"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Charter School Biz Takes A Hit From the Times

In the article I highly recommend in the February issue of School Administrator, Larry Cuban writes:

Deceit and fraud are harder to cover up when elected school boards are obliged by law to consider, debate and make decisions in public. Of equal importance, school board decisions are subject to media and public scrutiny. Not so in the private sector where corporate leaders are often appointed by self-perpetuating boards of directors who make decisions behind closed doors without public hearings or journalists in attendance.
Taken in the context of the growing incidence of corruption in the charter school biz, this statement would appear nothing less than prophetic had such corruption been anything new. Cuban, of course, knows that it is not, but, rather, that corruption has provided the underpinning of the bad education actors for much of the previous century.

What a week for corruption in the charter biz it has been! Take your pick of these stories on what was billed the next great excuse not to fix the public schools:

From Gary, Indiana:

GARY – Parents are asking state officials to audit a charter school and many kept their children home from classes because of a series of disagreements with administrators.

Nearly one-third of the 220 students who attend 21st Century charter school in Gary were kept home Tuesday after parents complained about the school’s curriculum, a lack of promised technology and problems with faculty.

The first-year school, operated by the GEO Foundation, changed principals and recently suspended teachers for disciplining a student with drumsticks.

. . . . Alyce Butler, president of the school’s board, said the charter school is experiencing first-year growing pains.

Whose pain was that, Ms. Butler?

From Brighton, Colorado:

An Adams County charter school official was charged with six felony counts and one misdemeanor Thursday in connection with the theft of more than $72,000.

The Adams County District Attorney's Office announced the charges that came at the conclusion of a three-month investigation involving Katie Squair, 51.She is the founder and former business manager of the Community Leadership Academy and was accused of using checks, wire transfers and debits to embezzle money from the school, which opened in August of 2005. . . .

From Midland, Pennsylvania:
MIDLAND - Allegations of misuse of public money made by a fired consultant for the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School will be looked at by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

La-Verna Fountain said the education department has been made aware of allegations against the online school and is going to "review what's taking place or what has been alleged. We're very clear that these are allegations at this point."

In a pending lawsuit in Beaver County Court, Michael Barney claims the contract between the cyberschool and his management company, Rodis LLC, was improperly terminated.

The former consultant to the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School claims that taxpayer money meant to fund the school is being used to pay for building the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center and to start the National Network of Digital Schools, a nonprofit corporation started by Nick Trombetta, who also is chief administrative officer of the cyber charter school and Midland School District's superintendent.

In a letter to Trombetta in March 2005, Barney claims his company was fired because he brought "several financial, legal and ethical irregularities" to Trombetta's attention, including expense reports that were "in shambles," funneling money into the performing arts center and other entities, and billing discrepancies. . . .
From Annapolis, Maryland:

Citing "substantial" evidence of discrimination against disabled students - and even more against American-born teachers - Anne Arundel school officials Monday threatened to close one of the county's two charter schools next year if it doesn't shape up soon.

The Board of Education gave the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School 30 days to prove that the unfair treatment has stopped, records are being properly kept and its finances are in order.

"There is evidence that the school leadership attempted to persuade the parents of a student to withdraw from the school based on his status as a student with disabilities," wrote school board President Konrad M. Wayson and interim Superintendent Nancy M. Mann in a letter dated Friday.

The letter - sent to the math-and-science-focused academy in Hanover on Monday - is the second time this year school officials have threatened to shut the doors to its 102 students for good, but some billed it as a final chance for the school's founders to keep it in business.

It follows a series of inquiries into the school, including an investigation into allegations that its former director, Jon Omural, treated teachers unfairly, and an in-depth financial audit. Mr. Omural has since left the school. . . .

From L.A.:
The LAUSD board will consider today setting up a better oversight system to monitor charter schools, which could lead to the closing of a number of charters with low test scores and financial problems.

"When the inspector general looks at the finances of a couple of these schools, it may result in some charters being pulled," said board member Jon Lauritzen, who has pushed for increased scrutiny of the alternative schools that operate independently from the district.

And then comes an editorial from the New York Times on Wednesday focusing on the shortcomings of the new miracle drug intended to eradicate public education. Is Brent Staples on vacation, or what:

. . . . Even states with disastrously low-performing charter systems can point to a handful of outstanding schools. But several studies have shown that on the whole, charter schools perform no better than other public schools. Beyond that, some states have opened so many charter programs so quickly that they can barely count them, let alone monitor student performance. Where charters have clearly failed, the states often lack the political will — or even a process — for closing them down.

The oversight issue has become crucial since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires students in charter schools to meet the same standards as students in traditional schools. But getting a handle on the problem is going to be difficult for states like Michigan, which has become a textbook example of how sloppily administered charter programs can harm students and undermine faith in both the chartering process and public education in general.

