Education Opportunity Network

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6/28/2018 – Charter School Chain Poised To Profit Off Children Separated from Parents At The Border

THIS WEEK: DeVos Drops Civil Rights … School Reform Fail … College Speech Crackdown … Rebel Name Falls … SCOTUS Hurts Kids


Charter School Chain Poised To Profit Off Children Separated from Parents At The Border

By Jeff Bryant

“Separating refugee and immigrant children from their parents at the border isn’t just a cruel injustice to the families affected; it’s also good business, and the latest enterprise wanting in on the action is a Texas-based charter school chain connected to the operator of detention centers reaping the biggest share of federal government contracts.”
Read more …


DeVos Has Scuttled More Than 1,200 Civil Rights Probes Inherited From Obama


“A ProPublica analysis of data on more than 40,000 civil rights cases … found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action … ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51% of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35%.”
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The Gates Foundation Bet Big On Teacher Evaluation. The Report It Commissioned Explains How Those Efforts Fell Short.


“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation … funded the efforts … in several large school districts and charter networks … to changing how teachers were hired, trained, evaluated, and paid. Now, new research commissioned by the Gates Foundation finds scant evidence that those changes accomplished what they were meant to: improve teacher quality or boost student learning … In most cases there were no clear effects, good or bad. There was also no consistent pattern of results over time … The total direct cost of all aspects of the program, across several years in the three districts and four charter networks, was $575 million … or a few hundred dollars per student per year.”
Read more …

In Name Of Free Speech, States Crack Down On Campus Protests

The New York Times

“When the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin wanted to address the issue of free speech on campus … it adopted a three-strikes policy …. Any student found to have disrupted the free expression of others is expelled after a third infraction … Republican-led state legislatures in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina have imposed similar policies on public colleges and universities, and bills to establish campus speech guidelines are under consideration in at least seven other legislatures. These efforts, funded in part by big-money Republican donors, are part of a growing and well-organized campaign that has put academia squarely in the cross hairs of the American right.”
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A School In The Former Capital Of The Confederacy Is Renamed For Barack Obama, The Nation’s First Black President

Education Week

“The school board in Richmond, Va., will rename J.E.B. Stuart Elementary as Barack Obama Elementary School … Most of the students at Stuart Elementary are black. At Obama-named schools across the nation, more than 90% of students who attend the namesake schools are black and Latino. Fewer than 4% are white … Despite a wave of recent campaigns to remove the names of Confederate leaders from public schools, roughly 140 buildings in K-12 school districts still honor figures from that foregone era.”
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Supreme Court’s Janus Ruling Will Hurt Children


Jeff Bryant writes, “Pushing the Janus case to a compliant Supreme Court is the conservative movement’s counterpunch against the collective power of working people. But as is so often the case, when rightwing billionaires take a swing at a progressive cause, they hit children too … Because school teachers have become society’s first responders, anything that diminishes their voices diminishes advocacy for children … But the benefits of teachers’ unions, and unions of all kinds, to the wellbeing of children go beyond the advocacy teachers engage in for their schools and their students … A 2015 study found strong empirical evidence that unions may help children move up the economic ladder … The Janus case represents the culmination of the conservative movement’s decades-long effort to strike at the heart of workers’ ability to organize.”
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Charter School Chain Poised To Profit Off Children Separated From Parents At The Border

Separating refugee and immigrant children from their parents at the border isn’t just a cruel injustice to the families affected; it’s also good business, and the latest enterprise wanting in on the action is a Texas-based charter school chain connected to the operator of detention centers reaping the biggest share of federal government contracts.

As the Washington Post originally reported, deep in its account of conditions at a border detention facility for children operated by Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, IRS forms from 2016-17 that show compensation of $1.48 million to the organization’s CEO Juan Sanchez were filed by “a related organization, an Austin charter school Sanchez founded.”

Wiley blogger Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana public school teacher, picked up the scent and reports Southwest Key indeed operates a charter business called East Austin College Prep which shares the same Austin street address. Other “related organizations” appearing on the same 2016-17 IRS filings include Southwest Key Maintenance, which received $113,000 for “janitorial services,” and Cafe Del Sol, which received $336,000 for “food services.” The school paid Southwest Key Programs, $1.14 million for “administration and rent.”

All four entities, the school and its related “independent contractors,” share the same street address.

“Sanchez sits on the charter school board as its secretary,” Schneider writes, and Southwest Key’s VP, Alexia Rodriguez, is board chair.

It’s a cozy relationship among an operator of youth detention centers receiving federal funds and grants, “public” charter schools funded by Texas taxpayers, a “nonprofit” organization providing a lease agreement and administration services to the charters, and for-profit entities servicing the schools. And the fact the schools, which overwhelmingly enroll Hispanic students, are connected to a booming business separating Hispanic students from their parents and detaining them in facilities at the border raises legitimate questions and concerns of whether a new “prison-to-school pipeline” is just another way for private entrepreneurs to exploit vulnerable children.

A Booming Business in Children

Keep in mind, Southwest Key is the biggest player in the growing business of immigrant and refugee family detention. “Southwest Key has 26 shelters in Texas, Arizona, and California, housing more than 5,100 immigrant minors. That’s about half of the total population in the custody of Health and Human Services,” NPR reports. “Its federal contracts now tally more than $400 million annually.”

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy for refugee and migrant families coming to the border has severely strained Southwest Key’s facilities – at the Brownsville shelter in a former Walmart super store, the Post story says, sleeping quarters built to accommodate four beds have been expanded to five, and a rigid round-the-clock schedule for managing the influx of children leaves little time for recreation and education.

