Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

February 22, 2015

When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:17 am

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Dec. 9, 2014

A couple of years ago, auditors looked at the books of a charter school in Buffalo, New York, and were taken aback by what they found. Like all charter schools, Buffalo United Charter School is funded with taxpayer dollars. The school is also a nonprofit. But as the New York State auditors wrote, Buffalo United was sending ” virtually all of the School’s revenues” directly to a for-profit company hired to handle its day-to-day operations.

Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances.

In the case of Buffalo United, the auditors found that the school board had little idea about exactly how the company – a large management firm called National Heritage Academies – was spending the school’s money. The school’s board still had to approve overall budgets, but it appeared to accept the company’s numbers with few questions. The signoff was “essentially meaningless,” the auditors wrote.

In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a “sweeps” contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company.

The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

“It’s really just a pass-through for for-profit entities,” said Eric Hall, an attorney in Colorado Springs who specializes in work with charter schools and has come across many sweeps contracts. “In what sense is that a nonprofit endeavor? It’s not.”

Neither National Heritage Academies nor the Buffalo United board responded to requests for comment. (Update: NHA spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said in an emailed statement, “Our approach relieves our partner boards of all financial, operational, and academic risks – a significant burden that ultimately defeats many charter schools. Freed from burdens like fundraising, our partner boards can focus on governance and oversight … NHA and its partner schools comply fully with state and federal laws, authorizer oversight requirements, and education department regulations – including everything related to transparency.”)

While relationships between charter schools and management companies have started to come under scrutiny, sweeps contracts have received little attention. Schools have agreed to such setups with both nonprofit and for-profit management companies, but it’s not clear how often. Nobody appears to be keeping track.
What is clear is that it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.

“We’re not confident that sweeps contracts allow [charters schools and regulators] to fully fulfill their public functions,” said Alex Medler, who leads policy and advocacy work at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. The organization discourages the arrangements. “We think this is an issue that needs attention.”

Officials have gotten glimpses of questionable spending by some firms using “sweeps” contracts.
Take the case of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School, another National Heritage Academies school. In 2012, state auditors tried to track the $10 million in public funding given to the school, only to conclude they were ” unable to determine … the extent to which the $10 million of annual public funding provided to the school was actually used to benefit its students.” From what auditors could tell, the school was paying above-market rent for its building, which in turn is owned by a subsidiary of National Heritage Academies. They also had concerns about equipment charges.
The auditors couldn’t ultimately tell whether the charges were reasonable because National Heritage Academies refused to share the relevant financial details. The firm also refused to provide detailed documentation for $1.6 million in costs recorded as corporate services, claiming the information was proprietary, according to the audit. The board president of Brooklyn Excelsior did not respond to our request for comment.

While the auditors in New York were disturbed by what they found, they could do little more than issue reports with advisory recommendations. “We can’t audit the management company,” said Brian Butry, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced similar frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

“I can’t FOIA National Heritage Academies,” said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. “I don’t know who they’re subcontracting with, I don’t know if they’re bid out. I don’t know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don’t have a right to.”

Last year, Ulbrich and the State Board of Education had called for more transparency to be brought to the financial dealings of charter-management firms. They specifically asked the legislature to outlaw sweeps contracts. “Unfortunately,” Ulbrich said, “it fell on deaf ears.”

The Internal Revenue Service has questioned some cases of sweeps contracts, but has not taken a consistent stand on whether the contracts are appropriate.

It’s not just charter regulators and auditors that have reason to be wary of such setups. Some charter-school boards that signed sweeps contracts have found themselves shut out of the operations of their own schools.
In Ohio, ten charter-school boards sued their management firm, White Hat Management, in 2010 after they couldn’t get answers to basic questions about why their schools’ performance lagged and how the school’s money was spent.
Even so, it was a challenge for the schools to take back control. After handing over the bulk of their money to White Hat for years, the schools had little money of their own, said Karen Hockstad, an attorney who’s been representing the school boards in continuing litigation.

“Their hands are tied. They don’t have the money to build brand new infrastructure and get new desks and books and anything else,” said Hockstad. White Hat Management did not return a request for comment.
Some charter-school regulators – recognizing their limited authority over charter-management companies – are beginning to push back, requiring schools to get more information from management firms. Still, that hasn’t stopped some management companies from putting up a fight.

Regulators in the District of Columbia are seeking more legal authority over management firms after two recent scandals. The DC Public Charter School Board has asked the city council to pass legislation that would allow access to the books of management companies under certain conditions. So far, that effort has gone nowhere.
Related coverage: Read about how a chain of charter schools is channeling millions of public education dollars to for-profit companies controlled by the schools’ founder.

