Archive for February, 2020

Sorry, Betsy: IDEA Charter DID Use Federal $$$ to Buy Luxury Box Seats for Spurs, Lease a Private Jet

February 29, 2020 Comments off

I was incredulous when I heard Representative Mark Pocan ask Betsy DeVos a yes or no question about the IDEA Charter school’s decision to use federal money to lease a private jet. After recounting the lavish expenditures of the IDEA charter chain, which included the purchase of a luxury box for San Antonio Spurs’ games, and the purchase of one of the Board member’s property for $1,700,000 and the payment of another board member’s real estate fees for that purchase, Representative Pocan posed the following question: “Should a charter school be able to use federal money to lease a jet”. Rather than answer the question, Ms. DeVos attempted to give some context to explain why it wasn’t a “simple yes or no question” to which Mr. Pocan retorted: “Actually, it IS a “yes or no question” at which point he restated the question. Over the course of the next few minutes this dance continued with Ms. DeVos at one point asserting that the claim about the jet purchase was based on a false report.

Because I am willing to give a besieged administrator the benefit of the doubt, I used a Google search to see if the IDEA school leased a jet and found this headline from the Houston Chronicle:

After backlash over $2M luxury jet, IDEA charter schools to stop spending $400K on Spurs tickets

The first two paragraphs of the article by Jacob Carpenter provide an outline of what transpired:

Several weeks after IDEA Public Schools nixed plans to spend millions of dollars on a charter jet lease, the charter network’s leader announced the end of additional “hard to defend” spending practices Thursday, including the purchase of tickets and a luxury box for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

In a letter sent to IDEA’s 7,000-plus employees, CEO Tom Torkelson apologized for spending patterns that have brought unflattering attention to the state’s largest charter school organization. The network’s since-reversed decision to ink an eight-year aircraft lease and its spending on San Antonio Spurs games have drawn criticism from the Texas AFT, an umbrella organization for teachers unions throughout the state.

The caption under Mr. Torkelson’s picture suggested he could offer the a business rationale for the lease and the luxury boxes…. but as Representative Pocan noted in his presentation of these examples of mismanagement (if not outright fraud) none of these actions would EVER pass muster in ANY public school in America. But somehow the GOP has persuaded voters that unregulated capitalism is the best means of providing public services. Here’s hoping whoever the Democratic candidate is that they will be able to set the record of misappropriations before the voters and change their minds… that is unless the neoliberals continue to hold sway in the party.

USA Today Article Exposes USDOE’s Flawed Logic on Deregulation

February 28, 2020 Comments off

As reported recently in this blog, a USA Today investigative team determined that a for profit college with no students or faculty members was fully accredited by ACSIS, an organization that was barred from accrediting colleges by the Obama administration because it had approved several programs that were not able to provide jobs for graduates or support for their students. One of Betsy DeVos’ first actions as Secretary of Education was to restore ACSIS’ status as an accrediting agency. Why?

DeVos has made it one of her priorities to roll back some of the federal regulations around accreditation. Her argument: Fewer regulations could allow colleges to create training programs quickly to fill holes in the workforce. Critics say cutting back the rules would make it easier for shoddy or predatory institutions to take advantage of students. 

In the case of Reagan University the critics were right. And if you guessed that ACSIS accredited Reagan U you have been paying attention!

Trump Seeks to Cut Bi-Partisan ESSA, Mental Health, Community Based Schools

February 27, 2020 Comments off

Linda Darling-Hammond describes the proposed cuts to the federal Education budget, cuts that would decimate ESSA, one of the few pieces of bipartisan legislation that has passed in the past decade. The program has many elements I’ve questioned in this blog… but it also featured more funding for arts, PE, and mental health and a far too small amount for community based programs that provide safety nets… programs that are proven to be effective for children raised in poverty. Inevitably the cuts to ESSA will be restored but the other funds will have to be restored by the next administration… and the next generation will pay the price.

No Surprise: Chicago Teachers “Game” NWEA Accountability Test

February 25, 2020 Comments off

The Chicago Tribune article above describes several instances where teachers “gamed” the NWEA tests. The NWEA tests, originally designed as formative assessments to measure individual student growth, were used for different purposes in Chicago:

Students who took more than six hours on the test — which measures growth and in CPS can also factor into high school admissions, school ratings and teacher performance reviews — were nearly seven times as likely as the average student in CPS to show “unusually large gains,” according to Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s report.

It should come as no surprise that the teachers would intervene when a misused test is the basis for their continued employment AND their students’ future. But the tests are cheap, fast and easy!

The Problem is Deregulated For Profit Charter Schools

February 24, 2020 Comments off

Fred Hess and Matthew Rice miss the point in their article about charter schools and the 2020 election. The Democrats don’t oppose charter schools, they oppose deregulated and for profit charter schools that are not governed by elected school boards who convene their meetings in public. But that idea doesn’t fit the Conservative narrative and so they repeatedly frame the issue as unions versus taxpayers and parents… with Democrats on the side of unions.

“Employer U Innovation” Reflects Diminishment of Corporate Training, Consequences of Unpaid Internships

February 23, 2020 Comments off

Brandon Bustead, the President of University Partners at Kaplan and former Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development at Gallup, wrote an op ed for Forbes magazine breathlessly describing a new innovation he calls “Employer U”. There are (at least) three problems with this article.

First is that the description of “Employer U” describes cooperative work study programs that have been in place for generations at colleges like Drexel (my alma mater), Northeastern, and Cincinnati to name a few. When I attended Drexel in the late 1960s I earned enough to pay my tuition, room and board and have enough left over to get married and begin a family…. which brings me to the second problem with Mr. Bustead’s article.

Second, corporations have side-stepped cooperative work study programs by “offering” unpaid internships to students, especially students from “brand” colleges and universities who can afford to work during the summer for free. These unpaid internships favor the children of extraordinarily wealthy families thereby eliminating an opportunity for equally talented but less affluent children to benefit from the programs.

Third, and most crucially, Mr. Bustead fails to point out that a generation ago corporations had their own training programs, programs they abandoned in the name of efficiency and reducing costs to provide shareholders with more money. Unsurprisingly, the elimination of employer-provided training coincided with the national outcry for more employment-ready high school and college graduates.

Many business-minded individuals want schools and colleges to provide better trained graduates while at the same time avoiding the payment of taxes to fund those kinds of programs AND while shedding employees in their own company who would offer such training. That kind of thinking created the problems we now have where there is a “mismatch” between graduates’ skills and corporate needs. The fix isn’t just an overhaul of post-secondary education: it’s also an increase in the wages paid to trainees in cooperative work-study programs and the willingness of corporations to pay individuals in their enterprises to train incoming workers.

Civics Education Destroyed by Tests and Partisan Politics

February 22, 2020 Comments off

This Forbes article laments the failure of today’s students to understand basic civics facts and lays the blame on schools… but if schools are ultimately measured by standardized tests that neglect civics and policy makers can’t achieve consensus on what facts students should know and the purpose of government please don’t hold teachers accountable. Like most in my generation I learned a lot of misinformation about government… but I did learn some fundamental facts that have not changed no matter how the Constitution is interpreted.