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Union Consultant Foretells Grim Future, but AP Reinforces False Narrative of Charter Schools

May 31, 2016 Leave a comment

When I read AP writer Christine Amario’s report on a presentation given to the Los Angeles School Board by Susan Zoller, “…a consultant hired by the district’s union”, I imagined union leaders in Los Angeles smacking their foreheads in a mixture of disbelief and anger. I am confident that the Board members who arranged for the report intended it to be a wake-up call for their colleagues to reconsider the direction LA schools are taking and hoped the national coverage that accompanied the release of the report would focus on the way for-profit charters divert resources from public education. But Ms. Amario had a different slant:

Charter schools arrived in the 1990s and began attracting parents searching for an alternative to big-city districts that had strained for years to raise performance among minority and low-income students and those who are learning English.

More than two decades later, charter enrollment continues to climb. Nationwide, more than 2.6 million students attended charter schools in 2014, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Ms. Amario did not tell the story of how de-funding of public education, combined with profiteering charter operators who accepted only those children who behaved well and whose parents completed application processes that required time and energy, combined with gentrification that re-segregated neighborhoods economically and, in some cases, racially, combined with the migration to suburbs left public schools with economically and educationally disadvantaged children housed in increasingly dilapidated facilities. Instead, Ms. Amario hewed to the narrative that charter schools “…began attracting parents searching for an alternative” as if the movement was driven by parent demand and not by a combination of the profit motive and political expediency. Instead of quoting from the report Ms. Zoller gave to the LA Board, Ms. Amario sought out quotes like this from the charter industry itself:

“To the extent the district is not serving the needs of their students, this has been a trend line for some time,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public CharterSchools, a nonprofit advocacy group.

And instead of elaborating on the problems that are unique to Los Angeles, Ms. Amario used the report by Ms. Zoller as an opportunity to roll out the woes of dysfunctional urban districts like Detroit, Kansas City, and Philadelphia where State legislators have starved funding for public education for decades while encouraging the expansion of for profit charters.

And last but not least, instead of using the article to elaborate on LA Board member Steve Zimmer’s observation that “If Los Angeles schools are no longer able to function as a district, “there is going to be collateral damage… to those children and families who are the most vulnerable.” she concluded the article with this:

Los Angeles parent Lisette Duarte is debating where to enroll her 11-year-old daughter. Her 16-year-old son already attends a charter school with many benefits she doesn’t see at their neighborhood school: a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers. Her daughter, by contrast, is struggling in a low-performing schoolwith a large English learner population, she said.

“It makes me really sad when I hear about parents who are still struggling,” she said. “We were that family struggling” in Los Angeles public schools.

Instead of asking why the charter has a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers while the public school is populated with ELL students that presumably lacks a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers Ms. Amario reinforces the charter industry narrative that only charters can save the day… charters that are buttressed with external funds, charters that can exclude those pesky ELL and special education children, charters that can require elaborate application processes that effectively shut out parents working two jobs or single-parents or parents of limited means, charters that do not have to assume the legacy costs of longstanding public school systems. The story I am certain Ms. Zoller hoped for was the one Mr. Zimmer was trying to tell: charters leave behind “…. those children and families who are the most vulnerable”. The story Ms. Zoller got published by the AP and circulated across the country was one about how charters are growing because they offer a good alternative to public schools. The vicious circle is reinforced….

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More Evidence of Charter Schools Slow Steady Strangulation…

May 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Education Opportunity Network blogger Jeff Bryant profiles two States recent experience with charter schools and how they have gained an extreme advantage over public schools in their respective states: Florida and— you guessed it— Pennsylvania!

In FL a charter management firm ““disappeared from the scene” after being told by the local school board to explain financial and operational problems.” When the local board was unable to determine what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars given to the charter operator, they did what any responsible board would do: they decided to close the schools that charter management firm operated. The parents and local legislators were upset… and because the State laws favor the charter operators over local taxpayers and the legislators have convinced parents that any public schools are inferior to any charter schools local school boards have their hands tied.

PA school boards encounter the same kinds of problems. When the school board in Allentown decided to issue a charter to a businessman who used a consulting firm who pled guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and tax evasion” they were cited by the auditor for failing to disclose the arrangements they made with the businessman to mitigate his opening of additional charters. Bryant describes the Catch 22 situation as follows:

So if Allentown had tried to block the new charters from opening, the state or the court would likely have overruled the district, and the community would be stuck with the two schools anyway, but without the benefit of the advertising money and the pledge to open no more new charters. If the district had given approval but then insisted on making its agreement with the developer public, the developer would have likely backed out.