Former employees, NPR reports, have spoken of “prison”-like conditions inside the shelters, and experts have warned of the psychologically damaging impact that the austere treatment in these facilities can have on traumatized children.

“Texas regulators found more than 150 violations at more than a dozen shelters run by Southwest Key in the last two years,” Dallas News reports, citing violations of employee “judgment,” poor management of medicines and cleaning supplies, and failure to run background checks on some staff members.

Numerous national outlets recently reported a Honduran teenager housed at Southwest Key’s Brownsville facility walked out of the building and was never found. He is reported to be in Mexico and headed back to Honduras, but no one seems to know for sure.

Nevertheless, Southwest Key has asked state regulators for permission to house more children. From its base of 16 shelters in five Texas counties, Southwest Key is also trying to open another facility in Houston, says the Dallas News reporter. “but the city’s mayor is fighting against turning a warehouse into a temporary shelter.”

A Charter Windfall

Southwest Key is also expanding its charter school business too, and the detention center enterprises is poised to work hand in hand with its expanding school network.

Southwest Key’s two campuses in Austin, East Austin College Prep Academy and East Austin College Prep At MLK, have earned praise for educating low-income, mostly Hispanic students who have a high-propensity of dropping out; although, the schools have yet to record an official four-year graduation rate, and students perform well below state averages on college readiness exams such as SAT, ACT, AP, and International Baccalaureate.

The charter operation, which recently rebranded under management of Promesa Public Schools, is approved to expand to new campuses for the fall semester of 2018 in Corpus Christi and Brownsville, where Southwest operates four immigrant shelters including Case Padre, the detention center in the old Walmart store.

According to Dallas News, leaders from Promesa and Southwest Key have approached officials, who oversee education of school aged children in Brownsville and the surrounding county, with a proposal to use the new Brownsville charter school’s resources and new campus “to serve about 1,000 kids being housed in the nonprofit’s shelters.”

The reporter, Eva-Marie Ayala, notes that federal law requires that contracted care providers for detained refugee and immigrant children “conduct an educational assessment” of young detainees and provide education services to address their needs. Ayala also notes that Promesa’s Austin schools enrolled about 630 students in the past school year which netted the organization about $6 million from the state. “That equates to about $9,500 a student,” Ayala calculates, so adding a thousand news students for the new Brownsville campus might yield $9.5 million for Promesa, using her reckoning.

Southwest Key is also in discussions with the Brownsville school district to “partner” on educating the detained children, but any way you divvy up the total population of detained children among the school district and Promesa, it’s a windfall to Southwest Key.

A ‘Prison-to-School Pipeline’?

For its part, representatives of Southwest Key and its CEO Suarez have strongly defended its facilities, arguing that what the nonprofit provides is significantly more humane than what other detention facilities provide, although of late, the organization has not been responding to reporters’ requests for comments, and its website has gone dark.

Local public school advocates in Corpus Christi have staged protests of the new Promesa campus opening in their community, accusing Southwest Key of “profiting off the backs of immigrant children.” And an Austin-based advocacy group for Latin American citizens is urging that state, county, and city governments boycott Southwest Key.

“is Southwest Key acting compassionately, or is it complicit in a controversial policy?” the NPR reporter asks. “Is it protecting kids or profiting off them?” To those questions, we should add, “Is it providing education to these children or using them to grow its charter school business?”

Advocates for incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated youth have long talked of the need for a “prison-to-school pipeline” for acclimating children and teens from detention centers to mainstream education and a better future. The term is a play on words from the better-known school-to-prison pipeline that refers to the frequent practice of schools, especially charter schools, to use harsh discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, to push out low-income students of color into the criminal justice system.

In developing its collaboration of charter schools with migrant children detention centers, Southwest Key seems to be perverting the idea of an authentic prison-to-school pipeline designed to rescue children from deep injustices and harm. Instead of behaving as a public institution operating altruistically for the benefit of these vulnerable and traumatized children, Southwest Key is following in the pathway of an opportunistic industry.

(Photo credit: Texas ACLU

6/21/2018 – New Report Reveals Which States Are Abandoning Public Schools

THIS WEEK: How Charters Segregate … Teacher Salaries Lag … Teacher Healthcare Costs Rise … Rural Schools Dying … DC Reform Fail


New Report Reveals Which States Are Abandoning Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Having a democratically governed local school, accessible to all students and fully accountable to the public for how its spends taxpayer money, has been a given for most American families since segregated schools were outlawed, but a new report finds most states have been abandoning the traditional public system in favor of schools that are privately operated, less accessible to all children, and less accountable to taxpayers and democratic governance. The report contends the shift in emphasis from public schools to privately managed alternatives is not only an attack on public education, but also an attack on equal opportunity and civil rights..”
Read more …


‘It’s Like A Black And White Thing’: How Some Elite Charter Schools Exclude Minorities


“Charter [schools] have also used their greater flexibility to limit which kids make it through the schoolhouse doors – creating exclusive, disproportionately white schools … Some pick from preferred attendance zones. Some don’t offer school bus transportation. Others require expensive uniforms … There are at least 747 public charter schools around the country that enroll a higher percentage of white students than any of the traditional public schools … Politicians often sell charters as a solution for low-income black and brown students stuck in poor-performing public schools. Yet, by 2015, racially identifiable white charter schools had emerged in 18 states … The federal government has played a role in the growth of these charters by granting charter startup grants to schools without considering whether they will lead to increased segregation.”
Read more …

