Yesterday’s Naked Capitalism cross-posted an article written by Pruning Shears blogger Dan Fejes describing Teach for America (TFA)’s link to the privatization movement. In the opening of the article he provides a brief description of TFA’s genesis:
(TFA) was a component of the Americorps program created during the Clinton administration, and plugged willing but un- or under-qualified young people into vacant positions in low income schools for two years. Identify schools that need teachers and have energetic, idealistic recent college grads work to make a difference. Sounds great.
Readers of progressive blogs know how it’s turned out: TFA is seemingly joined at the hip with the privatization movement’s leaders and serves as a low wage labor pipeline to staff newly opened privatized charter schools. Fejes’ post concludes with a good synopsis of how the privatization machinery works— and how TFA could avoid feeding the beast:
The model works like this: Mandate standardized testing, use TFA recruits to teach to the test, use the test results to “prove” the effectiveness of TFA, use the TFA pipeline to close schools and fire teachers, and replace both with charters staffed by lower paid, non-union TFA employees. (And please note that charters go tits up with all the orderliness and accountability of Freedom Industries.)
TFA could resist this trend if it wanted. It could refuse to send recruits to districts that have had (or are considering) substantial layoffs. It could offer to send recruits to public schools as assistants instead of replacements, which would be a huge benefit to schools. TFA chooses not to, though, and that speaks volumes. By all accounts it is content with the status quo (content enough not to buck it, anyway). In the absence of a clear and forceful refusal to cooperate, the only reasonable conclusion is that TFA is happy to collaborate with those who view schools as “ecosystems of investment opportunity.”
Because I want to assume the noblest of intentions in leaders, I believe that Wendy Kopp (TFAs founder) was and is sincerely interested in providing teachers for classrooms that serve children raised in poverty and knew that in order to do so she needed capital…. and the only people with capital were “…those who view schools as “ecosystems of investment opportunity”.
Assuming Ms. Kopp had noble intentions, here’s another scenario that could have provided TFA with the capital it needed: the federal government could have provided grant money.
“Wait!” I hear you saying, “The federal government doesn’t have grant money to hire teachers!”
Here’s my response to that: IF the federal government was truly interested in helping schools who serve children raised in poverty, instead of spending millions on Race to the Top grants, they could have poured money into states with the requirement that they use the money to hire additional teachers for school districts that serve children in poverty and TFA could have staffed those schools and allied themselves with existing teachers’ colleges and/or teachers unions to provide the training. Under this scenario State Departments of Education, State teachers colleges, and local school districts could have all shared in the benefits of the grant money. Of course private corporations who give tests, provide data, and use non-union staff would have suffered… and campaign contributors who believe in market based solutions to every problem would be dismayed… but students attending schools with high concentrations of poverty would have more support and fewer teacher layoffs would have occurred.
As Fejes indicated in his first paragraph, TFA’s basic premise “sounds great”. Too bad the only source of money for the idea that sounded great was the 1%… and too bad that our government decided privatization was the way forward for PUBLIC schools.
The NYTimes reported on two rallies held today in Albany: one featuring Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking to groups of students students and teachers released from classes at the Success Academy charter schools headed by Eve Moskowitz and the other featuring NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio speaking to public school supporters. The two are on opposite sides of the fence on two issues regarding public education: the need for charters to pay for space instead of being given a free ride; and the means of paying for prekindergarten. Here’s the article’s recounting of deBlasio’s position on “co-location” of charters in public school space, which shows where these two issues intersect:
During his mayoral campaign last year, Mr. de Blasio said that “well-resourced” charter schools should be charged rent to use space in existing school buildings, known as co-location. He also said he would impose a moratorium on the practice of closing low-performing public schools, which has opened up valuable real estate for use by charters.
One of his first acts in office this year was to reallocate $210 million from a fund originally reserved for charter schools and other nonprofit groups. That money is now likely to be used for prekindergarten classes.
And then last week, the mayor made his most aggressive move yet, reversing the policy set by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who agreed to provide free real estate to the schools so they could open new programs this fall. The three schools had already hired principals and teachers and were in the midst of recruiting students.
The mayor said last week: “I’m not going to mince words about what I feel about how the Bloomberg administration made decisions on co-locations. I think it was abhorrent.”
Cuomo, on the other hand, championed charters, saying:
…people were hungry for new ideas and more choices, which explains why so many parents are on the waiting list for charter schools. (Roughly 70,000 children are educated in 183 charter schools across the city, many in poor neighborhoods.)
“Parents deserve a choice,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo promised to ensure that charter schools have the “financial capacity and physical space and government support to thrive and to grow.”
The article neglected to mention several facts which I garnered from some simple mathematical calculations and the invaluable archives of Diane Ravitch’s blog:
- While 70,000 is a big number, it is only 6% of the students in New York
- And those waiting lists? Read these posts from Diane Ravitch if you think those lists are for real… It seems that if one student signs up for four schools they are counted four times by charter advocates… and if a pro-charter mayor or Governor closes a “failing” school all of the students in that school are placed on a “waiting list”. Bottom line: waiting lists are a myth.
- According to a report by Geoffrey Decker in Chalkbeat, charter advocates–some of whom are on the board of Eva’s chain–have contributed more than $800,000 to Cuomo.
- Section 2853(4)(c) of the NY State Education Law allows districts to lease public school “buildings and grounds” to charters and to “contract for the operation and maintenance thereof,” (but) it also requires that “any such contract shall provide such services or facilities at cost.”… which is to say that Bloomberg’s practice of co-location is arguably against the law… an argument that is being brought to court by public school advocates.
- When New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli informed Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain of his intention to audit its financial records, the corporation sued to block the audit of public funds on grounds it was unconstitutional. This is one reason charters want deregulation: audits might uncover unseemly expenditures such as the fact that….
- (Success Academy) spends over $1 million a year on marketing–such as direct mail, ads on buses and bus stop shelters, flyers, etc.– which pumps up the number of applicants for the schools and helps to build the chain’s reputation. It also paid over $500,000 to SDK Knickerbocker, the high-powered D.C. public relations firm, which includes Anita Dunn, who was interim communications director for President Obama in 2009.
- Ms. Moskowitz pays herself $499,000 to head schools enrolling 7,000 students: more than the Chancellor earns for heading 1,100,000 students.
- While tracking student success is difficult because Success Academy refused to be audited or to make its records public, “according to figures on the school’s New York State Report Card, 83 students entered kindergarten in 2006-07, the school’s first year of operation. When that class reached 4th grade in 2010-11, it had only 53 students — a drop of 36 percent. Harlem Success also took in a 1st grade class with 73 students in 2006. When that group reached 5th grade, it too had shrunk appreciably — by 36 percent. The attrition accelerated as the classes advanced. The 2006-07 1st grade class, for example, did not shrink at all as it entered 2nd grade, but saw one sharp falloff between 2nd and 3rd and another between 4th and 5th.” It does not require a Ph.D. in statistics to see how this could skew progress metrics based on standardized tests!
And when it comes to paying for prekindergarten, as noted in earlier posts Cuomo seems to be willing to shortchange K-12 funding throughout the State to pay for a half-baked prekindergarten program in NYC and other districts while deBlasio has not been at all shy about asking for a tax increase on the top .5%.
This fight has only just begun… and it promises to have national ramifications. Here’s hoping that some of the FACTS Diane Ravitch has shared in her blog find their way into the discourse.