Tag Archives: School Choice

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

Charter Schools of San Diego County

6 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/6/2018

The California charter school law is doing serious harm to public schools. Few counties in the state have been more impacted by charter schools than San Diego County. This past school year 75,473 of the 508,169 publicly financed students enrolled in charter schools. In other words, 14.9% of San Diego’s students attended privatized schools and in the San Diego Unified School District, that percentage was greater than 17%.

San Diego’s charter school students attended one of the county’s 129 active charter schools some of which will close their doors next year. In the past five years, more than one out six charter schools – a total of 27 schools – went out of business. This presents an additional financial burden to public schools because they must be ready to take in all students from failed charter schools at any time. Charter schools typically do not add students during a school year.

When students from the public system exit to the privatized charter school system, the cost to the district schools is substantially more than just the loss of state daily attendance money. A recent study that Professor Gordon Lafer did for In The Public Interest is the third major report in five years to demonstrate this point. Professor Lafer noted:

“As the charter industry has grown, public officials across the country have become increasingly concerned with the sector’s impact on public school districts. A 2013 report from Moody’s Investors Service, for instance, warned that charter expansion threatened school districts’ viability in a growing number of cities, as ‘charter schools … pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.’ In response, a series of studies have been carried out by both academic scholars and consulting firms aimed at the same question that this report seeks to address. … in every case, studies found that charter growth has caused school districts to suffer much more in lost revenue than they are able to make up in reduced expenses—resulting in large net shortfalls for district students.” (emphasis added)

Lafer’s study also looked specifically at the effects of charter school enrollment on San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). He described the nature of data reported that led to the table of values shown below:

“In short, at every point where the data was less than complete, we chose to err on the side of conservative assumptions—that is, assumptions that lead to understating the cost of charter schools to public school districts. Thus the numbers presented in this study should be considered a conservative, minimum estimate.”

Cost of losing charter students

Chart from Gordan Lafer’s Breaking Point Study (page 9)

In addition to the stranded costs related to charter school students leaving district schools, there is a permanent cost to public schools due to unequal distribution of the most expensive students to educate, special education students. Not only do charter schools accept fewer special education students, they also shun the costlier ones. Lafer reported on the results he found in Oakland, California, where charters educate 30% of the district’s students:

“Of the total number of emotionally disturbed students attending either charter or traditional public schools in Oakland, charter schools served only 15 percent. They served only eight percent of all autistic students, and just two percent of students with multiple disabilities.”

State data shows that the trend is similar in San Diego and charter schools here also attract fewer language learners.

ELL and SPED graphic

Based on State Education Department San Diego County 2017-1018 Enrollment Data

Entering the 21st century, California’s public education system was an efficient system utilizing its vast economies of scale to educate students for relatively less cost than most other states. The charter school experiment has introduced many inefficiencies. This development is being paid for by reducing services to the more than 85% of the counties students attending public schools. Their classes are larger, their facilities are not as well maintained and there are fewer course offerings available to them.

The Altus Franchise

Throughout 2017, Carol Burris, Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), studied and wrote about California’s charter schools. In her culminating report, “Charters and Consequences,” she addressed the phenomena of the independent learning charter schools. Burris wrote,

“There are 225 independent learning charter schools comprising nearly 20% of all charters in California. In San Diego County alone there are 35, …. The 2014 graduation rate for all of the students enrolled in San Diego’s independent center charters, including the more successful home-school programs, was only 44%. (emphasis added – the SDUSD graduation rate was greater than 91%)

“Given the results, why are so many Independent Learning charter corporations springing up across the state? Unlike brick and mortar charters, independent learning centers are relatively easy to set up and run. They appeal to disadvantaged students who want to work and finish high school, dropouts who want to return to school, students who have emotional or physical health issues, homeschoolers, and teenagers who would prefer to not have to get up in the morning and go to school.”

Carol did this research using the 2016-2017 school year data showing 35 independent learning center charters in San Diego. The 2017-2018 data shows that San Diego County has added five more independent learning charters for a total of 40 and that number does not reflect all the independent learning locations.