Average Teacher Salary Is Below The Living Wage In Half The Country, Report Says

Education Week

“In more than half the states, the average teacher is not making a living wage … Real teacher salaries rose just 7% since 1970, and have been largely flat since 1990. Since the 2008 recession, per-pupil funding and real teacher salaries, both adjusted for inflation, have declined in most states … States with low teacher salaries… tend to have more teacher shortages, a higher teacher turnover rate, and more uncertified and novice teachers than those states that pay the most. Those are all factors that hurt students, especially those who need good teaching the most.”
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Unwieldy Health Costs Often Stand Between Teachers And Higher Pay

USA Today

“Teachers, like other public employees, have traditionally accepted a trade-off: In exchange for relatively low salaries, they could expect relatively generous benefits, including pensions and low- or no-cost health premiums. But in an era of $100,000-a-year drugs and government budget cuts, school districts struggle to find the money to keep up their end of the bargain … Many cash-strapped school boards, cities and legislatures view health care benefits as an unpredictable budget-buster. Teachers are asked to fork over more of their paychecks to keep their health coverage, even as budget cuts impel them to use their own money for classroom supplies and to crowdsource money to buy computers … Primary, secondary and special education teachers paid 25.4% more last year to insure themselves and their families than they did in 2008.”
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School’s Closed. Forever.

The New York Times

“Officials in aging rural communities with stretched budgets are closing small schools and busing children to larger towns. People worry about losing not just their schools but their town’s future … Rural schools have been closing in waves for decades, but the debate has taken on sharp urgency this year, particularly in communities in the Midwest and New England that have grown smaller and older since the recession … DeVos has defended for-profit schools, maintaining that the U.S. needs to ‘expand, not limit, paths to higher education for students.’”
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DC’s Public Schools Go From Success Story To Cautionary Tale

Associated Press

“As recently as a year ago, the public school system in the nation’s capital was being hailed as a shining example of successful urban education reform and a template for districts across the country. Now the situation in the District of Columbia could not be more different. After a series of rapid-fire scandals, including one about rigged graduation rates, Washington’s school system has gone from a point of pride to perhaps the largest public embarrassment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure … Critics view the problems … as an indictment of the entire data-driven evaluation system instituted a more than a decade ago when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the school system and appointed Michelle Rhee … Rhee’s ambitious plan to clear out dead wood and focus on accountability for teachers and administrators landed her on the cover of Time magazine … But now analysts question whether Rhee’s emphasis on performance metrics has created a monster.”
Read more …

New Report Reveals Which States Are Abandoning Public Schools

Having a democratically governed local school, accessible to all students and fully accountable to the public for how its spends taxpayer money, has been a given for most American families since segregated schools were outlawed, but a new report finds most states have been abandoning the traditional public system in favor of schools that are privately operated, less accessible to all children, and less accountable to taxpayers and democratic governance.

The report contends the shift in emphasis from public schools to privately managed alternatives is not only an attack on public education, but also an attack on equal opportunity and civil rights.

“We’re spending billions on privatized alternatives to public schools and as a result leaving school children increasingly exposed to civil rights abuse and taxpayers increasingly at risk of being ripped off,” says Diane Ravitch, the founder and president of the Network for Public Education., which along with the Schott Foundation for Public Education, is responsible for the report.

“Our democracy requires that every child has access to a free, public school system,” says Schott president and CEO John H. Jackson. “Any effort to privatize local systems not only threatens millions of students opportunity to learn and to succeed but ultimately threatens our democracy.”

[Disclosure, Schott is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network and the People’s Action Institute.]

The report, “Grading The States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools,” which evaluated the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on the extent to which states are shifting public dollars to private alternatives including charter schools and private schools, found only five states – Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia – received A ratings.

Many states with very large public school systems – including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina – were graded F. Seventeen states in total received an F rating.

There are 22 states with grades between a C and a B+, and six states and the District of Columbia received a grade of D or D+.

The report is the first in-depth nonpartisan report card to include these state-by-state measurements of the consequences of shifting public funds from the traditional school system to charter schools and private schools receiving money through taxpayer supported vouchers programs, education savings accounts, and tax credit scholarships. The consequences the report considers include how well states protect student civil rights of students and guard taxpayers from fraud and the misuse of public funds.

The laws and regulations of each state were graded according to five key criteria based on objective, measurable factors:

  • 1) Types and extent of school privatization;
  • 2) Civil rights protections for students in voucher and charter programs;
  • 3) Accountability, regulations and oversight;
  • 4) Transparency of voucher and charter programs; and
  • 5) Other factors related to charter school accountability.

Based on these criteria, the report teased out details of state law that many would find troubling.

For instance, of the 15 states that have traditional school voucher programs, seven of them fail to require background checks for teachers and employees in voucher receiving schools. Thirteen of those states don’t require the voucher receiving schools to have open meetings or other forms of public transparency.

Of the 6 states with Education Savings Account programs, four fail to require state testing of students participating in the program or require prior public school enrollment for students receiving ESAs. This lets families who can already afford private education continue on the taxpayer’s dime.

Of the 44 states and District of Columbia with charter laws, 28 states and the District of Columbia don’t require the same teacher certification as traditional public schools, 38 states and the District of Columbia have no provisions regulating the spending and funding for education services, 23 states and the District of Columbia fail to protect students against religious discrimination, and 18 states have programs that fail to mandate services for students with disabilities.

The report concludes, ” Instead of diverting resources, we should invest in public schools to make them better for all students.” It recommends a moratorium on all voucher programs with an immediate phase out that does not displace children presently in the voucher system. Regarding charter schools, the report supports the NAACP’s recent call for a moratorium on new charter schools and urges states to pass laws and regulations ensuring that all students attending charters have equal opportunity and rights, that the schools are fully transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund them, and the corruption associated with the sector is weeded out.

