Tag Archives: Charter schools

School Transformation Without School Improvement in Atlanta’s all Charter District

1 May

Since the 2015 all charter district reforms in Atlanta, the so called “education gap” has grown significantly. This is reflected in both state and federal testing data.

I recently wrote about Superintendent Castarphen and her history of bullying staff and working to privatize public education. That post was motivated by an email from Ed Johnson providing his initial review of the just released TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment) data from the 2017 testing cycle.

Mr. Johnson is a longtime advocate for public education. He is a native Georgian, a former NSA analyst and an expert in Deming inspired quality management. His writings have been published in many places including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and he has been a candidate for the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) board. With his permission, I am posting his more deepened analysis of recent testing data from Atlanta.

NAEP TUDA 2017: A follow-on systemic look at Atlanta

The earlier preliminary look at NAEP TUDA (National Assessment of Educational Progress, Trial Urban District Assessment) biennial results for Atlanta Public Schools (APS; “Atlanta”) offered the immediate data story that, in recent years, since 2015, the district’s White-Black academic achievement gaps have been made unusually worse.  It was also noted that Georgia Milestones Assessment System (GMAS) annual results for Atlanta, from 2015 through 2017, coupled with Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competence Tests (CRCT) annual results for Atlanta, from 2012 through 2014, tell the same story.

Told either way, negative contributing factors in the story are implicated to be, in general, disruptive school choice as charter schools and school turnaround without school improvement.  Being driven more by ideology than pedagogy, and inclined to serve would-be oligarchs’ interests more than the public’s interests, the Atlanta Public Schools Leadership (APSL) have pressed these negative contributing factors into the district over just the past few years.  It began in 2014, with the school board hiring Meria Joel Carstarphen, Ed.D., as Atlanta superintendent.  Notably, Dr. Carstarphen once publicly proclaimed having been “trained,” presumably by her alma mater, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, to do the school turnaround work school board members wanted done.

Now by looking strictly district-level at APS, NAEP TUDA results tell a similar story of academic achievement made unusually worse since 2015.  Here, however, the story is systemic and implicates, again, school choice as charter schools and school transformation without school improvement as having detectably disrupted for the worse the district’s continuous (not to be confused with continual) upward trend since TUDA inception in each grade and subject assessed, those being 4th Grade Mathematics (4GM) and 8th Grade Mathematics (8GM), since 2003; and, 4th Grade Reading (4GR) and 8th Grade Reading (8GR), since 2002.  The “control charts” accessed in the PDF and PowerPoint links offer the story in pictures. (PowerPoint National Assessment of Educational Progress: Trial Urban District Assessment of Atlanta Public Schools through 2017, Revised.  PDF here.)

Johnson TUDA Testing Atlanta Graphic

This Fourth Grade Math Chart is an Example of TUDA Data Mr. Johnson Shared.

Johnson State Testing Atlanta Graphic

This Chart is an Example of Georgia State Testing Data Mr. Johnson Shared.

However, before going to the control charts in the PowerPoint for the story in pictures, consider the following points by W. Edwards Deming and Donald J. Wheeler (my emphasis and inserts):

“Is this chart difficult?  Patrick mastered it at age 11.  This was his science project at school.  A good start in life.  Some essential theory of variation could obviously be taught in the 5th grade.  Pupils would come out of school with knowledge in their heads, not merely information.”

—W. Edwards Deming.  The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education Second Edition (pp. 209-210).

“Figures come in, but the figures go on to charts to detect trends. The management now understand the distinction between common causes of variation, and special causes [of variation].”

—ibid. (p. 40)

“It is a mistake to suppose that the control chart furnishes a test of significance—that a point beyond a control limit is ‘significant.’  This supposition is a barricade to understanding.”

—ibid. (p. 177)

“Certain patterns of points on a control chart may also indicate a special cause.”

—ibid. (pp. 201-202)

“Before you can use data to justify any action, you must be able to detect a potential signal within the data.  Otherwise you are likely to be interpreting noise.”

—Donald J. Wheeler.  Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos Second Edition (p. 31).

After considering the story the control charts in the PowerPoint portray, one might ask: Why might Atlanta NAEP TUDA results for each of MG4, MG8, RG4, and RG8 have so suddenly shifted down for the worse in 2015 and pretty much stayed there through 2017?  And about MG8, ask: Why did it go “out of control” for the worse in 2017?

Luck, perhaps?  Certainly, one might think it was inevitable that each of the four continuous upward trends in Atlanta NAEP TUDA results, from 2002 or 2003 through 2013, would end.  After all, if one were to get six or seven heads in a row on as many flips of a coin then suddenly get tails on the very next flip, or if one were to get six or seven snake eyes in a row on as many rolls of two die then suddenly get seven on the very next roll, one might dismissively conclude: “About time.”  Or, one’s curiosity might be aroused: “Hmm.  What’s going on, here?”

Or, one might ask: What in Atlanta has been in effect since about 2015 likely to have caused the district to experience a sudden sustained shift down for the worse in each of NAEP TUDA MG4, MG8, RG4, and RG8 results?

Well, Atlanta has had school choice as charter schools and school reform without school improvement in effect since about 2015.  This being the case, the research paper Social Class and Parent-Child Relationships: An Interpretation, by Melvin L. Kohn, offers insight more rational than, it’s luck:

“We, too, found that working-class parents value obedience, neatness, and cleanliness more highly than do middle-class parents, and that middle-class parents in turn value curiosity, happiness, consideration, and—most importantly—self-control more highly than do working-class parents.  We further found that there are characteristic clusters of value choice in the two social classes: working-class parental values center on conformity to external prescriptions, middle-class parental values on self-direction.  To working-class parents, it is the overt act that matters: the child should not transgress externally imposed rules; to middle-class parents, it is the child’s motive and feelings that matter: the child should govern himself.”

