NPR: Grading Charter Schools…Did NPR make the grade?

I love NPR, most days. When it comes to charter schools, however, I wonder where their objectivity is. On Innovation Hub this morning, Kara Miller’s guests were David Osborne and Chester Finn. Both have written books advocating for school reform. Miller did ask questions that reflected criticisms about charters, but accepted their responses with no follow up. Where were the knowledgeable experts on the negative impact of charters on communities? Where was the discussion about the profiteering? Where was the admission that few charters are innovative and most duplicate what already exists?

The end result of the interview was the usual propaganda that if only there were more and better charters, education would improve. At least there was a reluctant admission that school choice had no substantive impact on school achievement. I took a few notes on the other questions asked.

Political support for charters was one of the most interesting and perhaps revealing questions asked. Conservative Republicans support charters for other people, not themselves. Their suburban district schools are good, and charters help their children the least of all. Liberal Democrats, many of whom are from urban districts are no longer so supportive of charters, even though charters are supposedly helping those children the most.

The switch in allegiance by Democrats was attributed to the fact that the teacher unions realized that charter teachers were not joining the union, so the charter movement lost union support. The fact that charter teachers sign ‘at will’ contracts and can be fired for no reason was not mentioned as a reason those charter teachers did not join unions.

Could it be that parents and educators in areas where charters have proliferated are best equipped to recognize their shortcomings? Parents want the best for their children, but resegregation and the destruction of whole communities may be tempering enthusiasm. Parents may be recognizing that pulling out a few children for special treatment may turn out not to be so special. Their political representatives are listening.

Charters have made no significant academic improvement based on test scores was acknowledged. Some cities are purported to have been successful e.g. Boston. Their success was attributed to the small number of charters that met stringent authorization qualifications. In too many other places, such as Dayton, Ohio, anyone can open a charter and the quality can be abysmal.

Improvements in district-run public schools is the rational for providing competition from the charter sector. Osborne did slip in a comment about more district operated charters are likely in the future. This option is worth exploring. This could result in better authorization standards and oversight.

Charters pull money away from district schools was denied. I loved this response. If districts are under enrolled, the district should get creative and lease out the building to charters. If that is the best example of creativity, charters have a long way to go to make their case.

The ‘creaming of students’ charge was given short shrift. Beware of slipping into worst case scenarios arguments was the response. To be fair, they did state that a good school is not enough. The example of the trauma that children experienced from the aftermath of Katrina was cited as a need for more support.

The conclusion was that achievement is not getting better fast enough. David Osborne admitted that test scores are not the sole indicator of good schools. What should be used? Graduation rates, parental opinion, and qualitative assessments by independent evaluators…..sounds expensive. This argument, I believe, may be the weakest of all. The premise that evaluation will drive instruction is wrong headed. It is not working….school grades don’t improve schools; they destroy them.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Send comments here: wgbh.org Innovation Hub

Walking away with our money

Online charter students can be invisible. The charter boards get contracts to create a ‘school’. They subcontract to charter management companies to provide courses and track enrollment. You can’t see the students. You don’t know for sure who the teachers are. The money is real, however. It’s our tax funds.

There seems to be some link between Ohio and Florida. We just reported on the Newpoint charter criminal lawsuit in Florida. Newpoint is simply a renamed charter management company that had similar problems in Ohio while the same people called themselves White Hat.

Now, Ohio has a new scandal in their online charter schools. Their state auditor has called for the ECOT charter chain to return $12 million in state funding that ECOT collected by inflating student attendance. They are all in court, and the worry is that ECOT will simply declare bankruptcy in order to avoid repaying the money they owe the people of Ohio.

Management companies are not required to report their financial dealings. The Washington Post reported these issues in Florida, Michigan and other states with lax regulation.

The League has called for stronger regulations for financial transparency, particularly for for-profit companies that own their own real estate and other school service companies. They report what they charge the schools, but they don’t report what those services actually cost.

Make yourself a mental list of what need to change….Let’s see: 1. greater transparency of cost and profit; 2. for-profit management; 3. unregulated charter expansion regardless of need; 4. (Make your own list.)!

Florida Fraud Reaches Ohio or vice versa

We have posted the Newpoint charter education management story of fraud and corruption previously. It spread from Bay County, Florida to Pinellas and included 15 charters. It’s a story of fake courses, fiscal mismanagement and out right fraud. School leaders face a criminal trial. Now it appears that the same company reaches into Ohio.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of these companies. They organize in small groups with different names. In Florida, they are Newpoint; in Ohio their nineteen schools are called Cambridge. They share leadership, and it is not yet clear how much else. At issue are kickbacks for high priced merchandise, misuse of federal charter school expansion funds, grand theft, racketeering, fraudulent invoices, overcharging families for uniforms…the list goes on.

It’s instructive to note that this is really a conspiracy. Here’s a list of their associated companies: Apex Learning; Consolidus, School Warehouse, Red Ignition, and Epiphany Management Group. They are all intertwined. Even worse, this charter organization was formed when the organizers left White Hat charter management firm. It had collapsed due to fraud uncovered in Ohio several years ago.

We in the League and others have asked for better regulation and oversight. Leaders, particularly in the Florida House, seem deaf to the calls. Of course several key legislators have direct ties to their own charter schools.

You can read the Ohio story here.

Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.

 

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John Oliver on Charter Schools

oliverLast week tonight  with John Oliver (HBO) featured charter schools.  He sums  it up.  He does not engage in the discussion about charter quality.  Instead, he goes into the management and oversight.  This is our song.  You can see it here.   It is a strong message.  He mentions Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania specifically.

Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

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Charter Fraud: Ohio Style

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Florida has charter fraud problems and so does Ohio–among other states.  Privatization of schools opens up opportunities for profiteering without oversight.  The federal government has finally gotten involved in the Ohio charter scandals.  It took awhile. They are holding up a $71 million grant to they had awarded to expand charters.   This is one of those scandals from which the Governor cannot hide.

 

 

 

 

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Ohio Citizens Fight Back Against Charter Corruption

money-40603_1280The exploitation by charter school management companies in Ohio makes Florida  look not quite so bad.  Understanding the problems and the difficulty of correcting them is essential.  Ohio citizens got the message and acted.  Their legislature finally approved a strongly opposed measure to hold charter management companies more accountable.  For one thing, they now have to disclose how they spend all the money that is transferred to them from the charter schools.

Many of use do not realize that school boards transfer money to a charter school non-profit organization.  The non-profit is audited, but only on how they spend money.  The boards of the non-profit often subcontract (between 90 to 95% of their money) to a for-profit management company to run the school.  They run everything including hiring teachers, managing money, building or leasing facilities, and most often providing curriculum materials.   The management company is private, so they do not have to reveal where they spend the money or how much profit they earn.  For example, the for-profit company may charge the school twenty to thirty percent of its budget for facilities that actually cost much less.

How and why these management arrangements exist is complicated.  One of the better explanations I have read lately is one from Jan Resseger’s blog.  She explains the change in Ohio law to improve oversight  of charter management companies.  She also reports the latest school district take over by charters in Youngston, Ohio.  Granted Youngston has problems.  Equally true is that other take over efforts in inner cities have done little to improve achievement in poverty stricken areas.  There is much hype, big investments, and wrenching of control from local communities.  The federal government has a target list of these cities.  The intention may be good; the implementation is fraught with controversy and devoid of meaningful results.  There has to be a better way.

Read Jan’s account here.  Do a self test.  Can you fill in the names of the corresponding players in Florida?