Tag Archives: Charter School Law

Texas Public Schools in Portfolio District Crosshairs

26 Jan

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,

“We’re currently working on:

“…

“Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”

A few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):

  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”

TEA’s SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.

sgs implementation road map

Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”

The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 Chicago schools in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was to appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,

“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!

“I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”

mike_morath

Mike Morath from his TEA Biography Page

Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.

Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated, “Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”

Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazine shared,

“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”

The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 Texas law authorizing Home Rule Charters. The Texas Observer reported,

“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.

“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  

“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”

There were several big dollar contributors for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.

Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:

  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.

future-ready-pledge

Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology

Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,

“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,

“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)

It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.

To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.

In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention appeared on the states to-do-list.

An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,

“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”

Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.

Down the road in Houston, people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,

“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”

“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”

Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,

“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. They call it City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.

William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,

“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”

The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.

texas portfolio model map

Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit received $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.

It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.

It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary González and Shawn Thierry reported,

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.

“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.

“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.

“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”

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.

DPE Forces Over-Represented on Charter Law “Action Team”

28 Aug

California’s lame duck Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has formed an Action Team to review laws governing charter schools. Six of the thirteen Action Team members work for the destroy public education (DPE) movement. Ninety percent of the state’s students attend public schools yet 23% of the Action Team are charter school management executives. Also, 23% of the team are graduates of Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.

Torlakson is quoted in the annoucement,

“In the past few years, we have updated virtually our entire K–12 education system. Now it’s time to look at the key laws governing charter schools, which have not been significantly changed in 26 years, to see how they can be modernized to better meet the needs of all public school students, including those who attend charter schools.”

This statement is malarkey. The original 1992 law capped charters growth at 100 schools statewide with no more than 10 in any one district. In 1998, Assembly Bill (AB) 544 expanded the statewide cap to 250 and allowed for an additional 100 charters each year thereafter. In 2000, proposition 39, which was advertised as a means to pass school bonds, had a little noticed provision that mandated charter school co-location with public schools. Legislation enacted in 2002 created the Charter Schools Facilities Program, which authorizes bond financing for new charter school buildings. A 2004 EdSource paper stated, “Since the passage of Senate Bill 1448—the Charter Schools Act of 1992—more than 30 other laws have addressed the operation, over sight, or funding of charter schools.”

 “Aren’t charter schools better quality than public schools?”

I have often heard this question from many otherwise well-informed people. It indicates a victory for marketing when this destructive myth persists.

The Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), Carol Burris, spent a year studying California’s charter schools. In her 50-page finalized report called “CHARTERS AND CONSEQUENCES: An Investigative Series” she wrote,

“The majority of charter vs public studies indicate that overall achievement of charter schools is the same or worse than public schools. Like public schools, charters vary in student outcomes.… The charter high school graduation rate is 70%, far below the public high school rate of 85%.”

Charter schools operating outside of local democratic control should not exist because:

  • Elected school boards administering local schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Charter schools are private companies that are not accountable to voters.
  • Charter schools introduce inefficiency into the public education system by necessitating multiple administrations. It costs significantly more to fund these duplicate systems. The added costs reduce money supporting classrooms in both charter and public schools.
  • Charter schools are exacerbating school segregation. The AP reported in 2017,

“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

In June, the Schott Foundation and NPE published “GRADING THE STATES A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.” California was given a D+. The state’s charter school law is considered one of the nation’s most damaging. The reports says,

“Although the public school system is not perfect and has continual room for improvement, it is still the cornerstone of community empowerment and advancement in American society. The required inclusivity of the public school setting provides more opportunity for students to learn in culturally, racially, and socioeconomically integrated classrooms and schools, and that promotes social-emotional and civic benefits for students.”

“We look forward to the day when all charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”

The California charter school law is causing real damage. In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts” written by University of Oregon Professor, Gordon Lafer. The Introduction states,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.” (emphasis added)

These three districts are not the only ones in financial trouble. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reportedly lost a half-billion dollars to charter schools in the 2014-2015 school year. LAUSD just claimed, “L.A. Unified faces a $504 million deficit for this current school year.” Their smaller neighbor in Inglewood is also having a debt crisis caused by unplanned charter school expansion.

Earlier this year, besides publishing Professor Lafer’s paper, ITPI also did their own research and published “Fraud and waste in California’s charter schools.” This paper begins,

“Public funding of California’s charter schools now tops $6 billion annually. … Most public school districts aren’t given adequate resources to oversee operators, especially large charter management organizations (CMOs), while all lack the statutory authority to effectively monitor and hold charter schools accountable. … waste in California’s charter schools has reached over $149 million.”

