Tag Archives: Privitization

Destroying Public Education in St. Louis

18 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/18/2019

On April 2nd, St. Louis city voters picked Adam Layne and Tracee Miller to serve on their seven-member Public School Board. They appear to be the two least likely candidates out of the seven to protect public schools. With the state ending twelve years of control over the city’s schools on April 16, this election result is not a happy one for public education advocates.

The Seven Board Candidates

  1. Adam Layne is a former Teach for America (TFA) corps member assigned to a St. Louis charter school and is currently a board member of the Kairos Academy charter school.
  2. Tracee Miller was a TFA corps member and is currently running a math tutoring program in St. Louis for the Gates Foundation supported Khan Academy.
  3. Louis Cross boasts a long career with St. Louis Public Schools. He served as principal and interim superintendent of the now defunct Ethel Hedgemen charter school.
  4. Bill Haas served on the school board from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2018. He was one of two board members that stood in opposition to contracting with Alvarez and Marsal to run St. Louis schools in 2003.
  5. David Merideth served on a special committee in 2017 that studied the school board’s role in future governance of the district when state control is relinquished.
  6. Barbara Anderson is a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools who taught on the elementary, middle and university levels throughout her career.
  7. Dan McCready is from Cincinnati, where he taught third and fifth grade math at a Cincinnati public school. He currently works at KIPP Victory Academy, a St. Louis charter school.

Dark Money Sways Election Results

Layne and Miller

Adam Layne and Tracee Miller

New board member Adam Layne appears to be a talented and idealistic young man. In 2011, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from George Washington University. Unfortunately, that youthful idealism was corrupted when he was enticed into the segrenomics business by TFA. [Professor Noliwe Rooks defines segrenomics as profiting off segregated poor communities by selling them education services.]

Layne’s report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (ID: A190713) shows him receiving only $155 in campaign contributions.  The first time I searched the Ethics Commission, I got a clue as to how with such meager experience and direct campaign support; Layne won a seat on the board. There was some sort of data base error and instead of displaying Adam Layne in the name field it put Public School Allies. The error will not repeat but the downloaded excel file displays it.

Public School Allies

An Error Showing Public School Allies in the Name Field Instead of Adam Layne

Chalkbeat reported that St. Louis is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model; which assures the privatization of schools. Public School Allies is a political action committee created by The City Fund staff. It supplies campaign financing under IRS Code 501 C4 rules making it a dark money fund.

City Fund lists The Opportunity Trust as their partner in St. Louis. Opportunity is a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

Marie Ceselski of the St. Louis 7th Ward reported,

“Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. …

“At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies ….”

The other new board member Tracee Miller also appears to be dedicated and idealistic. However, like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of “education reform” companies profiting off segregated poor communities.

Miller’s present employer the Khan Academy’s main purpose is promoting kids learning at computers – euphemistically known as “personalized learning.” She also lists Blueprint Education as a current employer. Blueprint is another TFA related business working in the segrenomics sector. Miller shares her responsibilities for Blueprint in Massachusetts,

“Supervise elementary math intervention program; hire, train, observe, coach, and evaluate high-quality full-time math intervention specialists; write lesson plans and provide instructional support for elementary teachers in math; serve as a liaison between school teams and Blueprint Fellows/Blueprint Program; track student data and use data to drive instruction via lesson planning and coaching; maintain a positive and professional atmosphere with clear and high expectations.”

At Dever Elementary school in Boston, the Blueprint experience was such a disaster that 45 of the original 47 teachers quit. Jennifer Berkshire of the Have You Heard blog started getting messages from upset teachers that did not know where else to turn. They told her, “We’ve lost faith because there’s absolutely no accountability here.” and “Blueprint has no idea how to run a school, and it’s maddening that there isn’t more oversight from the state.

The amount of dark money that went into supporting Miller through independent expenditures is unclear, however, it is known that a dark money fund created by the newly established Joseph Wingate Folk Society put $143,000 dollars into the political action committee Voters Organized Through Education StL (aka Vote-StL PAC). Complaints have been filed with Missouri’s Attorney General over the way this secretive new fund operates. Besides this fund and Public School Allies there were other dark money funds operating around this election.

Miller received a modest direct contribution total of $8330 (ID: A190747). A $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is particularly note worthy. LEE was established in 2007 to elect TFA corps members into education leadership positions. Miller sent a $1000 back to LEE to purchase their campaign consulting services. Leadership for Educational Equity’s three member board is comprised of Emma Bloomberg (former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter), Michael Park (a Partner in McKinsey & Company’s New York office) and Arthur Rock (Silicon Valley billionaire who contributes heavily to promote charter schools and TFA).

TFA is an industry leader in the business of segrenomics. It has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Letting TFA corps members teach is akin to letting a college graduate with five-week training fly commercial airliners or perform medical diagnosis. They have no business being granted a teaching license and students in their classrooms are being cheated. It is money from Billionaires that is making the TFA outrage possible.

St. Louis Elites Have Led a Century of Public Education Malfeasance

In 1904, St. Louis held an exposition on the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the city was wealthy and boasted an amazing public education system. Particularly noteworthy were the schools designed and built by architect William Ittner. In an in-depth piece, Journalist Jeff Bryant observed, “More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

Unfortunately, segregation dominates the St. Louis story. Bryant cites the work of Richard Rothstein a Senior Fellow, emeritus, the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). “In an interview with a St. Louis reporter, Rothstein points to integrated neighborhoods in the city, such as Desoto-Carr, that were transformed into single race communities through federal housing programs.” This doomed many of the city’s schools to poor academic performance and anemic financial support plus the city itself stopped growing. The latest census shows that St. Louis has not grown in population since that 1904 exposition.

The schools in St. Louis receive 9% less revenue than the state of Missouri on average and next door in Ferguson they receive 13% less revenue. Rutgers University’s school finance wizard, Bruce Baker, put St. Louis schools into his “most screwed” category. The Normandy school system in Ferguson is where Michael Brown graduated just two months before being shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed. In her book Cutting School, Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks commented,

Racial and economic segregation, racially specific forms of educational instruction and testing, subpar facilities, undertrained teachers, and white parents determined to keep Blacks out of their more stable and functional school systems were all as much a part of Michael Brown’s life as they were for the students involved in the cases that formed the plaintiff group in Brown v. Board.”

In 2001, four of the seven seats on the school board were up for election. Mayor Francis Slay a Democrat did not want to run the schools directly but he put together a slate of candidates to dominate board. He made sure they could significantly outspend their opponents. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

This led to a sixteen year crisis in St. Louis schools. The first action by Slay’s team was to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. The River Front Times reported the team’s goal was to “make the district more efficient, save money and hopefully redirect those savings to boost academic performance somewhere down the road.

A&M selected Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Roberti commuted from his home in Connecticut using a $110,000 travel expense perk. His education advisor was former New York Superintendent, Rudy Crew, who was living on the West Coast and would not move to or spend much time in St. Louis.

Roberti closed more than 20 schools and “balanced” the school budgets by borrowing $49 million dollars from an existing desegregation program. The money had to be repaid. By the time it was recognized that the system’s $73 million dollar deficit had ballooned to $87.7 million, Roberti and A&M were long gone. The were consulting in the Detroit School System for the soon to be failed emergency manager Robert Bobb. In 2007, the state of Missouri took over St. Louis Public Schools citing its financial issues.

