Does District 103 Matter?

man-2weights-illustration-by-frits-ahlefeldt
Graphic Courtesy of hikingartist.com

About 5 years ago Chris Getty, mayor of Lyons, IL, decided he would take over the Lyons Elementary School District 103.  He ran a slate of candidates for the school board and one was elected.  Four years later he got four of his candidates elected, so now he controls the school board.  Does anybody care?

District 103 is a small district (one square mile) with less than 3,000 students sitting in the shadows of Chicago.  So why does it matter?  To me, it’s a test case: do people in the community care who runs their schools?   I don’t think it’s right that a powerful person can just decide to take over a school district – not because he wants better schools, but because he wants more power.*  Do the people care?

I’m curious to see…

  • Can anyone put together a war chest bigger than Mayor Getty’s for the next school board election? Or more importantly, will anyone try?
  • Once the residents of McCook, Stickney, Forest View, and Brookfield know that the mayor of Lyons is controlling their schools will they object?**
  • Will the parents of District 103 stand up for the teachers who are feeling disenfranchised and are looking to teach somewhere else?**
  • Will the taxpayers continue to allow an attorney, being paid $185/hr, to speak for the board president and run the day-to-day affairs of the school district?
  • Is the teachers’ union going to stand up and act on behalf of the students?

Ten months from now nominating petitions for District 103 school board positions will be submitted.  Can anyone stop Mayor Getty?  Does anybody care?

 

* Similarly, I don’t think it’s right that a corporation can be given a special status as a charter school – not because they want better schools, but because they want to make a profit.
** I’d be interested in hearing from you about your concerns.  You can email me (from home with a non-District 103 email address) at education.under.attack@gmail.com.  All responses will be kept anonymous.

 

 

 

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An Open Letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan

Mark_Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg courtesy of eu.wikipedia.org

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan,

Thank you for your generosity!   With you as exemplars I hope others will follow: untold billions of dollars could be targeted to benefit mankind.

As an advocate of public education, I hope some of your generosity will help the millions of public school students here in America.  Your letter said one of your initial areas of funding would be personalized learning – I can only assume that you have K-12 education in mind.

As you formulate goals for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiatives you must decide early on if your actions will be designed to improve public education or to weaken it.  Or if they will be able to make any difference.  As you well know from your experience in Newark, putting large amounts of money into schools can be a waste of that money.  How many billions of dollars have been spent on the Common Core and the PARCC initiatives, both of which are rapidly losing support?

If you see your daughter Max. and America, as beneficiaries of public education and you don’t want to have your money wasted, please consider the following:

  • Find out what’s needed before providing a solution.  Your letter stated an interest in supporting personalized learning. Does this solution arise from your obvious expertise and interest in technology or have you reviewed the scholarly research in education, talked to the experts in the field and decided this is what is needed?
  • Don’t just listen to rich/powerful people telling you what should be done to public schools.  Use some of that money to listen – really listen – to teachers, parents, students, and education professionals.  Be different from your peers – learn from those most invested in education.
  • If you hear that some of the problems with schools, particularly in urban areas, are societal (i.e. poverty, poor nutrition, lack of pre-natal care, gang violence) don’t turn a deaf ear as others have.  By attacking societal issues you will help improve education.
  • If you do listen when the rich/powerful people talk about public education, are they talking about what’s best for children?  Or what’s best for themselves?
  • Don’t assume public schools can’t adopt new practices.  They have again and again.  But it can be a slow process, so identify what is needed, come up with a solution, improve it along the way, and be patient.  Don’t shove it down the throats of educators and expect change over night.
  • Hear what is good about public education.  Too many people have found it in their best interests to bad-mouth schools.  Look around – America is the greatest country in the world because of our public education system.

In closing, good for you but do some good.  Forty-five billion dollars is a lot of money – use it to find ways to improve, not reform, our public schools.  America will thank you for it.

Sincerely,

Mike Warner

Charter Schools 101 – Whose Choice?

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One of the mantras of charter school operators is “choice.”  They want to give parents a choice between their charter school and those nasty public schools.  Politicians and school reformers will tell you that giving kids a choice will force bad public schools to get better (or be closed).

