The latest cash grab : Teacher/charter school villages

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TFA recognizes the value of the Centers concept and has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Seawall Development Company to replicate the Centers for Educational Excellence model across the country. Philadelphia, along with Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, is a TFA-identified growth area, and TFA has committed to being the lead commercial tenant in these developments, with their corps members making up the majority of residential tenants.

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

As I noted in a previous article titled The Battle in Seattle Against Yet Another Charter School Invasion, a developer plans to build a project that includes retail, low income housing and at one time, a charter school, the Green Dot charter school chain, in Southeast Seattle.

Based on further research, I found this is not an anomaly but a national trend.

Bankers, developers and real estate brokers are working together with Teach for America (TFA) and charter school enterprises to offer low income housing mainly for Teach for America recruits and other teachers who do not have adequate pay for clean and safe housing along with free space for charter schools through city and state support. These are our tax dollars paying for highly lucrative business ventures where all the profit goes back to the bankers, developers and brokers.

These people are not developing these projects out of the goodness of their hearts, they are doing it for, of course, the money.

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So how does this work?

Basically, developers will get money from the city or state to provide low income housing in blighted areas or low-income communities. A charter school is brought in to sweeten the pot along with teachers who will begin the process of gentrification.

In a few years, the local community becomes popular for basically the creative class or white middle and upper classes and before you know it, you have a Soho, a Mission district in San Francisco, a Northeast Portland.

Property values begin to rise and an investment made with public money goes into the pockets of the bankers, developers and brokers.

For Teach for America, Inc. it’s a perk. They can retain recruits at very low pay because they now have “affordable housing” for the working poor and charter schools can come in with little to no cash required because of city and/or state subsidies.

Sweet deal for the 1%, not so good for the rest of us.

When the value of the property around the school begins to skyrocket, those who were to benefit from the developments will not be able to afford to live anywhere near the original charter school/low income housing sites.

And, if a charter school goes belly up, as a large percentage of them do, less money has been lost and the space is move-in ready for the next charter school venture.

According to an article titled Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?  published in ShelterForce:

Some CDLF [Community Development Lenders] practitioners also believe that charter schools are conducive to urban revitalization because they provide middle-class families with “safe” educational alternatives that encourage them to move to and stay in urban areas, helping to break up the concentrated poverty found in many of those areas. Research documents that charter schools are used by higher-income, primarily white urban residents who do not want to send their children to local public schools serving large numbers of low-income, black and brown students.

Other studies provide evidence that charter schools are used by more affluent whites in non-urban communities as well, as a means of facilitating segregation. More generally, numerous studies have found that charter schools lead to increases in segregation in education by race, ethnicity, and income, across metropolitan areas

  1. It’s Where the Money Is

CDLFs are mission-driven organizations, but they also respond to the market. There are substantial and growing public and private incentives for investing in charter schools. Those incentives are particularly attractive given the limited availability of other forms of subsidy.

One of the most effective forms of subsidy to encourage CDLFs to support charter school expansion is the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities (CECSF) program. The USDOE awarded $280.9 million in CECSF grants between 2002 and 2015 “to public and nonprofit entities to develop innovative credit enhancement models that assist charter schools in leveraging capital from the private sector.” CDLFs received at least 75 percent of these CECSF grant dollars

Indeed, the program has been very successful in leveraging private capital with federal funding sources. LISC calculated that, through 2012, approximately $250 million in CECSF dollars leveraged an additional $3.2 billion in charter school facility financing, with private investors attracted by the lower risk and greater financial profitability.

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Before heading to other cities where this is happening, I thought it would be worth noting that the Homesight low-income housing development in Southeast Seattle that was to house Green Dot charter school and populated by Teach for America recruits has one financial backer of note, Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a proponent of school privatization. The Gates Foundation provided Homesight with $100,000 to support the Regional Equity Network to advance a community-led agenda in the Puget Sound region”* and $16 million to Green Dot “to support the expansion of Green Dot Public Schools into the state of Washington”. Also of note, two of Washington Teach for America’s “Supporters” are Goldman Sachs (who finances several of these charter school/low income developments around the country) and Avenue Properties.

So, let’s see what’s been happening elsewhere.

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One of the first examples of these business ventures was one Cory Booker pushed back in 2012. Cory Booker is no friend of public education because of his ties to the donor class so this comes as no surprise to those who have been following him.

As the then Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker stated at the groundbreaking of the Teachers Village per NBC New York:

“This is how we reinvent and rebuild a great American city,” Mayor Cory Booker declared when ground was broken for Teachers Village, a downtown development of eight buildings planned to have 200 apartments for teachers, three charter schools, a day care center and stores. It’s being designed by architect Richard Meier, a Newark native best known for designing the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The $150 million price is being covered by a combination of private and public funds.

In the next paragraph, the reporter writes:

The hope is that schools will be better with teachers who live in the community, and that it will create a middle-class enclave in a city where nearly one-third of families with children live in poverty. Middle-class residents can bring neighborhoods stability, attract more businesses and ultimately improve tax revenue.

Per New Jersey Business:

The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo. Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment “long-term” — brought everyone else together.

Teachers Village now has three charter schools.

All of this out of public coffers at an estimated $200 million.

Originally, leaders of the teachers’ unions were all for Teachers Village until they came to realize the concept was not for public school teachers but for Teach for America recruits. (It’s hard to imagine these folks were that naïve.)

According to Ed Week in an article titled Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction:

Newark Teachers Union President John M. Abeigon says the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, initially backed the project because it thought it would benefit more traditional public school teachers. At the start, he says, the developers had emphasized its planned support for such educators.

But Abeigon contends that the project then became aligned with what he calls the “corporate charter school movement.” For evidence, he cites the complex’s three charter schools and the fact that most of the apartments are rented to charter teachers and staff.

Abeigon’s concerns are echoed by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.

“This was supposed to be a way to recruit and support and retain Newark public school teachers,” she said. “That was the basis on which then-president of the Newark Teachers Union Joe Del Grosso [now deceased] and the AFT said this makes sense, because we really do believe in the idea of teachers living in the communities in which they teach. But Teachers Village came to be about charter teachers alone and that was dead wrong.”

Abeigon also argues that the complex’s close ties to charter schools belie the developers’ professed commitment to the long-term health of the community—a sentiment shared by other critics of the project.

“It’s a known fact that traditional public school teachers, who I refer to as career educators, stay longer than charter school teachers, so their commitment and investment in the community is that much greater,” he said. “Those living in Teachers Village are going to be turnaround tenants. They’ll do their two-year stints with [Teach For America] or a charter school, beef up their résumés, and then go get a job elsewhere. They aren’t going to really be invested in Newark.”

And in New York, another housing development. Per Affordable Housing Finance:

A new vibrant, mixed-use development that is providing much-needed affordable housing, a charter school for underserved students, and nonprofit office space has been built on an underutilized area of a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) site in East Harlem.

Jonathan Rose Cos., Harlem RBI, and Civic Builders partnered to create the East Harlem Center for Living & Learning on the site of George Washington Houses. The development includes the 89-unit Yomo Toro Apartments; the DREAM Charter School…

The total development cost for the project was approximately $84 million, including $30 million for the Yomo Toro Apartments. The affordable housing portion was financed through low-income housing tax credit equity provided by Enterprise Community Investment and sourced by JPMorgan Capital Corp., first and second mortgages from the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC), a loan from New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Reso A funding from City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

In San Diego, there was a push to revise code requirements that would allow a charter school to be a part of a low-income housing development.

The community had issues with the school bringing with it additional unwanted traffic to the neighborhood causing the variance for the charter school to be tabled.

The difference between what happened in San Diego and what occurred in Seattle is that the variance request was reviewed by way public meetings in San Diego, not behind closed doors as was done in Seattle.

Thanks to the efforts of former School Board Director Sue Peters, the school board and the public were alerted to the second attempt by Green Dot charter school to receive special treatment by the City of Seattle in terms of receiving a code variance.

RBHGroup-logoThe RBH Group, who were the developers for the Newark project and whose CEO Ron Beit sits on the board of Teach for America, Inc. in New Jersey, then went to Hartford, Connecticut.

According to a report published by Goldman Sachs:

RBH Group, the developer of Newark’s Teachers Village, announced the completion of financing and the start of construction on Hartford’s Teachers Corner, a mixed-use apartment complex in downtown Hartford aimed specifically at teachers

RBH Group’s founder and president Ron Beit said, “Teachers Corner represents a public and private partnership committed to urban reinvestment, building affordable and workforce housing and contributing to revitalizing the center of the city.

Following the Teachers Village project in Newark, NJ, the RBH Group, through its joint venture with the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, partnered with Prudential Social Investment Group, the City of Hartford and State of Connecticut to build the $20M project

Funders include City of Hartford, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, State Department of Housing, Capital Region Development Authority CRDA, State Department of Economic and Community Development, Prudential Social Investment Group and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

In Baltimore, per Urban Land magazine:

The $21 million renovation of a long-vacant, century-old former tin box manufacturing plant in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood was completed in summer 2009 by Seawall, founded by father and son Donald [Previously on the Teach for America, Baltimore Advisory Board] and Thibault Manekin. The project includes 40 apartments—ten reserved as affordable—and 35,000 square feet (3,250 sq m) of commercial space.

All the apartments are rented to school teachers at substantial discounts to market rental rates, and all office space—with the exception of Seawall’s headquarters—is leased to education-related organizations, including Teach for America.