6/14/2018 – Congress Stages A Sell-Job On Charter Schools And Ignores Complaints Of Black Parent

THIS WEEK: DeVos Listening to NRA … History Makeover Decried … DeVos Rejects Staff Advice … Vets Hurt By For-Profits … Dems Go Por-Public


Congress Stages A Sell-Job On Charter Schools And Ignores Complaints Of Black Parent

By Jeff Bryant

“During a Congressional hearing … charter proponents stacked the agenda with biased testimony and completely ignored the lone witness who could attest firsthand to the real impact these schools have on communities of color … Jonathon Phillip Clark, an Iraq War veteran and black Detroit parent with seven children in the public-school system … Clark described his community as an “education desert” ravaged by Michigan’s policy of school choice, where charter schools open and close seemingly at random, and public schools are shuttered because of the uncertainties created by charter school competition … The Republicans on the House Committee virtually snubbed Clark, directing their questions to the pro-charter witnesses.”
Read more …


NRA Has A ‘Tight Grip’ On Trump’s School Safety Work, Senator Tells Betsy DeVos

Education Week

“How can a federal commission, charged with figuring out how to prevent the next school shooting, ignore the issue of guns? That’s the question Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, put to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … Murray wrote. ‘Shifting the focus away from guns only shines a spotlight on the tight grip the NRA has on this Administration and the Administration’s inability to listen to the voices of the people you claim to serve’ … She noted that the panel’s first ‘listening session” was held during the day, in Washington, D.C., with little advanced notice for students, community members, educators, health care providers … DeVos herself chose to skip that meeting.”
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AP World History Gets A Makeover, And High School Teachers Rebel


“High school history teachers are in revolt over the alteration of a widely taught Advanced Placement course that they say threatens to present a skewed, Eurocentric history of the world to thousands of students … Under the controversial changes … World History course would begin in 1450 – essentially the rise of European power – effectively eliminating instruction on pre-colonial Africa, Asia, Americas, and the Middle East. Earlier eras would be relegated to a pre-AP course that isn’t tested … and not likely to be taken by students … Students taking the new post-1450 course will lose a broad global understanding of history, teachers say.”
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Betsy DeVos Reinstated College Accreditor Over Staff Objections

The New York Times

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos disregarded a scathing review by her own staff this spring when she reinstated the watchdog body that had accredited two scandal-scarred for-profit universities whose bankruptcies left tens of thousands of students with worthless degrees and mountains of debt … The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or Acics, had failed to meet 57 of 93 federal quality and management compliance standards … DeVos went above and beyond the court’s order in restoring the organization’s status … Acics was stripped of its powers in December 2016 amid the collapse of two for-profit university chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, where students were encouraged to take on debt based on false promises.”
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Military Veterans Decry Debt, Useless Diplomas From For-Profit Colleges

The Hechinger Report

“College fraud claims have increased 29% from August of last year. 98% of those claims involve for-profit colleges … The for-profit schools are targeting student veterans even as these institutions’ non-military enrollment has declined … These schools took advantage of a loophole in a federal law that bars for-profit institutions from obtaining more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. Under the loophole, the schools were able to count GI Bill money as private dollars, meaning they disproportionately profited from enrolling veterans … DeVos has defended for-profit schools, maintaining that the U.S. needs to ‘expand, not limit, paths to higher education for students.’”
Read more …

Pro-Public Education Democrats Are Winning Big in Pennsylvania

The Progressive

Peter Greene writes, “Pennsylvania is shaping up to be proving ground for fans of public education and progressive politics this year … Pennsylvania elections will be energized by our newly de-gerrymandered map … Elizabeth Fiedler, candidate for House representative in the Philadelphia area won her primary race on a strong public education platform … She’s also calling for a moratorium on charter and cyber-charter schools … Summer Lee is running for state assembly in the Pittsburgh area proposing free pre-K for all and criticizing charter schools as a form of privatization. Sara Innamorato, also running in the Pittsburgh area, campaigned on a platform that included condemnation of charters … Perhaps progressives around the country could make gains by standing up for public education and against the continued privatization.”
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Congress Stages A Sell-Job On Charter Schools And Ignores Complaints Of Black Parent

One of the more disturbing aspects of the push to create more charter schools was on full display during a Congressional hearing this week when charter proponents stacked the agenda with biased testimony and completely ignored the lone witness who could attest firsthand to the real impact these schools have on communities of color.

The lone dissenting voice in the battery of speakers lined up to give glowing praise to these privately operated but publicly funded schools was Jonathon Phillip Clark, an Iraq War veteran and black Detroit parent with seven children in the public-school system. Clark is also an assistant director at Mission City, a nonprofit organization in Detroit that provides mentoring and tutoring throughout the school year and an arts camp during the summer, and he serves on the board of an organization called 482Forward, a group of parents and students that advocates for a high-quality, equitable education for Detroit children.

Unlike most of the participants in this hearing – members of the House Education and Workforce Committee, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Nina Rees, CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers President Greg Richmond, and Harvard Professor Martin West – only Clark spoke from experience of having children educated in charter schools and a neighborhood affected by free-market “school choice” competition posed by these schools.

Yet his remarks were mostly ignored.

‘An Education Desert’ Caused by Charters

Specifically, Clark described his community as an “education desert” ravaged by Michigan’s policy of school choice, where charter schools open and close seemingly at random, and public schools are shuttered because of the uncertainties created by charter school competition.

