Why the DeKalb County School Board Should Turn Down the Charter Cluster

This post was published last year, and I’m republishing it in light of the Driud Hills Charter Cluster’s second attempt at absconding nearly a half dozen DeKalb schools. Dr. Lutenbacher provides academic and personal experiences and reaches a convincing conclusion.

If the Druid Hills Charter Cluster decides to apply to the State Charter School Commission for charter status, Dr. Lutenbacher’s will serve as evidence why the State should turn them down.

This letter first appeared on Maureen Downey’s AJC blog, Get Schooled.  The letter is published with the permission of Dr. Lutenbacher.

My name is Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, and I am a single, white, full-time working mother of two children in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) district, as well as a DeKalb property owner and taxpayer.  One daughter just graduated from Druid Hills High School and my other daughter is a current student at Druid Hills Middle School.

I have been a teacher for almost three decades and a parent for 18 years.  I have served on the board of the DeKalb charter school, the International Community School and on the Board of the tuition-free, private school the Global Village School.

I am writing to express my deep opposition to the possibility of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.

Brazenness

mailAt long last, I have been able to attain information about this conversion charter petition, and I am quite honestly appalled at its brazen attempt to create a privately-run school that is funded with taxpayer dollars.  And, at long last, I have taken the hours and hours and hours necessary to review the petition, as well as the 235 requests and rationales for waivers from DCSD standards and policies.  I am told that some of this information was made available three weeks before the vote was taken in August.  I did not know of that availability and probably would not have been able to review it in time; neither was I able to vote during the narrow voting window.  I can only wonder about parents or teachers who have even more limited access to and time for such investigation or voting.

Since that time, I have also learned that the “vote” taken the second day of school was not in violation of the law, but was certainly in violation of ethics.  Those running the voting were wearing tee shirts sporting the logo of the DHCC.  And I understand that the votes were counted by supporters of the charter.  Furthermore, the location of voting was the site most convenient to the supporters of the charter.

The petition “talks the talk” of accountability and adherence to guidelines, laws, and policies, but its absurd list of waiver requests speaks otherwise.  It places all power in the hands of its own, self-selected governing body, a body that was theoretically “elected” in that incredibly flawed voting process on the second day of school at Druid Hills High School.

I would like to address only a handful of my concerns.

Falsehoods

First of all, the petition contains outright falsehoods.  For example, the petition claims that only 5.4% of the students of McLendon Elementary School are ELLs, or English Language Learners.  However, the McLendon Elementary website reveals that 46% of its students are in ESOL classes.  I wonder what definition the DHCC uses to categorize students as ELLs.  Those favoring the charter claim that they used DeKalb County statistics.

The petition also claims that it will follow state and federal laws concerning special needs learners, but its waiver requests demand “flexibility” in fulfilling the needs of students with disabilities.  The petition and waiver documents speak to various methods to best serve students with disabilities, but all of the language allows so much “flexibility” that students with special needs could end up warehoused, or pushed into classes of typical learners (which may be a terrible choice for some), or ousted from the school because of “disciplinary issues.”    Furthermore, if DHCC can somehow mis-categorize English Language Learners at a school, how can anyone trust it to honestly and authentically label and serve students with special needs?

The DHCC waiver requests include waivers for discipline, claiming to use “positive” disciplinary tactics.  That language is all well and good, but when I review the petition and waiver requests, I have deep concern that the DHCC will use its waiver to oust students who do not fit its particular bent, which is clearly toward gifted students.  I am concerned that students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are ELLs will disproportionately find themselves labeled as “discipline problems,” rather than as children who are true gifts to the world.  They will be removed, so that DHCC can boast of its success.  The process is called “push-out” and it has a venerable history, especially here in the south.  I speak as a lifelong southerner and as a product of public schools in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

The DHCC requests a waiver in terms of class size in order to be “fiscally sustainable.”  This waiver request is an absurdly slippery slope, for once the DHCC realizes the inadequacy of its budget, the class sizes for classes that are not gifted, advanced placement, or otherwise geared toward students with higher test scores—will quite likely balloon, in order to allow the gifted programs to remain small and intimate.

Likewise, the DHCC wants to have full authority and autonomy in transportation issues, including salaries of bus drivers, routes, and accessibility.  I hear the phrase of “fiscal sustainability” in the background there, and I am acutely aware that transportation could easily suffer from budget concerns and become an issue that excludes working class children from attending schools in the DHCC, even though the children would be zoned into a particular school.

Budgetary Ethics

arrow-downIn the same breath that the DHCC requests waivers of all policies relevant to salaries, budget, and personnel, it requests waivers from the DeKalb County School District Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest policies in order to create its own code of ethics.  One need only have his/her eyes open to see that his scenario is clearly a field that is fertile for abuse.

