Nina Rees’ Airbrushed, Wall Street Journal Charter Sell
On May 01, 2016, the CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Nina Rees, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Union War on Charter-School Philanthropists.”
In order to read the piece, one must have a subscription to WSJ. However, Diane Ravitch has posted the piece in full.
Given that Rees’ piece appears in a publication named for “influential financial interests,” perhaps her opening statement is true of many WSJ readers:
If you heard that a group of philanthropists came together to donate millions of dollars to schools, you would probably consider it good news.
Anyone who has spent even five minutes on this blog would know that I would not consider the above to be “good news.” I am aware that millions donated “to schools” in this day and age likely means the corporate reform billionaire attempt to convert traditional public education into an under-regulated, market-driven model.
But Rees– whose job is to shift the stability of the community school into that which can only result in a flimsy, test-score-centered churn fest– thinks she has a fine example of such “good news” to add in saying that “philanthropy” raised $35 million to support Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies (SA) and that “thousands of underprivileged kids will be helped.”
Rees does not mention that Moskowitz has two lawsuits (see here and here) against her Success Academies related to the actions of former SA Fort Greene principal, Candido Brown, who decided to purge his school of arguably less-than-ideal future SA test takers.
Rees also fails to mention that video in which SA teacher Charlotte Dial cruelly treated a first grader who did not correctly solve a math problem by scolding the child and ripping her paper. (Note also the uninviting tone of Dial’s voice and how creepy obedient the students are in this “no excuses” classroom.)
This is what that Rees-coveted philanthropy is purchasing.
Rees continues by carefully selecting a statement from this April 13, 2016, Huffington Post piece by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten. Rees effectively ignores the rest of the post, which illustrates specific concerns of charter under-regulation and political positioning in Detroit, Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia as well as a report on over $200 million in charter fraud in 15 states.
Here’s what Rees focuses on:
This $35 million donation was “part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an April 13 article at the Huffington Post. “Wealthy donors and their political allies,” she warned, are “pushing unaccountable charter growth in urban centers while stripping communities of a voice in their children’s education.”
And here is the text surrounding above quote, as taken from Weingarten’s post:
Despite the rhetoric of wealthy backers (like hedge-fund billionaire Daniel Loeb, who just raised $35 million for the Success Academy charter chain), the charter industry has a mixed record of student achievement and a reputation tainted by a string of scandals—hardly a record that justifies the massive expansion. A well-regarded Stanford University study found that charter school students were doing only slightly better in reading than students in traditional public schools, but at the same time doing slightly worse in math. At the same time, a report tallied more than $200 million in charter industry fraud, waste and mismanagement in just 15 states.
That has not stopped wealthy donors and their political allies from pushing unaccountable charter growth in urban centers while stripping communities of a voice in their children’s education.
- In Detroit, tea party extremists and billionaire donors are fighting a deal to save the district from bankruptcy, in part because the democratically elected mayor wants district and charter schools to be unified under one system of transparency, accountability and funding.
- When local officials in Chicago tried to close three failing charters, the state charter authorizer, which was envisioned and funded by the Walton Family Foundation, stepped in and stopped the city from closing the schools.
- In Newark, N.J., a 20-year state takeover allows the state-appointed superintendent to ignore the democratically elected school board. In 2014, voters in Newark elected Ras Baraka mayor in an election where local control of public education was the primary issue. Yet even after this groundswell, Gov. Chris Christie vowed to “run over” Mayor Baraka to open more charters in the city.
- In Philadelphia, the charter sector is plagued by fraud, and charters are draining millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and leaving behind students with the most needs. Both Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney want a new system that ensures a level playing field for students and schools, but tea party activists, groups funded by the Walton Family Foundation, and the charter industry have fought to continue the state takeover and the status quo.
In her WSJ appeal to rescue the billionaire charter financiers, Rees steers clear of any hint of charter mismanagement and corruption, instead choosing to cheer on said billionaires with a twinkling pen full of sparkly sales brochure:
Regardless of the political attacks, politicians and philanthropists must remain committed. Charter schools serve many underprivileged students: 56% are on free or reduced lunch and 65% are minorities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Because they are run independently of school districts and city bureaucracies, they have the flexibility to be innovative in the choices they offer to parents, providing services like extended-learning schedules and language immersion.
Chin up, billionaires. Rees, whose livelihood depends upon your benevolence to her sector, is here for you.
And she cites data– some of it commissioned by her own organization– that states that parents want charter schools.
But have those parents been surveyed regarding any prior experience with charter schools? Not in the 2015 Phi Delta Kappan(PDK)/Gallup poll that Rees also cites; it only asks one simple question, “Do you favor or oppose the idea of charter schools?”
The idea of charter schools. A theoretical. One could have a terrible experience with a specific charter school and still like the idea of charter schools. However, it is all too easy for the Gallup’s theoretical question to be pseudo-shaped into favoring a reality.
PDK/Gallup did not ask respondents what they thought of actual charter schools or about their firsthand experiences with actual charter schools.
Even former AFT president Al Shanker thought charters were fine until the theoretical translated into a twisted, profit-gaming reality.
