Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Charter schools have become huge business for CMOs

"What we are having now is private control of public schools." -- Prof. Gary Miron

Eleanor Chute writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ("Charter schools now big business nationwide") about how charter schools have been transformed into huge, often profitable business enterprises since their inception in the early 1990's.
The early charter schools in Pennsylvania were largely the product of passionate parents or community groups, who sometimes planned their dream schools around the kitchen table. But the picture has changed dramatically since the charter school law was passed in Pennsylvania in 1997, with an expansion of education management organizations that bring big money and clout into the picture.
Chute's article has good quotes from corporate-style reform critic, Gary Miron and research data from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to their study, private operating companies or Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) will run a majority of the nation's charters "within a couple of years." This, even though the small, independent charters of the early '90's type perform much better than the more costly ones run by CMOs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chicago's school-closing consultants

Consultant Avani Patel, left, talks with mayoral adviser Desiree Tate after a school utilization meeting. (Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune / December 9, 2012)
Byrd-Bennett's rump panel on Chicago school closings may not be paying much attention to the growing revolt in the neighborhoods, but they are listening to a gaggle of high-priced consultants with connections to the mayor.

The Tribune reports:
The commission's hearings are being organized by public relations executive Desiree Tate, a member of Emanuel's "kitchen Cabinet" of African-American advisers who received more than half a million dollars in contracts from Chicago Public Schools before he became mayor. 
Tate claims she is working for free for the commission. Right.
The commission also is being advised by the Civic Consulting Alliance, which has provided free advice to Emanuel since the start of his administration and has links to an organization pushing to replace the traditional neighborhood schools with privately run charters.
The consulting alliance is a pro bono government consulting arm of the Commercial Club of Chicago that has worked with the mayor's office and school officials since the days of Emanuel predecessor Richard M. Daley. But the Commercial Club also founded an organization called New Schools for Chicago, which has the expansion of charter schools as its goal. New Schools President Phyllis Lockett is a former leader of the consulting alliance who still sits on its board; she is credited by New Schools with helping triple the number of charters in Chicago in recent years. The consulting alliance shares a downtown office suite with New Schools.
"New Schools for Chicago and the Civic Consulting Alliance are two distinct and separate organizations, each with their own priorities and governed by their own boards," Lockett said. "New Schools for Chicago is not involved in any way with the Utilization Commission or school actions."
The CEO of the consulting alliance, Brian Fabes, dismissed any suggestion that his group favors charter schools and said New Schools is not a client. "CTU can make whatever connections they decide they want to make," he said.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rauner still ranting against unions

Fred Klonsky drawing.
Republican union-hater and charter school maven, Bruce Rauner is at it again. In a Sun-Times Op-Ed piece, Thursday, Rauner let loose his venom towards labor uniona and collective-bargaining rights and called for turning Illinois into a right-to-work state like Tea Party guvs did in Michigan and Indiana.

Rauner claims that busing the unions will make Illinois a more attractive place for corporate investment. 
"As employers and jobs leave, our tax burden is spread over fewer taxpayers, increasing the costs for all of us who choose to remain in Illinois. The result is a long-term death spiral that can be reversed only by becoming much more attractive to businesses and their investors..."
If it weren't for his money, his close ties with Rahm Emanuel, and his intention to run for governor, Rauner could easily be dismissed as just another right-wing kook. Then again, after saying all that, I'll still dismiss him as such.

Byrd-Bennet's "independent" panel on school closings

The news keeps getting worse for Byrd-Bennett's "independent" commission of school closings. First, the Tribune gets hold of a secret CPS document revealing a list of targeted schools in black and Latino communities slated for closing and/or charter-izing. But if the list is already in play, than what's the point of Frank Clark's panel and all the phony public hearings?

Then comes the revelation of Commission head, Clark's contract with the Civic Consulting Alliance.
The Civic Consulting Alliance and New Schools for Chicago share a suite on the 43rd floor of the Chase Building. They also share some board members. Phyllis Lockett, the founding president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, sits on the Civic Consulting Alliance’s board and used to be CCA’s executive director. The New Schools for Chicago website says Locket has helped triple the number of charter schools in Chicago. -- WBEZ
Clark, the former ComEd CEO, who pulls down over $2 million/year in compensation, has a Chicago charter school, Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy, named after him. And despite having just 44.1 percent of its students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, Clark's namesake school sports the Level 1 badge, having earned the district's highest rating.

He says the school district invited the consulting firm in. But says it should raise no questions of independence. “Their work is impartial, it has a high degree of accuracy, it doesn’t hurt that it’s pro-bono, and I’ve never detected a bias.”


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why is Advance Illinois still running corporate reform?

Bill Daley, writing in Crain's on behalf of his powerful Advance Illinois corporate reform pals, bemoans the state's flat test score performance and lack of college readiness.
The single most reliable indicator of long-term success is whether a child can read proficiently by third or fourth grade. Just 33 percent of all Illinois students, 12 percent of African-American, 18 percent of Latino and 16 percent of low-income students achieve that milestone by the end of fourth grade.
Worse still, these numbers have remained virtually flat for the past decade. And their consequence is clear: Too few students complete post-secondary education, and of those who try, too many require remediation and ultimately drop out.
Daley omits the fact that his brother and former Chicago mayor, Richie, along with this same Advance Illinois gang, have been in charge of the state's reform efforts for the past decade. If there was an ounce of accountability in the state's education system, Advance Illinois would be long gone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Walton's fueling of charter school operators -- the Mexico connection

A view of Wal-Mart’s distribution center north of Mexico City, in the municipality of Cuautitlán Izcalli.

With a combined fortune of more than $90 billion, the Waltons–the immediate heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton–are the richest family in the world.  Wal-Mart became the nation’s largest private employer and as the Nation's Lisa Featherstone calls them, "a flytrap for much-deserved criticism."
Philanthropy obscures the often unseemly process by which the money was made–and for Wal-Mart that’s at least part of the point.  
The Walton Family Foundation has also become the single largest source of funding for the voucher and charter school movement. But here's something for charter schools running on Walton money to think about. A big chunk of that fortune, hidden for tax purposes inside their foundation, comes from Wal-Mart's corrupt penetration (no pun intended) of Mexico.

