Video of the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee review of DL Hines Academy charter school is up on Legistar at http://milwaukee.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1270.
Well worth watching.
Video of the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee review of DL Hines Academy charter school is up on Legistar at http://milwaukee.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1270.
Well worth watching.
See article at UrbanMilwaukee:
Their shaky financing is causing failures locally, nationally. Yet Trump wants more.
By Terry Falk – Nov 28th UrbanMilwaukee
Universal Academy recently informed Milwaukee Public Schools it could no longer financially support its three Milwaukee schools due to a lack of enrollment. Both Universal and MPS agreed to allow Universal to continue operating at a single site, the previous Webster building, while two other sites, Green Bay and Lee, would be returned to MPS.
MPS officials believe Universal has attempted to be a good partner with the district. However, while Universal may have made a few mistakes, it could be a victim of a bursting charter school bubble that is beginning to appear across the nation. That problem was described by UW-Madison Prof. Julie F. Mead and has become all the more important since incoming President Donald Trump has signaled a desire to increase the use of charter and voucher schools in America.
Mead is a co-author of “Are We Heading Toward a Charter School ‘Bubble’? Lessons from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis,” an article in the February 2016 issue of University of Richmond Law Review. Their work is a follow up to a similar contention made in a blog post in July 2014 by Prof. Mark Naison, Fordham University in New York.
According to Mead and others, the subprime mortgage crisis began with some laudable goals of extending home ownership to as many individuals as possible. In exchange for little or no down payment, new home owners could obtain a mortgage with a ballooning interest rate that would kick in after a couple of years. The thought was, as they became homeowners, their lives would be more stable, their incomes might rise, and even if they had trouble meeting the rising interest rates, they could always sell the homes at ever increasing prices.
But that is not how it worked out.
Instead, many homeowners couldn’t make the mortgage payments, so fewer people could buy homes, home values crashed, and America found itself in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
According to Mead and others, charter schools may be headed in the same direction. Chartering organizations rushed in to take advantage of the charters being handed out by state legislatures, school districts, and other organizations.
And just as the housing mortgage crisis was fueled by a building boom resulting in overcapacity, too many charters were created with too many seats. That is one of the problems Universal faced here. And like the homeowners who bought houses with little down payments and no money in the bank, many charter school management companies have little leeway in their cash flow if the number of students just are not there. They can’t weather the storm if problems develop at one or two schools.
Back in Philadelphia, Universal may be losing three of its eight schools due to poor performance. Universal is not alone in these problems.
Consider the story of American Quality Schools of Chicago. In 2012, AQS was approved for a charter with the city of Milwaukee and was seeking another with MPS. I opposed the charter and convinced the majority of the MPS board to deny the charter, incurring the wrath of several board members.
It is fortunate that we said no to AQS. When AQS first applied to MPS it was running or in the processing of running about a dozen schools from St. Louis to Fort Wayne, Indiana. But many of its charters were in trouble, and they were losing much of their portfolio. Today AQS has only two schools left; the rest have either closed or the chartering agency pulled its management away from AQS. The school authorized by the city of Milwaukee? It never opened.
In most cases, AQS never held the charters directly, but was only contracted as a Charter Management Organization (CMO) to run the school. That is still the case of its school in Fort Wayne. The Urban League holds the charter and contracts management with AQS.
CMOs, says Mead, “are the most similar to the subprime mortgage problem.” Moving from the chartering organization to the charter holder to a CMO is like the bank issuing a mortgage and then bundling mortgages to sell on the open market. Like the bank ridding itself of the liability of the mortgage, chartering organizations are removed from the liability of the CMO to operate in a fiscally responsible manner and provide a quality education.
The problem with most state charter laws is that the chartering organization takes no responsibility once they issue a charter until renewal time, says Mead. “The risk to the authorizer doesn’t exist.”
In the charter modification with Universal, MPS is exercising greater day-to-day financial oversight. Mead believes that state laws should require total financial transparency of all contracts. This is especially a problem with for-profit CMOs who believe they have little or no obligation to have open books as a private company.
Last year AQS tried to open a charter school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but did not find enough interest to continue the process. It also attempted to open a private school, tuition based, in the higher income community of Batavia, just west of Chicago. It too attracted little interest and the project was abandoned. Now AQS is in China, trying to recruit students, offering the services to help them attend schools and universities in the United States – a long way away from AQS original mission.
There are a whole string of other major charter school players that have fallen on hard times. This is especially true for for-profit charter companies says Jessica Huseman in a 2012 Slate article. EdisonLearning was once the largest for-profit charter manager in the country, in control of 130 schools across 22 states. By 2012, it managed only five schools.
Large corporate models running charter schools across state lines in districts with various rules and reporting requirements makes it almost impossible for large charter companies to compete successfully. Yet we may see a push for more such charters under President Trump.
Terry Falk serves as a member of the Milwaukee School Board.
I actually mentioned College Prep in my original article I submitted to Bruce Murphy. I’m not upset that he cut it. The article was fairly long, and one cannot say everything in a few hundred words. Just like in the housing boom/bust, not everyone who went out and got a mortgage overextended their credit, but everyone got hurt by the bad housing policies around them. Even good charter schools are going to get hurt if there are few controls in the chartering process. I’m not even saying that Universal is a bad charter. I’m just saying we can’t have a total free market, dog-eat-dog, chartering system. When charters close, children get hurt.
Why California’s charter school sector is called ‘the Wild West’
By Valerie Strauss September 28, Posted at Washington Post
California Gov. Jerry Brown has to decide whether to sign legislation mandating more charter school accountability.
This is the second of four posts on the state of the charter school sector in California.