Mary Bixby is San Diego’s pioneer of the strip mall charter school business. In 1994, her Charter School of San Diego was the first charter school in San Diego County. She puts children at computers running education software and her approximately 3200 students are making her wealthy. In 2015, the non-profit Mary founded paid her a total compensation of $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell received $135,947. Burris observed,

“Bixby, a board member of the charters and a full-time employee of one of the schools, also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”

Chaarter in the mall

Images are from Google Maps

Bixby’s empire is run out of her headquarters at 10170 Huenneken Street in San Diego. In 2010, someone or some entity gifted Bixby this new building. The Altus Institute’s 2012 tax form valued it at $4,500,000.

In 2016, the Altus organization consisted of a central administrative corporation (Altus Institute) overseeing four non-profit corporations: (1) Audeo Charter School, Inc., (2) Student Success Programs, Inc. (3) Altus-Mirus, Inc.; and (4) Altus-Laurel, Inc., which in turn operate five separate charter schools: Audeo Charter School, Audeo II, Charter School of San Diego, Laurel Preparatory Academy, and Mirus Secondary Academy. Together these five charter schools serve students at 34 or more resource center facilities.

When Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) responded to Bixby’s charter school proposal, they listed their many reasons for the denial. They were troubled by the complexity and secretive nature of the Altus operation; the number of unlawfully running centers; the fact that locations for the resource centers are very difficult to find and several other objections. The Sweetwater legal filing stated,

“It remains unclear why Petitioners need so many different charters and so many different authorizers to operate carbon copy programs at numerous resource centers. The GUHSD [Grossmont Union High School District] Board denied the Petition to establish GSS [Grossmont Secondary School] on November 15, 2016, for many of the same reasons we recommend denial of SSS [Sweetwater Secondary School].

“What is clear is that all of the public funding for these charter schools would be managed centrally by the same administrators, who appear to be able to move funds around at will, making it difficult, if not impossible, for SUHSD to monitor the Charter School’s fiscal status at the level mandated by Board policy and regulation, given that only a portion of the school’s books would be open for SUHSD review.”

The San Diego County Board of Education concurred with both the Sweetwater and the Grossmont denial, however the California State Board of Education authorized both charters.

Last year the San Diego Union reported that of the fifteen schools with the highest percentage of chronically absent students four of them were from the Altus group: Audeo Charter II — 34.3 percent; Charter School of San Diego — 31.9 percent; Audeo Charter — 31.4 percent and Laurel Preparatory Academy — 27.7 percent.

The High Tech High (HTH) Franchise

A puff piece in the Voice of San Diego says,

“It all began in 1998 when local business leaders were discussing ways to prepare young people for the high-tech workforce. They eventually opened the Gary & Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High charter school in 2000, and later added on middle and elementary schools.”

Larry Rosenstock is the CEO and founding principal of High Tech High. In the Voice article he explains,

“Well Gary Jacobs (former director of education programs at Qualcomm) was part of a 40-person effort to look at education in San Diego. They were a bunch of business people who wanted to create future leaders in San Diego for various sectors of the economy. They thought they would create their own independent public school and they didn’t know how to do that. I was here to do other work. I had just moved here from Cambridge (Mass.) and they asked if I could come over and describe to them how you can have a public school that’s autonomous rather than part of the district. I explained that to them and they decided they wanted to create a charter school.”

Gary Jacobs is the son of Irwin Jacobs, the billionaire founder of Qualcomm. These wealthy San Diegans knew nothing about education, but they were still willing to experiment with other people’s children. It seems they were convinced that if they hired the right consultant, they could create something wonderful.

They created charter schools reminiscent of the experimental school developed by Corinne A. Seeds at UCLA.

Tufts University Education Professor, Kathleen Weiler, wrote the book Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds. Weiler shared,

“Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds were nationally recognized as leaders of the progressive education movement and were key figures in what was probably the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of progressive education into practice in a state-wide system of public education in the United States.”

Heffernan was the California Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education between 1926 and 1965, and Seeds, the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA between 1925 and 1957.

