Charter Schools: Your Time Is Up

In 1954 in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

In 1996 in Sheff vs. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut’s school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation.

In 2019, the Connecticut State Board of Education allows charter schools in Connecticut to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education and violate the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in Sheff vs. O’Neill.

For shame.

Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto, Jr. explain how the charter school industry reinforces racial segregation and provides children in Connecticut charter schools with an education that is separate and unequal.

Charter schools do not work.

We must have just one public school system in Connecticut funded by our tax dollars. We must have just one public school system in Connecticut that functions with financial transparency and is accountable to the taxpayers. We must have  just one public school system in Connecticut that educates all children in increasingly integrated settings. Charter schools take taxpayer money but have no transparency, no accountability, and no mandate to integrate their classrooms.

Charter schools must go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charter Schools: A Promise Gone Bad

Bernie Sanders called for oversight and accountability for existing charter schools and a moratorium on opening any new charters until regulations are in place when he announced his plan last Saturday for K-12 education. The NAACP had already called for oversight and accountability for existing charter schools and a moratorium on opening any new charter schools. Now members of Congress, including Jahana Hayes from Connecticut, wrote to the Secretary of Education, pointing out the misuse of federal funds by the charter school industry and demanding accountability and regulation of charter schools.

Charter schools are a promise gone bad. The country is catching up to that fact. Members of Congress want to end the waste of money and the resulting damage to children, both those who are in charter schools and those who are in public schools that are minus teachers and resources because of the funds siphoned off and given to                   unaccountable and unreliable charter schools.

Please let the Members of Congress who are working to bring quality education to all children by supporting public schools and opposing the unregulated and unaccountable  charter school industry know of your appreciation by calling or writing to them.

Read about those Members of Congress below and read their letter by clicking the link at the end of the brief article.

 

Congressional Leaders Take DeVos to Task and Demand Answers

by dianeravitch

A group of leaders in Congress wrote to Betsy DeVos to complain about her Department’s failure to demand accountability from the Charter Schools that win federal funding. She has $440 million to hand out to charters, and she has chosen to shower millions on corporate charter chains like IDEA, KIPP, and Success Academy. All of these chains are super rich. They don’t need federal aid.

The charter industry is angry because the House Appropriations Committee cut Betsy DeVos’s request from $500 million to $400 million. Tough. She uses the Charter School Program as her personal slush fund.

The fact is that the charter industry wants to play a game of pretending to be progressive while sleeping with Trump and DeVos. Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. You can’t be funded by rightwing ideologues and still be “liberal.” You can’t take Walton money and pretend to be progressive. You can’t be anti-union, pro-segregation and claim to be progressive. Nope.

As the charter industry grows more defensive, watch them cry  “racism.” Please note that many of the signatories of this letter are Black and Hispanic. Note that one of them is Jahana Hayes, the Connecticut Teacher of the Year who was elected in 2018.

The letter can be found here.

K-12 Public Education: Front and Center in the 2020 Election

At last!  At last!  At last!  A candidate for President of the United States has recognized that the bedrock institution of our democracy is in peril, and the same forces of greed and racism that are working to destroy other elements of our society also threaten the very foundation of our society: K-12 public education.

That presidential candidate is Bernie Sanders.

Honoring the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education, the Supreme Court case which outlawed segregation in public schools, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his education plan, a comprehensive 10-point agenda, called The Thurgood Marshall Plan for A Quality Education for All.

The bold assertion that Senator Sanders’ plan makes is that every child has the right to a quality education.

In his plan, Senator Sanders endorses the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  The NAACP calls for that moratorium because it has determined that:

  1. Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose to innovate and infuse new ideas into traditional public schools. There has been no carryover from charter schools to traditional public schools. Charter schools have not, in any way, been learning labs which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools.
  2. The education that charter schools provide is questionable. The large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute found that 17% of charter schools produced academic gains better than traditional public schools, 37% of charter schools performed worse than their traditional public schools counterparts serving similar students, 46% of the schools showed no difference.  Reducing class size, not charter schools, the NAACP states, is how to improve student achievement.
  3. Charter schools take public tax money but are privately managed and do not tell the public how they spend the public’s money.
  4. Charter schools do not accept their share of children with learning issues or who do not speak English as their first language.
  5.  Charter schools “counsel out” students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates.
  6. Charter schools have mostly inexperienced, short-term, uncertified teachers.
  7. Charter schools suspend and expel students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.

The NAACP opposes charter schools because it insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children to a quality education. Similarly, Bernie Sanders’ plan for K-12 education insists on the same fundamental right to a quality education for all children. Sanders’ plan points out that the proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color and increased school segregation– 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority, compared to 4 percent of traditional public schools.  Charter schools stand in opposition to the chief tenet of Brown vs.The Board of Education: A separate education is NOT an equal education.

In addition to issues of racial equity, Senator Sanders’ plan addresses the funding of charter schools.

First of all, billionaires like DeVos and the Waltons (Walmart) together with private equity and hedge fund executives, have bankrolled charter schools and poured tens of millionst into school board and other local elections in order to privatize public schools, and, therefore, control how children are educated and make profits for themselves, such as by buying buildings and then renting out those buildings to charter schools.

