Education Opportunity Network

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8/25/2016 – John Oliver Slams Charter Schools And His Critics Totally Miss The Point

THIS WEEK: How Schools Ruin Testing … Teachers Win Tenure Case … Head Start Works … Threats To Schools Increase … Secret Procharter Money


John Oliver Slams Charter Schools And His Critics Totally Miss The Point

By Jeff Bryant

“British comedian John Oliver devoted a ‘Back to School’ segment on his HBO program Last Week Tonight to examining the rapidly growing charter school industry and what these schools are doing with our tax dollars … None of Oliver’s critics seriously refuted the crux of his argument that there might be something fundamentally wrong by design, rather than by implementation or intent, with the idea that a ‘free market’ of privately operated and essentially unregulated schools is a surefire way to improve education opportunities for all students.”
Read more …


How Schools That Obsess About Standardized Tests Ruin Them As Measures Of Success


“A look at the data combined with some basic principles of social science suggests that the practices of no-excuses charters are undermining the very foundation of data-based education reform … A test that overshadows the ultimate outcomes it is intended to measure turns into an invalid test … Many charter schools, under pressure to deliver unrealistic gains in test scores, are contorting themselves to get the numbers they’ve promised. They’re being rewarded for doing so.”
Read more …

In A Major Win For Teachers Unions, California Supreme Court Lets Teacher Tenure Ruling Stand

Los Angeles Times

“A landmark California case challenging tenure and other traditional job protections for teachers … let stand an appeals court ruling that preserved an array of employment rights … The assault on these protections is part of a broader approach to reforming education that would make schools more like the private sector, which relies on competition, measurable results and performance incentives … The Legislature remains the most logical place to determine such employment rules, some advocates on both sides said.”
Read more …

Research On Tulsa’s Head Start Program Finds Lasting Gains


“Children who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests [by eighth grade]. They were less likely to be retained and less likely to display chronic absenteeism. These are highly consequential outcomes that we know are predictive of high school graduation, college enrollment, even earnings … The Head Start model, with its strong family support component and comprehensive services for children, can give children a strong pathway through school and hopefully out of poverty in their adult lives.”
Read more …

When Schools Are Threatened, Untold Learning Time Is Lost

Associated Press

“Violent or disruptive threats are increasing nationwide … blamed sometimes on local students and sometimes on outsiders … cause disruptions or a big emergency response … There’s no formal accounting of the collective costs … but the learning time lost to evacuations and cancellations adds up … The number of school bomb threats the last academic year alone, based on media reports, was at least 1,267, roughly twice as many as in 2012-13.”
Read more …

Donors Behind Charter Push Keep To The Shadows

Boston Globe

“A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on screen … Four of the five donors to the procharter committee are nonprofit groups that do not, under state law, have to disclose their funders … The cloak of secrecy surrounding the financing of what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history has frustrated election officials and underscored the proliferation of untraceable money in political races across the country … The ballot campaign known as Question 2 – which would allow for the creation or expansion of up to 12 charter schools per year in low-performing districts.
Read more …

John Oliver Slams Charter Schools And His Critics Totally Miss The Point

Sometimes it takes a funnyman to make sense.

Earlier this week, British comedian John Oliver devoted a “Back to School” segment on his HBO program Last Week Tonight to examining the rapidly growing charter school industry and what these schools are doing with our tax dollars.

The Washington Post’s education blogger Valerie Strauss watched the segment and reports that while Oliver declined to address whether or not charters provide high quality education, he focused mostly on how often these schools are “terribly – and sometimes criminally – operated.” (You can see Oliver’s entire sketch here.)

Editors at Rolling Stone watched Oliver’s broadcast as well and report Oliver focused much of his attention on three states – Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – that have “especially depressing charter track records – including negligence in the approval process and school executives embezzling funds.”

For some time now, I’ve reported on the alarming spread of charter school scandals in these states, and elsewhere, in numerous articles for Salon. So very little of what Oliver exposes is new to the public. But because of the reach of HBO, Oliver’s international popularity, and his ability to turn serious subjects into very funny – even if upsetting – material, advocates in the charter industry mustered a strong defense with numerous blogposts and press releases calling Oliver’s anecdotes “outdated,” his treatment of charters “uninformed” and unfair, and his opinions too disinterested in the needs of parents, especially from communities of color.

None of Oliver’s critics seriously refuted the crux of his argument that there might be something fundamentally wrong by design, rather than by implementation or intent, with the idea that  a “free market” of privately operated and essentially unregulated schools is a surefire way to improve education opportunities for all students.

Indeed, charter schools are “here to stay” has become a refrain among advocates for these schools, even though there’s no doubt the controversy caused by this new parallel school system is just beginning, and no one can predict what the ongoing conflict will lead to.

The charter industry is currently responsible for educating a small percentage of students – just 6–7 percent nationally and barely measurable in many communities, especially more well-to-do metropolitan and rural areas. A minority of Americans and relatively few politicians completely understand what charter schools are. And most experts have mixed views on the purpose of the schools.

However, what charter advocates generally won’t admit is that many of the problems these schools cause are reflective of what inevitably seems to happen when an essential public service is privatized.

The charter industry claims its schools are “public” institutions because they get tax dollars, but that’s like saying a defense contractor is a public business because it takes in revenues from the federal government.

Numerous experts point out charter schools blur the line from what it means to be a public institution providing a public good and that, by their very design, they expand opportunities to profiteer from public tax dollars and privatize public assets.

People in communities affected by these schools are just beginning to see the conflicts these institutions cause, and it’s just a matter of time before government officials at all levels are forced to respond to the increasing concerns with these schools.

