Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

March 31, 2014

Diane Ravitch on Charters in New York City

Filed under: Charter Schools,Ravitch — millerlf @ 10:45 am

New York Schools: The Roar of the Charters
Diane Ravitch March 27, 2014

In his speech at Riverside Church last Sunday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to end weeks of attacks on his schools policies by striking a conciliatory tone toward the city’s privately managed charter schools. He used the charter sector’s own rhetoric of “crisis” and “failure” to describe the school system that he inherited from Mayor Bloomberg. He spoke of parents eager to escape failing schools and condemned the “status quo” without noting that it was Bloomberg’s status quo. He opposed the idea that public schools and charter schools are competing and called for a new era “in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional schools.” According to The New York Times, he called some of the financial leaders on Wall Street, the billionaires who have paid millions of dollars for the ads attacking him, to plead for a truce.

De Blasio decided he could not win this war. The other side had too much money and proved it could drive down his poll numbers. He said that the charter schools could help public schools, but in reality, charter schools could learn a few things from the public schools, like how to teach children with disabilities and second-language English learners. Contrary to popular myth, the charter schools are more racially segregated than public schools and have performed no better than the public schools on the most recent state tests. But what they have behind them is vast resources, and de Blasio capitulated.

The underlying question remains: How did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York’s students manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor of New York City last year, he set out an ambitious plan for reforming education. After twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg’s obsession with testing, the public was eager for a fresh approach, one that was focused more on helping students than on closing their schools. Bloomberg’s haughty indifference to public opinion did not endear him to parents. He displaced tens of thousands of students from their public schools, with never a show of remorse, as he opened hundreds of new small public schools and nearly two hundred privately managed charter schools. Bloomberg’s preference for small public schools came at a price; they were unable to offer the full array of advanced courses in math and science, electives, and the choice of foreign languages that larger schools offered. He appointed three chancellors who were not professional educators, one of whom—a publisher—lasted all of ninety days before he removed her. He showed preferential treatment to the hundreds of small public schools that his administration opened, granting them extra resources and allowing them to exclude the neediest students. And he boasted about the explosion of privately managed charter schools, which now enroll 6 percent of the city’s children, on whose boards sit titans of Wall Street, the hedge fund managers who belong to Bloomberg’s social set.

During the campaign, de Blasio wanted to change the subject from Bloomberg’s boutique ideas to a larger vision. He wanted to address the needs of the vast majority of New York City’s 1.1 million students. His big idea was to provide universal access to pre-kindergarten, a research-based program that would give a better start to the city’s neediest children, and after-school activities for adolescents in middle schools. During the campaign, the public widely supported de Blasio’s plans, while Bloomberg’s education policies usually registered about 25 percent approval.

When asked about charter schools, de Blasio made clear that he felt they had gotten far too much media attention, considering that they serve a small fraction of the population. He pledged that he would charge them rent for use of public space and would not allow any more co-locations—the practice of inserting a new school into a building with an existing school—without community hearings. Co-location happens when a charter school is offered shared space in a building with a public school; it also happens when large schools are divided into four, five, or six small schools operating under the same roof. Public school parents strongly oppose these arrangements. The host public school is often forced to give up its art room, its dance room, its computer room, every room used for any purpose other than classroom instruction, to make way for the unwelcome newcomer. The co-located schools must negotiate over access to the library, the auditorium, the playground. Co-locations cause overcrowding, as well as a competition for space and resources among students and multiple administrators within a single building.

De Blasio’s skeptical campaign comments about charter schools unleashed the wrath of New York City’s most outspoken charter school leader, Eva Moskowitz. Her Success Academy chain of twenty-two charter schools now enrolls 6,700 students. Because she doesn’t have to follow the public school regulations forbidding political activities on school time, she can turn her students and their parents out on short notice for political demonstrations and legislative hearings, dressed in matching t-shirts, carrying posters and banners. A few weeks before last fall’s mayoral election, she closed her schools and led a march of students and parents across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s criticism of charter schools. She was accompanied by de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. Voters were unconvinced, however, and de Blasio won in a landslide.

After coming to office, the newly elected mayor focused his energies on trying to persuade Governor Cuomo and the legislature to enact a new tax in New York City to pay for his goal of universal pre-kindergarten. De Blasio called for a modest tax increase for those who earn over $500,000 a year. It would cost each of them, he said, about $1,000 a year, or less than a cup of soy latte every day at Starbucks. The billionaires were not amused. Nor was Governor Cuomo, who wants to be perceived as a conservative, pro-business Democrat who does not raise taxes.

While de Blasio was pressing for universal pre-kindergarten (or UPK, as it is known), he was faced with a decision about how to handle the dozens of proposals for co-locations and new charter schools that had been hurriedly endorsed by Bloomberg’s Panel on Education Policy in the last months of his term. The panel had approved forty-five new schools, seventeen of which were charters. De Blasio decided to approve thirty-six, including fourteen of the seventeen charter school proposals. He did not hold community hearings, as he had promised, so he managed to enrage public school parents whose schools would now suffer the unwanted entry of a new school into their building and, in many cases, an overcrowded building.

The three charter proposals the mayor rejected were part of the Moskowitz charter chain. She had asked for eight new schools—more than any other single applicant—and de Blasio gave her five. Most school leaders would be thrilled to win five new schools. But Eva cried foul and publicly accused the mayor of “evicting” her students. This was despite the fact that two of the three rejected schools did not exist, so no students were affected. The third was Moskowitz’s request to expand her elementary school that was already co-located with P.S. 149 in Harlem; Moskowitz wanted to add a middle school. But adding a middle school meant kicking out students with disabilities in P.S. 149, which de Blasio refused to do.

