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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Open letter to Ellie Herman, or how Green Dot's Marco Petruzzi's special education policies hurt everyone including their own administrators

"It is not legally or morally acceptable that these so-called "schools of choice" that are concentrated in urban communities and supported with public funds, should be permitted to operate as segregated learning environments where students are more isolated by race, socioeconomic class, disability, and language than the public school district from which they were drawn." — COPAA

Marco Petruzzi takes pride in Green Dot Charter Corporation's discrimination against special needs students
Wall Street privatization darling Marco Petruzzi (above) led a beleaguered Green Dot through charges of racism, embezzlement, poor performance, and even cheating. He has claimed that his lucrative charter chain doesn't receive money from rich guys, meanwhile foundations give them millions. He has gone beyond denying that Green Dot discriminates against special needs students, he takes pride in it.

July 11, 2014

Ms. Herman:

I occasionally read your posts with skepticism. Typically, even when you seem to almost reach the correct conclusion about an education topic, you find a way to ignore your own evidence. In the end nearly all your pieces cheerlead for the lucrative charter industry, and provide cover for the biggest enemies of public education.

My interest was piqued today with a piece you wrote on a Green Dot Corporate Charter principal stepping down from one of the schools they seized from the public system. Here is the passage that caught my eye:

Nat was taken aback to find that 18% of the students were in Special Ed. "We thought they were overidentified. Turns out they were underidentified." When I ask why there were so many kids with special needs, he's not sure. Part of it, he thinks, is that the number of kids in foster care may be a factor, because foster kids are often moved from school to school, not staying long enough for their issues to be identified. "It's just conjecture, but kids in foster care, they're often in foster care because their parents were on drugs or couldn't take care of them, well, are you more likely to be unable to take care of a kid with special needs and behavior problems?"

For years those of us engaged in social justice activism have criticized the corporate charter chains—Green Dot Corporation has always been a particularly egregious example—for under-identifying special needs children. I've spent years advocating for families struggling for Special Education (SPED) equity, working closely with the former chairperson of the LAUSD SPED Community Advisory Committee. Marco Petruzzi, the erstwhile hedge fund manager running Green Dot Corporation, has gone as far as to attack those of us that have brought up this issue. He has called us liars (among other things), and gone on to say that Green Dot's SPED percentage are low because LAUSD somehow over-identifies SPED. The mendacious corporate executive stated that the entities' outside of Green Dot "over identifying" SPED children is—this will be hard to comprehend for any reasonable person—is a "civil rights" issue. That's right, the wealthy CEO of Green Dot is on record saying just that. Here's one instance of Petruzzi's convoluted corporate thoughts on the matter [1]:

our track record serving kids speaks for itself for those who want to look at the real numbers, but is a very technical issue and this is not the forum for it. For example, the special Ed issue is fraught with misunderstanding and manipulation of data. LAUSD has high numbers because it over identifies African American and Latino boys relative to many other urban Districts, a civil rights issue, not something to be proud. It also has high numbers because it doesn't serve kids well and thus exits them from special Ed in the typologies of special Ed that can be addressed. It serves special Ed kids in over restrictive environments. Anyway, I realize we will never agree with certain folks, particularly those employed by the current system and that view us as a job threat.

Ms. Herman, I appreciate your post as it bears testament to what many of us have always said about Green Dot and other corporate charter chains. Public schools also under-identify SPED as well, but unlike the well heeled executive quoted above, nobody boasts about underserving them. Petruzzi seemingly makes it a point of pride that Green Dot SPED IEPs are significantly lower than that of public schools. Green Dot has a long record of avoiding obligations to SPED students [2]. Moreover Petruzzi has a long record making outrageous statements, like when he told the families of Animo Justice that Green Dot Corporation doesn't get any money from "rich guy[s]". [3] Must have been all those years he worked for Mitt Romney's sister company, Bain & Company, Inc.

I agree with you and Mr. Pickering on the SPED issue. Since Green Dot Corporation, like all corporate charters, is about bottom lines rather than education, that will never change. Ironically Petruzzi is right to frame the issue in terms of students' civil rights, but he and his fellow six-figure profiteers are the ones violating them.

Advocating Public Education and Social Justice

Robert D. Skeels ****@ucla.edu

"Problem posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor" — Paulo Freire

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[1] http://venice.patch.com/groups/schools/p/space-for-a-new-building-at-walgrove-elementary-likel839b5a4cd8
[2] http://www.scribd.com/doc/100558792/Green-Dot-SPED-Binder
[3] http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2010/04/advocating-public-education-roundup.html the video in which Petruzzi claims Green Dot gets no outside funding is here: http://youtu.be/kbtUUBS3eO0 the transcribed quote is "We have no money. We're a nonprofit. We don't have a rich guy that gives us extra."

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