Arguably, APSL’s school choice as charter schools and school turnaround without school improvement lend credence to Kohn’s research findings.  Specifically, simple observations of behavior make it clear that Harvard-trained Meria Carstarphen brought into APS with her hiring, in 2014, a way of thinking that calls for deliberately and intentionally playing on low- and working-class parents’ values of “obedience, neatness, and cleanliness” and “conformity to external prescriptions,” so as to manipulate the parents to believe and accept their children deserve training more so than education, even psychologically abusive training (i.e., operant conditioning, as developed at Harvard University).  The picture below clearly illustrates the matter.  And it is a matter that contrasts sharply with educating, more so than training, elite- and middle-class children rooted in their parents’ values of “curiosity, happiness, consideration, and … self-control” and “self-direction.”

Kindezi Charter School Picture

Photo from the Kindezi Charter Schools’ Facebook Home Page

Perhaps understanding this, the contrast, helps explain why, during this month’s school board meeting, the superintendent bristled at and pushed back on school board member Erika Mitchell’s proclamation to work with the Harper-Archer Elementary School community to include in the school’s reopening the planetarium the facility once housed when it was Harper-Archer High School.  A planetarium in the school might, quite wondrously and experientially, arouse “curiosity” in the children presumed to be of low- and working-class parents.  Can’t have that.  Curiosity aroused in such children would, of course, be contrary and disruptive to obedience and compliance training the children must get, so as to prepare them to produce, on demand, high enough scores on standardized tests to evidence being on track to “college and career ready.”

And perhaps understanding the contrast also helps explain why the APSL gives no mind to the wondrous, experiential, highly accessible world of nature right out in the backyard of Beecher Hills Elementary School.  Thus, yet another case of curiosity arousal suppression, and obedience and compliance reinforcement. Black children are deemed deserving, if only subliminally, because such is the state of their low- and working-class parents’ values.

Bottom line, results over time from both NAEP TUDA and Georgia standardized tests make it abundantly clear that, since school year 2014-2015, the APSL—the Atlanta school board and superintendent—have made schooling especially for Black children inherently more regressive, suppressive, oppressive, and untenable as a public good.  Couple that with their having made schooling more insidious, immoral, unethical, unjust, unequable, and racially discriminatory than it has ever been.

So now the APSL would dare concern themselves with early childhood education, expressly directed at low- and working-class parents of children between the ages of birth and pre-K?

Just how boldly sinister can they be?

By the way, reading the superintendent’s take on 2017 NAEP TUDA results for Atlanta can be instructive.  The superintendent demonstrates the usefulness of greatly restricting the scope and context of available data to extents that allow fabricating and serving up the best possible “good news” stories.  The superintendent comes off looking good but at the expense of losing sight of facts that might arouse, well, curiosity—well-informed curiosity.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

****************************************************************

I have slightly edited Mr. Johnson’s emailed article to better fit this publishing format.

Choice and separate but equal schools first arose in the deep south in 1869. Of course, schools were not equal especially in terms of funding, but they were segregated. Following the Brown decision, southern governors latched onto Milton Friedman’s privatize everything ideas and embraced voucher schemes and schemes that were very similar to charter schools as a way to maintain segregation.

But this time around it is different. It is not just about segregation. It is about reducing the cost of public education. It is about tax reduction for elites and profiting off education dollars.

Laws have already been passed to designate teachers with as little as five-weeks of training “highly qualified.” In Arizona, public schools are giving high school graduates emergency credentials to work as long-term substitute teachers. In North Carolina private schools receiving government vouchers are certified even though they openly hire new high school graduates as teachers.

The promise of public education is being dismantled. Public schools with real teachers trained at university-based teacher education programs were once the expectation in America. High quality professionally run schools in every neighborhood used to be a birthright. The super-wealthy want compliant workers and no longer see a value in educating too many creative thinkers. Plenty of creative thinkers will come from high end private schools. Plus, people who think for themselves are dangerous.

The American public will eventually figure this out and demand their schools back. The first steps for undoing the damage include stopping vouchers and a moratorium on charter schools. All charter schools should be put under the management of elected school boards and TFA should be run out of town. No more fake teachers, fake schools and fake administers.

Roll Up the Failed Charter School Experiment

24 Nov

This month the, NPE (Network for Public Education) released a stunning report called “Charters and Consequences.” NPE Executive Director Carol Burris stated, “… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.” About the report she writes, “This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”

This 50-page report’s conclusion is shared on the last page:

For all of the reasons above and more, the Network for Public Education regards charter schools as a failed experiment that our organization cannot support. If the strength of charter schools is the freedom to innovate, then that same freedom can be offered to public schools by the district or the state.

“At the same time, we recognize that many families have come to depend on charter schools and that many charter school teachers are dedicated professionals who serve their students well. It is also true that some charter schools are successful. We do not, therefore, call for the immediate closure of all charter schools, but rather we advocate for their eventual absorption into the public school system. We look forward to the day when charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”

The Charter School System is Not Sustainable

The report begins with a relatively deep dive into the wild west of charter schools, California. It summarizes:

“Everyone I spoke with accepted that charters have a place in the state, and in many instances, they acknowledged that charters serve children well.  However, all had deep concerns about the lack of charter transparency, accountability, and their fiscal impact on public schools.”

NPE held a conference in Oakland this past October. One breakout session was titled, “Holding the Line, Fighting Charter Growth in Oakland, CA.” The presenters explained why they view charter expansion as an existential threat to public education.