The charter school sector has grown over the last few decades amid a debate about its virtues and drawbacks — and even whether the publicly funded schools are actually public. Some charters do a great job, but even some advocates (though not all) are finally admitting that too many states allowed charters to open and operate without sufficient oversight.
Ohio and Utah have vied for the distinction of having the most troubled charter sector, along with Arizona, where there are no laws against conflicts of interest and for-profit charters do not have to open their books to the public. There’s also Michigan, where 80 percent of the charters are for-profit. And Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently issued a report and declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation. It’s a race to the bottom.
California deserves special attention as, in many ways, the charter Wild West. It has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state in the nation. One billionaire even came up with a secret plan to “charterize” half of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Among the problems:
* A report released recently (by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law.
*In some places, charter schools open without mentioning their existence to the traditional school district in which they reside, prompting lawsuits by the districts. The Grossmont Union High School District, for example, sued to shut down two charters operating in Grossmont under agreements signed by another school district. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Scott Patterson, Grossmont’s deputy superintendent of business services, as saying, “It’s been described as the Wild West out there.”
*A Mercury News investigation published in April revealed how the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, have “a dismal record of academic achievement” but have won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.
*One charter school principal doubled as a National Basketball Association scout, traveling first class to basketball games around the country — and charged his travel expenses to his charter school.
*One charter school closed in 2014 after state auditors found a number of issues, including indications that administrators funneled millions of dollars in state funds to the schools’ operator and her family and friends. As the Los Angeles Times reported, some of the allegations against the school operator were downright “bizarre.” Auditors questioned the use of school funds to pay a more than $500,000 settlement to a former teacher who sued, claiming she had been wrongly terminated after she was ordered by the school director to travel to Nigeria and marry the director’s brother-in-law so he could become a U.S. citizen. The operator’s penalty? She paid “a $16,000 fine for misconduct that includes using public education funds to lease her own buildings,” the Times said.
What these reveal is a state charter law that allows the schools to operate loosely, with little if any accountability or transparency to the public. The charter lobby in California has successfully fought off legislative efforts to bring more accountability to the charter sector — at least so far.
Now, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has to decide whether to sign a bill passed by the state legislature that would require more accountability and transparency from the state’s charters schools. Brown, who has been a supporter of charter schools, has not indicated what he will do, though California’s treasurer, John Chiang, has said the legislation is vital to make charter schools more accountable to the public. Brown, who started two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, last year vetoed a bill that would have banned for-profit charters.
The following is the second of four parts on California charters, written by Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who is now executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. She was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. The four-part series will be part of an extended national report on charter schools that will be published by the Network for Public Education in 2017.
[How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.]
By Carol Burris
Bryan Juan was falling behind in high school credits. Desperate to graduate on time, he left his public high school and enrolled in Desert Sands Charter High School. “I started off okay,” he said. “But even though I went almost every day and worked hard, I could not catch up and do all the paper packets — especially on my own. I got discouraged. I left and went back to my public school.”
Bryan was not alone in his failure at Desert Sands. The 2015 four-year graduation rate of the charter was 11.5 percent. Even worse, over 42 percent of the students who should have graduated that year dropped out of school altogether.
Desert Sands Charter High School enrolls nearly 2,000 students; almost all are Latino. It is part of the Antelope Valley School District, but you will not find it listed on Antelope’s website. Nor will you find Desert Sands at the Lancaster, Calif., address given on its own website. Bryan’s classroom was located in an office building across from a Walmart, nearly 100 miles away from both Antelope Valley Schools and the Desert Sand’s address.
Desert Sands is one of 15 independent learning center charter schools, which are defined as non-classroom-based independent study sites, connected to Learn4Life, a network of schools that claim to provide personalized learning. On its website, Learn4Life tells prospective families that it connects students to resource centers so that they can receive one on one instruction because “no two students are alike.”
Bryan’s classmates, Mayra and Edith, who also returned to the public school from Desert Sands, found their experience at the charter to be anything but “personalized.” They described education at Desert Sands as no more than a continuous cycle of paper packets, optional tutor appointments and tests that students continue to take until they pass. Three calls to three different Learn4Life charter schools confirmed that the instructional program was driven by paper packets that students pick up and complete. After packet completion, students take a test to earn credit. Although students can make an appointment for help with the packet, they are required to come by only once a week.
Content from EPIX NetworkThe price of power
When the whole world is watching, there’s no room for the mistakes that normal people make.
Of the 15 charters authorized to Learn4Life operated corporations, 13 are required to operate high-school grade levels. Each school has its own name, principal and sponsoring district, but uniqueness ends there. The schools are in reality a web of resource centers sprinkled in office buildings, strip malls and even former liquor stores. They advertise themselves with nearly identical websites with the same pictures, quotes, descriptions of program, principal letters and a common phone number and address. The homepage of the Desert Sands High School is indistinguishable from the homepage of Diego Valley, as well as the homepages of 11 other high schools that are part of the chain. All that differs is the name of the school.
Diego Plus is one of the many corporations operated by Learn4Life. Diego Plus and its three Learn4Life charter schools (Diego Valley, Diego Hills and Diego Springs) are defendants in lawsuits filed by Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District. The three charters opened their resource centers in the three complaining districts without notifying them. They were authorized by and are the responsibility of the Julian, Dehesa and Borrego Springs school districts, each of which receive considerable income for supervising these charters located far beyond their boundaries.
In total, the three Learn4Life Diego Plus charters enroll almost 2,000 students. Their respective four-year 2015 graduation rates are 10.8 percent, 19.3 percent and 0 percent. Forty-five percent of the students in that Diego Valley cohort dropped out of the charter school. It does not appear that long-distance supervision of storefront schools is working out well for kids.