A charter school his daughter attended made promises of academic courses and school programs it later dropped. The school, Yes Academy, had five principals in three years. An audit of the school reveled it could not account for $300,000 of Title I funds – money from the federal government for educating low-income students. To evade accountability, the school switched to a different management firm run by the same person. The second firm eventually closed the school a week before classes were to start, leaving students and families in the lurch.

The charter’s board ignored parents when they complained, and the authorizer, located in Lansing, 350 miles away, had no personal experiences with the families attending the school and cared little about their complaints. When parents looked for other school “options” for their children, they realized changing schools would mean massively altering their lives and their children’s education and circle of friends.

Clark explained that his story is not an isolated example. Two of his other daughters have had similar experiences with charters and so have many other families he knows in Detroit.

Not Just in Detroit

Indeed, numerous press reports and research studies have shown Michigan’s system of charter schools and free-market education competition has had a devastating effect on the state’s academic standing, and in communities of color, high-quality schools have become even more scarce and racial inequality has worsened.

Beyond Michigan, charter schools and school choice competition have had similarly negative effects – spreading education malfeasance in nearly every state, committing financial fraud and waste, and exacerbating inequality, while they extract millions of taxpayer dollars from the public school system.

Clark urged the members of the House in attendance to be “vigilant” in their scrutiny of the charter school sector. “I would not wish Michigan charter policies on the nation,” he concluded.

Yet, what transpired during the rest of the committee hearing was less than vigilant scrutiny.

A Sell Job

The hearing, given the grandiose title “The Power of Charter Schools: Promoting Opportunity for America’s Students,” was a sell-job for charters from the beginning. The official press release from the committee did not even mention Clark’s name nor that anyone at the hearing would balance this examination of the “value of charter schools.”

The remaining witnesses – Rees, Richmond, and West – repeated familiar industry talking points about the schools being “public … open to all … and accountable.” Cherry picking primarily from studies published by one source – the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), whose reports of positive charter effects on student achievement are frequently exaggerated – the pro-charter trio spoke glowingly of how charter schools’ are closing achievement gaps, spreading innovation, and satisfying parents, while public schools are “stagnating.”

Regarding federal governance and oversight of charters, the general consensus was the was little needed because most matters regarding how charters are conceived and operated are “up to the states” and should remain that way. That’s not to say there weren’t requests to the committee members for more federal money, particularly for building new charter facilities.

Exemplars that Aren’t Exemplary

As proof of the wonderful things charters are doing, Rees spotlighted Dream Charter School in Harlem, NYC as an exemplary program typical of charters, but it’s not at all clear this school is in any way like most charters.

The school is a “one-off,” independent charter that’s benefitted from large grants and donations, including a $32 million grant from the city and start-up money from the Walton Family Foundation of the Walmart family. The abnormally high teacher turnover rate – more than double of the city’s schools – would seem to be something that would invite more scrutiny than praise.

Richmond’s praise for Indiana’s system for overseeing charter school authorizers seemed odd given the recent controversy over the state’s sub-par online charter and the fact nearly half of Indiana’s charters are failing or doing poorly. The top charter authorizer in the state, Ball State University, oversees mostly “D” and “F” rated schools, based on Indiana’s school rating system, that have had years of declining performance.

As evidence that charter authorizers are accountable to the public, Richmond repeated the statistic that 90 percent of authorizers are public school districts, which could be a very misleading statistic if there are lots of districts with authorizing status but actually have no or very few operational charter schools.

Snubbing the Witness

The Republicans on the House Committee virtually snubbed Clark, directing their questions to the pro-charter witnesses, often to field softball questions or confirm their windy pronouncements about the superiority of charter schools.

The one Republican exception was Tim Walberg of Michigan who told Clark he had “visited” the charter school Clark described and had “concerns.” But then Walberg pivoted to a positive description of a Michigan charter he had also visited. The school he mentioned, Island City Academy, is located in a small town, and it enrolls students who are mostly white (89 percent) and low percent with learning disabilities – nothing like Clark’s situation at all.

Committee members from the Democratic side were much more willing to engage with what Clark told them and to ask follow-up questions, but none openly questioned their own party’s role in expanding charters.

This is not to say that weren’t tough questions and critical comments about charter schools from Democrats. Representative Bobby Scott from Virginia, the ranking committee member was particularly sharp edged in calling out the role charter schools have had in increasing racial segregation in schools, a well-researched outcome the pro-charter witnesses deflected by pointing to statistics that charters enroll much higher percentages of black and brown students.

Rees claimed that many charters are making racial diversity a feature of their programs, yet a recent study that went searching for charters that are “diverse by design” found a grand total of 2.19 percent of all charters.

Policy without People

In her bizarre concluding remarks, Rep Virginia Foxx (NC) used her background as a child who overcame the challenges of growing up in an impoverished community in rural North Carolina by having access to a high-quality public school to praise charter schools – which did not even exist during her childhood.

Dismissing, as mere anecdote, the firsthand experience that Clark brought to this hearing has become routine in education policy circles in Washington, DC, where think tanks and officials often operate at the 30,000-foot level to determine how our system of education should run.

This is not to say there aren’t exceptionally good charter schools doing great things for their students. After all, there are lots of public schools doing great things too.

But public policy makers need to listen to their constituents rather than the well-oiled machinery of wealthy industries and factions. Until they do, we won’t get charter school policy, or charter schools, our students and communities deserve.