Shelly Weintraub introduced the four members of the expert panel starting with herself:

“I taught in Oakland for 15 years and then coordinated the history social science program for the next 20.

“Jan [Malvin] was a researcher from the University of California and a parent activist who helped gather a lot of data for our presentation.

“Alison [McDonald] taught with me at Fremont High. She became a principal of a small school called Life Academy, and then went on to become the assistant superintendent in charge of all the high schools in our district.

“Renee [Swayne] was an elementary teacher, focusing on 3rd grade. She also helped to run the History-Social Science program and then taught middle school in Oakland Unified Schools.”

Chater schools by city

Weintraub used the graphic above to introduce the subject of the session:

“Why is Oakland important? We feel this graphic helps answer that question. Oakland has a larger proportion of students in charter schools than any other large urban district in California. …. That’s why we fear that we’re reaching a tipping point, beyond which our district will no longer be able to exist as a viable school district.”

She explained:

“Many costs associated with the student stay with the district – for example, the cost of the school itself or the maintenance of the facility. The cost that remains is sometimes referred to as a “stranded cost.” Researchers in other areas have estimated that the stranded cost to a district of a student’s departure can be almost 50%. Thus, Oakland’s huge proportion of charters is leaving us with immense debt that likely means school closures, staff reductions, and more.”

The bottom line is that adding a privately-operated charter school system to public education drives up costs and introduces inefficiencies into the system. As a result, the vast majority of children who attend public schools in cities like Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles have their resources reduced (mainly by larger class sizes and reduced facilities maintenance) to cover the unreimbursed costs engendered by charter school expansion.

Big Profits, Big Salaries and Marketing

“Charters and Consequences” documents the rise of the mall schools:

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

Charter administration pay is amazing. From the report:

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

These mall schools have terrible graduation rates and students that do graduate may have cheated their way to a diploma. One of the big money-making schemes of the last decade is “credit recovery” at learning centers. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Astoundingly, even with increased graduation requirements rates have shot up.

In 2016, over 83% of California’s freshman cohort graduated on time. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of cheating and credit recovery.

Because of political connections, these absurd practices are not being checked. For example, in 2015, billionaire Penny Pritzker, then Secretary of Commerce, presented Mary Bixby the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which recognizes U.S. organizations in the business, health care, education, and nonprofit sectors for performance excellence. Naturally, the award is a marketing tool for Bixby’s schools.

Mary Bixby’s salary looks inflated next to a public-school administrator, but others in the charter school industry are making much more as documented in the report:

“In 2014, KIPP co-founder, David Levin received a compensation package of nearly $475,000 from the Foundation. Co-founder Mike Feinberg received $219,596 from KIPP Inc., which manages the Houston charters, and still another $221,461 from the KIPP Foundation. According to the organization’s 990s, Feinberg works 50 hours a week for the Houston Schools, plus 40 hours a week for the Foundation—clearly an impossibility.”

In New York city, Eva Moskowitz runs the Success Academy system of charter schools. Based on test scores, her schools have pundits praising them as miracle schools. No accolade seems too grandiose for the schools run by this former New York City Councilman and Democrat. Moskowitz has cashed in. From the report,

“Levin’s and Feinberg’s salaries are dwarfed, however, when compared with the compensation package of Success Academy’s Eva Moscowitz, who received $600,000 in 2014 as the CEO of 41 charter schools.”

The profits at cyber charters are enormous as this antidote illustrates:

“Profits can become so lucrative, that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter founder, Nick Trombetta was able to siphon off $8 million dollars of taxpayer dollars for extravagant homes and an airplane. When Trombetta was finally arrested, it was not for the exorbitant profits, which were legal, but for tax fraud.”

Newsweek and the Washington Post regularly list Arizona’s Basis schools as the best schools in America. With this kind of publicity, the Basis owners get away with paying their management company, which they own, outsized fees. From the paper:

“BASIS General Administrative costs alone amounted to nearly $12 million for less than 9,000 students, while the six largest public school districts serve a quarter million students for less than $10 million in General Administrative costs.”

The Key to Success in Charters is Not Great Pedagogy – It’s Creaming

Both Basis Schools and Success Academy use the same tactics. Set up methods to selectively enroll more desired students, drive out students that do not meet expectations and do not accept new students into a cohort. See the following tabular evidence prepared from data in the NPE report.

Basis and Success Academy

On Wednesday (November 22), the New Orleans Tribune ran a scathing editorial about the complete failure and the fraudulent imposition of the post Katrina Recovery School District (RSD). The editorial cites the same tactics Basis and Success Academy use as tools employed to venerate some RSD schools. The editor writes:

“We know the truth. Schools like Benjamin Franklin, Lusher, Warren Easton and a few others have always been top performers. They were the schools OPSB were left with after the reformers pillaged and plundered. Decades before Katrina, long before the RSD and even before high-stakes testing became the order of the day, these schools benefited from selective admission processes and extraordinary resources that were not available at many other public schools in the city.”

“So that Lusher and Ben Franklin are two of the top 10 schools in the state does little to impress us. When these campuses get to cherry-pick who they want to educate and weed out others, it becomes a lot easier to get results.”

The Charter School Experiment Failed and It is Time for Change

The New Orleans Times editorial summarizes the after Katrina reality:

“To be sure, some of the same media outlets finally reporting the near truth about the failure of these schools as if it is some eye-opener have been some of the same outlets responsible for driving the false narrative of the reform’s success by either suppressing the truth or pushing falsehoods.”

And continues:

“It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible.”

Public education in America is one of the world’s great success stories. A combination of foolishness, arrogance and greed led to a continuous drumbeat of slander for America’s pillar of democracy, equity and freedom. This nonsense has opened the door to harm for our country and its values. We must again embrace democracy when governing education paid for by public dollars and reject totalitarian schemes. After all, democracy is one of the great American values, if we lose that we lose America.

