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The Weekly Update: Charter schools, zero tolerance and minority students, the profiteering and scandals

First, a word from Noam Chomsky about our educational system. This was filmed at the Syracuse Peace Council’s 75th Anniversary event on May 11, 2011.

And from Henry Giroux:

When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto

dead zones

If the right-wing billionaires and apostles of corporate power have their way, public schools will become “dead zones of the imagination,” reduced to anti-public spaces that wage an assault on critical thinking, civic literacy and historical memory. Since the 1980s, schools have increasingly become testing hubs that de-skill teachers and disempower students. They have also been refigured as punishment centers where low-income and poor minority youth are harshly disciplined under zero tolerance policies in ways that often result in their being arrested and charged with crimes that, on the surface, are as trivial as the punishment is harsh.  Under casino capitalism’s push to privatize education, public schools have been closed in cities such as, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York to make way for charter schools. Teacher unions have been attacked, public employees denigrated and teachers reduced to technicians working under deplorable and mind-numbing conditions.

To read this commentary in full, go to truthout.

Speaking of “zero tolerance”:

zero

The Mis-Education Of My Son
By Bukola Shonuga

It’s time to examine the police state structure of some of the charter schools model in the minority community in New York.

While I was gathering the facts to write this article, the stalemate situation at my son’s school, Democracy Prep middle school in Harlem is unraveling faster than I can keep pace. On May 22nd, my son told me that at lunch time, his teachers were directed to video tape him in every classroom. One of the teachers according to him followed him with a camera into the lunch room when he went to pick up his lunch, followed him up the stairs into the hallway and continued videotaping him while he was eating lunch. I was so outraged. I couldn’t believe the school would actually break the law by videotaping a scholar without parental consent.

So I emailed the principal and copied all the teachers including the superintendent of the Charter Schools in District 5 in Harlem. I also spoke with the Principal who told me that it’s routine to place  a camera in the classrooms to which I responded that it had never been the case for the last nine months and assuming that it’s routine, why was my son singled out and followed with a camera and made uncomfortable while he was eating lunch?

There was no response to that question.  I also emailed the particular teacher involved and copied every relevant party. I have not gotten any reply to that email message either.

Earlier, last Friday, May 18 my son stormed into the house from school – in another outburst of frustration with his school. “This School sucks,” the 12 year old blurted. “Can you believe we didn’t attend  regular classes today? They separated 46 bad students including me into two groups of 26 and sent us to a special class called ‘Prep Academy”.

Normally it takes a while for certain information to register in my brain, particularly the endless daily discipline saga at Democracy Prep where my son has been attending for the past nine months. But he persisted, “So Mommy, they think we are bad kids and had to separate us from the good kids right”?

That caught my attention so I  stopped and looked him in the eyes and reassured him that he’s a very smart, kind and loving young man, and that he’s going to realize his dream by becoming one of the best scientist of his generation.

And more importantly he should never allow anyone to define or label him as a “bad-kid”. Nurturing and preserving my son’s self-esteem has become a daily routine in the last five months due to the covert psychological abuse he’s been experiencing daily at school.

To read this article in full, go to Black Star News.

And more on “zero tolerance”.

Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children

May Taliaferrow, Former parent at Achievement First, Brooklyn, NY starts out as an avid charter school supporter but finds parents are shut out and children are subjected to severe discipline and ends up telling her son how sorry she was for putting him the school.

“My child was made to sit on the floor until he ‘earned’ a seat.” A revealing interview on how all too many charter schools view children of color when it comes to discipline: total repression.

“Zero Tolerance” is also a method used to expel students with special needs. Those students are a greater expense to a charter school and also keep the test score average lower. High test scores are required to keep the school open and becomes a selling point to prospective families.

Success Academy school chain comes under fire as parents fight ‘zero tolerance’ disciplinary policy
By Juan Gonzalez

The charter school chain Success Academy is being criticized for its high suspension rate, as parents complain that special-needs kids are pushed out and students are being denied due process.

Patrice Joseph and her son Keith

Patrice Joseph and her son Keith

Success Academy, the charter school chain that boasts sky-high student scores on annual state tests, has for years used a “zero tolerance” disciplinary policy to suspend, push out, discharge or demote the very pupils who might lower those scores — children with special needs or behavior problems.