Transparency and accountability, as well as legal efforts to force legal compliance, have been stymied and complicated by the continual changes in Learn4Life corporate names and addresses. A recent petition to the court on behalf of the Grossmont Union High School District lists 13 corporate names located at the same Learn4Life address. In 2014, there were no less than eight not-for-profit corporations listed at that Lancaster address that filed tax returns.
Each of those eight corporations received funding from the state of California. During the 2013-14 school year, the sum of all government grants given to those eight related corporations was $61,476,306. About 11,000 students are enrolled in the 15 Learn4Life schools.
Officers of the Learn4Life corporations play musical chairs with titles, often receiving compensation from several different corporations. For example, Steve Gocke is listed as the superintendent of Desert Sands Charter. In 2014, Gocke received $139,750 for serving as the secretary for the two different Learn4Life charter schools. Dante Simi served as the chief executive of six different Learn4Life related corporations and the CFO of two others. According to the organizations’ 990s, his 2014 compensation was $270,200. Dante’s son-in-law Skip Hansen serves as a senior vice president, and received a six-figure salary for his services. Simi’s wife, Linda, is also listed as a key employee of one of the corporations.
Perhaps all of the above attempts at obfuscation might be forgiven if the schools were actually getting the job done. But they’re not. The average 2015 graduation rate for the schools was 13.73 percent. Two of the schools had graduation rates of 0 percent. Dropout rates for cohorts ranged from 27.6 percent to 53.9 percent.
Are these alarming rates solely a result of serving at-risk students? Although Learn4Life advertises that its mission is to serve students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, its schools take students as early as ninth-grade, including those who simply want a quick and easy way to graduate early. There is no requirement for prior failure before entering the schools.
Learn4Life schools are not an anomaly. There are 225 independent learning charter schools comprising nearly 20 percent of all charters in California. In San Diego County alone there are 35, including three associated with Learn4Life. The 2014 graduation rate for all of the students enrolled in San Diego’s independent center charters, including the more successful home-school programs, was only 44 percent.
Given the results, why are so many Independent Learning charter corporations springing up across the state? Unlike brick and mortar charters, independent learning centers are relatively easy to set up and run. They appeal to disadvantaged students who want to work and finish high school, drop-outs who want to return to school, students who have emotional or physical health issues, home-schoolers, and teenagers who would prefer to not have to get up in the morning and go to school.
In addition, running independent learning centers can be very lucrative. One of San Diego County’s largest networks of independent learning centers is the Altus Institute. It advertises on billboards and runs ads in movie theaters and on television. Altus operates Audeo Charter, Audeo Charter II, the Charter School of San Diego and Laurel Academy. It has a total K-12 enrollment of about 3,000 students and takes in tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue. Like Learn4Life, its learning centers are located in malls and office buildings. Its younger students are home-schooled.
In 2014 compensation for Altus Institute President Mary Bixby was $371,160 — exceeding the total pay plus benefits of the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District that serves nearly 130,000 students. Bixby is a board member of the charters, a full-time employee of one of the schools and also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two others Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.
Financial benefits extend beyond those who run the independent learning charter schools. They are also cash cows for the far-flung districts that authorize them.
Julian, a tiny elementary district, has fewer than 300 students that attend its schools, and it has not had a contested school board election since the 1990s. Nevertheless, there are nearly 3,000 students who do “independent study” at dozens of “resource” or “learning centers” operated by three corporations under charters that Julian sponsors, yet which operate outside its boundaries. A uniform complaint filed against the district identified that Julian receives more than $1,542,552 from charter oversight fees, creating a bloated administration whose salaries depend upon the oversight funding, thus creating conflicts of interest in regard to the fulfillment of oversight duties.
Such conflicts of interests have led to criminal behavior. In February 2016, former Mountain Empire superintendent, Steve Van Zant, pleaded guilty to felony conflict of interest charges after it was discovered that he was personally receiving 5 percent of the revenue generated from oversight fees from the 13 charter schools his district authorized beyond its boundaries. In addition, some of those charters hired the Van Zant consulting firm, EdHive, which provided services to the charters. Its website bragged that it could find authorizing districts for the those who wanted to open Independent Learning Centers that would save the charter schools money.
When the Van Zant story broke, the California Charter School Association agreed that the case raised legitimate concerns. However, legislation to address the problem of districts authorizing charters in other districts, and even other counties, was opposed by the California Charter School Association (CCSA) and vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. A present bill on the governor’s desk, SB 739, would put a small restriction on a district’s ability to open independent learning center charters in other districts by ensuring that the sponsoring district is fiscally solvent (does not have a negative certification), thus decreasing the profit generating motive.
Despite the recent scandals, California Charter School Association Advocates, the political arm of CCSA, is opposing SB 739, along with AB 709, which would subject charters to the conflict of interest and transparency rules that public schools follow.
Although the original intent of the independent charters may well have been to scoop up at-risk kids and give them a second chance, the lack of criteria for student placement, along with inadequate regulations have led to obvious abuses. There are now far too many independent learning charter schools whose operators, some with no background or expertise in education, make substantial salaries, while cash-strapped districts grab students and revenue from other districts miles away.
Worst of all, the students who need the most support and daily guidance from adults are in charters that do not require much contact at all.
Mike Matsuda, superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District, is fighting what he considers to be the predatory practices of yet one more independent learning charter, Epic Charter, which has entered his district. His powerful statement to the Orange County Board of Education can be found here. Matsuda, who has been recognized for his leadership by Education Week, understands how tough it is to serve at-risk students well.
“Educating and engaging marginalized students who often suffer from chronic depression due to poverty, family dysfunction, or exposure to emotional or physical violence in the neighborhood is a complex process that’s definitely not cheap,” Matsuda said.
