Charter schools and other market-based forms of “school choice” have been touted as ways to make education more responsive to “market demands.” But when you look at the latest attempt to force these schools onto the citizens of Washington state, you have to ask, “Just who is demanding these schools?”
Washington State has been pushing back against charter schools for a decade.
Three times, between 1996 and 2004, the state held ballot initiatives allowing charter schools in the state. Three times the voters said “No.”
In 2012, Bill Gates, Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, and other wealthy education “reformers” made a concerted effort on a fourth try to bring charter schools to the state. The public received a barrage of TV ads, forums, and mailers sponsored by organizations such as the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, both of which are financially backedby Bill Gates.
Initiative 1240 passed 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, only squeaking by despite the enormous financial advantage of the “Yes” campaign, which outspent the “No” campaign by a margin of 12 to 1.
Charter schools remain a controversial and unpopular concept in the state of Washington particularly in Seattle where over 60 percent of the voters were against the initiative.
After Initiative 1240 passed, a special commission was established to approve charter schools in the state. It is comprised of politically appointed members with no accountability to the general public with the ability to circumvent oversight by local school boards.
The Green Dot charter chain got its foothold in Seattle by subterfuge.
When community members in Southeast Seattle, a neighborhood of minority cultures and immigrants, found out a Green Dot middle school was part of a development plan there, citizen activists pushed back.
Former Seattle School Board member Sue Peters, who helped block Green Dot from receiving a zoning variance, told me in an interview: “Green Dot is violating the law. They have no legal right to make that request, yet someone in the City worked with Green Dot behind the scenes and granted them one waiver already and want to grant them another . . . So Green Dot is committing violation after violation.”
“Too often [charters] want rules and laws broken or special treatment that public schools are not granted,” she summed up. “And then they have the audacity to claim to make apples to apples comparisons with truly public schools.”
In May, 2017 Green Dot managed to push through a different zoning variance—this one to have “greater than allowed” building height for a high school—and, again, by operating under the radar and with the assistance of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods division of Major Institutions and Schools.
When community advocates called attention to Green Dot requesting a second variance, the Seattle School Board unanimously passed a resolution that charter schools should not be afforded a variance because they are not considered public schools.
On the board of the company Homesight, which is the developer of the site in Southeast Seattle, is an executive from Impact Public Schools, which advocates for charter schools, Natalie Hester, who also serves on the board of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
There were no representatives from Seattle Public School district on the board of the company.
With the variance for the high school successfully pushed through, but the variance for the middle school stymied by the school board’s resolution, Green Dot has decided to co-locate the high school with the junior high school.
Local citizens protested at the construction site.
And once again, the legality of charter schools is being challenged at the level of the State Supreme Court.
Seattle citizens voted three times against charter schools and there is no indication that opinions have changed. Only a select few backroom operators want the privatization of public schools in Seattle so the battle in Seattle continues.
On November 2, 2015, one day before the general election, Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference on the steps of Olympic View Elementary to promote The Levy to Move Seattle.
Students wore their orange safety patrol vests, parents applauded enthusiastically, and the Mayor promised that a YES vote would mean sidewalks, always promised by the City – but never delivered, would finally be built on 8th Ave. NE..
Outside of Olympic View Elementary on Monday afternoon, the mayor said the lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood is one reason voters should approve Proposition 1, known as the “Let’s Move Seattle” transportation levy.
“This is one of many Seattle neighborhoods that lack basic infrastructure like sidewalks,” said Mayor Murray.
At a cost of $930 million, the levy would replace the Bridging the Gap levy that expires at the end of 2015. The plan seeks to repave 180 miles of arterial streets, reinforce bridges and add new bike lanes and sidewalks. It would be paid for with a property tax that would cost homeowners $275 dollars a year on a $450,000 home, which is $145 more than they pay now.
“Ultimately, I’m giving you my word we are going to deliver these projects on time and on budget,” Murray said.
The next day, The Levy to Move Seattle won big. YES earned 58.67% of the total vote, NO just 41.33%. Mayor Murray’s last minute push for support seemed to have eased concerns raised by the opposition group, Keep Seattle Affordable. Many levy supporters were worried efforts made by this and other opposition groups, would sour voter enthusiasm for the levy in North Seattle.
So, Where Are the Sidewalks?
Given such a high profile promise from Mayor Murray, it would be reasonable to expect Olympic View’s sidewalk problem to be at the top of the list of projects funded by the levy.
Amazingly, that’s not the case. Of the 44 projects planned for the first five years of the nine year long Move Seattle Levy, Olympic View Elementary didn’t make the list – at all.
I have a big problem with the Mayor or any other public official making a promise to a school community during a campaign and then forgetting about it once the election is over. I’m guessing many parents probably feel the same way.
I also understand there are many schools in our district in desperate need of sidewalks and other safety improvements. Olympic View is far from alone on this issue.
However, at this point, sidewalks are really a side issue. My concern is trust and accountability.
If simple campaign promises can be ignored without consequence, how will that play out with our elected officials ever growing desire for even more say and control over how our public schools operate.
When Mayor Murray uses a school community, like Olympic View Elementary, as prop to further a short term political goal, I believe the Mayor needs to be held accountable for this type of pandering. In addition, when Mayor Murray makes a huge public promise to any school in our district, I expect him to keep it.
-Carolyn Leith, Parent of two Seattle Public School Students.
