Tag Archives: Christianity

Is Inspire Charter School the Next A3 Education?

9 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/9/2019

Inspire Charter School mirrors the methods of A3 Education. It employs practices strikingly similar to those that led to May’s 67-count indictment against A3’s leaders. Furthermore, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) took the unusual step of sharing concerns about Inspire and A3 with California authorities. Both are virtual schools that concentrate on obtaining authorization from small school districts. These systems have a similar structure in which a central organization controls the schools that are contracting with it and they transfer funds among multiple organizations making it difficult to monitor their activities. Students at Inspire and A3 struggle academically.

Inspire picture 5

The First Inspire Charter School Opened in 2014

The Acton-Aqua Dulce Unified School District is infamous for authorizing suspect charter applications while not having the resources to adequately monitor those schools. It enrolls 1085 public school students and 14,734 charter school students. Acton-Aqua Dulce authorized Inspire’s first charter school which was located in Los Angeles County. Strangely, Inspire Charter grew from 151 students in the 2014-15 school year to 4,321 students in the 2018-19 school year and then closed up shop this June 30th.

Founder Nick Nichols needed a program that would service his target audience of home school students.  The Inspire 2016 tax form shows that he purchased curriculum from Academic Arts and Action for $149,625. This is notable because the chairman of Academic Arts and Action was Jason Schrock and the President was Sean McManus. That is the same Schrock and McManus indicted in the A3 scandal.

The education writer for the San Diego Union Tribune (UT), Kristen Taketa, has been relentlessly pursuing the Inspire story. She explains one of the the charters selling points,

“Inspire parents have been able to spend state-provided money on expenses they say are educational, from Disneyland annual passes to private ice skating coaching. The list of places where Inspire parents could spend school funds has included Costco, Amazon, Big Air Trampoline Park, Medieval Times, Guitar Center and the DNA testing company 23 and Me, according to Inspire’s list of approved vendors.”

Inspire provides each parent $2600 to $3000 to spend on field trips and other educational resources.

In 2015, Inspire rolled out a successful but legally questionable method for attracting students. They offered parents $200 paid out of enrichment funds for every student they recruited and they incentivized staff $100 in extra work hours for each learner they signed.

Last year Nick Nichols oversaw nine schools with 23,300 total students. In the 2016-17 school year, Inspire took in $76,018,441 yet their debt was skyrocketing. Their pay for officers went from $65,318 for the 2014-15 school year to $2,011,898 in the 2016-17 school year. Nick Nichols did especially well.

Inspire Income-Debt-Wages-Table

Data from Inspire Tax Documents

The UT’s Taketa reports, “Inspire expects to pull in $285 million in state funding this school year.”

Inspire just secured another $50,000,000 loan from the California School Finance Authority. With booming student daily attendance income and large financial backing from the state, it is strange that Nick Nichols chose now to take a temporary leave of absence. Former Mount Diablo Superintendent of Schools and Inspire’s chief operating officer, Steven Lawrence, is taking over as executive director.

Unethical and Academically Miserable

It is not just the CCSA but other destroy-public-education (DPE) groups like APLUS+, who labels itself “the leading voice for the personalized learning choice” are alarmed by Inspire. Aplus+ director Jeff Rice stated, “We are all concerned about actors like this who are repeatedly violating generally acceptable best practices.” Rice removed Inspire as a member school in 2016.

In March of 2018, the Winship-Robbins school district threatened to rescind Inspire North’s charter because of what then-Superintendent Laurie Goodman called “gross financial management.” Taketa revealed, “Four months after she issued the notice of violation to Inspire, Goodman left her job at Winship-Robbins and became Inspire’s director of leadership development, according to her LinkedIn profile.”

Inspire Charter School Network

Authorizing Districts are Small with Histories of Lax Charter Oversight

Shortly after the A3 Education indictments, Carol Burris, writing in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet observed, “From 2009-2015, McManus was the CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools for which he served as CEO from 2009-2016, developing his model of using cash-strapped, small districts as authorizers of online charter schools that draw students from all over adjoining counties in exchange for fees.” Herbert “Nick” Nichols has followed the same strategy at Inspire.

With the coming 2-year moratorium on virtual schools in California, it appears there was a big push to get six new schools authorized before 2020. Taketa shared, “Inspire has been submitting petitions to districts this summer to open new schools, but it withdrew at least two after district officials questioned Inspire’s practices.” Irvine Unified School District had their lawyer respond to Inspire’s charter school petition. The lawyer presented more than 100 requests for more information including:

“What systems, policies, and procedures does Inspire have in place to ensure that public school charter funds are being spent in a proper manner and that a gift of public funds is not taking place?”

“Does Inspire require parents to produce receipts for all purchases?”

“Has Inspire conducted an audit of these funds to be sure that they are properly spent?”

“Is the charter school required to contract with Inspire or may it contract with other vendors for services?”

Four Inspire Charter schools changed their name this summer. San Diego’s Inspire South became Cabrillo Point Academy and Inspire Central is now Yosemite Valley Charter. Inspire North has changed to Feather River Charter and Inspire Kern’s new name is Blue Ridge Academy. They all removed Inspire from their name. Attorney Sarah Sutherland who has represented school districts in charter school litigation noted, “They can morph their existence and change their names faster than anyone can keep up with recognizing they’re the same organization.”

Charter school competitors believe Inspire is using unethical practices to poach from other schools. Terri Schiavone, the Founder and Director of Golden Valley Charter School in Ventura said her school is one of many that are losing students to Inspire Charter.

Schiavone claimed on NBC channel 39, “They target a school and then they try to get as many of their teachers and students as possible.” She said families and teachers are given incentives like using instructional funds to buy tickets to theme parks and there is a lack of oversight and accountability. Schiavone also points out that parents can buy whatever they want from vendors who she says are not fingerprinted or qualified.

The UT’s Taketa observed, “There are virtually no state rules about how home school charter families are allowed to use enrichment funds, partly because home school charters are not well-known outside of home school circles.”

Inspire picture 2

An Enrichment Opportunity Posted on the Inspire Facebook Page

Poor academic performance plagues Inspire. The graduation rate was only 69 percent last year and just 7 of 209 graduates met California state college admissions requirements.

In 2014, California adopted the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System. These Smarter Balanced assessments are new computer-based tests that measure student knowledge of California’s English and mathematics common core standards. The results show 2 categories for students who achieved an arbitrary expectation level and 2 categories for students who did not. For simplicity the 2 met expectations results are added together. Using these results, the following comparison data table was constructed.

Testing Data Comparison Chart

CAASPP Data Comparing Inspire Results with California Results

Standardized testing does not do a good job of measuring school quality, but it does a very good job of identifying poverty and language learners. That is what makes these results so stunningly awful for Inspire. California data shows 60.9 percent students in poverty and 19.3 percent English language learners. Inspire schools report 38.8 percent students in poverty and 2 percent English language learners. With their demographic advantage, it is difficult to explain away Inspires miserable testing results.

Opinion

There are a few obvious questions about Inspire Schools that need an answer. Why did Nick Nichols step down in September? Why did Inspire close its oldest and apparently lucrative school? Is any district attorney currently investigating Inspire? If not, why not?

Terri Schiavone also mentioned on Channel 39 News,

“It’s very desirable for some parents to enroll in schools in which nobody’s looking over their shoulder. They can utilize whatever curriculum they want, including religious curriculum, which is illegal if using public dollars.”

The National Center for Education Statistics did a 2003 study on why parents choose to homeschool their children. They found that 72% cited being able to “provide religious or moral instruction”.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos sat down for a lengthy interview at The Gathering which Jay Michaelson described as the “hub of Christian Right organizing.” Betsy said,

There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.

Dick lamented the fact that schools have displaced churches as the center of community activities. He says that Bill Bennett’s new K12 Inc. cyber schools although not Christian could be a great help to evangelical homeschoolers.

I have always felt that it is an Americans right to choose where their children are educated. I also believe in free universal public education. However, it should not be the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for people’s private choices. If parents do not want their children in the free taxpayer funded school system, that is fine, but that choice should not be subsidized by the government.

Cyber schools have consistently achieved horrible academic results and at the same time been the center of amazing corruption and greed. Just look at what happened at A3 Education. It is time to end public spending on cyber education and to remember President Ulysses S. Grant’s admonition,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

Pearson Embraces a Digital Knock-Off of Authentic Education

6 Jun

By T. Ultican 7/6/2019

The world’s largest publishing company is betting on cyber education. Great Britain’s Pearson Corporation took a financial beating when common core state testing did not turn into a planned for cash cow and concurrently the market for text books slowed. With its world-wide reach, Pearson’s new play is for digital education to open up global markets. The corporation envisions creating life-long relationships with its customers to provide virtual schooling, professional certifications, assessments, and other services.