Either way, the district loses.

In his closing paragraphs Bryant describes the grim future for students as a result of the way decisions about the expansion of charter schools in these– and far too many other states— are made:

Notice also that in both situations, the subject of education is by and large overlooked. Indeed, concerns for teaching and learning never came up because there was too much other flack in the air – the public perceptions of the schools, financial matters involving public money, political deals, and the needs of parents to have a guaranteed school seat for their children.

Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.

In the comment I left, I noted that this is as much a problem of governance at the State level as it is at the local level:

And don’t overlook the root cause of this: the politicization of governance at the State level. State-after-state has bought into the notion that the Governor should appoint either the State Board or the State Superintendent “because the state spends so much $$$ on schools”… once these appointments are controlled by the governor he or she can appoint people who will do their bidding… and their bidding is deregulated privatization in states led by pro-business Republican governors…

Repeat after me: schools are not a business… schools are not a business… schools are not a business…

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Mississippi Superintendent’s Loss of State Funding Complicated Story with Roots in Governance

May 30, 2016 Leave a comment

An AP story the was the basis for a post by Diane Ravitch about the Superintendents in that state losing their funding describes three actions by the Mississippi State legislature: an act of vengeance; an act that undercut an effort to require the state to provide adequate funds for public schools; and an act to change the states local governance arrangement. Two of the actions are unarguably bad for students; the change in governance, though, might lead to improvement in the quality of schools and will certainly expand the applicant pool for superintendents.

The act of vengeance was the passage of a bill that makes it illegal for school districts to spend any public money on the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. As a result superintendents will have to dig into their pockets for $1250 per year if they want to retain their membership to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Why was this retributive legislation passed by the House and Senate in that state? Because leaders of local school districts “personally attacked state officials” while they were seeking passage of a constitutional amendment that would require adequate funding for schools…. hardly a revolutionary concept. But the Mississippi legislature appears to be thin skinned and vengeful— a toxic combination:

“When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Friday.

The “attack” by the Superintendents group took place last year when the Association took a stand in favor of Initiative 42, which is described in the AP article as follows:

Initiative 42 would have amended the state Constitution to require the state to provide “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” Supporters said it would have blocked lawmakers from being able to spend less than the amount required by Mississippi’s school funding formula, and would have allowed people to sue the state to seek additional money for schools.

Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders opposed the measure because it could have limited legislative power and transferred some power to judges. They warned that it could have led to budget cuts to other state agencies. Lawmakers placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which made it harder to pass the measure. Voters ultimately rejected any change by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.

So… last year the legislature muddied the waters when the Superintendents group tried to amend the constitution, some of the Superintendents evidently made some untoward comments about some of the legislators, and, as a result, they are being paid back. One paragraph in the AP story on this development made two astonishing points (see bold):

The move creates an uncertain future for what has traditionally been Mississippi’s most powerful school lobbying group. The long-term power of the association was already in question after lawmakers voted this year to make all superintendents appointive. Traditionally, the elected members of the association, especially those in the state’s largest school districts, have wielded the most political power.

The SUPERINTENDENTS Association was a traditionally powerful lobby? As one who served on the legislative committee in three states and served as President and legislative chair of the Superintendents Association in Maryland in the 1990s, I was stunned to read this… Our Association’ like those in other states where I worked (ME, NY, NH and VT) had limited clout when it came to passing legislation, in large measure because we could only take political positions that matched those of our local boards.

But some quick web research explained the source of MS Superintendent’s political clout and shed some light on the legislatures intent to eviscerate that clout: of the 154 elected superintendents in the U.S., 69 are in Mississippi — the most of any state.

The blog site ReThink Mississippi that appears to be genuinely committed to improving Mississippi’s woeful performance in quality of life metrics explains the consequences of elected versus appointed Superintendents in a January 2015 post by noting that elected Superintendents tend to be homegrown and focussed on political issues which, in turn, diverts their attention from academics.

Opponents of elected superintendents argue that elections narrow the talent pool to choose a qualified superintendent from due to the residency restriction that requires candidates running for election to live within the district itself. Meanwhile, in school districts where superintendents are appointed, the school boards can recruit and select qualified candidates from different districts or even different states. Appointing superintendents may be especially practical in a state like Mississippi where small school districts may not have many qualified candidates, and those that are qualified may be uninterested in campaigning.

To make it worse, many of these school district leaders are given the job by default. Thirteen school districts had uncontested races for superintendent in the 2011 elections, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website. In 2007, 20 races were uncontested, and in one district, no one ran at all.