State records and interviews with two dozen parents of Success elementary school pupils indicate the fast-growing network has failed at times to adhere to federal and state laws in disciplining special-education students.

At Harlem Success 1, the oldest school in the network, 22% of pupils got suspended at least once during the 2010-11 school year, state records show. That’s far above the 3% average for regular elementary schools in its school district.
Four other Success schools — the only others in the network to report figures for 2010-11 — had an average 14% suspension rate.

Success Academy chief Eva Moskowitz recently defended her network’s “higher than average” suspension rates compared with public schools as a way to promote “order and civility in the classroom.” And this week, the Eli Broad Foundation announced a $5 million grant to Moskowitz to help expand her network from 20 to more than 100 schools.

clampdown

To read this article in full, go to the Daily News.

Charter schools like KIPP suspend students just before state testing and the public schools take them back. The test scores in the public schools are lowered, the public or “zoned” school is deemed a failing school and closed to create another charter school and the cycle continues.

Charter schools losing struggling students to zoned schools

Students are leaving in large numbers at a particularly important time of the school year, and the consequences may have an impact on test scores.

Charter schools are literally built on the idea that they will outperform public, zoned schools. They are popular because they promise and deliver results, but some new numbers are raising big questions about charter schools.

One of the first things a visitor sees when stepping into Kipp Academy is a graph that shows how Kipp is outperforming Metro schools in every subject.

However, Kipp Academy is also one of the leaders in another stat that is not something to crow about.

When it comes to the net loss of students this year, charter schools are the top eight losers of students.

In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.

“We look at that attrition. We keep an eye on it, and we actually think about how we can bring that back in line with where we’ve been historically,” said Kipp Principal Randy Dowell.

Dowell said Kipp’s 18 percent attrition is unacceptable.

MNPS feels it’s unacceptable as well, because not only are they getting kids from charter schools, but they are also getting troubled kids and then getting them right before testing time.

“That’s also a frustration for the zoned-school principals. They are getting clearly challenging kids back in their schools just prior to accountability testing,” said MNPS Chief Operating Officer Fred Carr.

Nineteen of the last 20 children to leave Kipp Academy had multiple out-of-school suspensions. Eleven of the 19 are classified as special needs, and all of them took their TCAPs at Metro zoned schools, so their scores won’t count against Kipp.

The source of this article is WSMV.com.

Students are not the only group to see a revolving door at charter schools. The same holds true for teachers, particularly those schools populated by Teach for America, Inc.

From the New York Times OpEd section:

op ed

Re “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice”:

Thank you for shedding light on the appalling turnover rate for teachers at many charter schools. Research has shown that teacher-student relationships are absolutely crucial to student success. These relationships cannot be built in a year or two.

Working at a charter school, I saw the kids cry every year over their favorite teachers leaving. Each year, I watched the new teachers scrambling. Instability created by the constant churn of staff was devastating, especially for the most vulnerable students, who felt constantly misunderstood and undervalued.

I’ve taught for over a decade. I didn’t begin to hit my stride until my fifth year teaching. I’ve never seen a teacher with less than three years of experience whom I would even call “good.” Teaching is incredibly complex and multifaceted. A teacher must deeply understand the content he or she teaches, as well as possess pedagogical knowledge, classroom management techniques and relationship-building skills.

The charter school representatives in your article defend the rapid turnover of teachers. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, even says that teachers can become great in one or two years! Would we expand this idea to other professions? Do we think the best lawyers are those fresh out of law school? Should we choose a rookie physician for complex surgery, because this surgeon is more “enthusiastic” than veteran surgeons?

The “short term” teachers speak of teaching not as a profession, but as a steppingstone to a career in another field. A 24-year-old charter-school teacher is quoted saying, “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing and always moving onto something bigger and better.” Bigger and better than teaching children? How disrespectful of the profession and the children themselves.

CATHERINE M. IONATA
Aberdeen, N.J., Aug. 27, 2013

Recently a 4th year college student received a recruitment communication from Teach for America, Inc. To follow is the introduction to that exchange between the recruiter and the student.

tfa wants you
Before they have entered their first class of the new academic year, seniors at colleges and universities across the country are being aggressively recruited by Teach for America. TFA is the much touted recruiting firm that places college graduates without teaching knowledge or experience into the classrooms of some of our nation’s neediest children. The following is an e-mail exchange between a TFA recruiter and my friend’s daughter who is valiantly resisting the call.  This copy is reprinted with the permission of the student.  