His Anaheim High School Program for at-risk youth and former dropouts directed by counselor/social worker, Joe Casas, provides emotional support and ensures that students have access to enriching electives, the community, field trips and the extracurricular life of the school. “All of this makes kids feel as if they have a home with us,” Casas said.
Meanwhile, Bryan, Edith and Mayra who came to the program from Learn4Life are now making good progress toward graduation.
“Teachers are more on my case to get work done. I come every day and if I have personal problems, there are counselors to help. It’s more supportive here.” Mayra said. Edith agreed. “Here there are assemblies and field trips and people to talk to. I feel like I’m home.”
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts poses for a selfie with supporters of his effort to lift the state’s cap on charter schools. Charters are facing formidable opposition this election season: Democrats passed a resolution this month opposing the proposed charter school expansion in Massachusetts, and residents will vote on the proposal in November. (Photo: Charlie Baker / Flickr)
A political battle is being waged over charter schools in Massachusetts right now, and it’s a microcosm of the state of the charter debate across the country. In the lead-up to a November ballot measure in which voters will decide whether or not to lift the state’s cap on charter schools, known as Question 2, Democrats passed a resolution this month opposing charter school expansion. The resolution states that the pro-charter campaign is “funded and governed by hidden money provided by Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers.” In response, the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform drafted a letter to the coalition behind the resolution, called the “No on 2” campaign, claiming that they misrepresented Democrats’ attitude towards charters. “There is great Democratic support for public charter schools,” wrote Liam Kerr, Massachusetts State Director of Democrats for Education Reform.
However, public sentiment has actually been turning steadily against charter schools, and not only within the Democratic party. The NAACP recently called for a moratorium on charters, as did the Movement for Black Lives. Over the past year and a half, The New York Times published a series of scathing reports on the high-profile New York City charter chain Success Academy, including a teacher caught on tape screaming at a young student for a math mistake, a principal with a list of difficult students titled “Got to Go,” and students peeing their pants out of fear. John Oliver’s recent “Last Week Tonight” segment on corruption in charter schools in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania prompted a defensive response from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, acknowledging that the practices at the schools featured were “unacceptable” but insisting they “are not representative of charter schools nationwide.”
On top of all that, the Democratic party platform this year contains language unprecedentedly critical of charter schools, saying they “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools” and “must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.” It was such a break from the norm in the party that Shavar Jeffries, Democrats for Education Reform president, called it an “unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy” that “stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups.”
While charters have always been a controversial subject within the Democratic Party, there’s been a longstanding bipartisan consensus behind closing poorly performing public schools in low-income communities and replacing them with charter schools. Both No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top program encouraged the expansion of charter schools, and both initially enjoyed bipartisan support. And while teachers unions have been a consistent voice of criticism against those policies, pro-charter groups were often successfully able to write them off as self-interested. Even within the Democratic Party, reformers painted public school teachers as selfishly fighting for job protections — as if that’s the worst thing a worker could do — and not actually interested in the well-being of their students.
That narrative has always been misrepresentative and cynical. but for a long time, it has been dominant. That’s why the critical stances of the Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP are so powerful. At least since President Obama took office, and arguably since President Bush passed No Child Left Behind, charter schools have been winning the rhetorical war, presenting themselves as the compassionate solution for poor families of color struggling in an under-resourced public education system. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to put up a fight against Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, arguing that the well-resourced network can afford to pay rent for public school space (Moskowitz herself makes six figures a year), Moskowitz went on national television and accused the mayor of wanting “to deny poor kids in Harlem an opportunity, a shot at life.” It was an effective strategy for Moskowitz, who got her free rent, allowing Success Academies across the city to continue to claim space from the same public schools she demonizes. It wasn’t until The New York Times series on Success Academy’s questionable practices toward its students, along with a federal civil rights complaint over the network’s treatment of students with disabilities, that Moskowitz found herself losing ground in the court of public opinion.
“We have a confluence of events,” explained Preston Green, professor of educational leadership at the University of Connecticut. “One is that we’re getting more and more evidence that charters are problematic, that there are issues with charters”– particularly, said Green, the issue of segregation. (A study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that “charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”) But that’s not the only factor contributing to the changing educational climate. “In addition, you’re seeing more and more discussion about fraud and mismanagement, and questions about whether the money actually makes it to the students and to the schools.” In the past, argues Green, charter schools called out for corruption were written off as simply “bad apples.”
But it’s becoming harder and harder to write off the types of stories featured in the John Oliver segment — schools over-reporting attendance in order to receive more public funds, CEOs convicted of embezzlement, or nonprofit charters directing government funds directly into private management companies — as isolated incidents. “Slowly but surely, people are starting to see this may be a systems problem, and that the fraud and mismanagement issues that we’re seeing in charters are not just because they’re bad apples, but because there is a lack of oversight,” Green said. He acknowledges that charters are still popular with many families and many Black families in particular. The pro-charter movement has “made the argument that choice is liberty,” explains Green. “But what you’re seeing very slowly are counter-narratives developing, and that while choice may be liberty, unfettered choice can cause all kinds of problems.”
Plus, he says, despite the enthusiasm for charters, Black communities have long emphasized the importance of oversight to ensure that charters are doing right by their students. “This debate has always been present,” Green said. “It’s just that there’s more evidence that indicates that it’s a problem, such that Black Lives Matter and the NAACP can come together and try to address this.” The fact that some charter schools are beloved by students and families, and that some are even structured around themes that meet particular needs of the communities they serve, doesn’t take away from the fundamental need to regulate the allocation of public resources out of public institutions (public schools) and into the private sector.