Another thing charter school operators highlight is their wait list to get in.  They say this is proof that people want out of the pubic schools and want more charter schools.  The flip side of those wait lists is that the kids on those lists didn’t have a choice to go to that charter school – just the ones who got in had a “choice.”  If a family moves into a house next door to a charter school and try to send their kids there, the school can say, “no, we won’t take you – you have to go to the pubic school.”  This is part of the business model of a charter school – calculate the number of kids you can accept in order to be profitable and then close the door.  Of course public school’s have to enroll all the kids who reside there, regardless of how many.

Do children with special needs get the choice to attend charter schools?  Or children who not speak English? Some do, but enrollment statistics for charter schools show they enroll a disproportionately small percentage of special education students and ELL (English Language Learners) students.

How about the kids who have difficulty in school – aren’t motivated, just can’t sit still, act out?  Even if they get into a charter school, if the child isn’t a model student the school can boot them out.  Statistics show charter schools have unusually high suspension/expulsion rates.

So when you hear people talk about “school choice” realize  whose choice it is – the charter schools’ choice.  Charter school operators choose how many students they will accept, what specialized services they will provide, and what type of students they will serve.  Public schools don’t randomly exclude students – and we are better off because they don’t.

Charter Schools 101 – In It For The Money

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As described in Part 1 of this series, the charter school movement had noble goals – to create a new type of school that would appeal to kids who didn’t like school.  It was thought that the best way to accomplish this was to strip out the layers of regulations and accountability public schools were obligated to follow.  However, relaxing the rules made it an ideal environment for anyone to start a charter school.

For a while, idealistic entrepreneurs created charter schools around their causes – religion, science, technology, strict discipline, etc.  Since 2010 we’ve seen a change – people are starting charter schools who are in it for the money.  There are non-profit and for-profit charter schools popping up around the country.  The appeal of the $1.1 trillion public education enterprise has caught the attention of people looking to make money.  When hedge-fund managers start touting the riches to be gained, people listen.

For-profit charter schools are pretty easy to understand – your goal is to cut costs enough so there is enough left over to pay the investors.  Non-profit schools should be just that – concentrating all their funds into student services.  However, there have been numerous reports lately about non-profits that make a profit.  The investors buy the school’s property and then charge exorbitant leases – to another company the same investors have set up to run the school.  See a recent report HERE.

Either way, these charter schools are set up to minimize costs.  Since 80-85% of a school’s budget is personnel, that’s where the savings occur.  New/cheap teachers.  No unions (a side benefit of charter schools is union-busting in large urban areas).  Fewer classes in the arts (music, art, foreign language).

The bottom line (or bottom dollar) is that charter schools have become a business.  When you hear people talk about “school choice” or “privatization” they mean “profit.”  Every penny wasted on fraud or paid out to investors deprives the students in that school of a better education than they are receiving.  Money for education is tight – shouldn’t it all go to the kids?

Charter Schools 101 – Abdicating Our Right to Educate America’s Kids

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Many recall the ominous words from the “A Nation At Risk” report.  It stated that if an “unfriendly foreign power” had attempted to force America’s education system to perform as it currently was in 1983, it would have been viewed “as an act of war.”  It went on to say, “We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”

Written in over 30 years ago, the report criticized America’s lack of focus on educational achievement.  But the words ring true today, only this time we are not “unthinking” but purposely disarming our public educational system.  Every time someone encourages “privatization” of schools, charter schools, or school choice they are hurting America.  Why?  Because they are supporting the removal of every citizen’s democratic right and obligation to govern and direct the education of America’s youth.

In Illinois, every school district has seven elected school board members to govern it.  Board members are local residents who care about their community’s children and schools.  They understand that schools make a positive difference in their community.  When I was superintendent, the monthly school board meeting would rotate between each school.  Parents and community members would attend these meetings and offer up their comments and suggestions during Public Participation. You can’t get any closer to the democratic process than that – constituents telling their elected officials what they thought.  This right is being purposefully taken away.

Charter schools do not have locally elected board members.  Many charter schools are now part of state-wide or national chains of schools whose governance is determined by a corporate board, who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from the community the charter school serves.  These corporate board members probably don’t know anything about the communities each of their charter schools serve, what is important to parents there, or what the needs of the community are.

When a city, like New Orleans did, turns over its entire school system to charter schools, here’s what it is in effect  saying:

  • We don’t care what our kids are learning.
  • Let someone else worry about educating ‘those’ kids.
  • It’s too much effort to figure out how to finance our kids’ education so we’ll let somebody else do it.
  • We don’t have the will to work with the teachers’ union so let’s send the kids to schools where there are no teachers’ unions.