Michigan quickly opened more than 200 schools under one of most liberal charter laws, and the program has been riddled with problems from the start. A multistate study by the Evaluation Center, a well-known research group at Western Michigan University, describes charter schools in Michigan, Ohio and some other states as actually having a negative impact on student achievement.

The study also finds that states with charter programs dominated by for-profit education companies have poorer results for those schools in terms of performance and accountability.

This spells bad news for Michigan, where three-quarters of the charter schools are run by commercial companies, which have been criticized for turning away disadvantaged and disabled students and for failing to release test data that would allow education officials to check performance. The Legislature, which appears to be losing faith in the whole idea, refused to raise the cap on the number of charters. But it also declined to provide the money that would have allowed the State Education Department to do better monitoring of the charter schools that already exist.

The Michigan and Ohio cases will probably show that it is much more difficult to improve failing charter schools than to put them together properly in the first place. That fact has clearly registered on states like Connecticut and Delaware, which have wisely taken a cautious approach to chartering schools outside the usual public system.

Promising charter systems are few. But those that exist have some things in common: The states issue charters only after a rigorous screening process. They provide technical assistance to the schools, especially on procurement matters. And they provide sophisticated oversight — with regular and systematic data collection — to make sure that the schools are actually working.

So far, the national experience with charter schools shows that they are not a magical solution to the achievement problem. The only way to improve public schooling is to provide well-trained teachers and orderly schools, and to monitor them to make sure that the students are actually learning. To salvage the charter movement, the states will need to abandon the strategy, now discredited, that consists largely of giving public money to what are basically private schools and then looking the other way.

Thank you. As the scales fall away from the eyes of the editorial writers at the Times, perhaps they might go a single step further to suggest it is time to get back to the business of rebuilding the public education system that has sustained an unrelenting bombing campaign since the fundamentalist thugs came to Washington 1980. That is when both God and the Invisible Hand of the Free Market got high-jacked by a bunch of greedy hyprocrites and hucksters who drove the democracy to the precipice we now face. Save the Republic.


  1. The New York Times Uses Faulty Data To Slam Charter Schools

    The New York Times in an Editorial today erroneously reported the results of a more than one-year-old study that has been widely discredited by the academic community and valid achievement data. The Times cites “proof” of charter school failure based upon data provided by Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center.

    In addition, the Times jumps far beyond what is reported in the study, to generalize that the charter school movement has been “discredited.”
    The Center for Education Reform offers the following facts and data to refute today’s editorial.

    Another Black Eye For The Gray Lady

    • This is the third time The New York Times has chosen to use a discredited study, which fails to accurately compare apples to apples, to draw sweeping conclusions about charter school achievement.

    • The New York Times uses reports from Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center that have been discredited by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Brookings Institution and which vary in age from 1-6 years old.

    • The Times fails to mention that charter public schools are accepting children from the most dismally failing traditional schools, and often have to work twice as long to get them up to standard levels of proficiency.

    • The Times also concludes that for-profit charter school operators have the worst achievement record, a fact that has been refuted by last month’s study released by the American Institutes For Research that determined Edison schools had a modestly superior performance while there was a lack of sufficient data to determine the performance of other for-profit operators.

    • The Times editorial called for more regulation of charter schools to correct lagging achievement. However, a strong charter school law is one that prevents local districts and authorizers from over-regulating and interfering with a charter school. This is the very concept that makes charters successful, and which Miron says leads to their failure.

    • Today, 40 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws in place. Of those laws, 21 laws are considered strong, according to CER’s latest rankings; 20 laws are considered weak.

    • There is a direct correlation between strong laws and successful charter schools. Of those states with strong laws, 65 percent showed positive achievement gains last year; of the weak states, only two demonstrated the same level of progress.

    • A 2004 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found that charter schools are smaller than conventional public schools and serve a disproportionate and increasing number of poor and minority students.

    • A 2003 national report by the Brookings Institution shows that test scores at charter schools are “rising sharply” and out-gaining conventional schools.

    • A December 2004 Harvard University study finds that charter school students are more likely to be proficient in reading and math than students in neighboring conventional schools. The greatest achievement gains can be seen among African American, Hispanic, or low-income students.

    • Charter schools that have been open for significant periods of time boast even higher achievement rates; Harvard found that charter schools that have been operating for more than 5 years outpace conventional schools by as much as 15 percent.

    Charter School Achievement

    • The New York Times editorial specifically mentions Michigan achievement but provides no substantiating data. According to the Times “getting a handle on the problem is going to be difficult for states like Michigan, which has become a textbook example of how sloppily administered charter programs can harm students and undermine faith in both the chartering process and public education in general.” But statistics exist that refute that claim.

    • Michigan’s charter high schools are making faster progress toward meeting state standards than other public schools. This is based on the MEAP (MI Education Assessment Program) scores that show that students in charter high schools are gaining faster in math, reading, science, and social studies.

    • 38.1% of seniors in charter schools met state standards on the 2004 MEAP math tests, up 2.7% from 2003, compared with 30.7% of urban schools, which were up just .2% from 2003.