Moskowitz was ready. Her friends on Wall Street and the far-right Walton Family Foundation paid out nearly $5 million for television ads attacking Mayor de Blasio as a heartless, ruthless, possibly racist politician who was at war with charter schools and their needy students. The ads showed the faces of adorable children, all of them being kicked out of “their” school by a vengeful Mayor who hates charter schools. The ads never acknowledged that the Mayor had approved fourteen out of seventeen charter proposals. Moskowitz, whose charter chain pays more than $500,000 a year for the services of for SDK Knickerbocker, a high-powered D.C. public relations firm, also made the rounds of television talk shows, where she got free air time to lash out at de Blasio for allegedly “evicting” her needy students from “the highest performing school in New York state.” Meanwhile, the Murdoch-owned media—not only The New York Post but also The Wall Street Journal and Fox News—kept up a steady barrage of hostile stories echoing Moskowitz’s claims against de Blasio.

None of the talking heads checked the facts. None knew or acknowledged that approving the middle school Moskowitz was denied would have meant the actual eviction of the most needy students of all—students at P.S. 149 with special needs. Or that her own existing school in that building has no students with high levels of disability, in contrast with Harlem’s neighborhood public schools, where such students account for 14 percent of the school population. Or that Moskowitz’s school has half as many students who are English learners as the neighborhood public schools. Or that her school is not the highest performing school in the state or the city. (In English language arts, Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 4 ranked eighty-first in the city, with 55 percent of its students passing the latest state test; in math, the school was thirteenth in the city, with 83 percent of students passing the state test.) Or that nearly half her students leave within a few years. Or that her schools spend $2,000 more per student than the neighboring schools. Or that Moskowitz is paid $485,000 a year to oversee fewer than seven thousand students.

All of these facts were known by the de Blasio administration. But the new mayor seemed helpless. Somehow this man who had run a brilliant campaign to change the city was left speechless by the charter lobby. His poll numbers took a steep dive. He never called a press conference to explain his criteria for approving or rejecting charter schools, each of which made sense: for example, he would not approve a charter if it displaced students with disabilities; if it placed elementary students in a building with high school students; if it required heavy construction; or if it had fewer than 250 students. Reasonable though his criteria were, they were not enough for the charter lobby. His speech at Riverside Church offered an olive branch, all but conceding that the charter lobby had beaten him. He followed up his conciliatory remarks by creating a committee to review the space needs of the city’s schools and appointed to it representatives of the charter sector, which remains hungry for more free space from the Mayor.
Meanwhile, Moskowitz began using political leverage as well. On the same day that de Blasio organized a rally in Albany on behalf of raising taxes on the rich to pay for UPK, she closed her schools and bused thousands of students and parents to Albany for a pro-charter school rally. Governor Andrew Cuomo stood by her side, pledging to “save” charter schools and to protect them from paying rent; his ardent devotion to the charter cause may have been abetted by the $800,000 in campaign contributions he received from charter advocates in the financial industry.

For its part, the Republican-dominated State Senate demonstrated loyalty to Eva Moskowitz by passing a budget resolution with language forbidding the mayor from displacing a co-located charter school and forbidding him from charging rent to a private corporation (a charter school) using public space. Not only had Moskwitz cleverly portrayed herself as a victim; she had managed to make her narrow cause more important than universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for teens. She demonstrated that she was more powerful than the mayor or his schools chancellor. She won the battle of the moment.

But Moskowitz unknowingly taught the public a different lesson, which may be important in the future. Her schools do not operate like public schools. They are owned and managed by a private corporation with a government contract. They make their own rules. They choose their own students, kick out those they don’t want, and answer to no one. No public school would be allowed to close its doors and take its students on a political march across the Brooklyn Bridge or bus them to Albany to lobby the statehouse; the principal would be fired instantly.

Consider the court battle initiated by Moskowitz that played out in the midst of the confrontation with the mayor: a judge in New York’s State Supreme Court ruled, as Moskowitz hoped, that the State Comptroller has no power to audit her schools, because they are “not a unit of the state.” Put another way, her schools are not public schools. And, as the public begins to understand what that means, that lesson may ultimately be the undoing of this stealth effort to transfer public funds to support a small number of privately managed schools, amply endowed by billionaires and foundations, that refuse to pay rent and are devoted to competing with, not helping, the general school population.

What will it mean for New York City to have two school systems, both supported with public money, with one free to choose and remove its students and the other required to accept all students? A recent study found that New York State has the most segregated schools in the nation, and that the charters are even more segregated than the public schools. In 2014, the year that we remember the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is passing strange to find that New York City—and school districts across the nation—are embarked on the re-creation of a dual school system.


February 9, 2014

Study concludes WI charter schools are doing better because of students they select

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:04 am

 WKOW-TV Madison


SPRING GREEN (WKOW) — The Forward Institute released a study on Thursday which hypothesizes that private charter schools in Milwaukee have higher report card scores than public schools because they are selecting students who have lower rates of truancy

Author Scott Wittkopf held a news conference on the study in Spring Green to emphasize the fact that the same trend would follow a statewide expansion of charter schools, something currently being considered in the state legislature.

“If you take that same model out-state, you have extensive interview processes with parents, with students.  You have access to academic records from the students.  It’s very easy in the process to select students,” said Wittkopf.

Sen. Dale Schultz says the study shows that charter schools are clearly “skimming” students that have the ability to perform better, leaving public schools with fewer high performing students.

“This wild desire to move these charter schools that aren’t locally chartered all across this state is not warranted,” said Sen. Schultz.

Wittkopf and Schultz say before that expansion is approved, more studies like these have to be conducted to know exactly what the ramifications of such a move would be.

The bill has yet to be voted on in the Assembly or Senate.

