Essay on How Charter Schools Weaken Democracy and Societly

Dennis Smith, former consultant to the Ohio Department of Education Charter School Office, writes how the formation of charter schools weakens our society – it rings true on several levels.  Read his piece here:

Charters, Vouchers, Individual Choice And Our Strained Social Fabric

 

Effects of School Choice: Holland, Michigan

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While visiting my mother-in-law she gave me an article titled ‘Urban district, suburban community’ from the March 23, 2016 Holland Sentinel newspaper.  The article focused on the long-term effects of school choice on the Holland Public Schools.

The lead sentence of the article stated rather straightforwardly, “State policies that promote school choice have fueled a changing demographic landscape for many of Michigan’s public schools.”  The article goes on to say that 1,600 students (over 30%) within the Holland Public Schools’ boundaries have used the state’s 20 year Schools of Choice law to attend charter schools or go to neighboring school districts.

What caught my eye was the reporter’s assertion that as a result of school choice, the district “doesn’t represent the town in which it operates” and that Holland has become “a fragmented community that prolongs stereotypes.”  The numbers show the demographic differences between the city and school district:

Holland                  White    Hisp./Latino  Black          Asian

2010 Census             68.9%          22.7%        3.2%            2.9%

Holland Public Schools

2015-16                     37.9%         47.1%         7.4%           2.6%

So even though Holland’s population is about 69% White, only 38% of the students in its schools are White.  Similarly, the town is about 23% Hispanic/Latino but its schools have more than twice that proportion.  What happened?

Superintendent of Holland Public Schools Brian Davis points directly at school choice as the reason why the district’s population doesn’t reflect the community it serves. Davis recalls 1996 (when Michigan’s Schools of Choice law went into effect) as a time when Holland parents began to look at neighboring Zeeland schools as a choice. Zeeland was 94% White (2000 census).   Also, providing school choice was an invitation to start charter schools.  Today, 17% of students attending school in Holland go to charter schools.

Davis said some families chose to attend other schools when they noticed an “increasing free and reduced lunch” student population.  He stated that “middle to upper-middle class families with disposable income” were the ones with enough time and money to drive their kids to neighboring Zeeland or charter schools.  It’s not too hard to read between the lines – because they could afford to white families took advantage of the school choice law and left lower-income Hispanic/Latino and Black families in the Holland schools.

Is it OK that school choice allows parents to create segregated schools?  At what point in time do their children learn to live with people who look different from themselves?  Is this the kind of America we want?

Does District 103 Matter?

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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.

 

 

 

News From the Future

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Graphic courtesy of letmecolor.com

June 1, 2095.

White House, Washington, D.C.

Today President Jeb G. H. W. Bush V held a press conference in the Rose Garden to discuss his concerns about America’s educational system. Here’s an excerpt of his opening remarks:

My fellow Americans, it has become abundantly clear that our system of educating American’s children is not working.  Yesterday the Charters Are Delightful Schools (CADS) corporation announced from its headquarters in the Cayman Islands that it would be closing all of its schools in Newark, Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Akron leaving millions of American children without a school and hundreds of thousands of staff without jobs.  CEO of CADS, Emily Broad-Gates, said they closed the schools because they were losing money.  This is hard to believe, given Ms. Broad-Gates’ salary of $45 million/year (plus stock options).  This is not the first time our children have been left school-less. You’ll recall ten years ago when Connecticut Charters shut down mid-year after they sold all their buildings to real estate investors and last year when the San Jose, California schools had to get  parents to teach the last 26 days of school because their charter school operator refused to pay its staff, who had recently tried to unionize.

I am very concerned about this trend – companies that promise to educate our youth, then abandon them a few years later.

President Bush announced that Vice President Charlotte H. Clinton III would be chairing a blue-ribbon committee which will look into alternatives to charter school systems, which educate 97% of the nation’s school children.  He went on to suggest that some schools could be turned over to concerned local citizens, “like in the good old days.”

Vice President Clinton took the podium and said, “Our nation is in peril.  When children can’t count on their schools being open, well it’s like some foreign country conspiring to hurt this great nation .”  She went on to say, “This committee will look at every means possible to assure that schools will be there for American kids.”  She even suggested cutting back on the number of federally-mandated testing days (currently 54) as a way to reduce the testing fees schools are being charged, thereby saving schools billions of dollars per year.   House Speaker Paul Pearson immediately issued a statement condemning the use of that kind of “logic without metrics.”

Questions from the press turned quickly to Vice President Clinton’s grandmother’s role in Benghazi.  She said that she would not comment until the results of this year’s congressional investigation are released, just before the fall elections.

