Seattle Education

For the news and views you might have missed

The Weekly Update: Cyber buck$, high stake$ testing and charter school$. It’s all about the children, right?

Before unions

Before unions

The Weekly Update for the News and Views You Might Have Missed

Some of our state representatives are not asleep at the wheel.

On Friday I posted information regarding two bills that are up for public hearings this coming week. That same day three of our representatives questioned the motives of the legislators who were dropping these ludicrous and expensive bills.

Democracy in action? I sure hope so.

From The Hopper

Senators question GOP push to bring corporate strategy to WA education

Friday, February 01 2013

In a meeting with the press today, Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray and Sens. Andy Billig and David Frockt discussed their concerns about a package of bills being touted in Olympia as education reforms, but were borrowed from think tanks recently found to be backing legislation that benefits their corporate donors.

“The three bills we heard in the Early Learning and K12 Committee this week, none of them make sense for Washington. And no wonder. They’re cookie-cutter proposals copied from Florida and Louisiana. Not one of these bills moves us one step closer to fulfilling our constitutional obligation to fund basic education,” said Billig.

He noted that the Washington Supreme Court found in its McCleary decision that the education reforms already approved the Legislature are sufficient to meet the state’s obligation to provide an adequate education – but those reforms have not been funded.

“The issue is the overall program is a complete abandonment of the reforms that we’ve already done, that we’ve already worked on, that we’ve already put all of the focus on, and not funded,” said Billig. “And to say we’re going to do something else — to me it’s just a distraction from our real obligation, which is to fund basic education.”

To learn more about the Republican bills, click here.

Now the following is why we should not go down the road of grading teachers, principals, schools and districts as the Republicans in our state, bought and paid for by Stand for Children and their ilk, would like us to do.

The step after grading schools is that those schools are closed and usually converted into charter schools or left empty in what was a thriving (minority) community.

Parents and students from around the country gathered in Washington DC last week and protested this practice that has devastated communities from California to New York. To follow is the press release.

National “Journey for Justice” Movement Gains Speed In Wake Of Mass School Closings & Turnarounds That Violate Civil Rights & Promote Divestment In Low-Income Communities of Color

“We don’t just have failing schools; we have a failing system of epidemic proportions. Community and parent voices have been removed from the process and the privatization has removed all checks and balances so that the system is no longer accountable to the public,” said Karran Harper-Royal, parent with Parents Across America, New Orleans. “The answer is not charter schools, the answer is fortifying traditional public schools through a community-driven process.”

18 CITIES CALL ON DUNCAN & DEPT. OF EDUCATION TO END DISCRIMINATORY CLOSINGS OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS

National “Journey for Justice” Movement Gains Speed In Wake Of Mass School Closings & Turnarounds That Violate Civil Rights & Promote Divestment In Low-Income Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Students, parents and advocacy representatives from 18 major United States cities testified today at a community hearing before Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. on the devastating impact and civil rights violations resulting from the unchecked closings and turnarounds of schools serving predominantly low-income, students of color.

Approximately 500 students, parents and community representatives, impacted or at risk of impact by school closings, represented 18 cities from across the country at the hearing including: Ambler, Pa.; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; District of Columbia; Eupora, Miss.; Hartford, Conn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Newark; New Orleans; New York; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; and Wichita, Kan.

“Cities across the country are experiencing the racially disparate effects of top-down, neglectful actions by the closing and turnaround of schools serving low-income students of color. The devastating impact of these actions has only been tolerated because of the race and class of the communities affected,” said Reverend Krista Alston, parent leader with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization in Chicago. “Hundreds of youth and parents are making their voices heard today and it is crucial that policymakers hear the issues, recognize the discriminatory and destabilizing impact these closings and turnarounds have brought about and take immediate steps to put a moratorium on school closings to stop the divestment in our youth.”

To read the press release in full, go to Parents Across America website.

Here is a Real News report on the gathering:

For a good article on the event, I would recommend Parents, Teachers Slam Department of Education Over Mass School Closures.

You will hear more about this subject during our next Parents Across America webinar that will be held on March 3rd at 1:00 PM PST. Stay tuned for details.

And while we’re on the subject of charter schools, from the Village Voice:

Invasion of the charter schools

Invasion of the

Former City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, with Bloomberg’s union-busting blessing, is pushing her Success Academy edu-franchise into Brooklyn. The natives aren’t buying.

“What the fuck? Who the hell are you? How do you get to decide we need a new school?”