I was not able to find the DHCC budget on its website, for certain links were not functional.  But a friend with access to a hard copy read aloud certain sections, and we realized that there are enormous gaps in the budget—gaps such as guidance counselors and other essential personnel.  We can only conclude that the DHCC intends such budgetary requirements to come from the DeKalb County School District’s budget.

Odd Demographics

I find it also instructive that even though the student body of the cluster is comprised of 80% students of color, the governing body of the DHCC has only three members of color, two of whom do not live in the cluster district and one of whom lives in Gwinnett County; the DHCC claims that these members have a vested interest in the charter by virtue of students who are in the schools “by choice.”  I cannot help but wonder why the DHCC had to go so far afield to find people of color to support its mission.

The petition also clearly states that only faculty and staff members will be hired or remain in their positions if they support the charter petition.  This requirement is abusive and completely contradictory to the ability and rights of teachers and staff members to have open discussion about this important petition.  Employees at the affected schools have already reported intimidation and silencing.

All of the waiver requests and the descriptions in the petition rely upon one central idea: trust us.  The wording of both documents sounds professional, but the waivers and petition are in fact a sieve of loopholes through which children who do not fit the upper class norm will be excluded and harmed.  If the conduct of the DHCC thus far—with its voting procedures that would have been shameful in the worst dictatorships in the world—is any indication of its trustworthiness, then this petition should be quickly and powerfully denied.

The DHCC talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

Filching Taxpayers

This attempt by a primarily upper class group of people to filch taxpayer dollars for an ultimately exclusionary private school endeavor is reprehensible.  For the sake of all our children, I urge you to deny this petition.

Druid Hills Charter Cluster Should Be Rejected Again

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The Druid Hills Charter Cluster has raised its nasty head again and is trying to convince the DeKalb County School Board to give a non-elected private group 5000 students, seven school campuses, and hundreds of teachers.

I support Superintendent Michael Thurmond’s decision to oppose the Charter Cluster proposal.

Here is what I wrote a year ago about this idea. Nothing has changed, even though Matt Lewis, the cluster self appointed chai, tells us differently.

On August 13, about  eleven-hundred citizens from the Druid Hills area of DeKalb County, Georgia voted on a petition to create the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC).  The cluster consist of seven schools, five elementary, one middle, and Druid Hills High School.  The purpose of the charter is raise student achievement by creating a cluster of charter schools.

A few miles further to the north, a group of “concerned parents” is working on a petition to form the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster.  According to one report, the organizing parental group decided to put off a letter of intent to the DeKalb County Board of Education until next year.

Figure 1. Druid Hills Charter Cluster Dome: Image Source: CBS News

So, in DeKalb County, Georgia, there are two efforts underway to create charter clusters, or what I am calling charter schools “Under the Dome” (Special thanks to Cita Cook for suggesting the notion of a dome in this context).   These domed neighborhoods will have autonomy from the county board of education, and will have complete and comprehensive power to work out its own business plan, establish curriculum, and hire teachers that meet its own criteria.

The document describing the petition (75 pages and appendices) outlines the rationale and goals of the DHCC.  School choice, teacher policy, high-stakes testing and academic achievement dominate the DHCC.

Druid Hills Dome

I know the Druid Hills Dome very well.  I lived there for ten years, but for more than 30 years I worked with schools, teachers and administrators in all DeKalb County.  Indeed, one of the schools that I had a twenty year relationship with was Dunwoody High School.  Dunwoody was a partner school with Georgia State University’s Global Thinking Project, and under the principalship of Dr. Jenny Springer, Dunwoody participated in more than ten student and teacher exchanges with partner schools in Russia.

Druid Hills High School and Dunwoody High School are outstanding schools, and for years have been important to their respective communities.   Why would this group of parents want to segregate the schools in each cluster from the rest of the DeKalb Schools?  Yes, there is a new school board, and an interim Superintendent, and the county has had problems.  Is now the time to break up the district?

Convincing the board of education to let a group take away schools and land to form their school system is unbelievable.  Imagine.  You get a group of like-minded parents together (mostly white) and decide that creating your own cluster of schools would be in the best interests of all the parents and students under the dome.  It’s a real deal.  Not only do you set up a power-based structure, but you take over school properties owned by DeKalb County.  And it doesn’t cost you a dime.  The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a Georgia non-profit corporation, and as such, has already begun a campaign of raising money through its  href=”https://sites.google.com/site/druidhillscc/”>website. The current officer of the DHCC and chair of the Druid Hills High School Council is Mathew S. Lewis.  Mr. Lewis will also become a member of the charter board of directors of the DHCC.

Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.  View as a larger map.
Figure 2. Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. View as a larger map.

So in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster “under the dome,” some residents have banded together to try and form their own mini-school district, essentially cut off from the larger public school district. When you read the DHCC petition, it is clearly stated that this group seeks academic autonomy, including their own hired staffs, food service, transportation, and financial independence.  Now keep in mind, that the funds to support the DHCC will come from DeKalb County and the state of Georgia.  It is also possible that venture capital will find its way into the dome, and most likely out-of-state investors and “school” reform organizations such as the Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundations will appear.

In time, there will be huge problems when teachers realize that their jobs are at risk. They will discover that in the long run it will be more cost effective for the DHCC to partner up with Teach for America who will supply inexpensive teachers who will leave after two years.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans schools were converted to charter schools, with thousands of employees fired, and then replaced by recruits from Teach for America who have a 5-week program to learn how to teach.  Instead of innovation (I use this word because it is used in the DHCC petition), New Orleans schools were set up to be managed by data and numbers, not critical thinking, inquiry and problem solving.  The DHCC will follow the same path.  The DHCC will test the daylights out of students, and will use data in unsubstantiated ways to evaluate teachers.  This is clearly a set up.  Teachers will be replaced on the basis of faulty data and fraudulent assessment methods.  Indeed one of the tests included in the lineup of formative assessments is MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), the same test that teachers in Washington refused to administer to their students because it was unrelated to their curriculum.  And it goes on and on.  Summative assessments are no different.  There is complete line up of end of course and criterion referenced tests.

Will this be the future for the DHCC?

Is the DHCC a Parent Trigger in Disguise?

Another question I have is this.  Is the DHCC using the “parent trigger” strategy disguised as a cluster of conversion charters?

Under Georgia law, a group can petition to create a conversion or start-up charter school.  Unfortunately, most of the laws on the books were really not written with Georgia students, parents and teachers in mind.  In fact, I asked last year, Why don’t our elected representatives write their own legislation?  Well, it’s because ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes them, brings like minded (mostly Republicans) together, and passes out “model bills” that our elected ones take back to the legislature, put their names on them, and submit them as a bill.  The charter bill that passed in the last session was written by ALEC, and in fact you can go here to read the bill.  Notice that the bill is written so that all that our elected officials have to do is fill in the blanks (with their names, dates, etc.).  That bill was used to strike down a Georgia Supreme Court Decision in the previous year that ruled unconstitutional, a statewide charter authorizer.  The commission on charter schools was reinstated.

In the last legislative session, the Parent Trigger Bill (which would enable disgruntled parents of low-performing schools to fire teacher and administrative staff and turn the school over to for-profit management company paid with district funds) made its way through the House, but was held up in the Senate after some very courageous citizens of Georgia (Empowered Georgia) said, enough is enough.  The people behind the Parent Trigger simply imported the same ALEC bill that had been floating around in California, Florida and Oklahoma.  It comes in many names, one of which the Parent Empowerment Act.  There is no parent empowerment.  The parents are pawns in a shifty business deal in which failing schools can be replaced with charter schools. Now, if you think parents at the local level will set up the charter school, I’ll sell you a bridge.

But here is the problem with the Druid Hill Charter Cluster.  It is being submitted under the law which defines the nature of conversion charters.  It smells like its a parent trigger.  When independent reporters attended the polling site for the DHCC, most of those in attendance where white, and by all estimates, very few teachers were there.  Yet only 18% of the students in the Druid Hills Dome are white, while 61% are African-American, 10% Asian, and 7% Hispanic/Latino.

Is a Charter Cluster the Answer?

Well, that depends upon the question.  In the present age, the question is how can we make American students more competitive in the global market place and how can we improve the academic scores of students on yearly national and international tests (TIMSS and PISA)?  That is the question that most charter petitions use to claim that their approach will exceed the expectations of regular public school students.  Charter schools actually do worse than regular public schools on end-of-year or other benchmark tests used for national assessments.

Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.
Figure 3. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

Professor Michael Marder at the University of Texas has looked at the type of school, charter vs regular public school, he found the results to be quite dramatic.  If you look at Figure 3, there are 140 charter schools in Texas with 11th grade data.  As you can see in Figure 3, most of the charters form a flat line at the bottom of the graph indicating that except for 7 charters off the flat line, the rest of the charters are doing worse than the regular public schools. Dr. Marder has analyzed data from California, New York, and New Jersey and found that charter schools do not do better than regular public schools in any of these states.

Georgia has opened the door to the charter management world, and there is no doubt that the DHCC is capitalizing on this moment in history.

If you listen to the politicians and owners of a charter schools, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  You often hear, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn is much more powerful way to improve schooling.

