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Why Liberals Should Think Twice about “Learning to Love Charters”

September 3, 2015

On September 01, 2015, Jonathan Alter of the Daily Beast published a piece entitled, “Why Liberals Should Learn to Love Charter Schools.” His article is apparently directed toward “liberals who should know better” than to be involved in the “disheartening backlash” against charter schools.

Among his “disheartened” arguments is that those chided,  anti-charter liberals “swallowed cherry-picked statistics from former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch and her acolytes.”

Well, let’s just break out the cherry-picker and bring along one mammoth basket: One major issue that Alter ignores and that is prominent among Ravitch’s posts is the abundant stream of instances of charter school mismanagement and scandal.

In fact, Ravitch posted twice today about charter scandal and collapse in Ohio.

Here’s an excerpt on charter scandal in Ohio

During John Kasich’s governorship, charter schools have been the beneficiaries of political favoritism. The charter operators who give large sums to Republican candidates are never held accountable for their performance. In most states, this practice is called “pay to play.”

This article describes the corruption of the charter sector in Ohio. Some of the lowest performing charter schools in the state give the biggest political contributions. Certain for-profit charter chains have abysmal performance yet they will never be closed. Money talks.

And Ohio charter collapse:

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition reports another charter school collapses and wonders why it was ever allowed to open. And he asks, “where’s the money?”

“The FCI Academy charter school in north Columbus closed at the start of this school year.

“The closure of FCI Academy sent 300 students scrambling to enroll in another school on the first day of school. The sponsor revoked the contract due to lack of appropriate fiscal management.

Yet Alter would have liberals “learn to love charters.”

In his piece, Alter repeats the misleading statement “charters are public schools.” However, charter schools take public money without being held accountable to the public for that money. That contributes to the charter school scandal and turnover, which Alter refuses to address, instead insisting that the fact that traditional public schools in general outperform charter schools “is not especially relevant” because those “underperforming charters” run by “inexperienced groups” just need closing.

Keep the charter churn going. Never mind how it affects children and communities.

Never mind that 80 percent of charter schools can’t cut it. Alter chooses to pick his own cherries once again and focus on “the top quintile” of charter schools that tend to be charter chains. Since according to Alter this top 20 percent of charters beats traditional public schools (even though such is really “irrelevant”), it justifies the whole under-regulated, scandal-ridden charter venture.

He sees New Orleans as a charter model that liberals should learn to love. But here’s the catch: The charter schools “run” by the Recovery School District (RSD) are a decentralized group– which means that there is no oversight for the whole. The schools are not regularly audited; such was made particularly clear when RSD deputy superintendent Dana Peterson admitted in June 2015 that he cannot account for students who go missing from RSD charters.

Let that sink in.

Add to that the known practice of RSD charters using an exit code, “transferred out of state or country,” to purge their rosters of students, and what one has is a beautiful opportunity for a nationally-marketed New Orleans charter district to remove students without declaring them as dropouts.

This makes any RSD “improvement” statistic suspect.

And this clandestine purging of New Orleans students is not only an issue for high school statistics, such as graduation rates. It is also an issue for CREDO research, which does not include in its analyses such “transferred” students.

As Research on Reforms (ROR) members Charles Hatfield and Barbara Ferguson note in their examination of three ninth-grade cohorts of RSD data that they has to sue the state to get, RSD often utilizes exit codes “out of state or country,” without such usage being verified as accurate. And the use of this convenient code should be audited because it is a means of manipulating data in favor of RSD schools:

[ROR is concerned about] the extent to which [RSD New Orleans] schools will assign an untraceable code to students who are no longer in school, i.e., code students as “transferred out of state or country,” rather than code the student as a dropout. This questionable practice can result in a decrease of a high school’s dropout rate, inflate its graduation rate and increase its SPS (school performance score). The LDOE’s monitoring procedures for appropriate documentation have been rather laxed in the past, thereby forcing one to seriously question the extent of the validity of this code.

When the state has a vested interest in marketing its own state-run district as a success, outside, independent audits should occur. And they do not.  So, when one reads wonderful statistics about the amazing rise in graduation rates in New Orleans, or the fantastic drop in the percentage of students attending “failing” schools, one would do well to remember that the charter schools in New Orleans get to report their own unverified stats to the state, which takes these charters at their word.

Only a sucker would “learn to love” that about charters, yet Alter never questions the issue of unregulated charter self-report of its stats to a state department that wants its state-run charter district to appear in the best light even as (according to 2013 census data) 26,000 “opportunity youth”– those ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor employed– roam New Orleans streets.

A decentralized charter “system” will never have the mechanisms in place to be held accountable for these thousands of street-wandering young people.

