeting between the community and IDEA leadership. He said,

“Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  ‘Dys-teach-ia’ is the problem.”

In late 2011, The Texas American Federation of Teachers (TAFT) contracted Professor Ed Fuller to research IDEA’s claims. He is employed as an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis in the Education Policy Studies department in the College of Education of Penn State University and as Associate Director for Policy for the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Fuller asserts,

“TAFT NEVER asked me to arrive at specific conclusions. They simply asked me to examine the data and report back.”

Fuller’s report is quite lengthy. He examines three claims: (1) IDEA educates “underserved” student populations; (2) One-hundred percent of IDEA graduates enroll in post-secondary institutions of education; and, (3) IDEA Charter schools outperform other schools.

Professor Fuller posted the report on his personal blog where he writes,

“My conclusions, for those of you who don’t want to read through the post, are as follows:

“1)      IDEA Charter schools do not enroll “underserved” students regardless of the measure used to identify “underserved.” Specifically, as compared to schools in the same market, IDEA schools enroll lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, special education students, bilingual education students, students requiring modifications or accommodations on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), and students scoring below average on the TAKS mathematics or TAKS readings tests.

“2)      IDEA Charter schools send 100% of graduates to post-secondary institutions of higher education only if the actual number of graduates is the group of students examined. If we consider the number of students starting in the 9th grade … the percentage of IDEA students … is, at best, around 65% for the cohort of 9th grade students in 2009.

“3)      One reason why IDEA secondary schools outperform [on testing] high schools in the same area is because IDEA Charter schools lose a greater proportion of lower performing students than higher performing students. …”

Carstarphen’s Austin Independent School District (AISD) attacked Fuller’s report with a report of their own. Fuller wrote a defense of his study and noted that Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, then a researcher at UT Austin and now Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento, had this to say about the two reports: “Dr. Fuller’s work is very comprehensive,” and “The AISD rebuttal is very weak in its methodology.”

David Knight and David deMatthews warn the people of El Paso that “choice” is not all that it is cracked up to be. They wrote,

“The IDEA charter chain is known for having a high graduation rate, but also known for the large number of its graduates who flunk out of college.”

“IDEA’s growth can also create an undue burden and disrupt natural proportions of students with disabilities enrolled in traditional public schools if they engage in what has been called ‘creaming’ or ‘cherry-picking’ students. According to 2016-17 publicly available data, all IDEA charter schools in Hidalgo, Texas, enroll only 4.8 percent of students with disabilities, while the state average is 8.8 percent.”

AlterNet carried an article by another critic of IDEA, Danny Weil. He stated, “IDEA is a retail charter outfit that standardizes curriculum downwards, away from critical thinking, embracing instead rote memorization and regurgitation, or what I call the ‘anorexic/bulimic’ learning model of intellectual atrophy, ossification, and decay.”

Money! Money! Money!

2016 Salaries

IDEA Leadership Photos with 2016 Salary Data

Compared with the highest paid Superintendents of Schools in Texas, three executives from IDEA would be in the top ten plus Torkelson and Truscheit would be numbers one and two respectively on the top paid list. The fourteen highest paid staff at this “non-profit” each received more than $150,000 per year for a total dispersal of $3,581,436.

At the end of 2016, IDEA’s asset value climbed to $680,172,540 and their year’s income was $332,775,059.

In addition to the $36 million dollars in support detailed above, between 2013 and 2016, IDEA received $1,914,875 from the Dell foundation  and $7,515,000 from the Charter School Growth Fund. They have also received $4,598,715 from the Gates Foundation.

A group of internal emails stolen from IDEA in 2011 have led to accusations that IDEA fired a 20-year veteran teacher and replaced her with a much cheaper Teach For America (TFA) teacher. Torkelson also wrote that TFA persistently selects teachers who perform better than those found with IDEA’s own hiring formula. It was revealed that of 135 new hires that year, 35 would come from TFA. Torkelson said IDEA would increase its hiring of TFA members to sustain its regional corps in the face of deep state budget cuts to TFA.