Republican Senator Calls for Ending Privatization of Milwaukee Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:01 am

Sen. Schultz says it’s a mistake to take this “flawed model statewide”

The Forward Institute held a press conference, Feb. 6, to release its latest study. The importance of the study — “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” — to every community in the state was underscored by the appearance of State Senator Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), who said it provides more facts that it is time to end experiments in privatizing our public schools until there is some evidence that it really works.
Scott Wittkopf
According to Institute chair Scott Wittkopf, scores on the Wisconsin School Report Card aren’t affected by whether or not the schools in Milwauke are traditional public schools, independent charter institutions, or MPS charters. Instead, Wittkopf said, the important factors are dealing with student poverty, erasing truancy, and making sure the best teachers are in the schools most in need.

“Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress,” said Wittkopf. “That fact is true whether the ‘community’ is considered rural, urban, a state, or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.”

According to Wittkopf, there are five public policy alternatives that could actually deal with the challenges facing our children:

  • Communities need to deal with truancy.
  • State government should put a time limit on the public school privatization effort. It  isn’t working and it needs to end.
  • Schools and state government need to use data appropriately, not as a means to punish schools and children.
  • Wisconsin needs to fix its school-funding system.
  • Wisconsin needs to address the real issues that face real communities, such as poverty.

This important study is available to you, your organization, and your friends and neighbors to learn more about public schools that are the heart and soul of your community. The media community should have received this press release. Please check with them to make sure they have that they are considering using it. While you are there, offer some comment of your own on behalf of your public schools.

January 28, 2014

Senate Bill 286 (on “accountability”) is a Direct Attack on Public Education and MPS and Gives a Pass to Voucher Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 6:53 pm

On Thursday, in Madison, there is an Executive Session of the Senate Education Committee to consider SB286.There will be no public testimony. SB286 will probably make it to the Senate floor the week of Feb. 10.

Some noteworthy features of the SB286:

1) While public schools would be forced to close or turned into an independent charters, voucher schools would not be forced to close but would not be able to enroll any additional voucher students. 

2)  Public schools have to take the state test. Voucher schools get a choice, they take the state test, but they also have the opportunity to take a different test and submit that information if they choose.

3)  There is a stipulation that the lowest performing 5% of public schools must be placed in the lowest performing category. It suggest that even if you are not in the “F” or “Fails to meet expectations” category, you can be thrown into the group that could be slated for closure or conversion to charter. Labeling 5% as “lowest performing” — even when they aren’t — is a backdoor way to create perpetual charter school expansion.

4)  Low performing schools will be closed or turned over to independent charter management organizations (CMO).

5)  The MPS Superintendent will have the power to contract directly with CMOs, circumventing the elected School Board.

6)  90% of the funding goes to the CMO. (Presently approximately 80% goes to the CMO.)

7)  Failing schools in MPS are only given 1 year before sanctions begin, rather than 3, and this stipulation is retroactive.

To read SB286 go to: Accountability Bill

Accountability Bill: Privatization Driven

Filed under: Charter Schools,Low Performing Schools — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Following is the Legislative Research Bureau analysis of the bill’s application to MPS:

Public schools

If DPI determines that a public school, other than a charter school, has received a grade of F for three consecutive school years, or has received a grade of F in three of five consecutive school years and a grade no higher than D in the other two school years, the school board must close the school or contract with a high−quality charter management organization (CMO) to operate the school as a charter school. (In the Milwaukee Public Schools [MPS], if the school board opts to contract with a CMO, the superintendent of schools, instead of the school board, enters into the contract on behalf of the school district.) A CMO is considered high-quality if, in each of the two preceding school years, the improvement in the average scores of pupils attending each charter school operated by the CMO on state assessments in reading and mathematics was greater than the improvement in the average scores of pupils attending public schools in the school district in which the charter school will be located.

A charter school established under these provisions may not be an instrumentality of the school district and the school board may not employ any personnel for the school. The school board must pay the charter school operator, for each full-time equivalent pupil attending the school, at least 90 percent of the average per pupil cost for the school district.

The requirement to close a public school or contract with a CMO to operate the school as a charter school does not apply if DPI determines, based on information provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Value-Added Research Center, that the school demonstrates high-value added growth.

Some noteworthy features of the SB286:

1) While public schools would be forced to close or turned into an independent charters, voucher schools would not be forced to close but would not be able to enroll any additional voucher students. 

2)  Public schools have to take the state test. Voucher schools get a choice, they take the state test, but they also have the opportunity to take a different test and submit that information if they choose.

3)  There is a stipulation that the lowest performing 5% of public schools must be placed in the lowest performing category. It suggest that even if you are not in the “F” or “Fails to meet expectations” category, you can be thrown into the group that could be slated for closure or conversion to charter. Labeling 5% as “lowest performing” — even when they aren’t — is a backdoor way to create perpetual charter school expansion.

4)  Low performing schools will be closed or turned over to independent charter management organizations (CMO).

5)  The MPS Superintendent will have the power to contract directly with CMOs, circumventing the elected School Board.

6)  90% of the funding goes to the CMO. (Presently approximately 80% goes to the CMO.)

7)  Failing schools in MPS are only given 1 year before sanctions begin, rather than 3, and this stipulation is retroactive.

To see the full bill go to:

Accountability Bill


January 26, 2014

MPS and Independent Charters

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:46 pm

Larry Miller 1/26/14

The historic goal of the right-wing in America, as expressed by Milton Friedman, is vouchers for all. But because the voucher movement has suffered so many defeats, the right-wing has now advanced the independent charter movement as its main strategy to privatize and destroy public education.

I have sat on the New Charter Review Committee of MPS for years. We have rejected most proposals while advancing some. The original intention of charters, to infuse innovation and creativity into education, has been lost. Charters have become the main tactic of the so-called education “reform” movement, along with their Tea Party allies in government, to destroy public education.