The managers of charter schools do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

Democratic Schools?

Last week I published Dr. Chip Carey’s report on the Druid Hills Charter Cluster election.  In Dr. Carey’s words:

In all the elections that I have observed around the world, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Pakistan, Romania and the Philippines, I have never seen such a sham election within a polling area.

If the election was a sham, then this is evidence that a bogus attempt to manipulate the law, and set up a collection of conversion charter schools using the parent trigger strategy is being made.

What we are observing in DHCC is an un-democratic activity that purports to represent the opinions and needs of thousands of parents and children.  If there is not a broad cross-section of constituents involved in the DHCC, then what we are witnessing is simply another attempt by school choice advocates to privatize public education.

Unless the election is investigated to find out if democratic voting rights were in place for all citizens, then how can a small group of advocates claim to represent, and then later control education in this corner of DeKalb County. A new bureaucracy will be established managed by the DHCC, Inc, with the real decision makers being at the bottom of the hierarchy.

One More Thing

The notion of a charter school, when originally conceived 20 years ago, was an innovative idea.  It was a teacher led initiative which resulted in creative and new approaches to teaching and learning.  The idea was hijacked by corporations who saw the charter school provision as back door into local public schools.  Coupled with the support of conservative politicians and their corporate allies to privatize government agencies and activities, schools have become the target of this effort.  Charter schools are seen as a way to privatize education, and devastate public education as we know it.

The thing is that charter schools do not nearly do as well as regular public schools.  The research reported in this post casts a vague eye on the efficacy of charter schools in fulfilling the promise that charters, because they can run more flexibly than their public school counterparts, will create environments where students will not only do as well as public school students, but out do them on achievement tests. The massive amount of data that has been analyzed by Dr. Marder’s team at the University of Texas, and the results of charter school performance in 16 states does not paint a very pretty picture of charter schools.

In a major study done at Stanford University, the researchers concluded that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school.

Yet, most of our legislators in the Georgia House and Senate refuse to look at the research that clearly shows that public schools should be supported even more than they are now because they not only do a better job in the academic department, but they work with all students.  All families.  Regardless.

I hope that the DeKalb Board of Education reads this post, and questions the legitimacy of the DHCC, Inc. to establish a schools “under the dome.”

Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton, and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy?

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Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the Foundation Center, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation are ranked 1, 13, and 38 respectively on the top 100 U.S. foundations by total giving.  The total assets of these three foundations as of April 2014 was $37 billion for the Gates Foundation, $1.9 billion for the Walton Foundation, and $1.6 billion for the Broad Foundation.

The total grant making in 2012 for these organizations was:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation        $3.18 billion

The Walton Family Foundation                   $423 million

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation           $153 million

If you count up the number of people who call the shots in these three foundations, here’s the math:

(Gates x 2) + (Walton x 6) + (Broad x 2) = 10 people

These three foundations are identified as the “Big Three Foundations” by Mercedes K. Schneider in her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  Dr. Schneider explores in-depth how Gates, Walton and Broad grant billions of dollars to organizations that meet their personal views of what education should be in America.

Diane Ravitch assigns the “big three” to the Billionaire Boys Club.  No matter how you look at it, these organizations’ money and political influence rudder American education reform toward the privatization of public education, and Common Core State Standards-High-Stakes Assessments accountability.

To be sure, there are many other Foundations that give grants to a variety of organizations whose goals merge with the Big Three, but it is the Big Three that dominate the agenda of education reform today.

Education for the People, by the People

In this blog post, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.  Most of you know that Diane Ravitch published her recent book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Library).  On one of the end pages of her book she included a 1785 quote by President John Adams that I believe exposes the crux of the problem caused by the influx of money and influence from people such as the Gates, Waltons and Broads.  Adams is quoted as saying this:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it.  There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

Adams would be shocked by the “charitable” behavior these 10 people.

The funded organizations that are identified on the Big Three websites are pawn’s or infantry sent into schools with lots of money, political influence, and carefully laid plans  to carry out the aims of the Big Three.  Although there are differences and some overlap among those who receive their marching orders from the Big Three, it becomes obvious what the end game is when you learn who is funded.  Let’s take a look at the Big Three.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In an earlier post (Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core), I reported that more than 1800 “college-ready” projects have been funded by the Gates Foundation over the past five years.  Some organizations have been awarded multiple grants, and in some cases, these amounts exceeded $60 million.  In the world of Charter Schools, Gates has awarded more than $279 million.  In teacher education, Gates has given millions to Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, yet very little in funding to improve teacher education in American universities.  In the research I’ve done analyzing the Gates Awarded Grants, it can be estimated that more than $2.3 billion has been allocated to the “college-ready” category.

