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Ohio State Superintendent Declines $22M of the Controversial $71M Fed Charter Grant

The same week that Arne Duncan announced his upcoming exit from the office of US secretary of education in late 2015, his USDOE earmarked $249 million in charter school expansion grants, with the largest grant ($71 million) tagged for Ohio, a state with a highly questionable charter sector, as Jeff Bryant writes in October 2015 in Salon:

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s surprise announcement to leave his position in December is making headlines and driving lots of commentary, but an important story lost in the media clutter happened three days before he gave notice.

On that day, Duncan rattled the education policy world with news of a controversial grant of $249 million ($157 the first year) to the charter school industry. This announcement was controversial because, as The Washington Post reports, an audit by his department’s own inspector general found “that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.”

Post reporter Lynsey Layton notes, “The agency’s inspector general issued a scathing report in 2012 that found deficiencies in how the department handled federal grants to charter schools between 2008 and 2011″ – in other words, during Duncan’s watch.

Even more perplexing is that the largest grant of $71 million ($32.5 the first year) is going to Ohio, the state that has the worst reputation for allowing low-performing charter schools to divert tax money away from educational purposes and do little to raise the achievement of students.

A number of Ohio officials were shocked by the news.

As a different article from The Post reports, Democratic Party Representative Tim Ryan “was alarmed” by the Education Department’s decision. Ryan called his state’s charter school sector “broken and dysfunctional.”

Ted Strickland, an ex-Governor and now Democratic candidate for a US Senate seat in Ohio, wrote Duncan a letter telling him to reconsider the Ohio grant. “Too many of Ohio’s charter schools are an embarrassment,” he states. Strickland quotes from a recent study showing charters in his state perform significantly worse than public schools. He points to a recent scandal in which the person in the state’s department of education responsible for oversight of charters had to resign because he was caught “rigging the books.”

Even Ohio Republicans are disturbed about Secretary Duncan’s generosity to charter schools in the Buckeye State. Like a parent who sees a visiting relative doling out chocolate bars to an already stimulated child, State Auditor Dave Yost quickly stated his concerns about the new charter school largesse to the media and his intention to track how the money is spent. Yost should know. An audit he conducted earlier this year found charter schools in the state misspend millions of tax dollars.

“Why is the Department rewarding this unacceptable behavior,” Strickland asked in his letter.

In response to the controversial $71 million grant, in October 2015, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and others wrote USDOE a letter asking for increased oversight for Ohio charters. In June 2016, Brown asked for even more oversight and was apparently pleased with the USDOE restrictions imposed on the Ohio charter grant by September 2016.

However, it is important to note that USDOE restricting of Ohio’s multi-million-dollar federal dish-out did not occur until Brown and others publicly objected. In fact, as Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reported in November 2015, USDOE apparently tried to excuse its failure to consider the degree of dysfunction in the Ohio charter sector because it “expedited” review of the Ohio charter grant application.

However, in interesting turn of events, in April 2017, Ohio Superintendent Paolo Demaria sent USDOE a letter to the effect that Ohio will not accept the entire $71 million for charter schools because many (most) of Ohio’s charter school sponsors have not met the state’s criteria to warrant the money, as Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer reports:

Ohio will not use $22 million of the $71 million federal charter school expansion grants it won in 2015, state Superintendent Paolo Demaria has told the U.S. Department of Education, because charter school oversight organizations here are not strong enough.

In a letter sent last week, Demaria said the state will use $49 of the $71 million over five years, not the full amount.

O’Donnell also reports the Fordham Institute’s apparently odd take on the $22 million reduction in potential federal funds. Despite the potential funding drop of 30 schools (from 100 to 70), it’s no big deal because Ohio charter start-ups are down anyway:

Ohio will not use $22 million of the $71 million federal charter school expansion grants it won in 2015, state Superintendent Paolo Demaria has told the U.S. Department of Education, because charter school oversight organizations here are not strong enough.

In a letter sent last week, Demaria said the state will use $49 of the $71 million over five years, not the full amount.

As for Senator Brown: He is glad for the reduced funding but still wary. According to O’Donnell’s article, Brown views the issue as a missed opportunity Ohio’s students for reaping the “full investment” of the federal money as a result of “fraudulent data and shady charters that cannot be trusted.” Still, it is important to note that Demaria’s reason for returning almost a third of the $71 million was a general statement of the general quality of Ohio’s charter schools– which seems to be a primary motivator for fudging the data in the first place.

At any rate, the very fact that Demaria is declining the full award bespeaks a seriousness about his role in Ohio charter school accountability, which is indeed refreshing.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

I Enrolled in the Success Academy Ed Institute

On June 19, 2017, education historian Diane Ravitch posted that New York’s Success Academies (SA) now has an “education institute” available to the public.

So, I signed up– which I was surprised to be allowed to do since I am a traditional public school teacher and decided supporter of traditional public schools.

I also signed up for the new-content alerts.

My initial intention in accessing the SA institute link was to examine the fees associated with SA’s institute. Yet there are no fees.

There are, however, the terms and conditions to which I had to agree. These include not “publishing the content in any media,” which could make it difficult to utilize the curriculum offerings (a principal point of the institute, or so it seems).

I agreed to not copy and post content (including videos) from the site. I do plan to comment on the content, a practice that might also get me canned if my commentary is perceived as “damaging to the website.”

I will try to play nice because I would like to see where this SA institute is headed. So far, it includes a K-4 literacy curriculum as well as school design articles and videos for elementary and middle schools, with the promise of school design info for high school set to arrive in December 2017.