In April, Education International Research published “Pearson 2025 Transforming teaching and privatising education data.” Authors Sam Sellar and Anna Hogan report,

“Pearson aims to lead the ‘next generation’ of teaching and learning by developing digital learning platforms, including Artificial Intelligence in education (AIEd). It is piloting new AI technologies that it hopes will enable virtual tutors to provide personalised learning to students, much like Siri or Alexa. This technology will be integrated into a single platform—Pearson Realize™—that has now been integrated with Google Classroom.”

“… [I]ts corporate strategy is premised upon creating disruptive changes to (a) the teaching profession, (b) the delivery of curriculum and assessment and (c) the function of schools, particularly public schooling. These disruptions do not follow a coherent set of educational principles, but capriciously serve the interests of the company’s shareholders.

Two main concerns accompany Person’s new agenda. (1) The privatization of data and infrastructure will turn the commons into private assets. (2) Diminishing the teaching profession will transform education from its broad purposes such as social development and creative thinking into a focus on individual knowledge and skills. And looming over the entire enterprise is the risk of data breach which is sure to occur. Sellar and Hogan note that securing data “can be difficult, if not impossible to achieve, even with the help of advanced privacy preservation techniques.

Pearson currently has a presence in 60 counties. One of their clients is Bridge International for which they provide digital services and scripted lessons for low cost privatized education in Africa. In Diane Ravitch’s new Book The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch, she notes this is the company whose founders claimed it had the potential to become a billion dollar company selling school for between $46 and $126 dollars per year to poor families. Besides Pearson, “the investors include Bill Gates, the Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the World Bank.

Sellar and Hogan note, “At the 2018 AGM [Annual General Meeting], Pearson announced a £750 million investment in new technologies and platforms to provide new digital services, which it claims will provide educators with real-time data and “smart” assessments for their students, blended learning models that partner with existing educational institutions, and new kinds of educational programming.

In the United States, Pearson is concentrating on expanding their virtual charter school business. Mercedes Schneider reported on Pearson’s February 2019 earnings call. She wrote,

“Pearson is focused on expanding its Connections Academy market. Pearson is undergoing restructuring; it has (and continues to) reduce its workforce and has been selling off less-profitable companies in an effort to recover from unrealized profits, including those Pearson expected from Common Core (CC) and CC-related PARCC testing.”

Pearson Call 4

Connections Academy Slide Pearson Presented at the 2019 Earning Call

Virtual Schools Bring Low Costs and Poor Academics

May 28th, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado released its annual report on virtual schools. The report was written by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Najat Elgeberi, Michael K. Barbour, Luis Huerta, Sheryl Rankin Shafer, and Jennifer King Rice. In the report introduction they state,

“Many argue that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms, giving it the potential to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. These claims are not supported by the research evidence; nonetheless, the promise of lower costs—primarily for instructional personnel and facilities—continues to make virtual schools financially appealing to both policymakers and for-profit providers.”

In the 2017-18 school year, nearly 300,000 students were enrolled across 501 full-time virtual schools. Poor academic performance and terrible graduation rates were a consistent characteristic of these schools. The authors recommended, “Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.”

Emily Tate interviewed one of the report authors – Michael K. Barbour an NEPC Fellow – for her edsurge.com article, “Despite Poor Performance, Virtual School Enrollment Continues to Grow”. Tate wrote,

“But even as the sector grows, one thing remains constant, Barbour says: ‘Students in these programs—both full-time online programs and blended schools—tend not to do as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.’

“He adds: ‘There’s not really a rationale for the growth, based on performance.’”

In an April EdWeek article, Arianna Prothero and Alex Harwin reported, “Nationally, half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year.” They also shared, “The most high-profile study, done by economists at Stanford University in 2015, found that students attending an online charter school made so little progress in math over the course of a year that it was as if they hadn’t attended school at all.”

Prothero and Harwin’s article contains an interactive chart showing which cyber schools in each state did or did not achieve a 50% graduation rate over the past four years. “Out of the 163 schools, in some states, such as Indiana, not a single virtual charter school operating in 2016-17 had a graduation rate over 50 percent in the past four years.

If cyber schools have such poor academic outcomes, what explains parents putting their children in them? One clue can be found in a 2001 interview with Dick and Betsy DeVos at the Gathering, a group that Jay Michaelson describes as the “hub of Christian Right organizing.” Betsy said, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.” Dick lamented the fact that schools have displaced churches as the center of community activities. He then mentions that Bill Bennett is involved in something that could be quite helpful. He says Bennett’s new K12 Inc. cyber schools although not Christian could be a great help to Evangelical homeschoolers.

California Connections Academy

Map of California Connections Academy Structure

This Little Sis Map Shows the Structure of California Connections Academy in 2017

On September 18, 2018 a Mercury News lead read, “California has just kicked for-profit management companies out of the charter school business.” However, the new law is quite flawed. A for-profit company can create a non-profit to run the schools and then the non-profit in turn hires the for-profit management company to provide operating services and materials.

In 2011, Pearson Corporation purchased the cyber charter school company Connections Academy for $400,000,000. At the time Pearson said that this purchase gave them a leading position in the emerging cyber education arena.

Fortunately for Pearson, in California the Connections Academy cyber business was being run by the three non-profits shown in blue on the map. All three of the non-profits provide a similar explanation of their structure to this one in Capistrano Connections Academy’s 2016 form 990:

“Capistrano Connections Academy has a shared services agreement in place which includes the sharing of school staff and various other expenses between a network of charter schools. This agreement involves three non-profit public benefit corporations Capistrano Connections Academy, Alpaugh Academies, and friends of California Virtual Education. The school has also contracted with a third-party organization (Connections Academy of California, LLC a subsidiary of Connections Education, LLC) to provide educational products and services to the school. Due to delays in the receipts of state funding the school has arranged with Connections Education to process its payroll including the paying of school staff which requires the use of Connections Education, LLC’s EIN number. As part of this arrangement, the school reimburses connections education for paying staff as funding becomes available. As all staff members are reported on the school’s behalf using the EIN of Connections Education, LLC, no employees are listed as part of this return.”

There is some confusion in this statement. For example, Alpaugh Academies is also referred to as California on Line Public Schools (CalOps) and on December 18, 2017, Connections Academy of California, LLC submitted a termination statement to the California Secretary of State. It appears the Baltimore based Connections Education, LLC is now paying the bills and collecting the service fees through its Minnesota office. Also, there are two employees listed on the three non-profit tax form 990’s (Capistrano, CalOps and Friends). Director of Business Services, Franci Sassin receives more than $143,000 yearly and Executive Director, Richard Savage receives more than $225,000 yearly in total from the three non-profits.

There are four Connections Academy schools shown on the Little Sis map in yellow. In addition, a fifth school, California Connections Academy Central Coast is listed by the state as pending opening September 3, 2019. That must be one of the “strong pipeline of 2-5 new schools in 2019” Pearson referenced in their earnings call.

Locally we have been buzzing over the San Diego Union report, “Two charter school leaders illegally pocketed more than $50 million of state funds by siphoning the money through a network of 19 online charter schools across California which falsely enrolled thousands of students, prosecutors alleged Wednesday.” One of the issues cited in this scam was that little 145-student Dehesa School District in the mountains east of San Diego authorized 3 of these-cyber charters all outside of their district boundaries.

The Connections Academy model is not that different. According the 2018-2019 Connections Academy School Profile, “Capistrano Connections Academy is an accredited, virtual public charter school serving students in grades K–12 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.” However, Capistrano Connections Academy is only authorized by one school district, Capistrano Unified. The other three schools have a similar territory outside of their authorizer’s district.

Table 1: Connections Academy Enrollment by Grade

Connections Academy Enrollment

What kind of education are those more than 1,000 students in the primary grades receiving? They certainly are not being socialized with other community members and it is well known that too much screen time is unhealthy for children.

Table 2: Connections Academy Graduation and ELL Rates Compared to the State

Connections Academy Graduation and EL

Sadly, these Connections Academy graduation rates are good compared to their peers in the cyber school industry. However, they are not acceptable as an education policy. In California, English language learners (ELL) are 19.3% of the enrollment which is by far the largest ELL percentage in the nation. As is typical of cyber schools the ELL percentage at Connections Academy is only 3.6%.

In an Education Week investigation of cyber schools, Benjamin Herold called it a “Broken Model” and summed it up this way,

“The schools are based on an educational model that doesn’t work for most kids. Many cyber operators have cashed in anyway, expanding aggressively, often with the help of their boards. Rather than pump the brakes, cyber authorizers have frequently gone along for the ride. And state lawmakers have repeatedly looked the other way, usually at the urging of lobbyists who fight tooth and nail against even modest attempts to improve oversight or limit growth.”