What was to be a forum presented by the League of Women Voters and the Seattle PTA with some of our state representatives there to field questions on funding for public schools quickly turned into a rally when a teacher from Nathan Hale High School brought down the house while talking about the SBAC and its unfairness to students and families. At the end of his speech, parents started chanting “Opt out, opt out, opt out!” and stomping their feet. Soon, the entire gymnasium exploded with excitement as the chant caught on and everyone was on their feet clapping, stamping and demanding in one voice to refuse the test.
Sally Soriano (former Seattle Public Schools’ Board Member) was there and took notes as one teacher after another astutely articulated their concerns.
Representative Gerry Pollett attended the event also and showed himself to be a voice of the people.
To follow are Sally Soriano’s field notes about the forum that quickly turned into a rally.
My Notes from the WEA/SEA Legislative Forum • Sat. 3/21/15, 10AM – Nathan Hale High School
Panel: Sen. Jeanne Khol-Welles (36th); Rep. Gael Tarleton (36th); Rep. Strom Peterson (21st); Sen. Rosemary McAuiffle (1st); Rep. Frank Chopp (43rd); Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (43rd); Rep. Jessyn Farrell (46th); Rep. Gerry Pollet (46th); Sen. David Frockt (46th)
Smaller Class Size
-Social Studies teacher in Shoreline. It’s time to reduce class size in WA State as we’re 47th in the nation. Last year educators in this state didn’t feel comfortable without a petition in our hands. We collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and smaller class size is now the law.
-5th grade science teacher at Olympic View. Last year I had 29 students. I’m a veteran teacher and skilled at my profession but with 29 students it was not possible to reach every student. Our charge as teachers is to reach every student. In talking with other educators, I’ve been finding out that 29 students is not even the largest class size. This year I have 22 students. The difference of 7 fewer students has made a drastic change in my teaching. Now I can sit down with students on a one on one basis. I have to do less prep time and can focus on better instruction.
-Frockt (46th) Response: I’ve been working with the WEA on a timeline to start implementing smaller class size beginning with low income students at the elementary level. Then we’ll move to the middle school level and then add nurses. I think we will be able to get there. We have to work with the court and with new revenue. It is my commitment to fund McCleary.
-Khol-Wells (36th) Response: I agree with Sen Frockt; I am former teacher but we also have to work with the Senate majority.
-SEA Comment: WA is 47th when comes to class size; also is 42nd when comes to compensation.
-I teach in Edmonds; my husband teaches in Everett. When I talk with people about the reality of being a teacher I warn people — don’t ever marry a teacher! We live very modestly and have over $700 a month in student loans. My sister has no degree and just took a job for $70,000/yr with a $10,000 bonus. We are a healthy family but have medical bills. We continually make medical decisions on the basis of having no money. This winter we had to put off getting the brakes fixed on our car. Every few months my Grandma takes me to the store to stalk up our cupboards. We cannot afford violin lessons for our child and wonder how we are going to pay for two children to go to college when we haven’t even paid for our own college. Legislators must understand how important it is to retain quality people. They have to make this system work for teachers.
-I love working to support teachers. I wear many hats. I’m a special ed teacher and parent educator in Northshore. I work at Moreland Elementary School. I’ve worked part-time doing home repair and painting. I was in the Naval Reserves. I’ve been a fine art photographer. I need medical benefits. I make $16.00 an hour and my gross pay is at $1,700 a month with take-home pay of $1,200 a month. I am a single woman and am lucky that I own my home. Still I don’t cover my expenses with my take-home pay. I will have to continue working as long as my health holds out. We are not compensated equitably. I should be making $9,000 more each year. I guess this is what I’m donating to the state. I’m continually using up my retirement savings. My situation is the norm. I’m here to ask you to do something to fund educators. We have to be able to survive in this economy.
-SEA Question to panel: COLA is still not enough, would you support competitive wages as recommended by your own task force? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to panel: Local flexibility, local districts negotiate with teachers? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to Chopp: Please comment on the COLA, Speaker Chopp, as you play crucial role in the House?
-Chopp (43rd) Answer: I am a community organizer who happens to be Speaker of the House. I support raising COLAs; my brother and two sisters are teachers so our get-togethers sound like a WEA union meeting.
-Rep. Peterson Answer: We have to honor the COLA deal we have made as honoring these promises is exactly what we have to do to maintain the safety net.
-From an Audience Shout Out: When?: Answer: This year; How? Answer: Revenue packages; Capital gains; Cap and Trade
Salary and Benefits
-I’m a parapro at Stevens Elementary. I am doing the work I love and I’m lucky to have a place to live inside Seattle as I have landlords who appreciate my teaching and therefore give me a good deal on rent. If I did not have this relationship, I could not live here. I have neighbors who are also educators at Stevens and we all live pay check to pay check. We never have money at end of the month. There is no retirement and healthcare costs are rising. Inslee raised healthcare by $200 which is a minimal raise as it barely covers anything. I’m thinking that I’ll have to reconsider whether I can do the work I love. What does this say about how we are valued?
-SEA Question to panel: The decrease in healthcare has impacted teachers; $786 per month since 2011. Most educators are taking home less pay every year. Do you support increasing teachers to the same level as state employees? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to panel: Do you oppose the state takeover of our healthcare system? Everyone on panel answers YES (except Tarelton, she didn’t know anything about a takeover)
-Tarleton (36th) Answers: I’m in support of teachers getting healthcare funding that keeps up with the cost of healthcare.
-Walkinshaw (43rd) Answers: My mom was a teacher and my dad was on my mom’s healthcare plan. As a kid growing up I know what family finances are like. Kids know when families are budgeting and there has been a huge change over the last 20 years. It is essential to be fighting on this issue.