When the hipsters of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick are ready to add a little hipster to the family, we inevitably join the Brooklyn Baby Hui. The hui (it’s a Maori term for “community,” natch) has all the information anxious new parents need on making their own organic beet purees, which Mayan-style woven baby carrier and wool diaper covers to pick out at Caribou Baby boutique, and how to co-sleep on your vacation to Istanbul. I’ve lost a big chunk of my life to the hui since I had my baby in the winter of 2011.

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz

But starting that spring, the list exploded into flame wars, deleted posts, trigger warnings, and bans on longtime members. The source of the friction was the entry of two charter elementary schools into the local District 14. First came Success Academy, a controversial and aggressively expanding chain founded and run by former City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz. Then, in April, Moskowitz‘s husband, Eric Grannis, an attorney who runs a separate charter-promoting organization called the Tapestry Project, e-mailed the hui to gin up support for Citizens of the World, the first planned East Coast outpost of a Los Angeles–based chain that arrives trailing its own cloud of protest and scandal.

Success Academy Williamsburg opened this past fall. Citizens of the World was approved in December to open in the fall of 2013—unless a lawsuit by local parents, who have taken their campaign from the hui to City Hall, manages to stop it. In other words, a full-on cage match is brewing near the shops and bars of Bedford Avenue. But it’s more than just #firstworldproblems—it’s a struggle over the urban soul and a microcosm of the national education debate. Each side claims to be concerned only with what’s best for all children, implying that others are acting out of spite, greed, or bad faith. But the basic principle in play here is simple: Who should decide the educational needs of a neighborhood?

“Choice is not a problem. Quality is not a problem. Parents in this district don’t have complaints about our teachers. City planning says these new charters are a bad idea.”

Brooke Parker answers the door of her rented Greenpoint townhouse in her sweatpants, two days after Christmas. Her kindergartner is racing around with a playdate. Parker has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and has two daughters and a stepdaughter. She used to work in film; her husband, Erik Parker, is a well-regarded contemporary artist. She is funny, profane, intimidatingly well informed, and talks almost nonstop for more than an hour. The co-founder and representative of Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS), the parent group spearheading the opposition to Success Academy and Citizens of the World in District 14, she has a bracing message for outsiders like Grannis and Moskowitz coming into the neighborhood: “What the fuck? Who the hell are you? How do you get to decide we need a new school?”

Ya gotta love it. This article could have been titled “Not in my backyard!”

To read this article in full, go to the Village Voice.

More graft, greed and fraud all in the name of the children:

Charters Get Even MORE Brazen

Halliburton High

Halliburton High

You think the story of the foul-mouthed Bay Area charter cheerleader Ben Chavis is bad? Wait until you hear what’s going on in Albany!

The former chief financial officer for the Brighter Choice Foundation, which provides funding and support to 10 public charter schools in Albany, has been charged with embezzling $202,837 from the organization.

The arrest Wednesday of Ronald A. Racela marks the second time in four years that Racela has been charged with grand larceny. Two years ago, Racela admitted stealing $53,931 from KeyBank in Albany, where he was employed as a manager in the Community Development Lending Group, court records show.

M. Christian Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice Foundation, said Brighter Choice officials were not aware of Racela’s criminal history when he was hired as financial director of Brighter Choice Charter Schools in June 2010. Bender said Racela described his separation from KeyBank as “tense” but did not disclose he had been arrested for embezzlement eight months before he was hired by Brighter Choice.

“I knew that it had not been a smooth separation, but obviously I had no idea that it involved criminal activity on his part,” Bender said Friday.

Still, a state Education Department spokesman said the agency sent written notice of Racela’s criminal history to the charter school last March, when it denied the school’s request to clear Racela for employment. The spokesman said the agency had first flagged an employment clearance request for Racela that was submitted by Brighter Choice in December 2011. By that time, Racela had already been working for Brighter Choice schools for about 18 months.

Wait a minute… “Brighter Choice”? This con man had been working for “Brighter Choice” since the summer of 2010? Where have I heard that name before? Thinking…

Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.

The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.

In Albany, which boasts the state’s highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city’s nine charter schools.

But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.

The Henry Johnson Charter School, for example, saw the rent for its 31,000-square-foot building skyrocket from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 last year.

The Albany Community School‘s rent jumped from $195,000 to $350,000.

Green Tech High Charter School rents went from $443,000 to $487,000.

Meanwhile, all the Albany charter schools haven’t achieved the enrollment levels their founders expected, even after recruiting hundreds of students from suburban school districts to fill their seats.

