Charter scandals continue

COLORADO – In the past two years,  Stargate Charter School for gifted and talented children has been slapped with eight civil rights complaints. The complaints were related to sexual discrimination and disability discrimination. Complaints include the school’s mishandling of allegations that a former coach groped students and the school’s treatment of students with disabilities. According to Attorney Jacque Phillips, “Many of the problems faced by Stargate are because it does not take seriously its responsibility as a public school to educate all its gifted-and-talented students, including those with disabilities”(Denver Post).

In response to the most recent charges, administrators say they have “learned their lesson and are making changes to better address allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against disabled students” (Denver Post).

CONNECTICUT – Path Academy in Windham is in fear of losing its license for defrauding taxpayers of $1.6 million dollars. According to papers filed in court, the school could not provide documentation for 128 students enrolled at Path. This represents a potential overpayment of $1,573,000 over a two year period. “The failure to maintain records establishing that students who were reported as enrolled in the data used to determine the per pupil grant payment were actually enrolled and attending school constitutes, at a minimum, failure to manage state funds in a prudent or legal manner” (EdVotes.org).

FLORIDA – Fearing a failing grade from the state, Palm Harbor Academy charter school transferred low-performing students to a recently opened private school on the same campus just before the charter students were to begin their state assessments.  Those transferred included 13 third graders, and 5 fifth graders. According to the Palm Coast Observer, “Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.”

Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover said, “First and foremost, we did not move the students,” Glover said, noting that the parents had requested the move. School Board member Andy Dance said Glover was blaming the parents.

“I’m not blaming the parents. We did not talk to the parents at all about moving their children. … We did not in any fashion conduct any kind of campaign, solicit, try to induce parents to take their kids out of Palm Harbor(Palm Coast Observer).

Dance responded, “But you accepted them(Palm Coast Observer).

Additionally, students with disabilities who were moved into the private school no longer had access to  state-mandated speech and language services. “I’m going to tell you right now there is nothing that can be produced to us to show that those third-grade students’ rights were not violated by moving them,” School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin (Palm Coast Observer).

NORTH CAROLINA – School board members along with local clergy in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are standing together in opposition of HB 514, a recently proposed bill that would contribute to re-segregation of schools because a town-run charter would allow admission preference for children who live in the four towns. Opponents of HB 514 compared it to Southern education policies of the 1950s – implemented to keep schools segregated. In the 1950s these schools were called segregationist academies, created to have a school for white families who refused to allow their children to attend school with black children.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 8.48.11 AM.png

HB 514 was introduced last year by Republican Bill Brawley. He has criticized the Charlotte Meckeinburg board for not providing students with a quality education—one reason he says township parents want their own charter (WFAE).

“Roslyn Mickelson, a professor of sociology at UNC Charlotte says studies have not shown that charter schools are better academically. A report she co-authored this year on state and local charter schools did find that charters are becoming less diverse(WFAE).

Additionally, Mickelson said of HB 514, “If this bill passes it will be a driver of segregation in public education. It’s not even subtle… The freedom of choice plans were drawn in such ways that they replicated the segregated schools. What we have today is not freedom of choice but charter school choice and the way it is being designed will have the same effect” (WFAE).

PENNSYLVANIA – A Philadelphia attorney, David Schulick, has been convicted  of embezzling $800,000 from the Philadelphia School District using a charter school he ran intended to help at-risk students. Instead, Shulick and Chaka Fattah Jr. falsified documents and faked student enrollments to inflate the school budget. “Federal prosecutors said Shulick faked business expenses to cheat on taxes and listed nannies and housekeepers as employees of the school, while using the profits to renovate his vacation home on the Shore and installing a $9,000 set of speakers in his Gladwyne home” (Metro). Shulick may face a prison term at sentencing. At the very least he is expected to be ordered to pay significant restitution to the School District (Metro).

COLORADO – At least four administrators at Wyatt Academy in Denver were recently put on administrative leave after a video captured the school’s justice coordinator encouraged students to throw punches. The elementary school principal, assistant principal, school psychologist along with the justice coordinator were suspended. One source reported Wyatt Academy administrators learned of the fight the same day yet no action was taken until the group released the video. The school board has hired an outside investigator (Seattle Times).

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 8.46.22 AM.png

TENNESSEE – New Vision Academy charter school in Nashville is under investigation by the school district for financial irregularities and failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  According to a report filed by teachers, English language-learning students and students with learning disabilities were not receiving required instructional time. The report also noted students were charged for textbooks even though the school earmarked thousands of dollars for classroom supplies (Tennesseean.com).. The top two executives at New Vision, who are married, make a combined $562,000. Executive director Tim Malone made $312,971 in the 2017,  and his wife, LaKesha Malone is New Vision’s second highest ranking executive. earning $250,000 during that same period,(Tennesseean.com).