Democrat Slay responded by becoming a “cheerleader for charter schools” hoping that would turn the tide of people moving out of St. Louis. Slay’s effort to privatize public schools drew support from 110 miles away in Osage County where the billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield had made their new home. They also have a modest little 8300 square foot home in St. Louis but are registered to vote in Osage.

Libertarian Gospel Propagated in Missouri

Rex and Jeanne Sinqufield

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield grew up in a St. Louis Catholic orphanage. Unlike other extremely wealthy libertarians such as David and Charles Koch or the entire Walton family, Rex did not inherit his wealth. Three years after graduating from high school, he left a Catholic seminary to pursue a more secular path. He eventually earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. At the school, he met and married his wife and business partner Jeanne Cairns. Jeanne also earned an MBA, plus she was awarded a PhD in demography.

In 1977, Rex co-Authored Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation: The Past and the Future with Roger Ibbotson. The book is still considered a standard reference for those who seek valuable information on capital market returns. Ibbotson gained his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago.

In 1981, David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago and Sinquefield formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. His wife Jeanne supervised the DFA Trading Department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

The Sinquefield’s lived in Santa Monica, California – which he called “Soviet Monica” – while running DFA. In 2005, Rex and Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years.

The Center for Media and Democracy produced “A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-me Institute.” They demonstrated his attitude about public education by quoting Rex:

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Rex Sinquefield’s primary policy interests are education, income tax reform and local control. He funds efforts for school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and income tax reform. Ballotpedia stated, “Through the financial support of political committees and organizations, including Let Voters Decide, Teach Great and the Safer Missouri Citizen’s Coalition, Sinquefield has donated millions of dollars to support his policy priorities on the Missouri ballot.

Sinquefield Ballot Measures

Ballotpedia.org Image

Sinquefield wants Missouri to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes altogether, partially replacing the lost revenue with a broader sales tax that would be capped at 7 percent. He believes Sam Brownback was on the right path in Kansas and wants Missouri to follow.

Sinquefield is currently trying to privatize the St. Louis’s Lambert Airport as a way of eliminating the 1% earnings tax in the city. Rex started learning his anti-tax beliefs at his mother’s knee. When he was seven years old, she had to give him and his brother up to an orphanage after his father’s death. Alan Greenblatt reported,

In strained circumstances, his mother resented having to pay the 1 percent tax imposed on earnings of people who work or live in St. Louis. ‘I can’t afford this damned tax,’ he recalls her saying.

Two Observations

The great concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few individuals is destroying democracy. Rex’s anti-tax, anti-union and free market ideology might be a winning philosophy, but his ability to spend so liberally to sell his ideas makes anyone else’s opinion mute. Billionaires are warping the democratic process and driving us toward oligarchy. We need a significant wealth tax to end this kind of financial tyranny.

Privatizing public education is another attack on the foundations of democracy. Charter schools, vouchers and education technology are not solutions to poverty and under resourced schools. Today, there are some good things happening in Saint Louis Public Schools. Protect it from billionaires and their TFA staffed armies of “deformers.”

Dallas Chamber of Commerce Disrupts Dallas Schools

21 Feb

By T. Ultican 2/20/2019

Since 2012, the business community in Dallas has aggressively asserted control over Dallas Independent School District (DISD). For the first time, running for one of the nine DISD school board positions is an exceedingly expensive proposition. Besides wielding a political war-chest, prominent business leaders are supporting charter schools and advocating for increased hiring of untrained temp teachers from Teach for America (TFA). Money is also dedicated to advancing school vouchers. Democratic local control of public schools in Dallas faces serious threat.

A harbinger of this all out political attack by wealthy Dallas residents living in gated communities came just before the 2012 school board elections. Mike Miles was hired as Superintendent of Schools starting in July 2012. Miles came from a small school district in Colorado Springs, Colorado one year after training at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The academy Billionaire Eli Broad founded to train education leaders in his philosophy of school governance.

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation has contributed $100’s of millions towards privatizing public schools and they have a remarkable record for placing their trainees in market-reform friendly school districts.

One of the documents studied by Broad’s administration students is The Broad Academy School Closure Guide. Broad-trained administrators are famous for; closing public schools, hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting the disruptive history of Broad Academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Among the first hires Miles made was communications Chief Jennifer Sprague. Dallas magazine noted,

“The 31-year-old had performed the same job for Miles in Colorado Springs, at Harrison School District Two, where she earned $86,652. He brought her to Dallas for $185,000.”

Besides hiring pricey cronies, Miles brought the billionaire spawned reform agenda to Dallas and created discontent throughout the DISD organization. In one famous episode, Miles walked into Billy Earl Dade middle school and decided to fire the principal Michael Jones and ten teachers on the spot. Miles had inadvertently set the school up for failure when he reorganized it according to his “Imagine 2020” plan for closing public schools. The Texas Observer explained, “In closing feeder schools and expanding Dade’s home base, the district mixed rival gangs in Dade’s student body — a chemistry anybody in that part of town would have seen coming and warned against.”

On October 13, 2014, Miles held a 6:30 AM meeting with the reconstituted staff at Dade which was unexpectedly attended by Board Trustee, Bernadette Nutall. She said some faculty had asked her to come. Miles said she was not welcome. Juanita Wallace, outgoing head of the local NAACP and a fierce Miles critic was also there. Miles handled the situation by having Nutall physically removed from the school by three Dallas police officers.

What may have looked like decisive leadership when faced with an unhealthy school and a board member undermining his authority compounded an already huge mistake. Eric Nicholson wrote in the Dallas observer:

“In retrospect, Miles’ swift action last October clearly was a disaster. In the leadership vacuum that followed Jones’ dismissal, which was only partially and temporarily filled by Margarita Garcia, who quit before the end of the year because of health problems, chaos metastasized. The South Dallas community, already deeply wary of Miles and his reforms, coalesced even more firmly against him after watching his officers manhandle Nutall.”

In June, 2015, Miles resigned just weeks after the board voted 6-3 not to fire him but voted 7-2 to issue a “letter of concern.” It was the second attempt to fire Miles in 2 years. Miles was disgruntled over not getting a contract amendment that would immediately pay him the $50,000 per year set aside by the board until 2017.

Miles’s reforms included a new principal evaluation process which led to large turnover. He also instituted a merit pay system for teachers and hired Charles Glover a 29-year-old administrator of the Dallas TFA branch to be Chief Talent Officer in DISD. After just under three years, he had managed to alienate the black and Hispanic communities as well as many experienced teachers and principals.

Miles returned to Colorado where he has founded a charter school.

Self-proclaimed “Reformers” Say they’re Data Driven – Really?

In the forward to her new book After the Education Wars, the business writer Andrea Gabor highlights two key points from Edward Deming’s teachings on management:

“Ordinary employees – not senior management or hired consultants – are in the best position to see the cause-and-effect relationships in each process …. The challenge for management is to tap into that knowledge on a consistent basis and make the knowledge actionable.”

“More controversially, Deming argued, management must also shake up the hierarchy (if not eliminate it entirely), drive fear out of the workplace, and foster intrinsic motivation if it is to make the most of employee potential.”

Merit pay is a Taylorist scheme that appeals to many American business leaders, but also has a long history of employee dissatisfaction and output quality issues. Researchers at Vanderbilt University studied merit pay for teachers and found no significant gains in testing data and in New York researchers documented negative results. Merit pay certainly violates Deming’s core principles.