Some Conclusions

Pearson Corporation is an amoral entity that is not terribly invested in much beyond profit margin. They have made another bad bet. AI is science fiction and central to their latest education initiative is the Orwellianly labeled “personalized learning”. A Child sitting at screens responding to computer generated algorithms is as impersonal as it gets. Students hate it.

Policy makers like the cyber concept because they see the possibility of reducing the largest costs in public schools, teachers’ salaries and facilities. Reactionaries see cyber charters as one more positive step toward ending public education. However, people are catching onto this attack on the commons and do not like it.

Making war is not a legitimate central purpose of government; education is. Reduce the embarrassing military industrial complex and put some of those savings into revitalizing public education. Our children deserve small classes in top notch facilities that are well maintained and staffed with certificated professional educators.

It does not take much to see that a wide deployment of taxpayer-funded lightly-regulated cyber schools is a horrible idea. They already have a stunning history of corruption and bad outcomes. If homeschoolers choose to use cyber education, that is fine but there is no need for taxpayers to fund that private choice. There is a small legitimate need for cyber education, but those schools should be administered by elected school boards and not by profiteering corporations.

Jeb Bush’s A+ Education Reform is a Reform Disaster

15 May

By T. Ultican 5/15/2019

During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign Jeb Bush proposed his A+ Education Reform. This March, Sue M. Legg, Ph.D. produced a paper that studies the results twenty years later. Professor Legg observed,

“It is critically important to recognize whose interests are being served in this school reform process. School reform had little to do with student achievement and everything to do with money and politics.”

The plan had four main components; (1) demanding curriculum standards, (2) annual testing for grades 3 – 10, (3) assigning A – F grades to schools based on testing results and (4) school choice. It was a plan for improving education without increasing spending. Or was it primarily a plan for defeating Democrats, promoting religion and making profits?

Speaking at the 2012 Republican National Convention Jeb Bush made clear his antipathy toward public schools, teachers and their unions. He said,

“There are many people who say they support strong schools but draw the line at school choice.

“Sorry, kid. Giving you equal opportunity would be too risky. And it will upset powerful political forces that we need to win elections.

“I have a simple message for these masters of delay and deferral: Choose. You can either help the politically powerful unions. Or you can help the kids.”

“We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. ….

“Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.”

When the A+ Program was adopted in 1999, Florida had consistently scored among the bottom third of US states on standardized testing. The following two data sets indicate no improvement and Florida now scoring in the bottom fourth.

NAEP Rankings

Florida’s Relative Ranking among US States on NAEP Math and Reading Testing

SAT ACT Comparison

ACT and SAT State Rankings and Score Averages

Florida adopted a mandatory third grade retention policy as part of the reform agenda. In 2002-3, fourteen percent of all third graders were retained, nearly twenty-eight thousand children. Since Florida was the first state to have mandatory third grade retention, it is logical that its average scores in a national fourth grade assessment the following year would improve its national ranking. This was a very controversial policy with supporters claiming a huge success while detractors claimed the testing improvement were the result of other changes to reading instruction in Florida. In 2014, the Helios Foundation commissioned a study of the Florida results and concluded,

“While Florida’s third grade reading policy enjoys less definitive evidence of success than its most vocal proponents claim, it has improved retained students’ performance in math and reading up to seventh grade and decreased their likelihood of future retention. It remains unknown what (retention or remediation or the two together) drove the impacts in Florida.

In 1998, while Jeb Bush was running to be the next Governor of the state, there was a constitutional amendment on the ballot calling for all students to have equal access to a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools”. It passed with strong support. Professor Legg stated, “The intent was clear: no public money to private schools.” There has been a constant tension played out in Florida courts between Bush’s school choice ideology and this constitutional amendment. In January, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 against the 2009 law suit challenging Florida’s tax credit voucher program based on the 1998 constitutional amendment.

Last year, 21 percent of Florida’s students were enrolled in private and charter schools. The Florida tax credit scholarships (FTCS) went to 1,700 private schools and were awarded to over 100,000 students. Most of those students are in religious schools. Splitting public funding between three systems – public, charter and private – has insured mediocrity in all three systems.

Privatization Politics and Profiteering

Too understand Florida’s education reform, it is important to realize that its father, Jeb Bush, is the most doctrinal conservative in the Bush family. He fought for six years to keep feeding tubes inserted into Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistently vegetative state. Jeb was the Governor who signed the nation’s first “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. During his first unsuccessful run for governor in 1994, Bush ‘“declared himself a ‘head-banging conservative’; vowed to ‘club this government into submission’; and warned that ‘we are transforming our society to a collectivist policy.”

After his 1994 loss, Bush joined the Heritage Foundation board. In a New Yorker article, Alec MacGillis wrote, “Bush found a compatible source for ideas on education when he joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers.” The elements of what became his A+ Plan for education reform came from the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank founded in 1973. Heritage distinguished itself from another successful conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, with its advocacy of Christian conservatism.

MacGillis further shared,

“Bush’s most influential adviser was Patricia Levesque, a former legislative aide to the state House Republican leadership and a graduate of Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist Christian school in South Carolina. (She greeted a new hire in Bush’s administration by asking him if he had “found a church home” yet in Tallahassee.)”

Jim Warford, whom Bush selected to be his K-12 schools chancellor in 2003, said of Bush, “He saw the teachers’ unions as one of the foundations of the Democratic Party, and he saw a great advantage—that anything he could do to undercut the teachers’ union would have a political return.”

It appears that Bush’s school reforms were motivated more by politics and religion than by improving education. However, it is profiteering that has gotten completely out of hand in Florida.

In 1996, Bush founded a charter school with the help of Jonathan Hage. In 2002, the Saint Petersburg Times reported,

“Jonathan Hage, a former Heritage Foundation researcher and political protege of Gov. Jeb Bush, has turned Florida’s charter school program into a growing for-profit business empire. Five years after borrowing $5,000 to start up Charter Schools USA, Hage took in $40-million last year [that’s 2001] — almost all of it from the government.”

In 2012, CSUSA took in $285,000,000. Today on their LinkedIn page they claim,

“Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) is one of the fastest growing education management companies in the U.S. We represent over 70,000+ students and 83 schools in 6 states.”

A League of Women report shared the history of one CSUSA charter school. CSUSA (the CMO) had purchased a former American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) call center for about $1.2 million. CSUSA flipped the building several times and had the property reappraised. They invested $1.5 million in upgrades. A final appraisal was for $9 million dollars. The charter board signed an escalating lease for over a million dollars per year that in time will surpass the school’s budget. (The County Property Appraiser served a short term on the CSUSA board.)

Bush’s younger brother Neil somehow got out of Colorado after the collapse of his Silverado Savings and Loan cost taxpayers a billion dollars with no legal charges filed against him. Could it be that the President being his father influenced the charging? Neil showed up in Florida in 2002 to sell a new standardized testing preparation program for Florida’s new statewide testing. A progressive weekly report stated, “ Critics say it doesn’t look right for Neil Bush to be marketing his software to Florida schools.”

Professor Legg says that political interests from both sides of the isle see charter schools as a business opportunity. She reports,

“Former Vice President Biden’s brother runs the for-profit Mavericks charters. A Bush family friend launched Imagine schools, Florida’s third largest for-profit charter chain. Several Florida politicians including former Senate President, Joe Negron, and the former Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran launched charter schools.”

“Questions about conflict of interest claims have been made against current and former legislators involved in educational policy e.g. Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Eric Fresen , Byron Donalds, former House Education Chair Michael Bileca, former Senate President Joe Negron, Anitere Flores and others. They all have personal ties to the charter industry and held or hold important education committee positions.”

Several of the politicians named by Legg have formed an alliance to promote the Classical Academy charter schools. Legg described the school and named the players,

“Classical Academies are sponsored by the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. This Michigan private college has a long religious, conservative/libertarian tradition. The DeVos immediate family includes several Hillsdale graduates. The Barney (SmithBarney) and Stanton Foundation fund the initiative. According to Salon, the Koch brothers are also contributors.

“Erika Donalds and her husband, Representative Byron Donalds, co-founded one of the Classical Academies in Collier County and were members of its governing board. Donalds formed an alliance with the wife of the 2017 Florida Senate president, Joe Negron, to open Treasure Coast Academy Classical Academy in Martin County. Donalds also filed paperwork for a nonprofit entity called ‘Alpha’. Anne Corcoran, wife of the newly appointed Florida Commissioner of Education, opened a classical academy in Pasco County and assisted with one in Tallahassee. Representative Michael Bileca’s foundation donates to True North Classical Academy in Miami, according to the Miami Herald.”

It has taken money to keep these blatant conflicts of interest and the anti-public education leadership in place. In the fall of 2018, Integrity Florida published a report called The Hidden Costs of Charter School Choice. They detail $13,666,531 in political campaign donations from 1998-2016 from the Florida charter school industry. All Children Matter (founded by Betsy DeVos), American Federation for Children, and the Alliance for School Choice raised over $19 million dollars. The Walton family, John Kirtley, Gary Chartrand (member of the Florida State Board of Education), CSUSA and Academica are listed as major donors. This advocacy for a political and religious ideology permeates all aspects of the process of authorizing and expanding charter schools in Florida.