Over 70 percent of the residents are members of Teach for America who work in Baltimore’s public school system, Morville notes. Several others are participating in the Baltimore system’s City Teacher Residency program, and some teach in parochial schools…

The financing mechanism that really made the project pencil out was the pairing of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) with federal and state historic tax credits, Morville says. The project is located in a census tract defined as “highly distressed” under the NMTC program.

And in San Jose:

Developer proposes project with charter school, affordable housing for San Jose ‘urban village’.

With affordable housing and a [Aspire] charter school, the mixed-use project would be a first for San Jose and transform a currently vacant industrial property in the Alum Rock area.

As with charter schools and the Common Core Standards, venture capitalists are cashing in on public school funding making school districts even more strapped for cash while desperately trying to keep schools together, employ certified teachers and adequately staff their schools.

Make no mistake about it, these “teacher villages” are not about the children or the communities they live in. This is yet another big grab for cash by financial enterprises.

Dora Taylor

*Post Script:

It’s a devious web that Bill Gates and others weave particularly in the Seattle area where many of us caught on several years ago to the efforts by a few to privatize public schools in the US.

For that reason, it’s important to explain some connections.

Homesight and Regional Equity Network (REN):

Tony To, the Executive Director of Homesight is a co-chair for REN. Thus, the grant from Gates describes two receiving parties, Homesight and REN.

 

Recommended articles:

SIX REASONS WHY WE DON’T WANT GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS IN SEATTLE

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America: An internal memo reveals how TFA’s obsessive PR game covers up its lack of results in order to justify greater expansion.

Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?

Public Schools to Community Development (A highly recommended deep dive into what the thinking is on the part of the moneyed community.)


Critics rip plans for $22M charter school at Cayce Homes

Who Will Live In Newark’s Teachers Village? TFAers

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

Policy Link: A recent find that shows who is connected to what organizations in Washington State

Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction

WHEDco Bard Academy Charter School to share space in Bronx with affordable housing and music center in 2013  

It’s an East Harlem DREAM come true: a new charter school beneath affordable housing 

EMAILS REVEAL THE “GATES MACHINE” IN ACTION AFTER THE WASHINGTON STATE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

BILL GATES IN WASHINGTON STATE: MAYORAL CONTROL AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

WHAT BILL GATES HAS SPENT SO FAR IN OUR STATE TO SUPPORT CHARTER SCHOOLS

Washington State: Charter School Backers Want to Oust Judge Who Authored Anti-Charter Decision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do you sometimes wonder why the Seattle Times does so many puff pieces on Bill Gates and his failed education initiatives?

It’s become clear to folks outside the circle of educators and public education advocates that all of Bill Gates ideas on how other children should be educated have failed and for many reasons.

Bill Gates is not an educator, never taught one day in his life in a public school, never took classes in education or child development but because he has money, he thinks he  has the answers to all that ails society. His children have never attended a public school and Bill Gates himself was enrolled in expensive private schools through high school. And as most know, he dropped out of college.

But he has money and therefore influence. Unfortunately his experiments on our children, including merit pay, teachers, schools and principals judged on student test scores and charter schools, have been failures and have only ruined the opportunities of many students to a better education. The time Bill Gates was spending on his visions cost precious time and public money with students not able to go back and receive the education they should have experienced. 

The Seattle Times recently published another puff piece on Bill Gates and I decided it was time to remind folks that Bill Gates pays a lot of money to the Seattle Times for their cloying admiration.

To follow is a post I published in 2015 by Mercedes Schneider titled:

BILL GATES FUNDS THE MEDIA, INCLUDING THE SEATTLE TIMES’ EDUCATION LAB, THEN SECRETLY MEETS WITH THEM

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Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media then secretly meets with them to do what?

Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media.

This is no surprise to me.

What did surprise me is the discovery that he meets with the media he funds (and others) regularly behind closed doors.

Yep.

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Gates Briefs a Media He Pays For (And Then Some)

In February 2013, journalist Tom Paulson wrote a piece on Gates’ private meetings with the media he funds. Paulson was not invited.

Notice some of the names:

I (Paulson) wasn’t actually allowed behind the scenes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent meeting in Seattle entitled “Strategic Media Partnerships.”

The Gates Foundation funds a lot of media – more than $25 million in media grants for 2012 (but still less than 1% of the budget).  

I’m media but I wasn’t invited. I asked if I could come and report on it, but was told the meeting was off the record. Those attending included representatives from the New York Times, NPR, the Guardian, NBC, Seattle Times and a number of other news organizations, non-profit groups and foundations. Not all were grant recipients, or partners. Some just came to consult. [Emphasis added this paragraph.]

In August 2014, I wrote about the Gates-funded, Seattle Times blog, Education Lab.

Education Lab is trying to offer predominately light, benign stories arguably designed to divert public attention from the increasingly-evident documentation regarding the failure of education privatization.

In Seattle, Gates is paying for the reporting of “positive outcomes.”

What happens if the “outcomes” are not so “positive”?

Just don’t write about that.

And it is easy enough if the funded organization’s politics agree with those of Gates.

(The Gates grants website is clear that Gates actively seeks to pay those organizations that will agree with his agenda.)

In the comments section of my Gates-funded, Seattle Ed Lab post, University of Washington professor Wayne Au challenges one of the Gates-funded Ed Lab reporters on the “Gates agreement reporting” point. Here is an excerpt from Au’s comment:

What is striking to me is the thin political range of the Ed Lab. I see mainly “safe” stories about mainstream stuff almost no one would would question….

[ … ]

In many ways you are in a similar position to the other Gates funded organizations locally – like the League of Education Voters. They tell me all the time, “Gates funds us but they don’t tell us what to do.” And my response to them is always, “Gates doesn’t have to tell you what to do because your politics and agenda align with Gates. That’s WHY they fund you. If you changed your agenda, you’d lose your Gates money…” Gates doesn’t have to pull the strings. They just need to provide resources to the right policy actors. [Emphasis added.]

Au’s entire exchange with the Ed Lab reporter is worth a read.

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A Gates-funded Common Core Debate (?)

Gates funds media willing to promote his agenda. Sometimes those reporting have no issues because they agree with Gates. In other cases, it seems that there might be some willful shaping of a story in order to slant the outcome towards “Gates favor-ability.”

Consider the September 9, 2014, Intelligence Squared debate on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The debate is entitled, Embrace the Common Core

No slant there.

If one scrolls to the bottom of the debate announcement page, one sees that Gates-funded NPR is a sponsor.

And as journalist Tom Paulson notes in his piece on Gates’ conferencing with the media, Bill is pushing for more “success stories”:

Well, as a journalist who covers global health and poverty and is expected to double-check and unpack the often carefully packaged messages put out by the Gates Foundation, I can tell you that quite a few people [attending the Gates media conference] – again, mostly ‘off the record’ – do kick. They’re not opposed to the overall goal, but many are concerned about the immense influence the philanthropy already has over the aid narrative.

One of the Gates Foundation’s working assumptions is that the aid narrative is a bummer, mostly bad news, and what we need is more ‘success stories.’ [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that the “success stories” Gates wants are those in line with his agenda. When it comes to education, Gates loves CCSS, grading teachers using standardized test scores, instituting teacher pay-for-performance increasing class sizes, and an extending the school day.

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Remember: True “Success” Is Gates-endorsed “Success”

Concerning evidence that contradicts the Gates agenda, Gates is willing to undercut a “success story.” Consider his February 2011 diminishing explanation in the Washington Post of the “success” of rising state test scores in light of flat NAEP scores:

Many education leaders would say that Gates’s criticism is unfounded. While NAEP scores are flat, scores on many state tests have risen over the past decade, to great fanfare. Test scores in both Maryland and Virginia have risen substantially in that span.

Gates contends that those gains are probably largely a result of new-test phenomenon: Test scores almost always rise under a new test, as students and teachers familiarize themselves with the test and the material it measures.

“Whenever you have a new test, people learn what’s in that test over the first three or four years,” he said. “The fact that doesn’t show up on NAEP at all is a bit damning.” [Emphasis added.]

Gates is quick to dismiss the rising state scores without also acknowledging the connection between flat NAEP scores and a sputtering, test-driven reform agenda. In other words, Bill did not say what was being “damned” was Bush’s test-driven, punitive, still-floundering No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Indeed, in 2013, with an additional two years of privatizing reform under America’s belt, NAEP scores remained flat.

This is certainly not test-worshiping reform “success,” but don’t blame the corporate reform idol of the high-stakes test as the supposed end-all success marker.

Gates instead turns to “smaller classes” as the culprit:

Gates contends that the K-12 education industry has been steered for five decades by a misguided belief that the way to higher performance is smaller classes. Many states pursued class-size reduction initiatives in the 1990s. California, an example I covered as a reporter, reduced average class size from 30 to 20 in kindergarten through grade 3 in the mid-1990s, at a cost of over $1.5 billion a year.

And since test scores have not risen, it must be that smaller classes should yield to more *cost effective* larger classes, right?

And be sure to prod teachers on with merit pay. Gates just knows this will work:

Over the years, though, the research community has more or less confirmed that class-size reduction doesn’t yield significant performance gains. The most expensive education reform is among the least effective.

Gates proposes ending class-size reduction experiments, lifting caps on class size and offering good teachers financial incentives to teach more students.

“If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it’s the effective teachers you’re retaining,” he said, “by any measure, you’re raising the quality of education as you do that.”  [Emphasis added.]

This is the same Gates who admitted in a September 2013 Harvard University interview that he wouldn’t know for “probably a decade” if his “education stuff” works.

Add to the above tidbit of uncertainty the established reality that Gates himself did not attend a test-driven-reform school with large class sizes, and neither do his children. And I’m sure he would consider himself as a “success.”