I did watch a few of the literacy videos. In each one that I saw, all students sat obediently with their hands clasped as they tracked the teacher the entire time with their eyes. When given a partner discussion task, the students all began precisely when told and appeared to all be on task during the expected time.

In the videos I viewed, student behavior was perfect.

I question exactly how emotionally healthy such an atmosphere is for children and whether such training exploits a child’s desire to please adults. Frankly, I find the student behavior homogeneity in the SA instructional videos unsettling.

The atmosphere is too controlled… which begs a question:

If SA is using its institute as a means of publicizing its success and sharing tips with others on how to be as successful, what evidence is there that the SA model can work outside of the reach of its dominant (domineering?) founder, Eva Moskowitz?

On its institute page, SA states, “Our teaching and learning model, now tested and scaled across nearly 50 campuses, has proved extraordinarily effective.”

But all of those “nearly 50 campuses” have only ever been ultimately overseen by one woman: Eva Moskowitz.

There exists no SA campus outside of Eva.

Now, it is possible that SA exec of legal affairs, lawyer Emily Kim, might be the one to pilot the SA school model outside of the Moskowitz-oversight umbrella. A May 2017 Chalkbeat article announced that Kim would be leaving SA in June 2017 to start her own charter schools– which could be like SA:

She told Chalkbeat she has not yet settled on a model for her schools but plans to “consider several different approaches” and could borrow from her current employer.

“Success is an incredibly impressive model,” Kim said. “I would like to do a lot of what Success does.”

We’ll see the degree to which Kim’s charter schools resemble SA.

I do not believe SA can be replicated without the likes of a Moskowitz dominating the enterprise.

Of course, there is also the question of the intense test prep for which SA is known.

I wonder if that topic will be addressed as part of the SA ed institute.

In perusing SA’s tax forms in preparation for this post, I noticed that on its 2014 tax form (actually, from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015), SA’s greatest independent contractor expense by far was to Makeable LLC, for marketing ($2.4 million). The second most expensive was $249,996 for “consulting.” Note that Hodes LLC ranked fifth: $136,294 for “talent recruitment.”

The year prior (July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014), SA’s highest paid independent contractor was Hodes LLC for “talent recruitment” ($1 million). Makeable LLC was the second highest paid independent contractor, at $521,064.

Thus, for those interested in the “success” behind Success enough to utilize the SA ed institute, it would be useful to read more about SA’s usage of (dependence upon?) marketing in “the broad architecture… of the SA model” hinted at on the SA institute webpage intro.

And surely, SA success is built upon SA teachers. A word about SA teacher recruitment would be useful in understanding that success– or the weight of that success upon its teachers– a weight that hints at high teacher turnover and burnout.

A tutorial on the 2013-14 $1 million spent on “talent recruitment” would surely also usefully inform the national SA ed institute audience about the broad architecture of the SA model.

We’ll see what comes.

Feel free to join me in my SA ed institute journey.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Pearson Botches Mississippi Testing [Again]; Mississippi Immediately Severs Contract

Education and testing mammoth Pearson has an established history in botching high-stakes testing.

Pearson did it again, in Mississippi.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Mississippi canceled its contract with the testing giant after Pearson fessed up to mixing up scoring tables for an exam that now has approximately 1,000 Mississippi students either graduating when exit scores were not actually high enough or not graduating because of test scores that were not too low after all.

From AP on Friday, June 16, 2017:

The Mississippi Department of Education is firing a testing company, saying scoring errors raise questions about the graduation status of nearly 1,000 students statewide.

The state Board of Education revoked a contract with NCS Pearson in closed session Friday, after the Pearson PLC unit told officials it used the wrong table to score U.S. history exams for students on track to graduate this spring. Students who did poorly got overly high scores, while those who did better didn’t get enough credit.

Associate Superintendent Paula Vanderford says it’s too soon to know how many students may have graduated or been denied diplomas in error, or what the state will do about either circumstance.

The AP release continues with an inept-yet-contrite Pearson will “assist the state in any way possible.”

Of course, the way to assist the state is to not put the state in this awful position to begin with.

And it’s not the first time Pearson incompetence has caused Mississippi problems. As the AP continues:

In 2012, a scoring error on the high school biology exam wrongly denied diplomas to five students. Pearson compensated them with $50,000 scholarships to any Mississippi university. Another 116 student who were affected less severely got $10,000 or $1,000 scholarships. In 2015, Pearson paid the state $250,000 after its online testing platform crashed for a day.

What is astounding is that even as Pearson profits are suffering to a record extent, its CEO, John Fallon, received a 20-percent pay raise in May 2017. From the May 05, 2017, Telegraph:

Two thirds of shareholders rejected the company’s remuneration report at its AGM after Mr Fallon received a £343,000 [$439,383] bonus, equivalent to a 20pc [percent] pay rise, despite having presided over its worst 12 months in nearly half a century on the stock exchange.

Mr Fallon’s position was undermined as 66pc of shareholders voted against his pay in a meeting marked by protests from teaching unions over Pearson’s activities in the developing world. …

Earlier in the day, Mr Fallon had sought to calm criticism of his bonus by spending all of it, net of tax, on Pearson shares to align his own interests with those of shareholders.