Selling Education Technology and Taxpayer Funded Religious Schools

Bush Levesque

After leaving state government, Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now.

Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise (a Democrat) was selected to lead Digital Learning Now. In a joint article Bush and Wise claimed,

Digital learning can customize and personalize education so all students learn in their own style at their own pace, which maximizes their chances for success in school and beyond. With digital learning, every student—from rural communities to inner cities—can access high quality and rigorous courses in every subject, including foreign languages, math and science.

 Digital learning can also be the catalyst for transformational change in education.

The article, Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs, explains that digital learning is a costly attempt to replace expensive teachers with cheaper and more profitable technology. There are many negatives associated with digital learning and no large scale benefits. Nevertheless in 2011 the state of Florida passed the Digital Learning Now Act. The official description says it “requires full-time & part-time school district virtual instruction program options; provides funding & accountability requirements; requires online learning course for high school graduation ….”

Patricia Levesque is FEE’s CEO leading the charge to privatize public education and direct tax money to religious schools. The Huffington Post described the funders of FEE,

“Bush foundation donors include family philanthropies, such as those established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Corporate donors include Connections Education, a division of global publishing giant Pearson ; Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp ; and K12, a publicly traded company that runs online schools.”

On line education is valued by the growing Christian home-schooling movement.

FEE launched an advocacy group, Chiefs for Change, to promote many of Bush’s K-12 education policies around the country. Membership in Chiefs now includes 1 in every 5 school superintendents in America. In the Public Interest, a D.C.-based non-profit group has released thousands of e-mails that link Chiefs for Change to corporations and education officials who are attempting to help state legislators write laws that will directly benefit their organizations financially. The Contributor reported,

“The emails are primarily between Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which both share a vision of for-profit education fueled by charter schools, online education and standardized testing. The groups share many of the same donors and officials as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing for a similar ‘education’ agenda.” 

Conclusion

Politics, profits and religion are driving the destruction of public education in Florida. The Bush/Heritage A+ education plan has not improved test scores but it has undermined the education of the almost 80 percent of students still in public schools.

To avoid spending more money on public schools, Florida decided that market forces and technology would solve the problems associated with poverty. When voters in Florida voted for class size reduction, Bush responded,

“So please do not confuse Florida’s class-size amendment with reform. Reform is about creating a more efficient, more effective education system that meets the needs of children. The class-size amendment has been a hugely expensive diversion from that goal.”

Betsy DeVos called Florida an example; I agree. Florida has many excellent educators but the political leadership has sent the public education system into a downward spiral. Look at other failed examples like Washington DC, New Orleans, Denver, Detroit, Oakland, etc. All of them embrace the Florida education reform model. Choice is an American right, but taxpayers are not responsible to pay for private choices.

For 200 years, America’s unparalleled public education system has been the foundation for democracy, the center of community life and the fertile soil of creativity. For 200 years, this great good has been under constant attack but it has persevered. The time has come to rally around our national treasure (public education) and turn away the profiteers, religious zealots and political opportunists.

Sketchy Epic Cyber Charter Has Gone National

4 May

By T. Ultican 5/4/2019

Epic is the business name for Oklahoma’s indigenous and fastest growing virtual charter school chain. In 2015, they moved beyond Oklahoma opening a business in Orange County, California and are currently in contract talks with Pulaski County, Arkansas to provide online education. EPIC’s fast growth has been accompanied by continuous legal problems, charges of political improprieties and claims of unethical aggressive marketing.

The Founders

Ben Harris and David Chaney, two long time friends from Oklahoma City, founded Epic.

Harris and Chaney

The Founders of EPIC Virtual Charter Schools

In 1999, One year after Harris was awarded a Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University, he and Chaney founded Advanced Academics Inc. Today Pearson Corporation the large British testing and publishing company owns Advanced Academics which sells credit recovery courses and software for virtual classes.

Both Harris and Chaney went to work for Jeb Bush in 2003 at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Harris was soon made the Deputy Secretary in charge of technology. He worked under Secretary Jerry Regier who had previously run health and human services in Oklahoma. It was here that Harris made a name for himself by privatizing the child welfare system. However, all was not well.

Megan Rolland of the Tulsa World reported,

“In July 2004, a whistle-blower investigation revealed that Harris had accepted trips, dinners and other favors from companies looking to contract with the social services agency.

“Harris resigned and a full criminal investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began. No charges were filed.

“The investigation did find that both Harris and Chaney were involved in a number of questionable contracts awarded to vendors that appeared to circumvent the state’s bidding process.

“One of those questionable contracts was awarded to Florida State University’s Institute of Health and Human Services, where Elizabeth VanAcker worked.”

“VanAcker also sits on the board of a nonprofit in Florida that has submitted seven charter school applications for virtual schools that propose contracting exclusively with Advanced Academics.”

“VanAcker’s company — formerly named Edmetrics — created the Epic 1 on 1 Charter School website for Community Strategies Inc.”

Rolland’s Report also shared some founding details about the business originally called Epic 1 on 1 charter schools,

 “Harris is listed as a registered agent for Community Strategies Inc., the nonprofit that is opening Epic 1 on 1 Charter School. He uses his home address on the corporate papers, and he worked behind the scenes to get the school approved by the University of Central Oklahoma.”

In 2009 – just prior to founding Epic – Harris was Chief Financial Officer of Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, California. The CEO of Velocity Sports Performance when Harris arrived there was Troy Medley, who is now Chairman of the Board for Epic in California.

Epic Found a Way into Orange County, California

Epic is an acronym for excellence, performance, innovation and citizenship. In California the non-profit business name is Next Generation Education. In Oklahoma the non-profit business name is Community Strategies Inc. Neither Epic founder, David Chaney nor Ben Harris, sits on the board of either Next Generation Education in California or Community Strategies Inc. in Oklahoma.

Rather, David Chaney serves as both superintendent of the nonprofit Epic Charter Schools and CEO of Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee. Chaney owns the for-profit corporation, which originally had Harris’s home address listed on the incorporating papers.

A report in the Oklahoma Watch described the Epic business structure:

“The nonprofit contracts with Epic Youth Services, a for-profit company that manages the school for a fee of 10 percent of Epic’s gross revenue. Epic Youth Services, in turn, contracts with Advanced Academics, a division of Connections Education, a Pearson company. Calvert Partners and Beasley Technology also have contracts with Epic Youth Services.”

It appears that the structure is the same in California. In the Next Generation Education board meeting notes, Ben Harris is referenced as providing updates from the charter management organization (CMO) which is Epic Youth Services.

This Byzantine structure hides the fact that Epic is a for profit business cloaked in a non-profit’s suit, thus skirting California’s prohibition against for profit charters. It also means that in their tax forms, the non-profit only reports costs and no salaries. For example, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017 Community Strategies Inc. the Oklahoma non-profit reported revenues of $41,487,230 and expenditures of $40,105,203. However, the non-profit reported no salaries because the for-profit does payroll. There is no way for taxpayers to see how many public dollars are going into private hands.

In 2015, EPIC petitioned the Anaheim City School District (an elementary school district) for its first charter outside of Oklahoma. The districts staff investigated the petition, came back with a long list of deficiencies and made a strong denial recommendation. After reviewing the report the district board voted 5 – 0 to deny.

The following three deficiencies are among the more than 20 deficiencies cited:

(1) California charter law requires new charter petitioners to gather signatures showing a demand for the school. When Anaheim City School District started checking the signatures, the majority response they heard was “I don’t know what you are talking about.” They checked 109 of the 526 signatures and these are some of the responses,

“I’ve never heard of EPIC.”

“No, but if you ever need someone to sign a petition to help you with your funding just let me know.”

“I don’t remember signing any petition.”

“I like the school my kids go to, I thought I was just signing a petition saying I am in favor of charter schools.”

“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m in China.” 

(2) The plan for special education was almost non-existent.

(3) There was no workable plan for English language learners (EL’s).

A widely held belief says charter schools find ways not to enroll more expensive students to educate such as EL’s. The enrollment data for school year 2017-2018 indicates that Epic still has no viable support for EL’s. That appears to be a feature not a flaw.

EL Percentage

At Epic’s 2015 appeal to the Orange County School Board, Leslie Coghlan speaking for the Anaheim City School District explained their petition denial and concluded with,

We would also like to note that at our public hearings in the Anaheim City School District there were not any members of our community that came out to support the charter school at the public hearings. And one of our final concerns is that the Epic’s Oklahoma program is involved in litigation with the Oklahoma Department of Education and currently the subject of a fraud investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation concerning falsification of records to fraudulently receive payments from the Department of Education.