Just consider recent actions taken by the Department of Justice to curtail the expansion of the private prison industry – a privatization trend that generally predates the rise of the charter industry.

As Mother Jones reports, after “a damning report on the safety, security, and oversight of private prisons,” DOJ announced it would stop contracting with these institutions.

Donald Cohen, who leads In the Public Interest, an organization that researches problems posed by privatizing public services, writes for Huffington Post, privately operated prisons are fundamentally flawed because the business model they must follow encourages the companies to “actively seek new prisoners to fill facilities they own.”

As ITPI has previously reported, “in an effort to provide the service with fewer resources while also maximizing profits, [private prison] companies often cut corners, reducing the quality, effectiveness, and accessibility of the service.”

“The more contractors can cut costs on running their facilities, the wider their profit margins,” writes Aman Banerji for the Roosevelt Institute. “No wonder … private prisons contracted by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) contain one or more security deficiencies, health service deficiencies, and a greater number of food grievances.”

This clear and obvious conflict of interest – between serving the public and rewarding private enterprise – led to a misalignment with DOJ’s mission to hold an essential function of government to the high standards the public demands.

If the charter school industry believes it can avoid this conflict, it’s kidding itself.

More than one attentive blogger has noticed the striking similarities between charter schools and the private prison industry. In one of these posts, Mitchell Robinson notes that charters, like private prisons, differ from the public counterparts by not being locally managed or controlled, not providing the same level of services and programs, and not answering to the same level or degree of regulation and oversight.

Over the years, the US Department of Education has rewarded charter schools with over $3.3 billion in federal funds, and with passage of the most recent federal education law, the every Student Succeeds Act, USDoE will send $333 million more to these schools before the current fiscal year is over.

Remarking on the actions DOJ took to end tax dollars going to the private prison industry, Banerji concludes, “It offers an opportunity to contest the privatization of state services beyond the prison system.”

Let’s hope reexamining the role of charter schools is the next step.

8/18/2016 – What Back-To-School Shopping Lists Reveal About Underfunded Schools

THIS WEEK: Cops In Schools … LGBT Students Traumatized … Caution On EdTech … Wrong About Test Scores … Inside A ‘No Excuses’ Charter


What Your Back-To-School Shopping List Reveals About Our Underfunded Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Back to school supply lists are likely longer than ever before due to the simple reason that schools increasingly don’t have the funds to pay for items on the list … But the lack of funding for basic school supplies is just the most obvious sign of America’s growing crisis in education funding … The whole fiasco makes you wonder what the endpoint is.”
Read more …


Bullied By The Badge?

The Hechinger Report

“Since the 1990s, at least 11 states have enacted legislation that funnels state funds into school policing programs … By 2014, 30 percent of public schools had school resource officers, or SROs … Officers inside schools have a significant impact on whether students interact with the criminal justice system … Students who interact with the criminal justice system are more likely to drop out of high school, become involved with the system again and have higher unemployment rates than students who have not been arrested.”
Read more …

Gay And Lesbian High School Students Report ‘Heartbreaking’ Levels Of Violence

The New York Times

“About 8% of the high school population described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, which would be about 1.3 million students. These adolescents were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. They skipped school far more often because they did not feel safe; at least a third had been bullied on school property. And they were twice as likely as heterosexual students to have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. More than 40% of these students reported that they had seriously considered suicide, and 29% had made attempts to do so.”
Read more …

Caution Flags For Tech In Classrooms


“Both blended learning and online … show results ranging from mixed to negative … Even as computers become ubiquitous in classrooms, there’s a lot we still don’t know – or at least that we’re not doing to make them effective tools for learning … Implementation is really important, yet it’s often ignored … Imperfect data and inadequate evaluation make it hard to understand or improve the use of ed-tech … Computers are enhancing access. There’s less evidence that they’re enhancing learning.”
Read more …

Student Test Scores: How They Are Actually Calculated And Why You Should Care

The Washington Post

“If you think that determining scores on standardized tests is a simple matter of figuring out how many answers each student got right, you are wrong. In fact, scores are derived through statistical models and scaling practices that can be misleading about student achievement … A series of reports … have urged caution in the use of standardized test scores to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, principals and schools – but policymakers at the federal and state levels have for years ignored the warnings … This problem is becoming more apparent to more people … The 2016 platform of the Democratic Party says, for the first time ever, that using test scores for high-stakes decisions is a bad practice.”
Read more …

Schools That Accept ‘No Excuses’ From Students Are Not Helping Them

The Washington Post

Former charter schoolteacher Julia Fisher writes, “When I taught at a charter school, I once gave out 37 demerits in a 50-minute period. This was the sort of achievement that earned a new teacher praise … Students encounter careful uniform checks and communal chanting of motivational slogans … Posture and eye contact are important, even for 16-year-olds. Class is not to proceed without total compliance … An administrator watched my class every day. If I didn’t fully enforce the school’s code – under which demerits must be issued for slouching, looking at the wrong person or even taking notes when not explicitly directed to – the administrator would correct me on the spot … Questions were forbidden … Classes were designed to follow No Excuses dogma, in a way that precluded real engagement. Discussion was considered a waste of time because it didn’t produce measurable results … Most of the time was devoted to worksheets.
Read more …

What Your Back-To-School Shopping List Reveals About Our Underfunded Schools

“You can exhale now,” the headline in Salon reassures, because “kids have more money than ever to spend on school stuff this year.”

The reason for Salon’s celebratory tone is that a national survey every year by the National Retail Federation finds that preteens preparing for a new school year have a record-breaking average of $80.31 in personal spending money. The author leaps from that nugget of information to conclude this is a sign of a stronger economy ahead. (Disclosure: I’ve written about education for Salon.)