Interestingly, the pro-charter movement is largely built on the idea of oversight, or “accountability,” for public schools. The primary mechanism of accountability for education reformers is the type of high-stakes testing ushered in with No Child Left Behind and maintained under Race to the Top. Those programs’ “accountability” mechanisms were largely based around firing teachers and shutting down schools based on student test scores. But at the same time the Department of Education pushed for “accountability” for public schools by way of replacing them with charters, there are few systems in place to account for how charters spend the federal money they receive to educate their students, leading to the kind of rampant corruption outlined by Oliver.
The entire mission of the modern charter movement, allegedly, is to end educational inequality. It premises itself fundamentally on the notion that public schools are failing and that a marketplace of choices will give students and families better options. A better education, as goes the American way of thinking, is the way out of poverty. But that rhetoric just doesn’t hold up against the onslaught of stories of fraud, theft, civil rights violations, student push-out and a call to action by the nation’s most important movement for racial justice in a generation — a movement led by Black youth with an immediate stake in the fight for equality.
Plus, the defense of charters sometimes loses all sight of their stated purpose. In a truly baffling piece at USA Today earlier this month, Peter Cunningham, executive director of the pro-reform (and pro-charter) organization Education Post, argued that perhaps it’s not worth it to fight segregation, but to instead just focus on making schools better. Cunningham seems to have forgotten that separate schools that are equally high-quality, is an idea this nation decided was brutally racist and inherently unequal. “I support every effort to address poverty and segregation, but not at the expense of needed reforms,” writes Cunningham. Here, he shows his hand: “reform,” a movement theoretically created to address educational inequality caused by poverty, is more important than addressing poverty itself. Reform is more important than integration is an order handed down from the Supreme Court in 1954 that this country has, shamefully, yet to fully follow. Cunningham’s words are the logical conclusion of the goal of reform superseding the goal of equality — if you take reformers at their word that equality was ever really the goal.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, those fighting to expand charters are relying heavily on the language of equality. “I find it disappointing that the Democratic Party, which I feel is full of a lot of people who believe in equal opportunity and giving everybody a chance, would choose to be against something that is so important — especially to working-class families in underperforming school districts,” said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker after the Democrats passed their resolution against lifting the cap. But critics of charters now have more leverage than ever to puncture that narrative.
It’s been almost 30 years since Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, introduced the idea of charter schools as a way to better serve the highest need students. He envisioned a unionized workforce, empowered teachers and diverse student bodies. The best examples of charters today may adhere to Shanker’s vision, but most don’t — only around 12 percent are unionized, a quarter of teachers leave their schools each year (twice the rate of public school teachers) and they’re more likely to be “intensely segregated” than public schools.
Because the problem of educational inequity remains so entrenched, some families still seek out charters as the best option for their children. But the structural solution to inequality will never be a separate-but-sometimes-equal system.
|Emily Deruy August 5, 2016
The AtlanticActivists are calling for an end to charter schools and juvenile detention centers.
|Black Lives Matter activists have already successfully pushed some colleges to address racism on campus and make curriculum more inclusive. But the movement as a whole has been less visible in the K-12 space. That’s changing.
As my colleague Vann Newkirk has noted, the Movement for Black Lives Matter coalition recently published a platform outlining a range of specific policies it would like to see take shape at the local, state, and federal levels. The education proposals are rooted in the K-12 space, activists who helped draft them told me, because the U.S. public-school system is so broken that college is never an option for many young people of color. And while many universities are privately controlled, the group sees an opportunity to return control of K-12 public schools to the students, parents, and communities they serve.
Public schools, even in the nation’s most affluent cities, remain highly segregated, with black children disproportionately likely to attend schools with fewer resources and concentrated poverty. There are more school security officers than counselors in four of the 10 biggest school districts in the country. And whereas spending on corrections increased by 324 percent between 1979 and 2013, that on education rose just 107 percent during the same time.
The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic. They range from calling for a constitutional amendment for “fully funded” education (activists say federal funding is inadequate and not distributed equally) and a moratorium on charter schools to the removal of police from schools and the closure of all juvenile detention centers.
Mostly, said Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Washington-based Alliance for Educational Justice and one of the lead authors, the propositions are an attempt to crystallize what the movement supports and to provide activists with a platform from which to move forward. “It’s always been clear what we’re against, but [articulating] what we’re for, what we want to see, was a real labor,” Stith, 41, said. The document is also an effort to connect education priorities to health care, the economy, criminal justice, and a range of other public-policy areas, and to, as Stith put it, force progress “in concert.”.
The plan, which lambasts the “privatization” of education by foundations that wield fat wallets to shape policy and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources, drew immediate criticism from education reformers who see charters and groups like Teach for America (the plan calls for its demise) as providing badly needed services to students of color. Some of these reformers said it signaled that the movement was cozy with teachers’ unions and the status quo. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the head of the National Education Association, one of the country’s two main teachers’ unions, wrote in an emailed comment, “The NEA is honored to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and proud to be a partner with the organizations that support community-based solutions to support students and public schools.”
But Hiram Rivera, the 39-year-old executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union and another author of the platform, pointed out that the plan offers plenty for the unions to dislike, too, such as community control of curriculum, and the flexibility to hire and fire teachers. “The education system in this country has never worked for poor people and people of color,” said Rivera. “We’re not calling for the status quo. We don’t want things to continue as they’ve always done.”
Stith (who has a child enrolled in a charter school and said the desire to eliminate them “comes from a lived experience”) and Rivera think that reformer-union dichotomy ignores the movement’s broader goal of returning control of schools to parents, students, and local communities. “A lot of the real issues get lost,” Rivera said, citing curriculum, school safety, resources, and college-and-career preparation as examples.
The Philadelphia Student Union, as its name suggests, works directly with young people to improve schools in the city, which has been reeling from a lack of funding that saw nurses and counselors cut from school rosters. (The plan calls for free health services.) Rivera was able to incorporate young people’s voices into the education platform. Students, he said, told him they do not feel safer with police officers in schools, and school closures, often in impoverished communities, leave them feeling set up to fail by the system.
