Charter School Nonsense: No, Hedge Fund Billionaires Aren’t Going to Save All the Children @alternet
A well-funded, professionally orchestrated demonstration of support for privatization.
Diane Ravitch shows Eva Moskovitz’s “grassroots” rally for what it is: a disingenuous effort to increase her profits at the expense of disadvantaged children. As Ravitch notes: “If public schools closed for a political rally, their principals would be fired.”
As readers of this blog probably realize, I am a great fan of Naked Capitalism blog edited by Yves Smith with help from fellow blogger Lambert Strether. Strether regularly coordinates afternoon posts under the heading “2:00 PM Water Cooler”offering links to articles that decry the corrosive effects of deregulated capitalism or links to articles that do the opposite with Strether offering pointed comments that undercut the premises of the writer. The “2:00 PM Water Cooler” is divided into segments whose headings often change as various news stories emerge… but one section called “Class Warfare” appear almost every day. Yesterday’s “Class Warfare” section is all about public education and Strether’s commentary– which concludes with the headline of this post— is excellent! The section appears in its entirety:
“If a proposal for a massive expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles moves forward, the casualties probably would include thousands of teachers who currently work in the city’s traditional public schools” [Los Angeles Times]. Spurred by squillionaire Eli Broad, it’s the “Great Public [snort] Schools” program. Ka-ching.
“Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration has dropped a stunningly anti-union, anti-faculty, anti-Connecticut State University proposal on the table as it begins its contract negotiations with the CSU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the union that represents faculty and a variety of education professionals at the four universities of CSU” [Jonathan Pelto].
This development comes on top of the news that Malloy’s political appointees on the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees have authorized a contract with an extremely controversial, high profile, anti-union, Governor Chris Christie affiliated New Jersey law firm to lead the negotiations against the UConn Chapter of the AAUP. That contract could cost taxpayers and students as much as $500,000 or more.
What’s “stunning” about a Democrat hating unions?
We’ve seen the fruits of high stakes testing reported in the corruption charges at the system level in Atlanta and in countless schools across the country. Now the public may be catching on to the inherent dangers of privatization of schools thanks to the misdeeds of Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Chicago Superintendent of Schools appointed by “reform-minded” Rahm Emmanuel. As reported in today’s NYTimes, Ms. Byrd-Bennett is pleading guilty to a 23-charge indictment involving bribery. The report notes that Ms. Byrd-Bennett will cooperate with the ongoing investigation. She’s beholden only to the mayor who appointed her with great fanfare but has now thrown her under the bus.
“I am saddened and disappointed to learn about the criminal activity that led to today’s indictment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett,” he said. “Our students, parents, teachers and principals deserve better.”
They DO deserve better. They deserve well funded neighborhood schools governed by an elected independent school board. They got what privatization brings.
As Jeff Bryant’s well researched article for Education Opportunity Network suggests that Arne Duncan’s last actions as Secretary of Education serve as an apt metaphor for his entire tenure. Three days before announcing he was stepping down,
…Duncan rattled the education policy world with news of a controversial grant of $249 million ($157 the first year) to the charter school industry. This announcement was controversial because, as The Washington Post reports, an audit by his department’s own inspector general found “that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.”
Astonishingly, $71 million of these funds were earmarked for Ohio, a state whose record of charter corruption is among the worst in the United States, a decision that befuddled Ohio politicians in both political parties. Bryant makes a compelling case that links the issuance of the federal dollars to the State’s decision to take over the Youngstown public schools and turn them over to deregulated for profit charters, a ploy the “market based” Duncan champions.
One paragraph in Bryant’s article jumped out for me:
A recent report from the Center for Media and Democracy found that over the past 20 years the federal government has sent over $3.3 billion to the charter school industry with virtually no accountability. That report notes “the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to ‘authorize’ charters that receive federal funds.”
As one who worked as a Superintendent for 16 of those 20 years, it is discouraging to realize that $3,300,000,000 was given to charter schools while the federal government continued it’s practice of underfunding special education and mandated reams of paperwork fro public schools to obtain federal funds. Indeed, the paperwork was so daunting for e-rate that it was not feasible for many districts to even seek those funds. And any superintendent, special education director, Title fund director, ELL Director, or School Lunch Director anywhere in the United States can tell you how much time they spend documenting their time and expenditures. And at the same time the government mandates this paperwork for public education, politicians decry the “bloated bureaucracies” that result from them and crow about the efficiently operated charters who don’t need as much administrative overhead. Of course the charters can operate with less administrative overhead!
Bryant’s article describing the $249 million dollar giveaway was titled “The Ugly Charter Mess Duncan Left Behind”. Duncan left behind more than one mess: he left behind a system that gives money away to charter organizations that have no accountability and no evidence of success rates that exceed those of their publicly funded counterparts. Money for nothing for students… but lots of shareholders… and probably a good boost to the political campaigns of charter supporters.
This Real News Network interview with tow progressive educators shows what privatization has accomplished for students (very little) and has accomplished for neo-liberal politicians (a lot).
Today’s NYTimes article by Mokoto Rich reports on the shenanigans going on in various states in their reporting of test results. The headline on her article, “Test Scores Under Common Core Show That “Proficient” Varies By State”, and the article itself summarizes the facts on the impact of setting cut scores on the standardized tests that are linked to the Common Core, but fails to underscore the political consequences of the practice… and makes no mention of how NYS gamed the tests to create large numbers of “failing” schools.
The setting of cut scores works like this: thousands of children across the country took the same standardized test. When the tests were graded, state departments of education determined what scores would be deemed “proficient”. Some states might require a student to get 40 correct answers to be deemed “proficient” while others might require a student to get 55 correct answers. If a governor who is running for president, say Governor Kasich, wants to be able to boast that his policies resulted in high rates of passing, he could prevail on his appointed Commissioner of Education to set a low score as “proficient”. If a governor wants to use test scores to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of teachers and public schools, say Governor Cuomo, he could insist that the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education set a high score as “proficient”. In the meantime, no one is asking if these tests help teachers gain a better understanding of their students or of their pedagogy…. because everyone knows the answer is that they do not.
In the meantime, the focus on the inappropriateness of using standardized test results based on age cohorts is not called into question. Instead of questioning how and when students are tested parents and teachers are questioning what they are tested on. It’s the wrong question… for clearly all students need to master the same set of mathematics skills and develop the same reading comprehension skills at some point in their education. Our obsession with determining precisely what students need to learn at the end of first and second grade seems absurd to educators in other developed Western countries, many of whom do not even begin formal schooling until their children are 7 years old.
Moreover, our questions about what students learn results in countless hours of debates over settled science (e.g. evolution vs. intelligent design and climate change), settled history (e.g. the latest flap over the textbooks in Texas that described slaves as willing immigrant workers), and, as always, religion (e.g. the recent brouhaha over teaching about Islam in TN). At some point we need to shift the debate to the question of why it is important for a child to progress at the same rate as his or her age cohorts intellectually when we have no such expectation in terms of that same child’s physical growth. Alas, such a debate will not score points politically or result in the ability to measure teacher and school performance with seeming precision.