The goal of the independent charter movement is to create and establish a dual school system, which will be separate and unequal: charter schools for the most motivated and able students and public schools as a repository for those unable to get into the charter system (special-ed, ELL, behavior problem students, low performing students—the list goes on).

The right wing’s goal is to create a new and separate school system — clearly stated by the CEOs of Rocketship and Kipp — through the use of nonprofit CMOs, charter management organizations.

This is privatization. A private organization/company running an independent school without public sector workers and few regulations is pretty much as private as you can get.

Some say these entities are nonprofit, therefore it’s not privatization. Would anyone say that Froedert Hospital or Aurora or the Catholic Church are public institutions? Hardly! They are all nonprofit organizations.

By the way, these nonprofit CMOs are not unprofitable for their CEOs and upper level management. Eva Moskawitz of Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem earns $500,000/yr. Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s  Zone and the CEOs of KIPP and Rocketship earn similar salaries.

When these CMOs are successful, that is because they receive certain clear advantages. These advantages are:

1.      They receive huge private funding from elements that want to destroy public schools.

2.      They serve consistently lower numbers of special education students compared to public schools in their communities. and

3.      They hide their exclusionary policies of selection and de-selection of students, especially special education students, ELL students, and students with “behavioral problems.”(There is a term among CMOs—“counseling out.” Parents are told “we can’t serve your child’s needs at our school”.)

My approach toward these independent charters has been to support a few (and reject most) in order to keep the charlatans in the legislature in Madison out of our business. But it has now become clear that the legislature is moving ahead with the intention of turning 20-30 schools over to independent charter organizations in the next 2 years, making meaningless any attempts at concessions or compromises.

As I spoke this past week with lobbyists and school board members from around the State, people in the know and versed in the present legislative politics in Madison, it became clear that the Republican leadership is intent on forcing large numbers of independent charters on MPS.

Even though I am very much opposed to independent charters, I was of the belief that if the MPS school board kept open the option to charter, we could possibly convince the legislature to support our overall “Plan for Supporting Low-Performing Schools.” By Thursday’s SASI meeting the writing was on the wall: nothing the Board does will influence the Republican leadership’s actions toward us.

This was confirmed by Alan Borsuk in his Sunday article where he said, “Sarah Archibald, an aide to state Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that a proposal is expected to be released early this week that would make it likely the low-performing schools would be turned over to charter organizations in the next several years, whether or not the Milwaukee School Board agreed. The proposal would call for MPS schools that place in the lowest category of the state’s school report card for three years in a row to become independent charter schools.

Archibald said this could involve 20 to 30 schools by 2016-’17, if the plan is approved this spring. There also may be proposals for new measures for dealing with low performing charter schools and voucher schools.”

At the same time as we fight privatization, the parents, teachers, all MPS staff, the Board and community supporters of public education must also work tirelessly to improve our schools so that every child receives an excellent education.  

Commit to every child.

January 20, 2014 National Charter Management Organizations Exposed

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 3:43 pm

The truth about charter schools: Padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results

Charter schools are sold as an answer. With awful discipline and shocking scandals, many really cause new problems

Jeff Bryant Friday, Jan 10, 2014

Imagine your 5-year-old boy went to a school where he was occasionally thrown in a padded cell and detained alone for stretches as long as 20 minutes.

Or you sent your kid to an elementary school where the children are made to sit on a bare floor in the classroom for days before they can “earn” their desks.

Or your kid went to a school where she spent hours parked in a cubicle in front of a computer with a poorly trained teacher who has to monitor more than 100 other students.

Maybe you don’t have children or send them to private school? So how do you feel when you find out the local school that you pay for with your taxes is operating a scam that diverted millions of dollars through fake Medicaid billing?

Or the school used your tax dollars as “grants” to start up other profit-making enterprises … or pay lavish salaries – $300,000, $400,000 or more – to its administrators … or support a movement linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric being investigated for bribery and corruption.

Welcome to the world of charter schools.

Are there wonderful charter schools doing great things for kids? Probably. Are all these cumulative anecdotes an unfair representation of the value that charter schools can bring to some communities? Maybe.

But neither of those questions matters because of what the charter school movement has come to represent in the landscape of American education.

Charter schools have been relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for “failed” public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students.

Politicians in both parties speak glowingly of these schools – which, by the way, their children seem never to attend.

Opening charter schools has become the latest fad for celebrities including athletes and rap stars.

Huge nationwide chains – called education management organizations (EMOs) – now run many of these charters. A recent study by the National Education Policy Center found, “Students across 35 states and the District of Columbia now attend schools managed by these non-government entities.” These for-profit and nonprofit EMOs – such as K12 Inc., National Heritage Academies, Charter Schools USA and KIPP – now account for nearly half of the students educated by charter schools.

Substantial, well-funded nationwide organizations have rapidly developed to lobby for these schools. One such organization, the Alliance for School Choice, recently received a $6 million gift from the Walton Foundation, of Wal-Mart fame.

Slick marketing campaigns have been rolled out in communities across the country to tout the coming of new charters.

The actual academic results of these schools seems to hardly anyone, despite report after report showing that these schools tend to do poorly on state and national tests and fail at providing equitable education to underserved students.

Yet lobbying for more of these schools continues unabated with more money funneled into the campaigns of politicians who support charters and more efforts to press state lawmakers to lift any provisions currently in place to regulate how these schools operate and are held accountable to the public.

As a result, charter schools now serve one in 20 students nationwide, despite “mixed results” at best.

Yet how much is really known about how most charter schools operate on a day-to-day basis? Most of the people who witness what these schools actually do are students, who have little voice outside the classroom; teachers, who need to hold onto their jobs; and charter administrators, who can’t always be depended on to blow the whistle on shenanigans.

But as these institutions proliferate, so are troubling reports of what the charter movement has unleashed.