An expose in yesterday's NYT reveals:
 Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.
Subverting democracy, circumventing regulatory safeguard, lack of transparency -- these sound like essentials for private charter operators applying for Walton money.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

TFA rakes in the cash

Diane Ravitch posts:

TFA may be the most effective fund-raising operation in the education sector. Between 2006 and 2010, TFA raised $907 million dollars in gifts from foundations, corporations, and other sources. -- Hats off to TFA

J. Crew...
is selling a $32.50 cotton t-shirt with a giant orange apple on the front to benefit Teach for America. (JCPenney has also supported Teach for America; earlier this year, the retailer asked customers to make donations to the group.) Only x-small and xx-small are available on now, but don’t worry, says: You can always shop the Norma Kamali fashion line with special ties to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union. -- State Impact

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chicago's version of 'choice'

Excelon CEO John Rowe, former COMED CEO Frank Clark, Senator Dick Durbin, and  Senate Pres. John J. Cullerton, celebrate the grand opening of Excelon Gymnasium on the campus of Rowe-Clark charter school. 
A CPS-promoted school fair featuring "some of Chicago's great public school options, including charter schools," advertised almost no traditional schools -- but still found space for dozens of charter schools with the district's lowest ranking. -- Gapers Block

To Rahm's crew at CPS. a "great" school is any school that bans the teachers union.

CPS announced Friday that  it plans to add four more privately-run charter schools to the nine non-union charters previously approved for the coming year, despite its plan to close more than 100 neighborhood, "underutilized" schools.
"It simply makes their argument, 'We have to close schools,' sound ridiculous," said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "It would be one thing if charter schools were vast improvements, but what we know is they're not. Essentially (CPS) is cannibalizing the system to privatize it." -- Chicago Tribune
And why did they pick this corporate reformer to head Rahm's rump group that meets in secret to decide which schools will be closed? Frank Clark is the former chairman and CEO of ComEd who, along with John Rowe, CEO of ComEd’s parent Exelon Corp, operate a charter school named after them. Rowe is also the former chairman of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Isn't it obvious?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Is CREDO really part of the charter in-crowd? You bet.

Chris Cerf claimed CREDO wasn't part of the charter bandwagon. He lied. 
The CREDO study in 2009 found that nationally only 17% of charter schools were outperforming their public counterparts. This, even though CREDO is a group connected with the right-wing, pro-charter Hoover Institute and funded by the likes of  Walton and Pearson. Problem is that facts, as they say, are stubborn fellows.

What followed the study was an attempt to discredit the report led by charter sucks like New Jersey Commissioner Chris Cerf. Recently Cerf claimed said he was "nervous" to have CREDO perform a more recent analysis of New Jersey's charter schools, which was misleadingly reported as being favorable to N.J. charters.  He claimed CREDO was "not part of the bandwagon" and made a point to say that the national CREDO study is often cited by charter opponents.

But Mother Crusader sets him straight.
With all of these connections, can Cerf really say with a straight face that CREDO is NOT part of the bandwagon?  Funded by Walton and Pearson; employees with ties to KIPP and Center for Education Reform; using the services of the reformiest of reformy PR firms; AND partnered with both of the major national charter advocacy organizations on a USDOE funded project.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nowack departure from Penn Fund raises deeper question

Helen Gym
As I reported last week, Jeremy Nowak is out as president of the William Penn Foundation. But Helen Gym, from the ed activist group Parents United for Public Education in Philadelphia, writes that in light of his abrupt departure, deeper questions emerge about the role the foundation played under his tenure.

On a national level, a number of public education observers and public interest advocates have raised serious concerns about the role of “philanthropic” investments into education reform. From the Broad Foundation to the Waltons and Gates Foundations – what we’re seeing across the country is an unprecedented level of private money shaping public policy under the guise of philanthropy. Too often that agenda has centered around a radical dismantling of public education, increased privatization, and disruptive reform that has sent many districts spiraling into chaos and sustained turmoil.
We have no idea whether our complaint about lobbying had any influence on Mr. Nowak’s departure. Whether or not it did, foundations and “reformers” everywhere need to sit up and look critically at practices that risk substituting private agendas for true public purpose. -- "The new “philanthropy”: private agendas vs. public interest"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nowak out as Penn Fund chief. 'Differences in approach..."

I have posted here several times about the role of the Wm. Penn Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group, two of the main architects of Philly's school privatization plan. Today we learn that Penn Fund power broker Jeremy Nowak is out as the foundations' chief exec. The Penn Foundation has already given $1.45 million directly — and helped obtain at least $1.2 million more — to pay the Boston Consulting Group to develop a so-called “Blueprint” for restructuring the troubled district.

The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that critics are complaining that the foundation’s funding model favors charter schools  at the expense of the rest of the public school system, which may have been a factor in Nowak's departure.

According to The Notebook,
The William Penn Foundation, citing "differences in approach," has announced that it is searching for a new president, and that Jeremy Nowak has left. The foundation's press release says that its leadership and Nowak, who became president in June, 2011, "mutually decided that the time is right for Nowak to transition out of his current role." Nowak guided the foundation through a strategic planning process, but had also become a lightning rod for controversy - especially regarding William Penn's role in paying for the Boston Consulting Group to develop an austerity plan for the School District.

What's so "special" about KIPP?

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post - Trinity President Patricia McGuire, left, and communications student Yasmeen Newman, 20. Newman attended the KIPP D.C. Key middle school and then the private McLean School in Potomac.

Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet, describes the special status KIPP charters have with several elite colleges and universities who have recently signed "pledges" to track and recruit KIPP grads.
According to the story, 20 colleges and universities, including Georgetown, Brown and Duke universities, have signed pledges to work with KIPP to recruit some of the charter network’s students, 95 percent of whom are black and Latino. KIPP’s Web site says KIPP now has 125 schools in 20 states and Washington D.C., with a total of more than 39,000 students, with more than 85 percent of them from low-income families.
 Wow! That is special, at least for those students KIPP usually doesn't enroll, like those with disabilities or special-needs, English-language learners and for those whose test scores make them unlikely survive KIPP's high attrition rate. KIPP has forged a "national brand", writes WaPo ed writer, Nick Anderson,  by offering longer school days and years and a credo advocates sum up as “work hard, be nice.” The network says it takes “no shortcuts” in pursuing academic goals and makes “no excuses” for failure. They also receive hundred of millions of dollars in private funding.

I wish every high school would at least make the effort or have the resources to connect its graduating students with some type of post-secondary ed opportunities. I also wish most large urban high schools had manageable student/counselor rations, ie. below 1:400, so that inner-city students could  learn about possibilities beyond high school or even how and when to apply and connect with funding and decent loan opportunities.  More importantly, I wish that the cost of a university education was even close to being affordable for most working class and middle-class families.