If you look at the names of organizations that receive Gates awards, you soon discover how education is being shaped: charter schools, temp teacher training, common standards, venture capitalism, and market-based reforms.  Figure 1 identifies some of the organizations that have received grants, as well as the amount they garnered over the past five years.

Figure 1.  Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013.  Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database
Figure 1. Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013. Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

Here the grant focal points for the Gates Foundation.

Charter Schools

When I searched the Awarded Grants site at the Gates Foundation for “charter schools” it returned 134 hits.  For example in 2014, the Pacific Charter School Development, Inc. received an award totaling $3,998,633.  They joined a long list of recipients whose total amount came to $279,428,324 (see Figure 1).  Gates gives more to support charters than does Walton and Broad combined.

Common Core

Without question, the Gates Foundation leads all organizations in the U.S. to develop and implant a common set of standards in public schools.  Achieve, Inc., the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards in Math and Language Arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards received more than $36 million from Gates. But this is only a tip of the common core iceberg. To find out the extent of the funding for the common core is not as straightforward as you might think.

Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation.  Source: The Gates Foundation Website.
Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation. Source: The Gates Foundation Website.

Achieve is part of a network of organizations that have spearheaded the drive to set up a common core of subjects in American schools that share the same set of performances for all students.   As you can see in Table 1, the Gates Foundation funds projects in five program areas.  You will find common core projects in the US Program, Global Policy & Advocacy and other program areas.  For example, the New Schools Venture Fund has received more than $60 million from the Gates Foundation.  As a venture capitalist organization, “their investors are betting hundreds of millions on the digital revolution in the classroom. (NewSchools Venture Fund website, extracted, May 29, 2014).”

One of the grants NewSchools received from Gates was for more than $10 million “to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia” (Gates Foundation Website, extracted May 29, 2014).

Implementing common core standards is a cornerstone of the Gates Foundation efforts to change American education.

Teacher Training

Teacher training is supported by the Gates Foundation through its grants to Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).  Based on my experience and research with alternative certification programs, these programs are at simply alternative ways to get people into classrooms, even while lacking profession teaching qualifications.

Is there is a similar plan to train élite college students in six weeks in medicine for the Doctor for America (DFA) program who will be hired for two years as paid doctors in local hospitals and clinics where they will practice medicine, even though they are uncertified? Medical and teaching projects, like these, set up a pipeline of inexperienced and uncertified college graduates to teach in American school, and bolster the over stretched medical profession.  Students in these programs need to commit two years, and then move up or out of the system.

TNTP is a step-child of TFA having been founded by Michelle Rhee, who was a TFA “graduate.”  TFA has net assets of $419,098,314 for fiscal year 2012.  It receives 76% of its money from grants and gifts, and 22.3% from government grants.

In a separate investigation of TFA’s and TNTP’s role in the Race to the Top (RT3), I looked at Georgia’s RT3 Program and discovered that these organizations were receiving $15.6 million and $9.1 million to supply uncertified teachers in the greater Atlanta area, where there is no shortage of certified teachers.

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points to the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

Although these two organization provide a small share of teachers to American public schools, that the Gates Foundation and the Race to Top programs support them is troubling.  There is already legislation that supports redefining a certified teacher that includes teachers that have received minimal education, and no classroom experience.  In areas where experienced teachers are clearly more successful, Gates and even the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ignores the research on teacher effectiveness.

What about the Medical program? DFA doesn’t exist, does it? But I wonder if such a program would be accepted by the medical profession and the local community?

Teacher Evaluation

The Gates Foundation in its funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) theorized that it was going to be easy to identify effective teaching, especially with the use of video tapes and student test scores.  As John Thompson pointed out on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue website over on Education Week,

The MET is a $45 million component of the “teacher quality” movement which studies test scores, teacher observations, and student survey data to isolate the elements of effective teaching. That’s great. But the MET’s assumptions about the outcomes they anticipated have been the basis for Arne Duncan’s test-driven policies — which require test scores to be a “significant part” of teacher evaluations in order for states to receive waivers for NCLB. Then, as evidence was gathered, preliminary reports noted problems with using test score growth for evaluations. The MET has continued to affirm the need for value-added (VAM) as a necessary component of their unified system of using improved instruction to drive reform, even as it reported disappointing findings.

Even though researchers have shown (using Gates Foundation data from the MET Study) that there are very low correlations between teachers instruction with state standards and state and alternative assessments, policy makers ignore such data and believe that teachers should be evaluated using student test scores.  This study reported there is no evidence of relationships curriculum alignment and composite measures of teacher effectiveness.  And they reported that lack of relationship between Danielson’s Framework of Teaching (used to measure teacher classroom behavior), Tripod (student surveys) to VAM scores.

