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10/20/2016 – What New Challenges To The Charter School Industry Reveal

THIS WEEK: What’s Wrong With Reed Hastings … Schools Pursuing Integration … No Credit For Graduation Rates … Ignoring Student Debt … Stupid Teacher Prep Rules


What New Challenges To The Charter School Industry Reveal

By Jeff Bryant

“As school year 2016-17 rolls out, the charter industry finds it faces formidable new challenges from many unexpected corners … What happened? A new omnibus report helps answer that question by explaining what made charter schools an instant public relations hit, how they were able to fly under the radar of public scrutiny for so long, and why challenges to the sector are arising now.”
Read more …


The Battle Of Hastings: What’s Behind The Netflix CEO’s Fight To Charterize Public Schools?

Capital & Main

“Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix … helped launch the powerful EdVoice pro-charter lobbying group and … has donated more than $3.7 million to the California Charter Schools Association … Hastings and other school reform-minded tech billionaires want to inject the start-up mentality into the country’s schools, using high-tech solutions to replace human labor and disrupting longtime management and oversight approaches in the name of efficiency. But … roughly half of all start-ups fail. What happens to the children who get caught in those failures?”
Read more …

These Are The 100 U.S. School Districts That Are Actively Pursuing Socioeconomic Integration

The Washington Post

“The number of districts and charter schools that use socioeconomic status as a factor in student assignment has grown quickly from two in 1996 to 39 in 2007 to 100 today … there are 4.4 million students enrolled in these districts, nearly 9 percent of all students nationwide … The communities currently pursuing socioeconomic integration are in red states and blue, and in many parts of the country.”
Read more …

Graduation Rate Hits Record High of 83.2%: Should Obama Take Credit?

Education Week

“President Barack Obama appears to be using this graduation rate announcement to take an education victory lap … But it’s also possible that any one of a number of other factors could be the driving force, including decreases in violent crime, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy … What’s more, it’s not clear if higher graduation rates necessarily mean that more students are leaving high school prepared for college … The Obama administration’s tenure also saw the first drop in 4th and 8th reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the nation’s report card, in more than two decades.”
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STUDY: Evening Cable News Spent Less Than Two And A Half Hours Discussing College Affordability In An Entire Year

Media Matters For America

“Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN … devoted limited time to discussing [college affordability] and … the majority of guests participating in the discussions were white, male, and middle-aged or older … The most represented profession, by far, among evening cable news guests discussing college affordability was journalists … Over the year studied, a total of eight current students (6% of guests) made guest appearances … 41% (52 guests) discussed [Bernie] Sanders’ record or policy stances on college affordability topics. About a quarter of the guests discussed Clinton’s record or policy stances on these issues.
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Fed’s Stupid Teacher Prep Program Rules

Education Week

Pennsylvania school teacher and blogger Peter Greene writes, “The feds have released their rules governing teacher preparation programs, and they are just as stupid as they have promised to be all along …The genius portion is the part that links college teacher program ratings to student results on the Big Standardized Test … There are a couple of obvious outcomes of a policy like this, the most obvious and damning being that if [a] program wants to survive, it has to avoid sending its graduates to low-performing (aka poor and under-resourced) schools. And since teachers most commonly teach somewhere near their community of origin, that means [the program] will definitely consider not accepting students from poor and under-resourced communities … Of course, we could also use test results to evaluate the work of officials who set education policy, and if test results fail to go up annually, we could simply fire all those officials … But that would just be crazy talk. Almost as crazy as doing an actual evaluation of tests themselves.”
Read more …

What New Challenges To The Charter School Industry Reveal

Marking a 25th anniversary, charter schools and the industry that’s become synonymous with these schools expected big things in 2016, with the help of continued growth and funding, recent legislation lifting regulations and opening up new markets, and a mostly favorable regard for these schools among the public.

But as school year 2016-17 rolls out, the charter industry finds it faces formidable new challenges from many unexpected corners, including prominent civil rights groups, grassroots organizers, and an increasingly skeptical Democratic party.

What happened?

A new omnibus report helps answer that question by explaining what made charter schools an instant public relations hit, how they were able to fly under the radar of public scrutiny for so long, and why challenges to the sector are arising now.

This new period of contention and public questioning offers the charter industry an opportunity to reconsider and retool, not it’s PR apparatus, but its very mission and its tolerance for much needed regulation. But that change of course seems doubtful given the industry’s past.

Losing Civil Rights Advocates

Among the many challenges to the charter school industry is the clear loss of its support among many organizations representing African Americans.

As Education Week reports, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, recently ratified its previous call for a moratorium on new charter schools.

Recall, this summer my colleague at The Progressive magazine, university professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, broke the story on his personal blog that the national group proposed the moratorium, which would need to be ratified at the organization’s National Board meeting in October.

Shortly after Vasquez Heilig’s story broke, other prominent civil rights organizations issued similar statements about charter schools. The Movement for Black Lives – a coalition of over 50 black-led organizations aligned with Black Lives Matter – and Journey for Justice – an alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in 21 cities across the country – also demanded the end of charter schools expansions.

So between this summer’s news and now, there was ample time for individuals and organizations that promote charter schools – often with the statement that they constitute “the civil rights cause of our time” – to consider where they may have gone wrong.

But that’s simply not how the charter school industry and it’s amply funded advocacy complex work. Instead, the many think tanks, PR shops, and lobbyists promoting these privately managed schools pushed every lever they have not only to condemn the moratorium but also to discredit the NAACP and these other groups.

Responding With Invective

One prominent proponent of charters branded the proposed moratorium as the “new Jim Crow,” according to Politico. He recommended charter school advocates combat these civil rights groups by recruiting celebrity supporters of charters, such as the rapper Pitbull, “to lift [charters] up.”

Charter proponents ignored the argument put forth by civil rights groups that, as an Education Week reporter put it, expanding charters means “black families and communities are losing control of their public schools.” They accused the NAACP and other civil right proponents of trying to end charters as an option for black families, which as university professor Yohuru Williams writes for Huffington Post, is not true. “They do not claim that all charters are bad,” he points out, “but declare that the unchecked proliferation of such schools represents a real danger to communities of color.”