But that does not help the situation of “success shaping” of test-driven educational reform for the masses, does it?

No, no. Gates education reform  “success” includes the next great idea in test-driven reform, CCSS.

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Back to That Gates-funded, NPR-sponsored, CC Debate…

Gates-funded NPR is sponsoring the September 2014 “debate” event, Embracing the Common Core.

It should come as no surprise that for all practical purposes, the “debate” leans in favor of CCSS via the inclusion of Gates-funded American Enterprise Institute (AEI) “scholar” Rick Hess, who is to argue “against” CCSS.

The best Hess has shown so far in “opposing” CCSS is a lukewarm dissatisfactionwith it. He has, however, published a pro-CCSS book in November 2013 in which he examines how to “seamlessly integrate” CCSS “into accountability systems.”

Moreover, likely during the time that he was either writing or had already finished his pro-CCSS book, in February 2013, Hess interviewed CCSS “architect” Jason Zimba.

Here is how Hess chooses to present Zimba and CCSS.  I consider Hess’ writing style as “loud plaid suit with pants too short.” Perhaps readers will understand why after experiencing the following:

You didn’t think the ferment around Common Core could keep building? Hah! Prepare for several more years of increasing wackiness. In the middle of it all is Jason Zimba, founding principal of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) and the man who is leading SAP after David Coleman went off to head up the College Board. SAP is a major player in Common Core implementation, especially with the aid of $18 million in support from the GE Foundation. Zimba was the lead writer on the Common Core mathematics standards. He earned his doctorate in mathematical physics from Berkeley, co-founded the Grow Network with Coleman, and previously taught physics and math at Bennington College. He’s a private dude who lives up in New England and has not been part of the Beltway policy conversation. I’d never met Zimba, until we had the chance to sit down last week.

Now, I think readers know that I’m of two minds when it comes to the Common Core. On the one hand, it does have the potential to bring coherence to the education space, shed light on who’s doing what, raise the bar for instructional materials and teacher prep, and so forth. On the other, there are about 5,000 ways the whole thing could go south or turn into a stifling bureaucratic monstrosity-and one rarely goes wrong when betting against our ability to do massive, complex edu-reforms well. Given all this, like many of you, I’m carefully watching how all this is playing out. [Emphasis added.]

Well. Safe to note that Hess is not a “dude” with serious reservations about CCSS. He’s just “watching”– and publishing a book in favor.

As far as the Gates-backed NPR-sponsored CCSS “debate” goes, right out of the starting gate, the established anti-CCSS stance belongs to only one of the four “debaters”– New York principal Carol Burris.

Gates must be pleased. After all, he really, really wants CCSS.

I must add that I continue to enjoy the irony of the Embrace the Common Core public opinion poll, which has remained steady at 11 percent in favor of “embracing” and 89 percent opposed out of over 42,600 responses.

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Gentle New Orleans Charter Reporting, NPR-style

I have my own story of Gates-funded NPR and “success shaping,” this time in regard to charter school “success” in New Orleans.

The now-100-percent-charter, New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) is no success. I have written extensively on the RSD fraud– on its under-regulation, its inflated school scores that don’t even raise its schools above the criteria for “failing school” according to the *also failing* Louisiana voucher program, of its shaped graduation rates and its cumbersome OneApp process. RSD is nine years old and hasn’t a single “A” school by the state’s own slippery grading criteria.

RSD is a failure.

So. In August 2014, I received an email from Claudio Sanchez of NPR. He was to be in New Orleans doing a piece on the RSD charters, and he wanted to meet to interview me. My first thought was of Gates’ funding of NPR, but I did call Sanchez, who sounded like he was familiar with my writings on the RSD illusion of charter “success.” We spoke on the phone for at least 20 minutes, during which time I summarized research on what amounts to an RSD-charter-success farce.

Sanchez and I were to meet on a Thursday, but his flight was delayed, so we rescheduled for a Friday, which he also canceled, he said, in favor of attending a union meeting at a bastion of charter mismanagement and failure, McDonough High School, a Steve Barr, Future Is Now charter failure that was supposed to have $35 million in renovations that never happened. Instead, charter manager Steve Barr pulled out two years later. Barr, who has zero attachment to the community where the school is located, said that the closure was a “facilities” decision.”

Why had the promised renovations not happened?

No explanation. Only excuses. However, if it is any consolation, in 2012, kids did get some new iPads.

And Oprah did try to sensationalize the depravity of McDonough on her short-lived series, Blackboard Wars.

Indeed, there is a story to McDonough, and Gates-funded NPR reporter Sanchez could have captured it.

Could have.

The school was closed in June 2014. All staff lost their jobs. Parents (among others) want the school to be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), which is willing to take the school back but– as seems to be true with any reversing of pro-privatizing reform– just “isn’t that easy.”

The short of it is, Sanchez knew about the issues surrounding McDonough High School because he attended a meeting there. And he had deliberately contacted me regarding supposed charter “success.”

Anyone who bothers to investigate New Orleans’ charters in the manner that a reporter should investigate surely would uncover numerous questionable leads.

What Sanchez published has all of the investigative depth of a salad plate. Major issues– like “not doing a great job on special ed”– brushed over. No depth. Statements such as, “There’s still substantial numbers of schools that struggle in New Orleans,” made without thorough examination. And no hint of the likes of McDonough High School and the problem of so-called school “management” that is completely disconnected from the community and can therefore easily dismiss an entire school as little more than a “supply and demand” issue.

After all, it’s “just business.”

However, I write not from the funding-approved perspective of what constitutes a “successful” report.

From such a sell-out perspective, surely the most important piece to Sanchez’s RSD-gone-fully-charter reporting is his benign ending:

SANCHEZ: It’s 8:20, and teachers scurry to their classrooms well aware that the entire country is watching. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

A shallow, soft landing to a story that had to potential of appearing too… real.

Success.

Education historian Diane Ravitch offers the following observation on Sanchez’s reporting:

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools. [Emphasis added.]

Sanchez’s narrative: “I’ll raise questions, but I will not go deep. The farthest I will go is to note that America is watching. That’s it.”

Sanchez did note that his “story” is part of a “year-long series.”

If his opener is any indication, forget diving into any deep end. No floaties are even necessary for small children. Just a safe splash in a *benign* journalistic puddle.

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Education Post: Funding-fortified for “Successful” Narrative Shaping

As I read Ravitch’s note on NPR’s funding, I remember the newly-created Education Post, which may or may not be Gates funded but which is Walton funded– and which also is attempting to “reshape the education conversation” into that which evidences public-awareness-anesthetizing, privatizing-reform  “success.”

Those with the obviously-declared education privatization agenda have appointed themselves the “keepers of the education conversation.” They will publicize what they decide “works.” After all, they are above actually doing the educating, and since those of us doing the educating are “too busy,” we need for them to cement the narrative that what they pay for (test-driven reform, charters, vouchers) is what “works.” AsWashington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports:

Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, said the idea for Education Post originated with his organization but that other philanthropic groups had recognized the need years ago. …

One of the goals of Education Post is to publicize what works in public education, Reed said.

“Administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this,” he said. “This is an effort to help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside.”

Education Post also will have a “rapid response” capacity to “knock down false narratives” and will focus on “hot spots” around the country where conflicts with national implications are playing out, [former Arne Duncan communications shaper] Cunningham said. [Emphasis added.]

Information control, my friends. And, of course, the controlled narrative will feed the idea of corporate reform “success”:

While there are myriad nonprofit organizations devoted to K-12 education,none are focused solely on communication, said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“There hasn’t really been an organization dedicated to sharing the successes of education reform around the country,” Wolfson said. “You have local success, but it isn’t amplified elsewhere. And there is a lot of success. There is also an awful lot of misperception around what ed reform is, and there hasn’t been an organization . . . focused on correcting those misimpressions.” [Emphasis added.]

I’m sorry, but the “misimpression” of corporate reform as being punitive and destructive to the community-based school and the career teacher and friendly to a grossly-under-regulated privatization is beyond “impression”; it is a reality fostered not only by years of a failed NCLB but one that continues to be fostered by NCLB waiver-yanking US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

How funny that those keen on promoting the traditional public education “failure” narrative now want to shape it into a “success” designed to conceal their own failure.

Corporate reformers have begun seeking PR advice– which does include ditching the language of failure that is the foundation of the entire test-driven-reform empire.

(Cosmetic) change is hard.

Indeed, if there really were “a lot of success” surrounding privatizing reform, there would be no need for a $12 million-dollar, glorified blog to try to sell it.

I mean, who starts a blog and gets immediate coverage in the Washington Post??

Now, from that Washington Post coverage, here is some more comedy:

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — a one-time organizer for the teachers union who as mayor embraced charter schools, parent-trigger laws and other policies at odds with the unions — is leading the [Education Post] advisory board. [Emphasis added.]

Isn’t that great? Don’t you just trust the “success” narrative that this group will promote?

I know I do.

I’m *just too busy* in my classroom to exercise any critical thinking about Gates, Walton, Broad, Bloomberg, CCSS, charters, vouchers NAEP scores, merit pay, USDOE, NCLB, waiver-yanking, class size, and so many other edu-trashing issues.

Surely I should just hand it all over to those *much better funded* than I am and let them do my thinking for me.

You Can Lead a Schneider to a *Successful* Puddle…

Uhm, I’m thinking, not.

bill-gates-thinking

 

 

 

The Battle in Seattle Against a Charter School Invasion

seattle

Originally published on The Progressive.

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 commission recently approved the Green Dot charter chain, despite its checkered history. Green Dot has been faulted for poor test score results, loss of accreditation, low SAT scores, teachers cheating on student’s tests, poor teacher pay, high teacher turnover, student free speech violations, and misleading parents.