One of the groups that Gates funds is the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  Since 2009, NCTQ has received more than $11 million in grants.  The name of this organization is an oxymoron, yet with millions in funding from Gates, NCTQ publishes biased reports on teacher effectiveness and teacher education.  In an earlier post I showed that NCTQ reporting is nothing short of junk science, yet here we have the billionaire funding such nonsense.

And then the Colorado Legacy Foundation has received more than $20 million to carry out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) & pursue teacher evaluation systems using student test score growth.

The Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation made grants totaling $423 million in 2013.  According to the Walton Family Foundation website, its purpose in funding is to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.”

The Walton Family Foundation funds school projects that shape public policy, lead to the creation of “quality schools,” and improve existing schools. The California Charter Schools Association and the Alliance for School Choice were the top two recipients of grants from Walton in 2013.  Coming in third and fourth was The New Teacher Project and Teach for America.

The focus of funding of the Walton Foundation is school choice and parental choice (parent trigger) as policies supporting charter schools.

 

Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 - 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/
Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 – 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/

 

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation

The Broad funding was $153 million in 2013.  The Broad Foundation, just like Gates and Walton accuses public schools of being in distress.  They all use the same statistics to claim that American students are not able to compete for jobs in a global market, and that corporations can’t find the “workers” who possess the skills  needed to fill their positions.  The Broad Foundation highlights the value of competition by the giving of various “Broad Prizes.”  The Broad Prize, and Broad Prize for Public Charters is an annual competitions among applicants.

The Broad Foundation also supports its Broad Residency in Urban Education and the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Each of these strategies is very much like the model used by Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  These are part-time training programs that train college graduates in five weeks to be full-time teachers.

The Broad programs trains people to be principals and superintendents, who according to many writers, tend to be confrontative with teachers and their unions, and have no problem in closing schools, and then turning around and opening schools managed by charter companies.

The Broad Foundation funds in more than fifty organizations in four larger categories as listed below.  I’ve also included two funded projects or organizations representative of each grouping.

The corporate reform funded by Gates, Walton and Broad is a cobweb of organizations that has snared public schools by means of an accountability system that uses student achievement scores as the bottom line.  The web also includes organizations whose goal is to shape policy by writing and rewriting state laws that benefit vouchers, choice, charters, and teacher evaluation.

In the next post, we enhance the web by examining the machinations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

If education in the United States is to be for the people, by the people, these three organizations are the antithesis of public education in a democratic society.  What do you think?

Do Some Charter and Title I Schools Use a Pedagogy of Indoctrination

 

"Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom by Joseph Vasquez  CC By 2.0
“Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom” by Joseph Vasquez is Licensed under  CC By 2.0

I might be off my rocker on this post, but I want to get it out there, and ask you if there might be some truth in my claim.  My claim is that the No Child Left Behind Act set in motion a culture of schooling which seeks conformity and an authority to which participants must subscribe, meaning teachers, students and their parents.  Followed by the Race to the Top, we have created in American schools an environment that many have shown to be harmful to the psychological well-being of not only students, but teachers as well.

There is evidence that many charter and Title I schools use an authoritarian and behavioral change system of learning to make one change in student behavior and that is higher test scores. Because of federal and state regulations implicit in NCLB and RT3, a top-down system of accountability has played a role in making authoritarianism the principle of charter schools, and many public Title I schools.

The Strict Family and the Strict Classroom

In previous discussions on this blog I’ve applied the research of George Lakoff.  Dr. Lakoff uses the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family and applies it to politics, literature, philosophy and mathematics.  Using this idea, ones (political) beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founders, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth.

Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

In my earlier blog post, I wrote about Rocketship Education, a relatively new charter management system with schools in California and Wisconsin.  It appears to me that the Rocketship education model of education is authoritarian and relies on indoctrination for its success. It’s a model of education that fits the description of Lakoff’s conservative family.

Authoritarian Education

In that earlier post, I outlined four principles that characterize a Rocketship School based on the research of Gordon Lafer.  Here are the principles and comments I’ve made about each one. As you read these points, connect these principles to the principles in Lakoff’s theory:

  1. Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  2. Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to offer a pipeline of new recruits. Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests. The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate. As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience. Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  3. A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning. Blending digital learning with face to face. However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy. You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  4. A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home. Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year. This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted. But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

The nature of the pedagogy outlined in these four points is a certain example of Lakoff’s conservative “Strict Father Family,” where the entire system is organized underneath an authority figure.  This could be the owner of the charter school management system, the principal of the school, or even the top-down rules and regulations upon which the school’s accountability depends.