My friend Professor Larry Lawrence worked at the Seeds school under Jonathan Goodlad. When the charismatic Goodlad left the Seeds school in 1987, the school floundered. When Heffernan retired, the progressive education movement in California slowed and reversed. After meeting with HTH founding principal and CEO, Larry Rosenstock and touring one of the schools, Professor Lawrence concluded based on his personal experience that when Rosenstock leaves, the HTH system will falter. Lawrence also questioned the quality of the school’s math education.

The HTH system is one of three charter management groups to be designate a “state benefit charter”, meaning that they can open schools anywhere in the state of California. The other two groups are the Magnolia Schools which are part of the Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen’s national charter school empire and the state’s largest charter school system, Aspire Public Schools.

In 2013 Aspire and the state board of education conceded victory to the California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association and other education groups that had filed suit against the Aspire designation as a state benefit charter. They claimed that the law allowing state and county benefit charter was violated. They pointed to the legal requirement that state benefit charters “will provide instructional services of statewide benefit that cannot be provided by a charter school operating in only one school district.”

The California School Boards Association has not sued the State Board over the HTH or Magnolia designations as state benefit charters.

There are 13 High Tech schools in San Diego County. The data reveals a statistical concern. In San Diego County public schools, 20.8% of students are language learners, in county charter schools 17.3% of students are language learning, but in the High Tech system less than 10% of students are language learners.

“Not with Those People’s Kids”

Very few people believe that charter schools provide better education. However, many people believe they can select a charter school that protects their child from bad influences. The truth is that being in an integrated school provides a superior education. The idea that putting your child in a school with students that are of the same race or class will protect them is an illusion.

The Old Town Academy is like a private school financed with public school dollars. A Voice of San Diego report states,

“Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools.” 

“Whether it’s a product of innovative instruction, or has more to do with the fact that unlike at many traditional district schools, few OTA students live in poverty, test scores have remained consistently above the district average.”

It is not just Old Town Academy, there are several San Diego charter schools that appear to have been motivated by the “not with those people’s kids” ideology. Nationwide the choice movement is known to be causing schools to re-segregate.

A Perspective

Many broad-minded educators I know are not against charter schools per se and think they can be done right. I am not one of them. Even a wonderful privatized school is diminishing the education provided to the overwhelming majority of students educated by tax dollars. If the extra costs of running a dual system is not provided by taxpayer, it is unjust to finance those private schools by reducing the quality of public schools.

I join with the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools until:

  • “Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
  • “Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
  • “Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
  • “Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

Twitter: @tultican

Charter School Scourge Invading Sweetwater

1 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/1/2016

Chula Vista, California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pisa-2000-to-2012

Independent Study Charter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Segregation by Choice

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

A blogger going by the moniker educationrealist posted this observation:

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @tultican

School Choice Barbecued Cajun Style

5 Sep

Mercedes Schneider’s newest book continues her legacy of scholarship and philosophical prescience.  In School Choice; The End of Public Education? she documents and explains many facets of the issue. Three glaring problems with “school choice” as an education policy caught my eye: (1) Friedman’s choice ideology ends the concept of mandatory education for all, (2) “choice” has abandoned its original purpose and become a profiteering racket, and (3) “choice” is historically a method used to promote segregation.

School Choice Foundations

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s new deal.

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception. Friedman became known as the father of school choice when he wrote, “The Role of Government in Education” advocating school vouchers for universal private education in 1955.

I knew all of this but Schneider unearthed an amazing quote from the paper I did not know. Friedman was not only opposed to schools run by democratically elected boards; he also believed mandates for compulsory education were an obstacle to freedom:

“Perhaps a somewhat greater degree of freedom to choose schools could be made available also in a governmentally administered system, but it is hard to see how it could be carried very far in view of the obligation to provide every child with a place.” (School Choice Page 32)

Schneider commented, “Here we have the idea that for the market to be at its best, it needs to be free from any obligation to educate all children.” And she continued in some depth clearly illuminating this anti-humanistic and fatally flawed theory that is the foundation of “school choice” theory.

