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Green Dot charter schools: A cautionary tale

 Green Dot Founder Steve Barr, who is married to TFA Founder Wendy Kopp, created a mythology about his corporate charters that persists.

Green Dot Founder Steve Barr created a mythology about his corporate charters that still persists.

According to Melissa Westbrook over at the Seattle Schools Community Forum, Green Dot charter school is planning, with the help of Bill Gates, to open a charter school in West Seattle.

On the left margin of this page, you can find articles about Green Dot charter schools. Related Seattle Education posts include: Parent Trigger, Parent Revolution, Ben Austin and his Parent Trigger now in Seattle and The “school conversion” clause in Initiative 1240, the parent trigger and ALEC model legislation.

One of the many problems with Green Dot, besides a high attrition rate that brings up their graduation rate, the way they scam low-income parents, many who are immigrants, to sign on to the school and their propensity for hiring Teach for America (TFA) recruits who are fresh out of college with unrelated degrees and given 5 weeks of training before putting them in a classroom and the charter chain’s lackluster academic track record, see 14 of 15 Green Dot schools are “failing,” by Parent Revolution’s definition, is their tendency of closing schools after a few years if things don’t work out for them.

See Taking on a Charter School Closing and What Happens When a Charter School Fails.

There is a particularly poignant story that Diane Ravitch published in 2013 that parents and teachers should read before signing onto Green Dot public charter school:

The Inside Story of a Green Dot Charter School

Green Dot Public Schools, Teacher Retention, and the Failure of Past Models

By Brett Wyatt

This is a story of a charter school in the Green Dot Public School system which, after four years of operation, is coming to an inglorious end. It is not an end to the system, or even to school itself, but an end in name and in so many exhausted careers used by Green Dot to experiment with failed policies in Watts, California. The original Locke High School, like so many schools centered in poverty and neglect, had many systemic problems. Green Dot, a charter school system headed by Marco Petruzzi, requested to administer the school in 2008.

The school was divided into 4 cluster schools, those being Animo Locke I, Animo Locke II, Locke ACE Academy (Architecture, Construction, Engineering), Animo Locke Tech, Animo Locke III and Animo Watts . According to founding teacher Ryan Ballard, “Our first school year was 2009-10. We were a CTE, career-technical education school with a philosophy of preparing kids for college along with providing for them the notion that they will have a marketable skill/trade that, if college was not their choice, they could make a good living working in a field that would be needed well into the future. In 2011, Locke Ace was closed and re-organized into Locke II.” No reason was given for the closure. As a new hire to Locke II, I was told that the merger was part of the long-term plan to make all Green Dot schools college preparatory. According to Ballard, the principal of Locke Ace was let go. Of the 16 teachers assigned to Locke Ace, 9 teachers moved into Locke II, one teacher was a long term substitute, and the rest left for personal reason.

Only two years later, Locke II is being closed and re-opened as Locke B Academy, part of Animo Locke A, the only one of the Locke cluster schools to pass (conditionally) WASC ( Western Association of Schools and College) s accreditation. In fact, Animo Locke II, Animo Locke III, and Animo Locke Tech all failed the 2012 WASC accreditation. forcing Green Dot to merge all of the campuses, operationally, into the one school to receive accreditation. Animo Watts will continue to operate independent of the schools located at the main Locke campus. My concern in this report is the fate of the teachers and administrators who chose to work for Green Dot Public Schools with the allure of excelling in an entirely new, authentically based program of teaching based on the College Ready Promise and the chance of receiving high salaries based on excellent performance. I began to question the effectiveness of the Green Dot model after the first year, when over 30% of the teachers resigned. By my second year of teaching for Green Dot, both of the administrators whom hired me had to resign, as had the dean of the school. At the end of the first semester of my second year, another 30% of the teachers had left. Now, at the end of my second year, the school is being re-organized, only a small fraction of the remaining staff will transfer with it, and I have been re-assigned to a different and currently re-organized academy. First, I want to explore the numbers. Only two of the sixteen teachers from the original Locke Ace, who transferred to Locke II, will be moving on to Locke B academy. The new cluster re-organization will dis-aggregate the ninth grade into a separate academy to be housed in the main Locke HS building with the two of the grade10-12 academies. Locke A academy will move to the bungalow area in the back of the school. The list below does not include the names of the teachers for legal reasons. Instead, I have given their department and employment status.