The NPE paper “Charters and Consequences” is an honest, unbiased study that should be read and shared widely. We should all embrace the papers concluding call for legislative action to institute the following:

  • An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools.
  • The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters.
  • The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations.
  • All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline.
  • Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff.
  • Complete transparency in all expenditures and income.
  • Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community.
  • Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website.
  • Annual audits available to the public.
  • Requirements to follow bidding laws and regulations.
  • Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes.
  • Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes.
  • Requirements that charters offer free or reduced-price lunch programs for students.
  • Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter.
  • Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located.
  • A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

“Until charter schools become true public schools, the Network for Public Education will continue to consider them to be private schools that take public funding.”

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

June 2nd will be my last day as a classroom teacher. For the past 15 years, I have been teaching mathematics and physics. It has been exhilarating, it has been heart breaking. It reminds me of the way Charles Dicken’s opened A Tale of Two Cities,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, ….”

During my tenure in education, costly efforts were made to improve schools. However, the welfare of country and children were too often ignored in pursuit of new markets. Vast fortunes were spent by philanthropists mostly on foolish and destructive agendas which often appeared self-serving.

In 2010, Rupert Murdock stated, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone ….” From one point of view, our commitment to children is laudable, but this huge amount of money has engendered darkness. Integrity and community too often succumbed to greed. Corporate and political leaders regularly bowed to dark human tendencies.

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

In 1998, Prince rereleased “Party like its 1999.” In 1999, I didn’t feel it. I was driving around Silicon Valley ready to move on. The party seemed over. Hearing co-workers drone on about stock options or being regaled by stories of new startups creating instant millionaires got stale. I enjoyed my work but hated the traffic. It was time to go home to San Diego and become a teacher.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at the University of California San Diego. At the same time, Ted Kennedy was teaming up with George W. Bush to federalize public education with the “No Child Left Behind” rewrite of the education law. When, I earned a master’s degree in education, NCLB was the law of the land.

The new federal law mandated standards based multiple choice exams. These exams were completely useless for measuring school or teacher quality or for guiding instruction. The only outcome from these tests with statistical significance is that they accurately identified the economic health of the school’s community.

Standards based testing has been both cynically and foolishly used to claim that public schools are failing thus opening the door to a national tragedy. The world’s greatest public education system and our bulwark for democracy is being privatized. Wonderful and venerable institutions in tough neighborhoods like Crenshaw High are being destroyed. The generational legacy that spawned the likes of Ice-T, Darryl Strawberry and Marques Johnson has been stolen from its community.

My second year of teaching was one of my favorite years. I was given a one year temporary contract to teach at Mar Vista Middle School. I really enjoyed the kids (me and middle schoolers think alike), but it was my interactions with the staff that always engenders fond joyful memories. I was incredulous a few years later, when the middle school was reconstituted because of failing test scores. At the time I wrote about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.”

It seems there was an effort to charterize Mar Vista Middle School, however, the community quickly rejected that. The school was reconstituted by firing half of the staff and reopened as Mar Vista Academy. The only result of the reconstitution was disruption in the lives of teachers, parents and students. The school still serves the same neighborhood. At the high school where I now work, we have seen no substantive change in the readiness of students coming from this feeder school.

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

In the master’s program, we did some student teaching during the first year and then in the second year we were given paid intern positions to teach three classes a day. When that school year ended most of my classmates were offered a position. I wasn’t. It could be that I was not a very good teacher or it might have been that I was 52 years-old and schools wanted younger new teachers.

I finally got a position at Bell Junior High School teaching four sections of physics and one section of honors physics to 9th graders. Each class had 36 students. My classes scored amazingly well on the district end of course exams. They scored especially well at the end of semester 2. San Diego Unified School District has more than 130,000 students. My honors physics class at Bell was the second highest scoring honors class in the district and my 4 regular classes were the top scoring out of the 13 sections of physics at Bell.

Bell junior high school consisted of mostly minority students including many language learners and free lunch recipients. Several or my students were afraid to walk home after school. The neighborhood was that tough. It was at Bell that I started to realize that the experienced teachers were amazing and not the worthless slugs that I had heard so much about.

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch wrote about Alan Bersin a lawyer with no education experience being tapped to run what was arguably the top performing urban school systems in America. I have written about the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Bersin. The following citation honoring Bersin is from the DFER web presence (it has since been removed):

“Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. …. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.”

One feature of the “non-traditional” superintendent’s leadership was fear. At Bell, I witnessed three tenured teachers lose their jobs. Yes, a determined administrator can get rid of a tenured teacher. It appears there were targets for the number of teachers to be fired each year. It also seems that a certain percentage of new hires were required to be given unacceptable evaluations. I suspect being a new hire in my 50’s made me a target.

My final evaluation said that I was not able to control my classes and was not moving them towards achieving standards. The not moving them towards achieving standards comment meant that I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher. Ironically, my evaluation the next year by the principal at Mar Vista Middle School referenced classroom management as a particular strength.

Conclusions and Concerns

Standards based education is bad education theory. In the 1960’s Benjamin Bloom proposed mastery education in which instruction would be individualized and students would master certain skills before they moved ahead. By the 1970’s this idea had been married with B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist philosophy and teachers were given lists of discrete items for their students to master. The “reform” became derisively known as “seats and sheets.”

By the 1980’s corporate leaders and many politicians were turning these mastery skills into standards. In the 1990’s the IBM and former RJR Nabisco CEO, Louis Gerstner, made instituting education standards and standards based testing his mission in life. The result of his almost two decade effort are the Next Generation Science Standards and they are awful. I wrote about them here, here and here.