He declined to comment on whether he considered rejecting the bonus, which came after a £2.6bn [$3.34 billion] annual loss and the biggest ever one-day fall in Pearson’s shares following a massive profit warning. …

Despite the controversy, the shares were up nearly 12pc in the afternoon after Pearson unveiled a new £300m [$384 million] tranche of job cuts and office closures, in the latest phase of Mr Fallon’s battle to reverse its fortunes. His third round of restructuring comes after 4,000 staff were cut last year, when it sought similar savings.

Indeed, Fallon is being rewarded for throwing the crew overboard on a poison ship that is taking more water than ever.

It seems, however, that the Mississippi Board of Education has finally had enough of Pearson.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Charter Isomorphism, or the Charter Sector Trying to Un-sector Itself

On June 12, 2017, the Center for Education Reform (CER) announced that it published a “new book” (which I would call a report) entitled, “Charting A New Course: The Case for Freedom, Flexibility, and Opportunity Through Charter Schools”.

According to the CER press release, it seems there is a rift among charter school advocates. Here is how CER frames it:

The book compares the approaches of the two main groups in the charter-school world: those who want to empower bureaucrats and politicians, and those who want to empower parents.

In the intro of the 120-page book/report, CER founder and CEO, Jeanne Allen et al. term these two groups as “system-centered reformers” and “parent-centered reformers,” respectively:

System-centered reformers want to arrive at higher quality educational options by expertise-driven management. They believe that bureaucrats and politicians should have ample authority to decide what schools may open and what schools must close using standardized test-scores to make data-driven decisions.

Parent-centered reformers trust parents more than bureaucrats when it comes to determining school quality. They want to see a more open and dynamic system, where educational entrepreneurs are freer to open new schools and parents decide which schools should close and which should expand based on whether they want to send their children there.

Note that the tag, “parent-centered reformers,” still has parents in a secondary role to the edupreneurs, who open schools. But the parents would get to decide if the schools close or expand. Allen et al. want to shake off the test score criteria. Let the parents decide. How parents will manage to keep a school open or expand a school if the CEO squanders funds is unanswered. Furthermore, those with money and political pull will somehow be kept at bay so that the parents can run the charter show. Or at least some subset of parents can run it, somehow. And that without corporate charter advocate infiltration or corruption.

I’ll let it go for now.

Following its introduction, CER’s book/report has four sections. In the first section, Allen offers a “long essay” in which she focuses on the “isomorphic drift that’s made the charter sector come ever closer to mirroring traditional schools,” which is a terrible issue, I am sure, but the heavy, billionaire-philanthropic role in the charter sector isomorphism is certainly not familiar to traditional public education. Understatement alert: Traditional public education is not receiving excessive billionaire funding.

In this blog post, I focus on excerpts from two parts of the CER book/report: its introduction and Allen’s long essay.”

As one might expect, Allen is in the “parent-centered reformer” camp, which makes for some interesting reading for this traditional public school teacher who has heard and read ad nauseam how public education is *failing* (international and national test scores being the end-all evidence of this, of course) and how school choice will overcome such failure. (Again, the corporate reformers themselves have selected standardized test scores as the measure of failure; this, it by default the measure of school choice success. If the test scores are set aside, then the traditional public schools aren’t the failure that they must be in order for school choice to appear to be the shining solution.)

So, let’s consider some excerpts from CER’s book/report intro:

We are concerned about institutional isomorphism in the charter sector—the tendency of charter schools to look and act more and more like the traditional schools they were intended to substantively supplement.

Note the above term “supplement.” Note also that the term will be replaced with the “supplant” idea shortly. Continuing:

Charter schools were supposed to offer a wider array of options, to help parents find schools based on the educational approach that fits their child best. High test scores were hardly the alpha and omega of the charter idea.

That is true if one goes back to the 1974 conference paper of former Massachusetts university professor, Ray Budde. (Allen does not go this far back.) Budde’s charter idea began with teams of teachers and was indeed pupil-centered. Test scores had nothing to do with Budde’s chartering, which was meant to spur creativity and address student needs within the context of the traditional public school. (I detail this in chapter 5 of my book, School Choice: The End of Publication?.)


But, as Tulane University professor Doug Harris has noted, “when you have intense test-based accountability it really restricts what you can do and to what degree you can innovate because … there are only so many ways to make test scores go up.” …

This is true. Test-centrism stifles creativity. But keep in mind that it is with worship of international test scores that declared “our nation at risk” in 1983– a pivotal moment in declaring American public education a failure and a major leveraging opportunity for the charter concept to morph into the “system-centered reformer” creature from which Allen et al. wish to now separate.

Easier said than done. Ask Victor Frankenstein.


And there’s no telling how many potential charter leaders were either deterred from starting a school or corralled into a cookie-cutter educational approach by policies designed to close charter schools by default for a couple of years of low standardized test scores. Accountability should be about much more than a test. …

Note that the “cookie-cutter” educational approach has also been advanced by the billionaire charter grant funders. More to come on that.

We believe that if offered more freedom, educational entrepreneurs will embrace a variety of different approaches and offer parents a diverse range of options.

This is a nice belief. It lines up with the belief that if I cash in my savings and hand it out to individuals on the street, they will invest it wisely and return it to me with interest out of sheer gratitude and unparalleled integrity.

We accept that more freedom might mean that more schools fail than would in a more regulated environment, but we believe that failure is necessary for success.

I notice that the motto, “failure is necessary for success,” is a fav of ed reformers but that it is rarely accompanied by caveats regarding the destruction that certain failure causes and how not all failure is worth it.  School closure disrupts the lives of students, parents, and communities, and too often in regard to charter schools, such closure is abrupt and attributable to fiscal mismanagement and fraud.