ANIMO LOCKE II ADMINISTRATION NOTICE OF TRANSFER Locke Cluster Coordinator Chad Soleo – Moved to a national outreach position of VP of Advancement due to his excellent service as Locke Cluster Coordinator.

FORCED RESIGNATION (2008-2012) Principal – Discrepancies in practice, test scores did not improve

FORCED RESIGNED (2008 -2012) Assistant Principal – There was a discrepancy during state testing, he left three days later.

RESIGNED (2008 – 2012) DEAN – Multiple incidences of being beaten by students

TRANSFER (2012-2013) Assistant Principal– Transferred from Locke Tech where he was reportedly attacked by students to Locke II, and now transferred to be the principal at an Animo middle school. (2012 – Present) INTERIM PRINCIPAL – Position to be made permanent 2013-2014 (2012 – Present) DEAN , being promoted to Administrator in Residence.

COUNSELORS (2011-Present) Three full time counselors have been at the school since 2011, no reports on their placements for 2013-2014

FULL TIME TEACHERS Note: Teach for America (TFA) Full Time Educator (FTE) Provisional – Teacher does without a clear credential

SPECIAL EDUCATION RESIGNED (2008-2013) TFA – Moving out of state

RESIGNED (2009-2013) FTE – Hired into another district

RESIGNED (2011-2012) TFA – Left mid-year for personal reasons

RESIGNED (2010-2012) Provisional – Left mid-year for personal reasons (2010 – Present) FTE (2010 – Present) Provisional

MATH RESIGNED (2011-2013) TFA – Leaving for personal reason, possibly leaving profession

TRANSFER (2010-Present) FTE – Transfer to Animo Pat Brown

TRANSFER (2010-Present) TFA – Transfer to 9th Grade Academy

TRANSFER (2010-Present) TFA – Transfer to 9th Grade Academy (2012-Present) TFA (2012-Present) TFA (2011-Present) TFA

SCIENCE RESIGNED (2002 – 2012) FTE – Moved out of state

RESIGNED (2009-2012) TFA – Left teaching profession

RESIGNED (2011-2012) Provisional – Left teaching profession

MEDICAL LEAVE (2010 – 2013) FTE – Return is uncertain (2011-Present) FTE (2011-Present) TFA (2012-Present) TFA and Provisional

HISTORY RESIGNED (2011-2013) TFA – Hired into another district as administrator (2008 – Present) FTE (2010 – Present) TFA (2010 – Present) TFA (2011 – Present) FTE

ENGLISH RESIGNED (2008 – 2012) TFA – Left teaching profession

RESIGNED (2009-2012) TFA –Hired into another district

RESIGNED (2010-2012) FTE – Left teaching profession, resigned mid-year

RESIGNED (2011-2012) TFA and Provisional – Left teaching profession

RESIGNED (2012) TFA – Injured by student, Left mid-year for personal reasons

RESIGNED (2012) TFA – Left mid-year for personal reasons

RESIGNED (2012) TFA – Left mid-year for personal reasons (2010-Present) TFA

RESIGNED (2011-Present) TFA – Hired into another district.

TRANSFER (2011 – Present) TFA – Transfer to 9th grade academy

RESIGNED (2011) FTE – Left without a new assignment, (2011-Present) TFA (2012-Present) TFA (2013 – Present) TFA

SPANISH TRANSFER (2010 – 2013) TFA – Taking new position at Animo Pat Brown (2011-Present) TFA (2012-Present) TFA (2012 – Present) TFA

PHYSICS MEDICAL LEAVE (2011-2013) FTE – Injured after battery by student, left in January 2013

PE (2006-Present) FTE (2011 – Present) TFA

TECHNOLOGY RESIGNED (2011-2012) FTE – Left mid-year for personal reasons (After a series of long term subs, a new full time teacher has been hired in April)

DRAMA RESIGNED (2009-2013) FTE – Moving out of state

ART (2011 – Present) FTE

ENGINEERING RESIGNED (2011- 2012) TFA – Left for personal reasons

LONG TERM SUBSTITUTE TEACHERSUsed to fill in for resignations and accounted for about 15% of the teachers at Locke II.

