Seattle Education

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The Weekly Update Part 1: Charter school news, the Common Core blasted by one who would know, hedge fund Whiteousness and much, much more

The Weekly Update for all the news and views you might have missed.

There is so much going on in the world of education that this Weekly Update will be brought to you in at least two parts.

Let’s start with charter schools in the news.

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How To Know When Your Charter School Sucks

by Mark Naison:

  1. It’s leader calls himself/herself a CEO.
  2. The CEO’s salary is more than three times the salary of the highest paid teacher in the school.
  3. The board of the school is full of hedge fund executives [or corporate directors].
  4. Teachers in the school are terrorized and students treated as though they were in prison or on the verge of being sent to prison.
  5. The construction company who built the school is owned by a relative of a politician or a powerful community organization.
  6. The school teaches that those who practice some of the world’s great religions are heading straight to hell.
  7. The school drives out students who are discipline problems or don’t test well.
  8. The school accepts a co-location with a public school and then tells its teachers and students not to talk to anyone in the other school.

My comments: If your school shows any signs of this illness, 1) remove your child, 2) organize to shut it down, and 3) publicize how much public money is being wasted on a vicious form of corporate welfare.

And speaking of charter schools:

Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want

By Stephanie Simon

Teresa Villanueva (L) and her 11-year-old daughter Laritza receive help on their charter school application from Barrio Logan College Institute counselor Jennifer Pena (R) in San Diego

Teresa Villanueva (L) and her 11-year-old daughter Laritza receive help on their charter school application from Barrio Logan College Institute counselor Jennifer Pena (R) in San Diego.

Getting in can be grueling.

Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?

These aren’t college applications. They’re applications for seats at charter schools.

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.

“I didn’t get the sense that was what charter schools were all about – we’ll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?” said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. “It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Set up as alternatives to traditional public schools, charter schools typically operate under private management and often boast small class sizes, innovative teaching styles or a particular academic focus. They’re booming: There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children.

In cities and suburbs from Pennsylvania to Colorado to Arizona, charters and traditional public schools are locked in fierce competition – for students, for funding and for their very survival, with outcomes often hinging on student test scores.

Charter advocates say it’s a fair fight because both types of schools are free and open to all. “That’s a bedrock principle of our movement,” said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association. And indeed, many states require charter schools to award seats by random lottery.

But as Reuters has found, it’s not that simple. Thousands of charter schools don’t provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing “volunteer” work for the school or risk losing their child’s seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student’s family invest in the company that built the school – a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.

ARRAY OF BARRIERS

And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Among the barriers that Reuters documented:

* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.

* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.

* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.

* Mandatory family interviews.

* Assessment exams.

* Academic prerequisites.

* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.

…When Philadelphia officials examined 25 charter schools last spring, they found 18 imposed “significant barriers,” including a requirement from one school that students produce a character reference from a religious or community leader.

At Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona, application forms are available just four and a half hours a year. Parents must attend one of three information sessions to pick up a form; late arrivals can’t get in. “It’s kind of like a time share (pitch),” said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. “You have to come and listen.”

Traditional public schools have their own built-in barriers to admission, starting with zip code: You don’t have to write an essay to get into a high-performing suburban school, but you do have to belong to a household with the means to buy or rent in that neighborhood. Many districts also operate magnet or exam schools for gifted students, some of which admit disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students.

Yet most of the charter schools that screen do not set themselves up as elite academies for the gifted. They bill themselves as open to all. For two decades, that promise of accessibility and equity has been the mantra of the charter school movement. It’s proved a potent political argument as well, as advocates have pressed to expand the number of charters and their share of public funding.

“TALKING POINT”

Open access “is an easy and popular talking point,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. There’s just one problem, Hess said: It’s not true.

“There’s a level of institutional hypocrisy here which is actually unhealthy,” said Hess, who is a strong advocate of charter schools. “It’s a strange double game. Charter advocates say, ‘No, no, no, we don’t believe in (selective admissions),’ but when you see a successful charter school, it’s filled with families who are a good fit and who want to be there, and that’s not possible when you have a random assortment of kids.”