But even if Salon’s analysis makes you breathe easier about the economy, you should understand those school kids aren’t going to keep their cash for very long, because their schools are going to need it.

Indeed, back to school supply lists are likely longer than ever before due to the simple reason that schools increasingly don’t have the funds to pay for items on the list. And because of persistently inadequate budgets that continue to dog our schools, you can be sure the longer your shopping list, the worse the funding situation is throughout your child’s school system.

Not only are school stockrooms increasingly bare of supplies, but teachers aren’t being adequately paid, class sizes are ballooning, programs are being cut, and school buildings increasingly forego required maintenance.

In states like North Carolina – where schools still get less funding than they did in 2008, despite an improving economy – money for necessary school supplies continues to be inadequate.

In the News & Observer, a local paper based in Raleigh, a first-grade teacher explains how the allotment for supplies she and her colleagues receive has gone from $100 per student “over a decade ago” to zero. The shortfall is especially harmful to her school where 70 percent of students are from low-income households that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. “Some are even homeless,” she says.

Across the state in Asheville, a local reporter explains how in that district’s schools the allocation for classroom supplies dropped from $215,530 in 2007-08 to an expected $136,802 in the upcoming school year. That smaller allocation comes as the number of students grew from 3,800 to an expected 4,500.”

An op-ed in the Raleigh paper explains the cause of the problem: State budget allocations for school supplies are less than half of what they should be based on a comparison to funding levels in 2007-08, adjusted for inflation.

The problem is nationwide. According to the most recent calculation of what it costs for a typical family to begin the school year – the Backpack Index compiled by Huntington bank – since 2007, “the cost of supplies and extracurricular activities has increased 85 percent for elementary school students, 78 percent for middle school students, and 57 percent for high school students.”

Yet many states, over the same time period, continue to fund schools less.

Consequently, teachers are having to beg families for money and dig deeper into their own pockets to purchase items their classrooms need just to function properly. A survey of schoolteachers in 2016 finds the average teacher spends $487 in personal money for their classrooms, mostly for school supplies and learning materials.

Much like in North Carolina, an Oklahoma newspaper describes the problem teachers have with outfitting their classrooms. The reporter sources much of the blame to budget cutbacks passed down from the state to districts. Some districts have eliminated school supply funding altogether.

In some school districts in Michigan, funding for classroom supplies has been cut so much teachers resort to crowd funding for basics such as pencils and paper.

A federal tax deduction of $250 softens the blow somewhat, but teachers often have to pay more for supplies even as their wages slide further down the ladder of economic compensation. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute finds the gap between what teachers get paid compared to comparably educated workers has gone from 5.5 percent in 1979 to 17 percent in 2015. Even with other benefits thrown into the calculation, teachers’ pay doesn’t come anywhere close to other professions.

But the lack of funding for basic school supplies is just the most obvious sign of America’s growing crisis in education funding.

In Oklahoma, for instance, the shortfalls go beyond supply shortages to staff cuts, closing libraries, reducing arts instruction, and charging fees for extracurricular activities.

A recent article in the New York Times reported on the inadequate school-funding situation in Kansas where “in poorer districts like Kansas City and Wichita, students are crammed into deteriorating buildings with bloated class sizes. One district in southeast Kansas, facing a budget shortfall, recently pared its school week to four days.” Many school in the state had to close their doors early last school year due to inadequate funding. Although the most recent state budget includes a compromise to comply with a court ruling, the measure likely still fails to provide an adequate level of resources for schools.

In Illinois, the most recent budget deal still left many school districts far short of the funding they need. The budget prompted a letter from a group of district superintendents arguing the budget was so inadequate “many schools won’t open their doors in the fall,” according to a local news outlet. The lack of spending has already caused schools around the state to trim PE classes, even though state law requires them.

The state’s inadequate funding levels hit Chicago schools the hardest, where the district recently announced budget cuts of $232 million and layoffs of over 1,000 employees including over 500 teachers.

In Pennsylvania, a recent budget compromise left many of the state’s schools still below adequate funding. Increases that managed to get retained through the negotiations do not address increased costs of rising health care and pension costs and the growing burden of charter school costs to public schools districts, according to school administrators across the state.

In Michigan, school administrators in Detroit are concerned there isn’t enough funding coming from the state to ensure there is a teacher in every classroom. Utah seems to have found a workaround for that problem: To keep spending levels low, the state now allows schools to hire teachers who don’t have any training.

Sometimes school budget inadequacies manifest themselves in other ways that are visibly obvious in the conditions of classrooms and buildings. Across South Florida, for instance, schools are plagued with mold, leaky roofs, broken air conditioners, and crumbling walls and floors.

If the school your child attends happens to appear to be adequately funded, please do not assume all others in your community are. In many places, school resources are not shared equitably, and money can be, and often is, diverted from under-resourced schools to benefit the pet projects of policy makers.

The whole fiasco makes you wonder what the endpoint is. How long can we continue to withhold adequate funding from schools, and how bad would school conditions have to get to warrant a change in direction?

Perhaps a news item out of Omaha, Nebraska helps answer those questions (hat tip, Jeff Tiedrich). According to the report, the city faced  a multi-million dollar backlog of road repairs and was being inundated with complaints from some neighborhoods about potholes in their poorly constructed roads. The solution thrifty city leaders put into place? Bulldoze the pothole-filled streets and turn them back into dirt roads.

That sort of radical response to decaying infrastructure is not that different from the decisions our lawmakers are making to withhold adequate funding from schools and find other workarounds instead. The ever-lengthening list of back-to-school supplies parents are getting is just another sign of that.