Lori Kirkpatrick who ran unsuccessfully for the DISD board in 2017 writes a blog that is a treasure trove of district information. She created the graphs below showing the negative impact of merit pay on the DISD teaching corps. In Dallas the merit pay system is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI).

TEI Myth Graphs

Experienced Teachers Leaving DISD at Unprecedented Rates

A significant problem is that TEI not only violates Deming’s principles, it is unfair and based on bad science. TEI uses the thoroughly debunked Value Added Measures (VAMs) as a significant part of the evaluation. In 2014, even the American Statistical Association warned against using VAMs to evaluate teachers noting among other observations, “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

As DISD has hired more untrained temp teachers from TFA and lost many of their most experienced teachers and principals, testing results have declined. In 2011, Dallas joined the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) group known as TUDA districts. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) runs the testing of the now 27 TUDA districts. There are three sets of comparison data from the bi-annual TUDA testing graphed below.

2011 to 2017 Math 8 scale score change

TUDA Math Comparison Data Graphed by the National Assessment of Education Progress

The graphs that follow compare Dallas’s school testing data with that of Albuquerque, Austin, San Diego and the national average for 8th Grade Reading and Mathematics.

NAEP Testing 8th Grade

Eighth grade testing was chosen because they have been in the system for 8 years and will likely be more reflective of the district impact than the other grade available, 4th grade. Albuquerque and San Diego were chosen because they have similar populations to Dallas. Austin was chosen because it is another Texas district. It could be argued that Dallas’s poor performance was caused by the deep cuts in education that Texas implemented in 2011; however, Austin did not see the same kind of steep district wide declines.

Dallas Business Elites Driving Market-based Reform

In 2011, the school board election for three available seats was cancelled because all of the candidates were unopposed. Mike Morath, who Texas Governor Abbott appointed Commissioner of Education in 2015, ran for his first term on the board that year. Even though he was unopposed, Morath’s 2011 required filings (A, B, and C) show a total of $28,890 in campaign contributions including $3,000 from the PAC, Educate Dallas, and $1,000 from the Real Estate Council. He reported $16,687 in campaign spending. The two other unopposed candidates, Nutall and Ranger, reported no campaign contributions or spending in 2011.

A Texas Observer article described how that all changed in 2012. It noted,

“In the recent Dallas school board election, an unprecedented river of cash poured into a handful of campaigns, the lion’s share from donors in downtown, the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and far North Dallas. That money came from affluent people, the majority of whom are white, some of whom must think that sending their own kids to a public school in Dallas is like sending them to the gallows.” (Emphasis added)

The Dallas business PACs, Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First, began contributing money into school board elections in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Board member Bruce Parrot became their first target. He had opposed a five-year $3 million contract to bring in untrained TFA temp teachers. Parrot was outvoted by a 6-2 margin. The board adopted the TFA contract while making $110 million dollar in funding cuts that induced 700 teachers to retire and dismissed 1,000 support staff.

George Joseph’s 2014 report for In These Times explained:

“Educate Dallas and Dallas Kids First poured resources into his challenger, then-unknown candidate Dan Michiche. The two PACs contributed $20,239.97 and $26,470, respectively, to his campaign—record amounts for a school board race. In total, Michiche raised $54,479.57, a slam-dunk in the face of Parrot’s $950. Unable to compete with this funding, which went into mass negative leafleting and door-to-door campaigning by Dallas Kids First, Parrot was easily defeated.”

Eight of the nine current board members have received lucrative endorsements from Educate Dallas over the last two years.

The money has continued to grow. In 2017, Lori Kirkpatrick raised $14,721.76 during her campaign to become Area 2’s School Board Trustee. Lori’s impressive list of endorsements included; Network for Public Education, former DISD President Ken Zorne, Dallas City Councilman Phillip Kingston, East Dallas Votes, Annie’s List, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, former state legislator Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt, Dallas County Tejano Democrats and the National Education Association. In the general election, Lori came close to winning outright with 49.71% of the vote to incumbent Dustin Marshall’s 47.04%. In the runoff, Marshall received 66% of the vote. His financial support ballooned to an unprecedented $512,085.20. With a 34 to 1 spending advantage, Marshall easily won.

A sample of some of the $25,000 contributors to the business PACs:

Mr. Garrett Boone co-Founded Container Store Inc., in 1978. He serves as a Member of the advisory boards for The Dallas Women’s Foundation and Teach for America. Mr. Boone also has a family foundation that spends generously in support of market-based school reforms. Between 2012 and 2016, he gifted Stand for Children Texas (a dark money political operation) $210,000; Teach for America DC $75,000 and Teach for America Dallas $850,000.

Mr. Bennie M. Bray Co-founded Monarch Capital Partners and serves as its Managing Partner of Monarch’s Dallas Office. He served as Director of Ignite Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Harlan Crow is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Crow Family Holdings. He serves as a Director on several Boards including Crow Holdings, Trammell Crow Residential, Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Ms. Stacy Schusterman serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Samson Energy Company, LLC. Schusterman lives in Tulsa Oklahoma and gives generously to school board candidates supporting charter schools in many districts across America. She is the heir to the Schusterman energy industries.

Education Partnerships are Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Stacey Bailey was an adjunct professor in special education before she started writing full time to defend public education. Because of the sordid history Texas has with special education, she has paid close attention to education issues within the state. In a recent post on her blog, she wrote,

“When partners sign up to take over public schools, the community must do what that business organization wants them to do. Tax dollars will mingle with the donation just like charters.

“Dallas is selling their school district to school partners! From The Dallas Morning News: ‘Dallas ISD Must Not Let Go of Plan to Partner with Private Operators for District Schools.’

“This sounds like a massive overhaul meaning Dallas is about to privatize all of their public schools! Yet it’s presented to the public as a necessary transformation.”

This is not hyperbole. Before becoming Texas’s Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath promoted a home rule scheme to turn the entire district into a privatized charter district. Now, he is administering a new state law (SB1882) that pays districts an extra $1800 per student if they attend a privatized partnership school.

Dallas is Being Fleeced and it’s Time to Throw the Bums Out

Real teachers graduate from college and then spend the next year studying teaching and doing supervised student teaching. These educators are planning to make teaching a career.

TFA temp teachers graduate from college and then spend five-weeks in a TFA summer institute. The vast majority of them are planning to teach for two years while they build their resume for a real career. TFA teachers have become a mainstay of the charter industry.

Charter schools and voucher schools are private institutions paid with public funds. However, elected officials have no control over their governance. These privatized institutions are financed by decreasing the funding per student for the vast majority of students remaining in public school.

Strategies like the portfolio school governance model that Morath is promoting in Texas through his System of Great Schools are anti-democratic. The great public education system that is the foundation of democracy in America is being ruined.

Republicans who undermine local control and the separation of church and state are RINOs. What is their motivation? A few years back, Rupert Murdock noted, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone …” As David Sirota wrote in Salon,

“Stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic ‘reformers.’ They’re raking in billions.”

These attacks on public education are attacks on American democracy. This prescient quote was shared recently on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “Education reformer John Dewey famously said, ‘Democracy has to be born again each generation and education is its midwife.”’

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

When the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board refused to privatize four schools, state takeover of the district became likely. States taking over school districts have an awful track record. Takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit and Tennessee have been long running disasters for students, parents, schools and communities. So the idea that Texas will likely seize HISD – a district the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigned a grade of B on its new A – F grading system – is bizarre.