Turning Our Backs on Abuse

Keeping a running tally of charter school scandals could amount to so much cherry-picking if it weren’t for the fact the tree is so loaded there’s practically nothing but fruit.

Two of the anecdotes cited above surfaced recently in schools operated by a nationwide chain called KIPP, which has been acclaimed for doing “wonderful things” to poor kids that most middle-class parents would not want to see done to their kids.

The incident where a 5-year-old student was confined in school to a padded cell prompted Chicago (where the incident occurred) blogger Mike Klonsky to write, “Brutal forms of discipline have become routine for KIPP.

“No divergence is permitted and deviants are quickly labeled, punished or expelled. KIPP has the highest student attrition rate in the nation. I recall one KIPP school where African-American children were made to sit on a bench with a sign around their neck that said, ‘CRETIN.’”

Klonsky noted the nationwide chain’s practice of using a behavioral technique, called “Slant,” that “instructs students to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes.” It’s “military style behavior,” renowned educator Debra Meier remarked on her blog at Education Week.

Meier explained how these schools rely on “public shaming” as a form of behavior control, which often includes “children being ‘exiled’ to a special table at lunch, required to wear their KIPP shirts backwards, and other forms of public embarrassment.”

James Horn, who came across the incident where students had to “earn” their desks by siting on the floor, wrote, “KIPP requires the poorest urban children, those who have received the least in life, to earn everything at KIPP.”

Horn interviewed a former teacher from that KIPP school who recounted, “[The children] would sit there and do homework on the floor. They would fill in forms and pass them. And they had to all do it correctly, otherwise, they’d do it again and again and again … It was 100 [students]. It was all the fifth-graders in a classroom.”

Horn noted, “This is not the first time such educational atrocities at KIPP have been documented,” and he linked to a “series of incidents” in Fresno, Calif., where the school principal was accused of  ”slamming students against the wall, placing trash cans over their heads, forcing kids to crawl on their hands and knees while barking, and enforcing unreasonably strict bathroom rules, resulting in students having accidents and vomiting on themselves inside the classroom.”

“How long will we turn our backs on this kind of abuse?” Horn asked.

Rocketship to Nowhere

The questionable practices of many charter schools go beyond classroom management.

The charter cited above where students spent hours stuck in cubicles, in front of computers, is part of a nationwide charter chain called Rocketship.

According to ed-tech media outlet EdSurge, “Rocketship Education is a charter school network in hot demand, courted by urban school districts across the nation. Both Kaya Henderson, Superintendent of D.C. Public Schools and New York City’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg have publicly said they’d welcome Rocketship schools in their districts.” (emphasis added)

Tech market enthusiasts at EdSurge claim, “Rocketship has broken down the traditional factory school model, rethinking things like the bell-schedule, the role of teachers, the way kids are grouped, and even the physical space itself.”

What does all this “innovation” look like in practice?

As Samantha Winslow explained in the article cited above, Rocketship’s allure comes mostly from cost savings because so much of the “instruction” is delivered via computers. “The company says it saves half a million dollars a year by using fewer teachers, replacing them with non-certified instructors at $15 per hour … Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America.”

The chain “targets low-income students” with the claim it can raise their test scores by drilling them with computer-based instruction. “Instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day.

“Skeptics say the Rocketship test scores just demonstrate the schools are focusing on test preparation at the expense of arts, languages, and real learning,” Winslow noted.

The Last Thing These Children Need

In these types of high-tech-driven charters, where efficiency and driving down the costs of teachers are priorities, “there is never much time to actually teach,” explained one teacher who had been employed at a virtual charter school run by the company K12.

Writing recently at the the blog site of Education Week edu-blogger Anthony Cody, the teacher, Darcy Bedortha, recounted, “Each class met for 30 minutes in an interactive-blackboard setting one day each week. Fewer than 10 percent of students actually attended these ‘classes.’ Other than that time and any one-on-one sessions a teacher and student might set up (which, in my experience, almost never happened), there is no room for direct instruction.

“I was an English teacher,” Bedortha explained, “so my students would write. They wrote of pain and fear and of not fitting in. They were the kinds of young people who desperately needed to have the protective circle of a community watching over them. They needed one healthy person to smile at them and recognize them by name every day, to say ‘I’m glad you’re here!’ … The last thing these young people needed … was to be isolated in front of a computer screen.”

The educational malpractices committed by charter schools aren’t confined to the tech-driven ones.

A tutor who had worked at a “no excuse” charter school in Boston recently wrote a letter to her former students on the edu-blog site Edushyster. She confessed, “What I saw at your ‘No Excuses’ charter startled me and still troubles me deeply. I was trained on how to discipline you, but not on the best way to help you understand material. I was lectured on how to turn your learning into data points, but was never told who you are and where you came from. Your school forced me to do things that I don’t believe are in your best interest.”

A recent report coming out of Ohio told of a charter management operation in Columbus where teachers failed to show for work because they hadn’t been paid. There were bedbugs in the school, the food vendor stopped providing lunches, and an assistant principal was making less than minimum wage. The charter operator had two other charters it operated closed down by the state Department of Education in the previous month because “inadequate staffing led to fights among students and to lunch not being served on a set schedule.”

A “Perfect Storm” of Corruption

In addition to questionable classroom practices, charter schools are dogged by corruption.

The scandal cited above in which a charter chain defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars in a Medicaid scheme presents a “perfect storm,” according to one analysis, “of everything that might go wrong with private, for-profit ‘educators’ trying to make more than a buck from public education under the guise of charter school management.”

The D.C.-based firm Options Public Charter School managed to orchestrate a train wreck of corruption, including not only the Medicaid fraud scheme, but also payoffs of public officials and a local television news personality, diversion of funds meant for schools to personal accounts, business arrangements that siphoned funds to contractor partners, and bloated executive salaries.