Mudflaps anyone?

8/11/2016 – Populism Is Rewriting The Charter School Narrative

THIS WEEK: Many Charters Exclude Students … Texas To Investigate Gülen Charters … Charter Groups ‘Swift Boat” Opponents … Teacher Pay Gap Widens … Fed Spending On Pre-K


How Populism Is Rewriting The Charter School Narrative

By Jeff Bryant

“Two recent events showcase exactly how the populist fervor in the nation is … rewriting the story of the roll out of charter schools in our communities … First … the national NAACP has called for a nationwide ‘moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools’… Those schools and what they’ve come to represent in communities were also rejected at the local level in a school board election in Nashville … What’s abundantly clear is that while [charter advocates] have been completely free to write the charter school narrative in their own words, now the people are telling their version of the story.”
Read more …


Report Charges Many Charter Schools Exclude Children In Violation Of The Law


“Over 1 in 5 of California’s charter schools have restrictive admissions requirements or other exclusionary practices that keep out many students with the greatest academic needs … These practices include: denying enrollment to students who have weak grades or test scores, expelling students who do not have strong grades or test scores, denying enrollment to students who do not ‘meet a minimum level of English proficiency,’ requiring students to meet ‘onerous’ requirements for admission … discouraging students from immigrant background … [and making] enrollment conditional on parents volunteering or donating funds to the school.”
Read more …

Texas Education Agency To Investigate Charter School System

Houston Business Journal

“Texas has decided to investigate a Houston-based charter school program … Harmony Public Schools after complaints alleged misuse of federal and state funds and connections with Turkish vendors … Also investigating whether Harmony allegedly guaranteed a $1.9 million bond debt of a Turkish charter school network in Arkansas … The investigation comes after international law group … filed a complaint in May alleging a connection between Harmony and the Gülen Organization, headed by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric from Turkey residing in Pennsylvania … The government of Turkey believes Gülen had a large role in a recent failed coup attempt in Turkey.”
Read more …

Pro-Charter Group Hires Ad Firm Whose Swift Boat Campaign Helped Sink Kerry

Boston Magazine

“Public Charter Schools for MA, a proponent of the referendum on lifting the state’s cap on charter schools, has purchased $6.5 million in advertising … produced by DC-based SRCP Media … You may remember SRCP Media’s infamous ‘Swift Boat Veterans For Truth’ smear campaign, which helped scuttle John Kerry’s presidential aspirations in 2004 by peddling discredited claims regarding his military career during the Vietnam War … The campaign was so effective, ‘swift boat’ has become synonymous with sliming of the highest degree.”
Read more …

The Teacher Pay Gap In US – Wider Than Ever

Job Market Monitor

“The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 2015, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17.0% lower than those of comparable workers – compared with just 1.8% lower in 1994. This erosion of relative teacher wages has fallen more heavily on experienced teachers than on entry-level teachers … Collective bargaining can help to abate this teacher wage penalty … Even so, teachers’ compensation (wages plus benefits) was 11.1% lower than that of comparable workers in 2015 … This is particularly difficult at a time when the supply of teachers is constrained by high turnover rates, annual retirements of longtime teachers, and a decline in students opting for a teaching career.”
Read more …

Early Childhood Education Gets Push From $1 Billion Federal Investment

The Washington Post

“More than $1 billion in federal aid to make quality education accessible to high-needs preschool children … has rapidly improved the quality of learning for the students while simultaneously enrolling a significant number of new students in top-tier programs. It also has allowed health screenings for thousands of preschoolers to help identify and treat medical and developmental issues earlier, including ones that might have affected their ability to learn … Nearly 267,000 children with high needs are now enrolled in the highest-quality state preschool programs … a 263% increase … Numerous studies have shown that children who receive a high-quality early education are more likely to succeed economically and socially. It is particularly a boon to high-needs students.
Read more …

How Populism Is Rewriting The Charter School Narrative

In a political season that’s been dominated by populism it should come as no surprise that a grassroots uprising is having an effect on education policy as well.

Two recent events showcase exactly how the populist fervor in the nation is redrawing the education policy landscape, and more specifically, rewriting the story of the roll out of charter schools in our communities that’s been enabled by laissez faire lawmakers and the generosity of the Obama administration and wealthy private foundations.

Both events – one which reflects a national response to the populist uprising, and the other, an example of the uprising itself – reveal how a grassroots rebellion against unregulated charter schools is shaking the foundations of the education policy establishment’s narrative about these schools.

NAACP Calls For A Charter School Moratorium

First, university professor Julian Vasquez Heilig broke the story on his personal blog last week that the national NAACP has called for a nationwide “moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools.”

The NAACP resolution, which passed at the national convention in July but will not be official until the National Board meeting later this Fall, cites numerous problems posed by charter schools including their tendencies to increase segregation, impose “punitive and exclusionary” discipline policies on students, and foster financial corruption and conflicts of interest. (Disclosure: Heilig is a colleague of mine at The Progressive.)

Around the same time Heilig made his revelation, The Atlantic reported another prominent civil rights group the Movement for Black Lives – a coalition of over 50 black-led organizations aligned with Black Lives Matter – also is calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

Other civil rights voices soon joined in support of the moratorium.

Journey for Justice – an alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in 21 cities across the country – declares in a statement that its constituency of largely African American local activists is “demanding the end of unwarranted expansion of charter schools.” Another voice for civil rights, the Internet-based collective known as Educolor, also issued a general statement in support of the MBL platform.