“The education system in this country has never worked for poor people and people of color.”
While the education platform covers a broad array of issues, both Rivera and Stith hope activists at all levels will see it as a starting point; they’re also optimistic that it will give community members who may not have seen a clear way to take action the framework they need to get started. “Visions change as time and conditions change,” Stith said. He noted, for instance, that parents in Illinois have pushed for elected instead of appointed school boards, something the platform advocates, and wants groups to be able to point to the platform as a source of ideas and support.
It should give “community members, people directly impacted, folks working inside of schools, a set of policy suggestions they can think on and move forward,” Rivera said. Broadly, Stith hopes it will “prompt a dialogue among African Americans about the quality of education in this country. That dialogue is one that’s long overdue and a particularly important one at the moment.”
With the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new federal education law, activists see an opportunity to push for equity in schools. But Stith and others are also nervous the act, which returns some control of education policy to states, will exacerbate inequities in states where lawmakers do not see ending them as a priority.
Mobilizing community members can be difficult, particularly when it comes to communities whose educational needs and priorities have long been ignored. Parents may assume they will be ignored, or they may not have a vision of themselves as community activists or leaders because they have never seen anyone like them in that role. But Stith says the plan has been well-received and that it’s “starting to do some of what our intention was, which is to stir a conversation around black education in this country.”
“These are not the be all, end all,” Rivera added. “These are conversation starters, something for people who needed someplace to start.”
Meanwhile, charter advocates continue to criticize the safety of traditional public schools.
By George Joseph The Nation (March 8)
A few weeks after The New York Times released a controversial video of a Success Academy Charter School teacher lashing out at a student, New York City’s deep-pocketed charter school advocates are looking to shift the public narrative on who is committing violence in city schools.
Over the last few weeks, Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school lobbying and advocacy group with close ties to Success Academy, has placed TV ads, held a press conference, and taken to social media, claiming New York City public schools are in a violent “state of emergency.” The charter school campaign appears to be a response to the public backlash that Success Academy has received for its controversial disciplinary approach.
Taking state data, which includes “violent” incidents not involving the police, Families for Excellent Schools asserts that between 2014 and 2015 schools suffered a 23 percent uptick in violence. The public action was meant to undermine New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently claimed school violence has gone down, thanks to his administration’s softer disciplinary approach.
A Nation analysis of the charter school group’s data, however, suggests the move may backfire, since the numbers also show that charter schools themselves reported a far higher spike in incidents of school violence, 54 percent, more than double that of the public school average between the 2014 and 2015 school years.
Breaking the data down further, The Nation also found that while NYC public schools, perhaps responding to the district’s disciplinary reforms, actually dropped in nonviolent offenses like “criminal mischief” and “other disruptive incidents” at -6 percent and -23 percent, respectively, charter schools had a 65 percent surge in reported incidents of “criminal mischief” and a 33 percent surge in “other disruptive incidents.” Notably, charter schools also had far higher reported surges in drug and weapons possession incidents, at 53 percent and 27 percent respectively, whereas public schools only had 5 percent and 9 percent jumps for the same categories.
New York City charter school students represent a relatively small amount of the city’s overall population, and therefore make up only 4 percent of total violent incidents in New York City schools, but these drastic disparities raise questions about how charter schools’ controversial disciplinary cultures relate to the dramatic increase in reported school violence.
Brenda Shufelt, a recently retired librarian who served public school and Success Academy Charter School students at a colocated school library in Harlem, said that as charter schools rapidly expand, they may be taking in more high-needs kids, many of whom cannot conform to one-size-fits-all disciplinary approaches.
“In my experience, what would often happen is that charter school students would be so rigidly controlled that the kids would periodically blow up,” says Shufelt. “At PS 30, some of our kids would have meltdowns, usually because of problems at home, but I never saw kids melt down in the way they did in charter schools. They were just so despairing, feeling like they could not do this. I was told by two custodians, they had never had so much vomit to clean up from kindergarten and elementary classes.”
Examining the 10 charter schools with the highest reported incidents of violence in 2014 and 2015, The Nation also found that reported incidents escalated 485 percent last year over the previous year, more than four times faster than the growth of violent incidents for public schools of the same category.
Of the top six charter school sites with the most reported incidents of violence from 2014 to 2015, four were KIPP charter schools, part of a nationally heralded charter chain that has 11 locations in New York. In recent years, KIPP has drawn headlines for its disciplinary regimen, which often includes precise control of students’ physical movements, intricate behavioral systems of reward and punishment, and enforced silence throughout school hallways. In 2013, a KIPP school in Manhattan made news, after a kindergartner and first grader had anxiety attacks, triggered by the school’s practice of repeatedly locking students in custom-designed time-out closets. KIPP refused to end the practice after the controversy and did not respond to Nation inquiries about the spike in reported incidents.
Some experts, however, caution that charter school spike in “violent” incidents could be more a reflection of these schools’ “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies than students’ actual behavior. “The stricter the behavior regimens are, the more likely students are to be reported as violent when they don’t conform,” says Leonie Haimson of the advocacy group Class Size Matters.
“These policies could not just be responding to violent behavior but actually be coming to define and shape what counts as criminal, thus building into the school to prison pipeline,” says Celina Su, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. “There’s also a real racial component to this. Look at where these draconian policies are being implemented and who do they have in mind. Who is allowed to play and who is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them?”
Zakiyah Ansari, a parent advocate with the Alliance for Quality Education, which receives partial funding from labor, is skeptical of both Families for Excellent Schools’ numbers and its intentions.