HISD is the largest school district in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. The nine HISD Board members are an impressive group whose children attend district schools. Seven of them are products of HISD. They all are college graduates and most earned advanced degrees. Seven of them have both teaching and administrative experience in public schools. Anne Jung was a high school science teacher who earned a master’s in physics at Harvard. Jolanda Jones is a Rhodes Scholar and an NCAA heptathlon champion with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston. Wanda Adams was a scholarship winning athlete who attended Kashmere High School which is one of the four schools TEA might shutter. She is an Emmy winning college graduate who has been named to multiple top 50 lists in Houston area plus has served two terms on the Houston city council.

Richard Carranza became HISD superintendent in August of 2016. In March of 2018, he resigned to take a similar position in New York City Schools. With the HISD board’s impressive resumes and the fact that their last top hire was considered the best administrator in America to lead the nation’s largest school district, it was startling to read Governor Greg Abbott’s January 3rd tweet,

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

A counter observation based on biographies is that every elected board member in HISD is more qualified to be an education leader than Mike Morath, the guy Abbott appointed Texas Commissioner of Education. They all are more educated with advanced degrees in clinical psychology, physics, law, education leadership etceteras compared to Morath’s bachelors degree in business. The board members have decades of experience working in public schools compared to Morath’s six months as an untrained long term sub teaching a computer science; a class outside of his field of study.

Morath tried to privatize the Dallas Independent School District while a board Trustee. It appears that Abbott might have a similar agenda for the entire state and that is why he selected this unqualified person to lead the state’s schools.

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

In 2015 Governor Abbott signed HB 1842 into law. It mandates “intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….”

The law mandates that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district as provided by Section 39.112(b) [repurposing of the campus under this section];
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

The bill allows districts to present a turnaround plan in which the district could be designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad tests scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. It is doubtful that many of the legislators fully understood that they were putting their constituent’s democratic rights in jeopardy when they voted for this bill.

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker an HISD parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools. One by one, schools are turned over to private, appointed organizations by local politicians that want to save their fledgling political careers, and in turn, these “partnerships” provide cover for conservative leaders that would have a hard time explaining to Texans how their state undermined local control of schools with state-mandated takeovers and closures.”

This combination of laws is based on the faulty premise that school quality can be measured by standardized testing. The famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned last week in an Ohio presentation,

“There’s about a 0.9 correlation between the level of poverty and test scores. So, if the only thing you measure is the absolute test score, then you’re always going to have the high poverty communities at the bottom and then they can be taken over.” (Emphasis added)

A correlation of 1 means it is a certainty and – 1 means it cannot happen. A correlation of 0.5 means there is a mild positive relationship. The 0.9 correlation with family wealth is the only correlation above 0.5 for any of the researched variables such as schools, teachers, sex or race.

In 1998, Noel Wilson wrote a major peer reviewed scholarly paper, “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. Wilson’s paper basically says that the level of error associated with standardized testing is so high it makes these tests unreliable as evaluative tools.

A year later, James Popham of the UCLA graduate school of education also wrote a peer reviewed paper on testing. In his Education Leadership article based on the paper he concluded,

“Educators should definitely be held accountable. The teaching of a nation’s children is too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense. Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.” (Emphasis added)

The science has not changed. Standardized test results will not evaluate a school’s quality but will identify poverty. The new approach in Texas guarantees that parents in minority mostly poor communities will have their democratic rights and public schools taken away. It may not be a racist intent but it certainly brings about a racist outcome. If this were not true at least one school in a majority white affluent neighborhood would be identified as “failing”.

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

Teach For America (TFA) or as my friend Ciedie Aech calls them the “teach-for-a-minute girls” came to Houston in 1991. A TFA teacher is a temporary employee with a bachelor’s degree and five-weeks of summer training from TFA. A new career teacher has a bachelor’s degree, a year of student teaching in conjunction with a year of teacher education classes. The TFA temp will normally leave after 2 years if not before. It would not be unusual for a career teacher to still be at a school 30-years later.

The new career teacher will likely not be confident or competent their first year. Most new teachers find an informal mentor on staff that guides them. The TFA temp normally does not have a clue about how unprepared they are. Because career teachers were so denigrated during their training, TFA teachers are reluctant to ask the advice of a veteran.

To label TFA teachers highly qualified or even qualified is to dissemble.

TFA is another of the destroy-public-education (DPE) organizations that only exists because of billionaire dollars. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider documented that in 1995 TFA was $1.2 million in debt despite receiving a $2 million dollar federal grant.  Founder Wendy Kopp was able to scrape by with four $10 million gifts from the Broad foundation, the Dell foundation, Dan and Doris Fisher (Gap founders), and The Rainwater Charitable Funds. In 2011, the Walton Family gave TFA $49.5 million and since then money from billionaires has continuously poured in; even Houston’s own John Arnold has sent them more than $7 million.

In 1994, two teachers from TFA Houston with no training and three years teaching experience, Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, founded KIPP charter school in Houston and New York. Schneider noted in Chronicle, “By 2000 Feinberg and Levin were receiving funding from Donald and Doris Fisher.” The Fisher’s co-founded the KIPP foundation where they were joined on the board by Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart heir), Mark Nunnely (Bain Capital) and Reed Hasting (Netflix) among others.

Chris Barbic another Houston TFA teacher with limited experience followed in Feinberg and Levin’s footsteps to founded YES Prep the next year. This charter was seen as miraculous. Gary Rubinstein was a fellow TFA teacher and personal friend of Barbic’s in Houston. He often shoots down miracle claims by charter schools. Gary wrote of Yes Prep,

“In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, ‘But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?’”

KIPP which uses a 19th century “no excuses” pedagogy has 25 schools in Houston and YES Prep has grown to 18 schools. Rubinstein concluded the article cited above with:

“So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.”

YES Prep and KIPP are two more DPE organizations that only exist because a group of billionaires dedicated to privatizing public education gave them millions of dollars. It is not because they are superior schools but because they are not public.

The fraudulent “Texas miracle” that led to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the federal takeover of public education came from Houston. Roderick Paige was the HISD Superintendent that rode that “miracle” all the way to the office of United States Secretary of Education.

Paige’s strategy was to give bonuses to school leaders that hit bench marks and fire those that didn’t. Drop out rates plunged and test scores soared. Later in was learned that the “Texas miracle” like all school miracle claims was a fraud. They cooked the books on dropout data and principals raised 10th grade testing scores by holding low scoring 9th graders back and then promoting them to 11th grade the next time they were due to test.

It is close to a consensus conclusion that NCLB was a colossal and damaging failure. Its strategy of test and punish became test and privatize. Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In a 2008 addendum, he wrote of the suspicion that schools were purposely setup for failure:

“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).”

Some Observations

With the HB 1842 and SB 1882, the Texas legislature has created an education code that eerily mirrors NCLB. It has reinstituted the test and punish theory using the same faulty methodology for evaluating schools – standardized testing. Is this the result of ignorance or something far more sinister?

Local Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has joined forces with San Francisco billionaire Reed Hastings to privatize America’s schools. They have each pledged $100,000,000 to their new City Fund dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath recently started the System of Great Schools which is a strategy roadmap and toolkit for implementing the portfolio model for school governance, a model that posits disruption and school privatization as good for Texas.

Fewer and fewer schools in a portfolio district are controlled by a vote of the community. I believe in democracy and local control. How do Texas politicians justify undermining democracy and local control? What a strange group of conservatives.