Secondly, the Sanders plan points out that charter schools are led by private entities that take substantial tax money but owe no accountability as to how that money is spent. One example of unregulated and unaccountable funding in Connecticut is that heads of charter schools gave themselves salaries in excess of superintendents’ salaries in much larger public school districts and districts in wealthy communities. Tax filings for 2014 show that the two chief executive officers of Achievement First Public Charter Schools each made just over $260,000 and the executive director of Domus, which oversees two charter schools in Stamford, was paid $325,000 while tax filings from 2013 show that the school district superintendent in wealthy Greenwich was paid  $235,00, and the superintendent in Hartford, a school district with 20,000 students, five times the enrollment of the Achievement First schools in Connecticut, was paid $194,000. With no oversight or accountability to taxpayers, charter school administrators are free to determine what to pay themselves.

Thirdly, the Sanders plan highlights how charter schools drain funds from public schools. Charter schools are given the per pupil funds that would have been allotted to the public schools and keep that funding even if students leave or are dismissed from the charter schools and return to traditional public schools.  The public schools, of course, are minus the per pupil funding that accompanied the children who enrolled in charter schools.

Charter schools have been able to function in impoverished communities in ways that more affluent and politically savvy communities would not tolerate. Who in more affluent communities would allow their children to go to schools in which there is no accountability for how the taxpayer money is spent, inexperienced teachers who turn over every two years, racial segregation, disregard of the needs of special education learners, and students being dismissed from school or held back a grade in order to boost the school’s test scores or graduation rates?  The answer is no one.

So how will Bernie Sanders stop the damage to communities caused by unregulated charter school growth? His plan states that, as President, Bernie Sanders will fight to:

  • Ban for-profit charter schools and support the NAACP’s moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion until a national audit has been completed to determine the impact of charter growth in each state. That means halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.
  • Invest in our public schools system. We do not need two schools systems. That said, existing charter schools must be made accountable by:

– Mandating that charter schools comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools.

– Mandating that at least half of all charter school boards are teachers and parents.

– Disclosing student attrition rates, non-public funding sources, and financial interests.

– Matching employment practices at charters with neighboring district schools, including standards set by collective bargaining agreements and restrictions on exorbitant CEO pay.

–   Supporting the efforts of charter school teachers to unionize and negotiate contracts.

Bernie Sanders has done his homework. He gets it. He knows how to move education in this country forward by enforcing the perspective of those who founded our democracy. He understands what John Adams wrote:

“The Whole People must take upon themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the People themselves.”

Like John Adams, Bernie Sanders advocates a strong public school system as the foundation of our democracy. The charter school industry has taken us off course; we must invest in our public schools so that our democracy thrives.

And Bernie Sanders is showing us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connecticut: Beware!

Diane Ravitch today gave a serious warning to Connecticut parents, citizens, and voters. I am reprinting her blog in full because the message is of such great importance. She warns us about charter schools because they segregate our children, take financial resources from our Connecticut public schools, and do not provide the transparency that makes schools safe and intellectually challenging places for our children. Please read:

Connecticut: Will Legislators Follow the Money or the Voters?

by dianeravitch

Wendy Lecker, veteran civil rights lawyer, reviews the recent report by Common Cause-Connecticut about the intrusion of Charter money and lobbyists into the state.

Former Governor Dannel Malloy depended on charter money and gave them a state commissioner and seats on the state school board,as well as generous funding.

After repeated losses in other states, like Massachusetts, the charter lobby now is doubling down in Connecticut.

After their spectacular public losses, the charter lobby is getting craftier. A recent report by Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizens Action Group reveal some of their newer tactics, but with many of the same backers.

The report, “Who is Buying Our Education System? Charter School Super PACs in Connecticut” continues the work previously done by blogger Jonathan Pelto tracking the influence of charter money. It details the donations and spending of charter Super PACs in Connecticut’s recent elections.
Super PACs enable individuals and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, as long as they do not coordinate this spending with candidates.

The report found that since 2016, six Super PACS spent more than half a million dollars in Connecticut elections. These Super PACS are founded and/or dominated by charter lobbyists and employees of charter organizations, such as the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the now-defunct Families for Excellent Schools, ConnCAN, Achievement First charter chain and DFER. Soon-to-be former Gov. Dan Malloy recently joined DFER’s board.

The majority of the money donated came from outside Connecticut and from a limited number of large donors, the largest being Walmart’s Alice Walton.

Perhaps because of their very public defeats by grassroots organizing in other states, the charter lobby became more stealth-like. The report notes that these Super PACS conceal their aims by adopting innocuous sounding names, such as Build CT, Leaders for a Stronger CT, and Change Course CT. They spent money primarily on advertising and canvassing.

One PAC, Build CT, focused on candidates in safe or unopposed races, including: Stamford’s Pat “Billie” Miller and Caroline Simmons, and Senate Majority leader, Norwalk’s Bob Duff. The authors suggest this strategy is designed to curry favor with those who will definitely be in power. Last session, Duff unsuccessfully pushed a charter-friendly school funding scheme where local districts would have to pay for charter schools over which they have no say.

