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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For-profit teacher certification is booming

This, according to a Nov. 26 New York Times report.

As you might expect, Texas leads the way in for-profit teacher certifications. More than 110 alternative certification programs — including iteachTexas, and nonprofits like Teach for America — produce 40 percent of all new teachers in Texas, according to an analysis of Texas Education Agency data by Ed Fuller, a Penn State University education professor and former University of Texas researcher.

For-profit programs dominate that market: in each year since 2007, the two largest companies, A+ Texas Teachers and iteachTexas, have produced far more teachers than any other traditional or alternative program. While virtually all paths to the classroom have seen declines since 2003, according to Mr. Fuller’s analysis, for-profit alternative certification programs have grown by 23 percent. 

Power philanthropy: 'Influence peddling writ large'

Political reporter Nicholas Confessore has an important piece in today's Times, "Policy Making Billionaires" which reveals the disproportional power over public policy and institutions held by and handful of the world's richest men.
“It’s sort of influence-peddling writ large,” said Richard L. Brodsky, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning research organization Demos and a former New York State assemblyman. “The notion that the society is better served by the super-rich exercising their charitable instincts is in the end anti-democratic.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Virtual' schools

The Nation reports:
If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. -- Lee Fang, How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bradley Foundation: Sugar daddy for racism and right-wing school reform

Mike De Sisti

From its headquarters at 1241 N. Franklin Place on Milwaukee's lower east side, the low-profile Bradley Foundation gives away millions of dollars every year, acting like a venture capital fund for conservative ideas.

Yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carries a feature on the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.The Bradleys were the main source of support for Gov. Walker's assault on Wisconsin's teachers and public employee unions. Indiana's T-Party Gov. Mitch Daniels sat on Bradley's board of directors. His teacher-bashing, anti-union school "reform" initiative was recently embraced by Ed Sec. Arne Duncan. 

Click pic to enlarge
They also provided support for the Milwaukee school voucher program and its main proponent in the African-American community, Howard Fuller and his Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) . They funded Charles Murray, author of racist book, "The Bell Curve," which argues that intelligence is predicated on race, and Dinesh D'Souza, author of "The End of Racism," which attempts to absolve Whites from discrimination against Blacks during slavery, claiming that Blacks were too uncivilized to be a part of society anyway.
With more than $600 million in assets, the Bradley Foundation provides a cornerstone for the conservative movement in Wisconsin and across America. It has been the financial backer behind public policy experiments that started in the state and spread across the nation - including welfare reform, public vouchers for private schools and, this year, cutbacks in public employee benefits and collective bargaining. Yet outside conservative circles, the foundation has kept a low profile. It receives a fraction of the attention given the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch and the Scaife family. 
But the Bradley Foundation is in a different league: From 2001 to 2009, it doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Charter schools: public in form but private in essence

 "With these charter schools, people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’ ” -- Matthew Stewart, resident of upscale Millburn, N.J. 
There was no question about the early charter schools being public. An outgrowth of the small schools movement, these schools, usually a small number within urban school districts, were started and run by teachers who were all members of the local teachers union. The idea was to empower collaborative groups of teachers with innovative ideas about classroom practices that might produce better results for students than those found in bureaucratically governed traditional schools. It was hoped that these ideas and practices, if successful, could be shared with other schools in the district.

In other words, early charter schools were envisioned as a critical force for change within schools systems which were otherwise averse to change. But within a few years, the charter idea was hijacked by corporate reformers who saw in them the possibility of operating public schools based more on market principles and eliminating all collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public school employees. Charter schools were reorganized as part of independent and self-interested lobbying associations run with heavy funding from private, often politically conservative business-style reformers as well as private powerful foundations like Gates, Walton, and the New Schools Venture Fund or Chicago's Renaissance Schools Fund. 

Rather than being empowered, charter school teachers have become subject to the will and whims of boards of directors and stripped of their rights to make important decisions about how their students should be taught. According to a Univ. of California study, teacher attrition rates in charter schools have skyrocketed. Teachers now often face discriminatory practices in hiring and firing and charters have become notorious for their systematic exclusion of children with special needs and English-language learners. And as one might expect, none of this has made charters, on average, any more productive or successful by most measures.

Charters, in my opinion  are now both public and private. They are largely publicly funded. Established by public bodies. They can also have their charter taken away for non-performance, financial mismanagement, etc...
But they are also private in the sense that they are also funded privately in ways that shift power into the hands of private boards and power philanthropists. The are now commonly controlled by these corporate-style boards made up of representatives of private corporations or individuals, and management is often sub-contracted out to private (for-profit) management companies or CMOs, which operate without the counterweight of unions or collective bargaining agreements. This means that they are not necessarily bound by the rules of state labor relations board or rules governing the rights of teachers as public employees. Because teacher pay checks are often signed by private management companies, it is claimed, even by charter operators themselves,  that charters are private companies. Even in the sense that they are public, they are certainly not democratic.

Then there is the question of who they serve? Up until now, charter schools were almost entirely limited to inner-city neighborhoods, often being used as magnets as part of urban gentrification strategies by the banks and real estate interests. But recently, wealthier communities have adopted the charter model as a way of creating small schools with many of the features of elite, private prep schools, exclusively for their own children, but built and operated with public funding. Now, one out of five of the country’s 5,200 charter schools is in a suburb, including affluent communities like Los Altos, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

An L.A. Times story appeared recently, describing the move by some CMOs to market "boutique charters" in upscale communities like the town of Millburn, N.J.  or in Montgomery County, Md., north of Washington, D.C.