At that same 2015 hearing, Ben Harris defended Epic against the fraud investigation charge. He said, “This is based off a single news article several years ago that is proven to be false as no findings or issues have been raised.

In a 2016 article, KOSU radio of Tulsa and Oklahoma City reported on Epic’s California problems:

“In 2014, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin requested an investigation in to allegations of fraud at the school. … No charges have been filed, and no information has been released.”

“More recently, controversy over EPIC’s business practices came to light last month in an audit prepared by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which provides California school districts with financial and management support.

“The FCMAT audit alleges that Sue Roche, the founder of Oxford Preparatory Academy, which has two charter campuses in Orange County, formed an education management company called Edlighten Learning Solutions to launder school funds for personal profit.

“The audit lays out substantial financial ties between Edlighten and Ben Harris and David Chaney’s company, EPIC Youth Services. The audit says EPIC Youth Services received $5,000 a month from Edlighten for consulting services. The report contains emails between Roche and Harris, EPIC’s co-founder, in which they discuss moving personnel between Oxford Preparatory and their management companies to skirt legal issues.”

This February, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced that Epic is once again the target of both state and federal investigators. No additional information was released.

At Epic, a yearly $1500 payment is made into each student’s personal “learning fund” to buy school supplies or use for academically compatible activities. The Orange County Register noted, “Though money doesn’t wind up in the hands of parents or students, the learning fund can, for example, pay for horseback riding, music or dance lessons.” Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda called the practice, “predatory marketing.”

Virtual schools like Epic have a history of poor student outcomes. Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report sharply critical of virtual charter schools. And the Stanford study of online schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia found that during a 180-day school year, virtual students lost an average of 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days, or an entire school year, of learning in math.

“Why Would Anyone Support These Horrible Schools?”

A friend asked this question about Epic.

To get their foot in the door, Epic’s Ben Harris was able to use his personal connection with his former boss Troy Medley. Medley is currently President of Prima Health Credit of New Port Beach and he serves as Chairman of the Board for the charity Mortgage Miracles for the Kids. The President of Miracles, Autumn Strier – who previously worked for the Giuliani administration – joined Medley on the Next Generation Education (Epic) board as did another associated from Miracles, Chris Relth – a corporate head hunter.

Completing the five member Next Generation Education (Epic) board are Kenny Dodd, senior pastor at Claremont Emanuel Baptist Church in San Diego, and Alex Arcila of the Orange County Hispanic community. Medley is the board President.

Once Epic established an apparently reputable presence in Orange County, they were aided by the fact that this county is the most pro-business and privatization friendly place in California. For example, in the 2018 election for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond defeated former Charter School executive Marshall Tuck, but he didn’t come close to matching Tuck’s support in Orange County.

OC 2018 SPI Outcome

Orange County 2018 Election Tallies

During the appeal hearing at the Orange County School Board, the board staff concurred with the Anaheim City School District and recommended the appeal be denied. After the staff submitted their recommendations, representatives of the district made a presentation and Epic co-founder Ben Harris made a presentation. Public comment followed the presentations. There were just seven speakers all from Epic; Epic co-founder David Chaney, Epic’s attorney Michelle Lopez and the five Epic board members.

When the board voted on the Epic appeal, Orange County School Board Trustees Robert Hammond, David Boyd, Linda Lindholm and Ken Williams voted to grant Epic a charter.

This vote also reflected the power of billionaire spending on school privatization.

Buying the Election

Billionaire Money is Distorting Democratic Processes in Local Elections

All but one board member who voted to give Epic a charter received large campaign support from billionaires through three independent expenditure committees; California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSAA), Orange County Charter Advocates for Great Schools (which is sponsored by CCSAA) and the Lincoln Club of Orange County. David Boyd, Chancellor of The Taft University System, did not receive documented largess from the billionaires but his campaign did have odd financial support. He loaned his own campaign $72,000, got a $50,000 loan from Taft University and a $25,000 loan from Elizabeth Dorn’s campaign. More than $30,000 in loan debt was later forgiven.

In 2016, the Beverly Hills Billionaire, Howard Ahmanson Jr. (state major donor ID 479163) gave the OC Charter PAC $10,000 and the Local Liberty PAC (State ID 1291528) that Ahmanson finances provided them another $18,171.83.

Howard Ahmanson’s name sake father established the Ahmanson Family Foundation in 1952. Today, that foundation has slightly more than a billion dollars in assets. They give extensively to the arts and LA basin charter schools. In 2016, they gave $500,000 to the billionaire funded pro-school privatization youth group Teach For America. Howard runs the Fieldstad and Company arm of the Ahmanson foundation.

Roberta Ahmanson, Howard’s wife, is a serious Christian thinker and writer. She gave a speech titled “What Fundamentalism Gave Me” at the 2018 commencement for Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like Betsy DeVos, she is part of The Gathering. Roberta and her husband see Epic as a tool that benefits the Christian home schooling movement.

Some Observations

The Epic contract with Epic Youth Services calls for an annual $125,000 fee for “development services” plus 10% of net revenue be paid to the for profit managers of the CMO, Harris and Chaney. This means that in 2016 Epic Oklahoma paid Epic Youth Services more than $540,000 for their services; this doesn’t include the California revenue. Ben Harris and David Chaney are becoming wealthy men. Because of aggressive marketing which even led to taking over an entire rural school district in Oklahoma and expansion in California, the 2016 $42 million in revenue probably isn’t a forth of the 2019 projected revenue.

In December, Oklahoma Watch reported, “Epic’s two leaders also outspent the political action committee for the largest teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, which has 35,000 members across the state.” This looks very much like a replay of Bill Lager’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and his large political contributions leading to the continued fleecing of taxpayers in Ohio.

It is not in society’s interest to have children educated in isolation. Socialization is an important part of education. As Americans, we should have freedom of choice but we should not expect taxpayers to pay for those choices. If people want to home-school or put their children in private schools, that is their choice. It is more than sufficient for taxpayers to provide a world class professionally run public education system. Public money should not be transferred into private profiteering pockets.

Richie Rich’s Schools Targeted by Destroy Public Education Movement

21 Sep

Schools in wealthy white communities are no longer immune to the destroy public education (DPE) movement. A review of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) in San Diego County makes the point.

SDUHSD serves an area within the 1845 Mexican land grant to Juan Osuna known as Rancho San Dieguito. Osuna’s 1822 adobe home still stands on a knoll in the Rancho Santa Fe section. The school district includes the beach communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad. Away from the beach it covers the communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Camel Valley.

A 2017 study sponsored by SDUHSD indicates how financially comfortable the families in this school district are.

Table 1: Economic Data

District Family Data

Sixty-five percent of the students come from families making more than $75,000 and almost a quarter of those families are making greater than $200,000 a year. Whites and Asians constitute 87% of the district population.

California’s 2017-2018 enrollment data by subgroups shows the dramatic difference between SDUHSD and the rest of San Diego County.

Table 2: Subgroup Percentages

Enrollment Data Table

During the no child left behind (NCLB) era, the school I worked at had 75% English learners and 80% socioeconomically disadvantaged. The big metric that literally determined whether a school survived was the academic performance index (API). Its 1,000 point scale score was based on California’s standardized testing. Early on my school focused on scoring higher than a 600 API and latter we challenged a 700 API. Failure to meet those goals, meant by NCLB rules, the school would be closed, a minimum of 50% of the staff would be let go and new management would assume the school (possibly a charter group). If a school scored more than an 800 API, it was golden. SDUHSD averaged over 900 API as a district. Schools for poor kids and minorities were set up for possible failure, but schools for wealthy people’s children were safe.

“The Times They Are A-Changin”

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” He noted schools were purposely setup for failure and wrote,

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

No schools in middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods ever failed API and faced NCLB’s existential penalty. However, these neighborhoods are no longer exempt from attack by DPE forces.

Naturally, the five elementary school districts that feed into SDUHSD have similar subgroup and demographic data as SDUHSD. In 2006, the ten elementary schools in Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) scored 75% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 74% proficient or advanced in English language arts on California’s testing. By comparison, San Diego County schools scored 57% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 49% proficient or advanced in English language arts. That is when a proposal came forward to create a charter school for gifted students in Encinitas.

Maureen Mo Muir, a member of the SDUHSD board, previously served on the EUSD board. In her online resume, she claims to be “Founder and member of charter with emphasis on the gifted and differentiated curriculum (under the guidance of USC Education Professor Sandra Kaplan).” Her school was called the Theory into Practice Charter School (TIP). It is surprising that she still brings attention to her part in the TIP fiasco.

State records show that TIP opened September 5, 2006 and closed August 5, 2008. A scathing article in the Voice of San Diego, painted a picture of malfeasance and fraudulent practices. The lengthy article details a trail of charter schools failures, odd failed corporations and many fraud claims following the founding leaders of TIP. Reporter Emily Alpert wrote,

“Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same rigor and complexity as gifted children.”