Five states – Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas – explicitly permit certain charter schools to screen applicants by academic performance. Most others do not. Yet schools have found loopholes.

Alaska, Delaware and North Carolina, for instance, permit charter schools to give admissions preference to students who demonstrate interest in their particular educational focus. Some schools use that leeway to screen for students who are ready for advanced math classes or have stellar standardized test scores.

In California, the law sounds straightforward enough: “A charter school shall admit all pupils who wish to attend the school,” with seats awarded by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

Yet Roseland Accelerated Middle School, a charter school in Santa Rosa, California, won’t even enter applicants into the lottery until they have proved their mettle by writing a five-page autobiography (with no errors in grammar or spelling, the form warns), as well as a long essay and six short essays. Applicants also must provide recommendations, report cards and statements from their parents or guardians and submit a medical history, including a list of all medications they take.

Gail Ahlas, superintendent of the public school district that oversees the charter, says the process isn’t meant to exclude anyone, but to “set the tone” for the school as a rigorous college-prep environment. The form does not offer any accommodation for students with special needs or limited English skills, but Ahlas said she is confident the process “has not been a gatekeeper” and “absolutely” complies with state law.

Ahlas is hardly alone in interpreting California law as flexible. One charter high school in the state will not consider applicants with less than a 2.0 grade point average. Another will only admit students who passed Algebra I in middle school with a grade of B or better.

Julie Russell, who runs the state’s Charter Schools Division, said she is not sure how, or whether, such policies square with the open-admissions law. “It’s not real, real clear,” she said. She relies on each school’s overseer to make sure it is in compliance, she said.

In California, as in most states, oversight of charter schools primarily rests with local “authorizers” – typically a school district, a university, or a community group. Authorizers review policies, monitor academic progress and make sure the schools under their jurisdiction comply with state and federal law.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers informs members that one of their core responsibilities is making sure schools are open to all, said Alex Medler, a vice president of the group. “That’s non-negotiable,” he said.

OVERSIGHT ISSUES

Medler acknowledged that many authorizers have fallen down on the job. They may approve vague admissions policies without demanding details. They may not have the expertise to spot problems. Or they may relax supervision over time, so they don’t even notice when a school adds criteria that can help charters weed out less-than-desirable students.

To read this article in full, go to Reuters.

Continuing with charter schools:

So why do hedge funds so favor charter schools?

Embedded in the middle of an Alternet story by Kristin Rawls titled Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away are several paragraphs that help explain why hedge funds and other corporate interests are so enamored of charter schools.

Please continue to see what I mean.

Thanks to a little discussed law passed in 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools and other projects in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit – as much as 39% — to help offset their expenditure in such projects. In essence, that credit amounts to doubling the amount of money they have invested within just seven years. Moreover, they are allowed to combine that tax credit with job creation credits and other types of credit, as well collect interest payments on the money they are lending out – all of which can add up to far more than double in returns. This is, no doubt, why many big banks and equity funds are so invested in the expansion of charter schools. There is big money being made here — because investment is nearly a sure thing.

And it’s not just U.S. investors who see the upside of investing in charters. Rich donors throughout the world are now sending money to fund our charter schools. Why? Because if they invest at least $500,000 to charters under a federal program called EB-5, they’re allowed to purchase immigration visas for themselves and family members — yet another mechanism in place to ensure that the money keeps rolling in.

Proponents of education reform insist that investments like these are all about how successful charter schools are, and show how much support they’ve garnered in just a few short years. But it’s hard to take this on faith when there are billions of dollars of profit—and, for some, a path to U.S. immigration—at stake in these investments.

To read this article in full, go to Daily Kos.

And from EduShyster:

Building Tomorrow’s Walmart Workers—Today

Prestige Academy in Wilmington, DE, where the stopwatch is king.