If you have information about charter schools and their profits or oversight — or any other tips — email us at

Example of Charter School Regulation in Minnesota

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:12 am

When a Wildlife Rehab Center Regulates Charter Schools: Inside the Wild World of Charter Regulation
Charter school “authorizers” are charged with making sure schools can be trusted with kids and with public money. Problem is, many lack the tools to do the job.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Feb. 20, 2015
Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.
It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job. Many are making it up as they go along.
Known as “authorizers,” charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close. They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.

But many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center.

One result of the regulatory mishmash: Bad schools have been allowed to stay open and evade accountability.
“Almost everything you see come up as charter school problems, if you scratch past the surface, the real problem is bad authorizing,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all.

“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective.”

Aside from such dramatic implosions, it’s hard to tell how many authorizers are doing at this important public function. They’re generally not required to say much about the details of their decision-making.
Take Minnesota’s Audubon Center. As a group, the schools overseen by the center fall below the state average on test scores. The group has several persistently low performers, acknowledged David Greenberg, Audubon’s Director of Charter School Authorizing, and a few years back, made the tough call to close one. But test scores offer a limited window into how a regulator is performing. The center works with several schools serving high-need students in Minneapolis, and high-need students tend to have lower test scores. A full picture requires a more holistic evaluation – one that the Minnesota Department of Education is just starting this year.

In the early years of the charter movement, charter supporters focused on creating more authorizers, in order to spur the creation of more schools. That’s still true in some states, where charters are taking off. But as the movement has matured, there’s been a realization that “having too many authorizers undercuts quality,” in the words of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. NACSA has worked to educate states and individual authorizers on what good oversight looks like, while promoting measures such as “default closure” to help bypass authorizers that may be reluctant to close chronically underperforming schools.
While there are promising signs, NACSA acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. “It feels like whack-a-mole, but in the long term, you’re getting closer,” said Alex Medler, the group’s vice president of policy and advocacy. Even if states have some strong authorizers, weak ones can undermine the whole system, as underperforming schools can find refuge with them.
“It’s not how many are good, it’s are there any bad ones left?” Medler said. “If you’re running a bad school, you look for the presence of bad authorizers. You ignore the good authorizer.”
Consider Indiana, a state that has sought to strengthen charter-school accountability in recent years. On one hand, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is widely regarded as a strong charter-school regulator. The schools it oversees have as a group performed better on state tests than Indianapolis Public Schools, and the office has made some tough calls, revoking charters when it sees fit and flagging suspected cheating at its schools.
On the other hand, there’s Trine University, a small private college in rural Northeast Indiana and a charter-school regulator that has taken on schools that left other authorizers, in some cases after those regulators had sought to close them.

January 28, 2015

Alberta Darling Proposes “Shock Doctrine: Disaster Capitalism” for Milwaukee

Filed under: Charter Schools,Darling — millerlf @ 9:22 pm

Alberta Darling Proposes “Disaster Capitalism” for Milwaukee. In Naomi Kline’s book, Shock Doctrine, she explains that “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people. There are disaster zones in Milwaukee, but without investment (real money spent) nothing will change. In the Darling proposal it says, “The initiatives…(proposed)…will not cost any taxpayer, at any level of government, a single cent.”


GOP lawmakers to craft bill converting failing MPS schools to charters
By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel 1/28/15

Some Milwaukee public schools with failing grades on state report cards could be turned into charter schools overseen by a new local board, according to a host of education-reform proposals announced by two suburban Republican lawmakers Wednesday.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) introduced education and economic proposals as part of their legislative agenda for fighting poverty in Milwaukee during an informal meeting with reporters Wednesday.

Some of the ideas will be introduced as individual bills, others may get negotiated into the state budget, Kooyenga said.

One proposal calls for turning select MPS schools with failing grades into independent charter schools that do not employ unionized teachers or answer to the Milwaukee School Board.

Instead, those schools would be overseen by a new local board, which would entertain proposals from charter-school operators and award five-year contracts to operators that present the most compelling plans, according to the proposal.

A spokesperson from Darling’s office said details such as who would head the board and who would appoint or elect the members would be finalized in a forthcoming bill.

Darling characterized the proposal Wednesday as a “partnership” with MPS, and said she hopes to get some school board members and potentially even MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver on the new board.
But Driver said Wednesday during an “On the Issues” interview at the Marquette University Law School that she was not a fan of so-called “recovery districts.”
“To think you can close a school as a traditional school and reopen it as a charter tomorrow and get these great results is really misguided,” Driver told Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy.
“I have 85% of my students living in poverty, we’re 86% students of color and 10% that are English language learners,” Driver added. “There are a number of other things we have to consider in terms of the programs, resources and the teachers that go into those schools besides just whether it’s a traditional school or a charter school.”

School Board Member Larry Miller said the proposals are an attempt to seize schools and flood the market with charters in Milwaukee. “This diversion is coming from the same people who blocked high speed rail (proposals) that would have created jobs and gotten people from the inner city to jobs (in the suburbs),” he said.