“State Education Department officials have conceded that the data system does not accurately measure safety and school climate and are undergoing an overhaul of the system because there it has little credibility,” says Ansari. “FES is clearly aware that these numbers can’t be trusted, but they are using them to paint black and brown children that go to public schools as dangerous. The harsh policies at KIPP, Success Academy, and other charter chains are abusive towards students, and the FES campaign is a deceptive attack on restorative justice approaches which actually make schools safer.”
FES did not respond to a request for comment.
Mother of Girl Berated in Video Assails Success Academy’s Response
By KATE TAYLOR FEB. 25, 2016 NYTimes
Nadya Miranda, 23, is the mother of a student whose treatment by an angry teacher at Success Academy in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was surreptitiously videotaped. Ms. Miranda has withdrawn her daughter from the school. the video.
A safe haven for her daughter: a Success Academy charter school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where she hoped her daughter would get a good education and be put on a path to college.
Then she saw the video.
The video, which was recorded surreptitiously by an assistant teacher in the fall of 2014, captured a first-grade teacher at the school scolding Ms. Miranda’s daughter for being unable to explain to the class how she solved a math problem. The teacher ripped the girl’s paper in half, ordered her to leave the circle to sit in what she called “the calm-down chair,” and said that she was angry and disappointed.
When the video was published by The New York Times this month, Success Academy held a defiant news conference. The network’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, defended the teacher, Charlotte Dial, saying that she had apologized “in real time” to her students, and accused The Times of bias. A teacher suggested that the newspaper did not believe that black and Hispanic children could be academically successful. Two parents stood up to say that they did not need .
A Momentary Lapse or Abusive Teaching?
In 2014, an assistant teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill secretly filmed her colleague, Charlotte Dial, scolding one of her students after the young girl failed to answer a question correctly. The children’s faces have been blurred and their names obscured to protect their privacy.
Ms. Miranda, however, tells a different story.
In two lengthy interviews, she said that she did not know what was happening in her daughter’s classroom before she saw the video. She said that she was so upset by what she saw — and by the network’s rush to rally around Ms. Dial, while showing little concern for her daughter or other students — that she took the girl out of the school in late January.
Ms. Miranda said that while Ms. Dial had apologized to her, the teacher had never apologized to her daughter. She said that a public relations specialist for Success drafted an email for her, asking The Times not to publish the video, and that at a meeting Ms. Moskowitz held at the school on Jan. 20, Ms. Moskowitz asked the parents to support Ms. Dial and to defend the school to the paper. Ms. Miranda said that when she stood up, identified herself and objected that Ms. Moskowitz was asking parents to support the teacher without even showing them the video, Ms. Moskowitz cut her off.
“She’s like, ‘You had enough to say, you had enough to say,’ and she tried to talk over me,” Ms. Miranda said. “So I just really got frustrated, and I just walked out, and the parents that were concerned followed me, and the parents who were against me and for the teacher” stayed in the auditorium.
Ms. Miranda took her daughter home that morning and did not bring her back to the school. The next week, after confirming that there was a seat in the regular public school where her younger son is in prekindergarten, she withdrew her daughter and placed her in that school.
Success Academy declined to comment on the specifics of Ms. Miranda’s account, though in an emailed statement, Stefan Friedman, a spokesman, said the network was “sorry Ms. Miranda chose to withdraw her daughter.”
Ms. Dial did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Miranda, 23, said she sent her daughter to Success Academy because she wanted her to get a better education than she had and to aspire to college. Ms. Miranda was raised mostly by her mother, who spoke only Spanish and was disabled by diabetes and heart disease by the time Ms. Miranda was 13. She became pregnant in ninth grade and dropped out of school, later earning her high school equivalency diploma. She has worked as a home health aide and earns money now by babysitting for friends’ children. She and her children are currently living in a family shelter.
Her daughter attended Public School 10, the Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology in Brooklyn, for kindergarten, but Ms. Miranda was unimpressed with the work.
“I felt that she was doing more drawing than actually learning,” she said.
She entered the lottery for Success Academy, drawn by the network’s reputation for academic rigor, and won a seat. But when the school gave her daughter a placement test, administrators said she had to repeat kindergarten.
Her daughter was placed in Ms. Dial’s class for kindergarten and then stayed with the teacher for first grade. Ms. Miranda said her daughter had done well in math, but struggled with reading and writing and, over time, became discouraged.
“She used to tell me: ‘I’m never going to get it. I just don’t know. I’m not as smart as the other kids,’” Ms. Miranda said. “I would hear that from her, and I’d be like, ‘Where are you getting this from?’”
When she saw the video, Ms. Miranda said, she understood her daughter’s dejection.
“It makes me feel bad as a parent — like, what am I going to do to build her confidence all over again?” she said.
In an interview and at the news conference, Ms. Moskowitz dismissed the video as an anomaly, but Ms. Miranda’s daughter, now 8, said that Ms. Dial frequently yelled at students for infractions like not folding their hands. She said that she did not remember the specific incident captured on the video, but that she was afraid to ask questions in Ms. Dial’s class, because asking Ms. Dial to explain something a second time would lead to a punishment. She said Ms. Dial had on other occasions ripped up children’s papers when she thought they were copying others’ work.
She said she did not complain to her mother, because “I was scared of Ms. Dial.”
Ms. Miranda said she learned about the video when she arrived to pick her daughter up from school on Jan. 13 and was told to get her from the principal’s office. The principal, Kerri Nicholls, told Ms. Miranda that The Times was asking about a video of an incident between her daughter and Ms. Dial, but that she did not know what it showed. The next day, at a meeting with Ms. Nicholls, Ms. Dial and Ann Powell, the network’s executive vice president for public affairs, Ms. Miranda watched the video. She said that Ms. Dial cried and apologized to her, saying that she had had a bad day.