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.

Dora Taylor

Eli Broad is trying to push through another superintendent candidate for Seattle Public Schools, Andre Spencer

Say-no-to-privatization-graphic.jpg

 

Many of us painfully recall our last Broad Superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and the chaos she wrought through school closings, successful programs being decimated, an increase in bureaucracy, nonsensical rifing of teachers and a regime of fear.

This kind of disruption has been felt by other districts who hired superintendents trained by the billionaire Eli Broad who thinks all schools should be privatized.

At least once or twice a month, people contact me after finding the article Sue Peters wrote on the Broad Foundation, How to tell if your school district is infected with the Broad virus. These parents feel as we did, lost, not understanding what was going on or why and not knowing what to do.

The reason this blog was created is because several of us, as parents and teachers, didn’t understand why our superintendent was closing schools when we knew Seattle was growing and couldn’t understand why she was moving school programs around and rifing teachers on a whim. Someone floated the name “Broad” which we then connected to charter schools and all became clear. We began to see the connections between Broad and Bill Gates along his faux roots groups and the push for privatization. Once we began to accumulate information, it became too unwieldy to file online so I decided to post the information in the form of a blog and the rest, as they say, is history. The one good thing that came out of Goodloe-Johnson’s reign was that we formed a tight knit community of parents, teachers and concerned citizens who became the watchers on the wall and we are blowing the horn once again.

Broad claims it engages in “venture philanthropy”:

“Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy. We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don’t simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice ‘venture philanthropy.’ And we expect a return on our investment.”

-Eli Broad

The Broad agenda is to close schools and successful programs and bring in charter schools to replace them as happened in New Orleans after Katrina, in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles where Eli Broad lives. Broad has proclaimed that all schools in Los Angeles should be charter schools

Sand Point: $7M

Viewlands: $11M

Old Hay: $7.5M

Mc Donald: $14.9M

Rainier View: $7.4M

Total so far: $47.8M

Goodloe-Johnson closed 9 schools and programs with a reshuffling of teachers and students to save $5M just for them to be reopened the next year due to overcrowding of classes at the cost of $47.8M. She also closed the African American Academy and Summit, both alternative schools that served the community well.

In the end, Goodloe-Johnson was let go along with her CFO under a cloud of allegations of fraud. 

Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Contact your school board members and let them know what you think. The vote is this Wednesday.

Seattle School Board Directors

206-252-0040
schoolboard
@seattleschools.org 

For additional information on the Broad Foundation and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, see:

A Parent Guide to the Broad Foundation’s training programs and education policies

The Battle for Seattle, Part 1

The Battle for Seattle, Part 2: Hijacked!

The Broad Foundation in Seattle

EDU$HYSTERS OF THE WEEK: TIM QUINN OF MICHIGAN (AND THE BROAD FOUNDATION, OF COURSE)

THE BROAD REPORT

TEN + REASONS WHY THE SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT, DR. MARIE GOODLOE-JOHNSON, SHOULD BE FIRED WITH CAUSE

CAN SEATTLE’S SCHOOLS AFFORD MANY MORE YEARS OF SUPT. GOODLOE-JOHNSON?

TESTIMONY REGARDING THE FIRING OF DR. GOODLOE-JOHNSON

Seattle School District Used False Data To Show College Readiness

TESTIMONY REGARDING DR. GOODLOE-JOHNSON’S PERFORMANCE: NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS

SEA, THE SEATTLE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, RECOMMENDS TO THE SCHOOL BOARD NOT TO EXTEND SUPERINTENDENT DR. GOODLOE-JOHNSON’S CONTRACT.

THE TRUE LEGACY OF SEATTLE’S FIRED (BROAD ACADEMY) SUPERINTENDENT MARIA GOODLOE-JOHNSON

SEATTLE

NINE SCHOOLS SO FAR HAVE SIGNED “NO CONFIDENCE” RESOLUTIONS REGARDING THE PERFORMANCE OF DR. GOODLOE-JOHNSON

REINVENTING PUBLIC EDUCATION (CRPE) RIGHT HERE IN SEATTLE

PHILADELPHIA AND THE ATTEMPTED COUP OF THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICT

THE PUSH TO PRIVATIZE EDUCATION IN PHILADELPHIA AND BEYOND

PHILADELPHIA AND THE PRIVATIZATION OF A SCHOOL SYSTEM

WHO WILL RUN PHILADELPHIA’S SCHOOLS? BILL GATES?

Who Is Victimizing Chicago’s Kids?

What’s wrong with CPS’s Renaissance 2010??

From Accountability to Privatization and African American Exclusion: Chicago’s “Renaissance 2010”

Got Dough? Public School Reform in the Age of Venture Philanthropy

-Dora Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

New bedfellows in education: Bill Gates and Donald Trump

 

trump-quote-about-climate-changeExactly how far will Bill Gates go in furthering his agenda of privatizing public schools and ensuring that Common Core Standards is instituted in every classroom across the country? Apparently farther than most of us could imagine.

In late December, Bill Gates made the trek to the Trump Tower in New York City to meet with Donald Trump and had some kind words to say about the president-elect.

Bill Gates was quoted in MarketWatch as saying: 

‘In the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that. … I think whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.’

The term “innovation” has been used time and time again by Gates’ paid disciples when describing everything from charter schools (which certainly have no “regulatory barriers”) to the Common Core Standards and Race to the Top.

In reality, Gates hasn’t done anything innovative since he developed Windows and Microsoft Word in the early 1980’s. His wealth has come from pushing his product onto every PC and laptop in the world. Microsoft has fought monopoly/anti-trust lawsuits for decades in the US and Europe but that’s how he rolls and has done so with education in public schools.

Don’t give anyone real choice, just shove it down their throats.

Now that Gates can no longer work behind the scenes via the former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his highly funded campaigns with faux roots organizations, and because his man-behind-the-curtain cover was blown by education writers in the last several years, Bill Gates has finally decided to step forward, put his reputation on the line as a human being, and continue to do what he has been doing, trying to think for the rest of us particularly in the area of education.

So what do you think?

jfk-and-trump

 main-qimg-cb34c87e886837c6219ae8995ec8862a.png

 

Dora Taylor

It’s time to restructure the US Department of Education

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The structure of the USDOE as of 2013 and now with 5,000 employees.

 

Two of our constitutional amendments played an important role in public education. In 1791, the 10th Amendment stated, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Public education was not mentioned as one of those federal powers, and so historically has been delegated to the local and state governments.

The League of Women Voters: Role Of Federal Government In Public Education: Historical Perspectives

Let’s restructure the US Department of Education so we don’t have another DeVos or Duncan.

Donald Trump Holds Weekend Meetings In Bedminster, NJ
Betsy DeVos with Donald Trump.

For the last decade, educators and parents have been in a reactive mode in terms of federal policies on education starting with No Child Left Behind, then Race to the Top, charter schools, vouchers and now the selection of Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education.

Looking at the last eight years while following public education closely, I have continuously been in a reactive mode, constantly writing about what shouldn’t be rather than what should be.

It’s time to turn the tables and look at where we are now, how we got here and a better way forward and I suggest starting at the top with the US Department of Education (USDOE).

Over the years there has developed a disconnect between what teachers are doing and achieving in the classrooms and what a President with a politically appointed Secretary of Education has in mind for those teachers and their students. It has become a top-down approach to education with little to no public participation and loss of local control over the priorities of the community and how money is spent.

The USDOE has become less responsive to the needs of students, teachers and parents year after year.

In the last few decades, the USDOE has created a constant state of flux in our public schools, based on the whims of politicians and guided by big money with the tacit or explicit approval of the President in office.

duncan-broad (1)
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Eli Broad at Obama’s first Inaugural Ball.

For example, billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, influenced federal policy that affected teachers and students around the country in every district and township. Neither have credentials in education or child development, have not taught in a public school and have no direct knowledge of what’s happening in classrooms or neighborhoods around the country, and yet they determined education policy for millions of students. The revolving door of employees between the Gates Foundation and the Department of Education has been well-documented and the Broad Prize trophy is displayed in the offices of the USDOE.

How did we get to the point where education has become top-down, starting with the President of the United States appointing a cabinet level Secretary of Education – in clear violation of the 10th Amendment? Many of the past appointees have not been educators. Shirley Ann Mount Hufstedler, the first Secretary of Education, was a lawyer and judge, while William Bennett, Lamar Alexander and Richard Riley were politicians, and Arne Duncan, a basketball player who, through personal connections, found his way to being CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

And, has the U.S. Department of Education gotten too big to be accountable? If so, how can it be streamlined? What should its role be? Where is the accountability in terms of its policies’ successes or failures? And finally, what has the cost been to enforce Federal policies on a state and district-wide basis such as the required and costly technology upgrades of school districts and the computerization of classrooms to provide access to the Common Core Standards’ required testing?

These are the questions I began to ask after chronicling the many failings of former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with his push for the Common Core Standards, high-stakes testing, merit pay based on students’ test scores, Race to the Top, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver, the privatization of public schools by way of charter schools and the weakening of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Duncan’s final “accomplishment” was the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that places greater pressure to adhere to Federal “guidelines” with the threat of withholding Federal funding, a push to increase the number of charter schools in the country and promotion of “personalized” or “blended” learning in which you have a student interact with a computer, rather than a human instructor, for the greater part of their class time.

And let’s not forget the millions of dollars in grants that the USDOE provided to Teach for America and to aid in the proliferation of charter schools.