Miller added it was “incredibly arrogant” that the proposals to fight poverty in the city were coming from lawmakers representing two of Milwaukee’s wealthiest suburbs.

Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, said in a statement that the lawmakers’ plan for fighting poverty opens the door for handing over public schools to private companies, without offering new resources.
“We will unite with others in massive resistance to this senseless attack,” the statement said.

The other education proposals from Darling and Kooyenga include:
■ Streamline the process for allowing high-performing charter schools to open additional schools.
■ Convert the approximately $40 million MPS receives each year for school integration efforts within the system to a block grant with no state mandates.
■ Redirect $12 million from Cooperative Education Service Agency 1 in Pewaukee to establish a computer-programming charter school for high school students.
■ Allow schools to apply for and receive waivers from certain state mandates from the Department of Public Instruction.
■ Designate an existing staff member at the Department of Workforce Development into a full-time coordinator for dual enrollment programs for high school students at the state’s technical colleges.

January 26, 2015

4 City of Milwaukee Charters Reviewed, Getting Failing Grades

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 1:31 pm

Milwaukee’s Charter Schools Don’t Make the Grade

By Lisa Kaiser Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 Sheppard Express
If Republican lawmakers think that charter schools are an effective vehicle to increase student performance while providing public transparency, they should take another look at the city of Milwaukee’s experience with its 10 charter schools.

Four of these taxpayer-funded schools are doing so poorly that, according to their annual review, a case could be made for shuttering them.
And major pieces of information haven’t been offered to the Common Council members who are ultimately responsible for the 3,500 students who attend city charters—including the fact that the FBI raided the national operator of one local charter school.

Yet last Thursday, in a Steering and Rules Committee meeting, the Charter School Review Committee (CSRC)—an appointed body made up primarily of charter advocates who provide oversight of and evaluate the city’s charter schools—only recommended putting two schools on probation, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy (MMSA) on West Burleigh Avenue and King’s Academy on North 60th Street.

The CSRC gave Milwaukee Math and Science Academy a rating of 66.4% on its scorecard, a D grade, for the 2013-2014 school year, making it a “problematic/struggling” school. The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) gave it 48.1 out of a possible 100 points for the same year. The DPI said it “failed to meet expectations.”

King’s Academy earned a 67% rating and a D+ from the CSRC but fared slightly better with its DPI scores: 67.3 points, which “meets expectations.”

But as dismal as those scores are, MMSA and King’s Academy aren’t the worst performers.

That dubious honor goes to North Point Lighthouse Charter School on West Douglas Avenue, which earned a 58.1% or F from the CSRC and a 29.4% from the state DPI. Since the 2013-2014 academic year was only its second year of operation, the CSRC recommended some strategies for improvement and a mid-year assessment of its progress. The school, part of the national Lighthouse Academies network, got financial assistance from tennis pro Andre Agassi’s Canyon-Agassi Charter Facilities Fund for its building.

When presenting their annual review of the city’s 10 charter schools last week, the CSRC limited the discussion to the schools’ academic performance—even omitting the fact that Concept Schools, the Illinois-based national operator of MMSA, has been raided by the FBI in four states as part of an investigation into possible financial fraud. Concept Schools is run by a Turkish Islamic cleric who lives in the Poconos and the organization brings in Turkish teachers on H-1B visas, which are meant for recruiting hard-to-find workers, primarily in the high-tech sector, and not K-12 teachers, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Jeanette Mitchell, chair of the CSRC, told the Steering and Rules Committee that she wasn’t aware of the FBI raids on Concept Schools, even though it’s been widely reported in the press. An MMSA representative denied that the federal investigation had anything to do with his charter school and said that none of the MMSA teachers are here on a H-1B visa.

But Marva Herndon of Schools and Communities United, a charter critic, told the aldermen that they needed to take an in-depth evaluation of the school.
“You really must take notice,” Herndon said.
Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said he would look into the allegations.

A More Critical View of Charters

Charter critics provided a more robust view of the city’s program, arguing that it siphons off resources from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and weakens the city’s fiscal picture; fails to shut down low-performing schools; and doesn’t provide enough transparency and accountability.

Jack Norman, a consultant for Schools and Communities United, argued that the charter advocates were providing an incomplete picture of the program for the council members. The CSRC doesn’t discipline schools that are new to the program, but Norman argued that some of the city’s failing charters have long track records as taxpayer-funded voucher schools that should be taken into consideration. The struggling King’s Academy, for example, began as a voucher school in 1999 and became a city charter school in 2010 and has been operating continuously for 15 years. MMSA can trace its lineage to Wisconsin Career Academy, an MPS charter school that was closed in 2012, as well as Wisconsin College Prep Academy, a voucher school that was shut down in 2013. He accused Lighthouse of “charter hopping or shopping” because it had received a charter from MPS and UW-Milwaukee before becoming a city charter.