Is that what we want, not be be bothered with deciding how to educate America’s children?  Abdicating your right to educate America’s children is like letting a foreign country take over the minds of America’s children.  But in this case it’s not a foreign country taking over, it’s corporate America.

More and more, charter schools are being seen by people outside of the community as money-makers.  What they care about is what profit they can wring from each student enrolled.  In order to do so they influence state legislators and members of congress to pass laws removing local control of schools from elected school board members. They want laws changed so they can operate outside of the rules public schools must follow (it’s cheaper that way).  They want to take away your right to govern schools so it is easier for them to make a profit.

Note:  This is Part 2 in a series about Charter Schools.  See Part 1 here.

Charter Schools 101 – History of Charter Schools

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Several people have asked me why I criticize charter schools in some of my posts.  “Why don’t you like charter schools?  Choice is a good idea, isn’t it?” they say.  In the next series of posts I will respond to their questions.  Let’s start with a quick history lesson:

Most credit Ray Budde, a University of Massachusetts educator, with first introducing the idea of charter schools.  He published a paper titled, “Education by Charter” in 1974.  The paper didn’t receive any attention so he set it aside.  In 1988 many people were grappling with education reform after the publication of “A Nation At Risk.”  Budde resubmitted his paper for publication and this time it received attention from one of the most out-spoken and flamboyant educators of the time, Albert Shanker.  Shanker was the union president of the American Federation of Teachers.  He began pushing the idea of charter schools in 1988.

Shanker’s concept (borrowed from Budde) was that a different type of school was needed for the hard-to-reach students.  He envisioned small schools, governed by a “charter” with the local school district and teachers’ union, which could experiment with new teaching techniques.  These innovative teachers would share successful techniques with their colleagues within the district.

Minnesota was the first state to authorize charter schools in 1991, with California following the next year.

Shanker’s support for charter schools abruptly ended in 1993 when the Baltimore School District awarded a private, for-profit company called Education Alternatives, Inc. a contract for nine charter schools.  The company did not raise test scores as promised, had troubled finances, and worst of all (in Shanker’s eyes) fired unionized support staff and then replaced them with cheaper non-union employees.  Shanker became an opponent of some charter schools, like the one in Michigan which was organized in 1994 for home-schoolers.  The students learned at home with state-provided computers, using a curriculum that included creationism.  The charter school had gained its foothold in the small, debt-ridden community by providing a $40,000 kickback.

Since then forty-three states have passed legislation authorizing charter schools.  As of 2012 there were six-thousand charter schools serving about two-million students (4% of the total K-12 enrollment).  Charter schools are authorized by a variety of entities.  In 2012, 39% were authorized by local school districts, 28% by state boards of education, 12% by State Commissions, with the rest by universities, cities, and other means.

The federal government, through the Department of Education, has been actively promoting charter schools for years.  President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (2000) encouraged parents to consider enrolling their student in a charter as one of their “school choice” options.  President Obama’s Department of Education upped the ante in 2009 with his Race To The Top program.  In order to be eligible for some of its $4.35 billion in funding, states had to ease limits on charter schools.

At first glance, none of this looks too ominous.  However the seeds of the past are coming to fruition – charter schools are now forming first and foremost to make money; they are draining funds away from public schools; they reduce school choice; and they take away our right to educate America’s students.  More on each of these topics in subsequent posts.

Diane Ravitch’s excellent book Reign of Error (2013) was a source of some of the information presented above.

More Charter Schools Coming to Illinois

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Illinois’ new Governor Bruce Rauner wants more charter schools, that much is clear.  His first move in this area was to hire Tony Smith as the Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education.  He was a proponent of charter schools as superintendent of the Oakland, CA school district.

Now word comes out that Rauner is paying $250,000 per year to his education secretary, Beth Purvis.  Ms. Purvis was the CEO of the Chicago International Charter School network, which has 16 campuses with 9,222 students enrolled.  Read more about how Governor Rauner tried to hide Purvis’ salary within an agency whose budget he intends to slash here.  Two-Hundred Fifty Thousand dollars is a lot of Illinois taxpayer money – Rauner justifies paying a consultant that kind of salary by stating you have to pay good people good money.  That money will be used to find ways to siphon more of Illinois’ taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into the pockets of private investors.

Governor Rauner is pro-business; he has disclosed his net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Read about what Rauner thinks about how charter schools should treat ELL students and students with disabilities here.