But obviously, such a wish list for public education is of no concern to KIPP. After all, writes Strauss,
Over at Brown University, according to this story in the Providence Journal, the KIPP scholarships were endowed with $2.5 million from Martha and Bruce Karsh, the parents of a Brown student. Incidentally, Martha Karsh is founder of the Karsh Family Foundation and happens to be on the board of directors of KIPP... KIPP’s Board of Directors includes corporate executives, such as Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom, Inc; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, Inc.; and Mark Nunnelly, Bain Capital’s managing director. Meanwhile, KIPP L.A.’s Board of Directors includes Marc Castellani, executive director of JP Morgan Private Bank, and KIPP D.C.’s Board of Directors includes Don Graham, CEO of The Washington Post Company. 
Calling KIPP charters, "public schools" is at best, a stretch. More like an absurdity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Philly schools have to go begging to Wall Street

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen is resigning. He ran the show in Philly. Former head of former head of Philadelphia Gas Works, his loot-and-burn job was to cut $100 million or more from the school budget while protecting high-paid consultants and execs.
According to the Daily News, Philly's school district is "broke" and forced to go begging to Wall Street for a $300 million loan to pay its bills. But this hasn't stopped them from giving fat raises to non-union administrators and consultants while asking union teachers for give-backs. 

"Union leaders were surprised by the news."

"It seems immoral to me," said George Ricchezza, 1201 District Leader for 32BJ SEIU. The union agreed this summer to forgo raises for four years and contribute $100 million back to the district.

"If I would have known prior [about the raises], I would have had a more intense conversation about it so I could absorb the thinking of the district," Ricchezza said of a meeting he had with Hite last week. "It's going to be difficult for our members to understand this."
You bet it will. 

Also, check out Boston Consulting Group's role here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stand for Children spreads $$$ around in Washington State

Ken Libby reports that the corporate "reform" group, Stand For Children, spent $750,000 in a mostly losing cause, to support anti-public school, anti-union candidates in local elections. But their influence peddling wasn't a complete bust since it appears that Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools in the state and a clear favorite of Stand, appears to have passed by a slim margin.

Monday, November 12, 2012

K12 Inc. stock sinking like a stone

The king of the privatized virtual learning world, K12Inc. has investors checking to see if they're still wearing their shorts. The problem continues to be extravagant costs stemming from huge salaries paid to top execs, plus K12 students scoring behind kids in brick-and-mortar schools.

Market Watch reports:  K12 Inc.'s fiscal first-quarter profit slipped 5.3% as the online education provider saw a double-digit revenue increase weighed down by a continued rise in costs.The stock has fallen 42% in the past 12 months. In the latest period, instructional expenses were up 17%, and selling, general and administrative expenses rose 15%.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Med student killed as police fire on anti-privatization protest in D.R.

Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) demonstrators place fellow student Wilfredo Florian into a shopping cart after he was shot by riot police in Santo Domingo   (REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas) 
Police opened fire on an anti-privatization protest in the Dominican Republic, killing 21-year old medical student, William Florian Ramírez — who was not taking part in the protest.  NYT reports that violence erupted during a confrontation between the police and protesters angry about a new austerity law that will significantly raise sales taxes and privatize the the country's public university.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Billionaire Lucas -- the new power philanthropist in education

Not sure about this. But does this mean that George Lucas pays no taxes on the sale of his film company to Disney? The "Star Wars" director will reportedly "donate" the $4.05 billion he will receive from the sale of Lucasfilm Ltd. to Disney to his own Edutopia foundation. Like Bill Gates, who left his post atop Microsoft to run his $30 billion foundation, Lucas will now make the world of education reform his own. 
“I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education. It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future –- and the first step begins with the social, emotional, and intellectual tools we provide to our children. As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt – as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so.”
So far, Edutopia has been more humane than Gates' own power philanthropy. But we'll see.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Billionaires jump into Louisiana school board race. Why?

An  article in the Oct. 17 Nation by  Matthew Cunningham-Cook, asks the question, "Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?"

As Naomi Klein detailed in The Shock Doctrine, post-Katrina New Orleans has been Ground Zero for efforts to privatize schools and weaken teacher unions—hallmarks of education reform. After the hurricane, the vast majority of New Orleans public schools were taken over by the states’ Recovery School District—the district that was subsequently headed by John White. Nearly all of the city’s 7,500 public school employees were fired, although a few were later rehired. The post-Katrina shock also saw the advent of a limited voucher program and a massive expansion of charter schools, many of them for-profit. Education Secretary Arne Duncan actually said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” and Michael Bloomberg repeated this position almost verbatim in a profile in Fast Company in 2011. And yet, the Recovery School District received a “D” on the state’s evaluation system in 2011, making it the second-lowest-performing district in the state.
The article takes note of the estimated 2,000 teachers who rallied against Gov. Jindal's "reform"  bill on March 14, but were not let into the committee room. It also mentions Karran Harper Royal, a leading activist who is a mother of a child with disabilities and who's running as a progressive candidate for the board. I met Karran last August at the SOS Convention and was impressed by her obvious leadership qualities. She is active in Parents Across America and deserves our support for her campaign.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sarah Silverman: Corporations are people

But are people people?

Consulting companies the bane of public space, schools...

Daniel Denvir has a great post over at The Atlantic Cities blog, "As Local Governments Shrink, Private Consultants Reap Rewards."

Denvir describes the trend of supplanting public space and decision making with corporate consulting companies. One of the main proponents of this strategy is Mitt Romney, who started in business with the Boston Consulting Company. After leaving BCG, Mitt Romney went on to work at Bain and Company consultants, from where he launched the controversial private-equity firm Bain Capital. For decades, consulting has been a top choice for MBA graduates like Romney.

In 2010, the Gates Foundation gave 15 cash-desperate states $250,000 to hire consultants to write applications for Obama's Race to the Top competitive education grant. The grants, which encourage districts to tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests and loosen restrictions on charter schools, draws heavily from the corporate-education reform model funded by the big three foundations.

Denvir writes,
Consultants, like Romney, have the appeal of "real-world" experience which, in early 21st-century America, means experience in the hard-nosed competitive marketplace outside of the public sector's one-time easy comfort. Since August 2008, the number of public employees has already been cut by 662,000 nationwide. Consultants draw on experience from a private sector that has relentlessly slashed employment, broken unions and outsourced work for decades.
 Consultants often recommend privatizing services like education and slashing public employee workforces, though sometimes governments might just be looking for outside expertise to validate decisions that have already been made.
 In Philadelphia, the $2 billion William Penn Foundation paid the bill for a Boston Consulting Group plan to restructure the city's fiscally-distraught (and state-government run) public schools in the wake of massive state budget cuts. The resulting "Blueprint" proposed a radical overhaul that would dismantle the central office and potentially transfer school-level management to private charter school organizations. 