In the final analysis the legislators in Mississippi could have made a reasoned argument for changing from elected to appointed positions using some of the data included in the Re-Think Mississippi article on this topic, but instead they linked it to politics.

Based on this article and the Rethink Mississippi blog post, the governance question of elected versus appointed Superintendents is muddy. Presumably if the elected superintendents and elected legislators saw eye-to-eye on funding none of this would have happened. And if the appointed Superintendents worked for Boards who wanted to avoid rocking the boat in the Statehouse this wouldn’t have happened either. The real issue is the disconnect between those elected officials who advocate for the children— the school leadership whether elected or appointed— versus those who advocate for taxpayers. Now those who seek the status quo in Mississippi— low funding for schools, low funding for social services, an low taxes for the affluent, are prevailing. And they are prevailing in more and more states.

Lax Accreditation + Lax Government Regulation + Lax Governance = Opportunity for Corruption

May 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Buzzed reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy’s recent article, “Making the Grades”, describes how a non-profit school in CA recruited unqualified but affluent foreign students seeking entry into the United States, offered them a low quality low cost education, and raked in money for the “administrators” who operated the institution. Hensley-Clancy describes the scam the “college” set up in these paragraphs:

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

The article then goes on to describe how a toxic combination of deregulation and/or underfunded regulation enabled the college to make a bundle of money without providing a sound education for its students. The accreditation process, intended to ensure that a post-secondary institution is providing a quality education, is deeply flawed:

Oversight of American higher education rests in large part on a group of independent watchdogs called accreditors, whom the government entrusts to vet a school’s academics and student performance. Schools that win the accreditors’ approval reap significant benefits: They can tap into the trillion-dollar federal student loan system, and, more importantly for Northwestern Polytechnic University, they can sponsor American student visas — a highly sought-after commodity across the world — with minimal oversight.

(B)ut accreditors are private entities, and despite their effect on public funds, there is little oversight of the work that they do. Schools choose which accreditor they wish to be judged by, and many institutions shop around in search of the one they feel will view them in the most favorable light.

This oversight model sounds familiar to anyone who followed the housing crash. So if the accreditors are suspect, couldn’t the governing board of the institution have done something? Couldn’t the federal government have done something?

A truly independent board of directors could have held NPU to its financial responsibilities to its students. (NOTE: The “board” consists of three individuals, all of whom benefit from the current set-up as elaborated in the article) The Internal Revenue Service might have been able to force some changes, too, if it had investigated the claims that NPU made on its financial disclosure forms. And the Department of Homeland Security could have, as well, if it had looked into the circumstances by which, somehow, every last one of NPU’s students managed to get the good grades that their visas required.

Yes, all of the regulatory agencies could have “done something” if they had sufficient staffing. But they don’t because they are woefully underfunded. The losers in this are not just the immigrant students who are awarded worthless diplomas: they are the citizens of our country who are denied employment opportunities and the taxpayers who underwrite the college that invests the revenues from this scam into strip malls and condominiums. But our current Congress doesn’t want to tithe hands of entrepreneurs with “red tape” and regulations… better to let the market sort things out and if a college fails and students can’t pay the loans back to banks, no worry… we’ll bail out the banks and punish the students. We’ve seen this movie before and we’ll see it again until we decide that paying nickels and dimes for independent government oversight is better than paying billions for bail outs….

 

Kansas Funding Redux: More Money Needed— Not More Smoke and Mirrors

May 28, 2016 Leave a comment

The NYTimes reported today that the Kansas Supreme Court has determined that the KS legislature’s latest gambit, the issuance of block grants instead of fully funding of the equalization formula, remains unconstitutional.

In a 47-page ruling, the court rejected that bill, saying the Legislature’s formula “creates intolerable, and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”

“This case requires us to determine whether the state has met its burden to show that recent legislation brings the state’s K-12 public school funding system into compliance with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the ruling said. “We hold it has not.”

But KS shouldn’t worry… because ESSA might provide a way for them to use federal dollars to supplant state funds and make things work out well in the end…. and if they do so I hope that the Democrats will think again about the “bi-partisan” bill they passed.

A Seemingly Intractable Problem: Rich Parents Segregate Their Children From Low Income Peers

May 28, 2016 1 comment

Earlier this month Washington Post writer Emily Badger wrote an article with the click bait title “The One Thing Rich Parents Do For Their Kids That Makes All the Difference” whose url provided the answer: “the-incredible-impact-of-rich-parents-fighting-to-live-by-the-very-best-schools”.