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, whose board chair is voucher architect Howard Fuller, opened as a voucher school in 2004, changed its name and became a charter in 2011, then changed its name again. The high school received a 68.2% or D+ from the CSRC, a “problematic/struggling” school.

Norman said the CSRC’s review included nothing about discipline, suspension or expulsion rates. He said data showed that Fuller’s high school expelled more than 10% of its students per year.

He also argued that the city’s charter school program affects the city’s financial outlook. The program destabilizes Milwaukee Public Schools by reducing student enrollment. A weakened MPS may not be able to make good on its bond payments and Norman warned that could make the city responsible for MPS’s debt. That’s because MPS is treated as a branch of city government for bonding.

“The city is ultimately on the hook for the $300-plus million in bonds that MPS has put out,” Norman said. “To the degree that MPS is put under greater financial pressures, in effect the city is, because the city is the ultimately responsible for that debt. In effect, the city charter program is helping to contribute to possible instability in the city’s own financial reporting.”
Hines Had Silenced the Critics
Last week’s presentation by the CSRC was unusual in that the Steering and Rules Committee allowed charter critics to voice their concerns in a public hearing.

In years past, then-Common Council President Willie Hines silenced opponents. As the Shepherd reported in December 2012, Hines went so far as to call security on charter critics who wanted to speak during a Steering and Rules Committee hearing on pending charter school applications. Hines’ brother runs the Darrell Lynn Hines College Preparatory Academy of Excellence, which received a 72.6% or C- from the CSRC last week, a “promising/good” rating.

Charter critic Fr. Tom Miller of MICAH also cried foul on the CSRC’s penchant for secrecy. For many years, the committee met at Howard Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, didn’t publicly notice their meetings and wouldn’t offer up their meeting agendas or minutes. The CSRC still doesn’t post audio or video recordings of their meetings on the city’s website.

Common Council President Murphy, however, seems to be taking a more skeptical view of the city’s charter schools than his predecessor and allowed charter opponents to make presentations last Thursday. He also called for more public transparency of the CSRC.

During last week’s hearing, he sharply critiqued the Republicans’ proposal to turn failing public schools into charters and made the point very personal.

“I daresay that none of [the Republican legislators] are thinking about turning the failing public schools over to a school like yours, to be perfectly blunt,” Murphy said to Lighthouse Academy Principal Rachel Wagner.

Murphy told the Shepherd he disagreed with Gov. Scott Walker’s argument that the marketplace would sort out the high-performing schools from low performers as parents would enroll their kids in quality schools. Murphy said Milwaukee’s experience showed otherwise. After all, he said, North Point Lighthouse Charter School is struggling, yet the majority of parents told the school’s evaluators that they thought their kids were getting a good education.

“It’s our responsibility, since we have the jurisdiction of overseeing this, to improve those schools or not allow them to operate in the city,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he was open to shutting down the city’s worst charters.

“It’s something I’m considering taking action on but it’s complicated,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t happen overnight nor should it, because you don’t want to put hundreds of students out on the street the next day. But it’s something that I’m going to talk to the review committee about. Perhaps we should be tightening up our standards of who participates in this program. I don’t like to see our kids experimented on.”

January 25, 2015

Who should lead K12 school improvement? Venture capitalists or communities and educators

Filed under: Charter Schools,Education Policy,Privatization,Public Education — millerlf @ 12:54 pm

According to the NewSchools Venture Fund it should be venture capitalists.

What is NewSchools Venture Fund?

This is an investment organization that has an all-white, 10 member board of directors, whose combined portfolio reaches deep into U.S. corporate and entrepreneurial investment endeavors.

Their stated purpose opens with– “Our mission is to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs…” Of course what they don’t openly say is that this work will lead to profit for investors, their companies and the individual portfolios of many entrepreneurs.

What they seek is public money to be diverted from public schools leading to investment gains in technology, real estate, curriculum, corporate charters, high paid “non-profit” charter managers and the growing education “consulting” industry.

In education, they are connected to much of the school “reform” industry. If you look at their strategies in individual cities, they are not about educating all kids.

The description of the Board members of New School Venture Fund reads as follows:

Venture capital investor in the medical, healthcare and biotechnology sectors.

Sponsor of a series of investments including Compaq, Cypress, Intuit, Netscape, Lotus, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, S3, Sun Microsystems,, Symantec and Google.

Founder and CEO of Silicon Compilers and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Google.

Founder of LAUNCH Media Inc. in 1994, which delivered music and music-related content online, and he led the company through its acquisition by Yahoo! in 2001.

Managing Director of Endeavor Catalyst which is is leading the formation and capital raise of the fund supporting high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets and a partner at Soda Rock Partners LLC, supporting entrepreneurs to build leading high-growth companies and organizations.