-I’m a Nathan Hale Teacher (loud applause). We teach students to be citizens, to be honorable, skillful citizens. After studying the research and using a broad-based input process with students, parents, teachers, we came to the conclusion that the SBAC was of no benefit. Since then, Dr. Larry Nyland stated we could be guilty of misconduct if we refuse to give the SBAC. We will be fired and could never again be able to teach in Washington State. Fortunately there is a large parent movement and a large student movement. The state and city and school board must listen to these protests against this unreliable test. All across the country parents and students are protesting against these tests — NY, NJ, PA and TX and California just decided to postpone Common Core testing for the next year. I think the federal government is more likely to listen to the public’s opinion about these tests because it is an election year. (standing ovation)
-I’m a Graham Hill elementary special ed teacher and also the parent of a student at Ballard High School. I have already opted my teenager out of the SBAC. I have been the testing coordinator at Graham Hill for nine years. During that time I have seen the required amount of assessment given to students increase and increase. There is no longer enough time each day for the important instruction in the classroom. There is no time for in-depth teaching. Students have to spend an enormous amount of time on their homework and this is actually content they should have been learning in school but don’t have the time because of testing. Students average 2.5 hours for each of the district mandated tests and now the SBAC will take 8 hours. Most all of this testing has nothing to do with what the kids are working on. What happens is, through the testing, you end up telling little kids that they are dumb. What am I suppose to do with this data from all these tests? I know that when I send the results to the district they just all fall into a black hole. As you all know, when you test your students the testing is timely, it is related to your curriculum and is relevant. Your tests are individualized for your students. Students realize these tests are created for them. Your tests then inform your curriculum. Students are not guinea pigs; teachers are not guinea pigs. These other tests are created by people who are more concerned about students as a number and making money off of these students. (standing ovation)
-I’m from Lake Washington School District. I just administered the SBAC. Students were looking to me with fright, trying to figure out what was going on. All I could say was: “I will not be able to help you.” These tests are taking way too much time and there is no research that shows they improve student learning. I think it is premature to be giving these tests now and it will just lead to a real narrowing of the curriculum. We must make sure how we measure our students — we must use a just process. Who is going to be the voice for our kids? Who will do what’s right for our kids? (standing ovation)
-SEA Question to panel: Do you support removing high stakes testing as grade requirement? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to panel: Will you work with us to limit tests? Everyone on panel answers YES
-Jessyn Farrell (46th): There is so much energy in this room! I have a 6-year old and 4-month old. When I walk into my 6 year olds classroom, I think to myself what amazing things are happening here in spite of what the Legislature is doing. I’m learning about this just the way you are. My 6 year old had a day off a while back. What did we do? We played testing. Thank you Nathan Hale. We need to and want to be your partners.
-Gerry Pollet (46th): Thank you Nathan Hale. When we were here in October I urged students to go to their parents and talk with them about boycotting SBAC. As a parent I am disturbed by what Seattle Schools are doing. I received a letter from Superintendent Nyland who states parents can “refuse” the test. He has it wrong. I have a right. It is a legitimate option for my child to not take the test. It is not a refusal! I have a legal and moral option. Our kids are not guinea pigs. (standing ovation)
-Khol-Wells (36th) — I’ve always opposed using student test scores for teacher evaluations. I would have voted against SB 5748 again this year but there was an amendment offered which was exactly what the SEA has supported. Evaluations would not be based on test scores but on assessment data and it would be up to each district what assessment data would be used. I care a lot about getting back the $40M. I have always been opposed to “high stakes” testing and I am not the enemy. I have repeatedly talked about the horrible nature of “high stakes” testing. My granddaughter is a high achiever; I was a 4th grade teacher. We know our students are achieving well and we know what we want.
-Frockt (46th): I’ve heard you loud and clear about how we use the tests and the proliferation of tests. I voted for SB 5748 for one reason. I wanted to try to restore NCLB and services to low income kids. I’ve worked with Governor Inslee crafting a waiver based on the statement of Arnie Duncan. I’ve asked Inslee to re-double his efforts. By adopting the amendment which would allow multiple measures, I was hoping this would be the right direction for public policy.
-McAuliffe (1st): When we brought it in, the wording was “may use”; not “must use.”
Fully Funding Education
-SEA Comment: We remain focused on the importance of fully funding education.
-President Northshore School District. This is the paramount duty of the State and McCleary has reaffirmed this and the State Supreme Court is now holding the Legislature in contempt. Through various initiatives, such as I-728, funding for education has become a shell game. No fair revenue has been added.
-SEA Question to panel: Do you agree full funding and smaller class size? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to panel: Should there be competitive professional wages? Everyone on panel answers YES
-Seattle PTSA lobbyist. I have a second grader and classrooms in Seattle are bursting at the seams. We need to build more school buildings. In Seattle, we have kids in 6,000 portables. In order to meet K-3 we need 350 more classrooms. Kids need quality learning environments. We have to invest in our buildings.
-SEA Question to panel: Will you work to make sure in this biennium there is full funding for K-3 classroom construction; we need 5,000 new classrooms at a renovation cost of $40M? Everyone on panel answers YES
-SEA Question to panel: Will you support fixing the formula for building classrooms? Everyone on panel answers YES
-League of Women Voters. We know state funds are central to many programs. Where is the money going to come from? Will it be sufficient?
-SEA Question to Chopp: What can we expect this year and how can we work together? We have 84,000 educators across the state (Chopp adds: and 1 million students across the state).