Still, all Allen et al. see is the rainbow:

We are optimistic that, over time, the net result of giving educators autonomy and empowering parents to judge schools will drive the creation of a higher quality sector.

As to the earlier statement about charters “supplementing” traditional schools: Now we are “replacing the power structure”:

When conceived, charter schools were supposed to be the antithesis of their traditional public school (TPS) counterparts, unbound from the bureaucratic processes and controls that assure the kind of compliance valued in government schooling. … Charter schools were meant to replace the districts’ exclusive franchise over education with a new power structure. …

Now, what could have happened is a focus on alleviating the bureaucracy for traditional public schools. Instead, corporate ed reform (of which the charter push is certainly a part) has increased the traditional school bureaucratic burden.  Just ask any school counselor saddled with testing paperwork, or any administrator burdened with increased teacher eval forms to complete.

Of course, the process can be streamlined, for instance, if those at the top have all of the power and those at the bottom, little to none.

More to come on this corporate-espoused, “top-down” operating of schools.

Note that CER calls its funders “well-intentioned”– but the dig on them is to come. For now, the lament is on how much charter bureaucracy is making charter schools into a replacement bureaucracy for that of the previously-termed “government schooling”:

As the charter movement has grown it has been coopted by well-intentioned advocates, funders, and reform-minded members of the education establishment who have insisted upon systematizing and institutionalizing the sector at both the state and national levels. That institutionalization has come in the form of policy environments and onerous regulations that tightly prescribe the conditions under which charter schools can be established, exist, and grow. As a result, a reform that once promised innovation and true choice for families has come to look more and more like the district school bureaucracies that founders of the charter school movement sought to escape. Rather than differentiated, charter schools and the structures for charter schooling in each state and locality have become similar.

Dare I write that Allen et al. are referring to the current state of charter schooling as having become “status quo”-ish?

I dare.

And now, we return to the origins of the charter school, sort of. Budde is not mentioned, and former United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president, Al Shanker is, as a promoter of charter schools.

Notice that Allen et al. do not refer to Shanker as a former union president even though he was so twice over, and in the role of AFT president, presented the charter school concept to the National Press Club in 1988 and first used the term “charter” to describe his “school-within-a-school” in the July 10, 1988, New York Times.

The CER excerpt below also does not acknowledge that by December 1996, Shanker was disappointed with the direction charter schools were headed, referring to them as “an oxymoron, a private school that is funded with public money.” (Chapter 5, School Choice: The End of Public Education?.)

But here is what CER writes of Shanker:

As the charter school movement enters its third decade, charter advocates and reform-minded individuals and organizations have a choice to make: will we free up charter schools to once again become a grass roots movement or, as Al Shanker might have had it, a cause that arises from and is driven by each local community—a form of schooling that engages parents and students and empowers teachers and administrators? Or, will charter schools continue to become just another way to “do” public schooling, providing the lucky with an opportunity to attend schools that look alike and produce high test scores but lack the freedom to do anything truly innovative for students? …

Note that Allen et al. assume that charters “produce high test scores.” Now, even as Allen et al. don’t want the focus to be on test scores, the generous default here is that even the bureaucratically-muddled charters deliver on the high-test-score expectation.

And so, that concludes my commentary on the CER book/report excerpt of the introduction. What remains are excerpts from Allen’s long essay, entitled, “Consequences of Scale, Isomorphism and the Charter School Movement.”

What is noteworthy in Allen’s essay is that in taking issue with scaling charters, Allen is taking issue with a principal funder of the charter school push, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), and, by extension, the billionaire Waltons themselves.

This is a risky move for Allen; offending the Waltons might not fare well for CER, which is funded by the Waltons and by other ed reform scaling billionaires, including the Broad and Gates Foundations.

Even so, the WFF contributions to CER have notably decreased over the past decade (most of the info can be found here, and the rest, here and here):

WFF Grants to CER:

  • $100,000 (2016)
  • $200,000 (2015)
  • $200,000 (2014)
  • $541,856  (2013)
  • $809,209 (2012)
  • $930,662 (2011)
  • $518,273 (2010)
  • $500,000 (2009)
  • $499,450 (2008)
  • $550,000 (2007)

Looks like the WFF-CER marriage began to cool c.2014.

If only those Waltons would hand over the funding and just lay off of controlling the charter sector….

Allen opens her essay thus:

Isomorphism, the “constraining process that forces one unit in a population to resemble the others who face similar environmental conditions,” has taken hold of the charter school sector. Charter schools are independent public schools of choice, accountable for results on a performance contract, and free from most rules and regulations that confine other public schools. When charter schools were conceived more than twenty-five years ago, this freedom was intended to foster innovations in teaching and learning and elicit competitive responses from other public schools.

Now charters are not supplementing or supplanting traditional public schools, just challenging them to be better, kind of like the free market– where the inability to compete means closure. But Allen doesn’t write the “c” word here. Instead, her concern is with the charter school sameness bred of bureaucracy;

However, the charter sector is now influenced by coercive, mimetic, and to a lesser extent, normative isomorphism; Despite seeking to differentiate, its schools and structures have become similar. …

This homogeneity threatens the hallmark of charter schools—performance based accountability with flexibility. If left unchecked, it will result in the demise of the charter sector.