Has served on the board of more than 25 venture-backed companies across a broad range of industries including Danger Inc (Acquired Nasdaq: MSFT), Sabrix (Acquired NYSE: TWX), Quinstreet (IPO Nasdaq: QNST), Stonyfield Farms (Acquired Groupe Danone), Account Now (Private), Mirra (Acquired NYSE: STX), Posit Science (Private), Post Communications (Acquired Nasdaq: NCNT). She also served on the Board of the National Venture Capital Association (“NVCA), the Coppola Companies (Francis Ford Coppola), and as Chairman of the USA for Madrid-based FON.

Managing Partner in North Bay Associates and Kokino LLC, and a co-founder of TRQ Management Company, all investment management businesses.

Past president and remains active with Cheyenne Petroleum Company, an oil and gas exploration and production company, and he was a co-founder of Soundview Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment company. In addition, he serves on the boards of various companies in the pharmaceutical industry.

Focuses on investments in the financial-services sector and in emerging software technologies. Has been called a “serial entrepreneur.” Founding CEO of Good Technology (acquired by Motorola); co-founder of (DSCM) and general manager and president of Optical Engineering, Inc. Has worked at Netscape, Hewlett Packard and Bain.

For the complete description of the Board, see below. You can also learn more from their website at:

Their Milwaukee connection is through Deborah McGriff, a “Team” member, who served as a deputy Superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools.

At the 2014 conference Howard Fuller gave opening comments. They can be seen at:

Full descriptions of NewSchool Venture Fund Board:
• Brook Byers, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• Chris Gabrieli, Co-Founder and Chairman, Massachusetts 2020
• Dave Goldberg, Chief Executive Officer, SurveyMonkey
• Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and Chair of the Board, Emerson Collective
• Joanna Rees, Founder and Managing Partner, VSP Capital
• Jon Sackler, Managing Partner, North Bay Associates and Kokino LLC
• Kim Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Pahara Institute
• Rob Stavis, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners
• Dave Whorton, Managing Director, Tugboat Ventures


Fatten Your Portfolio: Invest in Charter Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 12:52 pm

CEO of Entertainment Properties explains why charter schools are good for your portfolio investment even if the school closes (“…because of lease arrangements there is no loss of rents…no impact to rent role.”)
You won’t believe this. “Charter school business is our highest growth and most appealing segment right now.”


December 30, 2014

New Book Offers Well-Researched Information and Data on the Failure of the New Orleans Recovery School District

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 7:23 pm

In her book, Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space, Kristen Buras has researched the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) since 2005. With a 2015 publishing date, it is hot off the press.

A major theme to her research is that the New Orleans RSD is a Southern strategy to use market-based reforms to give control of public schools, attended by Black children in Black communities and often taught by Black teachers, over to well funded white entrepreneurs.

Over the next couple weeks I will be posting Buras’s well researched and convincing argument. Following is an introductory summary to the book.

In New Orleans:
• Charter schools have taken over or replaced traditional public schools with little input from community members.
• CMO’s in education entrepreneurs have acquired immense decision-making power as well as power over local, state, and federal education funds.
• Charter schools often engage in selective admission and retention of students.
• Veteran teachers have been fired while human capital edu– businesses such as TFA provided new and transient recruits.
• Entrepreneurial leaders in the system are generously paid.
• Privately managed charter schools have access to upgrade facilities at public expense.
• Unregulated charter school autonomy allows corruption to go unchecked and “reformers” to prosper in the process.
• Charter school development is not necessarily driven by performance or evidence as traditional but promising public schools are closed to make room for unproven startups.
• There is a racial dynamic to all of this as mostly white entrepreneurs and recruits attempt to impose “reform” and capitalize on black working-class communities.
• Charter school development has generated lawsuits and community resistance.
• This reconstruction of public education has the support of most local state and federal policymakers despite its anti-democratic tendencies.

December 18, 2014

Major Charter Research Exposes Free Market Based School Reform

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 10:59 am

The newest report by CREDO (the Center for Research on Education Outcomes)is on charter schools in Ohio, and it finds that charter school students in the state are learning less than students in traditional public schools, the equivalent of 36 days of learning in math and 14 days in reading. Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s Director, said recently since releasing the report, “I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education.”

Major charter researcher causes stir with comments about market-based school reform

By Valerie Strauss December 12 Washington post

Margaret Raymond is the founding director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as CREDO, which is part of the Hoover Institution located at Stanford University. CREDO’s mission is researching and evaluating educational policy and is best known for its research studies on charter schools in the United States.
Raymond this week made some remarks about charter schools that are causing a stir in the education world. First, some background to put those remarks in context.

CREDO’s unique studies of charter schools around the country – which collectively conclude that sometimes they perform better than traditional public schools and sometimes they don’t — are widely cited in the education world by both pro- and anti-charter activists to support their different points. CREDO’s newest report is on charter schools in Ohio, and it finds that charter school students in the state are learning less than students in traditional public schools, the equivalent of 36 days of learning in math and 14 days in reading.