Daniel Denvir is a staff reporter at Philadelphia City Paper and a frequent contributor to Salon and The Atlantic Cities.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Goldman Sachs exec exposes rip-off of Teacher Retirement Fund

Wall St. (N.Y. Times)
Greg Smith's book, "Why I Left Goldman Sachs," is being released Monday. It's a window into the culture of Wall Street and a company that routinely ripped-off clients, including teacher retirement funds. Smith was so disgusted with his firm, Goldman Sachs, that he quit via an open letter in the New York Times  in which he says:
"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail."
The term refers to clients, including teacher retirement fund managers, who were easily persuaded to invest fund dollars into poor performing stocks the Wall Street-ers where anxious to dump. The funds lost millions and now teachers are being forced to pay the price with cuts in their hard earned benefits.

In an interview on CBS News' 60 Minutes on Sunday to promote the release of his book Smith says:
"What Wall Street will do is they will approach one of these philanthropies or endowments or teachers' retirement pension funds in Alabama or Virginia or Oregon and they'll say to them: 'We have this great product that is going to serve your needs'. And it looks very alluring to these investors but what they don't realise is that upfront they are immediately paying the bank $2m or $3m because of their lack of sophistication."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gates axes its L.A. front group

The Gates Foundation, has pulled the rug out from under it's national group formed to push for favored "reforms," including  teacher evaluations based on standardized testing.

Communities for Teaching Excellence, headed by former L.A. school board member Yolie Flores, is planning to close its doors next month. Although based in Los Angeles, the group had a presence in Hillsborough County, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; and in Pittsburgh — all locations where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the development of new teacher-evaluation systems.

Communities for Teaching Excellence was not hitting its marks in terms of generating press coverage and building community coalitions, said Amy Wilkins, chairwoman of the board of directors.

Best quote from Wilkins:
"Gates was such a big part of the funding. That made some of the partners and other funders nervous. How do you look like an independent actor? You have to show broad public support so you're not seen as a phony-baloney front for Gates. People criticized the organization for that and they didn't move closer to shaking that label."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We don't need no stinking approval -- we've got Gates $$

The Sun-Times reports that two private charter school operators are planning to open schools in Chicago even though they have yet to be vetted by CPS. Why are the owners of Foundations College Prep and Intrinsic Schools they so sure that board approval is coming -- even while CPS is supposed to be downsizing? Simple. They have Gates money behind them and in Rahm's world, money can buy you as many charters as you want, regardless of your track record or the needs of the community.
 “We have not approved any new charters, and don’t plan to discuss until that process is complete,” says CPS liar-in-chief Becky Carroll, winking at the two charter operators. 
Writes S-T reporter Lauren Fitzpatrick:

 How CPS can be promising in its Call for Quality Schools plan to open more charters while downsizing its buildings is something some 30 aldermen have questioned, demanding the City Council Education Committee hold a public hearing to explore. CPS officials have said they’ll be “right-sizing” the district that has 200,000 fewer children than seats.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who drafted a resolution, said Wednesday that a hearing is planned but not yet scheduled. “Movement toward charter schools without any reflective approach and analysis is just wrong,” he said.
Foundations College Prep founder Micki O’Neil, is a former investment banker (just what our kids need) who knows damn well her schools will be approved by the School Board.

Zaikos has MBA from Harvard
Intrinsic was founded by Melissa Zaikos, a Harvard business school grad and former Deloitte management consultant, and a graduate of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. As far as I can tell, Zaidos has never operated a school before and Intrinsic has no track record. So what is Gates funding exactly?

Illinois Network of Charter Schools hustler-in-chief, Andrew Broy claims he doesn't know who’d been recommended for a new charter (no one, Andrew, according to Becky Carroll)  but says  that a foundation wouldn’t likely hand out money to just anyone.

No question that O'Neil and Zaikos are not "just anyone."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"They've positioned themselves as 'reformers'"

Cheryl Scott Williams, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, takes on the corporate reformers with a strong EdWeek commentary, "School Reform, But From Whose Perspective?"

Writes Williams:
Prominent national leaders from government, corporations, and philanthropic organizations, having positioned themselves as "reformers," hold the bully pulpit in not only proclaiming education professionals as inadequate in ability and practice, but also in controlling access to significant resources to define and support reform efforts... 
...In the end, we're all responsible for building and sustaining the best educational experience possible for all our children. To the extent we continue to polarize the debate, with privileged powerbrokers dictating investments and practices designed to circumvent the professionals now working in the field, we're doomed to failure. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Who's behind Washington state charter initiative? Who do you think?

Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton gave  $1.7M. (Mug Shot)
Washington voters have rejected the opening of public charter schools three times — in 1996, 2000 and 2004 — but this time around, big money is pouring in on the side of privately-run charter schools.

Valerie Strauss at the Answer Sheet posts:
To get an understanding of how America’s wealthiest people are using some of their fortunes to drive school reform, take a look at a list of the contributors to the pro-charter school initiative on the Washington state ballot in November. The first few pages — the ones with the biggest donations — is a who’s who of billionaires.

This all helps illustrate what education historian Diane Ravitch referred to as “the billionaire boy’s club” (which apparently has expanded to include females) in her  bestselling book, “The Life and Death of the Great American School System,” and her in subsequent writings. In this post, she wrote:
“Today, the question of democracy looms large as we see increasing efforts to privatize the control of public schools. There is an even more worrisome and allied trend, and that is the growing influence of money in education politics at the state and local levels.”
Friedman's market theory doesn't work

The Answer Sheet also carried a post worth reading by Marc Tucker, president of the non-profit National Center on Education and the Economy, called "Why the ‘market theory’ of education reform doesn’t work."

Writes Tucker:
The theory doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in theory (because most parents don’t place academic performance at the top of their list of things they are looking for in a school) and it doesn’t work in practice, either.  How do we know that?  Because, when we look at large-scale studies of the academic performance of charter schools versus regular public schools, taking into account the background of the students served, the results come out within a few points of each other, conferring a decisive advantage on neither.  It is certainly true that some charter schools greatly outperform the average regular public school, but it is also true that some regular public schools greatly outperform the average charter school.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pearson profits while parents protest N.Y. test madness

PARENTS UNITED From left, Lori Chajet, Abby Subak and Martha Foote outside Public School 321 in Brooklyn.
The New York Times reports today that many N.Y. parents are opting out of field testing the state's new round of standardized tests related to the Common Core standards.