“Personalized learning” and the Common Core State Standards provides an inexpensive way to provide an “education” to students. This is particularly useful for charter school owners wanting to keep their operating costs and staff budgets to a minimum. It’s also being seen as a path to digital edu-bucks, “Edublocks”, and digital badges creating a permanent gig economy of piecework employment.

In the last few decades, the direction of public education has gone from bad to worse, starting with former President Clinton’s propensity for privatization of public schools in the 1990s by way of charter schools and a desire to establish national standards which is unconstitutional, George W. Bush’s unrealistic No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy which required 90% of high school students graduate on time by 2015, (The date was moved to 2020 by Arne Duncan) and the rewrite of it by President Obama’s administration titled Every Child Achieves Act (ESEA), and Race to the Top legislation.

Now with a new President and Secretary of Education along with a rearranged Congress, no one knows which way the wind will blow for us or our students. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this.

When do we begin to take back public school education on a local level and have it reflect the goal of creating well-educated responsible citizens with the capacity for thoughtful, critical and creative thinking and discourse? An informed citizenry that is necessary to support a strong democracy? When will we have a curriculum created by educators who have an understanding of child development and the requirements of a diverse population? Do we need the behemoth of a bureaucracy that has become the USDOE passing down to us the latest edicts for us to faithfully adhere to?

Let’s take a look at the evolution of the US Department of Education. It’s time to determine if we should go back to its original intent with modifications to address our growing and diverse population or leave it as it is now which doesn’t seem to be working for anyone but the 1%.

The state constitutions of Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the early 1780’s, set up systems of public education that reflected the thinking of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Horace Mann who understood the importance of an educated citizenry to grow a fledgling democracy.

Money was raised through taxes for public schools along with the buying, selling or renting of public land and Congress granted land in the public domain as endowments. The federal government also granted surplus money to states for public education.

In 1867, the Office of Education this minor bureau was established within the Department of the Interior. Seventy-two years later, the bureau was transferred to the Federal Security Agency, where it was renamed the Office of Education. Then in 1953, the Federal Security Agency was upgraded to cabinet-level status as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

President Carter advocated for creating a cabinet-level position for the Department of Education and in 1980, a bill to create the Department of Education was approved by Congress. The primary functions of the Department of Education were to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights” and “to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public.”

Since the approval of a Department of Education to be run by a political appointee, that arm of government has grown into a bureaucratic behemoth retaining approximately 4,000 employees in 32 different divisions with a budget of $70.7 billion in 2016. Imagine what each state could do with their piece of $70B in one year. Which leads to the question of where is this money going? No one sees it in our schools, some which are in poor repair and unsafe. Nurses, librarians and counselors are rare in urban school districts and teachers pay for their own supplies many times.

Even though the term “Accountability” was used ad nauseam during Arne Duncan’s era as Secretary of Education and reverberated throughout school districts across the country, no one seems to be holding the USDOE accountable for anything.

With all of the new regulations that have been passed due to ESSA and the NCLB waiver requests, the USDOE asked Congress for additional employees in 2015. The question is, were these policies necessary? How successful have these programs been? And, how much are they costing school districts and taxpayers? Where is the accountability?

A principal said to me when I raised the concern about the Common Core Standards, “Wait a few years and it will all change again”. But is this the way we want to teach our students, with changes made according to the political whims of those in power and the whimsy’s of a few billionaires?

To follow is how our students have been affected by those in power on the federal level.

The report “A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983 and promoted by William Bennett, a politician who served as Secretary of Education under President Reagan. Bennett later went on to co-found K12, Inc., a publicly traded online education company.

There is much hyperbole in “A Nation at Risk” and yet it is devoid of substantiated evidence, statistics or peer-reviewed studies but it was enough to open the gateway for privatization, first with Milton Friedman stating that school vouchers were the answer to this dire emergency, and continued with charter schools, the privatization of a public trust. This phenomenon is described in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine where she outlines how public education privatizers exploited the devastating event of Hurricane Katrina to reconstitute the New Orleans school districts entirely with charter schools (which, by most measures, has been a failed experiment).

With President George W. Bush, work began on national standards and a national assessment system, which is illegal according to ESEA, and an education reform program called Goals 2000: Educate America Act  “To improve learning and teaching by providing a national framework for education reform” and establishing “school choice” as a priority. The term “school choice” is a euphemism for vouchers and charter schools. It is the “choice” of profiteering education reformers whose goal has been to redirect public funds into private hands and replace elected oversight of school districts with appointed boards with no public accountability

President Clinton continued Goals 2000 setting up a “Goals Panel” and a Director position with staff to determine “voluntary national content standards, voluntary national student performance standards and voluntary national opportunity-to-learn standards”.

Along with Goals 2000 came AmeriCorps which funded a new organization, “Teach for America”. This multi-million-dollar enterprise hires recent college grads, no background in education required, trains them for five weeks and sends them into low income schools and charter schools for a two to three year stint to teach the most vulnerable of our children. With the influence of Bill Gates and Eli Broad, the USDOE has granted Teach for America, Inc. $100 million so far in grants, although certified teachers could be hired for these same positions.

Then former President George Bush brought us “No Child Left Behind,” which included punitive measures if schools and districts did not perform to a specified standard and the unrealistic goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2015. If schools did not meet the standard, federal funding would be diminished or cut off entirely, taking money away from schools as opposed to supporting them.

President Obama stepped up “No Child Left Behind” a notch by introducing “Race to the Top” with $5 billion to incentivize states to accept the Common Core State Standards and offered four possible options for addressing “failing” schools which was defined as the bottom 5 percent of all schools in each district based on standardized test scores. These extreme, at times draconian measures, included closing the schools, converting them into charter schools, firing half of the school staff or replacing the principal.

techboston-academy25
President Obama with Melinda Gates at Tech Boston Academy.

This policy was greatly influenced by billionaire Eli Broad, a proponent of charter schools, and Bill Gates who has spent millions of dollars promoting charter schools, merit pay and the Common Core State Standards.

What have we gained with these presidential decrees that have been influenced by politicians and their multi-billionaire backers who have their own ideas about education?

So far we have an explosion of unregulated charter schools with little regard to whether they are any better than public schools, high-stakes standardized testing, which has taken classroom and recess time away from students and substituted it with test prep, and the unproven and costly experiment known as the Common Core Standards where every student is to be on the same page as all other students around the country with no exceptions, sucking the creativity and opportunity for critical thinking out of the classrooms with little room for teachers to respond to the student’s needs and intellectual growth.

Somewhere along the way, this nation has forsaken the opportunity for parents, teachers, students and the community, to be involved in public education and instead handed over all policy decisions to politicians with no understanding of the methods, practices or the art of teaching and the processes of learning.

This was not the original intent when an arm of the federal government was established in 1780 to ensure there were public schools and teachers available to all school-aged children.

In Finland, a country that is held up as a model of providing quality education, decentralized governance in the early 1990’s. Per Finland’s Board of Education:

Education providers are responsible for practical teaching arrangements as well as the effectiveness and quality of the education provided. Local authorities also determine how much autonomy is passed on to schools. For example, budget management, acquisitions and recruitment are often the responsibility of the schools.

And while we’re on the subject of making major and much needed changes to our educational system:

Most education and training is publically funded. There are no tuition fees at any level of education. An exception are the tuition fees for non-EU and non-EEA students in higher education, effective from autumn 2016. Most higher education institutions will introduce such tuition fees in 2017, and more information can be found here. In basic education also school materials, school meals and commuting are provided free of charge.

With the majority of $70 billion going to the states, we could fund community and state colleges and provide lunch to students free of charge. I was shocked to find that my daughter had to pay for lunch in Washington State public schools. Lunch, snacks and transportation were covered when I attended public school and there is no reason it shouldn’t be covered now.

Back in the day we also had nurses, librarians taking care of well-stocked libraries, counselors to bridge the gap between school and families and then other counselors who helped us reach our goals when graduating from high school.

Much of the money that could have stayed with the districts instead has gone to every failed federal policy since No Child Left Behind.

Taking local control of schools and how federal money is spent is not a radical idea.

If we are to survive as a country, and we are in a survival mode at this time, we need to look at all of our institutions and question what has worked and what hasn’t and make the necessary changes for this country to thrive. Of the greatest importance is having an educated and informed citizenry as understood by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Horace Mann, but at this time, we have failed reaching that goal.

It’s time to look at the history of public schools and evaluate where we need to be today in terms of federal edicts. It’s time to reassess the role of the US Department of Education and whether the head of the USDOE should be a cabinet level position that is influenced by the party in power.

This is our opportunity to affect change, through conversation and debate. In four years we need to be prepared to take back the reins and have structures in place which will make for a stronger society and democracy.

Dora Taylor

Suggested reading:

  • The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America’s Public Schools, David Berliner
  • The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein
  • The Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch
  • Role of Federal Government in Public Education:  Historical Perspectives, the League of Women Voters.
  • Got dough?: How billionaires rule our schools, Joanne Barkan for Dissent Magazine

Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – $8 Million from the Gates Foundation and the Myth of Local Control

pants-on-fire

Remember when a return to local control was the biggest selling point for the passage of The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

States would be allowed to set their own education policies. Principals, teachers, and parents could escape the long shadow of the “broken” No Child Left Behind.

I’ll let Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers take us back.

For years, educators, parents and members of our broader communities were the canaries in the coal mine, crying out that hypertesting was hurting students, demoralizing teachers and frustrating parents. We will continue to be vigilant as work shifts to the states to fix accountability systems and develop teacher evaluation systems that are fair and aimed at improving and supporting good instruction. This new bill promises the creation of better accountability and support systems, and our students, their parents and their educators deserve nothing less.