-Chopp Answers: First we have to improve our tax system. Leaders in Apple Health have already learned this with $1.4B in new revenue. The problem is with the Republican dominated Senate. People in this room and throughout the state have contacted me about the bad Senate bill SR 5748 regarding teacher evaluation and testing. I’ve received 1,300 emails opposed and zero email in favor.
To follow is a checklist of questions to ask the principal of Summit charter school if you are considering registering your student to attend this school.
How many years of teaching experience does the principal have and is she an accredited teacher and principal?
The Principal of Summit Sierra charter school, Melia Burns, started out in the field of education as a Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruit. To “teach” as a recruit requires a Bachelors degree in any subject and five weeks of training. Then you are placed in a school, usually a charter school. Ms. Burns was in the program for two years. Then she was a Program Coordinator at the Umoja Student Development Corporation for one year. After Ms. Burns one year stint at Umoja Corporation, she taught at the Noble Network charter school for two years, she then became Dean at the same school for two years. That means that Ms. Burns, as a Principal of Summit charter school, has a total of four years teaching as a non-accredited teacher in two charter schools.
Who will the teaching staff be and will they be teachers who graduated from accredited teaching programs and certified by the state of Washington?
Most charter schools are staffed by individuals who do not have a degree from an accredited teachers’ college.
Will there be Teach for America staff in the classrooms?
Teach for America recruits students who have recently graduated from college and train them for five weeks to teach in mostly charter schools although they managed a foothold in the Seattle Public School district. The recruit does not have to have a degree in education or a related field. Teach for America recruits contract with TFA, Inc. for two or three years then move on to graduate school, law school or another chosen profession leaving the school and creating churn within the school community.
Will a student fee be required?
Along with volunteer time, there is a “suggested donation” of $500 per student at Summit Charter School in Everest, California, one of the now 7 charter schools Summit operates and considered their banner school. (Please note: The link to the “suggested donation” has been taken down by Summit since this post was first published but I have chosen to keep the link up until I find the new location.)
How many hours of parent volunteer time will be required?
According to the Everest Parent Organization website, it is required that parents or guardians put in 30 hours of volunteer time with the school each year, 50 hours if you have two students attending the charter school.
What does “personalized” or “Blended learning “mean?
“Blended learning”, is basically putting a student in front of a computer where they are to read, watch videos, do their lessons and take tests also called “assessments”.
The reason for the proliferation of online learning in charter schools is that it is cheaper than hiring additional teaching staff and therefore generates revenue for charter schools.
How many hours will my student be on a computer each day?
There are three types of work to be done: 1. Basic curriculum modules : “Power Focus Areas”. All content is delivered on a computer and online tests are given. 2. Project work (often group-based) 3. Additional curriculum modules: “Additional Focus Areas”. This is the same as the Basic curriculum modules but with more challenging content.
A student must pass all Basic content assessments at 70%. This is mandatory and half of the requirement to achieve a C- grade. This means re-doing playlists and re-taking the computer test for the same module over and over again, until the student achieves a 70% passing grade. If the student passes on the first or second attempt, it is considered reasonable. If the student is passing after 3 to 10 attempts it is taking them 3 to 4 times as long to achieve a passing grade. Projects are supposed to take up 70% of the students’ time, but with so much time required to pass the basic module there is little time to do Project Work. Projects must also be passed at 70% as the other half of the requirement to attaining a C- grade for the subject for the year. For some it is taking 70% of their time to pass the content assessments for the Power Focus areas alone.
What is the percentage of time my student will have in face to face class time with the teacher?
Will Summit charter school offer sports and music programs?
Summit Rainier Prep and Summit Everest charter schools do not offer either.
Will there be a nurse at the school?
Will there be an International Baccalaureate (IB) program?
Will my student be asked to leave the school if his or her test scores do not meet a specified standard?
At Summit Everest there was an attrition rate of 18% between the Freshman and Senior year in 2013.
Will there be a certified teacher and staff for special ed students?
At First Place charter school in Seattle, the Special Education teacher who had been working there for three years was fired and another staff person replaced her who was not credentialed. I assume this was a cost-cutting measure taken by the new administration who took over the school when it became a charter school.
It will be best to know now if there will be appropriately trained staff for IEP students.
In a field report titled “Greenlighting 2015″ that was sent to me regarding Summit’s plan for our children’s future and was discussed at a Summit board meeting, their plan is to establish four schools in seven different districts in Washington State, two in the fall of 2015 and two in 2016.
According to this field report, Summit has questions about how much of the Seattle school levy budget they will receive. “The thinking is that the first charters approved will be the first ones to get access to the levies.”
It’s time for my yearly plug about classes that I offer to students in grades 3 through high school.
I am an architect and have been teaching classes in architecture to students beginning when my daughter was in third grade and I was asked to join her class and let them know about what I did professionally. It was so enjoyable for me and the students that I was invited to join the class every Friday afternoon for the remainder of the semester and we designed and created a town. That was my first town planning class and I have been doing that class and others ever since.
The classes are fun and are based on the design studio model that an architectural student experiences when becoming educated in the field of architecture and design. The atmosphere is one of respect for all ideas and creativity and exploration are encouraged.
What we do is delve into the topic of that workshop whether it’s airports, towns or Egyptian architecture. Then after some discussion and a brief lesson in drawing to scale, I provide the students with a design challenge. It could be to design an airport, or take three elements of Egyptian design and apply those elements to a contemporary design. Using cardboard, poster board, tape, markers and maybe some paint, the students construct their ideas. Because it is an open studio environment, there is an exchange of ideas and sharing of expertise.