Brooklyn parent Lori Chajet says:
“I want my school to use tests to help instruction, to help find out if kids don’t know fractions. I don’t want my child to feel like her score will decide if her teacher has a job or not.”
NUY says the tests are not cheap: Pearson, the company that creates the standardized exams and the field tests, charged the state about $7 million for testing services for the 2012 calendar year — 30 percent of that budget went toward field testing.

A group of parents talked about their concerns on the sidelines of soccer fields and during dance classes. And they came together in groups like Parent Voices, New York.

Jen Nessel leads the newly formed Community Action Committee of the P.A. at the East Village Community School in Manhattan. The group came together after the field tests in June, when nearly all parents in the school signed a letter, delivered to the principal, stating that they would decline to have their children take the test.

Officials said they weren’t concerned that large numbers of children would skip the field tests this month. “The numbers of the people who were boycotting in June were small,” Ms. Lopatin, of the city Education Department, said. But activists say that the boycott is just one step in changing the way schools approach testing and how parents and families fit into the conversation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Foreign investment pouring in for charter schools

Reuters reports that wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools.
In Buffalo, New York, foreign funds paid for the Health Sciences Charter School to renovate a 19th-century orphanage into modern classrooms and computer labs. In Florence, Arizona, overseas investment is expected to finance a sixth campus for the booming chain of American Leadership Academy charter schools. And in Florida, state business development officials say foreign investment in charter schools is poised to triple next year, to $90 million.
It turns out that under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects. In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations.

Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Foreign aid pouring into my Chicago neighborhood

Workmen put finishing touches on our new neighborhood soccer field built with foreign aid.

Corporations have found a safe tax haven here in Chicago and the State of Illinois. So much so that teacher retirement funds are being threatened, mental health clinics are being shuttered along with a hundred neighborhood schools, due mainly to lack of revenue. Under Rahm Emanuel's regime, Chicago is being turned into a beggar city which now operates on the charity and benevolence of the mayor's wealthy patrons and power philanthropists along with foreign aid. 

The latest example:  Down the street from a closed mental health clinic in my Logan Square neighborhood, a new astro-turf soccer field is under construction thanks to foreign aid from the oil-wealthy United Arab Emirates, the benevolence of British soccer moguls, and the Pritzkers, the billionaire union-busting family that refuses to pay their Hyatt Hotel workers a living wage.
“We have a philosophy of giving back to the community — America is a great, up-and-coming soccer market, but first we want to give back,” said Gary Hopkins, head of Manchester City’s international development team in the United States. He said that Manchester City will be providing three years of soccer programming, including training and bringing in coaches to work with kids interested in the game.

Hopkins is also author of Star Spangled Soccer: Selling, Marketing and Management of Soccer in the USA and says that interest in soccer among Americans took off after Chicago hosted the 1994 World Cup. -- Chicago Sun-Times

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A non-productive prison-based economy

“With those razor blades on that fence, they’d bleed to death before they’d get out of this field,” Hebeler said.
In Illinois, when pols talk about "job creation" they probably aren't talking about capital investment in manufacturing. Big corporate investors would rather do that in other countries where labor is cheap and regulations few. Instead, the only hope for jobs in communities like Thompson, is that the feds will come in with hundreds of millions of dollars -- not for infrastructure repair, schools, or anything productive -- but for more prisons. 

This helps explain the school-to-prison pipeline

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Latest corporate reform buzz words -- 'Portfolio Management'

The term “portfolio management” is borrowed from Wall Street, where the idea is to buy winning stocks and sell losers. -- The Notebook
It was originally an idea of early school reformers in New York and other cities, as a way to make innovative inroads into large, bureaucratically run school districts piece by piece. But like so many good reform ideas, the notion of downsizing and decentralizing has been largely taken over by today's corporate reformers bent on school privatization.

The latest plan cooked up by corporate reformers is called, portfolio management. That's where a collection of public schools are handed over to outside providers like universities or private management companies -- even the Catholic Church -- to run. Often these school are then turned into charter schools to modify or eliminate union protections completely, close schools and fire teachers in mass.

Philadelphia has now become the national model for this portfolio management approach. According to The Notebook:
The School District of Philadelphia now touts its expanding mix of traditional and charter schools as well as its Renaissance Schools – neighborhood schools run by charter management companies. The idea is to create a portfolio of school choices for parents. That array of options will grow even bigger as envisioned by the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, which is promoting collaboration to improve all the public, charter, private, and Catholic schools in the city. Toward that end, the Philadelphia School Partnership has raised $50 million – half its goal – to fund promising programs.
Like most of these top-down reform plans, there is little mention of anything having to do with real school improvement, teaching and learning, teacher support and development, smaller schools or class sizes.

Here's Diane Ravitch's fake enthusiasm for the Philly plan:
Sign me up! 
The School Reform Commission with the guidance of its advisor the Boston Consulting Group (big proponent of privatization without unions and parent to Bain) thinks that if it can create a flexible workforce with performance pay and no job protections, this will attract better teachers.
This reader responds:
Oh boy, low pay and no protection of any kind, whatsoever. Sign me up. What is the thought process behind “better teachers without a union”? Do they truly believe those Gates funded teacher groups that claim they don’t need a union or a contract?  
The Philly reform plan is also part of an attempt to remove the district from  a 39-year old desegregation lawsuit. That suit, filed by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, charged that Philadelphia schools were unlawfully segregated by race and denied minority students educational opportunities equal to white students. The parties agreed to end the lawsuit in July and make the portfolio management plan, including school closures and charters, a substitute for real substantial desegregation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kaiser's "F" bomb on Latino leaders reveals his ties to DeVos family

Michael Kaiser
Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, responded to criticism of the Center's anti-Latino bias by telling National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Chairman Felix Sanchez to "go fuck yourself." While Kaiser, who fancies himself a Kennedy liberal, was forced to apologize, he remains atop the prestigious, heavily endowed, cultural awards group.

But a closer look at the Center's patrons reveals Kaiser's close ties to extreme right-wing billionaires like the Dick and Betsy DeVos who donated $22.5 million to the Center in 2010. It was this gift which allowed Kaiser to remain part of the center's leadership structure through 2017, directing what will be named the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. Kaiser will assume that role in late 2014, after his contract extension is completed.
Betsy DeVos said she was impressed by how Kaiser talked about "how we invest millions of dollars in the arts, and training artists, but how we invest very little in training the leaders who hire the artists and run the organizations. We want to help develop human capital and leverage that capital to the greatest extent possible."  
If you follow this blog regularly, you already know about the DeVos family. They are a powerful force behind school vouchers and privately-managed charter schools and corporate-style education "reform." They also finance the far-right Family Research Council, and Focus on Family as well as various white supremacist groups in their home state of Michigan. Betsy DeVos is sister to the founder (Erik Prince) of Blackwater (now Xe Corp.) the private security firm that has become one of the largest supplier of mercenary soldiers in the world. As a member of ALEC, she provided millions to anti-immigration groups in Arizona. and to the failed campaign to prevent the recall of racist pol Russell Pearce.  The DeVoses are also patrons of Wisconsin's Tea Party Gov. Walker and put millions into his campaign against the state's teacher unions.