A word about the “hallmark of charter schools”: Allen doesn’t want test scores to be the measure of charter school success. She wants an “open and dynamic system.” She appears to advocate that “flexibility” replace test scores, but just for charters, not for traditional, “government” schooling.  And just how “flexible” appears to be left open.

But now Allen takes on the role of the Waltons in driving charter school bureaucracy, and then she criticizes the creation of charter management organizations (CMOs):

Major school reform donors, most notably the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) encouraged charter supporters to organize and coordinate one voice rather than offer competing perspectives on Capitol Hill. The seeds of isomorphism were planted. …

WFF called for a “new national meeting of charter school leaders to discuss how the groups have and might operate better in the future, reflecting on the disagreement that occurred during the federal bill deliberations.” The result was a “coalition” called the Charter School Policy Leadership Council (“the Council”). The Council was intended to “enable and enhance regular, on-going communication among national organizations that support charter schools,” and to strengthen supporters’ “collective ability to effectively and forcefully represent the interests, well-being, and success of the charter movement as a whole …” The Council was to communicate with a single or coordinated voice. Some were concerned: What if there came a time when a particular member or actor might not agree or seek to pursue a particular course? Would new approaches be welcomed as a positive disruption?

Dissension in the ranks was not kindly received. WFF became defensive in the face of alternative opinions about how charters could best be supported nationally. It wanted a “strong, viable, national leadership culture,” and sought to quell group members that questioned the wisdom of such a move. Isomorphism celebrates unity, not diversity.

The Council morphed into a new umbrella organization, now the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). The Alliance was created to speak for the charter school sector and ensure institutional coordination. It continues to be beholden to the demands of funders and an increasing group of peer organizations who seek to align their demands on state and federal lawmakers into one consistent set of principles and policies, rather than respect the unique character and diversity of laws and policies that made the charter school idea the spark to public education system change from its inception. As the movement for charters became more institutionalized, funders also placed additional pressure on state level intermediary organizations to develop into additional formal state-based networks and associations, ensuring more effective support and advocacy on a state level. Each group had its own ideas about how best to achieve success. Yet national funders remain tied to the idea that these groups be institutionalized.

Parallel to the institutionalization of the charter movement, a new class of nonprofit charter school networks, Charter School Management Organizations (CMOs), arose. CMOs are groups of “replicated” schools run by one centralized group, or organization. Originally referred to as EMOs (Education Management Organizations) and modeled after HMOs (Health Management Organizations), CMOs garnered attention from prominent charter school donors. …

Some believed (and forcefully though not always correctly communicated to funders) that CMOs should replace single charter schools, often referred to as “Mom and Pop” charters. Donors also advocated for CMOs to be not-for-profit, as they felt they would have less influence over for-profit organizations. Eventually, donor support led to the primacy of a not-for-profit tax status in the CMO world. …

Because they are large non-profit organizations, many CMOs exist at the will of funders. This means that funders often influence what schools within these networks look like and how they operate. …

Okay. So, the billionaire funders, many of whom are corporate giants, want to scale charters, and Allen is upset by this. Surely this is not surprising. Know what happens to Mom and Pop General Store when Walmart comes to town? Mom and Pop fold. Period.

The Waltons are not in business to promote small. And they are hardly likely to forego the oversized influence that comes with writing the oversized, charter-funding checks.

But next, Allen takes on Stanford’s charter school study, CREDO. Even as Allen criticizes CREDO for providing faulty research that charter opponents can use as ammo, she neglects the point that anti-charter folk have also criticized CREDO’s methodology (for example, see here and here):

The emergence of large-scale research about charters schools and CMOs has created more pressure for uniformity within the charter movement and inroads to further control the movement from the top-down.

Since the No Child Left Behind era, the federal government has been interested in supporting and expanding successful charter schools, where success is measured as student outcomes on standardized tests. …

On its face, this type of federal involvement seems aligned with the origins of the charter school movement, at least in terms of accountability. But a closer look reveals that one large research study has exercised undue influence over which charters are held accountable and how. Support for additional regulations aimed at closing failing charters stemmed from a flawed 2009 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The CREDO study claimed only one in five charters perform equal to or better than their public school counterparts. Following the study’s release, lawmakers demanded accountability in exchange for further support of charters and CMOs. Despite criticism from seasoned and respected education researchers, the CREDO study, by virtue of the political influence it wielded, became accepted as fact. …

The political answer to the CREDO study was for policymakers to create more top-down controls for charters. If the charter sector had not become more isomorphic in nature, other voices may have emerged to challenge the data, as well as the notion that state oversight and regulation leads to improved school quality. Instead, the sector silenced members that knew better, giving legitimacy to charter opponents.

Allen wants politicians to turn their backs on the CREDO numbers, and she wants to move away from “top-down” control. But what is particularly intriguing here is that “the sector” appears to be euphemistic for the billionaire charter funders, like the Waltons.

And the Waltons don’t do “Mom and Pop.” But they do buy elections, and they love vouchers (Betsy DeVos’ game of choice, pun intended), so Allen, you’ve got your charter-unsectoring work cut out for you.

Readers, I have only expounded on excerpts from the first 15 pages of the 120-page CER book/report. Allen also criticizes both the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) for their roles in institutionalizing/bureaucratizing the charter sector. She further criticizes Netflix founder Reed Hastings’ influence that of New Schools Venture Fund’s John Doerr for favoring CMOs.