LONG TERM SUB (2011-2012) CLEAR CREDENTIAL- Left to be full time PE teacher and athletic director in another district.

LONG TERM SUB (2011-2012) PROVISIONAL– Hired into Locke Tech

LONG TERM SUB (2012 – 2013) PROVISIONAL – Birth of child

LONG TERM SUB (2011-Present) PROVISIONAL

LONG TERM SUB (2013 – Present) PROVISIONAL

LONG TERM SUB (2013 – Present) PROVISIONAL

LONG TERM SUB (2013 – Present) CLEAR CREDENTIAL

I have had the chance to interview many of these teachers and their stories point to two main reasons for leaving: unsafe working conditions and limited future advancement.

I know the issue of school safety first-hand. In 2011 I was struck by a student so hard that I left to be treated in an emergency room. The student received a one day suspension and was to return to my class. I filed a police report and the student was arrested and later released. As the only teacher of my subject at the school. I had to get a restraining order to keep the student from being re-assigned back to my classroom. That same year two teachers were struck from behind with bottles.

Other teachers have been spat on, had coins thrown into their faces, and verbally threatened. There was an inconsistency of disciplinary actions by site administration such that students expressing violence or extreme acts of obscenity toward teachers received detentions or minimum suspensions while students who were tardy or out of uniform also received suspensions or one or multiple days. The suspension policy was challenged by parents who won a court decision ordering Green Dot to lower the suspension rate at Locke II, which averaged over 2 suspensions per student. The first semester of 2012 felt out-of-control once students learned of the reduced suspension policy. One science teacher was attacked and thrown to the floor. An English teacher had a party-popper exploded in her face. An English teacher had a student use profane language at her and then spat at her feet. A science teacher had a student punch the wall next to her face. All four of these teachers confided in me that the administration investigated their claims and then put the burden back on the teacher by asking, “What did you do to cause the student to act so violently? All four of these teachers have left the school.

Student profanity towards teachers was ignored. All teachers became subjected to constant profanity. This situation escalated to the point where I called on the union for intervention. The union pointed out to the administration that the contract stipulates that a teacher- administrator or counselor-student mediation must be set up before a student can re-enter the classroom after acts of extreme profanity. Teachers were also advised by the union that they may assign an in-school suspension. According to my local union representative, the district is responding to the situation by requesting that teachers be allowed to vote on removing Green Dot from the California Education Code. A poll by the union has shown strong support for the Green Dot’s request by teachers at the Founding Five schools and by new teachers, as the district claims that the education code severely limits its ability to meet the needs of students. Another problem faced by Locke

Cluster schools is the political voice of the “Founding Five” schools in Green Dot’s charter, these being: Animo Leadership Charter High School, Animo Inglewood Charter High School, Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School, Ánimo South Los Angeles Charter High School and Animo Venice Charter High School. These are not neighborhood schools, but are schools where students must apply and be accepted through a set of criteria. This is not the case for the Locke Cluster schools. Teachers at these schools are rated much more highly in the Green Dot evaluation system and as a result have higher job security and will mostly receive salary increases when the school district begins basing salary increases only on job performance.