“Shortly after the [new] bylaws [which gave Hazelton’s company control] materialized, [Mike] Hazelton was hired as chief operating officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000 surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton’s pay from $87,000 to $110,000.”

“And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation 1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum and administrative support.”

“The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both boards.” (Emphasis added)

The TIP charter was revoked August 5, 2008. It was the last charter school within the SDUHSD boundaries until 2016.

I Believe in School Choice

America’s public education system with locally elected school boards is widely viewed as the bedrock upon which the world’s oldest democracy resides. A key advantage for American children was they were not barred from middle-school or high-school by a standardized test; a common practice in most countries. There were no high stakes tests in the United States.

One measuring stick demonstrating how successful the American system was might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America has 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

In 2016 a new school was proposed in the Solana Beach. The School of Universal Learning (SOUL) petitioned SDUHSD for a charter. Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman and Dr. Wendy Kaveney are cited as founders. The mission statement from the petition says they will “provide exceptional education that awakens individuals to know who they are, discover their passions and purpose, and thrive holistically, to achieve both mental and life mastery.”

In the presentation to the SDUHSD board, the following images among many similar ones were shown.

SOUL Presentation

New Age Philosophy Being Taught in Taxpayer Funded School.

SOUL Presentation 2

This looks wonderful but should taxpayers be expected to fund it?

SDUHSD’s board rejected the petition by a vote of 5-0. They gave the SOUL team an eight-page list of issues that needed addressing before the board could confer a charter. As an example, one of the items required,

“Clarification or revision to the SOUL Charter School’s recommended course sequencing for its students. Specifically, the Petition describes a four-year course sequence which appears to indicate that students should take up to eight courses per year to accomplish the recommended sequence. However, the bell schedule and narrative included in the Petition indicate that students will take only six classes, in addition to Integra.”

SOUL appealed the decision to the San Diego County Board of Education. That board voted 3-2 against giving a full 3-year charter but voted 5-0 to bestow a 2-year charter.

I believe in a parent’s right to choose their children’s school. If they want to send them to the New Universal Teaching School (NUTS) or Encinitas Country Day or Santa Fe Christian School, that is their prerogative. But don’t expect taxpayers to pay for that choice. They already pay for free public education.

School Board Election in Less than Two Months

Both libertarian-Republicans and neoliberal-Democrats are attacking public schools. The article A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement lists five separate groups that are working to end democratically controlled public schools. When voting this November, it will be important to identify if a candidate is associated with one or more of these groups.

  1. People who oppose public education on religious grounds often seeking taxpayers supported religious schools.
  2. People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.”
  3. People supporting both privatized schools and entrepreneurs profiting from school management and/or school real estate deals.
  4. Members of the technology industry which is using wealth and lobbying power to place many inappropriate products and practices into public schools. They often also promote technology driven charter schools.
  5. Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

For the first time, SDUHSD is electing school board members by area. During this election cycle, seven candidates are running for seats in 3 of the five Areas; 1, 3 and 5. The even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2020.

SDUHSD Area Map

SDUHSD Area Map

Area 1, which is in west Encinitas, has two candidates, Maureen Mo Muir who is an incumbent and Amy Flicker a well know politically active resident serving on various committees and boards.

Mo Muir fits with both groups 3 and 5 of the DPE movement. She is very unpopular with teachers for her votes on bond spending and contract negotiations. She claims to be instrumental in founding the failed TIP charter school. Muir was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for the board seat she now holds.

Amy Flicker is the President of the Paul Ecke Central Elementary PTA. She has been a commissioner on the Encinitas Environmental Commission. That is the group that started the plastic bag crusade that ended grocery store plastic bags in California. She is also a member of two bond oversight committees; one in the Encinitas School District and the other in SDUHSD. Flicker is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.

Amy Flicker is the choice most likely to protect public education.

Area 3, is made up of Cardiff, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. It has two candidates, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.

Rhea Stewart served on the Cardiff Elementary School District Board from 2006-2010. Stewart has the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party. She belongs to group 4 of the DPE movement. She is strongly related to the technology industry and its pedagogical snake oil. Her LinkedIn page lists more than ten ed-tech professional associations including Apex Learning: Mathematics and Science Instructional Designer 2014 – 2017; West Ed: Mathematics Content Specialists Ed 2013 – 2014; Aventa Learning: Mathematics and Science Program Supervisor 2011 – 2013; and K12, Inc.: Mathematics Content Specialist 2007 – 2010.

Melisse Mossy is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group. She has taught school and is very involved in philanthropic activities.

Mossy belongs to group 1 of the DPE movement. She does not seem committed to public education and one wonders what her real agenda is. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states, “I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Even though Rhea Stewart’s professional life is wrapped around an industry that is undermining good pedagogy, I would still vote for her over a wealthy individual with a religious agenda.

Area 5, consists of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. There are three candidates for this seat, Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Cheryl James-Ward.

Lea Wolf has lived in the Carmel Valley area for 20 years and has a daughter attending a district school. On her LinkedIn page she bills herself as a fiscal conservative. In a LinkedIn recommendation for David Andresen, she wrote, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” She has founded several technology companies including Deeds for Kids and IQNet Interactive.  Lea seems to fit in both group 4 and 5 of the DPE movement although not stridently so.

Kristin Gibson is currently President of the Del Mar Union School District. Kristin taught elementary school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Currently, she works as an educational consultant, which includes lecturing for San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, providing professional development for in-service teachers, and contributing to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  Kristin does not appear to belong in any of the DPE groups.

Cheryl James-Ward is a professor of education leadership at San Diego State University, an administrator at the e3 Civic High charter school and wife of former superintendent of San Diego County Schools, Randy Ward. In June, she was a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Education. Even though the California Charter Schools Association spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures for her campaign, she lost. Cheryl James-Ward is a devoted member of group 3 of the DPE movement.

In an interview with the San Diego Union, James-Ward said, “This is unfortunate as charters are public schools just like district schools. … There is also the misnomer that charters are taking money from district schools.”

Charter schools are no more public schools than Hazard Construction is a public corporation because they do some government contracts. To be a public school requires two things; (1) paid for by taxpayers and (2) public has a say in the governance. With charters the public does not have a say. Several major studies in the last five years have shown that charters do drain significant money from public schools including the latest one by Professor Gordon Lafer, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.”

For Area 5, Kristin Gibson is the best choice.

Some Observations

Public schools in all neighborhoods are now targeted by the DPE movement. In San Dieguito, five of the seven school board candidates have a relationship with one or more of the DPE groups. Only Kristin Gibson (Area 5) and Amy Flick (Area 1) seem likely to stand up for the SDUHSD’s public schools against all privatizing and profiteering efforts.

America’s public education system is a priceless legacy that is under attack. We must be vigilant about who we elect to lead it. Members of both of America’s tribes, Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this outrage. Be informed. Don’t just vote your club; vote to save public education in America.

A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement

9 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/9/2018

The destroy-public-education (DPE) movement is the fruit of a relatively small group of billionaires. The movement is financed by several large non-profit organizations. Nearly all of the money spent is free of taxation. Without this spending, there would be no wide-spread public school privatization.

It is generally recognized that the big three foundations driving DPE activities are The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $41 billion), The Walton Family Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $3.8 billion), and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $1.8 billion).

Yesterday, the Network for Public Education published “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.” This interactive report lists the top ten billionaires spending to drive their DPE agenda with links to case studies for their spending.

Top 10 Billioaires

These Images Come from the New NPE Report

Short Explanation of the Label DPE

The modern education reform apostate, Diane Ravitch, was Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander from1991-93. She was an academic who held many research positions including the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and served in multiple capacities in different federal education administrations. Like all of her closest allies, she believed in the power of accountability, incentives and markets for reforming schools.

In 2010, Diane shocked her friends by publishing, The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.  In chapter 1 she wrote,

“Where once I had been hopeful, even enthusiastic about the potential benefits of testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself experiencing profound doubts about these same ideas. I was trying to sort through the evidence about what was working and what was not. I was trying to understand why I was increasingly skeptical about these reforms, reforms that I had supported enthusiastically.”

“The short answer is that my views changed as I saw how these ideas were working out in reality. The long answer is what will follow in the rest of this book.” (Ravitch 2)

In the book, Ravitch wrote, “I call it the corporate reform movement not because everyone who supports it is interested in profit but because its ideas derive from business concepts about competition and targets, rewards and punishments, and ‘return on investment.’  (Ravitch 251)

Ravitch labled modern education reform “corporate education reform” and the label stuck.

Last year, researchers from the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) led by professor Jim Scheurich, who coordinates the urban studies program there, perceived a pattern in the destruction of the public schools. That pattern became the “destroy public education” model. As Ravitch’s “corporate education reform” became more organized and ruthless, the Scheurich team’s DPE model became a better descriptor.