The charter lobby always uses deceptive, “caring” names to hide its true purposes:

1. Privatize public schools
2. Destroy the teaching profession
3. Eliminate unions.

Connecticut Voters: Beware!

Connecticut: Say No To Charter Schools

The principal of Achievement First Amistad High School, the centerpiece of Connecticut charter schools, has quit after a video showing him being physically aggressive to a student  surfaced. 

This reaffirms for us as Connecticut taxpayers that our money should be put into public schools not into charter schools because:

  1. Charter schools take public money (our tax dollars) but have no public oversight. Public schools have public oversight through state regulations and local school board policies and controls.
  2. Charter schools provide an education that is separate and unequal because the students are overwhelmingly students of color.
  3. The quality of education is inferior to public schools because the emphasis is on test prep rather than critical thinking.
  4. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by standardized test scores, is falsely reported because students who do not test well are counseled out of the schools.
  5. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by graduation rates and college acceptance data, is falsely reported because the attrition of students who do not have the credits to graduate or be accepted to college is not included in the reported data.
  6. The “no excuses” discipline practices which make for high suspension and expulsion rates in charter schools seem commensurate with racial prejudice.

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on opening any new charter schools and for better oversight and accountability for existing charter schools. Connecticut should listen to the NAACP.

In Connecticut, we have a budget crisis which is only aggravated by supporting charter schools. We should spend our tax money wisely. We should fund public education. Making our public schools the best schools in the nation is the key to the future of the state of Connecticut.

We have the visionary educators. We have the knowledge. Let’s do it.

The Voices Of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have forever removed three words from our language: “failing public schools”.  The critical thinking and articulateness of those 14 – 18 year old students are moving us all. There is no other way to account for the way they are changing the conversation about gun violence in this country other than to say that they have incredible intellectual skills and a work ethic that drives them to excellence.

I know what it is to experience the sudden, traumatic death of loved one. I know what it does to you when your life as you know it disappears in a moment. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have experienced that, yet they have something deep within them that is leading them to think and to act. That something is the education that their parents and their schools have given them.

There have been other loud voices in our society who repeatedly use the words, “failing public schools”. They call themselves “school reformers” and petition state legislatures to use tax payer funds to replace public schools with charter schools. Their goal is to make money for themselves and their selling point to legislatures is that we must rid this country of “failing public schools”. These self- proclaimed “school reformers”  use the term “failing pubic schools” to convince well-meaning but uninformed parents to send their children to charter schools that increase their children’s segregation and treat their children as second class citizens, incapable of individuation and critical thinking. I am sure that state legislatures would not spend taxpayer money on charter schools and parents would not send their children to charter schools without the power of the term that the “school reformers” use: ” failing pubic schools”.

The phrase, however, is not true. It is not the public schools that are failing. What is failing is our investment in addressing issues of poverty and racism.

The voices in our society to listen to are the voices of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their articulate voices are saving future students from the horror that was theirs. Their articulate voices are changing our approach to gun violence. Their articulate voices will make us a better, stronger nation.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are showing us that they are thinkers and doers. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are using the education their families and schools gave them in powerful ways. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are not the products of  “failing public schools”. They are the products of public schools that helped them to grow and to learn and to mature into leaders.

I am inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and I thank them.

WHAT REALLY COUNTS

When success of a school is based on numbers – what percentage of the students graduate or how high the test scores are – all kinds of unethical practices occur. Most importantly, the students do not receive the knowledge and skills they need. They leave school uneducated. They suffer as adults. We are weakened as a nation. Read what happens when we set the wrong goals for schools. 

The false reporting of data and the disservice to students and, ultimately, to our country is pervasive. It happens right here in Connecticut, most notably in our charter schools. The graduation rates and college acceptance rates in Connecticut’s charter schools need to be scrutinized. For example, in 2013, Achievement First’s Amistad High School announced that 100% of its seniors were accepted to college. In reality, 38% of those who entered the high school in ninth grade were accepted to college, 25 students out of the original 64 ninth graders. The remaining 39 students were either held back in senior year or were no longer enrolled in the school. So Achievement First’s claim that it graduated all of its seniors was true only if you count the small percentage of students the school allows to be called seniors.

Our children are not manufactured products to be counted. They are human beings to be educated so that they fulfill their potential. We can’t get there by talking about numbers like standardized test scores, which will always be a reflection of the wealth or poverty of the students’ parents, or graduation rates, which can be manipulated simply by redefining the course requirements or eliminating low achieving students.

The only way to tell if a school is truly successful is to go see what the students are learning and how they are being assessed on that learning. Check out your local school and ask questions.

Go and visit Metro Business Academy, a New Haven Public School, and Pathways Academy to Technology and Design, a Hartford Public School. The teachers in both schools are teaching their students to learn and to think. The teachers are also collaboratively working together to keep learning themselves as teachers. And what the students accomplish will absolutely blow you away.

We can do it – one school at a time. We just have to ask the right questions. And those questions are about students learning – not about numbers.

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