Denver’s Portfolio Model School District Is a Failure!

19 Jan

Here is a predictable outcome from the portfolio district. On Jan. 18, 2019, a press release from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) says,

After ten hours of negotiations today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers. DCTA members will vote Saturday and Tuesday on whether or not to strike.

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Increasing achievement gaps; a bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

Former Denver School Board Director, Jeanne Kaplan, wrote extensively about an article in EducationNext championing school reforms in Denver. It was based on a podcast by the guru of school reform and privatization in the Clinton administration, David Osborne. Kaplan noted,

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a “mighty minority” of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously “reform”: 7-0.

This has become a central thesis of the portfolio model strategy. A Chalkbeat article quotes Ethan Gray of Education Cities on the strategy. Gray who recently went to work at the new City Fund which was established specifically to sell the portfolio model said, “We’re skeptical that systems themselves will actually go through some sort of self-driven transformation.” Chalkbeat reported that the new plan for growth had three strategies.

  • Strategy #1: Apply outside pressure. (Increase pressure on school districts by bringing in outside competition and supporting local competing initiatives.)
  • Strategy #2: Push for one-stop school enrollment. (This forces public school districts to help the privatized schools and gives them an equivalency in the eyes of the public.)
  • Strategy #3: Create a very different power structure. (Use financial resources to change the makeup of existing governing boards or establish mayoral appointed boards.)

In the 2017 Denver Public School Board election, four of the seven seats were on the ballot. The results:

  • At large seat: Former Lieutenant Governor Barbra O’Brian defeated a field of three candidates 40% to 35% to 24%. O’Brian spent $8.94 per vote, Robert Speth spent $0.77 per vote and Julie Banuelos spent $0.33 per vote.
  • Distict 2: Angela Corbian a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member beat Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan who had union support. Unfortunately, Gaytan had to spend time cleaning up after union blunders. The winner Corbian is currently an organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) the TFA offshoot that trains former corps members “to engage civically.” Cobian’s support included $67,000 from DFER’s Raising Colorado and tens of thousands of dollars from local and national “reformers.”
  • District 3: Dr. Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher won this seat with very little financial or people support from the teachers union. She astonishingly defeated Mike Johnson the incumbent who raised over $100,000 on his own and received almost another $100,000 from DFER and Stand for Children. Olson’s victory reduces the “reform” majority back to 6-1.
  • District 4: Jennifer Bacon another former TFA corps member won. She raised $70,000 on her own and shockingly received $139,000 from the teachers union. Bacon also received reformer money from TFA national board member Arthur Rock. The incumbent Rachael Espiritu had a large war chest of $97,000 from DFER and $93,000 that she raised but Espiritu was running in a district that had had its fill of reform. A third candidate in this district was 19-year-old Tay Anderson.

When analyzing this election, Jeanne Kaplan said the biggest losers were “Denver’s teachers, who are paying dues to an organization that turned its back on a 33 year teacher and endorsed a heavily funded alum of TFA…”

Dismal Results from Denver’s Portfolio District

school segragation chart

Chart of Racial Isolation Based on October Count for School Year 2017-18

Of Denver’s 204 schools, One-hundred have a population that is greater than or equal to 70% Hispanic. When the Hispanic and black students are summed 68 schools have 90% or more students from these minority groups. The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “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.”

Racial isolation is a characteristic of districts employing the portfolio model. This kind of profound segregation runs afoul of federal law, good education and decency. It does not comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision known as Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The big selling point for modern school reform was closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is measured by finding the average score differences between ethnicity groups on standards based tests. A 2011 report in Education Week stated, With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, closing achievement gaps among these various student groups became a focus of federal education accountability…”

achievment gap 2017

Table of Reading and Math Achievement Gaps Derived from NAEP Testing Data

In the tables above – based on average scale scores – it shows national results have a smaller gap than the large city results. Predictably, Denver has among the nation’s largest achievement gaps after two-decades of “billionaire” led reform.

In the fall of 2015, the Center on Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) which is the central think tank promoting portfolio models ranked Denver Public Schools 45th out of 50 urban districts for improving graduation rates.

Denver’s pro-privatization citizen oversight group, A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) in a recently released report, showed concern over the district’s progress stating,

“Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful.”

DPS received another black-eye this January when a Chalkbeat headline revealed, “Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average.” The article presented the following chart for administrators in Denver compared to the rest of the state over the past ten years.

administrator growth chart

Chart of Administration Growth during the “Reform Era”

In 2017 the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. The article said,

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

The New York Times picked the comparison schools while the reader picks the district of interest. This simulator attempts to correlate by years of learning. The average between 3rd  and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver remains a little below average with lackluster growth.

student growth models

After Five Years Denver’s Eighth Graders Still below Average

All the closing schools and disrupting neighborhoods brought little or no significant change. Denver’s students are still measured as being about the same amount behind in 8th grade as when they started 3rd grade.

A 2015 hiring analysis revealed that DPS paid TFA $5000 to $7000 per recruit? TFA teachers are two year temps with a college degree and five-weeks of training. From 2012-2015, Denver taxpayers paid TFA $520,600 for 232 recruits at traditional schools and over $800,000 for 267 recruits at charter schools. DCTA President Henry Roman stated that teacher turnover is a crisis in DPS. He claims the average teacher tenure has dropped to two years.

Traditional teacher new hires have a college degree, one-year of post graduate pedagogy study and a year of supervised student teaching. They arrive at schools with the expectation of making teaching a career.

The reliance on untrained teachers along with recognizing and using a fake graduate school created by the charter industry explains why all of the spending on reform has not resulted in better performance. The fake graduate school is Relay Graduate School. It’s Denver Dean, Therese Zosel-Harper, is working on her PhD. Relay is an obviously fake graduate school because it has no credentialed education scholars on staff.

Where did the Portfolio District Model Originate?

A Rand Corporation researcher named Paul Hill founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on the campus at the University of Washington three years after John Chubb and Terry Moe wrote a popular book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published in 1990 by The Brookings Institution. That book which was a sensation among neo-liberals called for the end of elected school boards. Hill began thinking about the mechanics for making that happen.

In 2002, Hill wrote a paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation calling for changes in school governance,

“… [T]he last few decades of education reform have shown us that simply tinkering at the edges is not enough to ensure that changes will take place. Reforms need to be comprehensive and needs to affect every level of the education system.”

Hill’s statement and the book by Chubb and Moe were both motivated by the conviction that public schools in America were failing. It was not true then nor was it true in 1889, 1942, 1955, 1959, 1963 nor is it true now.

Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky wrote,

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.”

The paragraph above recalls more than a century of national failure to properly educate our citizenry yet in that same century America became the world’s leader economically, scientifically, militarily and culturally. Does this mean that education quality does not matter or is it more likely that the perception of American education failing – is and was an illusion? Based on this illusion of failure are we being driven toward failure with unproven market theories? That is what the portfolio theory is. It is an unproven market theory of education governance.

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

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

In Denver there are 204 schools; 106 public schools, 42 charter schools and 56 innovation schools. In accordance with portfolio district theory, Denver residents no longer have the right to vote on the governance of 108 of their publicly financed schools. In addition, both charter schools and innovation schools are generally non-union.

The innovation school concept is promoted nationally by 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.” In Denver, innovation schools are given a three year contract during which they are run by a non-profit. The results (testing data) at the end of the contract will dictate whether the experiment on the school children continues.