A charter system coddled by a state that wants to showcase its state-run charter system will also have its scandals. Three come immediately to mind. The first is the issue of California-based Steve Barr and his bailing on McDonogh High School after two years of doing nothing with the school.

The second involves now-closed Lagniappe Academy and its fake special education classroom. And the third involves lawyer D’Juan Hernandez, who resigned after less than a year as swiftly-appointed head of Milestone Academy after using the school credit card for his personal use to the tune of $13,000.

Liberals, learn to love proactive, regular-audit, properly-vetted-leader charter oversight, and let a lack of oversight not be bought by charter startup money from the super-wealthy. Walton Family Foundation willingness to pepper the USA with charter startup grants does not guarantee that those receiving the money are suited to run a school. If it did, then there would not be nearly as many charter scandals.

Alter thinks it is better for the wealthy to make it possible for the inept to fund their own schools than to buy yachts.

If the Waltons wanted to truly improve public education, they would invest in yachts.

But let’s leave the charter scandal scene and take some more time to consider the CREDO methodology behind the CREDO results. Alter accuses New York professor Andrea Gabor of using CREDO research to her advantage. Actually, in this April 2015 post, Gabor acknowledges that she is not a research methodology expert, so she hired an outside expert, Kaiser Fung, to analyze CREDO data.

A key finding was that in its comparison of charters to traditional public schools, CREDO introduced an obvious bias in what traditional public schools it excluded from its study:

…The [CREDO] study excludes public schools that do NOT send students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools, especially small public schools that may send few, if any, students to charters. …

In our email exchange, Raymond explained that to qualify as a “feeder school” a public school must send at least five students to charter schools, a detail not revealed in the study. The study never explains that it uses this stricter, five-student-minimum criteria that public schools must meet to be included in the study. (Nor does the study explain why it didn’t look at all “neighboring” public schools with comparable/charter-like demographics—whether they send kids to charters or not.)

So, if Alter’s top-quintile of charters “outperforming” traditional public schools is from the CREDO study, know that any traditional public schools that send zero students to charters were omitted from the study.

Another bias that Fung found with CREDO methodology involves the CREDO practice of omitting from their analyses of high schools students who drop out of charter schools.

As far as CREDO is concerned, there are no high school dropouts.


Alter does not mention any limitations to the CREDO results he cites in his article. Liberals, beware.

One more issue: The percentages of black teachers in New Orleans schools. Alter states that there is no “white takeover” of the New Orleans schools because “half of the charter school boards have black majorities.”

That’s not enough.

I find it strange that many (most?) RSD charter school websites offer no information about their teachers– not even a listing of teacher names.

Even as I was writing this post, I had an email from Nicole Escarra, director of development and communications for Crescent City Schools.  On August 28, 2015, I wrote a post in which I referred to the 2010 racial composition of the teaching staff at Akili Academy (of the charter chain, Crescent City Schools) and of trying to find 2015 info on Akili’s teacher demographics:

In this August 28, 2015, Washington Post opinion piece in which Louisiana superintendent John White tries to argue that Congress should “look at New Orleans for how to fix No Child Left Behind, WashPost includes a 2010 file photo of the staff at one of New Orleans’ charter schools, Akili Academy.

The photo includes 16 individuals. Only three are people of color. Most are young, white women.

When I saw the photo, I thought of words I had read by New York researcher Andrea Gabor, who has spent much time in post-Katrina, New Orleans schools:

I should note that I’ve visited over half-a-dozen charter schools in New Orleans. With two exceptions, I barely saw a single African-American face among any of the educators.

But the photo is five years old, I thought. Perhaps the Akili Academy website will offer some evidence that more people of color teach at this school.

Well, the Akili Academy website does not include teacher information– but it does include photos of is eight-member administrative “team.”

Seven out of eight are white.

As I wrote my August 28, 2015, post, I realized the photo was five years old and sought current information on teacher demographics from the Akili website. No such info was available.

Here is Escarra’s September 02, 2015, email to me regarding the above info from my August 28, 2015 post, in part:

In the 2014-2015 academic year, 41% of staff at Akili Academy identified as African American; 56% as White; 1% as Asian; 1% as Hispanic. 
I am uncertain which charter schools Ms. Gabor has visited in New Orleans. However, given the reality of staff diversity at Akili Academy, and at other Crescent City Schools, it is inaccurate to suggest that it lacks a strong representation of African American educators. 
In the future, should you find yourself in need of any data about our schools, please feel free to contact me instead of making assumptions that may not be correct.

And here is my response, in part (with one typo corrected):

Hello, Nicole. If you read my post, then you will acknowledge that I noted the photo was from 2010, and I also noted that your website includes no details about your faculty.

All that was available was info on the 2015 Akili administration. I clearly noted as much.