Bowing to the influence of the powerful charter industry PR machine, the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal issued scathing critiques of the NAACP, saying the organization “should do its homework,” that it’s “misguided,” and that it’s guilty of “leaving black children behind,” respectively.

Now that the NAACP has ratified its call for a charter moratorium, charter proponents are continuing the barrage of invective and unfounded assertions rather than taking stock of their opposition’s arguments.

Editors of the Wall Street Journal called the NAACP’s action “a disgrace.” An editorial for Forbes said the NAACP “turns its back” on black families. A post in one of the charter industry’s numerous media outlets declared, “The NAACP was founded by white people, and it still isn’t looking out for black families.”

But the outlandish rhetoric coming from charter proponents does little to change minds and instead reveals a movement that seems incapable of handling reasonable criticism and any option other than total supremacy.

Alienating Democrats

On another front, charter industry proponents find they face stiffer opposition than anticipated in Massachusetts where a ballot initiative in November, called Question 2, calls for lifting the cap on the number of charters allowed in the state.

As the Boston Globe reports, a recent poll “has the ballot measure failing by 11 points overall.” What’s startling is the margin of opposition among Democrats, where Question 2 is failing by 64 to 30 percent.

In another sign of weakening support for Question 2 among Democrats, a different poll taken in April found 45 percent of the Democrats supporting charter expansion and 34 percent against. When the poll was conducted again in September, just 29 percent of Democrats were in support and 54 percent opposed.

“Massachusetts’ 23-year-old charter school experiment has long enjoyed bipartisan support,” the Globe reporter observes, but that bipartisanship support seems to be a thing of the past.

As the reporter explains, “Prominent Democrats like US Senator Elizabeth Warren and [Boston] Mayor Martin J. Walsh have come out in opposition to Question 2,” but opposition among Democrats runs much deeper than that.

In August, the Massachusetts Democratic party voted to oppose Question 2, and more than 200 communities have gone on record to oppose the referendum.

While the Globe reporter states support for charter expansion remains strong in the black community – without citing any polling data to verify that – the waning support for these schools among civil rights groups at the national level would seem to contradict that assertion.

Of course, Question 2 may still pass, especially because of the tremendous amount of money coming from charter proponents outside the state to support the referendum. But the damage to the image of the charter industry resulting from this campaign will no doubt linger for years.

Who Controls Our Public Schools’

What the increasing number of challenges to the charter school industry reveal again and again is that support for these schools was never based on a strong foundation to begin with.

As the new report “Who Controls Our Public Schools: The Privatization of American Public Education” from the Independent Media Institute explains, “Rapid growth of charters did not come after wide debate and consensus. Instead, a privatized K-12 industry has taken root in forty-two states and Washington, D.C., and is expanding, despite many controversial premises and a track record raising serious questions about its academics, business models, and anti-democratic impacts.”

The report presents a comprehensive survey of the abundant news accounts and prominent studies documenting the origins of the modern charter industry, its incredibly successful public relations and marketing effort, and the significant problems it leaves in its wake, including widespread financial fraud and abuse, dubious academic results, and a weakening of democratic control of local schools. [Disclosure: I consulted on the report and am listed in its Acknowledgements.]

In recounting the history of charters, the report reveals how a cause originally supported by education reform advocates, including the leader of a national teachers’ union, was hijacked by libertarian ideology, advocates for big business, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who view the public education system as a playground for exerting their influence and ideas.

The report describes how the incredibly successful campaign behind charters – that relied on branding public schools as “failures” and pitched the private sector as the only source for solutions – was supported by “a powerful political, legal, and marketing infrastructure.”

The report authors argue charters have come to represent a force that “preempts traditional local control of public schools” and spends “hundreds of millions of dollars to promote itself … finance electoral campaigns up and down the political ladder and hire publicists who spread misinformation, aggressively lobby, and paint charter opponents as part of the problem they are solving.”

Perhaps most startling about the report is the repeated references to how the expansion of charters, and the many problems associated with them, was enabled by poor reporting from major media outlets and by government officials’ inability or reluctance to exert oversight of these schools.

“Lawmakers and mainstream media typically did not question the assumptions of the charter proponents,” the report continues, “especially when wealthy executives, who donate to campaigns, bemoaned public schools, praised charters, and demanded action.”

This “attack on traditional schools has been accepted by many state legislatures, which, in turn, have severed the oversight of neighborhood schools from locally elected school boards,” the report finds. “When state and federal lawmakers sanctioned charters, they typically did not discuss or anticipate that introducing the profit motive and deregulation would foster a business model encouraging financial corruption and self-dealing.”

Instead of calibrating regulation to address the problems spread by charters, the report explains, “efforts by auditors and some education regulators to produce greater accountability have been resisted … That hands-off approach by the education regulators is not an accident, but rather it is overwhelming evidence of the industry’s vast money, power, and influence.”

Despite calls for moratoriums and regulatory scrutiny of charters, charter movement leaders “keep sticking with the self-serving talking point that less transparency and accountability is a key to creating transformational schools,” the report asserts.

Thus, what we see in the charter industry today, the report explains, “was assembled one piece at a time, and with the help of compliant legislators and governors in state after state, a parallel world of rules and exemptions governing charter schools.”

Echoing the calls coming from prominent civil rights groups, the report urges that “state and federal governments should impose a national moratorium on the rapid growth of charters until the industry’s antidemocratic features and corruption-prone business models can be assessed and altered.”

Among the report’s many other recommendations are the imposition of new requirements and standards to make charter operations more accountable and transparent and a restoration of local school board oversight.

“Not only have charters consistently overpromised on the academic deliverables, but they have also introduced a business model into a noncommercial public arena that encourages nepotism, self-dealing, and self-enrichment based on diverting taxpayer funds and government-backed revenues,” the report concludes.

“Americans are beginning to catch on,” the report suggests. So should the charter school industry.