Prestige Academy in Wilmington, DE, where the stopwatch is king.

Our nation’s fate hangs in the balance—and once again the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of our union-stifled public schools. Reader: I give you the skillz gap. Perhaps the most fiercely urgent chasm we’ve encountered to date, the skillz gap refers to the vast unfilled space between current and future job openings and the skillz of the people looking for jobs.

Or that’s what we’re supposed to think it means. The real skillz gap is between what workers have—a fierce desire not to live in their cars—and what their employers want—to pay them as little as possible. Which brings us to today’s fiercely urgent question: if the skillz gap demands that we dismantle our public schools pronto, what kind of schools are best suited to producing the cheap, compliant workers that tomorrow’s employers so urgently need today? The answer: excellent schools.

Building Excellent Schools

Unlike our failing public schools, the excellent schools of tomorrow (by which I mean today) must equip students with the skillz that will enable them to thrive in the 21st century workplace. Skillz like critical thinking tucking in their uniform shirts and problem solving, conforming to a great many arbitrary rules. But who is capable of building these excellent schools? Reader: I give you Building Excellent Schools, Inc, which, thanks to a hefty infusion of Walmart bucks via the Walton Foundation ($3.2 million to be precise), will soon be building even more schools with even more excellence. Note: as the Walton Foundation is beneficently underwriting so much excellence these days ($158 million in 2012), I will henceforth be designating the recipients of excellent Walton $$ with this tiny w. Now, onto Building Excellent Schools.

A prison of measured time

If you are an EduShyster premium reader, you have already encountered Building Excellent Schools. Recall, if you will, little Carolina’s “college prep” academy, where little Carolina is learning the skillz she will need to become a research scientist a really excellent associate at a big box store. Also, Cornerstone Prep in Memphis, TN, where children perform multiple tasks, like practicing their multiplication tables as they wait in line to go to the bathroom, in order to master the lost art of efficiency. At these and a long list of excellent schools that have already been built around the country, the stopwatch is king, preparing the students of today to punch the time clocks of tomorrow.

The pace may be frenetic action, judging by the stopwatches Cornerstone teachers wear to time even simple tasks while chanting an almost mesmerizing mantra of praise and encouragement. Cornerstone teachers work the line for the bathroom, quizzing children on addition and subtraction tables.

Or there’s Prestige Academy, another Building Excellent Schools production.

Then you notice something about the teachers. It’s something that hangs around their necks. Something small and black. Something important. A stopwatch. And it’s not just the teachers who wear them. Every adult does: the nurse, the office staff, the dean of students—even Jack Perry, Prestige Academy’s 36-year-old founder and president.

Life lessons

You notice something else about the teachers too: they are at-will employees who teach on one-year contracts and can be fired at any time. Which is excellent, as the exciting 21st century workplace for which little Carolina and her friends are preparing is also union free. And unlike the day at a typical union-stifled public school, which ends at 3:00 so that the LIFO lifers can ‘get their drink on,’ the school day at a typical Building Excellent Schoolsw school is really long. Just like the typical workday at Walmart, which may not end until the managers unlock the doors. In other words, the students of today are finally learning the essential skillz that our failing public schools have denied them for so long. Also these excellent schools are preparing students for the diverse workplaces of the 21st century by surrounding them with authority figures who are overwhelmingly white.

To read this post in full, go to EduShyster.

One more from EduShyster and a new phrase has been coined, “whiteousness”. I love it.

A Whiteous Cause

whiteousness-Achievement-gap-measures that are all the rage in education reform circles are often fueled by a sense of “whiteousness.

whiteousness-Achievement-gap-measures that are all the rage in education reform circles are often fueled by a sense of “whiteousness”.

Introducing a new concept: “whiteousness,”  the unshakable belief that one knows what’s best for others, especially those of other races or lower income brackets.