A couple additional Allen quotes, in closing:

Like NACSA, NAPCS also forces its vision onto the charter sector by touting standardization and regulation as a means to quality. Each year it ranks state charter school laws, rewarding states that encourage strong oversight roles for authorizers and sophisticated data collection models—a blatant nod to the value that the Association places test scores as an indicator of school quality.

This is one of my favorites:

Risk-averse leaders demand evidence of accountability in exchange for support.

*Give us money and freedom, and we’ll see if responsibility follows.*

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s entertaining to watch the charter sector reckon with its own bureaucratic entanglements– like trying to tap dance off of flypaper.

I’ll leave the rest of the report for readers to peruse.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

In Her Element: US Ed Sec Betsy DeVos to be ALEC Guest Speaker

On June 06, 2017, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that US secretary of education Betsy DeVos will an ALEC featured speaker at its Denver conference in July 2017:

  Betsy DeVos

ALEC is pleased to announce that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be joining us for our 44th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“Secretary DeVos has been a stalwart champion of educational choice in the states, elevating the outcry over the status quo to the highest levels of government,” said Inez Stepman, Education and Workforce Development Task Force Director.

DeVos is serving as the 11th United States Secretary of Education. She was confirmed by the Senate on February 7, 2017. Secretary DeVos has been involved in education policy for nearly three decades as an advocate for children and a voice for parents.

DeVos served as an in-school mentor for at-risk children in the Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Schools for 15 years.

Don’t miss your chance to hear Secretary DeVos speak and all of our great speakers at our annual meeting July 19-21 in Denver, Colorado. Register here.

My first public radio interview related to education reform issues was in 2012, and it focused on ALEC. Since that time, I have written extensively about ALEC, both on my blog and in my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.

I realize that a number of individuals who read my blog might not be familiar with ALEC; so, I would like to offer two resources here to enable readers to school themselves on the subject.

The first is this July 2013 blog post entitled, “The Time That ALEC Got It Right.” The post includes a useful yet brief background summary of ALEC as well as ALEC’s actions regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) push. You see, ALEC first opposed CCSS but then was persuaded to go against its own anti-CCSS resolution by CCSS supporter, Jeb Bush.

An excerpt:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been in existence since the days I was learning to write using a fat pencil. (I turn 46 this week.) ALEC advocates for “limited government,” “federalism” and “free market principles.” These terms sound lofty and noble until one realizes that all this means is that ALEC is opposed to the federal government telling states what to do and that it desires for corporations to profit handsomely.  Usually, these two ALEC goals compliment each other; instead of the federal government regulating state legislation, ALEC has forced its mammoth way into statehouses via its “model legislation,” which is designed to siphon public money into the already-overflowing corporate tank.

ALEC was able to operate virtually unnoticed for decades. In April 2012, the citizens lobbying group Common Cause filed a whistleblower complaint on ALEC with the IRS; ALEC had indicated on some of its tax forms that it did not chiefly engage in lobbying, when in truth, all that ALEC does is lobby for big business by connecting its legislative members with its corporate members so that the legislators might promote ALEC’s pro-privatization “model legislation” in statehouses nationwide.

Once ALEC was exposed to public view, its members, both corporate and legislative, began to drop out of ALEC. The legislators choosing to leave were almost exclusively Democrats. They were by far the minority; ALEC legislative membership is chiefly Republican.

ALEC’s self-serving legislation came back upon the group with a vengance when an unarmed Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, was fatally shot by Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman; the public soon discovered that the 2005 law enabling Zimmerman to shoot Martin, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, was being promoted by ALEC as “model legislation” across the nation. Numerous other unarmed individuals have died as a result of this law, introduced to ALEC by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and supported by the corporation garnering the largest profits from gun sales, WalMart.

The remainder of the above post is an intriguing read because in CCSS, ALEC’s federalism alliance clashed with its love for corporate coffers.

Of course, in Betsy DeVos, ALEC has a woman more than willing to deregulate a wide path leading from USDOE to the corporate-profiteering doorstep. Thus, no conflict.

The second ALEC reading I wish to offer in this posy is my chapter on ALEC from my aforementioned book, A Chronicle of Echoes. The book is 24 chapters on key individuals and organizations related to market-driven ed reform, some of whom have fallen away since the book was published in April 2014. Even so, A Chronicle of Echoes provides a solid foundation in the corporate ed reform war on the neighborhood public school.

ALEC is one such organization, and a far-reaching one, at that.

Below is how my chapter on ALEC opens:

If the education reform movement were reduced to a single organization, that organization would be the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has existed for decades and is omnipresent in reformer circles, yet this colossal engine for privatization has managed to elude exposure until 2012. Though it might seem incredulous, through its membership, ALEC is present in every chapter in this book. Make no mistake: Privatization belongs to ALEC.

ALEC was formally organized in September 1973 in Chicago, Illinois, and received its 501(c)3, “nonprofit” designation in 1977. ALEC describes itself as, “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” Founders include Illinois Representative Henry Hyde; “Moral Majority” founder Paul Weyrich, and 1968 Reagan campaigner Lou Barnett. Other ALEC formative-years members included Robert Kasten, Tommy Thompson, John Kasich, John Engler, Terry Branstad, “all of whom moved on to become governors or members of Congress.” The ALEC roster also included state senators John Buckley and Jesse Helms, and state representatives Phil Crane and Jack Kemp.

From inception, ALEC was powerful. And for the most part, it kept its business to itself.