    • State test results from the fall of 2005 show that, as a group, students in schools authorized by Central Michigan University outperformed students in the Host Districts in all four core subjects. When the data for the four subjects is disaggregated to show the performance of Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students, those in schools authorized by CMU again outperformed students in the Host Districts in 15 of the 16 categories. The 16th was a tie.

    • Where public school students are often expected to do poorly, they usually do. The state test results for urban districts bear this out. Schools authorized by CMU across the state, from Detroit to Benton Harbor to Flint, which are serving particularly high percentages of economically disadvantaged students (75% and above) are beating the odds. Students in these schools are outperforming their local districts by a very wide margin as well as producing results above the state average.

    • In 2005, some schools authorized by CMU -- such as Holly Academy and Walden Green Academy -- have already reached the NCLB goal of 100% Math and Reading proficiency by 2014 with entire grades of students.

    • CMU has been consistently collecting standardized test data (Scantron's Performance Series) for three years that clearly shows that students entering charter public schools, on average, are performing below grade level in reading and math. This data also clearly indicates that students who have stayed at the same charter school for three or more years are catching up. To date, results for approximately 9,000 students in grades 4 through 8 have been analyzed. In reading, students in grades 5, 7 and 8 are at or above the 50th percentile nationally after 3 or more years in the schools chartered by CMU and students
    in all grades are catching up. In math, on average students in their first year perform below the 25th percentile while the average for students who have been enrolled for three or more years, in all the grades, is between the 25 and 50th percentile. The data show a clear and compelling pattern that the longer the students are at schools authorized by CMU the better they perform in math and reading.

    • CMU charter school demographics:

    58 charters, 70 buildings, 27,000 students.
    65% of the students are minority, which does not include a large population of Arabic students.
    58% qualify for free/reduced price lunch.
    9% of the students are special education.

    From a GAO report on the Gary Miron studies referenced in the Times

    “Weaknesses included inadequate controls for differences between the students in charter schools and their host districts, no consideration of attrition rates, and the likelihood that analyses were often based on a small number of students.”
    Charter Schools Have Dual Accountability. Unlike traditional public schools, no one is forced to attend a charter school, but new charter schools are opening every day and they still have waiting lists. If they fail to perform, parents stop
    coming or pull their children out and the schools close. Additionally, because of the NCLB, charters must meet the same accountability standards as regular public schools. If they fail to perform, they can have their charter revoked or not renewed and the school closes. This dual accountability—market forces and reporting requirements—ensures that charters do perform well or they are closed. No one is closing conventional public schools that are failing students
    across the country. Instead, parents who can afford it are sending their children to private schools, and disadvantaged children find new life in charter schools.

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  3. Anonymous1:32 AM

    A more recent example I believe is unfolding - Seattle has control of the school bond?? is currently proposing to remodel Sealth High School into a campus for grades 6-12. They are closing Denny Middle School and moving all of the kids to the new campus. The project manager said $100 million which is unreal.

    The Superintendent is a Broad Foundation trained sup as were the past two sups.

    This is the same foundation that gave a piece of land to LAUSD that was a hazardous waste site and cost taxpayers $100 million to cleanup for a $45 million school. Broad is the "B" in KB Home. Also developed a bomb range into a housing development. In each of the cities they've run it has resulted in an exodus from districts - Denver, Charleston, Portland, San Diego, NYC, LAUSD Philadelphia, Boston, etc.

    There are obvious connections between Hyman Bass, Deborah Ball, Lam, Briars, Rod Paige, Ralph Reed, Grover Nyquist, Merlino, Kulm, Webb, Daniel Lapin, and of course Jack Abramoff.

    Low quality textbooks create poor academic programs in urban school districts. Its a perfect fit, if you were a real estate developer.

    In addition, the former Portland Sup was part of the staff of the former Penn State Sec of Education who was being charged with fraud and is now running grants for the Broad Foundation. My belief is the district intends to swap the land which is in an ethnically diverse community with land in North Seattle to build a new school in a more affluent neighborhood which might have been threatening to separate from the district.

    The Broad Foundation has supported charter schools in the past. The sups paid for by the Broad Foundation have absolutely devestated school districts creating unbelievable chaos in communities on both coasts e.g. Bersin and Alvarado.

    There are constant themes always:
    1. removing magnet programs
    2. closing schools
    3. outside consultants
    4. anti-union
    5. charter schools
    6. administrator firings
    7. attacking teachers
    8. taking control of Title I
    9. privatization of services and support programs
    10. poor oversight - no bid contracts.
    11. some of the worst schools in the country
    12. mass exodus of students.
    13. mayor control

    It makes my blood boil that people with this much arrogance and no ethics can step into a public school district and render it inoperable within 3-4 years. Why is our government not doing anything about it.

    Washington state teachers are not protected by state law. The lack of ethics goes all the way up to the Office of the Sup (e.g. carkhuff another no-bid). When will people learn.