Dick & Betsy DeVos   
Dick DeVos also owns the NBA's Orlando Magic. Read my favorite sports writer, Dave Zirin describe his own run-in with DeVos.

This is not to say that these Tea Party billionaires put those racist, disgusting words into Michael Kaiser's mouth. But when your whole career is built on currying favor from people like the DeVoses, it can't help but influence you. There have only been two Latino Kennedy Award recipients in the past 35 years, singer Plácido Domingo and Broadway performer Chita Rivera, No Latino has received the award in a decade.

Actor Jimmy Smits, one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, told POLITICO that, upon hearing the news of the phone call between Kaiser and Sanchez, he was disappointed, but not surprised. For Smits, the current situation at the Kennedy Center reaches into the White House as well.
”The last thing you want is for the president and the first lady to find themselves presiding over an event that is locking out Latinos. You can’t leave that decision up to the producer, the White House and the board have to be involved in the final selection of these honorees. You do not want these awards to embarrass either the president or the Kennedy family again.”
Side thought: If a mayor of Chicago ever used such language to debase local black or Latino leaders (particularly a certain teacher union leader), he would certainly be run out of town. Right?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Look who paid KIPP's way to New Zeeland

Hedge-funder, Julian Robertson
Look who paid KIPP founder, Mike Feinberg’s way to NZ where he got a cool reception. None other than conservative hedge-funder Julian Robertson. Robertson's Aotearoa Foundation, is the local arm of the right wing USA-based Robertson Foundation. It was hedge-fund king Robertson who founded the now-defunct Tiger Management Fund which was mired in scandal over the collapse of U.S. Airways.

Robertson recently gave $1.25 million to  Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney campaign. In fact, Robertson wanted Romney to run his hedge fund. But Romney has enough sense not to get involved in such a crooked organization and ran Bain Capital instead.
"I'm fortunate to be a one-percenter", said Robertson. "I put it up there as probably, if it works, as the best money I've spent -- better than for cancer or education or all these things -- because I think a President of the United States, an effective president, the leverage he has to do good is just enormous." -- Business Insider
Diane Ravitch points out in response to my blog comment, " And owns some charters too, like the one crammed into PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, over opposition from parents and teachers and community."

Speaking of KIPP, an arrogant Jonathan Alter  on Melissa -Harris-Perry's show last week, snorted at Texan Univ.Prof. Julian Vasquez Heilig, "I won't let you diss KIPP!" H-P responded angrily, "Yes you will. This is my 5:10 on the video.

Alter yells at Texas prof, "I won't let you diss KIPP!" 

Vasquez-Heilig, rather than "dissing" KIPP, was simply revealing data on the disproportional high dropout (pushout) rate among African-American KIPP students in Texas. I think the "let you" part of Alter's screed is most revealing of the white, male entitlement syndrome which typifies the corporate school reformers.

You might remember, it was faux-journalist Alter who equated teacher unions with the Tea Party and who was Arne Duncan's spear-carrier in the personal media assault campaign on Ravitch.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Michelle Rhee writes about Chicago? Really?

I guess with all eyes on Chicago, Broom Lady Rhee just couldn't resist. But her Washington Post piece, "Chicago teachers strike underscores shift among Democrats" is so full of lies and misinformation that Rhee simply fulfills her own caricature.

You don't have to read very far to find the first lie.

Rhee's piece begins: "I am a democrat because I believe in the party's principles..." OK, that's not exactly a lie but she should have qualified that statement with, "I'm a Rahm Emanuel Democrat." Or, "I'm an Arne Duncan Democrat." Or maybe even," I'm a Tea Party Democrat," since she does most of her work these days for Tea Party guvs like the Ricks -- Scott in Florida and Snyder in Michigan or Walker in Wisconsin.. Wherever you find union-busting pols, there you will find the Broom Lady.

Instead she identifies herself as a "liberal progressive" -- BIG LIE!

Her WaPo piece is a paean to Rahm, who Rhee claims, "underscored a transformation in the Democratic Party. Increasingly, those who staunchly side with unions at any cost appear to be in the minority, while more Democrats are saying we have to look at education differently." She goes on to hail Tea-Party Democratic mayors in L.A. and Cleveland, as well as her own hubby, Mayor K.J. in Sacramento, who are taking Rahm's path against the unions the same way she hailed the Tea Party Republican guvs in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Rhee tells Dems, "I know that opposing unions on some of these policies isn't easy" but you can do it if you close your eyes, push real hard, and follow the money.

She says:
"...the more that unions continue to attack fellow Democrats, casting everyone who challenges their policies as “anti-teacher” or “anti-union,” the more they isolate themselves from the broader Democratic Party.
 Rhee is not without criticisms of Rahm's "concessions." She's upset that the union held the line on seniority rights. She's angry that Rahm let teachers get away with having less than 30% of their evaluation being based on standardized test scores. I suppose she would have liked to see it be 200%.  And mostly she's beside herself over the defeat of "merit pay" which she pushed successfully in D.C. on gullible union leadership.

Then Rhee goes right for Karen Lewis like a flea attacking a Lioness.
It was frustrating to hear Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis say toward the end of the dispute that the strike would continue to see whether there is “anything else they can get.” But at least that was clear evidence that, for union leaders, this strike was never about what was best for kids.
Yes, Rhee and the corporate reformers are all about the kids. You can tell that's true because they say so, and also because they always name their money-raising fronts with names like Students First or Stand For Children or Kids are Nice.

But before any more big city mayors  jump on Rhee's anti-union broomstick and try to fly on it, I would advise them to take a look at Rahm's current poll ratings. Remember, it was Rhee who got former D.C. Mayor Fenty run out of town and Illinois Democratic gov Quinn is almost toast for trying to pull a pension grab in his state.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tribune reports: Rahm taking the charter route on union busting

Billionaire Rauner. His money goes to Rahm's charter expansion. (F. Klonsky toon)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's first attempt at union busting was beaten back by the CTU strike. The union and its community supporters held the line against the assault by corporate "reformers" like Stand For Children and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Now the mayor and his patrons are coming at it another way -- with the expansion of privately run, union-free charter schools.