Ravitch posted the Indiana team’s DPE model on her blog. The model is outline here with explanations.

  1. Business is the best model for schools. Starting with the infamous Regan era report, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like RJR Nabisco’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family and Sun America’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.
  2. Institute local-national collaboration between wealthy neoliberals and other conservatives to promote school privatization and the portfolio model of school management. One example among many comes from Kansas City, Missouri. School Smart Kansas City does the local retail political activity, the $2.1 billion Kaufman foundation provides the local money and various national organizations like The Charter School Growth Fund that is controlled by the Wal-Mart heirs provides the outside money.
  3. Direct large sums of money through advocacy organizations to recruit, train and finance pro-privatization school board candidates. One such organization is Jonah Edelman’s Oregon based Stand for Children which functions as a conduit for outsiders to funnel money into local school board elections.
  4. Undermine and eliminate locally elected school boards. The 1990 book by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, claimed that poor performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The book was hugely influential and its anti-democratic theory is a central ideology of DPE led reform.
  5. Institute a portfolio system of school district management that includes public schools, charter schools and Innovation Schools. School boards lose their oversight powers with both charter schools and Innovations schools. Portfolio theory posits closing the bottom 5% of schools based on standardized testing and reopening them as either charter schools or innovation schools. Standardized testing does not identify teaching or school quality but it does identify student poverty levels. This scheme guarantees that public schools in poor and minority communities will be privatized. While there is no evidence supporting this theory, there is evidence that it causes harm.
  6. Implement a unified enrollment system. Over the past 200 years, public schools in America have become a widely respected governmental institution. By forcing them to include charter schools in their enrollment system, the charter schools are provided an unearned equivalency. Charters are not publicly governed nor must they accept any student who applies in their area.
  7. Hire minimally trained teachers from Teach for America (TFA) or other instant-teacher-certification programs. By undermining the teaching profession, costs can be reduced; however general teacher quality will also be reduced. In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor, Anthony Villaraigosa, selected the Green Dot Charter Schools’ CEO, Marshall Tuck, to lead 18 schools in an experiment called the Partnership for LA. With millions of dollars to supplement the schools, Tuck failed to produce any real improvements. His error was hiring a significant numbers of untrained TFA teachers which more than offset his funding advantages.
  8. Use groups like Teach Plus and TNTP to provide teacher professional development. The most effective opponents of the destruction of public education have been teachers. By controlling teacher training, new pro-privatization attitudes can be fostered.
  9. Create teacher fellowships that develop teacher support for the privatization agenda. In Indiana, on a yearly basis, the $11 billion Lily Foundation gives out many $12,000 Teacher Creativity Fellowships. In Oakland California the DPE organization GO Oakland gives nearly 20 Fellowships a year.
  10. Institute networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda. The newest national organization designed to develop these networks launched in July. It is called The City Fund. John Arnold, ex-Enron executive, and Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix, each invested $100 million to start this donor directed fund. Bill Gates has already sent them $10 million to spend toward privatizing Oakland, California’s schools.

In densely populated areas, the DPE agenda invariably is coherent with an urban renewal effort often derisively labeled “gentrification.” Too often urban renewal has been accomplished by pushing the poorest citizens out without making any provisions for them. When renewal is only about economic advantage, it further harms already traumatized citizens.

Five Disparate Groups are United in Destroying Public Education

Group A) People who oppose public education on religious grounds and seek taxpayers supported religious schools. In 2001, when Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering, Dick opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school.

At the same time that Dick and Betsy were speaking to the Gathering, Jay Sekulow, who is now a lawyer in the Trump administration, was in the process of successfully undermining the separation of church and state before the Supreme Court.

When the evangelical Christian movement gained prominence with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority and Pat Robertson’s 700-Club, they generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  The even more radical Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) which declares it is out to defeat “the homosexual agenda” joined the ACLJ in the attack on the separation of church and state. In her important book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, Katherine Stewart described their ultimate triumph,

“An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.” (Stewart 123/4)

Today, for the first time, taxpayers in America are paying for students to attend private religious schools.

B) People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.” A typical example from San Diego is The Old Town Academy (OTA). It is like a private school financed with public school dollars. A Voice of San Diego report noted, “Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools.” 

In 1955, Milton Friedman published “The Role Of Government in Education” which called for privatizing public schools. Mercedes Schneider writes of the reality of this theory in her book School Choice; The End of Public Education?,

“Even as Friedman published his 1955 essay, school choice was being exploited in the South, and state and local governments were complicit is the act. It took the federal government and district courts decades to successfully curb the southern, white-supremacist intention to offer choice to preserve racial segregation.” (Schneider 28)

The AP reported in 2017,

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

C) Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.

This spring, In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how in California fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“…, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property.”

This week Steven Singer a well known teacher activist from Pennsylvania wrote, “Thanks to some Clinton-era tax breaks, an investor in a charter school can double the original investment in just seven years!”

Singer also addressed the profiteering by administrators: “New York City Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza is paid $345,000 to oversee 135,000 employees and 1.1 million students. CEO of Success Academy charter school chain, Eva Moskowitz handles a mere 9,000 students, for which she is paid $782,175.

It is the same story in California. Charter school administrators are lining their non-profit pockets with huge salaries. In 2015, San Diego’s Mary Bixby, CEO of the Altus schools (34 mostly mall store learning centers) paid herself $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell $135,947. Up in Los Angeles in 2016, CEO of the 22 school Green Dot organization, Cristina de Jesus, was paid $326,242 while the CEO of the five schools Camino Nuevo Charter Academy was compensated $193,585. That same year in Oakland the CEO of the three schools Envision Education took in $229,127.

Huge wealth is being generated from taxpayers with little oversight.

D) The technology industry is using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and heaping praise on technology driven charter schools. “The Silicon Valley assault must be turned away, not because they’re bad people but because they are peddling snake oil,” wrote veteran education writer, John Merrow. In the last 10 years, titans of the tech industry have dominated K-street. Hi-tech is now spending twice as much as the banking industry on lobbying lawmakers.

They fund think tanks to promote their agendas like coding in every public school in America or one to one initiatives (a digital device for every student) or digital learning. Researchers working in think tanks like the New America Foundation will be disciplined if they upset a corporate leader like Google’s Eric Schmidt. Barry Lynn was sent packing for being honest.

Writing for the Guardian Ben Tarnoff reports, “Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages.” The premise is that coding is “a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.”

The flaw here is that there is no need for a flood of new programmers. It will only drive down wages, which have already stagnated, and that is the point. A 2013 Economic Policy Institute research paper stated, “For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.”

E) Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior. Some representatives of this group are Charles and David Koch, inheritors of Koch Industries. They are fervent libertarians who have established and support many organizations that work to privatize public education. The world’s richest family is also in this group. They are the heirs of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton. Like the Koch brothers, they too are determined to privatize public education.

Jane Mayer writing in the New Yorker about a legal struggle to control the Cato Institute stated, “Cato was co-founded by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, in the nineteen-seventies, with Koch’s money; the lawsuit notes that the original corporate name was the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc.” For many years, one of the stars supported by the Cato institute was Milton Friedman, the father of vouchers. The Walton Family Foundation contributes regularly to the Cato Institute and spent significant money promoting voucher legislation in many US states.

The Koch brothers are a major force behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC writes model legislation which in some conservative states is written into law with little debate and no changes. The innovation schools that remove elected school board control are a product of ALEC model legislation.

The DPE Movement is Real, Well Financed and Determined

While growing up in America, I had a great belief in democracy instilled in me. Almost all of the education reform initiatives coming from the DPE forces are bunkum, but their hostility to public education convinces me they prefer a plutocracy or even an oligarchy to democracy. The idea that America’s education system was ever a failure is and always has been an illusion. It is by far the best education system in the world plus it is the foundation of American democracy. If you believe in American ideals, protect our public schools.

End of Public Schools in Milwaukee?

23 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/23/2018

This past school year, Wisconsin taxpayers sent $250,000,000 to religious schools. Catholics received the largest slice, but protestants, evangelicals and Jews got their cuts. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reveals that private Islamic schools took in $6,350,000. Of the 212 schools collecting voucher money, 197 were religious schools.

The Wisconsin voucher program was expanded before the 2014-2015 school year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Seventy-five percent of eligible students who applied for taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private and religious schools this fall in the statewide voucher program already attend private schools, ….”

Money taken from the public schools attended by the vast majority of Milwaukee’s students is sent to private religious schools. Public schools must adjust for stranded costs while paying to serve a higher percentage of special education students because private schools won’t take them. Forcing public schools to increase class sizes, reduce offerings such as music and lay off staff.