What is most interesting to me is how on the first day of every workshop that I offer, the students sit quietly and intently waiting for me to be the teacher but in an hour or so they understand that this is a collaborative effort where everyone is involved and everyone has something to contribute.
The students can work either independently or as a team. That’s up to the individual. What I have found is that most students team up early on and work out what they will be responsible for. They also help each other out a lot as well. It really does become a collaborative effort.
I work with the students and do my own project along with them as well as assist students as they request it.
The goal for me is for the students to have fun while learning more about the field of architecture and design.
The Finding Your Voice Parent Institute is a free one-day parent preparation program that teaches parents and family members to better understand the public school system and partner with public schools focusing on student achievement.
The institute offers interactive classes that provide critical information and skills that parents of students in public schools should have in order to support their students and their schools. Topics include:
How the public school system works.
How to better communicate with schools.
How to prepare your student for college.
How to become an education advocate.
No registration fee and lunch is provided free of charge.
In front of the Gates Foundation, there was a teach-in, a grade-in and a policy throw-down although I don’t think that Vicki Phillips was able to make it. We will be hearing more on that next week but for now I wanted to share this photograph with you that was taken in front of the offices of Gates and Co.
We are fortunate in the state of Washington because we have not had to suffer through what we have seen other students and parents go through in urban areas such as Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles and Florida. We have watched this drama unfold from afar and have been forewarned.
In Chicago, for instance, there is now the travesty of profiteering off of school closures and “turnarounds”. These school turnarounds started with Arne Duncan’s tenure as CFO of the Chicago Public School system and has continued under the new mayor Rahm Emanuel. The school board, all selected by the mayor, voted to close 17 schools in Chicago and convert most of them into charter schools creating additional turmoil and rootlessness for neighborhoods already suffering the detrimental effects of poverty.
To follow is footage of a Rally for Schools and March on Mayor Emanuel’s House in Chicago. First this footage and then some background on the greed and callousness that caused this to happen.
There is a for-profit school turnaround company, AUSL, that takes over schools, fires the entire staff including janitors and lunch ladies and turns the school into a charter school. The former president of AUSL was appointed President of the Chicago Public School board by Mayor Emmanuel (Mayor 1% as he is referred to in Chicago). According to Karen Lewis, president of the teachers’ union in Chicago, there were no school turnarounds last year so the impression is now, AUSL needed to make up for lost profits. 17 schools are now to close and be “turned around” into charter schools.
JAISAL NOOR: Right, Amy. So, that report was part of a series I did in Chicago for The Real News and Free Speech Radio News. And these teachers contacted me, current teachers from AUSL, the Academy for Urban School Leadership. It’s this nonprofit private company, this turnaround specialist, who are given schools by the Chicago public school system, where all the teachers are fired, the principals are fired, all the janitors are fired, and this company comes in to hire all new staff and turn around these so-called failing schools.
Now, one of the reasons I went to Chicago was because of this growing outrage against these policies. Protesters were paid to protest for these school closings. That’s how unpopular these policies are. We heard from Latrice Watkins, a parent who organized for months in her community. They created an alternative plan to put forward to the school board. The school board didn’t listen. And this company has very close ties to the Chicago school board. Its former chairman is now the president of the Chicago school board.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Appointed by Rahm Emanuel?
JAISAL NOOR: Appointed by Rahm Emanuel last year. So this is a scenario you can’t even make up. The unelected school board voted unanimously to turn several of these schools over to AUSL. And so, it’s current teachers there that are saying things are so bad, there’s no accountability there, that we, as current teachers, who went to the schools as a way to fix education for these communities, disinvested communities, even we think this is failing us. And I know Karen Lewis can talk more about the challenges there.
KAREN LEWIS: So, what happened was, two years ago, they did not give AUSL as many schools as they wanted, and last year they got none. So they had all of these people that they had, quote-unquote, “trained” ready to go to schools, and there were no schools available to them. So when we saw that the president of the board and also the chief operating officer, who came from AUSL, and prior to that, Motorola—so, again, we have this very business-oriented model here—when we saw that they were appointed, we knew this year that AUSL was going to get—I call it AUSL—was going to get a ton of schools.
And now in New Orleans, the city that has been touted as the example for all of us to follow in terms of the privatization of our schools, I would highly recommend listening to PAA Founding Member and eduction activist Karran Harper-Royal, who has a lot to say about charter schools in her hometown. She is being interviewed by Andrea Merida, another PAA Founding Member and parent activist in Denver. The program is A Conversation About Choice in New Orleans.
In the state of Washington there is a “compromise” bill that passed the House and Senate that will tie test scores to teacher evaluations. More to follow on that issue but I wanted to leave you with this conversation that Tom Slekar and Shaun Johnson @chalkface radio had with Florida teacher Ceresta Smith on merit pay based on test scores and the focus on test taking. Ms. Smith gives the straight scoop on teacher evaluations based on test scores, merit pay and why she didn’t deserve what she received in terms of merit pay this year.
Remember: There is nothing “public” about charter schools except the funding of these franchises by our tax dollars.
This began as a memorandum to a group of political and education activists in the state of Washington but as I started writing this, I realized that everyone in the state of Washington needs to be aware of what is coming down the pipe in Olympia in terms of the effort to privatize our public schools.
Many companies and individuals have jumped onto the band wagon of “ed reform” because of the dollars involved with everything from testing to “online learning”. See the right hand column of this page under the heading of “Cashing in on Ed Reform” to get an idea of the money involved in these business endeavors.