At the Hechinger Report, Andre Perry, a university professor and one of the early advocates for charter schools in New Orleans, explains, “Why the Black Lives Matter movement has to take on charter schools.” Perry writes, “Many of the theories and practices many of us are fighting against in the criminal justice arena are still openly embraced by many charter schools.” Specifically, he cites the tendencies of charters to practice “no excuse” models of education that enforce strict behavior codes and produce high rates of out-of-schools suspensions.

Nashville Defeats Charter School Dark Money

While the reputation of charter schools took a hit at the national level, those schools and what they’ve come to represent in communities were also rejected at the local level in a school board election in Nashville.

A year and a half ago, I reported firsthand from Nashville on how local schools in the district were under assault by the twin forces of a rightwing agenda driven by the Koch Brothers and a collusion of business interests and private foundations intent on privatizing the schools. In my article for Salon, I explained how three school board members – Will Pinkston, Jill Speering, and Amy Frogge – had determined to represent the will of their voters, rather than the interests of big money, and resist the onslaught of charters.

“It’s immoral to force this kind of change on people who don’t want it,” Pinkston told me in my interview with him. “It also diminishes the odds of success.”

In last week’s board election, the three incumbents plus an open seat were targeted for takeover by the wealthy interests behind charter schools. As local blogger TC Weber explains, charter advocacy groups and the local Chamber of Commerce invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars to knock off their opponents and elect a pro-charter majority to the board.

One of the pro-charter interests is Stand for Children that classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene identifies as an “astroturf organization” backed by rich foundations and wealthy individuals connected to the investment industry. SFC’s involvement included over $700,000 to pay for campaign mailers and phone-banking and direct orchestration of volunteer and paid canvassers, which likely violates federal election law.

Despite the outpouring of cash and influence, as the Knoxville news outlet reports, the big money behind charter schools lost. “After spending a small fortune, all four candidates [charter advocates] backed in the Metro Nashville school board election and a handful of state GOP primary challengers lost their races.”

The results of the Nashville election reverberated to the national scene where education historian Diane Ravitch, on her popular personal blog, called it, “A great lesson about how parents can beat Dark Money.”

Rewriting The Narrative

The way pro-charter advocates have responded to these two events is telling.

Regarding the civil rights groups’ calls for a charter moratorium, the pro-charter response has been a hissy-fit driven by fiery rhetoric and few facts.

Shaffar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, a Washington D.C. based charter advocacy financed by hedge funds, issued a statement declaring the NAACP resolution a “disservice to communities of color.”

In a nationally televised newscast, Steve Perry, founder and operator of a charter school chain, lashed out at Hilary Shelton, the bureau director of the Washington, DC, chapter of the NAACP, for being a sell out to the teachers’ unions and for abandoning children of color.

The contention that the NAACP has sold out to teachers’ unions holds little water since that organization has been a recipient of generous donations from pro-charter advocates as well. And any argument that curbing charters is a de facto blow to black and brown school kids is more a rhetorical trope than a factual counter to the evidence NAACP cites, showing where charters undermine communities of color.

Regarding the defeat of big money-backed pro-charter candidates in Nashville, the usual outlets for charter industry advocacy – Democrats for Education Reform and the media outlets Education Post and The 74 – have been totally silent.

These responses are telling because the charter industry has heretofore been such masterful communicators.

Advocates for these schools have long understood most people don’t understand what the schools are. Even when presidential candidates in the recent Democratic Party primary ventured to express an opinion about charters, they horribly botched it.

So for years, the powerful charter school industry has been filling the void of understanding about charters with clever language meant to define what these schools are and what their purpose is.

The schools, we’ve been told, are “public,” even though they really aren’t. They’re supposed to outperform traditional public schools, but that turns out not to be true either. Even when the charter industry has tried to cut the data even finer to prove some charters outperform public schools, the claims turn out to be grossly over-stated.

We’ve also been told charter schools are a “civil rights cause.” Now it turns out that’s not quite the case either.

Of course, charter school propagandists still have plenty of rhetorical arrows in their quiver. But what’s  abundantly clear is that while they’ve been completely free to write the charter school narrative in their own words, now the people are telling their version of the story. And the ending is no doubt going to look way different.



7/27/2016 – Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

THIS WEEK: Income Segregation Worsens … How Unions Improve Teaching … Online Charters In Trouble … Colleges Need $30 Billion For Maintenance … Games Charters Play


Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

By Jeff Bryant

“Hillary Clinton’s picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for her vice presidential running mate is not apt to ease the ‘anxiety’ or ‘soul searching’ education reformers feel … In reviewing Kaine’s education policy chops, what’s in his record may not be as important as what isn’t: the current education establishment’s policy checklist … The years progressives have put into organizing, voicing opposition to current education policies, and calling for new directions in education are likely having an effect on a new Democratic Party.”
Read more …


Income Segregation In Schools Found To Rise By 40% Since 1990

Education Week

“Income segregation … in the 100 largest districts …. is about 40% higher than in 1990 … This new level of segregation is not caused primarily by the historical separation between poor families and all others … The middle class has been slipping further behind the upper middle and affluent classes … The growing trends in income-based segregation in schools were also likely due to school-choice policies.”
Read more …

What If Everything You Thought You Knew About Teachers Unions Turned Out to be Wrong?