But this tenor of authoritarianism is not limited to charter schools.

Indoctrination

What has happened is that accountability has been reduced fundamentally to one cause, measurement or variable, and that is student test scores.  In Georgia, for instance, the state rolled out a new accountability system in which each school in the state is graded (A – F) by adding up the points earned in four categories.  However, each of the categories is dependent on one reason: student test scores.

The state, in Georgia and most other states, is the authority figure that controls the behavior of administrators, teachers and students. The state indoctrinates school staff to follow very strict guidelines to increase student test scores.  These guidelines are defined by standards (either state or Common Core State Standards), and what is known as College & Career Ready Performance, using expressed as an index or simply a number that can be used to compare schools, districts and states.

In Atlanta, all you had to do yesterday to verify this is to read the Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper which listed the top and bottom performing schools in school districts around the state.  Winners and losers?

So, the only purpose of teaching in schools that are served by an authoritarian regime is to teach to the test, and to spend as much time possible making students practice for the tests with worksheets, and obsessively stupid homework assignments.  The goal is to score high on the state mandated high-stakes tests, and to get as a high a grade for the school based fundamentally on student test scores.

The Rocketship Schools have taken the conservative model to the extreme.  By reducing the curriculum to essentially two subjects, math and reading, teachers are trained to teach math and reading only in so far as the kids score high on the tests.  In fact, in the Rocketship schools, teacher’s pay is dependent on student scores.  I am not saying that there is a salary scale based on specific scores, but given comments made on a PBS interview with the principal and two teachers at the school, there are targets to be met.

In this kind of school, teachers do not need to be educated, but they need to be indoctrinated and trained to follow the leader. Teach for America’s 5 week training is all that is wanted in schools that cut teaching to test preparation.  Not only does Teach for America supply Rocketship teachers, but TFA and the New Teacher Project have multi-million dollar agreements with several Race to the Top winning states (follow this link to see it work in Georgia).

Child Labor Violations

What is the role of the student in these extreme classroom situations.  The school day begins in the school courtyard or similar space in a kind of ceremony or rally to energize the students, and to instill in them “group think” and the requirement that they must conform to the authority of the school, and especially their teachers.

To some researchers and practicing educators, American obsession with statewide testing has led to an inhumane environment.  Stephanie Jones, a research professor at the University of Georgia has written that the current system of high-stakes testing might be exploiting child labor laws by creating a system in which students spend up to seven hours in school doing things that might be unethical.  As she sees it, children are the producing workers in the school system whose production of test scores will be used to reward the people above them—-their teachers and administrators, and indeed the superintendent of the school system.  Go ask Beverly Hall about this.

As Dr. Jones points out, Child Labor laws were enacted to prevent children from working under conditions of stress and long hours.  Sending them to school was one way to prevent business owners from using children during the day.  Now, schools seem to have taken over.

Psychological Abuse

Joyce Murdock Feilke is a 30 year veteran school counselor in the Austin, Texas independent school district (AISD).  On October 15, 2013 she filed a “Report of Psychological Abuse in an AISD Elementary School,” and sent it to Senator Jane Nelson of Texas, and the Committee for Health & Human Services.  The superintendent of AISD was Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who was hired to begin the superintendency of the Atlanta Public Schools in July, 2014.  According to reports that I have seen, there is evidence that Dr. Carstarpen covered up the abuse, and then after a month simply denied Joyce’s report.

Joyce Murdock Feilke wrote in her report about the psychological abuse of students at an Austin elementary school.  She begins by saying:

During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment.  This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics.  Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress.  Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness.  Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm.  The demands for high-test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab.  They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations (emphasis is mine).

The New 3 R’s System of Behavior Control

Feilke has exposed a system of teaching that uses punitive methods of behavior modification (now called Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA}) in Title I schools in Austin, Texas.  According to this veteran educator, a new system of 3 R’s (The Right Resources, The Right People, and the Right Systems) using behavioral engineering was initiated by a former structural engineer who became principal in the AISD.  The 3R’s model is applied in elementary schools with large populations of minority students.  Ms. Feilke provides insight into the 3R’s model.  She says:

The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals.  It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War.  It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII.  The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history.  It can be observed in families, cults, and countries.  It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.

The 3R’s was effective in raising Title I student test scores, so much so, that the district expanded it into other schools.

But the 3R’s systems, according to Feilke, is punitive.  It creates chronic stress in students, resulting in

desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation.  However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood.  At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.

Punitive System of Teaching

Using qualitative research, Feilke documents specific examples of the effects of this punitive system on students.  As she points out, the teacher/caregiver dominate the class environment using punitive classical conditioning to “shape” behavior.  She makes the point here, when she expresses what happens to kids in this kind of classroom:

This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children.