Chicago Tribune Doesn’t Get It

Graphic courtesy of http://www.hikingartist.com

The editorial in the May 4, 2015 Chicago Tribune was titled, “Backsliding on school choice*.”  The opening paragraphs:

Across the country, many states are pushing aggressively to expand educational opportunities for students trapped in low-performing schools.

You’ll hear about state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, education savings accounts that help parents pay some school expenses; tax breaks for parents for private-school tuition and expenses, even credits that allow companies to direct part of their state taxes to nonprofits that provide student scholarships.

There’s strong momentum to expand school choice: Some 39 states are mulling laws to give students more alternatives to neighborhood schools, up from 29 states last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What’s the problem?  We’re not pushing charter schools enough for them.  We’re getting behind other states.  “Don’t let the nation outpace us,” they cry.   Here’s the evidence – The Illinois House voted 60-40 to disband the Illinois State Charter School Commission.  In Illinois a charter school operator has to get permission from the local school district they want to open a school in.  If rejected, the charter school can go to the Charter School Commission to overturn the local school board’s wishes.  The Tribune says the commission is a “venue of last resort” for charter school operators.  Let’s see – the democratically elected school board says “no” to a charter school, then the charter school gets an expensive lawyer and appeals to people on a commission who don’t know anything about the school district, thereby skirting democracy.  It is interesting to note in the online version of the article there is a link to another editorial, “Make democracy work for Chicago Schools.”  Make up your mind – do you want democratically controlled schools or not?

The editorial does point out some of the charter school failures – the United Neighborhood Organization charter network* in particular. It even states, “Some of Chicago’s charters have a poor performance record – and they should close.”  So they recognize that charter schools can fail – that’s OK, just close the schools and send the kids somewhere else.

The Tribune doesn’t get it.  Charter schools are not the solution – see the report from the National Education Policy Center.  Allowing charter schools to operate where local school districts don’t want them removes local control.  The people in the district would no longer have a say in what their children are learning – the charter school management team would.

* You may have to register with your email to read these articles on the Tribune website

Taxation Without Representation

The natives are getting restless.   They’re putting on war-paint and gathering at the harbor. Soon they’ll sneak out to the ships and dump the tea overboard. Why? Taxation Without Representation!

The good people of Lyons, McCook, Stickney, Brookfield and Forest View elected Michael Bennett, Jorge Torres, Katie Broderick and Coleen Shipbaugh to the Lyons Elementary School District 103 board of education to represent their interests. They looked at their latest Cook County tax bill and saw that the school district takes the biggest bite of their taxes, so they wanted people on the school board to make good decisions on their behalf (STOP THE WASTE! BE ACCOUNTABLE!). That didn’t happen.

They didn’t make the most important decision they were elected for – to select the superintendent.   It’s clear to me that they never even met Kyle Hastings before they tried to vote him in as superintendent (prior to when they were legally seated as board members).   I’ll bet they hadn’t even read his resume before the board meeting they did vote him in.

Mayor Getty had met Kyle Hastings.  He made the decision – for all the taxpayers in Lyons, McCook, Stickney, Brookfield and Forest View. He wasn’t elected as a school board member. Taxation Without Representation!

PS – Mr. Hastings will be interim superintendent for 130 odd days.  Who will select the superintendent who will be in charge of the district for years?

√ Takeover Board of Education

Outside Flyers

I went to last night’s school board reorganization meeting in Lyons.  As I approached the entrance to the building there were six people, several of them Village of Lyons employees, passing out copies of the agenda with a flyer attached.  The flyer was designed to make the current board of education look bad, with gross inaccuracies, lies and statements like “STOP THE WASTE & BE ACCOUNTABLE!”  Why did they felt the need to rub salt in the wound?  Give a parting shot to those who were leaving the board?  Getty’s henchmen were now the majority of the board and they don’t need to intimidate anyone to do whatever Getty wants them to do.  Kyle Leonard, Getty’s flunky assistant, was passing out the flyers and I pointed out one of the inaccuracies on it and he told me, “Don’t take that too literally.”  When I pointed out another inaccuracy he pointed to the door and said, “Go inside and take a seat!”  When I persisted, he started to get angry at me and again told me to go inside.

Once inside I was amazed at the number of people there – probably 300 (we may never know the exact number as Mayor Getty took the sign-in sheets so he could check off who was there).  Some were Village of Lyons employees, others had yellow t-shirts with “Mom” on them, staff members formed clusters toward the back.  The Village of Lyons’ photographer was there snapping pictures.  I sat down beside two guys with union logos on their shirts.  I asked them why they were there and one replied, “I was told to be here. I’m like a lemming and I go where I’m told.”  He wasn’t from the Lyons area.