The problem here is that TFA teachers are unprepared to be in a classroom. They have not studied teaching methods nor have they completed the typical one year of student teaching under the supervision of an experienced credentialed educator. They are new college graduates with five weeks of TFA summer training. In Ciedie Aech’s delightful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? She reports,

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

John Arnold, IDEA’s New Billionaire Bestie

When Enron was collapsing in 2001, John Arnold was leading their energy trading group. Somehow, when his executive pals like Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling were going to prison, Arnold received an $8 million bonus. The company’s collapse decimated the retirement savings of rank and file employees. Many of these employees like those at Portland General Electric were only vaguely aware that Enron had acquired their company.

Ironically, Arnold soon started campaigning to end pensions. David Sirota reported that Arnold joined with The Pew Charitable Trust in the effort. Sirota asserts that the, “Pew-Arnold partnership began informally in 2011 and 2012 when both organizations marshaled resources to try to set the stage for retirement benefit cuts in California, Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.” They succeeded in Florida, Rhode Island and Kansas.

Tyler O’neil tells us that John and Laura Arnold are Democrats. He notes,

“In the 2018 cycle, the Laura & John Arnold Foundation has given $930,244, and 83 percent to Democrats and liberals. John Arnold bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Barack Obama in 2008. The couple were slated to host a $10,000-per-ticket Obama fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama in October 2011.

“Both Laura and John Arnold donated $23,900 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Laura Arnold has donated more than $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).”

Most recently, John has joined with Reed Hastings in a national effort to destroy public education.

A Few Assertions

Without the staggeringly large monetary gifts from Billionaires, the IDEA system of schools would not exist.

IDEA’s education program is substandard and without the publicity primed by billionaire financed media outlets, they would be disparaged if noticed at all.

IDEA’s growth harms public schools because of the significant stranded costs incurred when children leave for the new parallel privatized school system.

IDEA has become, primarily, a road to massive wealth for a few insiders.

A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools

17 Apr

Sadly, the Atlantic Public Schools (APS) are careening from one destructive tragedy to the next. On the heels of the great cheating scandal of 2009, APS hired a leader of the destroy public education (DPE) movement as schools’ chief. Her “district turnaround” model includes making APS an all charter system.

Somehow, I got included in an email conversation between Ed Johnson, well-known education activist from Atlanta, Georgia, and a group of professors who study education issues. Mr. Johnson who ran for the Atlanta school board and has had opinion pieces published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, shared data from the just released NEAP testing. He provided eight graphs supporting the following conclusions:

“This preliminary look at APS offers the immediate data story that, in recent years, APS White-Black academic gaps have been made worse.  It is the same data story the Georgia Milestones Assessment System also tells; details differ, of course.  So-called school transformation, school turnaround, school reform, school choice, and closing public schools and opening charter schools must be considered negative contributing factors, as they promote bold, disruptive change; scripted teaching; instruction delivery; personalized mechanistic learning; and rigid academic performance.  These matters are contrary to purposeful, systemic improvement of APS as a public institution or public good.”

I assume Mr. Johnson wound not mind sharing his statement from a private email. He clearly would like this story to be disseminated. On the other hand, I will share non-public statements for the professionals but not their names.

Professor A replied, “Atlanta has a superintendent who favors charters, TFA, Relay ‘Graduate School of Education,’ and all things Reformy. Austin was very happy to get her out.”

Professor B retorted, “Castarphen is a nightmare.”

Professor A responded, “I agree.”

A professional from Georgia noted,

“Yes indeed. She’s all the reform titans’ poster super— and having been in Atlanta a few years now she is very likely to move onto somewhere bigger and for a bigger paycheck soon. Consider yourself warned other major American cities.”

Meria Joel Castarphen

Carstarphan and her father

Picture from the Saporta Report

Carstarphen was born and raised in Selma, Alabama. Her mother was an educator who spent 30 years in the classroom. In addition to her mother, Meria was raised by her father, Joseph, along with three sisters. Bearing a light complexion and a magnetic smile, this articulate black woman radiates natural appeal.

She attended Tulane University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish. Upon graduation in 1992, she returned to Selma to teach middle school Spanish. After four years in the classroom, it was off to Harvard. In 2002, Harvard University Graduate School of Education awarded her a Doctor of Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy Concentration in Urban Superintendency [I guess that is a word at Harvard].