The California charter school law is in desperate need of reform, but is the Torlakson “Action Team” up to the task?

The Action Team

1 cochairman

Carl Cohn was twice appointed to the California State Board of Education (SBE) by Governor Jerry Brown. His second appointment announcement said,

“Cohn has been a professor and co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University since 2009. He was a distinguished leader in residence at San Diego State University from 2007 to 2008 and superintendent of schools at the San Diego Unified School District from 2005 to 2007. … Cohn is a Democrat.”

In 2015, the Governor removed Cohn from the SBE and appointed him as the first executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency created in 2013 to help local districts navigate the state’s new local control funding formula.

Cohn has always been friendly towards charter schools if not a promoter. In 2007 he commented to the Voice of San Diego, “I want to make it clear that I like what’s going on at some of these charters, and I believe that district schools can learn from them.” Last year, Cohn was a featured speaker at the San Diego charter schools conference hosted by the Charter School Development Center, a non-profit that claims, “We Fight Against regulatory creep that distracts charter leaders from improving student achievement.”

Susan Bonilla was a high school English teacher at Mount Diablo Unified School District before she entered politics. After three years as a county supervisor, this Democrat won a seat in the state Assembly in 2010.

Bonilla was especially focused on STEM education and still promotes it. She surprisingly wrote a legislative proposal that would have reduced teacher work protections, increased probationary time and undermined seniority rights. It would have essentially made the decisions in the Vergara case state law.

Regarding another piece of legislation, the San Jose Mercury News reported, “Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced Assembly Bill 1084 in response to this newspaper’s investigation of K12 Inc., the publicly traded Virginia company behind a profitable but low-performing network of ‘virtual’ academies serving about 15,000 students across the state.” The article pointed out that a student logged in for one-minute was considered present and that fewer than half the students graduated. Eventually, Bonilla shelved the bill when it became watered down.

Although not taking any other actions against charters, this bill to stop the fraudulent K12’s practices infuriated charter supporters. In 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported on her losing a race for the District 7 state Senate:

“The race attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending, with more than $7 million streaming into the district during the two-month runoff alone, more than three times what the candidates were able to raise.”

“Labor unions backed Bonilla, while the business community, charter schools and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield supported Glazer.”

Since 2017, Bonilla has been State Director in California of Council for a Strong America, a national organization focused on increasing spending on children and families.

2 charter executives

Cristina de Jesus is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot Public Schools California. She oversees twenty-two middle and high schools across Los Angeles serving 11,500 students for which she is compensated handsomely. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, Green Dot’s tax forms revealed her total income as $326,242 while the schools took in $148,484,811.

Cristina is an alumnus of the Broad Administrators Academy class of 2016-2017.

Ana Ponce is the Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy which is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving about 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Tax records show that the Academy took in $43,377,256 in the fiscal year ending June 2016. Ana was compensated $193,585.

Originally from Mexico, Ana grew up in the neighborhood where her schools are located. She is an alumnus of Teach for America and The Broad Academy class of 2015-2016. She was profiled by the Aspen Institute.

Ponce is also the California Charter Schools Association Board Secretary and she was inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gia Truong is Chief Executive Officer at Envision Education. Envision has two strategies: operating charter schools and providing training and consulting services to others through its Envision Learning Partners division.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 tax records show that Envision took in $16,558,401 and Gia was compensated $229,127.

Gia attended Brown University where she earned a master’s in teaching social studies. She gained her administrative credential through the New Leader Principal Residency program. New Leaders (formerly “New Leaders for New Schools”) was founded in 2000 by a group including Jonathan Schnur, former education policy analyst for President Bill Clinton.

3 Privatizing Organzations

David Rattray oversees the Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA, the School-to-Career Partnership of Los Angeles. Rattray officially joined the Chamber in 2003.

Rattray and UNITE-LA have called for “a common, unified enrollment system for all public schools serving Los Angeles children ….”

Rattray also sits on the Board of Directors at Learning Policy Institute. It is a “think tank” financed by many foundations associated with school privatization. These funders include S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Nellie Mae Education Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

Charmain Mercer served as a Senior Researcher for the Learning Policy Institute and is now a Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Charmaine received her Ph.D. in politics and education policy from Claremont Graduate University, as well as her master’s degree in political science.