What gets often lost in these discussions is that the studies are based on reading and math standardized test scores. Even if you think that high-stakes standardized test scores reveal something about how much a student knows in the tested subject — and many researchers and educators don’t — it is a different thing altogether to judge an entire school on the results of narrow tests in two subject areas, however important they are. If the education world were not as test-obsessed as it has been since the advent of No Child Left Behind a dozen years ago and Race to the Top in 2009, such a metric for important conclusions would probably be given short shrift. But not today, so the CREDO studies are considered big news.

Another reason that the CREDO studies are of interest to both pro- and anti-charter activists revolves around CREDO, Hoover and Raymond. CREDO says on its Web site that it “has become a leading independent voice in the discussion of how to improve education in America, with an emphasis on rigorous program and policy analysis as the means of informing and improving education decision making.” Critics have questioned the “independent” part.

The Hoover Institution is a conservative think tank that is squarely pro-charter and a believer in using market forces to reform the U.S. educational system. CREDO accepts funds from pro-charter and pro-market foundations, including the Walton Foundation. Raymond’s biography on the Web site of the Hoover Institution, where she is a research fellow, says in part:
“In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools. The public-academic-private partnership helps public charter schools adopt information technologies as a means to both support their operations and generate information required by the study design. More than 250 public charter schools have joined the study to date.”
Pearson is the largest for-profit education publishing company in the world.

Raymond is married to Eric Hanushek, a Hoover economist was a pioneer in creating systems that evaluate teachers by student standardized tests, a method that many assessment experts say should not be used in the high-stakes ways that school reformers are using them. He is often cited in CREDO studies as a “principal investigator.”

Raymond and Hanushek sometimes are given data that other researchers aren’t. In 2013, the 19th Judicial District Court ruled that the state Department of Education could pick and choose which researchers it provided with raw data that would help them determine if school reform efforts are working. A watchdog group called Research on Reforms, Inc., which had been critical of Louisiana school reform, was denied the data and had sued to get it. Who was given the information? A data-sharing agreement was signed by Raymond, as CREDO director, and Hanushek, as “principal investigator,” and Ollie Tyler, acting state superintendent of education at the time the memo was signed in 2011. It runs through 2016 and provides CREDO with detailed Louisiana information.

Given that background, anti-charter activists have been eager to cite CREDO reports that show no benefit to charter schools or negative results as much because of the data itself but because of who was doing the reporting.

That all leads us to this week, when Raymond spoke at a City Club of Cleveland event about the Ohio report (you can listen to the podcast here), which was funded by the Thomas B., Fordham Foundation, which is distinctly pro-charter and pro-reform. She made the following comment, as first reported on the 10th Period blog by Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, a former congressman and school funding expert and Policy Fellow at Innovation Ohio. She said:
This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s [education] the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed. Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.

Dyer wrote that he found these comments, coming from Raymond, to be somewhat remarkable:
Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford — a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table.
For years, we’ve been told that the free market will help education improve. As long as parents can choose to send their kids to different schools, like cars or any other commodity, the best schools will draw kids and the worst will go away. The experience in Ohio is the opposite. The worst charter schools in Ohio are growing by leaps and bounds, while the small number of successful charter schools in Ohio have stayed, well, a small number of successful charter schools.

Raymond made the point too that parents are not informed enough to be true market consumers on education. Websites like Know Your Charter can help with that educational aspect of the parental choice, better arming parents with the necessary information to make a more informed decision. But to hear free market believers say that 20 years into the charter school experiment its foundational philosophy — that the free market’s invisible hand will drive educational improvement — is not working? Well, I was stunned to hear that.

Raymond also made the point that the states that are seeing the best charter school performance are states whose charter school authorizers are focused on quality and have robust accountability measures — in other words, well-regulated…. When the CREDO report was released, it was discovered that if online and for-profit charter schools are taken out of the equation, Ohio charters don’t perform all that bad. Problem is that more than 57 percent of Ohio charter school kids are in those schools. In fact, at Know Your Charter, we found that less than 10 percent of Ohio’s charter school kids are in schools that score above the state average on the Performance Index Score or have an A or B in overall value added.

I asked Raymond to further explain her remarks and this is she what she wrote in an e-mail:
In other industries, real markets are able to develop and function because suppliers and consumers get to meet each other in an unfettered set of offers and demands for goods or services. There are no intermediary agents who guard access to supply or who aggregate demand and thus sway the free exchange of supply and demand. Part of that free exchange relies on complete transparency about the attributes of the goods on offer and their prices, and the transactions are “known” by the participants in an open and complete way.

I think you can see that as currently organized, public K-12 education does not meet those conditions. States and LEAs [local education agencies] act on behalf of students and parents, often with imperfect information, and supply is controlled by interests that have agendas other than free exchange.