What these folks want to do in our state is take over the tax dollars that are used to fund education and make a profit off of our children with ideas and programs that are untested at best or have proven to be detrimental to our children at the very worst.
To follow is the strategy that the folks who are basically paid for by Bill Gates are planning to do in January to take over our public school system. The organizations that will represent the 1% are the League of Education Voters(LEV) led by Chris Korsmo and Kelly Munn, Stand for Children (SFC), the Excellent Schools Now Coalition (a brand new astro turf organization) and unfortunately, the Washington State PTA that has lost its’ way under the tutelage of LEV and SFC and with loads of money from Bill Gates and Boeing.
Boeing and Microsoft have been funding LEV and working with them on two “megabills” as they are termed by Korsmo of LEV. When I say “working with them”, I mean that Microsoft and Boeing are lending them their “corporate lobbying power” (LEV’s term, not mine) for the bills that will be put forth by certain legislative representatives. Keep in mind that the two school board members who were able to hold onto their positions in the last school board election in Seattle, Harium and Carr, both are employees of Boeing. I am not implying that they will consciously go with what their employer is spending major cash and “man hours” on, but it can be a psychological influence, so I would watch for that and remind them that they are to be representing the rest of us and not the 1%.
LEV and SFC are hoping to receive “bipartisan support” on these bills so again, I would suggest that everyone remind their representatives that we are the 99% who will be voting in the next election. It is still one person, one vote, no matter how much money the 1% might have so they need to be mindful of that. It would also behoove all of us to educate our representatives on what charter schools are and what has happened so far in other states. We are fortunate in the sense that we can see what has been happening in many other states and can understand that charter schools are not the way for our students particularly since we have many successful programs such as the alternative schools in Seattle, the Montessori programs, APP, the International Schools and Aviation High School in Shoreline.
One response that the privatizers have when you ask why they are even suggesting the pressure of high stakes testing on our children or teachers’ salaries and professional lives being based on test scores, they will flippantly answer you with “Well, we’re just starting a conversation!” Forget the conversation. There is no conversation at that point. They have had the process rigged and the votes sold. They will call their bills “platforms for discussion” with the “discussion” being manipulated so that if you don’t agree with them, you are ignorant or an insensitive cow who cares nothing about “the children”. Watch for that. Their well-paid marketeers such as Strategies 360 have a smooth roll-out in terms of strategy and phrasing. What we have is our earnestness, our honesty, the fact that we are voters and that we have skin in the game in terms of our children. All the folks at Strategies 360, Boeing and Microsoft are paid and couldn’t care less who is in office or who isn’t.
Also know that there will more than likely be the strategy this year as there was last year where several bills will be proposed with the hopes that one bill gets through. They will all be the same but the language will be different. It is also a way to distract, divide and conquer in terms of the reformers’ strategy. See How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.
The first of the “megabills” is about principal and teacher evaluations. Couched, or rather buried in the language, will be the proposed evaluation of teachers and principals based on student test scores. This is called “high stakes testing” or “value added testing” and not something that you would want your child subjected to. Can you imagine your child thinking that their test score might be the cause of the district firing a beloved teacher or principal?
Now, why are test scores so important with this crowd? Because charter schools live and die by test scores, or theoretically they are to. Most states have set up criteria for charter schools where they are to meet an established standard in terms of test scores to remain open. If they do not meet the criteria, they are to close. Unfortunately today, many of these charter franchises remain open basically because of the money that exchanges hands between the charter school operators and the state representatives. Remember, this is all about the money. It is not about our children.
The projected cost of this proposed bill as noted by LEV is $10-12M per year. That’s their projected cost. In reality, it could be far greater.
Now for the charter school bill that we might see different reiterations of. First, they want to have language in a state law that says basically that the state or a district can “interdict” on the behalf of a “failing school”. That is the same thing as what Race to the Top (RTTT) termed a “school turnaround” whenever a school was closed and then turned into a charter school. That’s why these “school report cards” were developed by our last Broad trained superintendent. If a school is “failing”, if there is a substantial “achievement gap”, then the school can be a “turnaround school”, meaning closed and turned into a charter school. That’s “Part One” with these folks. And by the way, they’ll say that there are just a few of those schools that are failing but trust me, once they get their foot in the door, there will be a proliferation of charter schools that will not be stopped as seen in New Orleans and Florida. They will refer to them as “struggling schools”. My argument is that these “struggling schools” are actually schools that have students struggling in their schools and that has more to do with a lack of resources and poverty than anything else. The issue of poverty is something that the 1% willfully ignores otherwise they would have to own up to the fact that they should pay their fair share of taxes to support our educational system. See Where Do We Go From Here?
The 1% will propose in this “megabill” that “outside agencies” be hired to intercede on the behalf of these “failing schools”. What does that mean? That means paying some company to come in to “manage” the “turnaround” of these schools into charter schools. More profit to be made on the backs of our students. These people truly should be ashamed of themselves but they are not. Now, not only would you have charter school profiteers, then there would be folks who would “manage” the turnovers or “turnarounds”, not the district people themselves who we pay to do this kind of work but private “outside agencies”. If there was no money in public school funding before, there will be nothing left after these folks suck us dry.
Another “outside agency” that was being bandied about is the University of Washington (UW). What is striking about this is that the Dean of the School of Education, Tom Stritikus, is a former TFAer and was instrumental in getting his school to manage the five weeks of training that the TFA recruits are to receive before going into our “struggling schools”. Odd isn’t it? He leads a college where students study and train to be teachers which takes at least a few years and yet he championed providing training for college grads to receive barely enough training to find the front door to their new school.