There were so many scandals in the news from the past few weeks, I found it difficult to choose for the blog. The bottom line is as the charter movement grows, scandals continue to grow exponentially as well. There are patterns, repeats, and new offenses. The underlying theme is misappropriation of funds and faculty and administrators behaving inappropriately and/or illegally.

It’s important to know about the scandals plaguing charter schools, and to be aware of the current administration’s drive to create more.

Deplorable.

These are my reflections for today.

6/8/18

Follow me on Facebook

Advertisements

Striking teachers, low pay, and a recent national poll

Over the past year frustrated teachers have gone on strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. One of the primary reasons for the strikes is low pay. In some states teachers have to work two and three jobs to pay their bills, as their salaries are not enough to cover basic living expenses.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 2.04.30 PM

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 37 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. In a 2015 OECD study, teachers salaries in the United States ranked 27th out of 29 countries: #1 was Portugal, and #29 was the Czech Republic (OECD, 2015).

In a survey conducted in May, the New York Times found that nearly three in four adults — 71 percent — considered teacher pay too low, while just 6 percent felt it was too high.   Additionally, this survey found strong support for teachers.  A recent NPR survey also reported 75% of Americans agree teachers have the right to strike. Notably, that number includes 66% of Republicans, 75% of independents and nearly 90% of Democrats (NPR).

“Our teachers have not been able to have raises for the last several years and I’m certain it’s the same issue that’s going on around the country,” said Marla Hackett of Queen Creek, Ariz., who responded to the survey and said she has a daughter who is a teacher. “They are underappreciated, underpaid and they work ridiculously long hours”  (NPR).

In another survey conducted by The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, 78% of Americans say teachers in this country are underpaid. However, in the same poll fewer of those polled approved of walkouts by teachers to demand pay raises and increased school funding (Associated Press).

Only 50 percent of the survey participants “would support a plan to increase their taxes in order to increase teacher compensation and funding for their local public schools, while 26 percent would oppose such a plan, and 23 percent neither favor nor oppose”(Associated Press).

The majority of polled Americans agreed teachers are underpaid, and most agreed teachers have a right to strike. All good, but what’s the solution? While the AP study found half of those polled opposed to a tax increase for higher teacher salaries, the New York Times study found a majority of Americans would agree to a tax increase to increase teachers salaries.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 7.23.14 AM

Dana Goldstein of the New York Times reported in May there are so many districts struggling to fill their classroom with teachers, they are recruiting from overseas.  Goldstein reported an example in Arizona where Pendergast Elementary School District has “recruited more than 50 teachers from the Philippines since 2015. They hold J-1 visas, which allow them to work temporarily in the United States, like au pairs or camp counselors, but offer no path to citizenship. More than 2,800 foreign teachers arrived on American soil last year through the J-1, according to the State Department, up from about 1,200 in 2010″ (NY Times).

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 7.49.33 AM.png

The national average for teachers salaries is $59,000, but in Arizona it is roughly $40,000. This explains the need to provide J-1 visas for overseas recruitment. What Filipino teachers earn in the Philippines is less than the paltry $40 K offered in Arizona.

One teacher who came from the Philippines took two years to pay back the recruiting organization the fees incurred to get to the US. His first year in Arizona he shared an apartment with five other Filipino teachers.

In response to the recruitment of teachers from overseas, Randy Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Rather than increase salaries, districts may once again resort to recruiting internationally as a way to solve the teacher shortage” She added that the AFT “will fight for everyone working in our communities and educating our kids to have fair wages, rights and workplace protections regardless of where they’re from, the use of the J-1 visa program to fill long-term shortages is an abuse of an exchange program” (NY Times).

Lora Bartlett, an education professor at the University of California Santa Cruz said, “There are people who have a vested interest in not finding a long-term solution. There is a whole industry that makes money every time a new teacher comes into the country. They don’t make money when a teacher stays”  (NY Times).  Bartlett has written a book called Migrant Teachers; How American Schools Import Labor.

This brings up an issue of sustainability for students when every two years the revolving door brings in new teachers.  This also brings up concern for different cultural norms internationally trained teachers bring to high poverty areas that may affect classroom management, teaching styles, and discipline.

There are plenty of qualified, licensed teachers who graduated from accredited institutions in our classrooms who are committed to students, and are only asking for living wages. I agree with Weingarten that recruiting teachers from overseas is not a solution. If recent data shows a majority of Americans support an increase in teachers salaries, then our elected officials need to make this happen. That’s a viable and necessary solution.

*One final note, the Times reporter who wrote about the overseas recruitment came upon this story accidentally. You can read Dana Goldstein’s account here.

These are my reflections for today.

6/8/18

Follow me on Facebook

DeVos shows ‘astounding ignorance’

Last week Betsy DeVos came under fire for comments she made to Congress regarding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Her statement suggested “schools should decide whether or not to report undocumented students and their families to federal immigration authorities” (ABC News).