10/13/2016 – Nationwide Rally Demands Government Leaders Prioritize Education

THIS WEEK: Chicago Averts Strike … Segregation By Real Estate … College Bureaucracies Grow … Racism Affects Learning … Indigenous Peoples Day


Public School Activists Stage Massive Nationwide Rally Demanding Government Leaders Prioritize Education

By Jeff Bryant

“At last week’s massive outpouring at over 2,000 schools in over 200 cities … an estimated 100,000-plus people called for attention to widespread problems in public schools and demanded new policy directions that prioritize quality education for all students … Crowds were surprisingly unified in expressing their exasperation with government leaders who continue to shirk their responsibilities to provide all children with the opportunity to get a high-quality education … Frustration expressed at many of the events at last week’s walk-ins may have an effect on elections in November.”
Read more …


Officials, Parents Worry Chicago Schools Deal Won’t Stick

Education Week

“Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district pulled back from a threatened strike after a tentative last-minute contract agreement that Chicago officials acknowledged Tuesday may amount to a temporary fix … A key provision is an agreement by the city to divert about $88 million from a $175 million surplus … to the schools. That figure is less than the $200 million in additional spending the union had sought.”
Read more …

Race, School Ratings And Real Estate: A ‘Legal Gray Area’


“Advocates for fair housing see a potential problem with the close ties between school ratings and real estate … The common denominator, too often, is race … Most states base their school ratings primarily on more easily measured factors, like standardized test scores and graduation rates. And these indicators, in turn, are heavily influenced by inequities of race and class.”
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University Bureaucracies Grew 15% During The Recession, Even As Budgets Were Cut And Tuition Increased

The Hechinger Report

“The number of people employed by public university and college central system offices like this one … has kept creeping up, even since the start of the economic downturn and in spite of steep budget cuts, flat enrollment and heightened scrutiny of administrative bloat … This continued growth has happened at a time when states have collectively cut their higher education spending by 18% … Employees in once-separate departments whose positions have been [centeralized] … could eventually help curb costs.”
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How The Stress Of Racism Affects Learning

The Atlantic

“The stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts … Physiological response to race-based stressors … leads the body to pump out more stress hormones in adolescents from traditionally marginalized groups … What emerges is a picture of black and Latino students whose concentration, motivation, and, ultimately, learning is impaired by unintended and overt racism … Reducing student exposure to racial discrimination and improving race relations in the U.S. more generally are the ultimate solutions to this, but in the meantime, there are ways to help students deal with the stress.
Read more …

More Schools Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples Day

Education Week

“School districts in New York and … Massachusetts are among the districts where school boards voted to change the celebration this year. They’re following the lead of school districts like Seattle … Students have led the charge in several cities … The wave … comes as a standoff between a coalition of Native Americans and the federal government over an oil pipeline in North Dakota has brought the contemporary issues facing Native Americans and their historical context into the national spotlight.”
Read more …

Public School Activists Stage Massive Nationwide Rally Demanding Government Leaders Prioritize Education

In an election year calling attention to multiple policy priorities, parents, educators, community organizers, and progressive activists are increasingly frustrated that education seems to be a priority that is nowhere near the top, at least in the minds of current government leaders.

That frustration was evident at last week’s massive outpouring at over 2,000 schools in over 200 cities where an estimated 100,000-plus people called for attention to widespread problems in public schools and demanded new policy directions that prioritize quality education for all students.

Although protests that feature students walking out of school often get press attention, last week’s coordinated events called for walking into public schools after staging brief rallies at schools, minutes before they open in the morning.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools – a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups that support public education – organized the nationwide campaign.

The walk-ins, rather than tightly scripted affairs, were mostly an opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns about public education where they live and their support for their local schools and public education in general.

Despite the lack of coordinated messaging, crowds were surprisingly unified in expressing their exasperation with government leaders who continue to shirk their responsibilities to provide all children with the opportunity to get a high-quality education.

At events in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Anchorage, Alaska, participants in the rallies called for a national recommitment to “the promise of public education” and “the best possible education we can provide.”

“We’re sick of not being [a] No. 1 [priority],” said Mo Kashmiri, a teachers’ union representative in Fresno, California.

At a walk-in I attended at a middle school near Raleigh, North Carolina, participants complained of an “attack” on public education in their state, where spending per-student has fallen 14.5 percent since fiscal year 2008, teacher pay has declined to 41st in the nation, teachers assistants have become mostly a thing of the past, and class sizes are now allowed to grow to higher, unmanageable levels.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who addressed the crowd, implored attendees to “not apologize for standing up for the needs of our students, our educators, communities, and public schools,” and instead called for widespread resolve among the public and its leaders to be “all in for public education.”

While signs and insignias circulated among the crowd underscored support for the “all in for public education” commitment, it was clear to many in attendance, including Eskelsen Garcia, that too many of our government leaders decidedly aren’t.

In a conversation with me after the event, she explained, “When you come to a school and see how hard the teachers and staff work to address the challenges they face – the increasing class sizes, the students struggling with poverty, the lack of text books and basic supplies – you have to wonder why our political leaders are not working as hard to make sure schools and teachers have what they need.”

Eskelsen Garcia recalled one year in her teaching career, at a Utah elementary school, where her class size suddenly increased to 39 students, many who had special education needs. “I couldn’t throw up my hands and walk away saying, ‘Sorry, this is too difficult.'” Yet that’s exactly what she sees, in effect, current government leaders doing when they dismiss increased funding and support for schools as something that is “politically too difficult.”

“We’re all in it for our children,” she said, making a motion to encompass the whole crowd, “and we need our leaders to be too – and in it for all children, not just a select few.”

The frustration expressed at many of the events at last week’s walk-ins may have an effect on elections in November. Numerous ballot measures will be contested, school board races are plentiful, and education is becoming a heated topic in state governor elections.

At the Fresno event cited above, participants called for the passage of California Proposition 55, which would maintain current funding levels passed in 2012 and paid for, in large part, by a personal tax increase for people who make more than $250,000.