According to the Tribune, CPS officials expect about 53,000 of the district's roughly 400,000 students will attend charter schools this year, and the number of charters will increase to more than 100. The city is aiming to add 60 charter schools in the next five years with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to expand charters across the country.

The Trib cites experts who call union's stand against privately run charter networks unique in the United States, where several big cities, including New York, also have pushed charter schools.
"What's different is this is really the first mass movement against that comprehensive strategy" for privatization, said Janelle Scott, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies school policy.
They also point out that charters on average, are performing no better that traditional public schools when it comes to comparative standardized test scores -- Rahm's gold standard.

Critics point out that charter schools' results may look better in part because the schools practice their own form of student selection by squeezing out students with academic or discipline problems.
For instance, Urban Prep Academy has made headlines because the entire graduating class of the all-boys charter school gained college acceptance three years in a row. But school administrators acknowledge that the 2012 class of 85 boys was half its original size by graduation day, though they say the school works hard to keep troubled students in school.
Chicago;s charters also receive hundreds of millions of dollars beyond what other public schools get, largely from power philanthropists like Republican billionaire and Rahm supporter, Bruce Rauner. 

"The private funding picture makes broad comparisons of per-pupil spending difficult," says the Trib. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

FOX News didn't reveal its ties to testing companies

In 89 segments between September 10 and 16, Fox News reported on the Chicago Teachers Union's strike without disclosing its financial ties to the educational technology company administering the standardized tests with which the union takes issue.  This according to Media Matters.
Fox News parent company News Corp. acquired a 90-percent stake in Wireless Generation in 2010. Last May, the company agreed to provide Early Mathematics Assessment Services and Early Literacy Assessment Services to Chicago Public Schools. These contracts total $4.7 million. A central reason the Chicago Teachers Union decided to strike is their objection to the school district's call for heavily weighing such standardized testing to ultimately determine teacher pay and layoffs.
 But Fox News anchors and reporters never once disclosed its parent company's ties to Wireless Generation even as the network routinely criticized the strike and the Chicago Teachers Union.
News Corp and Wireless Generation are part of the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Hedge-funders underwrite Rahm's post-strike ad campaign

DFER Board member Whitney Tilson is chief of T2 Partners and Tilson Funds . DFER is underwriting Rahm's anti-union ad campaign.
After a devastating political defeat at the hands of Karen Lewis and the CTU in last week's teachers strike and with public opinion moving strongly to the teachers's side. The mayor of Chicago has unleashed a mult-million-dollar damage-control ad campaign. 
From the Chicago Tribune
In a political-style TV and radio ad blitz launched Wednesday, Emanuel says "change is never easy" but declares the outcome "the right deal for our kids." The ads are being paid for by a nonprofit arm of a political action committee started by Wall Street hedge fund managers who believe the creation of privately run charter schools is the best avenue to reform.
The ad campaign is being underwritten by Education Reform Now, the nonprofit arm of the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) Political Action Committee. DFER represents the interests of a group of New York investment companies who are power houses within the Democratic Party but who favor charter schools, school vouchers and anything else that will weaken or destroy teacher unions.
"Mayor Emanuel was the best person to communicate to Chicagoans all of the unprecedented wins the kids of this city received out of this contract, so he fought for them, and we believe he should be in that TV spot talking to Chicagoans about it," said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, executive director of the group's Illinois chapter of DFER.
The TV ads are being produced by John Kupper of AKPD Message and Media, the same firm used by the Chicago Committee, a campaign fund controlled by Emanuel. That firm, was started by Pres. Obama's campaign chief David Axelrod who still has connections with it and whose son reportedly still works there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rahm's billionaire Republican pal goes off on the CTU

"The critical issue is to separate the union from the teachers. They're not the same thing." -- Bruce Rauner 
Yesterday it was Rupert Murdoch bag man, Joel Klein hating on the CTU. Today its Rahm's billionaire Republican pal Bruce Rauner who's in a rage over the teachers' strike victory. Rauner thinks that Rahm gave away the store in his negotiations with the union.

According to the Tribune,
Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist who is helping lead a drive for more charter schools in the city, predicted the final details of a new contract would not "end well" for critics of the teachers union because "I think we've given in on a fair number of critical issues." But he called the intense contract negotiations "one battle in a very long-term fight."
I hope the CTU has the same attitude.

More from the Tribune:
Rauner, a potential Republican candidate for governor, speaks frequently with Emanuel and was placed by the mayor on the board of World Business Chicago, the city's economic development arm. Rauner has met more than a dozen times with Chicago Public Schools officials during the initial nine-month period that new CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard's team was organizing policy.
Rauner also is on the board of the Chicago Public Education Fund, a group advocating more teacher accountability, and New Schools for Chicago, an organization seeking private investment in charter schools. He has a charter school named after him, and his wife served on Emanuel's mayoral transition team for education.

Look who's attacking Chicago's striking teachers

No, this strike feels more about attitude—"the mayor doesn't respect us"—than substance.
It's none other than Rupert Murdoch's bag man. In an op-ed in Sunday's Wall Street Journal, News Corp. executive V.P Joel Klein attacked the ongoing teachers' strike in Chicago without disclosing his role in administering $4.7 million in educational testing contracts at the heart of the dispute.

Media Matters reports that Klein, the former schools chancellor for New York City, was hired by Rupert Murdoch to run News Corp.'s education division in July of 2010 and is now the CEO of Amplify. While the Journal -- which is also owned by News Corp. -- identified Klein as Amplify's CEO, neither the paper nor Klein himself disclosed that the company has millions of dollars in contracts for the very testing that is a central issue in the strike.

In May, Chicago Public Schools entered into an agreement with Wireless Generation to provide "math assessment services" and "literacy assessment services" to the school district. The math agreement is for "a total cost not to exceed $1,700,000" while the literacy assessment cites a cost "not to exceed $3,000,000."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Charter school mythology -- Part II, The myth of charter superiority

By Mike Klonsky

This is the second part of a two-part series of posts on Charter school mythology.

The transformation of charter schools from in-district experiments in the early 1990s, to competitive, highly-privatized alternative networks a decade later, has had a major impact on the way we think about public education as well as on how learning outcomes are reported. Networks of charter operators, cyber-schoolers, and  their allied web of charter school associations and authorizers, as well as conservative think tanks, have produced their own "studies" and have engaged in a media/advertising blitz aimed at demonstrating the superiority of charters over traditional public schools. Charters and their associations are allowed to use millions in public dollars to make such unsubstantiated claims while traditional public schools are not allowed to advertise.

