The Weekly Update: News you might have missed.

With Initiative 1240, the charter school  initiative backed by Bill Gates who has provided $1M to the cause, looking like it will be appearing on the ballot this fall, more folks are starting to talk about charter schools in our state.

Fortunately the word so far is that most people don’t want charter schools, just like the last three times it was voted on in a general election. Folks in our state want their schools to be adequately funded. Period.

Someone sent me this comment that was posted on the Seattle Schools Community Forum that brings it home for us in Seattle:

 Anonymous said…

I would vote for charter if the legislation was tightened (less loopholes and more accountability) and we had better funding of basic ed. My fear is with the passing of this charter bill, it provides an easy out for our politicians, civic leaders, and philanthropists. It gives them a pass to avoid addressing full funding of basic ed and tackle the behemoth inept bureaucracy and management which rule so many of our school districts. As it is, the benefits of charter are iffy and to spend all that money and attention to oversee and implement a new law/bureaucracy that may help a few thousand kids while we struggle to educate nearly a million kids in this state is unsupportable.

That’s why my vote for BEX is up in the air and will be based on the charter outcome and SLU school proposal. The liberal conversion and trigger rules will have a major ripple effect on BEX and overcapacity problems. It’s hard to believe that people who drafted this legislation did not foresee the potential disruption and adverse effect this will have. This is not a bill that envision the public good in mind and even if its vision is to provide better education, it falls short as it helps only a few kids while leaving out nearly a million others to flounder. That’s not innovation, but a creation of another elite subset. It doesn’t really level the playing field, but reinforce the increasing inequity of our society.


And speaking about the cost of these charter schools, see:

Charter expansions may cost Philadelphia schools $139 million

The charter school expansions approved by the School Reform Commission so far this year could cost the nearly insolvent Philadelphia School District $139 million over five years – a full $100 million more than officials said at a public meeting Friday.

The School District faces a budget deficit of as much as $282 million for the 2012-13 school year. If left unchecked, its five-year shortfall would be $1 billion.

And once a charter school opens, it’s difficult to close these enterprises.

 A Charter Battles for Right to Remain Open

 In Florida, where charters spring up like wildflowers in shopping malls, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to close down Rise Academy charter school.

Rise appealed to the state board, and the state board reversed the local board’s decision.

The Miami-Dade board went to court, and the court overturned the state board’s decision. That is, the court ruled that the local board was right to cancel Rise Academy’s charter. The charter school plans to sue the Miami-Dade board for damages.

One of the Founding Members of Parents Across America, Karran Harper-Royal, who has a son in a charter school in New Orleans, is featured in this article published in truthout:

Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans

In our first episode of The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform, we exposed readers to the corporate philosophies and practices that compose “education reform,” or G.E.R.M – The Global Education Reform Movement.[1] The current movement to reform our schools forwards a neoconservative economic agenda, one that strives to dramatically reduce the government’s role in schooling and ultimately turn schools over to private enterprise. At the same time, these marketplace policies are carefully cloaked in the progressive rhetoric of social justice, with privatization of public education presented as the only path toward equality and civil rights for children in impoverished neighborhoods. As education advocate and parent Karran Harper Royal asked: “Who’s going to argue against policies that supposedly help the minority kids?”

Indeed, most mainstream reporting has not gone beyond the social justice surface of G.E.R.M., especially in Royal’s hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.[2] In our second installment, we hope to go beyond the hype of post-Katrina New Orleans. This report distills three extensive original interviews, including one with Royal, who has been actively involved in improving New Orleans schools since well before Hurricane Katrina hit.

To see this “episode” about the disaster of privatizing a school system, go to truthout.

Cyber charter schools will be the next big thing that the League of Education Voters  (LEV) and Stand for Children (SFC) will be pushing in the state of Washington. There are those waiting in the wings to make their next big fortunes on our children. Here’s why:

Those Cyber Charter Cash Cows in Ohio

The Ohio Virtual Academy is making lots of money. And why not? It has a teacher student ratio of 51:1 even though the state pays it for a ratio of 15:1. Only 10% of its state funding went to teachers, and they cleared a profit of 31.5%. What a cool business! Corporate headquarters is bullish; it projects that this will one day be a $15 billion industry. The results aren’t that good, but who cares?