To be fair, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, was sure passage meant teacher and parent input would matter.

But “shrinking” doesn’t describe Garcia. She firmly declares that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act earlier this year, the major federal education overhaul, opens the way for her members, in partnership with parents and other groups, to reinvent education for the better — this time, with an eye toward equity and educating the whole child. “I think the next big thing is doing the opposite of all the bad things,” she says.

Sounds so wonderful, right?

But how does this play out in the brutal and dysfunctional world of state politics? Where lobbyists rule, money is king, and the lack of the proper connections gets you nowhere.

For the Gates Foundation, this deplorable state of democracy is a distinct advantage. All that foundation money and non-profit proxies willing to do your bidding – for a price. It’s the perfect playing field for keeping the locals from having any real control.

Case in point:

In August of this year, the Gates Foundation awarded over $8 million ($8,725,010) in grants to:

  • support states as they development and implement ESSA plans
  • support Personalized Learning adoption in states leveraging the new ESSA guidelines

Wow, $8 million in Gates money to “help guide” the implementation of the ESSA.

Just in case you missed it: the local control provision in the ESSA means squat if Gates can use his money to co-opt the process. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

But wait, there’s more.

Politicians, like Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander, get political cover from the soon to be horrible implementation of the ESSA by arguing that they fought hard for local control – knowing full well Gates had the interest, money and influence to exploit this “in” to dominate and shape how the ESSA would be implemented. What an ingenious scam.

Back to grants. Let’s take a look:

$7,900,010 to the New Venture Fund

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$75,000 to Rodel Charitable Foundation DE

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$750,000 to Education Commission of the States

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Parent Involvement?

This got me thinking: What was the quality of the parent involvement that went into the development of Washington’s ESSA state plan?

According to a white paper by the National PTA, parents are supposed to play a big role:

ESSA specifically calls for parents to be meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of state and school district education plans. These education plans provide the framework for how a state and school district will deliver education services to public elementary and secondary school students. Additionally, the law requires that parents must be involved in the creation of “state report cards” that provide information on how all schools in the state are performing—such as graduation rates, attendance and student achievement levels. The report cards must be written in a parent-friendly manner so that families can understand the information provided and take action to support their child’s education.

Were parents “meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of” Washington’s state plan? So far, the evidence I’ve found points to “No”.

When I look over the list of the voting members of the ESSA Consolidated Plan Team, I see no parents listed.

What’s even more egregious: Of the 70 member of the ESSA workgroup, only one is designated as a parent representative – and THEY’RE also associated with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

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Even the Parent and Community Engagement Workgroup had minimal parent input. Of the 22 voting members, three were parents: Ellie Hutton, Laura Regala, and Stacey Klim.  But get this, of the three parent representatives, only one – Ellie Hutton, attended the three meetings of the workgroup. (Meeting minutes: May 20th 2016June 17th 2016, July 15th 2016.)

Even at the state level, it looks like the deck is stacked against parent input.

Which bring up the uncomfortable question: How do parents stand a chance against the Gates Foundation money and the insider approach to the development of the ESSA plan?

Answer: They don’t.

Final Thoughts

Randi Weingarten, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and the rest of the ESSA promoters have a lot to answer for – and we should make them do it.

Randi and Lily both seem to love accountability for other people, especially children.

Now is the time for both union leaders to step up and own their mistaken faith in and active promotion of the ESSA as the answer to the wrongs created by No Child Left Behind. Otherwise, they’re just more empty suits spouting empty talk. (I’m not holding my breath.)

The rest of us need to get over the idea that our leaders hold our best interests above their own. Here’s the hard truth – they never have and never will.

You can’t outsource your activism. Protecting public education is too important to trust to politicians or any other leader. It’s something we have to do for ourselves.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Gates backs climate denier Judge David Larson for Washington State Supreme Court position

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Municipal Judge David Larson

Gates is so blinded by his desire to have charter schools in our state that he doesn’t seem to be concerned with the qualifications of an individual who will potentially participate in setting policy affecting education in in his home state.

The Washington State Supreme Court made the decision that charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington State but Mr. Gates and others are determined to privatize the state’s public school system by any means.

Supreme Court Judge Charles Wiggins is one of the judges who decided in favor of the plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of charter schools in Washington State.

Bill Gates, Paul Allen along with Steve and Connie Ballmer, all major contributors to the charter school campaign, Initiative 1240, have contributed over $500,000 as of last week to the Political Action Committee (PAC) called Citizens for Working Courts Enterprise Washington to defeat Judge Wiggins.

Michael Davis, president of Enterprise Washington, the pro-business group behind the PAC, thinks that the court has “become too activist in their decisions”.

Supreme Court Justice Wiggins is being outspent at about 20:1.

The Seattle Times endorsed Larson but what else would you expect? Bill Gates paid for the Seattle Times Education Lab section and they have become Gates’ mouthpiece.

So who is Municipal Judge David Larson?

According to the Seattle Times, Larson is very concerned with education so much so that he ran for school board in Federal Way.

While on the school board he made a decision that impacted the school district, and not in a good way.

Here are the details.

From the Seattle PI article Federal Way schools restrict Gore film: ‘Inconvenient Truth’ called too controversial:

After a parent who supports the teaching of creationism and opposes sex education complained about the film (An Inconvenient Truth), the Federal Way School Board on Tuesday placed what it labeled a moratorium on showing the film. The movie consists largely of a computer presentation by former Vice President Al Gore recounting scientists’ findings.

“Condoms don’t belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He’s not a schoolteacher,” said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. “The information that’s being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. … The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn’t in the DVD.”

And who got the ball rolling on the school board’s decision?

Hardison’s e-mail to the School Board prompted board member David Larson to propose the moratorium Tuesday night.

In Orwellian doublespeak, when asked why he would prevent the movie from being shown Larson stated:

“Somebody could say you’re killing free speech, and my retort to them would be we’re encouraging free speech,” said Larson, a lawyer. “The beauty of our society is we allow debate.”

So much for science.

And the “compromise”?:

School Board members adopted a three-point policy that says teachers who want to show the movie must ensure that a “credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented,” that they must get the OK of the principal and the superintendent, and that any teachers who have shown the film must now present an “opposing view.”

I’d love to hear the scientific reasoning represented as the opposing viewpoint to climate change.

Is Gates really this desperate?

Dora Taylor

The National Education Association (NEA) and Bill Gates

To follow is an open letter to NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia written by teacher and parent Kevin Ohlandt and originally posted on Exceptional Delaware.

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An Open Letter To NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Dear Lily Eskelsen Garcia,

As President of the National Education Association, I am very curious why the NEA Foundation accepts money from the Gates Foundation. While that foundation does have some very noble projects going on with health issues in Africa, they also have some very disturbing things that have caused serious disruption in public education.  I can’t remotely fathom how anything even associated with the largest teachers union in the country would want anything to do with the Gates Foundation.

Gates and all the other foundations that support corporate education reform want to bust the teachers unions. They want to privatize education and make schools 21st Century community learning centers.  Everything the NEA stands for will eventually crumble to dust.  Gone will be a teacher instructing a class.  Instead, they will get training on how to guide students on their 1:1 devices.

I am not a teacher. I’m a parent.  I understand NEA is about teachers.  But lately, at least in terms of leadership, it seems like those leaders are all about themselves and their personal quest for power.  It isn’t even about the teachers anymore.  If I were a teacher, I would consider it a slap in the face knowing NEA actually collaborates with these entities.

I can only assume you are well-connected with these organizations and know exactly what they are planning. As an education blogger, I’ve written about it as have many others.  The writing is on the wall but you seem to be worried about that one tiny corner in the room with a tiny cobweb.  At least that’s what you tell your membership.  I find it abhorrent you would sell out those who elected you.

But what I find even more bizarre is the buzzwords coming out of NEA and all these education organizations pretending they know what is best for children. If you are following the corporate mantras then you lost touch with what is best for kids a long time ago.  This makes you, NEA leadership, and the NEA Foundation a part of the problem, not a hope for a solution.

When I first began blogging over two years ago, I soon find myself rooting for teachers. I joined the Badass Teachers Facebook page and began to see how all of this affected teachers.  But I find myself wondering why the supposed leadership of teachers is getting in bed with companies that want to destroy you and your membership.

I would like you to explain this. Not for me, but for the hundreds of thousands of teachers who elected you as President of the NEA.  Also for the students who are under the care of teachers for 1/3rd of their life until they graduate high school.

I understand many will take offense to this very open and public letter to you. But I also know what is coming up in the very near future, based on the seeds planted by the privatizers of education.  You keep watering those plants and they will weed out what is left of public education.  I warned you and AFT about jumping on the Every Student Succeeds Act and begging your membership to support it before the final legislation came out.  That law will destroy NEA and the American Federation of Teachers.

You seem more concerned with Donald Trump lately than the very real danger facing teachers as every state in the country submits their ESSA state plans. It doesn’t matter who the next President of this country is.  Our national government sold their souls to corporations and foundations a long time ago.  This is all just distraction so they can get their final pieces in play. I suppose that is why the NEA Foundation is actually helping to fund all these ed tech conferences and global future forums.  It is complete nonsense and they are taking teachers money and investing it in what will replace them.  Doesn’t that bother you in the slightest?