The charter scandal involving the Turkish cleric is especially bizarre. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explained at her Answer Sheet blog, “The reclusive cleric is Fethullah Gulen, who has been linked to charter schools in some 25 states and to other schools in dozens of countries around the world.”

But Gluen is no mere charter operator. In fact, as Al Jazeera reported, he is the head of a powerful movement in Turkey involved in “the most extensive and sensational corruption investigations” of that country’s recent history.

“The public charter schools in what is unofficially known as the Gulen network,” Strauss explained, “are believed to be operated by people – usually Turks – in or associated with the Gulen movement.”

Many of the schools have strong academic records, but have been the subject of frequent investigations of “whether some employees at some of these schools are ‘kicking back part of their salaries’ to the Gulen Movement.”

Strauss noted, “The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.”

No Scrutiny Please

One doesn’t have to dig deeply to find examples of charter school malfeasance. Indeed, all the above examples appeared in news stories and blog sites since the current school year began.

In the meantime, charter promoters do all they can to avoid any external audits or legal consequences related to what they do.

As education historian Diane Ravitch recently reported from her blog, when charter school operators in California were convicted of misappropriating over $200,000 in public monies, the California Charter Schools Association entered an amicus brief stating the defendants were “not guilty of any criminal offense because charter schools are not subject to the laws governing public schools. CCSA says that charter schools are exempt from criminal laws governing public schools because they are operated by a private corporation.”

In the same blog post, Ravitch told of a case in Arizona where another charter successfully argued that it was a private corporation, not a public school. And in Chicago, when the teachers at a charter school wanted to form a union, “the charter founder argued before the National Labor Relations Board that the charter was operated by a private corporation and not subject to state labor laws.”

Wait … and you thought charter schools were public schools?

Movement Interrupted

If it weren’t for the great marketing job the charter movement has employed, this education “innovation” would be a P.R. disaster.

So far, only the most well-informed fans of charter schools, who aren’t wrapped up in the movement ideology it has become, have changed their minds about what’s befalling schoolchildren and communities across the country.

An impartial observer of charter schools, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, once hoped charters would be a possible source of “some creative, energetic leadership … that might be associated with a mission-driven start-up school, coupled with an ounce or two of deregulation.”

Recently, however, his perception has changed. “This whole movement has gotten way out of control – it has morphed dramatically – especially the punditry and resultant public policy surrounding charter schooling. Sadly, I’m reaching a point where I now believe that the end result is causing more harm than good.”

Recently, Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools wrote, “Nearly every teacher dreams of starting a school. I know I did.

“But I also know the charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years in ways that have undermined its original intentions … The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new ‘civil rights movement,’ addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country.”

His conclusion? “It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.”


Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

January 15, 2014

Privatization News: Appleton Newspaper Calls for Rejection of Independent Charters

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 1:12 pm

Appleton Post Crescent Editorial: Reject independent charter schools

January 14, 2014

The latest attempt to privatize public education in Wisconsin comes in the form of independent charter schools — charter schools that operate outside the authority of public school districts.

Our state already has 243 charter schools — for example, the Appleton Area School District has 15 of them — but, except for two designated areas, they’re all operated by public school districts. The exceptions are in Milwaukee, where they can be run by the city of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and in Racine, where they can be run by UW-Parkside. Those two cities also have voucher school programs, in which tax dollars are used to send students to private schools.

But a bill in the state Legislature that had a lengthy public hearing last week would allow charter schools all across the state to be operated by UW System schools, technical college district boards and Cooperative Educational Service Agencies, or CESAs, which are regional education cooperatives.

It would also eliminate district-run charter schools, although districts could convert their charter school into “magnet” schools and keep any federal funding they get.

On the surface, there are two major problems with public money going to independent charter schools.

Though these new schools would have oversight by public entities, there’s not the same level of oversight and accountability that there is with publicly elected school boards.

And to fund the independent charter schools the state already has, 1.5 percent of each public school district’s state aid is taken away. Adding independent charter schools will take even more public money away from public school districts — money that’s spent without the same standards of accountability as public schools have.

But, at this point, you might be wondering how these independent charter schools, run by public entities, is a step in privatizing public education.

It’s because this bill is just the first step in legitimizing independent charters. The next step, and the real goal of the money behind this movement, is to allow charter schools run by for-profit companies.

Instead of decreasing the level of accountability for public money spent on education by considering this bill, the Legislature should be working on a bill that establishes stronger levels of accountability for the state’s newly expanded voucher school program.

Little by little, public education is being chipped away by big-money private interests and the legislators they support. This bill needs to be rejected by legislators who truly support public money for public education.

November 13, 2013

Voucher Activist Says Voucher and Charter Expansion “is of little educational merit.”

Filed under: Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:46 am

Mike Ford, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at UW-Oshkosh, recently gave a slide show on the history and progress of Milwaukee vouchers and charters. Professor Ford has been active in the school choice movement and written for the conservative think-tank, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Following is a link to his slide show presentation. He ended his presentation with the following slide:

“The Milwaukee experience demonstrates the statewide
voucher expansion, and any future independent charter
expansion, is of little educational merit.”

To see the full slide show go to:

Mike Ford Voucher Present

November 2, 2013

Rethinking Schools: Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 3:28 pm

By Stan Karp Volume 28 No.1 – Fall 2013

Somewhere along the way, nearly every teacher dreams of starting a school. I know I did.

More than once during the 30 years I taught English and journalism to high school students in Paterson, New Jersey, I imagined that creating my own school would open the door to everything I wanted as a teacher:

Colleagues with a shared vision of teaching and learning.

Freedom from central office bureaucracy.

A welcoming school culture that reflected the lives of our students and families.

Professional autonomy that nourished innovation and individual and collective growth.