Bloomberg New reports that in Silicon Valley, an elementary school accepts one in six kindergarten applicants, offers Chinese and asks families to donate $5,000 per child each year. 
Bullis isn’t a high-end private school. It’s a taxpayer- funded, privately run public school, part of the charter-school movement that educates 1.8 million U.S. children. While charters are heralded for offering underprivileged kids an alternative to failing U.S. districts, Bullis gives an admissions edge to residents of parts of Los Altos Hills, where the median home is worth $1 million and household income is $219,000, four times the state average.
In summary, today's charters could be described as public-in-form, private-in-essence. Or essentially private.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Zuckerberg's money is being spent

According to this story in the Newark Star-Ledger, records obtained by the Education Law Center in Newark show that of the first $13 million spent out of the total $148 million donated, about a third has been been spent since September 2010 to pay political and educational consultants and contractors.

There's plenty to go around, especially if you're friends with Mayor Booker or Ed Commissioner Chris Cerf. The pass-through is called the Foundation for Newark's Future. Here's who's on the board (don't laugh).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on Imagine charters, Inc.

This from WaPo's Valerie Strauss:
Essentially, Imagine sells its buildings to a company that leases them back to Imagine, which pays extremely high rent with public dollars. The paper reported that Imagine’s 2010 annual report shows that revenue grew to $265 million that year from $95 million in 2006. Furthermore, students in Imagine schools in St. Louis performed worse this year on standardized tests than practically any other school in the city. Now, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro is urging Missouri Baptist University to close the six Imagine charters that it sponsors.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Are union-bashing charter reformers sobering up?

NYT's Joe Nocera ("Teaching With the Enemy") says Steven Brill was shocked when AFT prez Randi Weingarten held a book party for him at her home. To tell you the truth, I was too. But the real story Nocera tells is about Brill's own attitude adjustment while researching his virulent union-bashing book, ultimately leading him to make a u-turn and actually nominate Weingarten to become Mayor Bloomberg's next schools chancellor.

As most reviews have noted, however, as “Class Warfare” nears its conclusion, it suddenly veers in a different direction. Instead of bashing the union and Weingarten, Brill suggests that true reform is impossible without them. In fact, he proposes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg appoint her to be the chancellor of the New York City school system.When I asked Brill what caused his change of heart, he responded gruffly: “It’s called reporting.” The two years he spent researching school reform had given him a far richer understanding of the complexities involved in reforming the nation’s schools — and that understanding was sobering. 
Sobering, ah yes. That explains everything. 

Nocera himself seems at times to be incredibly naive and starry-eyed about charters schools, somehow imbibing  them as a class of schools where magical teaching and learning always takes place and spouting the usual cliches about unions being out to protect bad teachers.

But in the end, he too jumps on Brill's wagon and declares, "you simply cannot fix America’s schools by “scaling” charter schools. It won’t work."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Imagine, Inc.: Operating horrible charter schools for fun and profit

St. Louis charter school building has been sold and resold for 10 times original price.

Skeptical educators often ask me how it is possible to make a profit from operating a charter school. Here's one way.
Imagine Schools Inc., the nation's largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri. Nevertheless, those schools are generating millions of dollars for Imagine and a Kansas City-based real estate investment company through real estate arrangements ultimately supported with public education money. -- Post-Dispatch

Corporate "reformers" are buying local school board elections

Progressive candidate Emily Sirota (at left) lost the election to Anne Rowe who was financed by corporate front groups. 
A pivotal campaign in Denver

It's long been an accepted fact, even by the least cynical amongst us, that national elections are the playgrounds of the rich. Especially with recent court rulings that "corporations are people," corporate interests, secretly and openly, have flexed their muscles by backing pro-corporate, anti-union candidates and lobbying against environmental and other market regulations. But who would have dreamed that these same forces, operating with virtually unlimited funds at their disposal, would begin targeting local school board races?
Mike Elk at In These Times reports that increasingly, large donations from wealthy individuals and corporations are pouring into schools board races around the country to enact an agenda that attacks collective bargaining rights of teachers unions and increases the privatization of public education through charter schools and vouchers. Increasingly, it appears that outside corporate groups are becoming involved in school board races across the country from Illinois to Louisiana to Denver. Denver was their most recent target with their front group Alliance for Choice in Education serving as their conduit.

The fingerprints of national corporate organizations coordinating the money from companieslike Wal-Mart are all over the Denver School Board Race, writes Elk.
A corporate reform group called A+ Denver hired a prominent supporter of school vouchers named Van Schoales to be its executive director. Schoales previously worked for the national privatization reform group called Education Reform Now, which pushes vouchers and which is funded, in part, by Rupert Murdoch and was run by Murdoch’s top aide former NYC School Board Chancellor Joel Klein. In addition, the slate of pro-reform candidates has also been endorsed by the national organization Democrats for Education Reform (DEFR). “DFER’s endgame has little to do with learning and everything to do with marginalizing public-sector unionized workers and bringing down the cost of taxes for social programs.”