The remark today was about “early adopter” charter states that built charter laws on the faith that a little bit of competition from charter schools would a) function entirely on parental choice (free and transparent information about the range of options and their “prices”) and b) a rapid response from the rest of the suppliers in reaction to expressed demand for “something different.”

That is not to say that a market orientation COULDN’T EVER work, I was just saying that the early period of the charter movement was a bit optimistic and premature to think that decades of controlled monopoly conduct would be influenced quickly by small numbers of consumers.

December 15, 2014

Barbara Miner on Rocketship

Filed under: Charter Schools,Rocketship — millerlf @ 3:25 pm

Below is a link to the recent article written for the Progressive magazine by Barbara Miner on Rocketship charter schools.


October 29, 2014

City of Milwaukee Charter Policy Analysis

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 9:12 am

By Dominique Paul Noth Monday, October 20, 2014

It’s hard to applaud bravery with a cry of “More work to do!” But that should be the reaction to the Milwaukee Common Council’s unanimous ordinance October 14 barring financial incentives to lure children to its charter schools, demanding this bar be included in any charter agreements the city makes from this point on and urging the state to adopt similar rules to stop “cash for kids” by schools supported by government money.

This is legislative action at the city level that should stir a long overdue discussion in the state. It is already on the periphery of the governor’s race about the rules that should be in place for charter and voucher schools and aren’t, and horribly high taxpayer outlays ($192 million this year for state vouchers alone) that are making scant difference in quality for children.

To lay out the landscape in Milwaukee, multiple government agencies can approve K-12 charter schools, technically public schools though excused from many conditions, while a direct private or religious school program known as vouchers, or Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), has been expanded statewide by the administration of Scott Walker. In contrast, MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools system with its own publicly elected board) has never considered cash outlays to attract new students. They do occasional pancake breakfasts to encourage pupils to show up for the state count date. But UWM has let its authorized private charter schools use the cash or grocery card gimmick to attract students. It was this practice at its Urban Day School that first aroused ire.

The city ordinance is a firm no-no that covers only its dozen charter schools. It reads: Prohibited Practice a. No charter school shall offer money or any other thing of pecuniary value to a parent, student, teacher, staff member or any other person as an incentive for recruiting a student to enroll at a charter school. b. The prohibition shall be included in the charter school contract and may result in the termination or revocation of the charter school contract.

In making this move, the council also stiffed Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, organizations that knew better than to formally oppose but submitted an email of caution given their intrinsic involvement in these schools. Don’t “restrict its schools from using funds to encourage new enrollment,” they wrote the council, hoping the new ordinance would not eliminate offering free uniforms and the like.

The council was certainly polite but its substitute resolution 140912 put the onus back on the private schools about whether I-Pads, meals or uniforms for kids fall in the category of deceptive advantage.

The council reacted because charter schools were waving cash at adults who brought new students to the school by the signup date of September 19, when students have to be there to be counted for state revenue. To encourage parents in mainly poor areas to look at the money they can make rather than the curriculum and quality being offered children has been called flat bribery by community activists and MPS teachers who have staged protests around the issue.

That was in contrast to the original JS story that hinted this was just a shrewd marketing move in a competitive education field.

JS must know that in the public’s mind this per-student support for voucher and charter schools appears cheaper for taxpayers than what public schools with union teachers cost, so stealing $100 or $200 for non-education purpose from the taxpayer was excused as just the cost of competition.

That’s deceptive and obviously depends on ethics and values. Private schools pass off most special needs students to public school districts, which accept all comers and have expertly trained specialists. That public school ability to address individual needs of pupils is a big part of the costs, while Republican legislators pretend it is all about union vs. nonunion. Perhaps that is why private charter schools think it is no big deal to protect their bottom line by putting taxpayers’ dollars not into the classroom but into marketing.

That claim of being cheaper is suspect because this is not apples to apples. Initial funding for these charter schools and continued funding for voucher schools are hardly transparent even before the taxpayer steps in. A few of these schools fulfill the outlined mission of intelligent experimentation on education models. But they have advantages that school districts lack in buying or building the actual facilities, marketing looseness, short-term teachers and larger class sizes, not from classroom expertise if you accept the results of the limited testing allowed.

Full public schools face far more scrutiny despite critics who regard their procedures as restrictive. Public school advocates see their own mandated rules as built-in transparency protection for children against those who treat children as a financial opportunity and even parents who take a path of religious familiarity and marketing expertise over education outcomes.

Some educators see these charter private network and voucher practices as similar and aimed at destroying teaching as a career given the high turnover of the Teach for America participants. These college grads are personable but they have one eye on Wall Street and for many reasons less than half outlast their two year contract and several abandon it early. Long classroom work especially in poor economic regions always has high attrition, but brightness in college is proving not sufficient for retention, far less than long training and desire to teach.

And it’s no longer cheap for taxpayers. Even in 2012, voucher schools were allowed by Madison to serve families with twice Milwaukee’s medium income.