School-based decision-making that pushed choices about resources, priorities, time, and staffing closer to the classrooms where it matters the most.

But reality can be hard on daydreams, and I got a glimpse of how complicated these issues are when my large comprehensive high school embraced the reform trend of the day and moved to create small theme academies inside the larger school. As the lead teacher of a new communications academy, I soon faced a host of thorny questions: Who would our new academy serve? What would the selection process be? How would the academy share space and resources with the rest of the school? How would our academy team be formed, and what impact would overlapping circles of authority have on teachers’ contractual and evaluation processes? What would be the effect of the new academies on the larger school around us, which still opened its doors to everyone?

I think of this experience often as I follow the polarized debate over charter schools. I know there are many committed charter school teachers who share the dream of teaching in a progressive, student-centered school. And I know that, for some teachers, charter school jobs are the only ones available.

But I also know the charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years in ways that have undermined its original intentions. Although small schools and theme academies have faded as a focus of reform initiatives, charters have expanded rapidly. According to Education Week, there are now more than 6,000 publicly funded charter schools in the United States enrolling about 4 percent of all students. Since 2008, the number of charter schools has grown by almost 50 percent, while over that same period nearly 4,000 traditional public schools have closed.1 This represents a huge transfer of resources and students from our public education system to the publicly funded but privately managed charter sector. Such trends raise serious concerns about the future of public education and its promise of quality education for all.

The Origin of Charter Schools

Charter schools have an interesting history with origins that are often overlooked. The idea of charter schools arose, often with teachers’ union support, in urban districts in the late 1980s and early ’90s. They were originally conceived as teacher-run schools that would serve students struggling inside the traditional system and would operate outside the reach of the administrative bureaucracy and politicized big city school boards. Charters also drew on early rounds of small school experiments initiated by teachers and community activists, often as alternatives to large, struggling, comprehensive high schools.2

But, within a few years, some early supporters grew concerned that the charters and small specialty schools were creating tiers of schools serving decidedly different populations with unequal access. Teachers’ union leaders also feared that charters were undercutting the power of their unions to bargain collectively over district-wide concerns and policies.

Still, charters continued to grow slowly and, beginning with Minnesota in 1991, states began to pass laws to promote the formation of charters, partly as a model of reform and partly to build a parallel system outside the reach of both teachers’ unions and, in some cases, the federal and state requirements to serve and accept all students as the public system must do. Gradually this charter movement attracted the attention of political and financial interests who saw the public school system as a “government monopoly” ripe for market reform.

In the past decade, the character of the charter school movement has changed dramatically. It’s been transformed from community-based, educator-initiated local efforts designed to provide alternative approaches for a small number of students into nationally funded efforts by foundations, investors, and educational management companies to create a parallel, more privatized school system.

Charter laws are different in each state, but in general charter schools are publicly funded but privately run schools. Few justify the hype they have received in films like Waiting for “Superman,” and those that do are mostly highly selective, privately subsidized schools that have very limited relevance for the public system. It’s like looking for models of public housing by studying luxury condo developments.

How Do Charter Schools Measure Up?

A 2009 national study of charter school performance by CREDO, a research unit at Stanford University that supports charter “reform,” found that only about one in five charter schools had better test scores than comparable public schools and more than twice as many had lower ones.3 Earlier this year, CREDO released an updated study that looked at charters in 27 states, and little had changed. As the National Education Policy Center explained, “The bottom line appears to be that, once again, it has been found that, in aggregate, charter schools are basically indistinguishable from traditional public schools in terms of their impact on academic test performance.” 4

Similarly, a report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education looked at “reform” efforts over the past decade in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. The report noted that “expanding access to charter schools” was “a common focus of reforms in the three cities,” but “assertions that charter schools improve educational outcomes are not supported by rigorous studies. . . . Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.” 5

There are many factors that make charters an unsustainable strategy for improving public education. Unlike most charter schools, traditional public schools accept all children, including much larger numbers of high-needs students. In most states, charters do not face the same public accountability and transparency requirements as public schools, which has led to serious problems of mismanagement, corruption, and profiteering.

Invariably, beneath accounts of spectacular charter success lie demographics that reveal fewer special-needs children, fewer English language learners, and fewer children from the poorest families. This hasn’t stopped the cheerleading coming from some quarters, but it does undermine the credibility of charter schools as a strategy for improving public schools overall.

Consider for example, the most recent report on New Jersey charters that CREDO produced in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Education. The press release announcing this long-delayed study claimed it showed that “New Jersey charter public schools significantly outperform their district school peers.” 6 Education Commissioner Chris Cerf (the former head of Edison Inc., once the largest private education management firm in the nation) echoed these claims: “The results are clear—on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers.” 7

But a closer look at the report raises familiar issues (even putting aside the dubious premise that equates school success with test scores). The report showed that 70 percent of the New Jersey charters studied had the same or lower math scores as the traditional public schools they were compared to; 60 percent scored the same or lower on language arts.

The charters with the best results were clustered in Newark, which includes more selective “no excuses” charters. These schools serve lower numbers of the highest-needs students and have relatively high rates of attrition compared to traditional district schools. Typically, the CREDO report failed to distinguish between levels of student need, lumping students who receive speech therapy with those facing more severe disabilities like autism as “special education” students. “Reduced lunch” students are similarly equated with “free lunch” students facing much deeper levels of poverty.8

More importantly, the report failed to identify a single school characteristic—aside from the demographics of the student populations­—that accounts for the “success” of the limited number of charters with higher scores. It also fails to account for the “peer effect” of mixing limited numbers of high-needs students with the more selective charter population, while the highest-need students are increasingly left behind in growing concentrations in district schools.

A Return to Segregated Schools?