(Photo credit: d_gilette/flickr)

6/7/2018 – Charter School Industry’s Stunning Loss In California Primaries

THIS WEEK: Why Teachers Strike … Teachers On The Ballot … Budget Cuts Hurt … What Vouchers Fund … Polls On Teacher Pay


Charter School Industry’s Stunning Loss In California Primaries

By Jeff Bryant

“In reviewing the losers in this week’s primary elections in eight states, one shouldn’t overlook the charter school industry, which took a drubbing in the California governor’s race where its preferred candidate former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa drew a very disappointing 13 percent of the vote … It’s important to understand what the charter industry believes was at stake in getting Villaraigosa elected.'”
Read more …


The Numbers That Explain Why Teachers Are In Revolt

The New York Times

“The underlying conflict between public school employees and policymakers has roots in decisions made during the last recession, when states and local districts short of cash curtailed education spending for the first time in decades… The recovery that has lifted the private economy has not quite restored school spending to pre-recession levels, especially in states run by fiscal conservatives … Spending per pupil rose 26 out of 29 years before 2010, only to tumble three consecutive years at the beginning of this decade … By 2016, more than half of states controlled by Democrats had restored education spending per pupil to 2009 levels, but the same was true in only 5 of 22 states controlled by Republicans.”
Read more …

From The Classroom To The Campaign Trail: Emboldened Teachers Run For Office

The Washington Post

“Teachers are running for office in unprecedented numbers … In several deep-red states, educators who protested budget cuts, low teacher pay and pension changes are challenging lawmakers at the ballot box, following through on vows to oust them from office. Teachers on both sides of the aisle are taking up the mantle, with some Republican educators campaigning on pledges to increase education spending and to slow the expansion of charter schools … Teachers have watched as their classrooms crumbled from neglect and their school days became consumed by preparation for standardized tests.”
Read more …

What Budget Cuts Mean For Third Graders In A Rural School

The New York Times

“West Greene is one of many schools across the country dealing with the effects of funding cuts, from broken-down buses to donated supplies to teachers who work second jobs … Teachers here said they felt they could address their needs locally, without getting involved in state politics, even though many said they were unhappy about their salaries and the school’s tight budget. Their detachment from the protests suggested that there were limits to the walkout movement.”
Read more …

Private Schools’ Curriculum Downplays Slavery, Says Humans And Dinosaurs Lived Together

Orlando Sentinel

“Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students that dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America and that slaves who ‘knew Christ’ were better off than free men who did not. The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that accept, and often depend on, nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers … The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans … They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from white Europeans … About 60% of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.”
Read more …

New Polls Find Most Americans Say Teachers Are Underpaid – And Many Would Pay Higher Taxes To Fix It

The Washington Post

“Three national polls report that most Americans agree that educators don’t earn enough. And two of the surveys found that at least half of Americans said they would pay higher taxes to raise educator salaries … Each found that Americans overwhelmingly believe public school teachers are underpaid … U.S. teachers earn less than 60% of what similarly educated professionals make.”
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Charter School Industry’s Stunning Loss in California Primaries

In reviewing the losers in this week’s primary elections in eight states, one shouldn’t overlook the charter school industry, which took a drubbing in the California governor’s race where its preferred candidate former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa drew a very disappointing 13 percent of the vote.

“Villaraigosa didn’t even get support from voters in demographics you’d expect he’d get,” says Meghan Choi in a phone call, referring to Villaraigosa’s poor showing in heavily influenced Latino Los Angeles County. Choi is director of Ground Game LA, an affiliate group of People’s Action that does micro-level organizing on economic and social justice issues.

“Villaraigosa burned too many bridges in the education community,” Choi says, especially in black and brown communities in Los Angeles where he tried to privatize the schools with charter management groups during his tenure as mayor. She notes that many of the wealthy people that helped him in that effort contributed to his losing campaign for governor.

Big Money Loses in California

In the California’s quirky primary system, only the top two vote-getters could advance to the general, regardless of political party. Villaraigosa, a Democrat, finished a distant third to first place winner and fellow Democrat former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome and little-known Republican second-place finisher John Cox.

At the outset of the campaign, Villaraigosa had been nearly tied with Newsome at the top of the polls in January at 21 percent versus 23 percent, respectively. Then in April and May, the charter-school industry began pouring millions of dollars into the race to back Villaraigosa.

The charter school industry’s state advocacy group, the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, created Families and Teachers for Villaraigosa to take in huge sums of money from “wealthy contributors,” EdSource reports. This independent expenditure committee helped raise $22.5 million in less than two months, which mainly went toward television and radio ads to support Villaraigosa and attack Newsome.

Among the donors to the pro-Villaraigosa committee were Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who contributed $7 million; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contributed $3.5 million; and Bill Oberndorf who gave $3.75 million.

Hastings is a pro-voucher and pro-charter billionaire who has called for an end to democratically elected school boards. He founded and profits from the Rocketship chain of charter schools where students spend most of their day at computers being drilled for standardized tests. Oberndorf is a Republican and an ally of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Of course, Newsome has his campaign sources too, with contributions coming principally from labor groups. But in contrast to Villaraigosa, Newsome’s independent expenditure committees raised only $7.2 million while most of his funds were raised through direct contributions.

High Stakes for Charters

It’s important to understand what the charter industry believes was at stake in getting Villaraigosa elected.

California’s current Governor, Jerry Brown has been an invaluable backstop for the charter industry, who has defended charters from a state legislature that is increasingly skeptical of the academic performance and business ethics of these schools.

Brown’s support for charters is ideological, and deeply personal. Since he founded two charters in Oakland as mayor of that city, he continues to steer large donations to those schools despite their lackluster academic performance and significantly higher costs of operations.

But while Brown’s perception of charter schools has stayed firmly stuck in his past, California voters have begun to turn on the industry, based on disturbing evidence of its negative impact on the state’s education landscape.