A Legacy of Segregation

Mercedes Schneider is a product of segregated schools in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She says the Orleans Parish schools she attended have a history that “does not inspire pride.” Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing back student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.

After “Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka” required the end of the farcical separate but equal policies, southern politicians turned to school choice and vouchers as a way to avoid integration. Milton Friedman’s timely paper was well received in the segregated south.

To this point Schneider states:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not. Though it seems that most Southern states were ready participants in resisting the federal requirement to integrate their public education systems, Senator Byrd’s sentiment of ‘massive resistance’ was even formally declared in a U.S. legislative document commonly known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’” (School Choice Page 22)

Today, it is not much different with the possible exception of more emphasis on class separation than in the past. Recently a blogger known as “educationrealist” posted this discerning observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

“Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.”

Around 2003, a friend tried to convince my wife and I to send our daughter to High Tech High. This mother did not want her daughter to be exposed to all those bad influences at Mira Mesa High School. Mira Mesa High School is a quality school that graduates amazingly gifted students every year and sets them on to a course of academic and social success. But the new charter school that Bill Gates and Irwin Jacobs had put so much money into surely would not have all those feared “bad kids.”

“Begs to be Gamed”

“By 2015, according to the Education Commission of the States website, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had charter school laws. Of these, 33 states had charter authorizing bodies, yet only 15 states and Washington, D.C., had standards for charter authorizers and the requirement that charter authorizers annually produce formal reports regarding the charter schools they oversee. Furthermore, only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify performance criteria to determine whether a charter should be continued or revoked.” (School Choice Page 59)

Charter schools have become the vogue privatization vehicle of the 21st century. Schneider presents a detailed background of charter school formation starting with Ray Budde’s 1974 conference paper that proposed a new structure for school management that he called “charter schools” and AFT President Albert Shanker’s 1988 fascination with Budde’s idea. Shanker extended Budde’s ideas with his own “school with-in a school” concept in which teachers would be authorized to experiment.

Shanker quickly became disenchanted by the direction the charter school movement took. It became clear to him that the new charter school laws made corruption and profiteering inevitable. In various articles, he highlighted the cases demonstrating how dangerous and poorly regulated charter schools were. He wrote of the Noah Webster schools gaming the system in Michigan for $4 million and of Washington D.C. giving a charter to a man charged with assault with a deadly weapon whose head of school security was a convicted felon. Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

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

I was fascinated by the quotes from Addison Wiggins Forbes magazine article about why hedge fund operators are so pro-charter school industry. One quote reads:

“About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

“In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: … firms that invest in charters and other projects located in ‘underserved’ areas can collect a generous tax credit – up to 39% – to offset their costs.” (School Choice Page 101)

One of the most lucrative aspects of the charter industry seems to be facilities. Open a charter school and start a real estate company that specializes in leasing school facilities. Then you can charge yourself twice the going rates and the taxpayer picks up the bill. Schneider asks, “Why does the federal government not see through the potential real estate exploitation…?” Probably corruptions and cowardice have a lot to do with it.

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

Instead of recognizing the amazing public education system we have in the United States our Congressional leaders are promoting charter schools both monetarily and with praise. Mercedes Quotes the Sense of Congress from their version of the new federal education law that is little more than a charter industry add. Paragraph 2 stated:

 “It is the sense of the Congress that charter schools are a critical part of our education system in this Nation and the Congress believes we must support opening more quality charter schools to help students succeed in their future.” (School Choice Page 151)

 Schneider concludes the charter school portion of the book with;

“Adequate monitoring of charter schools is not happening, by and large, and those individual using taxpayer money to serve their own interests by operating charter schools only contribute to damaging American public education” (School Choice Page 155)

 I have endeavored to give a taste of this wonderful effort by Mercedes Schneider and encourage everyone to not only read it but share it with others. If we educators can educate the public about how our legacy passed down from previous generations is being robbed, the public will stop these villains immediately. Remember, they are greedy cowards who will quail before public sanction.