Given that the proportion of African-Americans teaching in New Orleans is an issue, you should add the details from this email on your website.

Traditional public schools include information about their teachers on their websites. At a minimum, such information includes teacher (or staff) name, title, and contact info. However, many traditional public school websites also include photos.

I challenge all New Orleans charter schools to do the same: Identify teachers and staff on the school website.

Consider it a small step towards transparency.

It isn’t much. It probably won’t make liberals learn to love you. It won’t stop the scandals, and it certainly does not justify the lack of oversight to a decentralized charter “system” that conveniently lacks a means of accounting for all of its students. It won’t make state-produced, RSD statistics any more trustworthy, and it won’t improve CREDO’s biased methodology. But it is a start.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

  1. Reblogged this on Education Talk New Orleans and commented:
    take a look at our report on Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law Nothing to love here.

  2. Our recent report on Louisiana’s broken charter school law should keep liberals from loving charter schools.

  3. suptlisa permalink

    Add Pennsylvania charters to the list of charters being investigated for fraud, gaining influence through political patronage…check the Chester-Upland situation in particular, and, of course, K-12.

  4. I’m afraid he’s talking about neoliberals here.

    Wake up, Neo!

  5. Laura H. permalink

    Really great reply to Alter. CSpan treatment of NOLA “recovery” schools was about the same, all roses and lollipops.

  6. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.

  7. Dr Schneider,
    1. Is Alter’s claim that “thousands more African-American students are taking the ACTs and doing better on them” accurate based on your research into La test results? Are more students taking them because of state mandate?

    2. Last year Mr Alter wrote “Making Magic in the Classroom” for “The Great Debate” (Bob Braun wrote “It’s Not Reform, It’s Hijacking”) in NJ Monthly September 2014 issue, posted Aug 14, 2014. I guess this is an annual rite (or “write” pardon the pun) for him.

    Thank you for addressing his 2015 article.

    • Yes, “thousands more” La students are taking ACT because they must. Surely some students are doing well on the ACT; however, in Jan 2015, I released the Class of 2014 ACT scores before the state did, and the RSD-NO composite was 15.7. The state then released its version; RSD had a composite of 16.4. This is nine years after Katrina and big state takeover.

      Most RSD grads are not leaving high school with an ACT that will take them anywhere.

      • I hope this will be a fulfilling school year with positive challenges for you & your students.

    • J. Alex permalink

      Alter is heavily (in)vested in charters. An early imbiber of the Geoffrey Canada Cool-Aid, he played a major role in the production of “Waiting for Superman (2010).” Interesting that he is calling on “liberals.” Is there really such a left of center species in existence anymore? If there are, I want to believe that they are not so easily bamboozled, because their kids are in traditional public schools that work, because they are holding them accountable.

  8. I wonder when Alter writes about the top quintile of charter schools outperforming traditional public schools–if you told him a medical practice had 1/5 chance of being better than his family practitioner, would he change? Even when I’ve seen numbers up to 37%, I still think that’s worse than a coin toss that a student will get a better school.

  9. Donna permalink

    Lets face it. Without the public taxpayer dollars bottomless pit to dip into, and corrupt bought politicians making many an eleventh hour back door deal to circumvent laws, charters could never exist. If private schools operated the way many of these disgraced chatters did, they would go out of business forever and John Q. Parent would be wise to beware. However, with the government playing games with public school financing so they can be closed, the full on assault of public schools, the greedy hedgefunders and “philanthropists” who just want a return on their investment, and the perfect storm of … whatever….these charters are not only allowed, but encouraged and even FORCED on communities. Hey, when Rahm closes a boat load of schools in one fell swoop, the community is left with charters. When Cami Anderson, Cerf, Hespe and Christie want to get more kids into those charters, against parents wishes (!!!!) they bring in a central registration system, “One Newark”, and send those kids where they want them to go – not where the parents want them to go, not where the kids want to go — but either across town so they get exasperated enough to choose the closer charter, or into the charters at the expense of the public school down the block. its sickening. Without corrupt politicians and pigs wanting to make $ off our kids, none of this would be able to happen. Charters close down all the time, and the “free market” morons say “there’s your proof…has to be good to stay in business.” We know plenty of charters are awful, and still stay in business, and their administrators are thieves, and they still stay in business, and there are sweetheart real estate deals, and they still stay in business, and they say they are PUBLIC, but won’t open their books, and they fight us tooth and nail……and yet, some of them still survive because they are protected by corrupt politicians. It makes me sick.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Schneider and Greene Give a Lesson to Jonathan Alter | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Friday, September 4, 2014 | tigersteach
  3. When Will I Love Charters?Updates News | Updates News
  4. When Will I Love Charters? | News Agency

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