In April 2012, the public interest group, Common Cause, had just released information about a mammoth lobbying group that somehow had maintained a low profile for decades under the guise of a nonprofit (its official registration) but that had been lobbying extensively for conservative legislation in a number of areas, including education.  On April 20, 2012, Common Cause officially filed a whistleblower complaint on ALEC with the IRS alleging that even though as a nonprofit ALEC was allowed to spend a maximum of five percent of its money on lobbying activity, ALEC’s primary mission was that of lobbying, and that is where most of its spending was (and is) directed.

According to documents released as part of the Freedom of Information (FOIA) and Public Records Acts (PRA), what Common Cause reveals as ALEC’s “scheme” was exposed before a disbelieving public. In short, what ALEC does is bring together corporations and legislators, compose or endorse what it considers as proposed “model” legislation (that which is designed to yield profits for the corporations), vote by ALEC Task Force committee to “adopt” the model legislation, then instruct legislators on how to pass the legislation in their respective statehouses.

To view the remainder of this 7,300-word chapter, click here:

A Chronicle of Echoes–ALEC chapter

When you read it, think of Betsy DeVos addressing ALEC in Denver in July 2017.

She will be in her element.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Selling Back to the Public What It Already Owned: “Public-Private Partnership” Shark Bait

I find myself increasingly encountering the term, “public-private partnership.”

Today, I read two articles centered on this idea, both of which concerned Vice President Mike Pence– and one that concerned Pence’s role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One article also included a sprinkling of US secretary of [privatized] education, Betsy DeVos.

A major goal of corporate education reform is to hand over public education to private entities (corporations, or even nonprofits, but don’t think that an entity termed “nonprofit” cannot be a handsome money dispenser for those running the nonprofit and doling out contracts). However, the extreme-right-Republican aim does not end with public education but with handing over the operation of the entire American infrastructure to private entities.

In the end, what this entails is having private corporations front money to state and local governments in order to lease back to the public what the public already owns.

It’s similar what already happens in the case of some charter schools. The school owns property, which it “sells” to a private corporation or third-party nonprofit and then leases back from that entity– often at extreme rates– thereby milking public funds to pay the lease, which was the point. (I wrote about this practice in my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education?.)

The third-party landlord is the one who can really make some money by throwing an initial, tempting sum of cash at the would-be former owner (in the case of public works, the tempting cash is given to a public board, for example) in exchange for major– often ridiculous, balloon-payment-styled– future profits.

Think predatory loans. I saw a commercial years ago for one of those quick-cash businesses that preys on lower-income individuals, and I was able to read the minuscule fine print at the bottom of the screen as I was hearing how I deserved to give myself a break by getting cash when I needed it.

The interest exceeded 300 percent. So, on the back end of the deal, the one who sells his birthright for a bowl of stew feels the sting.

Think of Chicago’s parking meter fiasco. From the May 23, 2016, Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago’s parking-meter system took in $121.7 million last year, while four underground city-owned garages reaped another $34.7 million — with not a penny of that money going to the cash-strapped city government.

Instead, the $156.3 million pot of parking cash went to private investors who control the meters and garages under deals cut by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and rubber-stamped by the City Council. …

Chicago Parking Meters — formed by banking giant Morgan Stanley and other financial partners — paid the city $1.15 billion to manage the meter system and pocket the money fed into it for the next 75 years.

The city took in $23.8 million from the meters in 2008, the last year before CPM took over the system.

In the seven years since, the meter company has reported a total of $778.6 million in revenues.

In the public-private partnership, the private entity rakes it in– and the public is thrown into crisis.

But let us return to VP Mike Pence.

On June 08, 2017, Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest published this post about Pence’ canceling a PBS interview “out of the blue.” It just so happens that a failed public-private partnership connected to Pence was hitting the news at the time. As Cohen writes:

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence cancelled an interview with PBS out of the blue, provoking speculation. The growing controversy around former FBI director James Comey must’ve gotten to the man known for having a stone face.

But there may have been another reason.

On Monday, the state of Indiana announced it would take control of a troubled highway construction project, Interstate 69, between Bloomington and Martinsville. The contractor, the Spanish firm Insolux Corsan, is facing bankruptcy and had been missing deadlines for months.

Who brought Insolux Corsan to the state? Pence. As governor, he signed a 35-year public-private partnership with the firm in 2014 to finance, construct, and maintain a section of the highway. Pence said it would provide “better value for taxpayers” than if the state used the traditional — and cheaper — method of public financing. But with only half the project completed and taxpayers left cleaning up the mess, one wonders what he’d say now.

Monday also happened to be the kickoff of a weeklong rollout of the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan, which would rely heavily on public-private partnerships. On PBS, Pence was supposed to talk infrastructure — drawing attention to his failed project wouldn’t have been good for business.

In January 2017, Naomi Klein wrote this Intercept article tying Pence with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina– and with the public-private-partnership concept:

Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” a history of the ways in which crises have been systematically exploited over the last half century to further a radical pro-corporate agenda. The book begins and ends with the response to Hurricane Katrina, because it stands as such a harrowing blueprint for disaster capitalism.

That’s relevant because of the central, if little-recalled role played by the man who is now the U.S. vice president, Mike Pence. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee. …

Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” — 32 policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook. …

The first three items on the RSC list are “automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,” a reference to the law that required federal contractors to pay a living wage; “make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”; and “make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations).”

Another demand called for giving parents vouchers to use at charter schools, a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. …

Even more striking was the company that FEMA paid $5.2 million to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. When the contractor was investigated, it emerged that the company, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was actually a religious group. “About the closest thing I have done to this is just organize a youth camp with my church,” confessed Lighthouse’s director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. For instance, the author Mike Davis tracked the way FEMA paid Shaw $175 a square foot to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 a square foot. “Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.”