The result has been less money in per-pupil state aid to pay operating costs, including those big rent bills.

Several charters have fallen into additional debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation.

This story, by Juan Gonzalez in the NY Daily News, dates back to May of 2010. That would be almost exactly when admitted criminal Ronald Racela starting working at Brighter Choice. You’d think that these people, in the wake of Gonzalez’s report, would be scrutinizing their entire organization to make sure everything was above board. But it looks as if they were running exactly the type of operation that would attract a guy like Racela.

To read this post in full, go to the Jersey Jazzman.

Ah yes, and those cyber buck$ going into the pockets of those folks who care so much for our children.

K12 Inc. Sued Over For-Profit Education Company’s Tax-Subsidized Funding Manipulation

Dozens of former employees claim that K12 Inc, a for-profit education company, used dubious and sometimes fraudulent tactics to mask astronomical rates of student turnover in its national network of cyber charter schools.

K12 manages Agora, the second largest cyber charter in Pennsylvania. The company is also involved in pending applications to open two new cybers in the state. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is expected to decide on the proposals later this month.

The former employees allege that K12-managed schools aggressively recruited children who were ill-suited for the company’s model of online education. They say the schools then manipulated enrollment, attendance and performance data to maximize tax-subsidized per-pupil funding.

These claims by anonymous “confidential witnesses” are spelled out in court documents filed last June as part of a class-action lawsuit by the company’s investors.

Allegations touch upon Agora

Many of the allegations come from people who worked for the Agora Cyber Charter School, based in Wayne, Pa. With more than 8,000 students, Agora enrolls roughly a quarter of the 32,000 Pennsylvania students that have opted to attend cybers, which are independently managed schools providing mostly online instruction.

In one example, a former Agora teacher said in court documents that the school continued to bill the home school district of one special education student who was absent for 140 consecutive days.

Pennsylvania requires that cyber charter students who miss 10 straight days be reported as withdrawn.

“What Agora does is keep the kid in inactive limbo and keep billing,” said the anonymous former teacher in court documents.

The class action suit against K12, Inc. and its executives was filed last January, shortly after a critical article about the company appeared in the New York Times. The investors allege that the company committed securities fraud when senior officials, including CEO Ronald J. Packard, “concealed from the market” information about high rates of student withdrawal and poor academic performance.

“The core omission behind the Defendants’ fraudulent success story was that K12 students were dropping out at staggering rates,” reads the complaint.

An amended version of the complaint filed last June contains the allegations by the company’s former employees.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia has denied a request from K12 to dismiss the case.

A trial could take place this spring.

Jeff Kwitowki, K12′s senior vice president of public affairs, said the company won’t respond to every claim contained in the litigation, but is “vigorously defending” itself against the investor claims.

High rates of ‘churn’

Based in Herndon, Va., K12 is the nation’s largest for-profit operator of online schools.

The company’s 59 full-time schools enroll more than 100,000 students in 29 states.

The vast majority of the company’s $522 million in 2011 revenues came from “turnkey” management contracts with those virtual public charter schools.

In Pennsylvania, that arrangement involves a non-profit board of directors holding the legal responsibility for the charter school. The nonprofit then contracts with K12 to provide management services ranging from providing curriculum to hiring school personnel.

K12′s revenues vary according to the enrollment of the schools it manages. In Pennsylvania, cybers bill each of their student’s home districts for the full per-pupil amount that would have otherwise been spent to educate that child.

That averages out to just over $11,000 per student, making Pennsylvania one of the most lucrative states in the nation for cybers to operate.

At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, the K-12 managed Agora Cyber Charter enrolled 5,353 students. By the end of that year, the school’s enrollment had increased to 6,475.

The overall increase masked a high “churn rate.” Almost 2,400 students withdrew from Agora during the school year, but were replaced by newly recruited students.

Almost 2,700 students dropped out of Agora during the 2009-10 school year. At the Ohio Virtual Academy, one of K12′s other signature schools, the churn rate in 2009-10 was close to 50 percent.

To read this article in full, go to Newsworks.

Now onto high stakes testing, another favorite of the reformites and the Republicans in the great state of Washington.

Brown Lashes Out at Regulators and Testers

Governor Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown

With a caustic critique of excessive testing and overregulation and a fervent call for respecting the “dignity and freedom of teachers and students,” Gov. Jerry Brown laid out the case for returning primary control of education to local hands and distributing state money equitably in his State of the State address.