All TFA recruiters are TFA alums who have completed two years “teaching”.  At first the student didn’t know how TFA got her e-mail address.  She still doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks TFA has access to student data and chose her because she was an officer in a service organization.  The student is not happy that TFA has access to her data.

To read the exchange between the TFA, Inc. recruiter and the student, go to Great Schools for America.

Where there are large amounts of money to be made as with charter schools, online learning and staffing schools with cheap labor coupled with a lack of public oversight, graft and scandal abound.

For example recently in Florida:

Amid school grading controversy, Florida education chief Tony Bennett resigns

bennett

Now former State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett

State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned Thursday, fueling controversy over the school grading system and delivering a blow to Gov. Rick Scott and the state leaders working to overhaul Florida’s system of school accountability.

Coming to Florida in January from Indiana, Bennett had faced mounting calls for his resignation this week after revelations that he intervened in the grading system in Indiana to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor.

You can read the details of this scandal at the Miami Herald website.
And from David Sirota:

A Scandal That’s Exposing Ugly Truths About the School Privatization Agenda

The recent scandal ousting Florida’s top education official shows the privatization movement is about profits.

Paradoxes come in all different forms, but here’s one that perfectly fits this Gilded Age: The most significant lesson from the ongoing debate about American education has little to do with schools and everything to do with money. This lesson comes from a series of recent scandals that expose the financial motives of the leaders of the so-called education “reform” movement — the one that is trying to privatize public schools.

The first set of scandals engulfed Tony Bennett, the former Indiana school superintendent and much-vaunted poster boy for the privatization push. After voters in that state responded to his radical agenda by throwing him out of office, he was quickly hired to lead Florida’s education system. At the same time, his wife not-so-coincidentally landed a gig with the Florida-based Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company that not only has an obvious interest in Bennett privatizing Florida schools, but that also was previously awarded lucrative contracts by Bennett in Indiana.

Grotesque as it is to shroud such self-enriching graft in the veneer of helping children, the self-dealing controversy wasn’t Bennett’s most revealing scandal. That distinction goes to recent news that Bennett changed the grades of privately run charter schools on behalf of his financial backers. Indeed, as the Associated Press reported, “When it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature ‘A-F’ school grading system to improve the school’s marks.” Yet, the Associated Press also reported that just a year before, Bennett “declined to give two Indianapolis public schools (the) same flexibility.”

To read this Op Ed in full, go to AlterNet.

bucks
An excellent article on the motives behind the rush to privatize our school system was written by Kristin Rawls:

Who Is Profiting From Charters? The Big Bucks Behind Charter School Secrecy, Financial Scandal and Corruption

What we know about the financial incentives offered by charter schools.

This article is part of a two-part series that looks at mass school closings targeting America’s inner cities and the promise of charter schools as a magic solution to alleged “failing schools.” Part I explained how the charter school movement cynically appropriates civil rights rhetoric, but often leaves the most vulnerable students worse off than before. In Part II, AlterNet looks at a more likely motivation for the “reforms”: Profit.

Studies show that charter schools don’t typically outperform public schools and they often tend to increase racial and class segregation. So one must wonder, what exactly is motivating these school “reformers”? And why have they pushed for more and more closure — and new charter schools — at such an unprecedented rate in recent years?

Pro-charter supporters will tell you that it’s time for public institutions like our schools to start competing more like for-profit institutions. Test scores and high enrollment, then, define success. Unsuccessful schools, they say, should close just as unsuccessful businesses do. For neoliberal school reformers from today’s Arne Duncan-led Department of Education to scandal-ridden movement leader Michelle Rhee to billionaire Bill Gates, it is taken on faith that market principles are desirable in education.

But since it’s not clear that market principles are benefiting students on a large scale, it seems likely that something else is at stake. And reformers may be more than a little disingenuous in publicly ignoring that other, less high-minded thing: Profit. Critics of charter schools and school closings point out that proponents may not really be motivated by idealism, but by self-gain.