In my viewpoint, this is like the snake giving you the apple. But you don’t just take a bite out of it, you start taking tons of apples, begin making apple pies, and sell them for the snake.  It is just wrong.  If you can’t look out for teachers and their future, please step down.  And for those who are also subscribed to these viewpoints in NEA and AFT, you should step down as well.  The price for teachers and students is too big to have power brokers dancing with the devil.  I’m sure the viewpoint of parents is the last thing on your mind, but we are sick and tired of those who think they know what is best for our children but are selling them out behind the scenes.  You seem to forget that today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers.  What you do to them now will make sure NEA will become an archived post on Wikipedia that gets less readers by the year.

If you want our schools to become personalized learning competency-based career tracking community schools of the future, where students have no privacy and everything is catalogued while they earn to learn, then please, go work for a cyber charter school. If not, then please detach from any corporation that wants to destroy what you lead.  Only then will I truly believe you have teachers best interests in mind.  Your job should be leading teachers away from this madness, not embracing it.

Sincerely,

Kevin Ohlandt

Dover, DE

Our question to OSPI candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal about the recent charter school grant to Washington State

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While another lawsuit is pending in Washington State challenging the constitutionality of the Charter School law, the Washington State Charter School Commission and State Superintendent Randy Dorn fell all over themselves to get a piece of the US Department of Education’s (USDOE)  $245M pie for “high quality” charter schools.

This is so generous of the Obama administration considering our public schools are broke and in disrepair with public schools needing nurses, librarians, books, adequate resources so that teachers don’t have to pay for supplies out of their own pockets, up to date IT systems and enough school buildings and teachers to provide adequate classroom space for our growing population.

As my dad would say, “that’s real white of you” USDOE.

Even though charter schools are a multi-billion dollar business with little to no public oversight and where scandals abound, the USDOE, swayed by billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, have decided to be generous with our tax dollars.

In Washington State, look no further than the Green Dot charter chain that has opened a school in Tacoma to see what’s considered “high quality”. See: Green Dot charter schools and freedom of speech and Green Dot charter schools: A cautionary TaleAnother charter school that opened in Seattle with a promise to open a second school in West Seattle, Sierra Summit charter school, promotes “blended learning” which means putting students in front of computers most of the school day.

Looking for “high quality” charter schools in the US will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

As I wrote in an article for the Progressive: 

This is exactly what voters in Washington State were concerned with over a decade ago, and still are fighting against.  Washington citizens watched the march toward privatization of a public education in New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit, and never wanted charter schools in their state.

They have seen how in California, for example, “despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, the state has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste, and mismanagement.” There is the problem of co-location of charter schools within public schools throughout the United States, resulting in public schools losing more and more classroom space each year along with their cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms, and libraries to charter schools that are not paying rent.

There is the also the resegregation of students created with charter schools as described recently by the NAACP, a high suspension rate of black students in charter schools and students with disabilities, the fraudulent use of funds by the charter school operators, theinstability of charter schools leaving students and communities at a loss when charter schools unexpectedly close, and the use of unqualified and inexperienced teachers in charter schools to keep their costs down.

Randy Dorn is ending his career on a low note as the State Superintendent of public schools in Washington State but no doubt he will have a golden parachute based on the actions he has taken. There is a race now between candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal to see who will be the next State Superintendent.

We will be asking both candidates the following question about the $6,973,684 grant to be received by Washington State:

“Given the legal uncertainty of charter schools in our state, as head of the OSPI, would you distribute the Federal money to the existing charter schools and provide funding to set up new charter schools?”

The question will be sent out this evening to both candidates and we are requesting a response in one week.

Carolyn Leith

Dora Taylor

Here are the responses of both candidates:

OSPI candidate Chris Reykdal’s statement on the recent charter school grant to Washington State

OSPI candidate Erin Jones’ statement on the recent charter school grant to Washington State

For more on Green Dot charter schools, see:

 

Round 2 in Washington State over charter schools

Originally published in The Progressive:

To Kill a Vampire: The Continued Resurrection of Charter Schools in Washington State

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Washington state residents have voted charter schools down three times.

Twice, initiatives were placed on a statewide ballot—once in 1996 and then in 2000—and both were defeated. The same happened with a referendum in 2004. In 2012, charter school proponents were able to place initiative 1240, which is based on a model bill provided by theAmerican Legislative Exchange Council, on a statewide ballot.

The very wealthy—although very few—proponents of the initiative spent a whopping $10.9 million to promote the bill, making it the third most expensive initiative campaign in state history. Six “individuals” collectively spending more than $9 million included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Opponents of the measure raised about $700,000. The initiative passed by a 50.69 percent majority vote,the slim victory exposing the lack of support for charter schools in the state.

After the charter school initiative became law, an organized group of residents filed a lawsuit claiming that the state’s charter schools were unconstitutional. On September 4, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are not “common schools” per the state constitution, and therefore cannot be funded by common school funds. The judges noted that charter schools are not publicly governed, subject to local accountability, or under the authority of democratically elected school boards.

But the charter champions weren’t done.

After the court’s ruling, the Washington Charter Association revealed that it had secured $14 million in private funds to keep charter schools open. At the time, there were approximately 800 students enrolled in charter schools throughout the state. Behind the scenes, Bill Gates, via the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Mary Walker School District, approached a rural school district to take on the charter schools through the remainder of the school year. The Mary Walker School District, in the northeast corner of the state, has an enrollment of 508 students. In a letter dated December 9, 2015, the district Superintendent Kevin Jacka announced that his district would be taking on the charter schools scattered around the state (even though this was against the court ruling).

The Washington Charter Association approached Jacka about placing the state’s charters under the umbrella of his district’s Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) program. This state program was set up primarily for public school students who for various reasons need to study at home with a student learning plan. In a deal made at a local Starbucks, representatives from the Gates Foundation, the Washington Charter Association, and the Mary Walker School District agreed to terms where the Mary Walker School District would oversee the charter schools and receive $3 million in grants. Representatives from the Gates Foundation wrote the initial grant to be submitted by the Mary Walker School District and had Jacka approve it before it was submitted to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One particular concern laid out in “Meeting Notes and Next Steps,” dated October 15, 2015, was the question of teachers joining a union, something they wanted to avoid.

The Mary Walker School is not set up to oversee schools who enroll students to be in class on a full-time basis, not to mention ones located in various parts of the state. Nevertheless, the Gates Foundation’s plan was to have the district provide “oversight” for the charter schools. In return it would receive a percentage of the per student state allocation before sending the rest of the money (public tax dollars) onto the charter schools.

Some would call this money laundering.

A series of emails, produced in response to a FOIA request, revealed that the Gates Foundation wrote a grant proposal for the Mary Walker School District and, after the school district’s review and approval of the proposal, a check from the Gates Foundation was sent to the district for the first of two grants. The first grant was for $250,000. The second totaled $2.1 million.

Some would call this bribery.

In addition, several state legislators came up with various scenarios to gain public money for the charter schools. They ultimately put forth a charter school proposal using lottery funds. The bill, the Charter School Act, passed through the House and Senate and went into effect on April 3, 2016.

On May 27, 2016, a set of plaintiff’s asked State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is considering a run for governor, to investigate the constitutionality of the Charter School Act.The Attorney General responded that he was working on behalf of the state and would uphold the law. The plaintiffs, consisting of more than a dozen public interest, education and labor groups, filed a new lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that the offending Charter School Act diverts state common school funds to charter schools and creates additional administrative costs. In addition, it re-establishes the Washington State Charter School Commission and the Superintendent is to have no authority over the charter school commission.

Also, the lawsuit points out, with the exception of “specific state statutes and rules” identified in the Charter School Act and any “state statutes and rules made applicable to the charter school in the school’s charter contract,” charter schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards of directors.”

The Charter School Act also exempts charter schools from having to provide many components of the education program outlined in the basic education act. For example, charter schools are exempt from the “minimal instructional requirements” for “basic education.”

According to the lawsuit:

“The Act did not establish a new revenue source or eliminate any existing expenditures. Instead, as confirmed by the legislative history, the legislature intends merely to move existing moneys and/or existing programs between the general fund and the Washington Education Pathways Fund as needed to continue the diversion of public funds to charter schools”.

The lawsuit continues, “In filings with the Superintendent, Mary Walker School District demanded more than $3.1 million in public funds for ALEs for the 2015-16 school year, which is approximately $2.8 million more than the total ALE funds received by Mary Walker School District in the 2014-15 school year . . . . Charter schools do not meet the requirements for common schools because charter schools are neither subject to, nor under the control of, the qualified voters of the school district…Additionally, voters do not have the right to elect agents with supervisory authority over charter schools authorized by the Commission. Instead, the Commission, which is comprised of appointed members, supervises the charter schools it authorizes.”

The lawsuit states: “This diversion of public funding to charter schools through their sponsorship as ALEs also violates article IX, section 1 of the Constitution and is contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision in McCleary because it diverts funds from public schools to charter schools”.

This is exactly what voters in Washington State were concerned with over a decade ago, and still are fighting against. Washington citizens watched the march toward privatization of a public education in New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit, and never wanted charter schools in their state.

They have seen how in California, for example, “despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, the state has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste, and mismanagement.” There is the problem of co-location of charter schools within public schools throughout the United States, resulting in public schools losing more and more classroom space each year along with their cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms, and libraries to charter schools that are not paying rent.

There is the also the resegregation of students created with charter schools as described recently by the NAACP, a high suspension rate of black students in charter schools and students with disabilities, the fraudulent use of funds by the charter school operators, theinstability of charter schools leaving students and communities at a loss when charter schools unexpectedly close, and the use of unqualified and inexperienced teachers in charter schools to keep their costs down.

These are just some of the reasons people in Washington State do not want charter schools in their communities, and so the fight continues in the ongoing battle of keeping public schools public.