The other corporate leader that loves the concept of education standards is Bill Gates. Without him, there would be no Common Core State Standards. Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner share two traits, neither of them have any real experience or training in education and the education standards they have forced on America are horrible. I wrote about the Common Core standards here and here.

Vouchers have not led to better education outcomes. Allowing the privatization of public schools is foolhardy. Public schools are wonderful crucibles of democracy where parents have input. Vouchers undermine this democratic principle and they can be misused. Vouchers have been employed to force all taxpayers to fund religious schools and to promote segregation.

This March (2017) a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers. “Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.”

It is in all of our interest to adequately fund public education. Even if you do not want your children to attend a public school. On the other hand, tax money should not be spent on private or religious schools. If parents want that option, that is their right, but it is not the responsibility of society to fund their decision.

Charter schools are bad policy. There are some absolutely wonderful charters schools but the money they remove from the public system is causing significant damage to the schools that serve the vast majority of students.

If taxpayers want to fund charter schools they need to understand that it will cost more than just funding public schools. It costs more money to run multiple systems. Not providing adequate funding degrades the public system – bigger classes and less offerings. In extreme cases like Detroit, we see a complete collapse of both the public and charter systems.

Albert Shanker thought that charters could be used to unleash the creativity of teachers, but once he saw the early direction of the charter movement, he became a charter opponent. In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (Page 57)

When writing about Schneider’s School Choice I paraphrased her:

“Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.”

Another bad idea is CBE. This big school privatization effort could be called the make Silicon Valley “great again” effort. It is known by various names: one-to-one, personalized education, blended learning, competency based education, etc. Its supporters, like Billionaires Reed Hastings and Bill Gates, are spending huge amounts of money promoting computer delivered education.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund (a Walton family effort), Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

A recent National Public Radio report on the Rocketship schools reported:

“Rocketship students often use adaptive math software from a company called Dreambox Learning. The company was struggling when Reed Hastings, the Netflix founder turned education philanthropist and investor, observed it in action at a Rocketship school several years ago. His investment allowed Dreambox to become one of the leading providers of math software in North America, currently used by about 2 million students.”

Reed Hastings is a funder of the Rocketship schools, a board member of the Charter Schools Association of California and the primary owner of Dreambox Learning. What he is not is a highly trained experienced educator.

An Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development study concludes, “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.” The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time.

San Jose State’s education Professor Roxana Marachi provides access to information about the possible health risks involved with screen time and juvenile cell phone use. I recommend her Educational Psychology & Technology page. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, recently presented information about tech addiction being purposefully designed into digital devices.

Of course there is a place for technology in education, but that place should be driven by professionally experienced educators and not technology companies looking to enhance profitability.

My biggest take-away is that professional educators should be running education. The Regan era idea that business people, lawyers and Nobel Prize winning scientists were more equipped to lead America’s schools than experienced professional educators was a foolish error. Today, we have an amateur politician rich guy trying to run the country. His lack of experience is showing.

In the same way, insurance salesmen (Eli Broad), retailers (Doris Fisher) and technologists (Bill Gates) are harming America’s schools, because they do not know what they are doing. Experience and training matter in all fields of human endeavor and education is no different.

Education Discernments for 2017

28 Dec

The education journalist Kristina Rizga spent four years embedded at Mission High School in San Francisco and apprehended this key insight concerning modern education reform: “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” (Mission High page ix)

California Adopts Reckless Corporate Education Standards

Standards based education is bad education theory. Bad standards are a disaster. I wrote a 2015 post about the NGSS science standards concluding:

 “Like the CCSS the NGSS is an untested new theory of education being foisted on communities throughout America by un-American means. These were not great ideas that attained ‘an agreement through conviction.’ There is nothing about this heavy handed corporate intrusion into the life of American communities that promises greater good. It is harmful, disruptive and expensive.”

 Louis Gerstner (RJR Nabisco and IBM – CEO) instigated the NGSS standards. They are so poorly written that California adopted them and then started a rewrite.

A group of billionaires influence California’s education policy; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed (school boards suck) Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Doris Fisher and others. At their insistence, the state adopted both the nationally-flailing common core state standards (CCSS), and the unworkable next generation science standards (NGSS).

These two sets of standards are examples of bad top down education policies imposed on schools by the super-rich and associated politicos.

‘Profitization’ Movement is Destroying Good Public Education

In a brilliant article, psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass stated, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.”

Up until recently, there has been a relentless effort to evaluate schools and teachers based upon standardized test scores. George Bush’s No Child Left Behind act made the testing of math and English almost the sole evaluative measure for schools. This misguided ideology was used to demonize and destroy many wonderful schools in poor communities.

I wrote about Ciedie Aech’s wonderfully sarcastic book, Why You Always Got to be Trippin? The following quote from Ciedie illuminates the unjust treatment schools in the wrong zip-code faced when judged by testing incapable of measuring school quality or student growth.

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as ‘drop-out factories’ – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

 “Personalized Learning” Leads to Big Bucks

This year it became clear that the big profits in education were no longer in standardized testing. The real money ‘reformsters’ were lusting after was in charter schools especially cyber charters; charter school real-estate deals; and competency based education (CBE). Fortunately for profiteering entrepreneurs, the United States Congress passed a rewrite of the federal education law calling it Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

I wrote to my congressman saying, ESSA is worse than NCLB. It provides money to accelerate privatizing public education, incentivizes CBE and even continues the baseless standardized testing mandates. And it has provisions for financial companies to get into taxpayer pockets via social impact bonds. ESSA takes care of everyone but students and taxpayers.