At a walk-in in Minneapolis, my colleague at The Progressive magazine, Sarah Lahm reports that participants gathered at a local high school to support “an existing referendum on the books up for renewal on Election Day. Voters will be asked whether or not they will continue to support putting a portion of their property tax dollars directly into the schools.”

Lahm writes, “The message was one of hope, not desperation.”

At other walk-in rallies, participants also called for less emphasis on standardized testing, more authentic ways of judging school performance, and “an equal opportunity for quality education for all kids, no matter where they live or what their economic status is,” according to a local Michigan news outlet.

In New York, a similar “walking” action called for a school funding increase that was originally mandated by courts but was withheld and then undermined by state lawmakers over the past ten years.

To call attention to the state government’s actions, the Alliance for Quality Education organized a ten-day, 150-mile hike – an “EdWalk” – from New York City to the state capital in Albany to demand the $3.9 billion owed to the state’s schools.

In reporting on the AQE action for Moyers and Company, Sarah Jaffee quotes one of the EdWalk participants, special education teacher Mindy Rosier, who says, “We’re walking so we can be heard.”

With the entire New York state legislature being up for election in November, they’d better be listening.

10/06/2016 – Federal Government Continues To Feed Charter School Beast Despite Auditor’s Warning

THIS WEEK: Chicago Teacher Strike … Counselors For Black Kids … Pre-K Progress In NYC … Union Combats Trump Effect … College Is For Wealthier


Federal Government Continues To Feed Charter School Beast Despite Auditor’s Warning

By Jeff Bryant

“Our federal government’s new gift of nearly a quarter-billion dollars to charter schools… is going to eight states and 15 charter school networks from the Charter Schools Program, a federal government operation that doles out millions every year to start new charter schools. This money is the latest installment of an over $3 billion gravy train the federal government has funded to help launch over 2,500 charter schools across the nation … Regardless of how you feel about these schools, you should be concerned about how this new government outlay to charters will be used, based on the extensive track record of financial malfeasance in these schools.”
Read more …


Chicago Teachers Strike Again? A Beautiful Response to Ugly Injustice.

The Progressive

Chicago school teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett writes, “In Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools … our school’s funding was cut despite increased enrollment. And across the district, many of these basic tenets of an equitable, world-class education have been taken away from students. So while a strike represents struggle, it represents beautiful struggle. Rather than accepting Chicago leadership’s conviction that our daughter and her peers are born inferior and less deserving of educational opportunities than the mayor’s children, we have the opportunity to stand together and rebel against that notion.”
Read more …

Report: There Are Too Few School Counselors for Traumatized Black Children – But Plenty of Punishment

Atlanta Black Star

“Black and brown children, who are most likely to live with trauma, run a much greater risk of facing harsh punishment and school discipline rather than receiving the crucial mental health counseling they need … A new research report … tells the story with the first-of-its-kind, state-level analysis on the shortage of counselors, psychologists, and social workers in America’s public schools. … 35 million children in the U.S. are suffering from trauma, yet only 8 million (22% ) have a school psychologist at their disposal. Only 63% of public schools have a counselor, and a mere 18 percent have a social worker.”
Read more …

Children In New York City Preschool Made Progress In Learning, Behavior Skills: Study

The Wall Street Journal

“Children in New York City’s public preschool program made gains in recognizing letters, spelling, and early math skills … Children on average gained seven months of learning and gained more ‘executive function’ skills, such as impulse control and avoiding distraction … A survey of families found 92% rated the quality of their child’s preschool program as ‘‘good’ or ‘excellent,’ and 83% reported that preschool improved their child’s learning and behavior ‘a lot’.”
Read more …

Nation’s Largest Labor Union Plans To Link Trump To Rise In School Bullying

The Washington Post

“Citing a growing number of reports by its membership of Trump-like bullying in classrooms across the country, the National Education Association is planning to make the issue a centerpiece of its argument against Trump in ads and mailings in battleground states … Members are reporting children threatening classmates that they might be deported by Trump or calling other classmates terrorists … The push coincides with National Bullying Prevention Month in October, an effort that is normally part of NEA’s annual activities.
Read more …

Colleges Lavishing More Financial Aid On Wealthy Students

Associated Press

“Financial aid, traditionally a lifeline for poorer students at public colleges, is increasingly being used to attract students from more affluent families … State schools are using the money to lure the most qualified students, raise average test scores, and entice students from high-income families who can pay the rest of the full sticker price. Critics say that by devoting aid to students who don’t need it, state schools are punishing the poor, making it harder for them to attend college when the gap between tuition costs and affordability is only growing.”
Read more …

Federal Government Continues To Feed Charter School Beast Despite Auditor’s Warning

Politicians always promise they will rid government of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” so let’s hope at least one political leader or policy maker will denounce our federal government’s new gift of nearly a quarter-billion dollars to charter schools.

The cash dump to charters, courtesy of taxpayers, is from the U.S. Department of Education. As Education Week reports, the money is going to eight states and 15 charter school networks from the Charter Schools Program, a federal government operation that doles out millions every year to start new charter schools.

This money is the latest installment of an over $3 billion gravy train the federal government has funded to help launch over 2,500 charter schools across the nation.

Regardless of how you feel about these schools, you should be concerned about how this new government outlay to charters will be used, based on the extensive track record of financial malfeasance in these schools.

Indeed, shortly after the USDE announcement, the Department’s own auditor warned that the money is very much at risk of ending up in the pockets of fraudsters and con artists rather than in the classrooms of diligent students and dedicated teachers.

Again Education Week reports, the audit by the agency’s inspector general’s office examined 33 schools in six states and concluded that because of a general lack of oversight of charters there was a “risk that federal programs are not being implemented correctly and are wasting public money.”

The risk stems from the “cozy relationships,” the EdWeek reporter’s words, between charter schools and companies that operate them, called Charter Management Organizations (CMOs).

Of the 33 charter schools the audit examined, 22 had examples, sometimes multiple examples, of how CMOs take advantage of the unusual business relationship they have with their client charters to exploit federal education funds and redirect precious taxpayer dollars to private interests that have nothing to do with education.