Today I invite you to ponder one of the great questions of our age: How can I pull down some serious cheddar in the name of the achievement gap? How has the civil rights issue of our time turned out to be the source of so many civil wrongs? Last week, a patchwork of groups from across the country filed civil rights complaints claiming that school closures and turnarounds are hurting minority students. In what can only be described as ironical, officials from the same Obama administration that hatched the achievement gap closing policies will now look into the whether those policies have violated civil rights.

Whiteous wage

Just yesterday our favorite achievement-gap *crushing* friends were celebrating their success, albeit “humbly,” in the form of newly released memoirs and op-eds in which they put children first. So how is it that these same rephormers who seek only to help disadvantaged minorities by eliminating their gaps and preparing them for a vague and ominous-sounding 21st century workplace are now being accused of actually violating civil rights? Alas reader, after spending more time in Reformlandia than any medical professional would recommend, I have concluded that our fearless reformers are so blinded by whiteousness that they can no longer tell the difference between civil rights and civil wrongs.

  • Now with more freshness: New, improved staff lie at the heart of any quality school turnaround plan. And by fresh, I mean young, and also white.
  • Did I say freshness? I meant superfreshness: Supersize that turnaround by importing an entire corp of fresh young teachers who hale from someplace Ivier and will be headed back there (to law school) just as soon as their tour of test prep duty comes to an end.
  • Love it or leave it: The academies of excellence and innovation that are replacing our failing, union-stifled public schools suspend minority students at eye-popping rates. In fact they only manage to escape civil rights violating scrutiny because…
  • Segregation is the new black: Remember when segregation was the civil rights issue of our time? In a truly head-spinning reversal, closing the achievement gap (otherwise known as the new civil rights issue of our time) may merit re-segregation.

To read more “whiteousness”, go to EduShyster.

Now onto the common core standards.

Former education commissioner blasts Common Core process

Robert Scott

Robert Scott

A year ago, Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, shook up the ed world when he said that standardized test-based accountability had led to a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He’s no longer the Texas commissioner, but Scott is still worth listening to. He just gave a speech to Georgia legislators in which he detailed how he was pressured to sign on to the Common Core Standards before they were written.

The standards in English language arts and math have been adopted by nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia, and implementation is under way, along with the creation of aligned standardized tests. But there has been some push-back in states that signed on to the standards, including in Alabama, where officials just decided to withdraw from the two consortia developing the tests. Common Core critics are also pushing some state legislatures to abandon the standards.

Scott’s comments last week before the Georgia General Assembly Joint Meeting of the House and Senate Education Committee speak to the concerns of some Common Core critics who say the standards were written without sufficient public input. Here is part of what he said, and you can watch the whole thing in the video below:

My experience with the Common Core actually started when I was asked to sign on to them before they were written. … I was told I needed to sign a letter agreeing to the Common Core, and I asked if I might read them first, which is, I think, appropriate.  I was told they hadn’t been written, but they still wanted my signature on the letter. And I said, ‘That’s absurd; first of all, I don’t have the legal authority to do that because our [Texas] law requires our elected state board of education to adopt curriculum standards with the direct input of Texas teachers, parents  and business. So adopting something that was written behind closed doors in another state would not meet my state law.’ … I said, ‘Let me take a wait-and-see approach.‘ If something remarkable was in there that I found that we did not have in ours that I would work with our board … and try to incorporate into our state curriculum …

Then I was told, ‘Oh no no, a state that adopts Common Core must adopt in its totality the Common Core and can only add 15 percent.’ It was then that I realized that this initiative which had  been constantly portrayed as state-led and voluntary was really about control. It was about control. Then it got co-opted by the Department of Education later. And it was about control totality from some education reform groups who candidly admit their real goal here is to create a national marketplace for education products and services.

Even more troubling to me was the lack of transparency. … These standards were written behind closed doors. … We didn’t know who the writers were until the project was complete.

You’ve got to watch this video, Robert Scott breaks it down beautifully.

Stay tuned, more to come.

Dora Taylor

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