Heavily financed pro-charter propaganda films like Waiting for Superman, are also passed off as research. Jeffrey Henig, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College argues that WFS "oversells charter schools."
"The film notes that only 1 in 5 charter schools are highly successful. But “it implies there’s some philosophy that unifies charters and we just need to replicate that,”
 A recent study by the pro-charter Progressive Policy Institute even earned an NEPC Bunkum Award for citing exponential growth organizations, such as Starbucks and Apple, as well as the rapid growth of molds, viruses and cancers, in order to advocate similar growth models for charter schools.

The political pressures put on charter schools and their operators to compete with outperform nearby schools have pushed charters operators to make astounding claims, such as 100% success rates. These pressures have also driven widespread cheating. The latest scandal involved the charter operators of  the Crescendo Charter chain in southern California. The cheating scandal caused one former Crescendo teacher to reflect:
"Here I had been going around bragging about how awesome our school is, and now I wonder: Are we cheaters?"
After some charter schools in New York showed higher test score results than their neighborhood counterparts, Mayor Bloomberg exclaimed,  “I think they demonstrate again and again and again that that model gives superior results.” 
“What we’re seeing, and what we’ve seen all along,” James Merriman, chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, told the New York Times, “is that the longer school day and longer school year that characterizes charter schools, as well as simply a focus on instruction and the sense of having a schoolwide culture that everyone buys into, results in these kinds of achievement scores.”
But a preponderance of currently available research belies the myth of charter school superiority. Regardless of the metric being used, charter schools continue to have more or less the same variance in measurable learning outcomes as the regular public schools they aim at replacing. And in cases where charters did outscore or outpace their public school competition, it appears to have less to do with them being charters as much as it did with their smaller size, selective enrollment/attrition policies (fewer students with special needs or English Language Learners), or greater political cache and access to outside funding. These same factors however, could also account for higher measurable outcomes in public sector schools, especially in wealthy suburban schools and public selective enrollment schools.

If the difference in outcomes have more to do with who schools enroll rather than any particular "model" of schooling, the whole argument for superiority becomes invalid. Rather than being a force for public school improvement, the differential in outcomes can be seen as contributing to, rather than helping to close,  the widening so-called "achievement gap" and the growing social inequity that comes from having and reproducing  a two-tier public school system.

In fact, the very notion of charter school superiority implies a two-tier system. It implies that charters are all one thing, or at least that they have more in common with each other than they do with other public sector schools. But the original concept of charters would seem to work against that notion. Charters were first imagined as individual public centers of innovation. It was their uniqueness -- not their sameness -- that made them such. It was only with the rise of the private and for-profit  charter-management networks and their competition for the public dollar that charters began being considered as a group with common interests opposed to and competing with their public school counterparts.

The emergence of heavily financed charter networks in the 1990s also drove a certain type of academic research, based entirely or mainly on test score comparisons aimed at proving charter superiority. But so far, the effort has failed. In fact a preponderance of the research, even when carried out by pro-charter research organizations and think tanks, has shown charters, taken as a whole, to be no better, and in many cases worse than the public-sector schools they were being compared with.

The most often cited of  this pile of studies was performed by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) in 2009. The CREDO Study compared public charter schools and traditional public schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The Stanford researchers tried to match up real charter school students with fictional groups of statistically similar students in the same area (“virtual twins”), and compared charter school students’ test score gains) to those of their “twins.”

The study found, among other things, that only 17% of the charters or one in six of the charters studied, had students who did better on the whole than their public school twins, and that 37% actually did worse. In the remaining 46 % there was no statistical difference.

Of course there are big problems in making such comparisons and in drawing big conclusions from these kind of statistical studies. For one thing, they don't tell us anything about what is going on in the schools that  may have led to better or worse outcomes. Secondly, the differences in measured reading and math scores may not have been very great or even statistically significant.

CREDO's finding were essentially replicated in a  study by the pro-charter Mathematica Policy Research, of Princeton, N.J.. The federally commissioned studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, involving 2,330 students who applied to 36 charter middle schools in 15 states, represents the first large-scale randomized trial of the effectiveness of charter schools across several states and rural, suburban, and urban locales. The charter schools in the sample conducted random lotteries for admissions, so that only chance determined who attended. The study, also concludes that the lottery winners did no better, on average, than the lottery losers on non-academic outcomes such as behavior and attendance.

As for networks of charters, run by charter management organizations or CMOs, current studies once again find little or no measurable difference in how students do, between them and other public schools. A recent Single Study Review by the What Works Clearinghouse, of the Report “Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts, confirms many earlier findings.
The study found that, on average, CMOs did not have a statistically significant impact on middle school student performance on state assessments in math, reading, science, or social studies. Similarly, there was not a statistically significant impact of CMOs on graduation rates and rates of post-secondary enrollment for high school students.
In Chicago, the Sun-Times reports that  charter school franchises produced wildly uneven results — even among different campuses of the same chain — on state achievement test data.
Only one of nine Chicago multi-site charter operators — Noble Street — beat the districtwide average of all Chicago public schools for the percent of students passing state tests last spring on every campus it oversees. The overall passing rate at two city charter franchises — Aspira and North Lawndale — was below the city average at every campus those two groups operate. Four other chains — Betty Shabazz, Perspectives, North Lawndale and Chicago International — saw the majority of their campuses with over-all pass rates that were below the citywide average. In fact, one Shabazz high school campus — DuSable — had a passing rate that put it among the bottom 30 high schools in the entire state. One of its elementary campuses placed among the bottom 40.
Following this first-time release of Chicago charter network scores, David Berliner, education professor at Arizona State University, told the Chicago Sun-Times the results should signal to parents that not all charters are equally replicated, like a McDonalds or Holiday Inn.’

One of the major problems facing charter schools is the instability caused by the rapid turnover of faculty and staff. The  L.A. Times reports that about half of all  teachers in charter middle and high schools left their jobs each year over a six-year period studied by UC Berkeley researchers, who released their findings in July, 2011. Why such an incredibly high rate of attrition? According to the study:
  • They hire heavily from Teach For America, a cadre of recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years.
  • Some young teachers find the intense, demanding charter experience more than they bargained for, suggested Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller, a study co-author.
  • Leaving for better pay and benefits at traditional school districts.
  • Lack of promised input into school decisions, an unceasing workload and few job protections.
  • "Teachers feel so beleaguered because everything is presented to us as a problem we have to solve. But we can't fix all those problems, like when a kid misses 60 days in a semester."
One of the tactics used by charter operators to artificially drive up test scores has been exclusionary enrollment and push-out tactics. This will be the topic of  Part 3 in this series.