In one of the more egregious examples the audit round, “the CEO of one CMO in Pennsylvania had the authority to write and issue checks without charter school board approval and wrote checks to himself from the charter school’s accounts totaling about $11 million.”

At another Pennsylvania charter, a vendor that supplied services to the school was owned by the charter school’s CMO and received $485,000 in payments from the school without charter school board approval.

In Florida, a charter and a CMO that shared the same board entered into an expensive lease agreement for the school building, then expanded the facility, extended the lease, and increased the rental payments to the CMO.

One CMO the audit examined, which operated three charters in Michigan and one in New York, required the charter schools to remit all federal, state, and local funds to the CMO and gave the CMO total responsibility, with no oversight by the charter board, for paying school expenditures.

The auditor’s report doesn’t provide the names of these schools, so we don’t know if they have received federal grant money in the past or are some of the ones getting the new money.

However, three of the six states the audit looked at – California, Texas, and Florida – are the same states the Department of Education just decided to send more money to. The other three – Michigan Pennsylvania, and New York – have received federal money for charters in the past, either sent to the state or to charter organizations operating in the state.

These states, and presumably many others the feds send charter money to, often don’t sufficiently track how the money is used, according to the audit. Of the six states examined, half could not provide consistent funding data on charter schools with CMOs, a third could not identify which charter schools used CMOs, and a third that tracked whether charter schools used CMOs had unreliable information because charter schools self-reported their operations.

The federal auditor’s revelations on charter school waste, fraud, and abuse is yet another dose of reality in a long line of factual reporting about these schools.

A study released last year by the Center for Media and Democracy found “charter spending is largely a black hole.” That’s because the “flexibility” charters have been granted by the government is often being used not to create education innovations but to “allow an epidemic of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools,” the CMD report found.

Based on its extensive research on charters, CMD examined the list of new award grantees and noted Florida, that’s getting a grant of $58,454,516, has closed over 120 charter schools in a little over a decade. Texas, which is getting $30,498,392, has “an unknown number” of charter schools “housed in churches’ and “closely tied to, religious groups.”

Tennessee, which is getting $15,172,732, is famous for having a statewide online charter school that is so bad, the state education chief tried to get rid of it but couldn’t because of political maneuvering by the charter lobby and lack of regulatory accountability.

California, which is getting $27,329,904, has some of the worst charter school scandals in the nation, according to a report from the Center for Popular Democracy, which uncovered over $81,400,000 in fraud, waste, and abuse in the state. CPD call the alarming figure “likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

Louisiana, another grantee getting $4,836,766 from the feds, has been ripped off by “tens of millions of dollars in undiscovered losses” from charter schools in the 2013-14 school year, according to another CPD analysis. “The state has insufficiently resourced financial oversight,” CPD contends, and has yet to put into place adequate reporting, staffing, and auditing.

Three other states – Georgia, Massachusetts, and Washington – are getting the money just when they are deeply embroiled in heated controversies over charter schools.

Georgia has a ballot initiative in November on whether to allow the state to operate an Opportunity School District that would summarily take over local schools and hand them over to charter operators. Massachusetts also has a November ballot initiative, called Question 2, that would allow the state to lift the cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in the state. And in Washington, a charter school battleground for over 20 years, court rulings, legislative shenanigans, lawsuits, and counter lawsuits related to charter schools continue to rage across the state.

No doubt, this new money – over $41 million altogether for these three states – may now sweeten the pot if pro charter forces get their way.

Regarding the individual CMOs the Department is sending money to, one of them, Uncommon Schools, is a charter chain which used to be led in part by the current head of USDE, Secretary John King. Uncommon is getting $8,004,576. No conflict of interest there.

Another recipient – the Denver School of Science and Technology charter chain in Colorado, with a grant of $4,043,361 – has paid out between $20 to $50 million to a for-profit corporation owned by two of the charter chain’s director, according to another CPD analysis.

A charter school chain in Indiana getting $1,923,866 is plagued with financial problems, low enrollment, and controversy over how the CEO spends money. No doubt the infusion of federal cash will help.

The federal auditor’s report recommends the convening of a formal oversight group to look into charter school financial malfeasance, more rigorous review of charter school operations by federal agencies, and legislative changes in Congress to firm up government oversight.

Here’s another recommendation: Stop federal funding to expand these schools.


9/29/2016 – Elizabeth Warren Clarifies The Charter Schools Debate

THIS WEEK: Structural Racism In Pre-K … No To School Cops … Kaepernick Effect … Important Governors Races … School Board Elections


Elizabeth Warren Clarifies The Charter Schools Debate

By Jeff Bryant

“This week, Massachusetts news outlets reported the state’s most prominent politician, and one of the nation’s most important progressive leaders, Senator Elizabeth Warren threw the supposedly progressive framing of charter schools into doubt when she announced officially her opposition to a ballot initiative in November to expand the number of charters in the Bay State … Warren has good cause to be concerned about expanding charter schools in her state.”
Read more …


Yes, Preschool Teachers Really Do Treat Black And White Children Totally Differently

The Huffington Post

“New research … shows that preschool teachers respond to their black and white students differently. Implicit biases – or unconscious stereotypes – might be at the root of these differences … The first half of the study used eye-tracking equipment to determine where teachers look when they are expecting student misconduct … Teachers tended to focus their eyes on black students … In the second half of the study, the educators read vignettes about a child’s misbehavior … White teachers tended to rate the behavior of the “black” children more mildly than black teachers, who tended to rate the misbehavior of black children more harshly.”
Read more …

Coalition Calls For End Of Police Presence In Schools

The Center For Public Integrity

“A coalition of family and civil-rights groups launched a national campaign … to ‘end the regular presence’ of police, armed security and truancy officers posted inside schools … Harsh disciplinary actions of police assigned to schools … have become increasingly controversial in recent years, creating worries that criminalization of minor indiscretions has created a counter-productive ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ … Federal officials have expressed concerns as well, but have stopped short of calling for removal of cops entirely … Arrests, ticketing, and rough physical contact fall most heavily on student with disabilities and students of color.”
Read more …