In a previous role, she served as the vice president for standards, assessment, and deeper learning at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Former Virginia Governor, Bob Wise, leads the Alliance which promotes “personalized learning” a misleading euphemism for isolating America’s children at digital devices.

Jonathan Raymond has led the Stuart Foundation as its president since July 2014. In the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016 his total compensation was stated as $522,725. It may be unfair to say this foundation is for privatizing public schools. They appear to be focused on how to improve education and have not taken a strong stand either for or against charter schools.

President Raymond on the other hand has taken several positions embraced by school privatization leaders like Eli Broad.

In July, 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported,

“Jonathan Raymond came into the Sacramento City Unified School District nearly five years ago as a hard-charging superintendent, bucking the teachers union on tenure rules and seeking to use test scores in performance evaluations.”

“Forget about the flourish that was Raymond, who was a product of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business and education leaders how to run school districts. Raymond arrived at Sacramento without a traditional schools background, having served as a nonprofit leader and private lawyer rather than working through the ranks.”

“Teachers also were angered over Raymond’s “Priority Schools” program to overhaul struggling campuses. The district inserted new principals, who were given authority to remove teachers regardless of tenure protections, which led to a legal battle.”

Raymond closed seven Sacramento schools in minority neighborhoods through his “Priority Schools” program.

Wes Smith, Ed. D. is Executive Director for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). In 2014, Smith and the ACSA refused to endorse either candidate in the heated Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) contest between, former charter school administrator, Marshall Tuck, and incumbent, Tom Torlakson.

This year the former investment banker, Tuck, is again running for SPI. Shockingly, after personally interviewing both Tuck and his opponent, Tony Thurmond, the ACSA endorsed the school privatization candidate, Tuck.

A tweet from the ACSA read, ‘“ACSA is proud to endorse a candidate who not only understands education leadership but is committed to working with educational leaders to improve student access and outcomes as well.’ – ACSA Executive Director Dr. Wesley Smith.”4 Public Education Support

John Rogers is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education.  He also serves as the Faculty Director of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Program, and professional development initiatives.

He lists his research interests as

  • Re-envisioning public engagement and democratic education today in light of John Dewey’s scholarship and practice.
  • Understanding what and how youth learn about economic, social, and racial inequality inside and outside of schools.
  • Examining and developing strategies for engaging urban youth, community members, and educators in equity-focused school reform.

In a Capital and Main release, John Rogers noted that if Eli Broad is successful in taking over half the students in LAUSD then the district would lose its ability to maintain its financial integrity.

Sylvia Rousseau is an expert on diversity, urban school reform and school leadership. She is Professor of Clinical Education at USC’s Rossier School of Education. Sylvia is a former principal of Santa Monica High School; a former LAUSD assistant superintendent of Secondary School Services and a former superintendent of Local District 7, which means she took on the problems facing education in Watts.

Testifying about charter schools Rousseau commented,

“In the midst of the many conversations about charter schools offering a choice to parents, districts have the responsibility to ensure that parents have viable options. Otherwise it is not choice. As we move forward in the name of reform and progress, it is important to keep asking the equity question: who is benefiting and who is not. … When charter schools infringe on districts’ ability to fulfill this public mandate for all children, they have violated the public mandate.”

Terri Jackson has years of experience with both teaching and involvement in California Teachers Association (CTA) activities. She was re-elected as CTA Board member for District C representing Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This term ends June 25, 2019.

Jackson is the only practicing teacher on the Team. She has taught for 33 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher at Stewart Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Camille Maben: A seven-member First 5 California Commission selected the 16-year veteran of the California Department of Education, Camille Maben, as its executive director in November 2012. Maben was a strategic advisor to Superintendent Delaine Eastin from 1998 to 2003. Maben, a registered Democrat, has served on the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees for 16 years.

Not too Hopeful about Torlakson’s Review Team.

With so many members of the team drawing huge salaries if the status quo is maintained, it is unlikely they will create many policy ideas for ending the destruction of public education.

I agree with the Schott Foundation, NPE and the NAACP that we need a charter school moratorium. During the moratorium, legislation can be written that carefully puts existing charter schools under the management of elected school boards.

The argument that says “remove rules and let educators do what they know is best” being the path to improved education is foolish and disingenuous. It is like saying “remove automobile safety rules and allow manufactures to build the kind of safe fuel-efficient cars they know are best” will insure safer more efficient vehicles. It is a silly argument and the reality is that large privatized charter school management organizations will continue to impose rules on teachers.

Let us embrace democracy for running schools instead of plutocratic nonsense.