Part 2 of this charter school bill with its’ “Transformation Zones”, will have eight points:
1. There would be a cap on the number of charter schools in the state. Now, don’t let that fool you. There is a push by Arne Duncan and Obama right now for states to remove the cap on charter schools to receive more federal money. Also, the state can increase the cap yearly. Once these privatizers get their foot in the door, it’s all over, they won’t stop, not when it comes to money. It gets down to a matter of greed and that cannot be legislated out of a person’s soul.
2. Charter schools will be targeted to the “poor areas”, meaning the schools with the greatest minority populations. That has been the target in other states also. What parent in a tony neighborhood would allow their children to be taught by a poorly trained TFA temp? That means the urban areas such as Seattle and Tacoma will be the targets for these charter franchises, not the rural areas so again parents, don’t think that a charter school is going to pop up in a less populated community, the charter school franchises are not interested in quality, just volume. There is also Title 1 money involved with these “poor areas” which is icing on the cake for these poverty pimps.
3. The proposal will be for State Board of Education oversight. Now this is interesting because last year Governor Gregoire pushed for an appointed board of education as Schwarzenegger had in California which was populated with charter school operators and the likes of folks like Ben Austin. The bill in our state was fortunately voted down but don’t be surprised if we see that bill come up again. When Jerry Brown became governor of California he cleaned house and got rid of all of the corporate interest folks who had populated the State School Board in California.
4. Collective bargaining would be “building specific” which is what SEA leadership was, unwittingly I hope, negotiating for with the MOU on Innovative/Creative Approach Schools, aka, charter schools that came up recently. Fortunately that brain child got put on hold for another vote next year. There will be language in the proposed “megabill” about longer school days which of course will cost money that we don’t have. The governor is talking about cutting the school week to four days in response to our state budget shortfall so I don’t see this flying at all. I have nothing against longer school days but over the years we have been cutting days and hours off of the school week because of budget cuts, not because parents and teachers want a shorter school day or less school days in a year it’s because we haven’t been able to afford it. Of course, if you staff the Innovative/Creative Approach charter schools with cheap TFA temps the problem of costs might be solved as it has been in other states where charter school are populated with TFA recruits or non-union teaching staff.
6. “Lottery”. Oh yes, the famous lottery scene in Waiting for Superman. The lottery is hype, a hoax of sorts. It creates a desire and excitement, a sense that this school is so important that you have to be part of a lottery to be selected. Exactly what part of that is democratic? In the successful alternative schools system within Seattle, it is first come, first served. If there is not enough room, and many times there isn’t, the student is placed on a waiting list and you start at the top of the waiting list. No lottery, no Hollywood hype, just a fair and reasonable process.
7. “Non profits as management companies”. Here the privatizers are referring to charter school management companies, referred to as CMO’s. It’s not enough that the cost per student covers their education; it also has to cover the cost of a management company that is to come in and “manage” the school. Why a management company? Why another layer of cost and profit? My guess is that most of the folks who own these franchises don’t understand the day-to-day process of running a school or any other public institution for that matter. It’s another layer of business management. And “non-profit” or not, a profit is made. It’s just another guise, another wolf in sheep’s clothing.
And the cost of this bill? Apparently Ross Hunter is working on that. What I find interesting about this push for charter schools is that it’s not coming from Seattle but from the outlying, well-off, basically bedroom communities just outside of Seattle. These folks will not see one TFA temp or KIPP school in their neighborhoods.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this ed reform movement has become a cash cow for a few profiteers. Let’s make sure that they don’t cash in on our children.
The LEV “Key Activists” as they are termed by Korsmo and Munn have been urged by the LEV Director of Government Relations, Frank Ordway, to “Go down (to Olympia) and drop off (a) note, talk to legislators, talk to senior staff to tell them ‘we want this.’ “
Let’s all do the same but with a different message. We want our legislators to meet the demand in our state constitution that it is the state’s paramount duty to adequately fund our schools so that all of our children receive the best education possible in the state of Washington. We don’t need charter schools, just a well-funded educational system for all.
In a follow-up post on charter schools we’ll look at the three charter franchises that are being bandied about by the corporate reformers in our state, KIPP, Greendot and the Rocketship online learning business enterprise.
After the arrest of Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School, on Monday, November 28th, the students at Garfield organized a march to Seattle City Hall in response to their teacher’s arrest and to his demands to fully fund education in the state of Washington.
Seattle Public Schools have seen the loss of librarians, much-needed family service counselors and college admissions counselors (See Post Script), the reduction of the arts to “art on a cart” and school principals and staff making difficult decisions on the number of teachers they can budget for. School facilities are in poor condition and many buildings are not safe in terms of earthquake code. The list goes on and I invite other parents, teachers and students to add to the list in the comment section of this post.
The students of Garfield High School issued a statement on their Facebook page. It goes as follows:
We are Washington State Public Schools students tired of the constant cuts to our education. We are the people who have been affected most by these cuts, and we are showing that we care. For too long, this stat…e’s budget has been balanced on the backs of its students. Apparently, our representatives in Olympia have forgotten that the Washington Constitution says that funding education is this state’s “paramount duty”. This is a student voice reminding our legislature of that fact. And also of this one: We are this country’s future. We will vote. And we will hold them accountable.