Shortly before the start of the meeting four people in front of me got up from their chairs and the newly elected board members were escorted in and were seated in the front row.  The Village of Lyons attorney (soon to be the school district’s attorney) Bert Odelson sat next to the new board members.

First order of business – public participation.  Twenty-three people got up and addressed the old board and new board members.  Comments were split with more than half thanking the outgoing board for their service.  Several got up and recited some of the inaccuracies enumerated in the flyer distributed at the door.  Many gave advice to the incoming board members.  They asked the new board to keep children foremost in their minds.  They implored the new board to keep politics out of the district.

Right before the new board members were sworn in flunky Kyle came up and gave them Mayor Getty’s last-minute instructions.

The rest of the meeting was rather anticlimactic.   The new board members promptly voted each other in as president, vice president and secretary although this was only the second board meeting they’ve ever attended.  They put forth their board meeting schedule without consulting with the other three board members to see if they could make the meetings.

In a violation of Roberts Rules of Order they added an Action Item to the agenda to set a special meeting for Thursday.  The purpose of the meeting is to fire the interim superintendents (who’ve already quit in disgust), hire Kyle Hastings as interim superintendent, fire the district’s law firm, and hire Burt Odelson’s law firm.

I wandered around the room after the meeting ended.  There was Mayor Getty making the rounds and congratulating his four henchmen.  As I talked to parents and staff members I sensed their fear of the future. I was told some staff members were putting their houses up for sale so they could move away from the district.  Parents vowed to keep an eye on the new board  but they realized they were powerless to stop Getty from making whatever change he wanted.

I am saddened by the events in District 103.  I don’t think the new board members are bad people, nor do I think they will speak for the parents and children within the district.  They will speak for person – Mayor Chris Getty.

Getty and Odelson

Odelson and Getty congratulate each other after the board meeting.

A Sad Vision of Charter Schools for Illinois

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Tony Smith – charged with implementing the governor’s vision of charter schools in Illinois

During the closing keynote of the Network for Public Education’s conference, Diane Ravitch shared with the audience a story about an exchange she had in 2012 with Bruce Rauner when she was in Chicago to receive the Kohl Education Prize award. The exchange took place during dinner that evening. Below is a transcript of what Ravitch told us:

 “… I was seated across from Bruce Rauner and I had no idea he was going to run for governor. And we began to have a heated discussion about charter schools because the Noble Network, which he is a part of, names schools for individual rich people so there’s a Bruce Rauner Charter School, there’s a Penny Pritzer Charter School… I don’t know of other rich people in Chicago but they all have their own names on charter schools.

So I said ‘Do you think it’s right that your school doesn’t accept kids with disabilities? He said, ‘Why would we?’

I said, ‘What about the kids who are English Language Learners?’

He said, ‘Those kids are not my problem.’

He said, ‘I want the kids who are going to succeed. I want the kids who are motivated. I want the kids who are going to be successful. I don’t want those kids.’

I said, ‘What are we going to do with them?’

He said, ‘I don’t know, it’s not my problem.’

That’s the governor of Illinois.”

Ravitch is the pre-eminent historian of the American education system so I have no reason to doubt her recollection of the conversation. Rauner just had his buddy Anthony “Tony” Smith hired as the head of the Illinois State Board of Education. Smith was superintendent of the Oakland, CA school district but has never been a teacher or school-level administrator. While in Oakland Smith worked hard to increase the number of charter schools there. He’ll be the perfect state school chief to implement Rauner’s vision of charter schools in Illinois.

Hostile Takeover of School District

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The mayor of Lyons attempted a hostile takeover of the Lyons Elementary School District 103 today.  Mayor Chris Getty (not to be confused with Ken Getty, his ex-felon, ex-mayor father) bankrolled four of his henchmen during the recent school board election.  Now they’re trying to take over – illegally.

Some background:  I retired as superintendent from District 103 almost three years ago.  District 103 serves students in five communities – Lyons, Brookfield, McCook, Stickney and Forest View.  Four years ago Mayor Getty of Lyons walked into our district office with petitions for five school board candidates.  Thanks to the tireless door-to-door campaigning by the incumbent board members, only one of Getty’s candidates was elected.  This year he again presented the district with five nominating petitions.  Then Getty arranged for over $11,000 in donations from his United Citizens Party and Citizens for Christopher Getty to be transferred to his henchmen’s campaign coffers.  It was reported that during their campaigning there were promises of jobs in District 103 to those who voted for the henchmen.  On April 7th four of his henchmen won seats on the school board – Getty’s henchmen would have a majority of the seven school board seats.