Imagine your child coming to school and you ask, what did you do today?  Well, at lunch, because I didn’t finish my work, I was told to stand up in front of everyone while the principal said I was bad for not finishing my homework.  I felt awful.  Some of the kids snickered at me, but Shane put her hand on my back, and said “don’t worry.”

Here is how Ms. Feilke describes the effect of this kind of behavior control on children:

Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria.  Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them.  Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims.  This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders.  By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.

There is more to this story, and I’ll follow-up later this week.

For now, I wish to thank Joyce Murdock Feilke for being such a courageous educator to take the risks to expose the dehumanizing pedagogy that was used in elementary schools in Austin.  After her superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, (who is the new Superintendent designee for the Atlanta Public Schools ) denied her report, Joyce resigned her position in the Austin USD in protest.  She said this in her letter of resignation:

I have attempted to speak up and advocate for children in AISD who are most impacted by this invalidating environment and dysfunctional administration. It is my goal to continue speaking up. I am submitting my resignation as counselor in order to pursue this advocacy without retaliation from an administration that does not recognize or respect the needs of children, or the rights of professionals who work to support and help them.

Joyce’s documentation of the injustices that prevailed in these schools was also published on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog (Cloaking Inequities) and Diane Ravitch’s blog.  If you go to Cloaking Inequities you will find 99 comments in response to Joyce’s letter to Senator Nelson and the HHS Committee.

Do Some Charter School Models Use a Pedagogy of indoctrination?  What are your ideas?

Charter School Formula for Financial Success but Educational Failure

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Creative Commons Bathroom, Cosmos Cafe by Allan Ferguson is Licensed under CC By 2.0.
Creative Commons Bathroom, Cosmos Cafe by Allan Ferguson is Licensed under CC By 2.0.

There are some charter schools that are successful. They tend to exist on their own in districts scattered around the country.

There are however, hundreds of charter schools that are not successful. They tend to exist in clusters in some of the nation’s largest cities.

Rocketship Education is a charter organization that has schools in California, and, Wisconsin, and in 2014 in Washington D.C., and Nashville. Rocketship schools are a poster child for what is wrong with the corporate intervention of the American public school system.

Rocketship Education schools may be financial successes (they are profitable), but they are failing the students that enter their schools. In this post, I will explore Rocketship Education, based on recent report by Economic Policy Institute author, Gordon Lafer. The report, Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (April 24, 2014).

Dr. Lafer, in his research report, questions why an educational model deemed substandard for more privileged suburban children is being so vigorously promoted—perhaps even forced—on poor children in Milwaukee.

Rocketship Education Formula

A PBS report by John Merrow who interviewed two Rocketship teachers from California describes these charters as a model for mass production of charter schools.  One of the teachers said that yes, it would be nice if we offered art and music, but if you want your kid to have it in their life, deal with it after school.  Now, there’s a curriculum plan.

John Danner, the founder of Rocketship, has plans for his charter schools in fifty cities reaching a million students.  He claims his model works, but the EPI report suggests that it does not.

According to Lafer’s report, and information from the Rocketship Education online website, there are four principles that characterize a Rocketship school. They include the following:

  • Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  • Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to give a pipeline of new recruits.  Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests.  The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate.  As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience.  Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  • A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning.  Blending digital learning with face to face.  However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy.  You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  • A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home.  Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year.  This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted.  But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

According to Lafer’s API report, all the California Rocketship schools’ academic progress has decreased over the past two years based on the California Academic Performance Index.  And none of the schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. Figure 1 from the EPI report compares the academic performance at the California Rocketship schools.

Figure 1. Academic Performance of Rocketship Schools in California Source: Economic Policy Institute

Figure 2 compares the Rocketship Schools’ achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress, 2010 – 2013.  None of the schools met the requirement in 2012-2013, and four of these schools did not reach Adequate Yearly Progress in 2011-2012 meaning that these schools will be subject to regulatory interventions by the state.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 6.45.31 PM
Figure 2. Rocketship Schools’ Achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress, 2010-2013 Source: Economic Policy Institute

Going Forward

Even with these dismal results, the business plan for Rocketship Education is moving forward. It is implementing a new design plan in its schools. It is also moving forward to open more schools in other cities and states. As shown in Figure 3, Rocketship intends to increase its enrollment from less than 5,000 in 2013 to more than 30,000 in 2018.


Figure 3. Rocketship Business Plan. Source: Economic Policy Institute

In the next post, we’ll continue this discussion of charter schools, but we’ll look at the research and what it says about good schools, and why they work so well for all students.

In the meantime, what do you think of the Rocketship Education Model?