Freelance writer Jennifer Berkshire interviews an author of a recent study who found, “Highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers … By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them … Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism.”
Read more …

Oklahoma Joins Ranks Of States and Agencies Cracking Down On Virtual Charter Schools


“Oklahoma is one of many states investigating and castigating virtual charters … California recently arrived at a disputed settlement with for-profit online charter operator K12 Inc. … Ohio’s largest online charter school operator, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), has failed to stall an audit of its financials and attendance records in court … Of every 100 students enrolled at ECOT, 80 do not graduate.'”
Read more …

Long-Neglected Maintenance Threatens To Further Escalate The Cost Of College

The Hechinger Report

After years of budget cuts and continuing austerity, universities and colleges collectively face a shortfall of a record $30 billion for … deferred maintenance or ‘deferred renewal’ to deteriorating buildings and other infrastructure … The problem is compounded by the fact that they nonetheless continue to build more – spending a record $11.5 billion last year – in the hope of attracting students … Some universities are already adding ‘capital renewal fees’ to students’ bills to help them pay for renovations and improvements.”
Read more …

Why Charter Schools Get Public Education Advocates So Angry

The Washington Post

Former high school principal and current executive director of the Network for Public Education Carol Burris writes, “Charters, regardless of their original intent, have become a threat to democratically governed, neighborhood public schools, and questions about their practices, opacity and lack of accountability are increasing as their numbers grow … Democratic school governance is viewed as an obstacle by many charter school devotees … Charter schools control enrollment … Even after initial enrollment, charters lose students through attrition … Some charters are better, and others are worse … What all share, however, is the ability to use the freedom given to them for innovation to shut out democracy, attract the students they want and hide important information from the public, even as they collect taxpayer funds.
Read more …

EON is taking a break next week. Watch for a resumption of the newsletter on August 11.

Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

An education “reform” establishment that has enjoyed the complete support of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush may be getting nervous.

The policy outline for K-12 education coming from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign remains vague, but supporters of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders have substantially altered how public education is framed in the Democratic Party platform, and Clinton has become more strident in her attacks on “for-profit” charter schools and vouchers that allow parents to transfer their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

At this week’s Democratic Party National Convention in Philadelphia, experienced reporters from Education Week notice that although Clinton generally pledges “to pick up the policy baton from President Barack Obama … it’s tough to say how true that will be when it comes to K-12 education.”

A Politico education journalist at the DNC reports that Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, a policy group that has gotten used to getting its way in the Obama administration, said, “There was ‘anxiety’ within the education reform movement over the future of [the movement’s] priorities.”

When DFER threw an event at the convention, the EdWeek reporters note the mood was more about “soul searching” than celebrating.

Clinton’s picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for her vice presidential running mate is not apt to ease the “anxiety” or “soul searching” reformers feel.

“To be sure, Kaine is not part of the so-called education reform camp,” writes education reporter Lauren Camera for U.S. News and World Report.

Camera correctly tags New Jersey Senator Cory Booker as someone who would have been more favorable to big supporters of the high-stakes testing and charter school expansions that come with reform orthodoxy. But Kaine’s education record diverges sharply from that.

As a mayor, a governor, and a U.S. senator, Kaine has a “hefty education resume,” as Camera writes, which includes support for expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age 5 and increasing access to career and technical education programs and apprenticeships.

Education writers for Politico note Kaine’s work to provide federal student loans for some career education programs, his advocacy for LGBT students’ rights, and his support for improving emergency responses on college campuses and mental health in Virginia following the death of 32 people by gun violence at Virginia Tech in 2007.

But in reviewing Kaine’s education policy chops, what’s in his record may not be as important as what isn’t: the current education establishment’s policy checklist of standardization, high-stakes testing, allowing charter schools to sort students by income and ability, and keeping teachers under the authoritative thumb of test-based evaluations – there’s none of that.

In what may be the most revealing commentary about his education perspectives, an op-ed he wrote for his hometown Richmond paper, Kaine lays out an education agenda of increased personalization, relief from the testing mandates, richer and more varied curriculum, and support and autonomy for experienced teachers. (Hat tip: Bertis Downs.)

Education journalists covering Kaine also never fail to include mention of his wife Anne Holton, who serves as Virginia’s secretary of education. As education journalists at the Washington Post explain, Holton “has worked to reform a standardized testing regime that had been criticized as unnecessarily time-consuming and onerous.”

Holton, the reporters write, has blamed high stakes testing for intensifying the stubborn achievement gap in her state, rather than remedying it as fans of the reform approach say it will.

The article also notes Holton “has opposed the expansion of charter schools and other school-choice measures, and she has pushed for greater investments in public education, including teacher pay raises.”

None of this is what education reformers want to hear.

Kaine and Holton also deserve to be praised for “walking the walk” of progressive schooling by enrolling all their children in the public school system and sending them to racially integrated schools that were majority non-white.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Kaine will influence the education policy direction of a Clinton administration. Nor is this to say Kaine is perfect on education or even the most progressive of possible VP candidates Clinton could have picked.

For instance, Kaine has expressed reluctance to support free universal public higher education, which has become a cornerstone in the populist agenda advocated by Bernie Sanders and his supporters. And as governor, Kaine presided over a period when Virginia made significant cuts to education funding; although, to be fair, this occurred in response to one of the nation’s worst economic calamities in its history.

Also, liberal groups have criticized Kaine for his support of big banks, Wall St. deregulation, and “free trade” – although, he flipped his position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal shortly after becoming the vice presidential nominee.

But none of these factors should veer from the narrative of what is rapidly happening to education policy in the Democratic Party.

As my colleague Dave Johnson explains in his analysis of Tim Kain’s change of heart on TPP, ” Kaine had to change his position” (emphasis mine) on TPP after he was chosen because that’s more reflective of where the Democratic party is going rather than where it’s been.

“This is what happens when people organize and make their voices heard,” Johnson writes. “This is the power of the progressive movement. This is the new Democratic Party.”