Patriotism And Protest Under Friday Night Lights

The Atlantic

“Across the country, students are sitting, kneeling, and dissenting from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and standing for the national anthem. Many of these acts coincide with [Colin] Kaepernick’s refusal to stand and show pride for what he described as ‘a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color’… It’s almost universally understood by school officials that they have to allow students to excuse themselves from these exercises … Still, the tension remains between knowing the law and obeying it.”
Read more …

Fresh Policy Leverage Waits As Governors’ Contests Heat Up

Education Week

“12 states will pick governors Nov. 8, and two-thirds of them will be new faces regardless of the partisan outcome … 6 governorships are held by Democrats, five by Republicans, and one (West Virginia) by an independent. That fluid situation and the Every Student Succeeds Act’s new grant of policy flexibility to the states may clear the way for a more activist stance on education policy by the nation’s governors … School funding, finance formulas, and accountability have dominated the debates.
Read more …

School Board Elections: Someone’s Paying Attention But It’s Not Us

The Second Line Education Blog

“According to Ballotpedia, ‘643 of America’s largest school districts by enrollment are holding elections for 2,041 seats. These elections will take place in 38 states. These districts collectively educated a total of 16,965,635 students during the 2013-2014 school year – 34% of all K-12 students in the United States’ … Big money, influence and government are paying attention. Parents are not … Outside donors have set up shop and are not looking to go anywhere anytime soon. The education of our children is seen as a lucrative commodity.”
Read more …

Elizabeth Warren Clarifies The Charter Schools Debate

Are charter schools a “progressive” idea for education? Some progressive sources would have you think so, but other progressives have challenged that framing.

This week, Massachusetts news outlets reported the state’s most prominent politician, and one of the nation’s most important progressive leaders, Senator Elizabeth Warren threw the supposedly progressive framing of charter schools into doubt when she announced officially her opposition to a ballot initiative in November to expand the number of charters in the Bay State.

The referendum, called Question 2, calls for lifting the cap on the number of charters allowed in the state, allowing for as many as 12 new charter schools per year.

In her statement, Warren explains that although some charter schools are “excellent,” her concern about Question 2 is about what “this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

In other words, Warren’s progressive values, which few would dispute she possesses, have persuaded her to reject a policy idea that may benefit some of her constituents but neglects, or even does potential harm, to the broader population.

Warren had signaled her potential opposition to Question 2 back in August when she told reporters, “I’m just concerned about the proposal and what it means for the children all across the Commonwealth … Public officials have a responsibility not just to a small subset of children but to all of the children, to make sure that they receive a first-rate education.”

Warren’s views about charter schools and other forms of “school choice” have been a matter of much speculation by school choice advocates because of a positive mention of school vouchers in a book she co-authored 13 years ago. But a recent conversation Warren had with education historian Diane Ravitch threw those speculations into doubt, when Ravitch reported on her personal blog that Warren is unlikely to fall in line with charter school doctrinaire.

Now we know Ravitch’s assertions were well founded.

A Drain On Local Schools

Warren has good cause to be concerned about expanding charter schools in her state.

Over 150 Massachusetts communities, at last count, have gone on record to oppose Question 2, no doubt due in large part due to the financial impact charter schools have on school district funding levels.

As a recent news source in Northampton reports, six nearby charter schools are projected to drain $2,279,216 from the district’s budget, which prompted the local council in that community to vote unanimously to oppose the ballot measure. Said one council member, “Public school districts across the state are losing more than $408 million [to charters] this year alone – a loss of funds that is undermining the ability of districts to provide all students with the educational services to which they are entitled.”

Charter proponents argue that local schools aren’t being financially harmed by charters because as students transfer from public schools to charters, the “money follows the child” and the cost of educating the transferring students merely moves from one education facility to another. But this argument is either profoundly ignorant of school finance or purposefully misleading.

Research studies have shown that the current model for financing charter schools harms the education of public school students. As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally. It also can’t cut the costs of grade-level teaching staff proportionally. That would increase class sizes and leave the remaining students underserved. So instead, the school cuts a program or support service – a reading specialist, a special education teacher, a librarian, an art or music teacher – to offset the loss of funding.

For these reasons, and others, the introduction of charter schools into communities now invariably sparks division and resentment from parents who stay committed to public schools.

An Exclusionary Approach To Schooling

Charters, as they are currently conceived, are also concerning to anyone with progressive values because of the tendency of these schools to exclude certain students that are more difficult to teach.

Massachusetts charter schools in particular have had a history of cherry picking students.

For instance Bay State charters, compared to district schools, have a tendency to under-enroll students with disabilities; although there is some evidence the schools are making progress on this front. And in Boston and other urban centers in the state, charters tend to under-enroll students whose first language isn’t English.

Another exclusionary tactic charters often employ is to use harsh discipline codes and out-of-school suspensions to push out students who exhibit behavior problems or who struggle with school rules and academic work.

A 2014 article in the Boston Globe cited a report finding, “Boston charter schools are far more likely than traditional school systems to suspend students, usually for minor infractions such as violating dress codes or being disrespectful, a high-risk disciplinary action that could cause students to disengage from their classes … Of the 10 school systems in Massachusetts with the highest out-of-school suspension rates, all but one were charter schools.”

One Boston charter school had suspended 60 percent of its students.

Students who are frequently suspended are much more apt to leave, and once they leave, charter schools are not required to fill the empty seats with new students. As students progress from grade-level to grade-level, this allows charters to sort out “the chaff” among its students until the entering grade class is reduced to only those students who are more apt to score well on tests and eventually graduate. This filtering process shows up in the high student attrition at charters.

Based on recent research conducted by classroom teacher and PhD candidate Mark Weber, who blogs under the moniker of Jersey Jazzman, every Boston independent charter high school has a higher student attrition rate than their public school counterpoints as a whole, meaning that the freshman class that had enrolled in the school originally eroded in size by the time graduation rolled around. In one case, a charter school’s freshman class shrank by more than half by the time they were seniors.