This is where the flaws of charters as a reform strategy start to come into focus. A plan that relies heavily on serving more selective student populations is not only unfeasible system-wide, it has a decidedly negative effect on the district schools left in its wake. Rutgers professor Bruce Baker found that the selectivity of Newark charters is having a predictable effect on non-charter district enrollment. Newark charters now enroll about 20 percent of all students, but serve much lower levels of the highest-need students. As a result, the percentage of children who are English language learners, very poor, and/or severely handicapped in Newark Public Schools (NPS) is growing and, Baker noted, “We can expect that those left behind in district schools are becoming a higher and higher need group as charter enrollments expand.” 9

Another Newark study commissioned by the district focused on 14,000 students being educated in the 30 highest-need elementary schools in the city, both charter and district. Ninety-three percent of these students were in district-run schools and only 7 percent were in charter schools. This is segregation, not reform.10

The rapid expansion of charters in large urban districts like Newark is undermining their ability to equitably serve all children. This year fund transfers from NPS to charter schools will top $180 million. Even State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, a strong supporter of charters, admitted to the State Board of Education last year that this was an unsustainable budget trend for the district.11

In too many places, charters function more like deregulated “enterprise zones” than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many. They drain resources, staff, and energy for innovation away from other district schools, often while creaming better prepared students and more committed parents. This is especially a problem in big city public systems that urgently need renewal and resources but are increasingly being left behind with the biggest challenges.

None of this is meant to deny the reform impulse that is a real part of the charter movement, and no one questions the desire of parents to find the best options they can for their children. But the original idea behind charter schools was to create “laboratories for innovation” that would nurture reform strategies to improve the public system as a whole. That hasn’t happened. Although there are some excellent individual charter schools, nowhere have charters produced a template for effective district-wide reform or equity.

This doesn’t mean charter school teachers and parents are our enemies. On the contrary, we should be allies in fighting some of the counterproductive assessment, curriculum, and instructional practices raining down on all of us from above. Where practices like greater autonomy over curriculum or freedom from bureaucratic regulations are valid, they should be extended to all schools, without sacrificing the oversight we need to preserve equity and accountability.

Focus on Poverty and Proven Reforms

The current push for deregulated charters and privatization is doing nothing to reduce the concentrations of 70, 80, and 90 percent poverty that remain the central problem in under-resourced public schools.

It’s instructive to contrast charter-driven reform with more equitable approaches. In North Carolina, for several decades, reform efforts were based on integrating struggling schools in Raleigh with the schools in surrounding Wake County. Efforts were made to improve theme-based and magnet programs at all schools, and the concentration of free/reduced lunch students at any one school was limited to 40 percent or less. The plan led to some of the nation’s best progress on closing gaps in achievement and opportunity—until recent rounds of market-driven school reform began to undermine these efforts as well.12

Today, charters have become part of a campaign to create a less stable, less secure, and less expensive teaching staff. Nationally, charter school teachers are, on average, less experienced, less unionized, and less likely to hold state certification than teachers in traditional public schools.13 In a word, cheaper.

As many as one in four charter school teachers leave every year, about double the turnover rate in traditional public schools. The odds of a teacher leaving the profession altogether are 130 percent higher at charters than traditional public schools, and much of this teacher attrition is related to dissatisfaction with working conditions.14

Charter schools typically pay less for longer hours. But charter school administrators often earn more than their school district counterparts. Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Eva Moskowitz of the Success Academy Schools, two widely heralded charter school leaders, are each paid close to half a million dollars a year.15 In New Jersey, charter school administrators are exempt from the salary caps imposed on district superintendents.16

Charters raise similar issues in middle-class districts. Last year, an application to open a Quest Academy charter school in my hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, was a finalist after being previously rejected four times. If approved, the charter would have drawn more than $2 million from the district budget. Quest promised to serve a small group of students with “small classes,” “individualized instruction,” and “cutting-edge technology.” But it would have left students at Montclair High School with larger classes, less individualized instruction, and less cutting-edge technology. It would have eroded programs and staff at a high school that sends more than 90 percent of its students to postsecondary education, including more than 90 percent of its African American students.17

Parents Weigh In

This is why grassroots parents groups like Save Our Schools NJ have been pushing back against unwanted charter expansion that undermines the quality and budgets of district schools. Because current New Jersey charter policies do not give a voice to local districts and voters in deciding where to open charters and how to integrate them equitably into the public system, they promote polarization among parents and pockets of privilege instead of district-wide improvement.

I’ve attended too many meetings where groups of charter and public school parents are pitted against each other in contentious, at times ugly debates over resources, facilities, and priorities.

This polarization has its roots, not just in clashing short-term interests and an inadequate pool of resources, but also in conflicting conceptions of the role parents should play in public education. For the charter movement, parents are seen as customers seeking services with no major role in school governance or advocacy for all children. But in a system of universal public education, parents are citizens seeking rights. They are collectively the owner-managers of a fundamental public institution in a democratic society.

To be sure, many of the issues that public school advocates criticize in charters—tracking, creaming, unequal resources—exist within the public system, too. But public schools have federal, state, and district obligations that can be brought to bear. School boards, public budgets, public policies, and public officials can be subjected to pressure and held accountable in ways that privatized charters don’t allow. In post-Katrina New Orleans, where this year virtually all students attend unequal tiers of charter schools, there are now students and families who cannot find any schools to take them.18

The March Continues

It has become impossible to separate the rapid expansion of charter networks from efforts to privatize public education. Those who believe that business models and market reforms hold the key to solving educational problems have made great strides in attaching their agenda to the urgent need of communities who have too often been poorly served by the current system. But left to its own bottom line logic, the market will do for education what it has done for housing, health care, and employment: create fabulous profits and opportunities for a few, and unequal access and outcomes for the many.

Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems. The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new “civil rights movement,” addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.  


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