Dora Taylor

The Doublespeak of Ed Reform Regarding Charter Schools

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Originally published in The Huffington Post, by co-editor Sue Peters

I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t an intentional Catch 22 that some people are trying to trap our public schools in– setting them up to fail, making it impossible for them to be creative or independent, and then saying: “See! They’re losers! They don’t ‘innovate’! Sell them off to private enterprises!” 

While watching part of NBC’s “Education Nation” (aka the week-long made-for-TV ad for Waiting for ‘Superman) last month, I tuned into the Teacher Town Hall where a teacher from a charter school was asked what made her school successful. “Teachers at our school are given the freedom to innovate!” she replied brightly.

Hmm, I thought. Sounds great. So why aren’t the teachers in my children’s public schools given that same freedom?

Instead, they are increasingly being slipped into the full nelson of a standardized curriculum measured by an ever-increasing barrage of computerized tests, all imposed by a top-down district management. (It feels stifling just to write about it.) Then the education reformers point an accusatory finger at our schools, call them “failing,” and hold up charter schools as exemplars of “innovation.”

And that’s one of the first ironies — or hypocrisies — of the current national dialogue on education reform.

The biggest players in ed reform — President Obama, Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad: the “Superman” crowd, let’s call them — keep pushing privately run charter schools as the answer to all that ails our public schools (the central theme of ‘Superman’). One of the main winning traits of charters, they say, is their freedom to “innovate.” Indeed, free of public and school district oversight and mandates, privately run charter schools are granted the right to create their own curricula and empower their teachers to, allegedly, “innovate.” (They’ve also been allowed to exclude and expel students who don’t perform to their liking, a serious flaw of charters that even Secretary Duncan has acknowledged.)

Understandably, charter operations like to tout this precious autonomy they are given. Green Dot School’s site states:

3. Local Control with Extensive Professional Development and Accountability Principals and teachers own critical decisions at their schools related to budgeting, hiring and curriculum customization.

Now, why aren’t our non-charter public schools being given the creative and managerial autonomy that these reformers value in charters? Instead, when it comes to influencing or running our school districts with their corporate management trained superintendents, or their agenda-laden grants, these same reformers impose strictures on our schools and kids that quash innovation.

For example, here in Seattle, why is our district, led by a reformist Broad Academy-trained superintendent, taking autonomy steadily away from individual schools and principals and centralizing it? Why is it telling our teachers they need to follow the central office mandated curriculum exactly? Why is it sending “visitors” from the central office to escort the school principal on pop-ins into classrooms to monitor teachers? (I’ve heard these are called “Learning Walks” — apparently a trademarked term.) I can understand a principal checking on her/his staff, but why the accompanying Thought Police?)

Some researchers are even determining where exactly in the classroom a teacher should stand in order to deliver the “perfect lesson.”

I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t an intentional Catch 22 that some people are trying to trap our public schools in: setting them up to fail, making it impossible for them to be creative or independent, and then saying: “See! They’re losers! They don’t innovate! Let’s sell these schools to the private enterprises of KIPP charters, Green Dot charters, Billy Bob’s Acme Charters & Co.!”

Unfortunately this is just one of many conflicting messages coming from this latest breed of ed reformers. Those who are driving the national dialogue about the direction of our kids’ public education — from President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and lurking in the shadows with their open checkbooks, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Fishers and the Dells — are saying one thing out of one side of their mouths and another thing out of the other.

Here are some other examples of ed reform doublespeak:

“CLASS SIZE DOESN’T MATTER (except in charters)”

How many times have we heard the reformers declare that “class size doesn’t matter”? They claim that an “excellent” teacher can somehow transcend overstuffed classrooms and reach all kids. If this were true, then why do private schools and charters tout smaller class sizes and individualized attention as a key advantage over public schools?

Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone reportedly has a school with class sizes that average 15 kids, with two licensed teachers to every classroom! That’s a private school — and every parent’s — dream. From the Oct. 13, 2010, New York Times:

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

And from the Green Dot charter company web site:

1. Small, Safe, Personalized Schools All Green Dot schools are small (no more than 560 students when fully developed), ensuring that each student will not go unnoticed. In addition, small schools are safe and allow students to receive the personalized attention they need to learn effectively. Classes at each school will be kept as small as financially possible with a target student to teacher ratio of 27:1.

So apparently class size does matter to ed reformers when it comes to charters, but somehow not when it comes to the rest of the kids in regular schools.

“AN ‘EXCELLENT’ TEACHER CAN TRANSCEND EVERYTHING!”

How often have we heard the line: “The single most important factor in a child’s academic success is the teacher”? Here it is in the recent “manifesto” of (soon to be former) District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and NY schools chief Joel Klein et al:

As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

And here’s NBC (in an Education Nation press release) parroting this line:

Research and school-based evidence around the country now confirms that the most important variable affecting the success of the student is the effectiveness of the teacher, and the second most important variable is the effectiveness of the principal. Those two factors far outweigh the socioeconomic status, the impact of parental involvement or class size.

Problem is, these statements are false.

The most significant indicators and influences on a child’s success in school are what’s going on in these kids’ lives at home. In other words, their socioeconomic background and home life. Of course academic ability is not determined by race, gender or economic status. But success — the possibility of a child being allowed to fulfill her or his potential — is necessarily influenced by how much support they get at home, the stability of this home life and whether or not this child comes to school hungry each morning.

For the ed reformers to say that none of this matters — all you need is an “excellent” teacher — is false and another rigged scheme: rigged for failure. They may as well be dunking teachers in water to see if they are witches.

It defies common sense to say that a teacher, however brilliant, can transcend all challenges a child brings to school, can navigate a classroom of any size and any needs, and if the child does not succeed in school (in ed reformspeak that only means doing well on standardized tests), it is clearly unfair and inaccurate to lay the blame entirely on the teachers.

A great teacher does make a difference, for sure. But a teacher alone cannot determine a child’s academic success.

Despite this repeated canard, it’s clear that Geoffrey Canada, one of ed reforms’ heroes, recognizes these facts. Why else would his HCZ offer all the wraparound services that it does — Baby College, medical and dental care for students and their families? This is a clear acknowledgment of the fact that a child in poverty needs a great deal more than a stellar teacher to have a fair shot at educational success.

“AN ‘EFFECTIVE’ TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM (but 5 five weeks of training will do!)”

I also find it rather hypocritical for the ed reformers to say they care about pushing academic achievement for all kids, and measure the success of their reforms by how many kids go to college — one of Canada’s benchmarks for HCZ — and then turn around and utterly dismiss the higher education of professional teachers.

Returning to the increasingly silly “manifesto”:

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

If master’s degrees are so useless, then why don’t we just eliminate all academic degrees in all fields and just hire “effective, engaging” young credentialed dentists and doctors too? Does anyone really need an MBA? Or a law degree, for that matter?

On the one hand the reformers say they want an “effective” or “excellent” teacher in every classroom. On the other hand they promote sending Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America, Inc. trainees — who have only five weeks of training and are only required to commit to two years on the job — into the most struggling and challenging urban schools in the nation. Only 34 percent of TFA recruits stay in the field for a third year. Teachers don’t hit their stride until about the fifth. So most TFA-ers quit before they have even become “effective” teachers. (Michelle Rhee herself is a TFA graduate who only stayed for a few years in the field, and tells some pretty damning stories about her own mistakes as an inexperienced teacher.)

If the ed reformers were serious about promoting and supporting excellent teachers in every classroom, they would support well-trained professionals who are committed to the kids and the profession for the long term. Instead they disparage dedicated lifetime teachers as dead wood and promote young short-termers as the salvation. And their incessant teacher-bashing utterly undermines any claims they may have of “supporting” teachers.

“MONEY DOESN’T MATTER (except in the Harlem Children’s Zone)”

“Money doesn’t matter” the reformers like to say. I think I even heard President Obama say that recently, alas. And yet, the most comprehensive example of a charter model, Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, has an operating budget and net assets in the multi-millions.

Reports the New York Times:

In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Canada’s Zone, at least acknowledges that underprivileged kids need a great deal of support inside and out of the classroom and school in order to succeed. His program offers social support services and medical services to these kids and their families for years, which is great. But he is given millions and millions of dollars to do it. That gives the lie to all those who say that money is not part of the solution to creating better schools. It also gives the lie to the reformers’ teacher-bashing mantra that somehow an “effective” or even “excellent” teacher can transcend all society’s ills.

It does take money to hire enough teachers to reduce class sizes, to maintain safe and clean facilities, invest in solid and inspiring curricula and enrichment. That’s an indisputable fact. We as a nation have not made education a funding priority. All my life, schools have been holding bake sales, as the famous bumper sticker laments, scrambling to pay for basics. It is a national shame. And the Obama/Duncan lottery of Race to the Top is unconscionable in that it does not fund all 50 states equally or at all.

So here’s where I’m at with this: Everything good the reformers tout about private control of our public schools via charters could be given to our existing public schools without handing over the control and finances of our schools to private charter franchise operators.

Smaller class sizes, more creative autonomy for teachers, local autonomy for schools, non-standardizing curricula that allow for more innovation, better resources for the kids from greater allocations of money — all of this is possible in our existing schools, if our superintendent, school board and central administration office would allocate our school district’s resources properly. But they don’t — as the recent damning state audit of Seattle’s School District revealed. (That’s why a growing number of parents and The Seattle Times support a “No” vote on the school levy Nov. 2 — unprecedented in a town that always backs school levies).

ALL public schools should offer ALL these things to ALL kids, no private-charter franchise middlemen required, and no lottery required either.

— Sue Peters

Originally published in The Huffington Post, 10/25/10 by co-editor Sue Peters