In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. …

This corruption and abuse is particularly relevant because of Trump’s stated plan to contract out much of his infrastructure spending to private players in so-called public-private partnerships.

What could be more lucrative than using crisis (or manufacturing crisis, if necessary) and combining that atmosphere of chaos and fear with a little front-end cash in order to beef up corporate profits by exploiting the public?

That, my friends, is all that a public-private partnership is.

We see it transpiring in American public education under the slogans of “failing American education, ” “school choice” and “parental empowerment.” However, those who would exploit the public in such a manner do not intend to stop with public education.

In fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)– which actively encourages public-private partnerships, including offering model legislation (see here and here and here and here)– will have stalwart voucher promoter, Betsy DeVos, as a featured speaker at its Denver conference in July 2017.

Heads up, America: The sharks are eyeing your public infrastructure.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

More on the Lawsuit That Could Oust La. Ed Supt. John White

On May 30, 2017, Louisiana teacher Ganey Arsement and several other Louisiana residents filed a lawsuit against Louisiana education superintendent John White and White’s “boss,” the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), for failing to follow the necessary procedures mandated by law for the reappointment of White to a second term.

  Ganey Arsement

In short, BESE was supposed to formally re-nominate White for a second term in time for the Louisiana Senate to hold a confirmation hearing by the end of the second regular legislative session following the election of the 2016-2019 BESE.

That second regular legislative session ended today, June 08, 2017. BESE failed to formally vote on White’s reappointment (and has not done so to date), thereby missing the deadline for a possible La. Senate confirmation.

Thus, the La. Senate is supposed to inform BESE that the position of Louisiana superintendent of education is officially vacated.

If the La. Senate sends BESE official notice of the vacancy, then Arsement et al.’s lawsuit becomes unnecessary. We’ll see.

Arsement sent me pictures of the 10-page lawsuit. (The only copy he has as of this writing is a paper copy.) I have included the 10 pictures, one of each lawsuit page, at the end of this post.

Arsement also graciously agreed to allow me to conduct an interview with him via email, which we did today (June 08, 2017) over the course of 2 1/2 hours.

The entire interview (2,033 words) can be found in this 4-page Word document.

Below is the first 672 words of our interview:

MS: Good afternoon, Ganey. Thank you for agreeing to participate in this online interview about your declaratory lawsuit against La BESE and La Supt John White.

To begin, could you briefly explain what led to the lawsuit and what you hope this lawsuit will accomplish?

GA:  The brief answer is that after several months of talking back and forth with the governor’s office and a handful of legislators, it became apparent that because of differing opinions, no one person was willing to take the first step. We hope that the petition will bring clarity to the statute and prompt the necessary action, beginning with BESE; however, BESE’s opportunity has passed. Now, it in the hands of the Senate President, Alario.

MS: Your suit stipulates that BESE had until today, the last day of the second legislative session following the election of the BESE board that began serving in January 2016, to formally recommend White senate confirmation of a reappointment. What can Alario do at this point?

GA: Per R.S. 24:14, it is the president’s duty to inform the appointing authority that the position is considered vacant because they failed to submit an appointee for confirmation. The statute also stipulates that if the former appointee refuses to vacate, the president must submit to the court to have the position vacated. The appointee has the right to challenge the vacancy; however, their dispute is with the appointee authority for failing to appoint, and once the dispute commences, anything they perform in that capacity is null and void.

MS: When I first read of your suit, I expected the actual paperwork to be only a few pages at most.  However, the actual suit is 10 pages long. Could you comment on the length?

GA: I, too, did not expect it to be as long as it is. Senator Milkovich and I discussed this prior to filing. I wanted a more concise petition that focused on the process; however, he felt that with all of the additional plaintiffs, the additional information was necessary for standing.

MS: Explain what you mean by the additional info being necessary “for standing.”

GA: Standing is a legal term that refers to the plaintiff’ stake in the filing, and generally is expressed in terms of connection, or harm from, the action in question. Most of the plaintiffs are parents with children affected by White’s tenure and/or various other stakeholders.

MS: What do you believe are the strongest points that support standing for this suit?

GA:  In terms of the additional plaintiffs, I believe their is sufficient evidence of damage done to students through the use of academic standards that aren’t age appropriate and the use of an assessment that requires the use of specific text. Aside from that I believe BESE’s failure to appoint a superintendent under the terms of the law is clear. The statute speaks for itself.

MS: I agree that the statute speaks for itself and that the public should not be required to prove harm when the state board of education has failed to carry out its duties. Given that this BESE has not had a single open meeting regarding formally appointing a superintendent, what do you believe BESE hoped to accomplish by such inactivity?

GA: It could be a number of reasons. The first being that they were thinking they could fly under the radar on a month to month until such time that a new BESE is elected with more favorable outcomes. The second reason has an “A or B” outcome. It at least appears that the delay was, in part, to allow time for credentials to be established before the appointment was addressed. This would remove the step of waiving requirements to be superintendent; however, if they had a 2/3 majority to reappoint White, they could also waive the requirements. The B part is that they delayed the process for credentials because White is planning an exit. Based on some of his comments, this morning, at the teacher leader summit, he may have plans.

To read the remainder of the interview, click this link.

To read the entire lawsuit, click on each of the pages below to enlarge each image:

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.