Innovation schools have only existed in Colorado since 2009. When the DPS board approved them in 2016, Board President Anne Rowe claimed, “I’m trying to think of a time I’ve been more excited, more proud, more optimistic about what we can achieve for kids.”

Conclusions

While Interviewing DCTA President Henry Roman, Jeff Fard said when he moves into a neighborhood he expects to register his kids in the local community school. “If I don’t like the school, I expect to roll up my sleeves and work to make it better.” If he still doesn’t like the school, he will pay for them to go to a private school. This is how it is supposed to be in America; people work for the betterment of their own community and pay for their own choices. However, if you live in portfolio districts like Denver, unseen and unelected forces control the neighborhood.

As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,

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

It is past time for the citizens of Denver to take back their democratic rights and their public schools.

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

28 Aug

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

Torlakson is quoted in the annoucement,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Action Team

1 cochairman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 charter executives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Privatizing Organzations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In July, 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He lists his research interests as

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

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

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

Testifying about charter schools Rousseau commented,

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

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

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

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

Not too Hopeful about Torlakson’s Review Team.

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

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

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

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

 

Philadelphia Story: Another School Choice Failure

12 Jun

For the last two decades, Pennsylvania’s political leaders have attempted to improve schools in Philadelphia without spending money. In 2001, Governor Thomas Ridge turned to Chris Whittle and his Edison Project to study the school system and create a reform plan. That December, the state of Pennsylvania disbanded the local school board and assumed total control of the district. Since then, citizens of Philadelphia have endured – with minimal input – a relentless school choice agenda and the loss of public schools in their neighborhoods.

Politicians – not wanting to spend on education – often claim the problem is public schools have become bloated and inefficient. This assertion is normally paired with an attack on teachers’ unions as being the enemy of good pedagogy and progress. The medicine offered to solve these ills is competition and market forces. It is theorized that competition will improve management and force teachers to do their job better. After two decades of implementing this theory in Philadelphia; test scores are still low, communities are still plagued by poverty and fraud is rampant. Worst of all, the public-school system has been significantly harmed.

Samuel E. Abrams wrote the book Education and the Commercial Mindset which begins with an examination of the Edison Project in Philadelphia. Abrams reports,

“In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student.”

In the summer of 2001 just before leaving to become the first head of the Homeland Security, Governor Ridge commissioned Chris Whittle’s Edison Project to produce for $2.7 million a report on how to boost test scores and contain costs in Philadelphia. Ridge famously said, “Nearly a quarter million children are educated in it – or, truth be told, not educated.” (Abrams 110) Ridge’s successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker was just as brutal saying, “After all, only 13 percent of the district’s high school juniors are able to read the newspapers with basic comprehension. And that’s not counting those who drop out.” (Abrams 110)

Edison’s report was not impartial. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News called it a charade. (Abrams 116) The report was overly critical of the school district and recommended that the Edison Project be put in charge of running it. Edison also called for reforming “failing” schools by turning them into charter schools or other private management.

Helen Gym (now on the Philadelphia city council) speaking for Asian Americans United, asked, “If this [privatization] is so innovative why aren’t they doing it in Lower Merion?” (Abrams 114) This turns out to have been a perceptive question. Lower Merion is 85% white and rich. Still today, there appear to be no charter schools in Lower Merion Township. Charter schools mostly exist in poor communities without the political capital to protect their schools.

Philadelphia PA Charter School Map

Created Using Fordham Institute’s Charter School Mapping Facility

On December 21, 2001, Philadelphia became the largest school district ever taken over by a state government. The district was to be led by a five-member School Reform Commission (SRC). Three of the members would be named by the governor and two by Philadelphia’s mayor. Edison was named the lead consultant to the district and given management of 20 of the 42 schools identified as most in need of improvement.

That summer, the SRC hired Paul Vallas to lead the school district. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report wrote an article, “Serial School Privatizer “Chainsaw Paul” Vallas Gets Ready For His Next Job,” about Vallas’s political aims. In it he recalled Vallas’s record,

“Vallas next landed in Philadelphia, where, he surrounded himself with the usual dubious cloud of yes-men and consultants, engineered the privatization of a significant chunk of that city’s public schools, selling off public buildings to charter operators and well-connected developers and firing hundreds more mostly black teachers. … Vallas’s “blame the teachers, blame the deficits, blame the parents” rhetoric and practice exactly matched those of … Michelle Rhee. He left Philly schools in shambles, just in time to make New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

This may be a little unfair, but Vallas certainly has promoted the privatization of public schools wherever he served. He also opened the door for billionaire Eli Broad to infest Philadelphia with administrators trained at his unaccredited Broad Academy.

Broad believes that leaders of school district need financial and business management skills but require little or no experience in education. He also says that the best way to reform education is through competition and market forces.

Vallas is an example of the kind of school leader Broad sought to foster. He was someone who had little to no experience in education but understood finance. When Mayor Daily gained control of Chicago’s public schools, he made his budget director, Paul Vallas, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Here Come the Broadies

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch titled a 2013 opinion piece Broad Street Bully. In describing Broad trained administrators, he wrote,

“Paul Vallas, a former Illinois state budget director who arrived from Chicago in 2002 to take over Philadelphia’s schools, was an early archetype – and he won a $4.3 million grant from the Broad Foundation three years later to train new principals in an Academy for Leadership in Philadelphia Schools. His short-term successor here – a retired Army colonel named Tom Brady – was a graduate of a Broad academy.”

This was not the Tom Brady the Philadelphia Eagles defeated on the gridiron this past February. This Tom Brady was a 25-year Army veteran with no public school experience who attended the Broad Academy class of 2004.

Vallas left Philadelphia for New Orleans in the fall of 2007 and Brady led Philadelphia’s schools on an interim basis while the SRC searched for a permanent replacement.

In February, 2008, the SRC hired the late Arlene Ackerman, who had an Ed.D in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard. She came to Philadelphia from the Broad Center in Los Angeles where she was the first Superintendent in Residence at the Broad Superintendents Academy. Previous to that she had served as Superintendent of Schools in Washington DC (1998-2000) and San Francisco (2000-2005). In her obituary, the New York Times reported,

“In San Francisco, ‘she was unwilling to listen to different points of view and not able to work with the entire Board of Education,’ Mark Sanchez, its president, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2008.”

By 2009, Ackerman was not only Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, she was the newest member of the Broad Center Board of Directors. The following is the list of the board of directors from the Broad Center news release:

  • Joel I. Klein, board chair, chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Barry Munitz, board vice chair, trustee professor, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Dan Katzir, board secretary/treasurer, managing director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
  • Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia
  • Richard Barth, chief executive officer, KIPP Foundation
  • Louis Gerstner, Jr., senior advisor, The Carlyle Group
  • Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools
  • Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer and founder, Teach For America
  • Mark A. Murray, president, Meijer Retail and Grocery Supercenters
  • Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education

Along with Ackerman on this list of well-known school privatization advocates is the power couple, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. Wendy founded Teach for America which now has a large presence in Philadelphia. Before Richard became CEO of the KIPP charter chain he was the Vice President in charge of operations in Philadelphia for the Edison Project. He went to KIPP in 2006. (Abrams 138)

Ackerman’s most lasting Philadelphia reform which is still in play today was called Imagine 2014. Ken Derstine an education blogger from Philadelphia noted, “While state funding to the district increased during the later part of the 2000’s under Governor Ed Rendell, much of this increased funding, and temporary funding from federal stimulus money, was devoted to School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 initiative which poured money into charters, Promise Academies, and Renaissance Schools.”