A series of reports have found charter schools in the Golden State have wasted, lost, or confiscated millions of public tax dollars, much of it through fraud and double-dealing in the largely unregulated sector. A litany of negative news reports about charter schools continues to reveal routine practices that violate state and federal laws, produce poor academic results, and subject public money to fraud and conflicts of interest. And communities are beset with the adverse consequences of charters opening and closing whenever and wherever they want.

As awareness of the negative realities of charter schools spread, state lawmakers introduced into legislation efforts to bring more public oversight to the sector. Yet, every time state legislators have passed efforts to eliminate for-profit charter schools and bring all charters into line with open meetings, conflict of interest, and other laws, Brown has blocked them.

Clearly, charter operatives believed Villaraigosa would maintain the status quo. Yet even as billionaire money from the charter industry filled the Villaraigosa campaign’s coffers, his polling numbers steadily sank.

Dodging a Death Knell

“A Villaraigosa victory would have been a total death knell to public education in California,” says Choi.

She believes the state is situated in a history of education reform doctrine that’s made the state a “testing ground of privatized education.”

Indeed, large school districts in the state are financially on the brink due to the negative impact of charter schools.

With a Newsome victory generally assured in November, unless an unforeseen disaster arises, opposition to charter privatization of California public schools moves on to making sure this former San Francisco mayor keeps his promise to rein in the charter industry.

(photo credit: Captain Leadbottom/Flickr Creative Commons)

5/31/2018 – New Charter School Plan Should Alarm The Nation

THIS WEEK: False ‘Security’ … Court Defies DeVos … Inside An Underfunded School … Schools Need AC … White Rule Over Black Schools


New Charter School Plan Should Alarm The Nation

By Jeff Bryant

“Charter schools already have a segregation problem. But a new law about to pass in North Carolina would direct even more taxpayer money into funding charter schools that by design, if not by intent, lead to more racial segregation of school children. This is not only an alarming development in the Old South, where schools made substantial progress on integration since the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court case made racially separate schools illegal in 1954. It’s also a wakeup call to the nation on how a campaign to re-segregate public schools is being carried out in the name of ‘school choice’ and ‘local control.'”
Read more …


In Costly Quest For Security, U.S. Schools Face Law Of Diminishing Returns


“School security has ballooned into a multibillion-dollar industry … Some schools are spending precious funds on untested technologies … even though the most robust and effective safety measures can only mitigate the risk, not eliminate it … School officials must also strive to balance the need for security with a desire to preserve an atmosphere conducive to learning … Schools can become fortified bunkers that feel like prisons to students … Even extraordinarily secure places like the Pentagon and the Fort Hood military base have faced shootings.”
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Court Rules Feds Violated Privacy Law For Corinthian College Students

Associated Press via CBS Sacramento

“In a break with Obama administration policy, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in December that some students cheated by the now-defunct schools would only get a part of their federal student loan forgiven. In order to determine how much to forgive, the agency analyzes average earnings of graduates from similar programs … A California district court ruled late Friday that the department’s use of Social Security Administration data in order to calculate loan forgiveness violates the Privacy Act. The court ordered that the Education Department stop the practice and stop debt collection from these students.”
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I Work At One Of America’s Underfunded Schools. It’s Falling Apart

The Guardian

An Oklahoma teacher writes, “You have probably heard about the recent teacher walkout in Oklahoma. While some of that was about teacher salaries, it was more about the conditions in our schools – conditions that resulted from years of underfunding education … Our classes are extremely overcrowded, with 30 and 40 students per class. Some of us don’t even have enough desks for our students to sit in … None of the teachers I asked could remember the last time we adopted new textbooks. Our current history textbook, The Story of Oklahoma, is so old that the Oklahoma City bombing only gets a couple of pages in the epilogue … One student told us: ‘I didn’t realize that people had textbooks with covers on them.’ ”
Read more …

Higher Temperatures Equal Lower Test Scores – Study Confirms That Students Learn Less In Overheated Classrooms


” after a particularly hot year of school, high schoolers performed worse on the PSAT, an exam taken to prepare for the SAT and determine winners of the National Merit Scholarship … The research highlights how external factors can impact students’ performance on high-stakes tests, while also suggesting that air conditioning, still missing in many schools, is a worthwhile investment … Impacts were significantly larger for black and Hispanic students and those in lower-income areas … Most of harmful consequences of heat disappearing in schools that appear to have air conditioning.”
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Will The State Takeover Of Jackson Schools be ‘Better Together’ Or The Same Old Education Politics?

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “In Jackson, Mississippi … a state audit of the district’s schools gave justification … to propose a state takeover of Jackson schools … White rule in Mississippi has long made Jackson schools a target of either malevolent neglect or authoritarian abuse … Mississippi’s conservative state authorities may also be concerned about the nature of Jackson’s black leadership. When Chokwe Antar Lumumba ran for Jackson mayor in 2017, he presented himself as an unabashed lefty. After he won a landslide victory, he talked about making Jackson ‘the most radical city on the planet,’ elevating an agenda of social justice, economic democracy, and citizen engagement … The rise of black populism in Jackson also raises the potential for a head-on collision with … the charter school industry.”
Read more …

New Charter School Plan Should Alarm the Nation

Charter schools already have a segregation problem. But a new law about to pass in North Carolina would direct even more taxpayer money into funding charter schools that by design, if not by intent, lead to more racial segregation of school children.

This is not only an alarming development in the Old South, where schools made substantial progress on integration since the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court case made racially separate schools illegal in 1954.

It’s also a wakeup call to the nation on how a campaign to re-segregate public schools is being carried out in the name of “school choice” and “local control.”