The first sign of trouble began last Wednesday when a woman walked into the district office and told the receptionist that she wanted to apply for the reception’s job.  The woman inferred that Mr. Getty prompted her to apply.  Moral in the district plummeted – no one knows if they are going to have a job after next week.

Needless to say, none of Getty’s henchmen had ever been to a school board meeting before the election.  According to State of Illinois law, the four were to be sworn in on May 4th.  But Mayor Getty couldn’t wait that long.  So on April 28th he had the village’s politically-connected lawyer Burt Odelson meet with his four henchmen.  Nobody knows when and where they met when Odelson swore them in as school board members – contrary to state law and school board policy.  Then, presumably, Getty and/or Odelson gave them a school board meeting agenda to approve.  Aside from the fact that even calling themselves “board members” at that point was preposterous, didn’t someone care that agreeing on such an agenda would have been in violation of the Open Meetings Act?

Getty hands the agenda to his flunky assistant Kyle Leonard to hand deliver it to the interim superintendent Patrick Patt (the superintendent announced her retirement at the end of March).  Patt was told by the flunky, “Here, this is what you need to do.”  Patt understood that as a direct order – post this agenda.  Patt did not post the agenda, realizing that the four henchmen had no legal authority as board members (the Attorney General’s office agrees).

Flunky Leonard came back to the district office after-hours and taped the agenda to the front door.  He went over to the current school board president’s house and taped the agenda to her mail box.  None of the other six current board members were informed about the meeting.

Their agenda calls for a school board meeting on Thursday, April 30th.  The agenda calls for the board to:

  • Fire the two interim superintendents
  • Hire Kyle Hastings as interim superintendent (Hastings is mayor of Orland Hills and was ousted mid-year as superintendent of Bellwood.  He’s a political buddy of Getty.  Its unlikely that any of the newly-elected board members have even met Hastings, yet they are going to make him the superintendent).
  • Fire the district’s legal firm of many years, Robbins-Swartz, which specializes in education law.
  • Hire the law firm Odelson & Sterk (yes, the same Odelson as above) which specializes in municipal law.
  • Change when the school board meetings take place (regardless of when the other board members can make it)

Nobody knows what will happen Thursday night when the four board member-elect henchmen show up at the district office to convene the illegal meeting.  They may have to wait until May 4th to be legally seated.  When they are the purpose of the board of education will no longer be to oversee the education of the 2,600 students in District 103.  The purpose will be to hire whoever Mayor Getty wants and to buy goods and services from whoever Mayor Getty wants.  That will only mean less for the children of District 103 and more for Mayor Getty.

Some of the above information was obtained in Bob Uphues’ excellent article published in The Landmark.

Quotes From the NPE Conference

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) second annual conference in Chicago.  It was like a revival meeting!  Activists from across the U.S. were there to cheer each other on and to learn how others are supporting public education.  When speakers got up to talk about the Opt-Out movement in New Jersey, hundreds of people got up and cheered.  When Diane Ravitch pointed out the students who occupied the offices of their school superintendent to protest the onerous PARCC testing, the audience cheered and raised their fists in a show of support.

Over the two days of the conference I had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of sessions.  Some I will elaborate on later, but for now here are some quotes I jotted down during the two days:

“Our children are [being used as] instruments of profit.” Jitu Brown
“Stop calling these people ‘reformers.’  They are ‘colonizers.’ ” Jitu Brown
“Teacher colleges are seeing a reduced enrollment due to the state [Michigan] teacher test.”  Western Michigan Professor/attendee
“The extreme right is looking to undermine the fundamental properties of democracy.” Presenter unknown
“Media Matters did a study of education stories on television.  They found that teachers are interviewed 9% of the time.”  Hilary Tone
“We have bad test scores.  Why is America still here?” Yong Zhao
“I had to raise $70,000 to run for the school board.” Shanthi Gonzales
“I don’t know of any school that has improved by being closed.” Diane Ravitch
“Stop Arne Duncan from being the H.R. office for every school district in America.” Randi Weingarten
“The Florida Department of Education refused to agree that no teacher should be evaluated on the results of a student they’ve never met.” Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
“They [ed reformers] have the ‘Stepford Child Syndrome.’  They think every kid is the same, can learn from the same curriculum and do the same on the standardized test.”  Lily Eskelson Garcia
“Teachers have terrible character flaw – you’re humble.  Get out there and brag about what we do.” Lily Eskelson Garcia
“We [teachers] are the ‘first responders’ to poverty.”  Randi Weingarten
“We opted our daughter out from state testing.  So far she has been home seven of the nine days of testing.” Steve Baker

PS – Sorry to all 31 of my loyal followers who have been sitting on the edge of their seats for the past few months waiting for my next post.  The NPE has re-energized me so look for more posts soon.