And this cyber charter district is one of the worst performing in the state of Ohio. Its test scores and graduation rates are so low that if it were a public school it would have been shut down by now. But its owner makes big political contribution so no turnaround for this district! Even more important, Governor Kasich spoke at its graduation ceremonies (were they online?) and urged the students to serve their Creator. Because it is such a great school, whose owner “gives back,” the graduation speaker this year was the State Superintendent Stan Heffner.

My friend on Twitter, Greg Mild, posted the following information about the school where Governor Kasich and State Superintendent Heffner spoke:

“ECOT in Ohio 2010-11. Enrollment: 12,000+; Withdrawals: 6,738; Dropouts: 3,045; Turned over 81% of students in single year.”

To read this post in full, go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

And from Susan Ohanian, another one for the category of “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”

Georgia’s Data Source for Evaluating Teachers

(Go to the original site to see the test question that shows happy and sad faces for the answers.)

This sort of thing is a requirement for obtaining U. S. Department of Education Race to the Top funds, your tax dollars at work. Georgia asked for a modification from the US DOE, feeling that children in K-12 are too young to make such judgments. But they think 8-year-olds and older kids are very capable of evaluating their teachers’ ‘deep knowledge’ and ‘teaching strategies.’

Not only has the educational system in this country been woefully underfunded for at least the last forty years, but now we have more children in poverty since the Great Depression. 21% of our children live in poverty and the numbers continue to climb as more parents lose their jobs or remain unemployed. According to one source, the United States has one of the highest poverty rates among all of the industrialized countries.

And, our schools and teachers are expected to manage not only teaching children who are ready to learn but also do what they can to ease the suffering caused by poverty, at least enough so that the students who have so little might be able to focus and learn what they need to be successful in the classroom. A tall order for anyone. particularly because our social systems are being cut to the bone along with financial support of our schools.

To give you an example of what schools are expected to counter, read:

The Fallen: The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class

Janis Adkins lives in her van at the Goleta Community Covenant Church in Santa Barbara

They had good, stable jobs – until the recession hit. Now they’re living out of their cars in parking lots.

By the time Adkins goes to bed – early, because she has to get up soon after sunrise, before parishioners or church employees arrive – the four other people who overnight in the lot have usually settled in: a single mother who lives in a van with her two teenage children and keeps assiduously to herself, and a wrathful, mentally unstable woman in an old Mercedes sedan whom Adkins avoids. By mutual unspoken agreement, the three women park in the same spots every night, keeping a minimum distance from each other. When you live in your car in a parking lot, you value any reliable area of enclosing stillness. “You get very territorial,” Adkins says.

And the children? The public schools, the teachers and staff try to do what they can to help these children learn as best they can.

To read this excellent article in full, go to the Rolling Stone.

And then there is this story that ran on npr:

Cycle Of Poverty Hard To Break In Poorest U.S. City

In the middle of the night, most children are home in bed. But at the Second Street Learning Center in Reading, Pa., a half-dozen tiny bodies are curled up on green plastic floor mats, fast asleep.

Conversations are hushed. The lights are dim. At 1:30 a.m., day care worker Virginia Allen gently shakes two little sisters, snuggled under the same blanket, to tell them that their mother is there to pick them up.

“Let’s go. Mommy’s here,” she says, telling these children what they already know: It’s time to get up, so they can go home for a little more sleep before they have to get up again and get ready for school.

It’s another day — or in this case night — at a center where parents can bring their children at any hour of the day or night. And they do, coming and going from round-the-clock work shifts, school or another job search.

To see the video and hear the story, go to npr.

I believe it would be impossible for anyone with a conscience to rationalize spending more money on bombs and weapons of destruction rather than on our children and their families. Until that changes, we will have failed our children and we are seeing the product of that failure in front of us.

Billions of Tax Dollars for Drones While Kids Starve and Cities Go Broke

A PBS disturbing report aired the other night about families in the state of Nevada that lost their jobs and homes. The children of these families were pocketing free ketchup packages from their school lunches because they’re hungry at night. In this state alone, there are thousands of parents with children in this situation. Beyond Nevada, millions of families have fallen into despair and poverty. It is embarrassingly shameful, and worse, it’s unnecessary. These economic problems could be solved if it weren’t for the out-of-control defense spending over the last decade.

To read this article in full, go to truthout’s buzzflash.