A mounting social division like those faced after the civil war is developing. Katherine Stewart shared that history in her stunning book, The Good News Club:

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Lutherans as well as Catholics had developed extensive systems of parochial education. For many Protestants, however, the loss of students from those denominations was not a welcome development. It was feared that the combined force of the Lutheran and Catholic electorate would endanger the existence of public education altogether. The tensions between those who wanted universal public education and those who wanted their schools to look like their churches continued to grow. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse. In an 1876 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, he articulated the conclusion many people had already drawn concerning the continuing struggles over religion in the public schools: “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,” he said. “Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.” (pages 73-74) (emphasis added)

Privatizing Public Schools Not Achieving Predictions

John E. Chubb was a cofounder of the for-profit Edison Schools and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Terry M. Moe was a professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Chubb and Moe co-authored Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published by Brookings Institution Press on June 1, 1990 the same year that Milwaukee became the sight of the nation’s first school voucher program.

Chubb and Moe claimed public education was incapable of reforming itself, because the institution was owned by vested interests. They were dismissive of democratically elected school boards asserting that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

Diane Ravitch wrote Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In it she noted: “In 1990, John Chubb and Terry Moe described school choice as ‘a panacea’ that ‘has the capacity all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years, reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways.”’ (page 207)

Unfortunately, Milwaukee jumped on the speculative school privatization path. Chubb and Moe have been proven wrong. Voucher programs are not testing well. A recent paper from the Center for American Progress summarized the four latest and largest voucher study research efforts which all strongly indicated vouchers are bad education policy.

In December, 2017, an education writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alan J. Borsuk wrote, “Massachusetts and Wisconsin charted separate paths in the 1990s, and you can see the results today.” He stated,

“In the early 1990s, Massachusetts and Wisconsin were getting about the same overall results on measures such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the closest thing there is to a nationwide test of student achievement.”

“In that period, Wisconsin acted to hold down increases in spending and property taxes for schools. Massachusetts acted to improve outcomes for students and increase spending, especially in places where overall success was weak.”

TUDA Graphs

Graphs Based on NEAP Trial Urban District Assessment Data for 8th Graders

The graphs above are a sample of the endless NEAP data sets illustrating Borsuk’s point.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council published a 2017 research brief that concluded:

“One of the most significant findings about the Milwaukee voucher program to date is that 41 percent of voucher schools failed since the program’s inception. Start-ups and unaffiliated voucher schools were the most likely to falter.”

“Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

In 2016, Mercedes Schneider book School Choice was published by Teachers College Press. In it she reported,

“In sum, what Wisconsin has is a 25-year-old urban school voucher program that has not produced student outcomes that surpass those of its public schools but that is not regulated. As a result, this system … allows for unchecked fraud and discrimination – even as it stands to expand.” (Choice Page 41)

Milwaukee’s Fox News channel six reported in 2016,

“More than 50 schools have shut down since the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program started, leaving students in chaos and taxpayer money unaccounted for.” 

‘”There’s government money available for people who want to open up a building and call it a school. All you have to do is get the children and [for that] all you have to do is come up with a catchy slogan,’ Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) said.”

Governor Scott Walker’s 2015 budget effectively removed all caps on students from poor and middle-class families throughout the state of Wisconsin receiving private school vouchers. The pro-privatization publication EdChoice explains the 2018-2019 eligibility rules,

“Wisconsin families with income no more than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($55,220 for a family of four in 2018–19) and reside outside of either the Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified School District are eligible. Moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents or legal guardians are married. Each district will have an enrollment cap of 1 percent of its public school district enrollment. This cap will increase by one percentage point each year until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent, then there will no longer be a cap.”

Voucher Growth

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Data Shows the Rapid Growth of Voucher Schools in Racine and Milwaukee

A Robust Charter School Industry Operates in Milwaukee

A 2014 report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said,

“Nearly 11% of public schools in Wisconsin are charter schools, the fourth-highest rate in the nation and double the national average, according to a recently released report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

“In Milwaukee, 32% of public schools are charters, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) defines two basic charter school structures. District charter schools which are authorized by public school districts and “independent charter schools” which are authorized by: The chancellor of any institution in the University of Wisconsin System; Each technical college district board; Waukesha County Executive; College of Menominee Nation; Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Community College; UW- System Office of Educational Opportunity. In either case DPI states, “The Wisconsin charter school law gives charter schools freedom from most state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for results.”

The district authorized charter schools are a kind of hybrid charter school and innovation school. Innovation schools are promoted by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” Neither charter schools nor innovation schools are operated by the elected school board. In other words, parents have no elected representative they can hold responsible for the operation of the school.

In October 2017, the United States Department of Education selected Wisconsin for a $95 million charter schools grant. The DPI notice of this grant said,

“Our federal grant will help us expand charter school access throughout Wisconsin, especially for our high school kids who are from low-income families,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.”

“Over the five-year grant period, the Wisconsin Charter Schools Program will support the opening of 80 new or replicated quality charter schools and the expansion of 27 high-quality charter schools in the state.”

Sadly, Tony Evers is one of the Democrats who want to replace Scott Walker as governor.

On July 8, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a stridently incorrect editorial. They stated,

“Every charter school in Wisconsin is a public school.

“The many Democrats running for governor should memorize this fact, because some of them are getting it wrong.

“Charter schools should not be confused with voucher schools, which are mostly private religious schools that receive public money for lower-income students to attend.”

Charter schools are privately managed companies that sell education services to the state. They are not much different than a construction company contracting to do road work. Just because they receive tax dollars does not make them a public company. In the most recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris made the point that to be a public school requires two aspects. (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be publicly governed. Parents have no vote on the governance of a charter school.

Burris also discussed the research paper jointly produced this June by NPE and The Schott Foundation, Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools. Not only did Wisconsin receive a failing grade, it was deemed to have the worst charter school laws in America. The reasons included: One of five states to allow for profit charter schools; if a school fails the property belongs to the charter owners not the taxpayers; nation’s longest renewal period of 5-years; and no conflict of interest requirements.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Functioning in Milwaukee

The DPE model was first defined by researchers at the University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis (UIPUI). These scholars were Doctor Jim Scheurich coordinator of the Urban Education Studies doctoral program, Gail Cosby a doctoral candidate at UIPUI and Nate Williams who earned his doctorate there and now teaches at Knox College.

They concluded that a DPE model was being instituted throughout the nation. Three important points in the model are: (1) a funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives; (2) the development of local organization networks that collaborate on the privatization agenda; and (3) a local-national collaboration between wealthy mostly conservative groups.

The national money flowing into Milwaukee to privatize public education comes from the usual sources including the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and several others national non-profits.

The big local money is from the very conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. In 2016, the Bradley Foundation gave generously to ALEC, Freedomworks Foundation, The Federalists Society and Betsy DeVos’s Mackinac Center. Locally they gave $375,000 to the Badger Institute, $500,000 to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and $100,000 each to Schools that Can Milwaukee and Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE). These appear to be yearly gifts.

Concerning school privatization in Milwaukee, the contributions to WILL and the Badger Institute are particularly noteworthy. The following statements on the WILL web site are from members of the Board of directors:

‘“WILL’s legal team was the missing link in education reform in Wisconsin and their research capabilities enhance our ability to develop effective policy.’  Jim Bender President, School Choice Wisconsin”

‘“WILL is at the forefront of the effort to expand parental choice in education. Whether publishing reports on how to craft high-quality choice policies or rigorous fiscal analyses that influence the debates in Madison, or even suing the state education bureaucracy for its failure to follow the law, WILL can be counted upon to fight for Wisconsin families.’ Jason Bedrick Director of Policy at EdChoice”

‘“After a lifetime of involvement in America’s conservative movement, I am proud to say that WILL is one of the most successful organizations I’ve been a part of and happy to see it grow and impact public policy.’ Mike Grebe Former Chairman, Bradley Foundation.”

The Badger Institute says of itself,

“The Badger Institute, formerly the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit institute established in 1987 working to engage and energize Wisconsinites …. The institute’s research and public education activities are directed to identify and promote public policies in Wisconsin that are fair, accountable and cost-effective.”

The Bradley foundation supplies the money, WILL provides the legal work and The Badger Institute lobbies the state. The school privatization ground game in Milwaukee is now run exclusively by PAVE. It has annexed Schools That Can Milwaukee. Borsuk writing in the Journal Sentinel observed,

I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

Some Parting Thoughts

In the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that vouchers to religious school did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This decision re-wrote more than a century worth of precedence and further eroded the separation of church and state. No matter how this case was decided, it is patently un-American to force citizens to send money to religious organizations that they do not support.

Privatizing public education is a horrible idea. Public-schools are the bedrock upon which America’s democracy is built. Now strange conservatives and their fellow traveler in the Democratic party, the neoliberals, are claiming that democratically elected school boards are an anachronism. Know this; if someone is opposing democratic governance, they are proposing totalitarian rule by the wealthy.