The years progressives have put into organizing, voicing opposition to current education policies, and calling for new directions in education are likely having an effect on “this new Democratic Party” too. No wonder people who’ve enjoyed their cushy places at the top are nervous.

7/21/2016 – If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

THIS WEEK: The Trump Effect … Racial Bias In Schools … How Charters Hurt Public Schools … Why Segregation Persists … Who’s Re-Segregating Little Rock?


If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

By Jeff Bryant

“For the past eight years, the Democratic Party’s education agenda has chiefly been based on an idea conceived in right wing policy shops then pushed into the party’s most powerful circles by a very small but wealthy group of individuals … Based on this understanding, it’s not a surprise that extremists such as Mike Pence have been eager to adopt much of this agenda. But in calling out Pence as an extremist, is Hillary Clinton signaling there may be shifts in her party’s education agenda?”
Read more …


Why Are Third-Graders Afraid Of Donald Trump?

The Atlantic

“There are reports across the country of what’s been called ‘the Trump Effect’ … Those working in schools with large immigrant populations say kids are actively afraid about what might happen to themselves and their families if Trump were elected. And explaining the American political system’s checks and balances isn’t much help.”
Read more …

How Racial Bias Affects The Quality Of Black Students’ Education

Think Progress

“Decades of racial bias against black Americans and the legacy of slavery are evident in our classrooms … Schools in the U.S. remain very economically and racially segregated … Students’ quality of education suffers in this segregated school environment … Racially biased school discipline contributes to what’s known as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ … Black students begin receiving far more suspensions than white children beginning as early as preschool … Black students are also expected to stay engaged and interested in courses that don’t recognize the reality of their lives – and don’t cover the contributions of black political leaders and artists as often as those of white historical figures.”
Read more …

How Charter Schools In Michigan Have Hurt Traditional Public Schools, New Research Finds

The Washington Post

“How do some charter schools affect the traditional school districts in which they are located? Disastrously… ‘Overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent … The higher the charter penetration, the higher the adverse impact on district finances … As the share of students in the district that are going charters increases, there is a causal relationship of a larger share of the students who are left behind in the district who receive special education services.'”
Read more …

One Reason School Segregation Persists


“Researchers tested a broad range of factors that could explain why parents choose a school … Only three of these factors significantly drove parental choice … high test scores, schools closer to home, and schools where their own child would be alongside more peers of his or her same race and class … White and higher-income applicants had the strongest preferences for their children to remain in-group, while black elementary school parents were essentially ‘indifferent’ to a school’s racial makeup, the researchers found. The findings for Hispanic elementary and middle school parents were not statistically significant … Research – and history – show that left to their own devices, parents won’t desegregate schools.”
Read more …

Charter Schools And The Waltons Take Little Rock Back To Its Segregated Past


Jeff Bryant writes, “Progress on racial integration in schools achieved during the Civil Rights period has gradually eroded, and in many cities, schools are now nearly as racially divided as they were 40 years ago … But lengthy presentations of statistical data and litanies of high court decisions tend to overlook places where the fight to uphold the vision of a pluralistic school system is still very much alive –places like Little Rock [Arkansas] … But now, the actors have changed. This time, those being accused of segregating students aren’t local bigots. Instead, Little Rock citizens see segregation as being imposed upon them by outsiders, operating under the guise of a reform agenda.
Read more …

If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

Soon after the announcement that Indiana Governor Mike Pence would be the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party, word came from Democrats that he was an extremist – and not just your garden-variety extremist.

“The ‘most extreme’ vice presidential pick in a generation,” an article in USA Today quotes a statement from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Podesta elaborates, according to the reporter, calling Pence, “an early supporter of the Tea Party” and someone who “‘personally spearheaded’ a religious liberty bill that ‘legalized discrimination’ against gays and lesbians (which he later revised); and he was a leader in the effort to defund Planned Parenthood as a member of the U.S. House.”

“Mike Pence is even worse than you think,” warns a report from left leaning news outlet Salon, arguing he has “the most virulently anti-gay records of any government official” and has “also built his career on restricting abortion rights.”

According to an article in Alternet, Pence is a favorite of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who fund extreme right wing organizations such Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that writes extremist right wing laws that have been enacted in many states.

Another opinion piece in the Washington Post criticizes Pence for “mocking” working moms.

As for Clinton herself, according to Politico, because the announcement of Pence’s candidacy coincided with her appearance at the annual convention of the American Federation of Teachers, she focused some of her criticism of Pence on his record on education issues. In her address, Clinton “told thousands of cheering teachers union members that Pence is ‘one of the most hostile politicians in America when it comes to public education.’”

Clinton accused Pence of cutting “millions from higher education while he was ‘giving huge cuts to corporations’ … Clinton also said Pence ‘turned away millions of federal dollars that could’ve expanded access to preschool for low-income children.’”

A more dispassionate look at Pence’s education record by Chalkbeat Indiana reveals he “pushed for career and technical education, school choice, and changes to standards and tests.” Despite Clinton’s claim that Pence turned away “millions” in federal money for pre-k education, which is true, Pence also, according to the Chakbeat reporter, pushed “to create a small preschool pilot program” that got “Indiana off the list of just 10 U.S. states that spent no direct state funds to help poor children attend preschool.”

What’s also on Pence’s list of education policy accomplishments are a repeal of the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards pushed by the Obama administration, a prolonged battle with the state superintendent over control of education policy, and lots and lots of “school choice” legislation, including more funding for privately operated charter schools and expansions of the state’s voucher program that allows parents to transfer their students to private schools at taxpayer expense.