Upset after viewing the video, Ms. Miranda said she did not want it published, to protect her daughter’s privacy. Ms. Powell suggested she send an email to The Times. When Ms. Miranda said she did not know what to write, Ms. Powell drafted the email for her and told her to send it from her email address because it would be more powerful coming from her.
On Jan. 20, after the schoolwide meeting with the parents, Ms. Miranda sent another email to The Times saying that she was not happy with how the school was handling the incident and asking to be contacted. She did not speak with a reporter until last week.
Ms. Miranda said Ms. Moskowitz did not try to contact her until after the meeting on the 20th, and at that point, she felt it was too late. What most distressed her, Ms. Miranda said, was that the network and even many of the parents united behind Ms. Dial and did not seem to care about how her behavior affected children.
After the video became public, Ms. Moskowitz sent an email to parents at the network’s schools asking “for your compassion and understanding in judging this video and Ms. Dial.”
Despite having publicly described the incident captured on video as an isolated one, Ms. Moskowitz said in her email to parents that the network was “taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.” Ms. Moskowitz said those steps included retraining “teachers on our approach and the importance of setting high expectations and demanding that scholars give their best effort, but always in the context of deeply respecting children,” and “refining our introductory training to include more sessions on self-awareness, stress management, and the ability to manage up and ask for the help.” She said that from now on Success would provide training on those issues three times a year.
Seeking to hold someone accountable for what happened to her daughter, Ms. Miranda went into a Department of Education building in Brooklyn to ask about filing a complaint, but was told that Success was independent from the school district. She said that Ms. Nicholls, the principal, had given her information about how to reach Success’s board of trustees, and that she had sent a letter, but she was not optimistic that she would get a response.
Ms. Miranda said she felt betrayed by the school that she had hoped would give her daughter a better life.
“I trust you guys with my daughter, and now I feel like I can’t trust you,” she said.
Struggling schools face accountability
By Lisa Kaiser Feb. 23, 2016
Two of the City of Milwaukee’s 10 charter schools will relinquish their contracts at the end of the academic year, and two additional struggling schools have faced enhanced scrutiny, signs that the city is making its charter schools more accountable after years of taking a hands-off approach to the schools it charters.
In January, leaders of the North Point Lighthouse Charter School—a member of the national Lighthouse Academies network getting financial help from the Andre Agassi-led, for-profit Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—voted to relinquish its charter with the city and close its doors at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
The city’s Charter School Review Committee, comprised of appointees, placed North Point Lighthouse Charter School, 4200 W. Douglas Ave., on probation in October 2015. According to its Jan. 15 letter to the committee, the school’s board anticipated that the city committee would terminate its five-year contract so it decided to announce its closure in January. The early heads up allows students to participate in public and voucher school enrollment fairs in January and February.
Although the school had hired a new principal last fall and said it was focusing on improving student achievement, among the problems cited in Board Chair Adam Peck’s letter are declining enrollment, staffing turnover during probation and below-target daily attendance.
According to the city’s school score cards, North Point Lighthouse Charter School received 46.8% or F in the 2012-2013 academic year, 58.1% or F in 2013-2014 and 63.6% or D in 2014-2015.
Finances were problematic as well.
“The school’s financial position in is jeopardy due to lease agreements that require the dedication of financial resources that ideally are needed to hire and retain highly effective urban educators,” Peck’s letter states.
North Point Lighthouse launched with great fanfare in 2012, when retired tennis pro Agassi visited the city to promote his new school. The Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—a partnership between Agassi Ventures and Canyon Capital Realty Advisors—buys and develops properties, which it leases to charter school operators. The school operators can buy the school after they reach full occupancy. In 2013, Agassi returned to open Rocketship Southside Community Prep on the South Side, which also utilized the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund to open its doors.
Also struggling academically and relinquishing its city charter is King’s Academy on North 60th Street, which will “return to our roots and once again become a private school,” Board Chair John W. McVicker Sr. wrote to city leaders in a July 2015.
By “private school,” McVicker means returning to the school’s roots as a publicly funded, church-based voucher school. The school was chartered by the city in 2010, but it had been a religious voucher school affiliated with Christ the King Baptist Church for the previous 11 years.
“We believe that we can better serve our students by making sure they are immersed in a school that stresses the power of Jesus Christ in their lives with a Christ-centered curriculum,” McVicker’s letter reads:
King’s Academy received D+ grades for each academic year since 2012-2013, scoring either 68.8% or 67% on the city’s report cards.
Two Schools Face Scrutiny
Two additional schools have faced pressure from accountability measures as well.
Milwaukee Math and Science Academy had been placed on probation in January 2015. In October 2015, the Charter School Review Committee asked for a mid-year review by Feb. 5. The school wanted its probation lifted. But accountability advocates Women Committed to an Informed Community and Schools and Communities United argued that it’s too soon to make a decision on the school’s status, since the test scores for 2015-2016 haven’t been completed yet.
The city’s score card gave Milwaukee Math and Science Academy 64.4% or D in the 2012-2013 academic year, 66.4% or D in 2013-2014, and 72.6% or C- in 2014-2015. The standard for probation is 70%.
The Charter School Review Committee voted to lift the school’s probationary status.
Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, run by former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent turned voucher advocate Howard Fuller, is also struggling. The school received 71.3% or C- in the 2012-2013 school year, 68.2% or D+ in 2013-2014, and 78.2% or C+ in 2014-2015.
The Charter School Review Committee voted to review the school annually and to extend its contract for an additional five years.
All of the committee’s votes need to be approved by the Milwaukee Common Council.
Watch an abusive teacher at Success Academy in New York. This is part of the Eva Moskowitz network of “no-nonsense” charter schools. This particular teacher has been honored as a “model” teacher.