But who precisely is profiting? And how? Untangling answers to these questions is a more daunting task. Compared to public schools, charters schools are an extremely unregulated business. They contract with private companies to provide all kinds of services, from curriculum development to landscaping. Most of the regulations that bind charter schools are implemented at the state level. And unlike public institutions, the finances of charter schools are managed on a school-by-school basis. Because they are not consistently held accountable to the public for how they distribute funds, charter schools are often able to keep their business practices under wraps, and thus avoid too much scrutiny.

For an article of this scope, it’s impossible to describe the profit issue in anything approaching thorough and accurate generalization. Instead, we will look at a couple of decades-old federal incentives for charter investment that may have helped pave the way for the explosion of charter schools today, and provide some examples and snapshots of what is happening on the ground in those major cities where the charter school movement is most influential.

Hedge Fund Managers and Real Estate Developers

As AlterNet has previously reported, two little-understood policies helped pave the way for the kind of charter growth we are seeing today. One, called the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), began in 2000 at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration. According to the Treasury Department, the credit combines:

…the private sector and the federal government—to bring economic and community development to low-income communities. From job creation to increased access to essential educational, health, and retail services, and from the rehabilitation of blighted communities to the development of renewable energy sources, NMTC projects have benefited neighborhoods throughout the country.

And what precisely is the NMTC doing to restore these so-called “blighted communities”? It’s providing hedge fund managers and wealthy real estate investors with opportunities to cash in on the charter school boom. The government frames it as a useful tool that builds communities up, operating on the assumption that charter schools provide some sort of de facto restoration. But as Part I demonstrated, they don’t.

But they do provide wealthy investors with a 39 percent tax credit that more than doubles returns on these investments within just seven years. As NY Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez reported for Democracy Now!, “this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re collecting interest on the loans, as well as getting the 39 percent tax credit.” And that’s not all. As Gonzalez explained, the federal government “piggyback[s] the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits, like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfield’s credits. The result is, you can put in $10 million and in seven years double your money.” So, if you put in a couple million dollars, you’ll have double that amount within just seven years.

Until recently, most of this money has been filtered through large non-profit organizations like the Gates Foundation, but it can also be done through for-profit companies. In order for donors to be eligible for the tax breaks, they must give to something classified as a Community Development Entity. The federal website explains this can be either a “domestic corporation or partnership.” And it must have “a primary mission of serving LICs [Low Income Communities].”

Maybe this helps explain why, in 2011, former tennis champion Andre Agassi helped set up a $500 million startup fund for his Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, the first for-profit organization of its kind. In addition to any profits to be made from this for-profit CDE, how much did Agassi himself contribute? How much will he see doubled on the taxpayers’ dime within about seven years? He’s never said. The credit may also explain why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $500 million in stocks to a variety of organizations that distribute charter school funding in 2012, or why he opened his own foundation, called Startup: Education, to build new charter schools.

Then there’s David Brain, head of large real-estate investment firm Entertainment Properties Trust, who appeared on CNBC in 2012 to tell audiences just how profitable charter school investment has become. He explained, “Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product.” Asked about the most profitable sector in real estate investment, Brain said, “Well, probably the charter school business. We said it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio. It’s the most high in demand, it’s the most recession-resistant. And a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set in rough measure annually.”

Real-estate developers have a particularly interesting stake in the business of charter school development. Yes, they receive the standard huge tax breaks. But they can also help charter schools acquire properties in large cities like Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, where prices are high and there isn’t much room for new buildings. In places where acquiring space can involve fierce bidding wars and eminent domain conflicts, well-off real-estate developers profit from charter school growth since they will help new schools get established for a price. Eminent Properties Trust boasts, “Our investment portfolio of nearly $3 billion includes megaplex movie theatres and adjacent retail, public charter schools, and other destination recreational and specialty investments. This portfolio includes over 160 locations spread across 34 states with over 200 tenants.” When real estate developers acquire these charter school properties, they charge charter schools for rent payments, which are not price-capped.

Charter management group Charter Schools USA recommended that rental costs should not exceed 20 percent of a school’s budget, but a 2011 investigation by the Miami Heraldfound that 19 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward alone spent more than 20 percent of their budgets on rent; one in Miami Gardens 43 percent.