In a recent post, I noted:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education was transformed into the nation’s leading education technology sales force. The Secretary of Education became a shill for a group of corporations and their ‘non-profit’ foundations working to sell ‘blended learning’; ‘competency based education’; ‘personalized learning’; ‘linked learning’; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.”

Competency based education is actually a failed idea from the 1990’s but this time it supposed to work because it is delivered by a computer. One of America’s leading experts on CBE and the destruction it promises for America’s public schools is Emily Talmage. She writes:

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.”

It is an education policy that only a toxic mix of hubris and greed could spawn.

Real education requires a life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of Soka Schools, touches on this subject in his book Soka Education, “Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.” Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost on-line learning is spiritless, amoral and dead.

The author and practicing educator, Mercedes Schneider shares, “The current technological challenge for classroom teachers is not teaching students how to use technology. It’s weening kids from phones and other such personalized technology long enough for them to learn to interact with a world that is not accessed by swiping a touch screen or typing with their thumbs.”

Schools are spending huge amounts of money on electronic tablets and laptop computers to institute profit incentivized “personalized” education theories. Conversely, I recommend eliminating all student screen time until high school. In high school, I would only have students use technology for writing reports, science experiments and essays. The last thing 21st century students need is more screen time and they deserve to have their privacy protected and not hoovered up by data mining corporations.

Jack Schneider writing in the Atlantic magazine asked some provocative questions:

“Thus, despite the fact that there is often little evidence in support of utopian schemes like ‘personalized online learning,’ which would use software to create a custom curriculum for each student, or ‘value-added measures’ of teachers, which would determine educator effectiveness by running student test scores through an algorithm, many people are willing to suspend disbelief. Why? Because they have been convinced that the alternative—a status quo in precipitous decline—is worse. But what if the schools aren’t in a downward spiral? What if, instead, things are slowly but steadily improving? In that light, disruption—a buzzword if ever there was one—doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

He went on in the article to show that public schools have indeed continued to progress.

There Are Failing Schools and They Need Repair

Why did so many parents in poor urban communities embrace charter schools? The fact is some of their schools were horrid and had been that way for as long as they could remember. When someone said, they would spend some money on the schools, parents jumped at the chance to improve their child’s school.

I heard this story at the National Public Education conference in Raleigh North Carolina. A mother from New Orleans gave her personal school experience. She said that before Katrina, the schools in the poorer sections of New Orleans were an abomination. It was normal for middle schools to have 55 children in classes, with no fans or air conditioning.

In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider, a product of New Orleans’ education, confirmed “Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing black student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.”

John Thompson’s A Teacher’s Tale presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers in his Oklahoma high school directly contributed to violence, terrible attendance and safety issues. He describes packs of out of control gang affiliated students roaming hallways instead of attending classes, while site administrators were not allowed by state bureaucracies to take the kind of effective action needed to create a positive and safe learning environment.

On the ridiculous theory that public education needs disruption to improve, John writes, “Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.”

Failing schools are not failing because of teachers’ unions, tenure laws or bad teachers. They are failing because of bad education policy dictated by politicians and businessmen. They are failing because of racism and prejudice which are the main motivators for school choice. And they are failing because of corruption.

Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize details the epic fail of Mark Zuckerberg’s $100,000,000 gift which was matched by another $100,000,000 from several other philanthropic organizations and individuals. Intended to fix the poorly performing schools of Newark, New Jersey, it failed by every conceivable benchmark. It’s a story of feckless politicians, arrogant reformers and amazing teachers. It tells of the unmitigated degradation of the urban center of a once great American city and the difficulties facing Newark’s educators charged with the impossible task of righting that urban decline in their classrooms.

The real prize in Newark was the public education budget which corrupt politicians used to feather their own nest.

As Detroit so glaringly demonstrates, charter schools although not intrinsically bad schools, are a danger to public education. Peter Greene the educator and commentator explains:

“One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.

“A school district of, say, 2,000 students can lose 75 students and with them about $750,000 dollars of revenue, and somehow that district of 1,925 students can operate for three quarter of a million dollars less. And how does the district deal with that loss of revenue? By closing a building – because the more school buildings you operate, the more it costs.”

A study this year in Los Angeles reported that charter schools are draining $600 million a year from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Because of fixed costs, schools must reduce services and increase class sizes to remain fiscally viable. If the privatized system becomes too large too fast, the public system will collapse. And the privatized system needs the board run school system to take the students they don’t want.

We have overwhelming evidence that charter schools are generally not as good as board run schools on almost all measures including the misleading standardized testing results. We know charters increase segregation; we know charter fraud is rampant; we know charters close when business goes bad and we know they drive education costs up. It is time for common sense to prevail.

2017

With the coming of Trump and Betsy Devos, everything I read leads me to believe that the federal government will continue and accelerate the failed Bush/Obama education policies. However, it will be out in the open because there are no fake progressives in this group to hide behind. Americans of all stripes do not want their public education system parceled out and sold. Most conservative like most liberals believe in public education. They do not want their schools taken over by faceless corporations and distant bureaucracies.

A national consensus on the need to protect America’s truly great public education system is probable.

Education profiteers will over-reach in 2017 and we will make significant strides toward winning back local control of our schools.

Education and the Commercial Mindset

21 Oct

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

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

Evidence of Valuable Education Reform Policies

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

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

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

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

pisa-results-graphic

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Significantly reduce class sizes.

For Profit Education and Modern Reform Efforts

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

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

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

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

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

Toward Edison’s Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Charter School Scourge Invading Sweetwater

1 Oct

Chula Vista, California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pisa-2000-to-2012

Independent Study Charter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Segregation by Choice

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

A blogger going by the moniker educationrealist posted this observation:

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hagiography – Stinking Thinking and Profits

18 Sep

It is stinking thinking to ignore professionals and allow amateurs to guide almost any endeavor and that includes schools. Milton Friedman was enamored with classical liberalism and the antiquated ideas of Friedrich Hayek the Austrian economist he met at the University of Chicago. Based on bankrupt economic theories he called for ending universal public education and replacing it with a privatized system not required to educate everyone.