Incentives, such as salary increases based on job performance, have been another reason for teachers to leave Animo Locke II. The incentive program rates a teacher on a set of evaluations formerly known as The College Ready Promise (TCRP) and now known as Teacher Effectiveness (TE). (Understanding Green Dot’s constantly changing acronyms is essential to keeping track of Green Dot’s ever changing policies.) Teachers are evaluated on an extensive list of criteria, being scored from a level 1, a teacher with absolutely no idea what is happening in the classroom, to a 2, a teacher who understands what is needed but is ineffective in its implementation, to a 3, a teacher who satisfactorily implements the Green Dot objectives, to a 4, a teacher who, WITH THE ASSISTANCE of the students in creating a collegiate academic environment, is exemplary. The evaluations, conducted by the principal, are subjective to the interpretation of the principal and highly dependent on the skill and cooperation of the students. To this evaluation are also added the overall performance of the students on their tests, or, in the case of non-tested teacher like myself, to the scores of the entire school, the scores given by students to their teachers, peer scores, and community ratings. The result of this scoring system places the average teacher at Locke II at about 2.6, translated as ineffective but mostly improving. Even more than the violence, it is the constant harassment of the administration upon teachers of being less than adequate, in need of improvement, or being placed on development plans, a system whereby a low performing teacher scrutinized each week until proven capable or terminated, which has caused so many of the teachers to leave the school. There is little to no encouragement, nothing done to help a teacher’s self-esteem, only the constant chorus of “you can improve.” Sadly, so may new teachers leave the profession because they believe this system is the norm in public education. Their years of education, both in their specific field and in teacher training, usually through the University of California, Los Angeles, is all left behind them. It’s both troubling and distressing to see so many aspiring, young teachers cast away their hopes of making a difference by being evaluated as ineffective, or even as clueless, and then led on the path of termination. To me, this is the most significant failure of the Green Dot model, its inability to retain and train teachers to become effective in the classroom. This is not to say that Green Dot did not try. In 2012 Green Dot received a second award from the Teacher Incentive program of $11.7 million. From this fund, teachers were offered salary bonuses ranging from $500, $1000, and $1500 if, after two years, the teacher was rated as effective, highly effective, or very highly effective. These incentives were not taken seriously by teachers at Locke II. First of all, the average teacher rating is not even close to receiving an award.

Second, many teachers do not last for two years. In fact, it only added to the despair because teachers at the school do not understand how they can take students performing so far below the national average, with reading, writing, and mathematical skills far below grade level, and transform them into students who can perform at the national average at a school beleaguered by violence, profanity at school, as well as disparaging conditions at home. As one teacher expressed it to a district vice-president, “You are worried about why my student’s head is down in class while I am worried about what happened to the student to cause the student to be inattentive. Do you know the lives of the students at home? Do you know what it takes for a student to come to school without being jumped? The alcoholism or drug use in the community? Is the student pregnant or did the student get beaten or verbally abused by the parent? There is so much more going on in that student’s life than my assignment and I cannot deliver the curriculum until that student can feel like the world cares.”

However, the incentives of the Teacher Incentive Program were very good news to Green Dot teachers at non-neighborhood schools. Nothing is known by teachers about the dispersal of funds not used in the teacher incentive program. Next year, the remains of two former Locke Cluster schools will re-open with a new name and almost entirely new staffs. The past will be forgotten and the future will be made to look bright and hopeful. What becomes of this next experiment on the part of Green Dot with the careers and lives of many new hopeful teachers, and the students who will hope for a safe and successful school environment, will largely depend on the Green Dot’s administration to reflect on the mistakes of the past and move forward into developing a school with a strong foundation and a long-term commitment to the community it serves. Since the Green Dot Board itself is not subject to the same scrutiny of its principals and teachers, it will be up to outside agency to oversee their decisions and track their success and failures with our children, their teachers, and the public funds used for their education.

One final thought, on May 30th I was notified that another Locke High School Cluster principal, Blain Watson of Animo Locke Tech, had resigned to move on to a new high school outside of Green Dot. Mr. Watson was the last of the African American principals working at the Locke Cluster. Many teachers have been concerned about the fact that there is no longer any African-American administrators assigned to Locke Cluster High Schools for 2013-2014; and though I would be loath to suggest any malfeasance on the part of Green Dot, my conversations with activist Hispanic and African American teachers include words describing the new Hispanic principals as “privileged persons disconnected with the local community” and “This represents hubris on the part of Green Dot”, the latter statement coming from social science teachers familiar with Herodotus and his admonitions on those exercising power in excess.

Brett Wyatt, PhD

Animo Locke II College Preparatory Academy

2 comments on “Green Dot charter schools: A cautionary tale

  1. Fremont Pathfinder
    May 24, 2015

    Great article but needs a bit of editing for spelling

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This entry was posted on May 24, 2015 by in Charter schools, Green Dot charter schools and tagged , .
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