We will walk out of school on Wednesday the 30th of November at 12:30 PM to march to City Hall and tell the world that we are fed up with this lack of funding for education. Although we acknowledge the irony of missing a free education in order to protest, we realize that sometimes unorthodox methods must be utilized in order to gain attention. To all Garfield students and students from any other Seattle schools, public and private, we hope you will join us tomorrow as we stand up against a constant barrage of cuts and mistreatment, and converge upon City Hall to make our voices heard.
We have two primary goals we hope to accomplish:
-We want to stop the constant cuts to education that have hurt our school and other schools in the state.
-We want to insert a student voice into the political discourse in issues regarding education.
Following are our grievances, things that have already happened as a result of past cuts:
-Students who want full schedules have been denied them due to a lack of teachers. Many seniors were denied a science class due to a complete lack of state science funding.
-Other academic courses, such as advanced math classes, have been repeatedly cut from our school.
-The removal of summer school and night school has removed resources that allowed many students to graduate on time, therefore effectively increasing the amount the state must spend on those students.
The King County Superior Court ruled that Washington State is already failing to fulfill its constitutional obligations to fully fund public education. As Will Rogers said: “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Cuts to the State’s education budget haven’t helped in the past, and they can only hurt for the future.
In a statement issued yesterday, Parents Across America Seattle has come out in support of the students at Garfield High School as well as students throughout our state. It reads as follows:
Parents Across America Seattle supports the student walkout at Garfield High School on November 30th, in which 500 students walked out to protest state budget cuts to education. Among the grievances listed by students were that students have already been denied full schedules due to lack of funding, that summer school and night school have been cut, that advanced math classes have been cut, and that students have been denied the opportunity to take science classes. These past cuts, and the proposed future cuts, hurt everybody. Thank you to the Garfield High School students and community for standing up for education.
And now the videos. I’ll let the videos, the students, speak for themselves.
The College Admission Counselors help students determine the colleges that would be the best fit for them. The counselors also provide guidance for the students through the application process as well as assisting the students with information to apply for financial aid. The ironic aspect of this is that the Gates Foundation according to their own report states that:
A new report, “One Degree of Separation,” finds that young people may be discouraged from even going to college because they don’t know how to finance their education. The survey, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reports that 70 percent of high school graduates don’t even know how to apply for federal financial aid or scholarships.
And yet, Bill and Melinda Gates would rather spend their millions on instituting charter schools in our state rather than paying their fair share of taxes in the state of Washington so that students in our state can have the necessary guidance to apply to and attend colleges.
Gates would rather dictate what we need with his money than allowing the rest of us, who know what our students need, to make the appropriate decisions…with what should be state money and not his.
Four strong grassroots challengers took on four rubber-stamping, corporate ed reform school board incumbents here in Seattle on Nov. 8. All but one race was close. Two of the challengers won!
Martha “Marty” McLaren and Sharon Peaslee both won, and will soon join Seattle’s seven-member school board, hopefully tipping the balance towards sensible, responsible and thoughtful leadership that is responsive to the parents and community of SPS, and not outside political agendas. (They will be sworn in at 4 p.m. today at the JSCEE district headquarters.)
The four challengers all brought a lot to the table. They ran solid, smart campaigns. And they earned many significant endorsements. Kate Martin is a parent activist and member of PAA-Seattle. Michelle Buetow is a parent activist and member of the Alternative School Coalition. Marty McLaren is a former Seattle math teacher (and member of PAA-Seattle) who took the school district to court over the adoption of weak math text — and won (later overturned on appeal, though). Sharon Peaslee is a parent activist who started a petition to save a popular principal who was summarily fired by our new reformist interim superintendent allegedly over test scores (the petition, bad publicity and overwhelming community support for the principal forced the superintendent to reverse herself and reinstate him).
The corporate ed reform powers that be who supported all the incumbents (including the Seattle Times, which prematurely declared one of the losing incumbents the winner) are not happy, and have tried to dismiss the victories as solely due to teacher’s union support, or disparage voters as simply being “silly.”
But the voters weren’t silly. They were fed up.
The four incumbents rubber-stamped the damaging, costly and scandal-ridden ed reform agenda of our previous (and fired) Broad Foundation-trained superintendent, voting to bring in Teach for America, Inc., merit pay, and high-stakes testing. National ed reform lobbyists, Stand for Children endorsed three of the incumbents. In addition to such political connections, the incumbents also significantly outspent the challengers (with money from wealthy donors outside of Seattle).
So this is truly a grassroots victory against ‘ed deform.’
To recap: Here in Seattle, this year we managed to oust our Broad superintendent (Maria Goodloe-Johnson), see our district rid of the last of the costly ‘Broad residents,’ and oust two of the four incumbents who supported and rewarded our superintendent and her corporate ed reform agenda.
Diane Ravitch came to town last week and it was a sold-out event. (In contrast, when Dora and I hosted a forum with her last year via Skype, the local media, and even one of the main education blogs ignored it.)
So perhaps the tide is turning here in Emerald City towards a more organic and community-centric approach to public education.
We still have many challenges ahead of us in Seattle, and Washington as a whole, the biggest being the gathering, moneyed forces that are pushing for charters. We still have the Gates Foundation right here in Seattle, so as long as that foundation pushes for and bankrolls discredited, failed reforms, those of us in the parent activist community will have our work cut out for us.
But, for a bunch of finance-free, grassroots volunteers with little more than blogs and research skills and a willingness to speak and act up, the unofficial ‘Seattle Ed Deform Resistance’ is doing all right.
So I hope those of you who are faced with similar battles in your own districts around the nation can take heart in our story and achieve similar wins of your own.