Although in her post Weingarten addresses the difference between Shanker’s “innovation incubator” vision and the modern idea of a billionaire such as Eli Broad imposing charter schools upon Los Angeles, Rees wants to bring Shanker into her help-the-billionaires pitch:
Union leaders haven’t always been adamantly anti-charter. Ms. Weingarten’s former boss and mentor Al Shanker is actually credited with proposing charter schools. Sharing his vision in a 1988 speech, he said, “There is a role in all this for the federal government, state government, the local government, the business community, and foundations.”
Shanker said that and much more in his 1988 National Press Club speech on charters– and what he said holds next to no resemblance to what has happened to his proposed charter concept and its potential for exploitation by those seeking a profit.
I have written about Shanker and his charter concept gone awry in my upcoming book, School Choice: the End of Public Education? (TC Press; June 2016). Here, let me simply offer this 1994 Shanker “Where We Stand” column in which he first publicly expresses skepticism regarding the direction charter schools could (and were) taking:
A key idea behind charter schools, the latest movement in education reform, is that many terrific opportunities to improve public education are squelched by school bureaucracies. Charter school laws, which have been passed in 12 states and are pending in 9 or 10 more, are supposed to allow teachers and others the chance to establish public schools that are largely independent of state and local control. … But it’s not so easy to draw the line between encouraging schools that have freedom to experiment and ones where doing your own thing has nothing to do with improving public education.
This problem is already obvious in Michigan. Charter school legislation goes into effect this fall, and the first “school” out of the gate will be the Noah Webster Academy, which is nothing but a clever scheme to get public money for children who are already being educated by their parents—at home.
…Noah Webster’s founder, a lawyer specializing in home school cases, has signed up 700 students—mostly Christian home schoolers—for a school that is actually a computer network. The students will continue to study at home the way they do now, but every family will get a taxpayer-paid computer, printer and modem, and there will be an optional curriculum….
…Noah Webster’s founder discovered a tiny, impoverished school district—it has 23 students, one teacher, and a teacher’s aide, and it nearly went broke a few years ago. It agreed to sponsor his school and give it a 99-year charter, in return for a kickback of about $40,000. Based on current applications, Noah Webster, which is eligible for state funds to the tune of $5,500 per pupil, will get something in the neighborhood of $4 million of public money in the coming academic year.
Sound familiar, 22 years later? Indeed it does. All too familiar.
The report Weingarten references about over $200 million in charter fraud is this one conducted by In the Public Interest and AFT, entitled, “Brought to You by Wal-Mart? How the Walton Family’s Ideological Pursuit Is Damaging Charter Schooling.” The report calls for charter sector accountability and “rein[ing] in the current growth model of charter expansion” as it highlights the following as among the problems associated with Walton’s purchase of charter schools in economically fragile, major cities:
Moody’s Investment Services issued a report in 2013 which found that the dramatic expansion of charter schools in some economically weak urban areas puts increasing financial stress on traditional school districts and weakens their ability to serve their students. Because students who transfer to charter schools come from across a district and from multiple grade levels, districts are not able to reduce their expenses proportionally. The effect is to force the traditional district to cut programs, lay off teachers, increase class sizes and close schools to make ends meet. These actions in turn hasten the exodus of more families, who would prefer a strong neighborhood public school, but see the writing on the wall and flee to the better-resourced charter schools. Their flight creates a downward spiral that few districts have been able to stop.
The cycle identified by Moody’s is presented in technical terms. But the impact is deeply personal: Students with disabilities, English language learners and other disadvantaged students are less likely to be enrolled in a charter school, and more likely to be kicked out if they do enroll. These students end up overrepresented in the traditional public district at the same time that the resources needed to serve them are stripped away.
“We believe that in providing choices we are also compelling the other schools in an ecosystem to raise their game,” says WFF’s Marc Sternberg. Yet, as Moody’s Investment Service reports, and as Walton grantees like Mike Thomas of the Foundation for Educational Excellence gleefully acknowledge, just the opposite is happening.
The students left behind—among our most vulnerable—have become collateral damage in the Waltons’ ideological crusade. The majority of students in Chicago, Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other cities where public school districts have been devastated by the cycle of resource extraction cited by Moody’s, continue to attend traditional public schools. For these students, as well as students in the cities’ poorly performing charter sectors, the foundation’s policies have hurt, not helped.
In its K12 strategic plan for 2015-2020, the Waltons include no hint of addressing charter mismanagement and fraud and no discussion of the deleterious impact of charters upon traditional school districts. The following is as close as the Walton Family Foundation comes to the fraud issue– which it readily dismisses in the name of “balance”:
We know that not every charter school fulfills its promise just as we know that not every state has a regulatory framework that nurtures excellence, encouraging high-quality charters to grow and ensuring that under-performing ones close. On balance, however, it is clear that most charter schools have a positive impact on student learning, and that most urban charter schools, serving students who otherwise would not have access to great schools, are helping students beat the odds and showing the way for other schools to do the same.
In her WSJ ad, Rees doesn’t even hint at the “balance” farce. She considers the charters-are-swell sale as important and the boosting of the ueber-rich morale, imperative. No scandals. No mismanagement. No exploitation. No negative consequences. None whatsoever.
But it is nonetheless a lie.
And Rees knows it.
Coming June 2016 from TC Press: