Follow the money

DSCN0465With the election about 8 weeks away, there’s a lot of available “information”, and I use that term lightly, about Ballot Question 2 (Balletopedia website for detailed text and Pro/Con Arguments). For anyone who may have missed it, Ballot Question 2 favors lifting the current cap on charter schools allowing up to an additional 12 new charter schools each year.

I was having a discussion about this with a family member from a different state who pointed out that the “No On 2” people are not making their case strongly enough. The advertising on the “Yes” or lift-the-cap side is much slicker and more abundant. I don’t think that’s something that can be denied what with the MILLIONS of dollars being poured into innocuous sounding Question 2 proponent groups – groups with names like Great Schools Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools, and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

The names of these groups are engineered to lull voters into thinking these groups are something they are not, because who in their right mind would not want a GREAT school in Massachusetts; which family members would want their child in an EXCELLENT school?  In reality, thanks to diligent and tireless reporting – not from the fourth estate, but from ordinary citizens who have sensed such groups had something more than greatness and excellence in mind, one finds that the funding behind those slick and prolific ads urging voters to vote “YES” on Question 2 more than a bit misleading.

Here are three links to recent stories that all voters should read before deciding how to vote.

Ask yourself, what is the return on investment that will make shelling out thousands or millions of dollars towards lifting the charter school cap worthwhile for out-of-state investors and hedge fund managers? That is the $18 million dollar question.

Detroit’s Cautionary Tale

DSC_0107Yesterday’s New York Times carried the story of America’s failure to educate students. Detroit’s schools are a glimpse into an education future that should never be allowed to happen.

When educators warn about creating a two-tier or caste system of schools, the glaring example of this has to be Detroit’s schools. Detroit has created education choice, but the rush to something other than the public school system – schools that accept all comers  – has come with a steep cost to families and students left trying to find a good academic fit.  Tales of schools attempting to lure students from one school to another include enticements such as raffle tickets, bicycles, and cash.

The history behind the current state of education in Detroit is, of course, based in the corporate tradition of making money.

To throw the competition wide open, Michigan allowed an unusually large number of institutions, more than any other state, to create charters: public school districts, community colleges and universities. It gave those institutions a financial incentive: a 3 percent share of the dollars that go to the charter schools. And only they — not the governor, not the state commissioner or board of education — could shut down failing schools.

Just as marketers and sales people entice customers with “delighters”, schools that can offer no improvement over another, are using the same corporate-based incentives to lure students from one school to another. Why? Because the Detroit’s school-age population cannot support the number of charts operating in the City.

Think about that for one moment. Michigan allows a large group of institutions to create charter schools, there is an additional financial incentive above and beyond the per pupil costs, and the decision to close a failing charter is not made by a state board of education, it’s made by the charter institution. Is it any wonder that 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit corporations?

The story of Detroit’s schools, the failures of state and local governments and elected representatives to protect and provide for the education of all children, the blatant abuses by higher academia and corporations. This is a cautionary tale for all of us.

Read Kate Zernike’s entire piece in the June 28 New York Times here.




Onerous Regulations….

Yesterday’s presentation of the Senate bill proposing a compromise to the Charter School ballot question got a predictable reaction. No one is totally happy, but the unhappiest reactions came from those who advocate lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts – the ones who continue to quote the 34,000 student waiting list even in the face of the State Auditor’s report saying that number is unsubstantiated.

This morning’s Boston Globe article contains a reaction from pro-Charter spokesperson, Mark Kenen of Massachusetts Public Charter School Association (you’ll have to look Dr. Kenen’s credentials up on Linkedin yourself). The quote, from the Boston Globe, is:

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, added that “it imposes onerous new regulations that will shackle the operation of existing charter schools.”

Wait a minute, those “onerous” new regulations, those regulations that will “shackle” operations? Some of these regulations are things such as using enforced suspensions of students as a means to create “school safety”.  The reliance on suspension over other less-draconian discipline actions have recently come to light nationwide (see UCLA report on Charter School suspension rates here making note of the 44.7% suspension rate at Roxbury Prep).

And then there are those pesky regulations requiring certification of teachers and representation of parents and teachers on governing boards the same standards required for traditional public schools. (For more on governance, see the Annenberg Report, Whose Schools published yesterday).

Wow, if those things are considered onerous, then why not unshackle traditional public schools as well?

Reference to the act, S2203, is found here.

When Data Matters

DSC_0162As noted previously, the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Education has taken up a discussion on whether or not to raise the cap on Charter Schools.  While I worked the entirety of my career in a non-charter environment (10 year private schools, 20 years public), I do have a bias on the topic. It concerns me when a corporation, such as Sabis or Kipp, runs the school. It concerns me that the funding of corporately managed charter schools comes from a local cash-strapped district. And it concerns me when the make up of the student body is not a mirror of traditional public schools in the same district. When charter schools adhere to what was their initial charge – to become incubators of innovations in education and to share their findings – that is a good reason to engage with charter schools.

Suzanne Bump, Massachusetts State Auditor, testified before the Joint Committee this week. She was not testifying to encourage or discourage lifting the cap. The State Auditor wanted to exam the claims that counts of students on waiting lists were inaccurate, that there are inconsistencies in charter renewals, and the charge of lack of collaboration between public schools and private schools. Here are her words:

It had been my hope that an audit would examine not just the topics I mentioned. Another goal had been to get meaningful, unbiased, and complete data so that when this annual debate next took place, you and the public would have access to more facts. I have long believed in, and as State Auditor am committed to, the notion that better information makes for better public policy.

We especially wanted to know whether the student bodies of charters shared the demographic characteristics of the sending districts, as the law requires, and whether there were measurable differences in the academic outcomes of the competing systems.

And the result?

As the audit indicates, however, we could not answer those questions because we found the data collected and published by DESE to be unreliable.

Is this the very same “data” that the Governor used to plead for increasing the cap on Charter Schools? Data that the State Auditor characterizes as “unreliable”?

Please, please, please read the two-page remarks for yourself. My data mantra has always been “garbage in, garbage, out”. That surely seems to apply here and it is not a good basis on which to make important educational decisions.

One final quote from Ms. Bumps’ remarks, sums it up:

This is the 21st century. We have the brain power and we have the ability to get the information necessary to inform our decision-making, so let’s base decisions about the future of our kids, our economy, our society on facts

Yes. That is exactly when data matters.

What Is Missing In This Era of Teaching

I am a retiring teaching and I am worried. Why?

DSC_0447Well, not because of wondering what I’m going to do with myself. I don’t know yet, but  that’s okay.

What I AM worried about is what will happen to our most needy of student populations. Will a public education be available to those kids? Is our education system  morphing into a place where education will not be the great equalizer. A place of opportunity.

Recently, the New Orleans Public Schools shuttered the last five of its traditional public schools. That’s right, New Orleans schoolchildren will be attending privately run charter schools. Parents must apply to the schools, negotiate school lottery procedures, arrange transportation, and hope against hope that the entity overseeing their child’s education is not just in it for profit.

Originally conceived as places of educational innovation – education laboratories – 20 years ago when the first charter opened in Minnesota, corporate America has discovered a new profit center. Corporations running charters, such as SABIS, do a disservice not only to the independently-run charters who do encourage innovation, but to students and families.

The reasons for corporate American upping their involvement in education have nothing much to do with altruism. Read here about tax incentives and profit center opportunities that have made support of education a less-than-noble effort by corporations looking for a new way to make money.

Public education has been my passion for the last 20 years. From where I sit, public schools are the opportunity center for anyone who wants to take advantage of it. Call me naive.

Without an equalizing opportunity afforded to everyone, our society as a whole will suffer. Will the rest of education go the way of New Orleans? Time will tell, but the increased influence of corporations over education and education policy do not make me very hopeful.  We test our (human) students over and over and look at the data as if they are widgets on an assembly line. Education power brokers expect results no matter whether the student is hungry, or has been witness to domestic violence that morning.  Quality control, people.

My hope for the future? That our leaders grow a backbone and with some conviction, somewhere, somehow stop this nonsense before the disenfranchised of our society have less hope of achieving the American Dream.

Into the frying pan…..

In Massachusetts, there is a bill before the General Court to eliminate or increase the cap on Charter Schools.  I don’t know how things go in other parts of the country, but in Massachusetts, Charter Schools pull their funding from the local budget.  The currently proposed bill lifts the cap on Charters — further privatizing public education.  The following is a letter originally written to my State Representative and State Senator, but truly, it is an open letter to those who are considering this legislation.

Charter Schools

Dear Legislator,

I am a citizen of the Commonwealth, and I am asking you NOT to support lifting caps on Charter Schools.

I am a public educator in the Lowell Public Schools. My students are a diverse group from many different native languages, they come from hard-working families and they come from families experiencing social, emotional and financial traumas.  Five of the 18 students in my classroom are identified as having special needs.  Within this diverse population, there is exciting learning taking place.  And here is one of the reasons why I CHOOSE to teach in a public school:  unlike a charter, public schools have the mission of educating every student.  Shouldn’t education be a right, a given, for our children? We do not hold lotteries to decide who is accepted into our school — we meet the students — all students, not just a selection — wherever they are and move forward.  And we are doing this important work with less and less financial resources; resources that are drained by charter schools.

Academic growth, no matter how it is measured is slowly and steadily taking place. I am proud of my school, my colleagues, and my students. They all deserve your support of public education by the defeat of this attack on public education.


Amy E. Bisson