Carstarphen’s career flourished, going to Columbus, Ohio in 1999 as Special Assistant to the Superintendent. In 2003, it was Kingsport, Tennessee to be Executive Director for comprehensive school improvement and accountability. Then, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) hired her to be their first ever, Chief Accountability Officer in 2004.

By 2006, the Washington Times reported, “The D.C. public school system’s $170,000 per-year chief accountability officer is scheduled to interview for a job with another school district today, less than 18 months after filling the newly created D.C. position.” The second highest paid employee at DCPS was headed for Saint Paul, Minnesota to be the boss.

Carstarphen the Bully Arrived in Saint Paul

Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press published a postmortem article called “Critics of Meria Carstarphen speak, hoping debate influences who succeeds her at helm of St. Paul schools.” Belden wrote of an interview with a local long-serving St. Paul Public Schools administrator:

“Mary Chorewycz says she used to tell people she wished Carstarphen had been a principal before becoming a superintendent, so she would have had the experience of not just coming up with a plan but also of working with people to get it enacted.

‘”If you verbally abuse those that must carry through that plan, it really diminishes the amount that is accomplished,’ said Chorewycz, former executive director of research and development, who left in 2007.”

 “One of the last straws for her, she said, was when Carstarphen came in one morning and harangued the group of nearly 20 senior leaders for about 40 minutes, telling them in a raised voice how incompetent they were.”

 “Chorewycz, an administrator in St. Paul schools for more than 30 years, said no superintendent in her experience “has prevented or inhibited so much through disrespect of people and ideas.”

During the three years from Carstarphen’s arrival in 2006, more than half of St. Paul’s top administrators left. Belden reported that the ranks of senior administration expanded, leading to a 20 percent increase in total administration salaries.

The Pioneer Press article quoted the district’s former Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.”

Austin, Texas Hired a “Reformer”

To be fair, Carstarphen took on a difficult situation to become the superintendent of Austin Independent School District (AISD). Unfortunately, she used Austin’s financial issues to advance a DPE agenda. The Austin Statesman reported,

“Carstarphen has guided the district through difficult budget years. She and her administrative team inherited a $15 million shortfall in 2009-10 and closed that gap within one year, presenting a balanced 2010-11 budget. That same year, Carstarphen pushed the district to declare financial exigency — a state of fiscal emergency that would give the district greater leeway in terminating employees, including those with current contracts. The board balked at the idea, but less than two years later, in February 2011, followed her recommendation, which made way to ax more than 1,100 positions.” (emphasis added)

The “greater leeway in terminating employees” is a repeating theme for Carstarphen. Getting out from under state education law and gutting teachers’ rights are key levers in DPE aligned “reform.”

In 2011, Carstarphen ignored mandates to consult with the teachers union over school “turnarounds” and signed an agreement to turn the operation of Allan Elementary School and Eastside Memorial High School over to IDEA charter schools. Eastside Memorial High School had struggled for more than a decade to meet the standardized testing benchmarks set by the state of Texas and NCLB. Previously it was the first school in Texas shut down, reorganized and reopened under a new name. Allan Elementary  met the Texas benchmarks but this school in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood was also targeted for charter management.

The community near these schools fought back as reported in the Austin Statesman:

“The school board approved the partnership with what critics say was little discussion, prompting a backlash from students, parents and residents who protested outside the board room and marched in the streets. The charter operator also moved into Allan Elementary in the fall of 2012; 85 percent of students transferred out.”

Vincent Tovar a parent whose wife teaches in AISD, laid out a timeline of the IDEA debacle in his blog “Walter Crunkite.” The first entry says,

“November 3, 2011: First Community Meeting at Martin Middle School.  Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  “Dys-teach-ia” is the problem.”

A group of education activists from Tennessee, SOCM, also produced a lengthy document about the IDEA opposition. They said,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A researcher from Penn State University, Dr. Ed Fuller, produced a study that severely undermined the claims that IDEA charter schools were producing miraculous education outcomes.

In the November 2012 elections, three board members were replaced. In December, the new board cancelled the IDEA contract but Eastside – because of NCLB and Texas law – required a turnaround plan. The following month, Carstarphen indicated that the district did not have time to create an in-house plan, so a new private operator would be needed.

In 2014, the official annual board review of the superintendent praised Carstarphen for some work but criticized her relationships with community and staff. They did not offer a contract extension.

Vincent Tovar said, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.”

Austin Turned Against IDEA

Picture from SOCM Documentation of Austin Community Meeting, 2011

Hardcore DPE Style Reform Heads to Atlanta

Mark Niesse reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lead his Carstarphen story with “The probable next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is coming off a controversial tenure in Austin, Texas, where public ire over budget cuts and a school closing rose as much as the improved graduation rates and finances.”

Carstarphen found a perfect home. Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, is a DPE campaigner. His education agenda pushes the non-democratic takeover of public schools and supports privatizing them.

Carstarphen again encountered difficulties with her new employees. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported,

“The lawsuit, first filed in late 2015, contends the school district “has been attempting to replace experienced, higher-paid teachers with relatively inexperienced teachers at entry level salaries” since Carstarphen took over the top post in July of 2014.

 “The plaintiffs allege in court documents that the school district conducted investigations, or “witch-hunts,” against long-serving teachers.”

Another Journal-Constitution report says,

‘“After the big cheating scandal they brought in someone and basically her philosophy was, I’m going to change the culture of APS,’ said Lori Hamilton, an attorney representing the teachers. ‘And that meant out with the old.”’

 “In a separate pending lawsuit, another group of former Atlanta educators is suing the school district in connection with the decision to hire charter school groups to manage several low-performing schools.”

Atlanta magazine ran a sponsored article from the Atlanta Public Schools called “Atlanta Public Schools embarks on another full year of its journey of transformation.” The article states,

“As it moves into the 2017-2018 school year, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) continues a journey of transformation that creates choice-filled lives for each and every child in Atlanta.”

 “APS is in its second year as a Charter District, … A hallmark of the APS Charter System Plan is the implementation of signature programming for each school cluster, including International Baccalaureate, STEM, or College and Career Preparatory.”

 “In addition to the district’s core academic curriculum, APS’ Social Emotional Learning efforts … now span the district.”

Not only does APS now embrace DPE-inspired frauds, like STEM and SEL, it openly partners on the district web site with some of the most virulent promoters of privatizing America’s schools. There is a notice titled “Walton Family Foundation to Support Atlanta Public Schools Turnaround Efforts; $2.1 million investment will also expand access to student and school performance data.” The message from the Waltons says,

“We commend Superintendent Carstarphen and APS leadership for taking bold steps to improve schools in Atlanta, and know that students, parents, and educators will all benefit from these initiatives,” said Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Director at the foundation. “Children win when parents have the opportunity to choose a great school from multiple high-quality options, and cities win when high-quality schools can grow to serve all students.”

The APS web site describes a charter district and provides a link to a PowerPoint presentation promoting it. APS officially writes,

“A charter system is a school district that operates under a performance-based contract between the local board and the state board of education. Under the Charter System, Atlanta Public Schools would gain freedom and flexibility from many state education laws and regulations in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. A key element to charter system is moving decision making closer to where learning takes place. That means leaving decisions to the school system and to the schools within the system. It also means involving more people in the decision making process.”

Fight for High Quality Public Schools in Every Neighborhood

Atlanta, Georgia, is losing its neighborhood public schools run by elected school boards, just like Washington DC, Denver, Oakland and Indianapolis. Many American urban areas are headed in the same direction. New Orleans has already lost nearly all its public schools.

This is a tragedy. A 200-year legacy of quality public schools in every American community and neighborhood is being stolen from the people. The result will be horrible. Government spending on education further reduced and people with children paying out of pocket for competent schools. The unifying aspect of public education will be sundered.

There is a point of view that says, “The top priority of government is education.” Today, wealthy elites for reasons of personal religious view; out of control hubris; and economic greed are stealing this gift inherited from our forefathers.

“We are many, they are few.” People have the power and it is time to use it to end this mindless destruction of our free high-quality and professionally run universal public education system.