A ‘Design for Segregation’

The bill, House Bill 514, would allow suburban communities outside Charlotte to create and fund their own charter schools.

This is “a design for racial and economic segregation,” writes former NC Teacher of the Year James Ford. “The result of this will ultimately amount to systemic racism.”

The origin of the bill goes back at least two years when the mayor and town board of Matthews, NC, began devising ways to sever ties with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, which merges their schools with those in the city and surrounding county.

At public meetings, Matthews town officials and the State Representative for the community talked openly of creating a task force to explore a separate suburban school district and separating with CMS over issues with “trust,” student assignments, and “bussing.”

“It’s within the authority of the [state] General Assembly to do it,” one official is quoted, citing a previous attempt in 2005 that “went nowhere.”

Somewhere between then and now, the plan for separating from CMS evolved into the idea for Matthews and nearby Mint Hill to create their own charter schools. Currently in North Carolina, charter schools – privately operated schools given taxpayer funds, with fewer operational restrictions than public schools – are authorized, approved, and funded by the state.

By the time HB 514 emerged, Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey had dropped his idea of separating from the district altogether, and instead argued community-based charters would address a need for more “seats” in his community, where there are “excellent schools,” but “too few” of them.

The bill, he said, is about “local control” and giving parents more “options.”

Yet while the language for rationalizing this bill may have evolved into something more palatable, Ford is correct about its “design.” Based on both the historical context of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and the nature of the current unregulated charter school industry, this new bill opens a new pathway to increased school segregation that other states may decide to follow.

A Return to Segregation

Nearly all school districts in the Tar Heel state are “merged districts,” in which inner-city schools share the same district with schools in outlying suburban and rural areas, a configuration that dates back to Reconstruction.

After the Brown ruling, as well as Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which held busing was an appropriate way to integrate schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg became, by the 1980s, one of the most racially integrated school districts in America. Such efforts have led to long-term benefits for Black Americans, including greater income, better health outcomes, and lower incarceration rates.

Since then, rulings by more conservative courts overturning previous legal precedent and a state General Assembly dominated by Republicans have done much to resegregate CMS and other NC school districts. House Bill 514 would surely add to the racial imbalances in schools.

Students who live in Matthews, which is 82 percent white, now have opportunities, either by assignment or by choice, to attend schools in nearby neighborhoods where student populations are anywhere between one third to over one-half Black or Hispanic. The student population of CMS overall is just 28 percent white.

Were Matthews students to attend a charter school in their own neighborhood, the likelihood of that school being mostly white (85 – 90 percent) would increase significantly.

The Segregating Impact of Charters

“Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated [schools],” a recent analysis by the Associated Press found. AP’s findings align with previous studies that have found that charter schools and other forms of school choice are exacerbating existing patterns of segregation.

In North Carolina, there’s little doubt parents use charters to segregate.

North Carolina charter schools are significantly more segregated, with students who are wealthier and whiter than those at public schools in the state. This is due to a number of factors, including the fact that charter schools don’t have to provide transportation or school meals, which significantly reduces their appeal to low-income parents. Also, laws governing charter schools in the state dropped the previous requirement for the schools to serve a diverse student population.

In North Carolina, “at traditional public schools,” a recent study found, “only about 30 percent of students attend schools that are ‘highly segregated’ (schools that are more than 80 percent or less than 20 percent white). At charter schools, more than two-thirds attend schools that are highly segregated.”

The impact charters have on segregating students by race and income is especially acute in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. According to a recent study, the growth of charter schools in the district led to more proficient white and Asian students leaving the public schools, while affluent parents used the threat of escape to charters as a way to coerce local officials to redraw student assignment boundaries to reduce racial integration and ensure white parents could send their children to schools in their neighborhoods.

Enacting HB 514 provides white parents with just another mechanism to use charters for what they have become a tool for: separating the races.

A Dangerous New Funding Provision

Backers of HB 514 had conceived a way to use charter schools to legalize racially segregating students, but they still needed a way to fund new community-based charters in the suburbs.

Ironically, CMS alerted NC lawmakers to this problem. A report, funded by the district, warned that in North Carolina “it is against the law for towns to go into debt to pay for schools, so if a town wants to purchase land for a charter school, the town would have to pay in full up front. The report also found that the towns could not use any state funds to build a charter school and can’t raise property taxes for a school without a public referendum.”

During meetings closed to the public and hidden from Democratic state lawmakers, Republican legislators found a way around the funding problem that allows cities across the state, not just Matthews and Mint Hill, to use locally-raised tax money for public schools, including charter schools.

This funding provision “opens the door for districts and charter schools to ask municipal governments to pony up for anything from school resource officers to custodians to teacher pay supplements,” a former state legislator is quoted in an NC news outlet.

So while HB 514 may be confined to just the suburbs of Charlotte, it provides an opening for charters throughout the state to demand funds from local districts and redirect more taxpayer money from public schools to privately controlled “options” that can further segregate schools.

A Dangerous New Pathway to More Inequality

North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has expressed “concerns” about HB 514, but should he decide to veto the budget bill, which the new law is attached to as an amendment, his veto would likely be overridden, as Republicans currently command supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Already, other suburban communities around Charlotte have asked for the same sort of option Matthews and Mint Hill want to have to create their own segregated school system via community owned and operated charter schools.

Proponents of school choice and charter schools often justify increased racial segregation their preferred schools cause  by arguing that parent choice is what matters most.

But the legacy of the Brown ruling is that separate schools will never be equal. What North Carolina is doing defies that truth and opens a dangerous new pathway for other states to create more education inequality.