A Favored Cause Of Big Money

Finally, Warren, who is best known for battling Wall Street and the interests of big finance, likely sees that these are the very same people funding the campaign to pass Question 2.

According to Louisiana public school teacher and author Mercedes Schneider, as of September 9, the effort in favor of Question 2 had raised roughly $17.8 million, with the largest amount of money coming from Walmart Arkansas billionaire siblings Jim and Alice Walton, who together contributed $1,835,000.

Another source of money to push for Question 2, according to Schneider, comes from “Massachusetts bankers and hedge funders” which have contributed a total of $437,410 to the campaign. “Twenty-four of the above hedge funders/bankers identified as employees of Fidelity Investments,” she notes.

Public broadcasting source WGBH reports other funders of the campaign for Question 2 include New York-based Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy and Education Reform Now Advocacy, which both have strong ties to the hedge fund industry. Those two groups, along with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, put in $6,240,000.

Other contributors to the campaign to pass Question 2 are decidedly more prone to back causes aligned to conservative Republicans rather than progressive Democrats. In an interview on her Edushyster blog, Jennifer Berkshire talks with political scientist Maurice Cunningham who explains that funding to support Question 2 is driven by “a handful of wealthy families that … largely give to Republicans, and they represent the financial industry.”

According to Cunningham, these funders are mostly “out of Bain, they’re out of Baupost, they’re out of High Fields Capital Management.” Other backers include “billionaire Seth Klarman … the largest GOP donor in New England” and Republican strategists Will Keyser and Jim Conroy.

Other contributors to the pro-charter initiative include corporations in the IT, manufacturing, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries.

A Collision Course With Progressives

Adding to the financial industry’s support for charters is the full-throated support for charters coming from Republican politicians.

In a recent campaign address, presidential candidate Donald Trump called school choice the “civil rights cause of our time,” thereby adopting the rhetoric of establishment Republicans including his primary opponents Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush in support of charter school expansions.

Of course, Warren could have other reasons to oppose the expansion of charters in her state. And there are certainly many charter schools that adhere to the progressive ideals that originally motivated the creation of these schools.

But that’s not the point.

When advocates for charter schools decided to embrace a school choice financial model that cripples existing neighborhood schools, to adopt education practices that exclude and push out the most challenging students, and to join forces with the financial industry and right wing Republicans, they put their movement on a collision course with anyone who has progressive values.

Senator Warren’s opposition to Question 2 is proof the car wreck is happening.

9/22/2016 – Solutions To A Teacher Shortage Crisis Even Republicans Will Like

THIS WEEK: U.S. Way Behind On Pre-K … Spending On Higher-Ed Falls … Another Wall St. Rip-Off … Student Debt Relief … Charter Moratorium


Solutions To The Emerging Teacher Shortage Crisis Even Republicans Will Like

By Jeff Bryant

“A new report is making big headlines for showing that public schools across the nation are experiencing severe problems with teacher shortages that are apt to develop into a ‘crisis’ if left unaddressed … The report offers three broad recommendations to address shortages through policy changes related to teacher compensation, distribution and, retention … Only the fourth and final recommendation, to develop a national teacher supply market, would need to be carried out at the federal level.”
Read more …


On Early Ed, The U.S. Is Light Years Behind Other Industrialized Countries

U.S. News & World Report

“Out of 36 countries, the U.S. ranked 29 in enrollment rates for its 3- and 4-year-olds … 42% of 3-year-olds and 68% of 4-year-olds enrolled in early childhood or preschool programs in 2014 – far below the OECD average of 71% of 3-year-olds and 86% of 4-year-olds … The figures for the U.S. are nearly unchanged since 2005 … Affordable early childhood care has ballooned as a campaign issue recently as it’s become more and more expensive and as research builds regarding how impactful it can be in ensuring kids don’t fall behind.”
Read more …

As Economy Rebounds, State Funding For Higher Education Isn’t Bouncing Back

The Hechinger Report

“Higher ed funding remains stubbornly down since the beginning of the recession. Unlike after previous economic downturns, state spending on higher education has not bounced back as the economy rebounds. And in some states, a bigger and bigger share of what they do spend on public universities and colleges is going to such things as employee pensions, not instruction … More than seven years after … the end of the recession, states on average are spending 18% less per student on public higher education than they did in 2008 … This has helped push up by 33% the average annual published tuition at four-year colleges and universities.”
Read more …

Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success


“Investment banks … have been aggressively promoting Pay for Success (also known as Social Impact Bonds) as a solution to intractable financial and political problems facing public education and other public services … By 2020, market size for impact investing will reach between $400 billion to $1 trillion … Pay for Success does not solve the historical failure to adequately fund public education or other social services … Because it costs more, Social Impact investing raises this debt burden while delaying it, thereby destabilizing the public system further. In this sense, Pay for Success is an elaborate form of public relations that makes a failure to address a public problem look like innovative action.”
Read more …

Soaring Student Debt Prompts Calls For Relief

The Wall Street Journal

“A tripling of student debt over the past decade to more than $1.3 trillion has unleashed a torrent of Washington lobbying from outside the education sector … Many industries argue that freeing up student debt, even for well-paid workers, would help the economy … The proposal with the most traction would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 a year toward an employee’s student debt without it being taxed.
Read more …

Why The NAACP Moratorium On Charters Really Matters To Our Public Schools

The Huffington Post

Historian and university professor Yohuru Williams writes, “Advocates of charters attempt to dress up support for these schools as a matter of choice and thus consistent with the democratizing impulse … But they do so as part of an attempt to dismantle a well-funded and equitable system of public education open to all, which the NAACP fought hard to ensure … The Civil Rights Movement was about inclusivity, while those who appropriate its language to buttress corporate education reform do so largely in support of programs that promote exclusivity at the public’s expense.”
Read more …

Solutions To The Emerging Teacher Shortage Crisis Even Republicans Will Like

A new report is making big headlines for showing that public schools across the nation are experiencing severe problems with teacher shortages that are apt to develop into a “crisis” if left unaddressed.

The report from an education think tank called the Learning Policy Institute took off from last year’s widespread news stories that reported how schools were “struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science, and special education.”

Where this new report goes way beyond last year’s news stories is that it draws from a deep well of statistical validity, meticulous analysis, and wise counsel.

The report not only finds clear and credible evidence of teacher shortages; it provides a baseline definition of the term, identifies the factors driving the shortfalls, forecasts a continuing problem, and offers policy recommendations to shore up the existing teacher supply and attract new, well-qualified entrants.

Nevertheless, there are skeptics who remain unconvinced of the problem. Last year’s anecdotal reports on teacher shortages prompted harrumphs like this one in Forbes that argued it’s still “not clear … how large or prevalent the teacher shortage actually is.”

This year, many skeptics seem similarly unmoved. A reporter covering the LPI release for Education Week found an unconvinced source, Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who claims, “Nobody has any national data that is justification for declaring a teacher shortage.”

I don’t think Walsh actually read the report, which indeed draws from several federal databases and numerous other quantitative studies and surveys.

Regardless of the evidence, studies finding deep and intractable problems in the teacher workforce always seem to draw the doubting crowd. Republicans, in particular, have always been resistant to the idea there is a teacher shortage. The reasons are somewhat mystifying (like why they hate passenger trains but have no problem flying on airplanes), because there are really very good reasons for Republicans and middle-of-the-roaders to embrace the reality of teacher shortages and press for solutions that are compatible with their values.

First, because Republicans are the party of business, solutions for teacher shortages should draw their interest since the problem is strongly tied to a tenant of business thinking: supply and demand.

As the LPI report explains, teacher shortages are driven by clear causes rooted in industry: a demand for teachers – as a result of efforts to return to pre-recession course offerings and class sizes and ever-increasing populations of students with specific kinds of learning needs – is outstripping supplies of teachers that have been diminished by declines in teacher preparation enrollments and high teacher attrition. As we Southerners are fond of saying, “It’s just that by-god simple.”

The problem of teacher shortages is also rooted in another element of business practice: distribution. As the LPI report explains, even if the supply of teachers increases, it may not help if those new and returning teachers aren’t available where they’re needed most, especially in schools serving low-income communities of color.

As the report states, “The major supports that were enacted in the 1960s and ʼ70s to underwrite preparation for teachers to go to high-need fields and high-need schools (under the National Defense and Education Act) ended in the 1980s, and have not been fully reinstated since then. While some federal grants are currently available, they are not designed to serve as an adequate incentive to candidates.”

Education policy leaders in Montgomery County Maryland and California, the report explains, have taken steps to successfully address that problem. These actions should be replicated elsewhere.

Here’s another aspect of the teacher shortage problem Republicans should love: It’s not just about money.

The number one factor negatively affecting the teacher supply is attrition, so the authors of the LPI report looked for the reasons why so many teachers are leaving their jobs.

What they found is that, contrary to popular notions, teachers aren’t leaving because they’re aging out of work or because they’re disgruntled with low pay. The largest portion of teachers leaving their jobs, 53 percent, does so voluntarily during their preretirement years. And only 18 percent of teachers leaving cite financial reasons as the main factor.

Instead, most teachers, 55 percent, leave their jobs due to “areas of dissatisfaction,” which “can range from physical conditions – such as class sizes, facilities, and classroom resources – to unhappiness with administrative practices – such as lack of support, classroom autonomy, or input to decisions – to policy issues, such as the effects of testing and accountability.”

Because teacher turnover is driven less by “student or teacher characteristics” and more by working circumstances, policy makers can make big positive changes by adding more administrative support, taking steps to improve the culture in schools, and giving teachers more time and opportunity to develop collegial relationships, collaborate with their peers, and have more decision-making input into school operations.

This is not to say the report ignores the impact salaries can have on teacher retention and recruitment. The authors cite examples from Connecticut and North Carolina where significant investment in higher teacher pay “solved perennial teacher shortages and created a strong supply of well-qualified teachers.”

(Interesting, North Carolina has since scaled back teacher compensation and is now among the worst states in “teacher attractiveness,” according to an interactive map that accompanies the report.)

But the most dramatic financial impact derived from addressing teacher shortages comes from the significant savings.

The report estimates that public schools waste more than $8 billion annually on replacement costs because of high teacher turnover.

“A comprehensive approach to reducing attrition,” the report states, “would effectively both lessen the demand for teacher hiring and save money that could be better spent on mentoring and other evidence-based approaches to supporting teacher development.”

Finally, we don’t have to wait for the federal government. Republicans should love that many efforts to address teacher shortages can happen at state and local levels of government.

The report offers three broad recommendations to address shortages through policy changes related to teacher compensation, distribution and, retention. These broad recommendations are broken down further into more focused efforts that could be applied at local levels. Only the fourth and final recommendation, to develop a national teacher supply market, would need to be carried out at the federal level.

Of course, the worst way to address the teacher shortage crisis is to lower the qualifications for instructors and reduce the quality of teaching.

Unfortunately, many states are taking that path. As Education Week recently reported, policy leaders and lawmakers in numerous states are following the advice from “conservatives and free-market lobbyists … to completely eliminate or scale back certification requirements, expand their Teach For America corps and other alternative routes into the profession, and allow superintendents to sidestep bargaining agreements.”

In Utah, schools can now hire teachers who have had no training whatsoever. In Wisconsin, lawmakers have proposed to let “anyone with s bachelor’s degree” teach core academic subjects in grades 6 – 12 and “any person with relevant experience – even a high school dropout“ teach other subjects in those grades.

In Maine and other states, lack of qualified teachers is prompting some school districts to turn to software for instruction, despite some studies showing computer-based instruction can have negative effects on student learning.

Once upon a time, the main reason to address teacher shortages and ensure an adequate supply of the most qualified teaching staff was because it would be what’s best for students.

But in today’s education policy world, driven mostly by financial austerity and ever more stringent demands for “accountability,” that reason no longer seems persuasive enough to spur action. Let’s hope these other reasons will.