Classical liberalism’s flaws led to another bad economic idea, Marxism. Although antithetical in nature Marxism and classical liberalism share a striking similarity; they are both promoted by economic theorists who see people as means. The logical outcome of these ideologies is authoritarianism. Basing school reform on the writings of economists like Milton Friedman or Eric Hanushek is like Boeing Corporation basing aircraft structural safety on the philosophy of Friedrich Engels. Neither Friedman nor Hanushek know anything about cognitive development or the principals of pedagogy. They are ivory tower professors with weird schemes who have no experience in k-12 education. Letting their amateur blather drown out sage counsel from experienced professionals indicates cognitive malady.

A fundamental tenant of education reform for most economists and businessmen is demanding efficient systems that hold educators accountable for training economic assets. It is the principle that educating children is ultimately for the benefit of the state or business or military needs.

Milton Friedman may be thought of as the father “school choice” however, he was rightfully ignored for more than two decades. His ideas on education were resuscitated by the Reagan administration’s polemic, “A Nation at Risk.” Promoting a utilitarian philosophy of education, it said:

“Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce and are today spreading throughout the world as vigorously as miracle drugs, synthetic fertilizers, and blue jeans did earlier. If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all–old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the ‘information age’ we are entering.”

A more correct view of how people in the 21 century should be viewed is put forward by Daisaku Ikeda the founder of Soka Schools. When discussing his concept of “a century of life,” he said:

“A century of life, simply put, refers to an age, a society, a civilization based on respect for the dignity of life. Respect for the dignity of life means that people’s lives, their dignity and their personal happiness must never on any account be exploited or sacrificed as a means to some end. I am speaking of a society and civilization grounded on a firm commitment that all endeavors serve to support people’s lives, their dignity and their happiness, and that these must never be used as means to any other purpose or goal.” (Living Buddhism, September 2016, page 58)

 Another of hero of mine, Martin Luther King’s views on education are instructive:

“Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

 “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

 One of the loudest and most persistent voices supporting what is now widely known as “corporate education reform” is a man who served as CEO for both RJR Nabisco and IBM, Louis Gerstner. In his 1994 book Reinventing Education, Gerstner wrote:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Mr. Gerstner has obviously been very successful at hawking cigarettes (to children?) and technology products. Plus, he attended school and even hired people who went to school. However, none of this provides him with even a shallow understanding of education and certainly not the kind of profound understanding that would qualify him to lead the reform of America’s public school system. MLK’s quote above fits Mr. Gerstner better than one of his hand tailored suits.

Hagiography

In 2014, Elizabeth Green wrote a strange book, Building A+ Better Teacher, about improving teaching and its history. Strange because it was like two different books the first half chronicled efforts to improve teaching and went in great depth about Michigan State University and Spartan Village. It presented the history of Magdalene Lampert, Deborah Ball, Lee Shulman and Judith Lanier. It was a story of dedicated professional educators studying teaching and developing better methods and better training. The second half of the book was full of praise for a group of youthful amateurs who rejected the work of professional educators and take credit for starting the no-excuses charter school movement.

Green goes into great detail about Doug Lemov and Stacy Boyd. She recounts how Doug while in graduate school at the University of Indiana became incensed when tutoring a football player who had ability but was reading at a third grade level. She called this his turning point that led him to become obsessed with teaching. She says he eventually called a like-minded friend, Stacy Boyd and the two decided to start a new school called Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR). Green described the founders of APR:

“APR’s founders also rejected almost everything associated with ed schools, including their ideas about teaching. Many of them, Doug included, hadn’t gone to ed school.”

“Doug and his friends were just as likely to have degrees in business as in education. Instead of epistemology, child psychology, and philosophy, their obsessions were data-based decision making, start-ups, and ‘disruptions.’ They were more likely to know the name of Eric Hanushek, the economist who invented the value-added teacher evaluation model, than Judy Lanier”

One year after APR’s founding, Green left for San Francisco and Lemov replaced her as principal. After two years, Doug Lemov took a job in New York. He became the Vice President for Accountability at the Charter Schools Institute, State University of New York, Albany. It was while observing teachers at New York charter schools that Green claims Lemov gained the insight to develop “an American language of teaching” and write the successful and pedagogically backward (think 19th century) book Teach Like a Champion. (Clarification: Green indicated the opposite of “pedagogically backward.”)

The blogger, ‘educationrealist’, makes a compelling argument that Green’s account of APR’s founding is hagiography. It appears that Elizabeth Green had a message to sell and facts were not that important. ‘Educationrealist’s’ documented post says:

“In the second APR origins story which, unlike Lemov and Boyd’s claim, is well-documented, Academy of the Pacific Rim was founded by Dr. Robert Guen, a Chinese dentist, and a host of community members, who went through tremendous effort to produce one of the earliest charter applications, began in 1994 but delayed to 1995 to make a stronger pitch. The community founders clearly anticipated a primarily Asian school, although they promised to seek a diverse class. The original 1995 application shows the founders had not yet hired a principal.”

This explains the strange name. Why would Boyd and Lamov call their Boston based charter school Academy of the Pacific Rim? The ‘educationrealist’ also made this observation:

“Maybe reformers call themselves “founders” if they are early employees. John B. King, NYC czar of public schools, writes in his dissertation that the founding group behind Roxbury Prep, of which he, a black and Puerto-Rican teacher, was a member, spoke “explicitly” of their goals in the charter application. But Michele Pierce, who graduated from Stanford’s Teacher Education Program was the person identified to work with founder Evan Rudall to run the school, modeled after their work at Summerbridge. …. So King wasn’t involved in the charter application and wasn’t technically a founder, either.”