And the money that isn’t going to create massive destruction is going to banks and corporations. Check out:

Dear Mr. Dimon, Is Your Bank Getting Corporate Welfare?

When JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testifies in the U.S. House today, he will present himself as a champion of free-market capitalism in opposition to an overweening government. His position would be more convincing if his bank weren’t such a beneficiary of corporate welfare.

To be precise, JPMorgan receives a government subsidy worth about $14 billion a year, according to research published by the International Monetary Fund and our own analysis of bank balance sheets. The money helps the bank pay big salaries and bonuses. More important, it distorts markets, fueling crises such as the recent subprime-lending disaster and the sovereign-debt debacle that is now threatening to destroy the euro and sink the global economy.

$14B in subsidies to pay for bonuses. That’s us paying for the bonuses of the 1%.

To read this article in full, go to Bloomberg News.

And then there is this excellent segment by Bill Moyers:

How Big Banks Victimize Our Democracy

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s appearances in the last two weeks before Congressional committees — many members of which received campaign contributions from the megabank — beg the question: For how long and how many ways are average Americans going to pay the price for big bank hubris, with our own government acting as accomplice?

Speaking of hubris, check out this great article about Bill Gates.

The Gates Foundation’s Education Philanthropy: Are Profit Seeking and Market Domination a Public Service?

The Gates Foundation favors a charitable model known as a public-private partnership, which appears at first to be an enlightened model for corporate engagement. For-profit ventures are “partnered” with the government for funding, to drive positive social change.

The problem is that apparent charities are actually spending public funds, often without our knowledge or consent, and public private partnerships in education have shown themselves to be vulnerable to outright fraud as well as wasteful insider dealing. There’s no open or democratic mechanism to determine public benefit, or regulation to protect public education funding from financial pillage for services it doesn’t want or need.

Some for-profit corporations directly set up their own non-profit intermediary to divert government funding. For example, the Pearson Education Foundation is a philanthropy which is under investigation for its work as an intermediary on behalf of its parent corporation, global giant Pearson Education, whose 2010 US sales totaled £2.6 billion (British pounds).

In April 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a partnership with the Pearson Foundation to produce resources for its Common Core State Standards project, and Pearson simultaneously announced it was developing a complete digital curriculum to support the proposed standards. The alliance was described in this NY Times story, Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.

To read this article in full, go to Living in Dialogue on Education Week.

And from Diane Ravitch:

What the Microsoft Culture Is Doing to Education

Paul Thomas has written a blog that explores the destructive nature of the Microsoft culture and how that culture is now affecting and demoralizing public education. Thomas is reacting to an article in Vanity Fair that is a must-read.

The “cannibalistic culture” that Thomas critiques is derived from a method of employee evaluation called “stack ranking,” where every unit is required to rank everyone in the unit, to identify the best, the average, and the worst, no matter how good everyone might be. By design, someone loses.

This competitive culture has not been good for Microsoft and is wreaking havoc on American public education, whose goal is equal educational opportunity, not the survival of the fittest. It is ruinous for collaboration, on which good schools depend.

It turns out that “stack ranking” is also known as “forced ranking,” and that it is a common practice in some big corporations. It was popularized by Jack Welch of GE. The idea was that you rate your employees from best to worst, and fire the worst. If all of them are really doing a terrific job, that’s too bad, you fire the bottom batch anyway, and repeat the process again next year.

One of the reasons I strongly recommend that you read the article in Vanity Fair is for the comments that follow. Here are a few samples:

I worked for IBM for a long time, and I definitely agree that “stacked ranking” in a company immediately and effectively kills all creativity in a team. No matter how brilliant anyone (or even everyone) on a team is, the majority of them will be relegated to mediocre-to-poor ratings year-after-year, while one or two of their higher-profile counterparts take the top rankings. Depending on the team, these top-ranked may truly be the best in the group, or they may just be more friendly with the manager or have a role within the team that gives them more exposure to their superiors. These rankings, as meaningless as they are, then affect every aspect of an employee’s career, from raises and bonuses to advancement opportunities, to job security during periods of layoffs. When I left IBM I promised myself I would never work for another company engaging in this absurd practice.

Go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog to read the post in full.

That’s it for now.

Have a great rest of the weekend.


Post Script: A special thanks to Diane Ravitch who continues to update us with information on her blog.

Thanks Diane for all that you do.