The Imagine 2014 initiative is still the official board policy promulgated by the SRC. It is a policy driving public school closures, undermining district control and encouraging privatized schools. The policy introduction states:

“The Renaissance Schools initiative is articulated in the School District of Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014” strategic plan and is predicated on the belief that the School District has chronically underperforming schools that are not serving the needs of students and families and have not made adequate yearly progress as defined by state and federal laws, and that these schools need fundamental change to facilitate a transformation of the learning environment. With an urgency to dramatically improve the learning environment in these underperforming schools, the School District is seeking innovative ways to transform low-performing schools through new school models that include: in-district restructuring (Innovation Schools) and external partnerships (Contract Schools and Charter Schools).”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a politically conservative organization that publishes model legislation which is often introduced verbatim by Republican state law makers across America. ALEC receives major funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Philadelphia innovation school design meets the specifications of ALEC’s innovation school model legislation.

Phi Delta Kappan is a professional journal for education, published by Phi Delta Kappa International, since 1915. EdWeek carried an article by Julie Underwood and Julie Mead of Phi Delta Kappan discussing the effect and purpose of ALEC generated model education legislation. Their list of purposes includes, “Reduce the influence of or eliminate local school districts and school boards (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 96) to be carried out through model legislation such as Charter Schools Act, Innovation Schools Act ….”

Ackerman was given a $900,000 severance in 2011 after she and Mayor Michael Nutter had a disagreement over which charter management company would be given control of Martin Luther King High School.

Joel Mathis reporting for Philadelphia Magazine wrote, “The Boston Consulting Group was brought into the District shortly after Ackerman left to continue Imagine 2014 ….” The interim superintendent chosen to replace Ackerman was Leroy Nunery who had “an extensive background in the private sector, including a two-year stint overseeing the charter school division of the former Edison Schools, a controversial for-profit educational management company.” Nunery was not a Broadie but Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) would have approved.

The School Reform Commission picked William Hite to continue Ackerman’s imagine 2014 which is now called the Renaissance Schools Initiative. A Broad Center posts says, “William Hite served as area assistant superintendent for Cobb County School District before joining The Broad Academy class of 2005.” In 2013, Hite led the effort that resulted in closing 23 public schools. His original list called for closing 37 schools. He has also enthusiastically promoted both innovation schools and charter schools.

Hellen Gym

Public-School Champion and Council Women, Hellen Gym, Speaks Against School Closings

The destroy public education (DPE) playbook calls for a combination of outside money, local money and a local political leadership group. The national school privatizing umbrella organization Education Cities identifies Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) as the their cohort in Philadelphia.

PSP is a 501 C3 (non-profit) organization officially listed with the IRS as The Philadelphia Schools Project. PSP has an associated 501 C4 (independent political expenditures) organization called Philadelphia Schools Advocates. PSP lists among its $5 million donors: The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hamilton Family Foundation, Dorrance H. Hamilton, Patricia Kind, Jeannie and Mike O’Neill, Charlie Ryan.

The Results

A 2014 article in the Pennsylvania Gazette sums it up succinctly,

“Maybe you heard about the sixth-grader who died several hours after suffering an asthma attack at a school lacking the budget for a nurse last fall. Maybe you read about the firing this spring of three principals embroiled in a standardized-test cheating scandal that implicated 140 educators in 33 city schools. If you’ve caught any news about public education in Philadelphia recently, chances are it hasn’t been good. Headlines about the city’s school system have been so alarming, and so frequent, that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Standardized testing is useless for evaluating schools, districts or teachers. These testing results do correlate very well with wealth or lack of same in a child’s home. Since the 1990’s they have been used to label schools in poor communities as “failing.” It is a fraud.

However, since the gauge being used to privatize Philadelphia’s schools is standardized testing shouldn’t the privatizers be hoisted on their own petard. Based on testing data, the last two decades of DPE reforms have FAILED miserably.

In 2009, Philadelphia joined Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The National Assessment of Education Progress tests the TUDA districts every two years. For a simple comparison, I have graphed the 8th grade mathematics and reading scores in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC and the national average.

Math and Reading

Graphs of NAEP TUDA Composite Scores Data

After two decades of closing and privatizing schools in Philadelphia to “improve tests scores,” these scores provide testimony to how fraudulent school reform has been.

Parents have also been learning by tough experience that charter schools are not public schools. In December 2014, two low-performing charter schools – Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners and Wakisha – ran out of money and closed suddenly just before the winter break.

This displaced more than 1,500 students and left parents and guardians in a nightmarish scramble to find another option. Since charter schools are private businesses and cannot be forced to take students, the public schools had to find a place for them.

The SRC recently shared,

“The SRC will remain as the governing body for the School District of Philadelphia until June 30, 2018. Mayor Kenney appointed nine members to the Philadelphia Board of Education (BOE) in April 2018. Beginning in July 2018, the Board will oversee the School District of Philadelphia.”

Still the citizens of Philadelphia will not be able to elect a representative to the school board that they can hold accountable for decisions about schools. Mayor control of schools is against American tradition and undemocratic.

It is time to end this billionaire driven fiscal! It is time to boycott all charter schools because they are like wood rot destroying the main pillar of democracy, public-education.

 

Are Public Schools in Inglewood, California a Warning?

3 Jun

In 2006, the relatively small Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) had over 18,000 students and was a fiscally sound competent system. Today, IUSD has 8,400 students, is 30% privatized and drowning in debt. In 2012, the state of California took over the district, usurped the authority of the elected school board and installed a “State Trustee” to run it. IUSD is on its sixth state appointed trustee in six years.

This crisis was created by politicians and wealthy elites. It did not just happen. Understanding the privatization of Inglewood’s schools through the choice agenda is instructive of the path that could lead to the end of public schools in California.

Kicking Off the Choice Agenda

Inglewood is east of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles county between Watts and the Los Angeles International Airport. Today, it is part of a giant urban megalopolis but 50 years ago it was a distinctly separate community that was predominantly middle class and mostly white. Now it is populated mainly by working class poor African Americans and Hispanics. 84.8% of the students in Inglewood qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

IUSD was originally incorporated in 1888. I asked Professor Larry Lawrence to help me understand Inglewood’s schools. He replied, “Of course, if you want a long view of Inglewood schools I would be glad to go through the history. My mother began attending them in 1914, graduated from Inglewood High School in 1926, came back to teach in 1929, and stayed for 41 years. I also went all the way through and came back to teach, leaving in 1966 to go to UCLA (just after the Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 – no connection to me leaving).”

Larry taught mathematics at Morningside High School. The enrollment records at Morningside mirrors what has happened to enrollment in IUSD. In the 2005-2006 school year the high school enrolled 1,535 students. This year (2017-2018) the enrollment dropped to 751. What happened?

Moringside Higg

California Department of Education Enrollment Data for Morningside High School

To understand the causes for the harm to Inglewood’s public schools and how profoundly unjust those causes are, one must first know about standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The most important metric for judging schools and teaching utilized by NCLB were the “objective” results of standardized testing. Unfortunately, the big standardized test is completely useless for evaluating schools, teachers or learning.

In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, wrote a definitive paper, “Education Standards and the Problem of Error,” showing why standardized testing should not be used to evaluate schools or teaching. His work has been verified repeatedly. The education writer, Alfie Kohen wrote in his 1999 book The Schools Our Children Deserve “… eliminate standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question: ‘How much money does your mom make?’” The only correlated result from standardized testing is the economic condition of the students to their test scores.