 Profits, Prestige and Connections

John King eventually found his way back to New York City and where his three years teaching at a charter school qualified him as an education leader. He was recognized as a 2008 Aspen Institute-NewSchools Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellow (meaning he was on the privatizer fast track). After failing miserably as New York State Commissioner of Education he joined Arne Duncan in the Obama administration and is now Secretary of Education of the United States. We must be living in upside down world.

Wendy Kopp’s TFA has been an integral component of the effort to privatize public education by providing teachers to the no-excuses charter school movement.

TFA is based on her 1989 Princeton University undergraduate thesis. Members of the founding team include value investor Whitney Tilson; former U.S. Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Douglas Shulman; and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) President and CEO, Richard Barth. Richard Barth is also Wendy Kopp’s husband. Charity Navigator puts TFA’s net worth at $437,000,000.

Stacy Boyd’s went to San Francisco with her new husband, a fellow reformer as this puff piece in the pro-privatization publication Education Next reported in 2009:

“In January 1992, as Levin and Feinberg were writing up their applications for Teach For America, a tall, dark-haired former U.S. Education Department policy aide named Scott Hamilton was showing up for his first day at a new job. He had been hired by the Washington office of the Edison project, an effort to improve inner-city schools and make a profit. The only person Hamilton found there was a talkative red-haired 23-year-old researcher named Stacey Boyd, in whom he took an immediate interest.

“In the annals of the charter school movement, the meeting of Hamilton and Boyd would take on considerable significance, particularly in the history of KIPP. … By 1999, the couple was in San Francisco, …. Hamilton was working in San Francisco for two of the richest people in the country, Don and Doris Fisher, founders of the GAP clothing stores. They wanted him to find education projects where money from their new Fisher Foundation could make a difference.”

Stacey Boyd who had one-year experience teaching English in Japan went to the Edison Project and there met her soon to be husband who has no real education experience. The Edison Project was Chris Whittle’s dream of getting rich by developing a private school system that could outperform public schools. As Samuel Abrams book Education and the Commercial Mindset documents, the Edison Project was a fiasco that hurt both investors and students.

For unknown reasons, Stacy was subsequently hired by the Chinese dentist in Boston to be the first principal of his new school, APR. Stacey hires her friend who six year earlier had taught at a prep-school for one year, Doug Lemov. Stacy leaves and Lemov assumes the principal position for two years before he leaves. This is the extent of their experience in education. Yet they are lionized by writers like Elizabeth Green and financed lavishly by billionaire foundations.

Wendy Kopp who has no education training or experience starts “teach for a minute” and her husband becomes the CEO of the KIPP schools. Wendy and Richard who both have no teaching experience each receive grants of $50,000,000 from the Department of Education for their respective organizations. They also receive obscene amounts for money from Gates, Broad, the Walton Foundation, the Fisher Foundation and many more. Such large grants that the two $50 million grants from the Department of Education look like chump change.

The Education Next quotation above mentions Michael Feinberg and David Levine. These two each had two years’ experience teaching as TFA teachers in Huston when they started a charter school destined to be the second largest charter school chain in America, KIPP. Their five weeks of training and two years’ experience earned them almost immediate financing from Scott Hamilton and the Fisher Foundation for their new project.

As is consistent with all developments in the profit and privatize movement, all of the players seem to take credit for founding the Relay Graduate School of Education. Like the uncertified Broad Academy for Administrators, its purpose is de-professionalizing public education. 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.”

 How absurd is a graduate school of education based on the writings of a guy who has almost no experience in education? These things do not pass the smell test. Ultimately it is about getting at the massive amount of money taxpayers provide for education. In a level playing field none of these people would be taken seriously and we would have never heard of them. But they suited the interests of some wealthy, arrogant and morally bankrupt individuals. Their rewards for privatizing schools are enormous and just think about the kind of rewards the puppet masters are expecting.

In 2014, Annie Em wrote an article for Daily Kos that she called, “Is public school for Sale the Cost of KIPP.” Check out these eye-poppingly corrupt and large remunerations:

“Michael Feinberg works 30 hours a week for KIPP Foundation at San Francisco for $196,117; 50 hours at KIPP, Inc. in Houston for $216,865 for a total of 80 hours and $412,982 annually.

“David Levin works 30 works hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco for $175,000; 50 hours at KIPP New York City for $243,189; 5 hours at Uncommon Knowledge and Achievement for $50,000 NYC; and an unspecified amount at Relay Graduate School of Education NYC for a total of 85 hours+ and $468,189+ annually.

“Wendy Kopp works for Teach for America (also Teach for All, Teach for China, and Broad Center for Management of School Systems) supplying uncertified corps members to serve as teachers at KIPP for which she is compensated $468,452 annually.  KIPP schools would not be sustainable without the overworked, underpaid faux teachers provided by TFA. Wendy’s a busy girl and extremely well-compensated for having zero education credentials.

“Richard Barth works 60 hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco (while living in New York) and is compensated $374,868 annually. He, too, has zero education credentials.”

 By the way, the largest charter school system in the United States is under the control of the mysterious Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gülen.

All of this is harmful. It is stinking thinking to allow children to be educated by people that do not know what they are doing or have agendas that are not necessarily aligned with the best interests of America. It is time to end the raid on education dollars by privatized schools and phony educations schemes designed to sell technology. Opt out of charter school. Opt out of testing. Opt out of computer delivered bad education.