Using research by USC sociologist Anne Owens as a springboard, Badger writes:

Owens’s latest research, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that wealthy parents snapping up such homes have driven the rise of income segregation in America since 1990. The rich and non-rich are less and less likely to share the same neighborhoods in the United States, a trend shaped more by the behavior of the wealthy than the poor or middle class. Owens’s work, though, adds another twist: The recent rise of income segregation, she finds, is almost entirely caused by what’s happening among families with children…. 

That means that a typical childless household lives among more diverse neighbors from across the economic spectrum than does the typical family with children…

Owens additionally argues that as wealthy parents are spending their added resources on housing, they’re choosing that housing with schools particularly in mind. In her data, there’s wider income segregation among families with children in “fragmented” metropolitan areas that have more school districts for parents to choose from, allowing greater sorting between low-quality and coveted districts.

It’s highly likely this same pattern exists within school districts, as wealthy parents compete for housing within the attendance zones of the best schools (again, think Northwest Washington). But Owens doesn’t yet have the data to show this at the smaller local level…

I have witnessed both cases in my career. In the two districts where I worked in NH were among the most affluent in the State and both had housing values that exceeded those of surrounding communities. In both districts, there were instances where once the children left home for college parents sold their higher priced homes in the “desirable” communities, moved into a lower priced home in a nearby rural community, and used the price differential to fund college for their children.

In the county school district where I worked in Maryland and the large Upstate NY districts where I worked homeowners paid a premium to reside in a community that fed into the “most desirable” elementary and high school with “desirability” determined by socio-economic status of the parents. The link between real estate values and “desirable” schools came to the forefront in both communities when it was necessary to redraw the boundaries for attendance zones— “redistricting” in the parlance of school district management. Badger touches on this inner concluding paragraphs:

Politically, the two topics that most enrage voters are threats to property values and local schools.  So either of these ideas — wielding housing policy to affect schools, or school policy to affect housing — would be tough sells. Especially to anyone who has secured both the desirable address and a seat in the best kindergarten in town. Parents in Upper Northwest, for instance, deeply opposed the idea of ending neighborhood schools in Washington. And Gray’s proposal never came to pass.

But, Owens says, “I feel more hopeful in studying these issues today than I did five years ago.” At least, she says, we are all now talking more about inequality and segregation.

It HAS been a long time coming to even begin talking about inequality and segregation… but moving from talk to action will require more than a change of minds… it will require a change of heart… and THAT  requires more than politics.

 

Knowyourcharter.com Profile Illustrates Everything Wrong with Ohio’s De-regulated for Profit Charters

May 27, 2016 Leave a comment

On of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts yesterday profiled a recent study conducted by KnowYourCharter.com that illustrated everything that can go wrong when government’s fail to regulate for-profit public education effectively. Titled “Belly-Up: A Review of Federal Charter School Program Grants“, the knowyourcharter.com research team provides a detailed accounting of which Ohio charter schools received federal funds, how well those schools performed relative to other Ohio public schools, and how well the recipients of the federal grants did compared to other federal grant recipients in other arenas. It is precisely the kind of report one would expect a State Department of Education to conduct… but Ohio’s Department of Education, like many across the country, is overseen by an appointee of the Governor who reports to a Board that has eight of 19 members appointed by the Governor. The State Department of Education, like most across the country, is under-funded and the charter schools in Ohio, like in many states, is lightly regulated at best. The result is predictable: lightly regulated for-profit enterprises pocket State and federal funds designed to help students attending low performing schools to get a leg up and nothing happens. Worse, in Ohio, like in many other states, these lightly regulated for profit schools siphon money from the funds formerly earmarked for public schools.

But something more insidious results from shortchanging of State Departments, lack of government regulation, and politicization of state governance and leadership: divisiveness. Because no one in the State Department of education knows or cares about this profiteering— or is perhaps legally incapable to do anything about it— an independent research team needs to pore through public records to find out the kind of information knowyourcharter.com provides to parents and taxpayers. But some profiteers would look at the underwriters of knowyourcharter.com— the Ohio Education Association and Innovation Ohio— and claim that they are anything BUT independent!

When government is incapable of conducting impartial research the public is compelled to resort to research conducted by advocacy groups which reinforces their political positions. Teachers and “liberals” will wave the research done by knowyourcharter.com and taxpayers and tea party conservatives will say “What do you expect? I funded by unions”.

When government aggressively opposes the regulation of private enterprise because “the market is self-regulating”, views “education” as a commodity instead of a public good, and views parents as “consumers” who can make a choice about what “product” they wish to buy without offering any quality assurance, the Ohio story will repeat itself across the country.

Politicization of state governance + privatization of public education + deregulation = profiteering at the expense of the children raised in poverty.