In 2001, President George Bush (R) and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (D) teamed up to pass NCLB. This law required every state to adopt standards and institute standardized testing. The federal government then used the state testing data to decide if schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward 100% of their students being proficient in math and English by 2014. The law also “disaggregated” results by subgroups such as English language learners, special education, white, African American, Hispanic and others. If any one of those subgroups failed AYP, then the school failed.

A first year AYP failure was not a serious problem but the second consecutive year of failure to meet AYP goals meant being designated a “School in Need of Improvement” (SINI). This designation came with several requirements including sending a letter to parents telling them that the school was failing to meet AYP. It gave parents a list of options such as free tutoring and transfer to a non-failing school. The federal government designated Morningside High School a SINI in 2005 so before the 2006-2007 school year every parent got a letter saying the school was failing according to the United States Department of Education.

Because, nearly 85% of students in Inglewood met the definition of socioeconomic disadvantaged and standardized testing accurately reflected economic condition, all the schools in the IUSD were soon labeled failing by the federal government. Concurrent with these completely illegitimate conclusions the district started its precipitous decline.

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article he called, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the NCLB accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

“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).”

It is a widely held conclusion that NCLB was a failed education initiative. If privatizing schools was its true intent, then NCLB was a success.

Invasion of the Charter

Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps and taught mathematics in Africa. That is his only teaching experience. In 2000, he used his vast wealth to get the cap on charter schools in California lifted. He also told a gathering of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

In 2000, Proposition 39 was also supported by Reed Hastings and other pro-school-privatization billionaires. Due to the no-new-tax mantra of conservatives, schools were having a difficult time raising money to build needed facilities. Proposition 39 lowered the vote threshold required to pass a bond. Unfortunately, hidden within the laws language was a requirement for underutilized public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. With no debate the public unknowingly voted for co-location of charter schools with public schools.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the pro-charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control over their local schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch shared:

“District officials in California have confided in me that it is virtually impossible to stop a charter proposal, no matter how bad it is or how little it is needed. If the district turns down the proposal, the charter advocates appeal to the Los Angeles County School Board, where they are often approved. In the off-chance that both the district and the county turn down their proposal, the advocates appeal to the state, where they are almost certain to win approval.”

At the start of the millennium, Inglewood had 18 schools. Now, it has at least 31 schools.

Inglewood Charter Schools

Charter Schools Operating in Inglewood, California

With the federal government proclaiming that IUSD schools are failing, a fertile area for charter school establishment was cultivated. Most people do not know much about schools and education policy so of course many concerned parents wanted to move their children out of the “failing district schools.”

The IUSD schools were never failing nor are charter schools their equivalent. Certainly, there are some good classrooms in charter schools but they come with the charter industries’ record of fraud, abuse and instability.  When one of these private businesses closes their doors as has happened too frequently, district schools must take in all their students. Unlike charter schools, public schools cannot reject a student.

Professor Gordon Lafer recently published the paper Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts which shows that a significant amount of the costs for a student stays with the district when a student transfers to a charter school. In addition, Lafer noted that charter schools avoid special education students and most especially higher cost more severely handicapped special education students.

Enrollment Data Chart by Tom

Inglewood Compiled Data; Charters Avoiding Disabled Students

The above chart is based on enrollment data for the 2017-2018 school year. It shows that Inglewood charter schools are avoiding more than half their share of special education students. Also, the total number of students enrolled in Inglewood charter and public schools combined is almost 5,000 less than the 2006 public school enrollment of 18,000. It appears that there are less students in the district and some resident students are attending schools outside of the district boundaries.

The State of California has Failed Inglewood

On April 6, 2018 the sixth Inglewood state trustee, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, wrote parents about the districts budget,

“When I began in August, I learned that the district faced an $8 million shortfall.”

“The result of rising costs and Inglewood Unified’s inadequate planning, even after the cost savings measures implemented to date, as of March 15th is now a $7 million budget shortfall.”

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has 130,000 students. It is 15.5 times larger than IUSD. A $7 million deficit for IUSD is equivalent to a $108 million deficit for SDUSD.

In 2012, the Daily Breeze reported on Kent Taylor the first “State Trustee” assigned to Inglewood,

“… Taylor was thrust into a high-profile, high-pressure situation when California state schools chief Tom Torlakson recruited him from the top job at the Southern Kern Unified School District in hopes Taylor could rescue Inglewood Unified from the financial quicksand.”

“Two months later, he was pressured to resign for making financial commitments with the teachers union without approval from the California Department of Education.”

What happened with Taylor was never fully explained. He got a job in the neighboring Lennox school district and within the year became their superintendent. He is still the superintendent in Lennox.

The state replaced Taylor with the school finances leader serving directly under him, La Tanya Kirk-Carter. She had been recruited from Beverly Hills Union High School District by the state to head up the business division and “help lead the recovery.” She was supposed to be a temporary replacement until a new permanent trustee was hired, but served out the rest of the 2012-2013 school year.

The third Trustee assigned by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was veteran administrator Don Brann. He was still serving as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Da Vinci Schools, college-preparatory charter schools in Hawthorne. For 15 years, Brann was Superintendent of the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, which is a close neighbor to Inglewood.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Brann’s success in turning around Wiseburn School District (WSD) was partially due to his inter-district enrollment plan, a plan that drew students from IUSD. WSD increased enrollment by touting the district’s small class sizes and availability of space for after school programs to attract students from surrounding areas.

Brann resigned after one year and Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews the leader of the San Jose schools to be the Trustee. Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the unaccredited Broad Academy for school administrators. He also served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, Mathews was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy.

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. He is the longest serving state trustee so far.

About Mathew’s tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

Jason Spencer became Torlakson’s fifth appointment when he was selected Interim State Administrator to succeed Matthews.

Now, Inglewood has another Broad Academy graduate from the class of 2006, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana. Her bio at the Broad Center says,

“Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana began her career as a bilingual first-grade teacher and brought her first-hand teaching experience to leadership roles in several urban school districts throughout Southern California — including Pomona, Santa Ana and Los Angeles — as well as the U.S. Department of Education, where she served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. In that role, she helped draft the Blueprint for Reform, an Obama administration plan for continuing improvements begun in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Is this the Future?

NCLB set the table. Students in poor communities were guaranteed to produce bad test results. Billionaires were pouring huge money into developing the charter school industry. State leaders were putting privatization friendly leaders in charge of school districts. The state trustees were never in place long enough to provide stable leadership.

Eli Broad attended public school and went on to become the only person ever to develop two Fortune 500 companies, Sun America and KB Homes. Broad, who is worth $6 billion, decided that public schools should be privatized and established a school for administrators to promote his ideology.

In Oakland, the first state trustee was a Broad Academy graduate named Randy Ward and three more of the next 6 superintendents who followed Ward were also Broad trained. Oakland suffered nine superintendents in 13 years.

In Inglewood, one trustee was a charter school founder who was concurrently serving as a board member of the charter school and the last two superintendents were Broad trained. Inglewood received six state appointed trustees in six years.

How much longer before large school districts like San Diego and Los Angeles – with 25% or more of their students in privatized schools – are forced into bankruptcy and taken over by the state? Both districts are currently running massive deficits caused primarily by charter school privatization and unfair special education costs.