In other words, what Pence adopted as his education policies resemble a hodge-podge of what is commonly referred to as “education reform.”

Indeed, organizations that espouse the reform agenda give Pence’s education record rave reviews.

“Mike Pence Is the Veep Education Reformers Need,” declares the Center for Education Reform. CER leader Jeanne Allen declares in her statement, “Mike Pence is a true pioneer of educational opportunity.”

Pro-reform American Federation for Children gushes, “Governor Pence is a longtime champion for educational choice, believing that every child, regardless of family income or ZIP code, deserves access to a quality education.”

At Forbes, reform cheerleader Maureen Sullivan’s list of “seven things” to know about Pence’s education stance reads like a checklist from the reform movement, including charter schools, standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, and curriculum geared toward workforce preparation.

So, although Pence has strayed from reform orthodoxy at times – voting against the No Child Left Behind law passed under President Georg W. Bush and steering his state out of the Common Core (which he initially embraced) – he is generally recognized as an education reform leader, making him, in fact, aligned with many Democrats who’d never want to be caught dead supporting what Pence generally espouses.

For decades, both Democrats and Republicans have dined at the salad bar of education reform, with Democrats taking a heaping helping of charter schools but light on the vouchers please, and Republicans insisting on standardization but hold the Common Core now that we’ve gotten a taste of it.

Democrats eagerly sat alongside Republicans at the same education policy table in Indiana too. Most of the education policies Pence supported as governor have been a continuation of policies created by fellow Republicans – his predecessor Mitch Daniels and state superintendent Tony Bennett, who suffered a humiliating defeat during Pence’s tenure. But those policies often drew the praise of former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

In a visit to the state in 2011, Duncan and Bennett commended each other for their “efforts to overhaul education,” according to a local reporter.

In another visit to the sate a year later, Duncan “complimented,” according to a local news source, Bennett and Indiana’s leadership on the state’s expansion of charter schools and state takeovers of local schools – another popular item in the reform salad bar.

A New York Times article from 2013 lumps Duncan and Daniels, along with former Michigan Governor John Engler, together in the education policy arena, writing, “They all sympathize with many of the efforts of the so-called education reform movement.”

Outside of the Obama administration, Indiana education leadership has drawn strong support from StudentsFirst, the education reform advocacy group created and formerly led by ex-Chancellor of Washington, DC schools and avowed Democrat Michelle Rhee.

The leader of StudentsFirst Indiana state chapter has been “a key advisor to Governor Mike Pence,” according to a statement from the organization. Now that StudentsFirst has merged with reform advocacy group 50CAN, which is also led by avowed Democrats, no doubt that organization’s agenda will continue in the Hosier State.

The organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) hail Pence’s education priorities and claim the influence of prominent Democrats, including President Obama, have had a lot to do with them.

So why have so many Democrats shared the education agenda of an extremist the party now generally abhors?

When education journalist and Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss recently asked education historian Diane Ravitch what she would most want to tell President Obama should they ever have a face-to-face meeting, Ravitch replied she would like to tell him, “I will never understand why you decided to align your education policy with that of George W. Bush.”

The fact that Democrats have been supporting an education agenda that was to a great extent conceived in conservative Republican policy shops has been well known among careful observers and thoroughly documented by Ravitch in her books, The Death and Life of the Great American School, and Reign of Error.

“The irony today,” Ravitch explains in her interview, “is that many of the leading figures in the Democratic Party support some of the same education policies as the right-wing extremists in ALEC.”

In an email to me, Ravitch elaborates on more recent collusions between Democrats and Republicans on education policy. “President Obama pulled the rug out [from under public education supporters] by aligning with DFER,” she writes. “DFER money managers were big supporters of his. He was the inaugural speaker when they first met in NYC. After the election, they gave Obama a list of people they wanted in the Education Department. Top on it was Arne Duncan.”

As Dana Goldstein documented for The Nation in 2009, Obama made a decision at the outset of his presidency to listen “to only one side of” the debate on education policy in the Democratic Party. On the winning side were DFER and its wealthy backers from Wall Street who, according to Goldstein, conducted a “highly coordinated media campaign to call into question the work of Obama education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, once considered a top contender for the job of education secretary.”

After “DFER’s anti-Darling-Hammond talking points,” got prominent attention in major media outlets, Goldstein explains, “Less than two weeks later, Obama appointed DFER’s choice to the Education Department post, Chicago schools CEO Duncan.”

By the time Obama and Duncan rolled out Race to the Top and other education initiatives that directed the course of education policy across the nation, it had “become clear,” Goldstein writes, “that DFER’s idea of education reform is the one driving the Obama administration.”

But the policy ideas never had roots in populist soil. As Goldstein explains, “Lacking a membership base, [education reform’s] lobbying arm is essentially top-down, financed by New York hedge-funders, supported by research conducted at Beltway think tanks, and represented on the ground by a handful of state and local politicians scattered across the country.”

So for the past eight years, the Democratic Party’s education agenda has chiefly been based on an idea conceived in right wing policy shops then pushed into the party’s most powerful circles by a very small but wealthy group of individuals with the ability to push the right levers.

Based on this understanding, it’s not a surprise that extremists such as Mike Pence have been eager to adopt much of this agenda.

But in calling out Pence as an extremist, is Hillary Clinton signaling there may be “shifts in her party’s education agenda,” as American Prospect’s education journalist Rachel Cohen suggests?

An op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, a consistent megaphone for education reform, seems to think so. Calling Clinton’s criticism “an opening,” the author seems to relish a debate on whether policies from an extremist like Pence are best for “low- and middle-income families.”

Public schools advocates in the Democratic Party are eager to have that debate too.