One is non-interference with those officials closest to working with students, what Brown calls the principle of “subsidiarity.” It is one way to unshackle districts and teachers from layers of authority, the most remote of which are Congress and the federal Department of Education, “whose rules, audits and fines reach into every classroom in America.”

Brown has lashed out before at the education dictates and minutiae demanded by Washington, particularly in the Race to the Top requirements, the No Child Left Behind law and Secretary of Education Duncan’s refusal to grant California a waiver from it. He picked up that theme again with relish.

“The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers,” he said and added, to applause, “We seem to think that education is a thing — like a vaccine — that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children.”

Reactions to the State of the State

Education advocates and legislators generally responded favorably to Brown’s call for local control and regulation, though some added caveats.

Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said in an interview that educators will feel “encouraged and inspired by the governor’s address” because it shows that he “values the opinions of educators.”

“He threw down the gauntlet in terms of micromanaging education and said that to fix education, you’ve got to trust teachers,” Vogel said. “The governor’s criticism of state and federal micro-managing of our schools is refreshing.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised Brown in a statement “for putting California on the path toward restoring the financial health of our schools” and focusing on students with greater needs. Implying that he hasn’t given up on increased funding in other areas, Torlakson said, “Both early childhood and adult education programs, which have been cut severely in recent years, have a tremendous role to play in strengthening our economy, and I will be working to see they receive a fair share of state resources.”

“There’s much to be said for his mistrust of overreliance on standardized testing and how it has sapped the vitality of the system,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization. Brown is a lone voice in the nation saying that. Teachers are leaving the profession because it’s not interesting to them anymore.”

But on the issue of “subsidiarity,” Affeldt said, “there needs to be more of a balance. His rhetoric tips too far toward letting the locals do it. Under the state Constitution, the state retains the ultimate responsibility for assuring basic equality of education opportunity. The state has to assure that districts exercise flexibility in a way that serves neediest kids.”

Crystal Brown, board president of the parents advocacy group Educate Our State, said she too appreciated that the governor raised the issue of testing. “It needs to be a big part of the conversation,” she said. “He is clear on the problems education is facing and why education needs to be a priority. The elephant in the room is that we’re not funding our schools adequately. Everyone knows that, but no one is discussing it.”

To read this article in full, go to Ed Source

And continuing on with high stakes testing:

Who’s In to Opt Out?

Opting out is taking off. Parents, teachers, and now even entire state legislatures are saying they’ve had enough with high-stakes-testing and the damage it’s doing to education. I sat in a room with teachers here in Pittsburgh this week who told me that ten years ago they would have given one standardized test a year; now they are spending weeks upon weeks on test prep and test administration. But their students aren’t learning more. If anything they are learning less, while the high-stakes attached to the tests have radically changed what education looks like.

This radical shift was really brought home for me this week reading about Alan C. Jones, a former principal and teacher educator in Illinois, who accompanied his daughter in the search for a good public school for his grandson. After decades working in education, he reports that he was appalled at what high-stakes-testing had done to those schools he visited:

“Nothing could have prepared me for the mindlessness of the hallways, classrooms, and main offices I observed … I reviewed curriculum with no art or music and only sporadic attempts at teaching science. I followed a school schedule heavily focused on basic literacy skills. I found kindergarten programs with no recess. I observed classrooms where students were required to repeat state standards written on the chalkboard and spend hours completing mountains of worksheets designed to make children more test-savvy. … There were breaks in the day that amounted to forced marches to and from bathrooms. Following these brief breaks, students were led back to classrooms for timed tests, test-preparation games, and the distribution of awards for those who met the state standard for the day.” [Education Week, 1-22-13]

Teachers here in Southwest Pennsylvania will tell you what testing has done to their schools and their students. Ask them. Really. Go ahead and have a quiet conversation with the teachers in your local school. Most are not able to speak out publicly, for fear of losing jobs that feed their families. But ask a veteran teacher who was in the classroom ten or fifteen years ago to describe how the national obsession with testing has put handcuffs on real learning, narrowed the curriculum to math and reading, cut music, art, and library, labeled teachers and entire schools as failures, served as cover to close “failing” neighborhood schools, and cut budgets.

To read this popst in full, go to Yinzercation.

This week I will leave with a video of an attorney turned whistleblower, Kathleen Carroll, and what she had to say in 2011 about the corruption of education in California. It was featured in a Seattle Education post  Suit alleges teachers forced to work at non-union charter schools in California

Dora Taylor

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