This can get especially egregious when the interests of real estate developers and charter management companies intertwine. When this happens, there is no check on escalating fees, as the management companies charged with governance and oversight are motivated to allow higher and higher rental fees. Again, according to theMiami Herald Report:

Many of the highest rents are charged by landlords with ties to the management companies running the schools, The Miami Herald found. At least 56 charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties sit on land whose owners are tied to management companies, property records show.

For example, the Lincoln-Martí Charter School in Hialeah paid $744,000 in rent last year — about 25 percent of the school’s $3 million budget, even after the landlord reduced the rent by $153,000. The previous year, the school spent one-third of its income on rent, audit records show.

Records show the landlord, D.P. Real Estate Holdings, and the management company are run by the same man: former Miami-Dade School Board member Demetrio Perez Jr. Perez’s son, Demetrio J. Perez, works at the management company, which operates three Lincoln-Martí charter schools.

Real estate holders who acquire charter management firms in Florida and elsewhere are circulating money directly back into their own pockets.

Private Companies and the Lack of Accountability

But the involvement of large corporations goes well beyond the development of for-profit firms like the Canyon-Agassi Fund — or even non-profits with deep corporate interests like the Gates Foundation. Charter schools, unlike most traditional public schools, contract with for-profit companies for everything from curriculum development to construction. It is well-known that charter schools are big business, but it’s harder to pin down concrete numbers. When money leaves a donor’s pocket, it is usually funneled through a CDE, which isn’t required to release information about who its donors are, or how much they’re spending. From there, the CDE donates the money to charter management organizations. The endless cycle of shuffling funds works like money laundering. It functions to hide the original sources of funds. And it’s all legal.

Even though most of the details remain hidden, we do know that privatization in education is a lucrative business. In January, a firm called Capital Roundtable – which touts itself as “America’s leading conference company for the middle-market private equity community” – held a Master Class called “Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies.” The conference website noted, “For-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets, currently topping $1.3 trillion in value.” The event was hosted by Harold Levy, a former chancellor of the New York City Schools System who promoted charter proliferation during his tenure. Now he manages Connecticut investment company Palm Ventures. One of the major focuses of the firm involves funneling individual investments into for-profit charter-school related companies.  As a former finance lawyer for Citigroup, Kaplan and Saloman Brothers, Levy is quite the expert on getting rich this way.

Companies are not shy about promising huge returns on charter school investment. The difficulty lies in the fact that it’s harder to show just how much individual hedge funders and companies are profiting from the investments. There are very few accountability mechanisms, and it can be difficult for the public to protect the public from shoddy job performance.

Gary Moriello, an educator since 1970 and Chicago principal between 1987 and 2007, tells AlterNet of an alarming experience visiting a Chicago charter school in what he calls a “notorious housing project on the near North side.” The school occupied what looked on the outside like a nice, shiny new building, but it wasn’t really equipped to serve students properly. Why? The private company that had provided the construction had no real stake in serving students or making education better.

Moriello remembers:

As soon as I went inside, I could see that it was built on the cheap. There was no gym; students just had to go outside throughout the winter. There was no lunchroom. Instead, tables were set up in a hallway, and lunches were brought in from outside the school.

It’s no surprise that for-profit companies, which are motivated solely by maximizing profit, might want to keep overhead costs as low as possible.

And even by the flimsy legal standards in place to protect the public against charter school industry corruption, charter schools across the nation are failing. They are mired in financial scandal—and have become synonymous in many districts for mismanagement. A frequently updated blog called by California-based researcher Sharron Higgins, called Charter School Scandals, provides a running tally of these scandals throughout the country, and they are vast. A quick perusal of the blog suggests that these scandals are happening over and over again, even if few mainstream media outlets are willing to connect the dots about what is going on.

Here are just a few examples of what seems to be a pretty large-scale problem:

To read this article in full go to AlterNet.

More to follow.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

I just came across this on Facebook. Yet another example of the intolerable “Zero Tolerance” policy of charter schools. Would this happen in a public school? I think not.

tiana-parker-615x345

Tulsa school sends girl home because ‘dreadlocks’ and ‘afros’ are too distracting

2 comments on “The Weekly Update: Charter schools, zero tolerance and minority students, the profiteering and scandals

  1. Pingback: The SHADY charterization of Camden | teacherbiz

  2. John Young
    September 5, 2013

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

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