While the public still thinks cost per pupil hovers around $4,000 or $6,000 a year, that has long vanished. Under Walker’s administration costs have gone up faster than the low income levels that originally justified the creation of such schools. Now state taxpayer pay $8,075 per charter school kid though most users of this state aid were originally in a private school.

Voucher schools per pupil have jumped to $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 for high school in taxpayer aid.

Along the lines of hidden costs for the state taxpayer, the Oct. 15 figures of allocated state aid for education contain some disturbing numbers for Milwaukee. On the impending property tax bill if you don’t read one of the multiple inserts from the city, you might assume the public schools of MPS are the largest cost to property owners. In fact, when read correctly, the Milwaukee Public Schools and its current 79,000 schoolchildren drop out of first place. Under the state formula bookkeeping trickery, MPS is credited on the rolls with money it never sees and students it has lost to competition.

The uninformed public does not realize there are nearly 30,000 voucher and charter students receiving tax dollars that MPS cannot count as Milwaukee public students. Even city of Milwaukee charter schools receive state money (and federal grants) MPS never gets near. Yet the state’s tax cost formula muddies the waters.

There are 10 years left of the state voucher school tax and this year it diverts more than $61 million from MPS that is included in the MPS tax pie. The charter school movement in Milwaukee is growing though MPS’ own selective and tightly monitored charters are largely responsible for any decent comparative ratings. So MPS sees minimal return from the $9.3 million (of statewide $68.8 million) in Milwaukee taxpayer cost for charters. In essence that’s $65.6 million of the MPS levy going to voucher and independent charter schools, fully 20% of what the public thinks MPS is getting but never receives.

Yet the same city supplies the property tax bill and needs to do so much more to clarify it. And city charters also take money away from MPS, though this ordinance now finally insists on the behavior with state money that MPS has always done.

This Oct. 14 resolution was pushed by Ald. Nik Kovac and joined by the president of the common council, Michael Murphy.
Murphy replaced Willie Hines who left for another job and was seen as something of a rubber stamp for the city’s charter school committee. At the same aldermanic meeting where the new rules were discussed and headed for approval, the aldermen approved a new term for Mayor Barrett’s charter chair, Jeanette Mitchell, who formerly served on the MPS board and currently is close with Howard Fuller at Marquette University, whose division vets and approves city charter schools.

This resolution was an obvious good first step — particularly in protecting the reputation of city charter schools that have sprung up in poor communities where cash gifts may be particularly tempting. Paying an adult $100 at a UWM charter school (Urban Day) to bring in a new student, or giving them a $50 grocery card at another UWM school upset the community, but it was a city charter school’s effort to give $200 per pupil at Central City Cyberschool that spurred the Common Council into action.

And that was brave since UWM has not stepped in with similar strictures on its dozen charter schools nor has the state Department of Public Instruction even been asked for its opinion, which would have to go before a charter-happy legislature. The city is out there in lone legislative nobility.

On the other hand, this is only the obvious canker sore on the city charter body, which needs to be put under a more intense microscope for questionable practices. Murphy is facing pressure for remedial repair given a growing litany of problems.

Rocketship has technically been approved for seven more schools without re-examining the one it now runs on the South Side with less students and poorer results than originally promised, and Rocketship has delayed opening an inner city school, yet the city has not actively questioned its model. JS education reporter Erin Richards attended a detailed presentation at City Hall a day after she wrote about Rand Paul’s praise of school choice at a Milwaukee voucher school. She or her editors just ignored that presentation in print. It was a devastating and well researched academic study on Rocketship’s national behavior and secret intentions.

The city has also given regular charter renewal for a school named after Willie Hines’ brother despite constant failure in performance standards. It has approved other schools that miss their enrollment goals or lose students to MPS, which by law must take them, and it turns out to be part of the $100 million investigators claim has been wasted in ineffective or closed charter schools.

For years there has been a cozy relationship between the city charter approval process and the national charter groups that see profit in the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren or a political way to destroy the power and independence of public education, according to many reliable investigators.

Murphy and the council still have to step up to looking back as well as forward, to examine what other controls should be in place on how these schools lure students, what special rewards they bring to education (because despite the claims of choice, the fruit is in the results) and whether elected officials are being duped by secret money while also robbing taxpayers of the truly responsible choices offered by public schools.

Politically these privately operated or religiously operated schools have a public relations advantage with elected officials. Parents love their idea of “choice” since the schools receive taxpayer money in their name (sort of like buying someone else a car) and are seduced by the personal contact with their nervous youngsters at the school door and some hugs afterward. But the results on the whole demonstrate little in results and many losses in quality, stirring caring parents to regular flights back to public schools.

For the Common Council and other government entities, it’s time for some deeper fishing with stronger hooks.

About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom’s Domain. He also reviews theater for

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