DeVos shifted the responsibility of reporting undocumented students from ICS officials to principals and teachers, saying “It’s a local community decision and again I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this” (ABC News).

The confusion was clearly DeVos’.  Rep. Adriano Espaillat, (D-NY)  rebuked the secretary’s statement, “Let me just remind Madam Chair that immigration law is federal law. It’s not a local law. It’s not governed by a municipality. You cannot have immigration law for one state be different for another state and it applies to everybody across the country” (ABC News).

Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union said, “Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong” (Washington Post).

The Supreme Court made clear in Plyler v. Doe that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status. That means schools also cannot enforce measures that would deter undocumented children from registering. They cannot ask about immigration status. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, they cannot report students or their families to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Washington Post).

Thomas Saenez, president and general counsel of The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, “The Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status. Her testimony today about reporting students to ICE stems either from an astounding ignorance of the law or from an insupportable unwillingness to accurately advise local school districts. Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child — whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE — has violated the United States Constitution” (Washington Post).

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 12.48.53 PM.png

After the Parkland FL shooting, DeVos was appointed by Trump to be the chair of the school safety commission. Upon her appointment to the commission, DeVos said, “There are best practices that are working today in communities across this country, and our commission will spotlight them and disseminate them to every school,” she wrote. “This will not be another 18-month Washington commission that yields an unreadable and unactionable report” (CNN).

There have been 10 school shootings since Parkland, including the most recent in Texas where 8 students and 2 teachers were killed (Huffington Post).

Last Thursday the commission was  to have only the second meeting. According to one source, invitations were sent out Wednesday evening- with such short notice, very few participants attended. Education organization representatives were among those who could attend, but “they were not asked to participate, and the commission only heard from experts, survivors, and parents (The Daily Beast).  Those in attendance were only passive listeners, and much to their frustration, not invited to speak.

Since her appointment as Secretary (remember Mike Pence voted the tie-breaker) DeVos has made contentious and incorrect statements about many things, including school safety, HBCUs, public schools, teachers, guns.

In her highly contentious confirmation hearing, DeVos stirred up vehement objections to her nomination after conceding that guns might be needed in schools in states like Wyoming to defend against “potential grizzlies.”

DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Last year DeVos touted Excel Academy in Washington DC as a “shining example” of the success of charter schools. Excel is preparing to close this June. Excel is an example of the failure of yet another charter school to turn students around academically as it showed little evidence of improvement. Since 2012, DC has shuttered nearly two dozen charters because of poor performance.

In March, she said arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider” during an interview after a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In a conversation about charters in her home state of Michigan, she admitted on 60 minutes, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” In fact, when Lesley Stahl asked if schools in Michigan have gotten better thanks to the charter-school experiment, DeVos responded, “I don’t know. Overall, I—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.”

In May, she visited New York, the home of the nation’s largest public school district, without visiting a single public school.

She has one of the most expensive security details of anyone in Washington- costing taxpayers almost $6.5 million a year.

She has dissolved the office of civil rights, a body tasked with investigating claims of civil rights abuses in schools.

She has effectively eliminated a team within the Department of Education charged with investigating for-profit college fraud and malfeasance. (The New York Times).

Now she is supporting principals and teachers to serve as ICE agents.

This is the Secretary of Education.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 8.38.31 AM

As Moira Balingit of the Washington Post said, DeVos has “Astounding ignorance of the law” (Washington Post).

She is uninformed and incompetent.  She goes to work every day to ensure our public schools have armed teachers and staff, immigration officers, unlicensed teachers, white children or are converted to charter schools.

And we continue to pay her salary.

These are my reflections for today.

6/1/18

Follow me on Facebook

Santa Fe – More than words

I highly recommend reading this powerful article published in the New York Times by James Poniewozik in response to the school shooting in Texas. This Is School in America Now

Today I want to share responses to another act of violence against children in America. Reading anything about school shootings makes us sick, or feel helpless, or worse- throw our hands up as if there is nothing we can do about it. We cannot ignore it because it’s hard, or uncomfortable. This problem will not just go away.

In 2018 more children have been killed at school than service members. This is not usually the case. According to the Washington Post, there have been, to date, 29 deaths in 16 shooting incidents in US schools. Over the same period there have been 13 US service member deaths in seven incidents around the world (Sputnik News).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a statement Friday condemning the deadly school shooting at a Texas high school. DeVos said that her “heart is heavy” after watching coverage of the shooting, which has reportedly left ten people dead and several others injured. “Our schools must be safe and nurturing environments for learning,” she said. “No student should have to experience the trauma suffered by so many today and in similar events prior. We simply cannot allow this trend to continue” (Yahoo.com).

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.48.33 AM.png

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo wrote on Facebook, “I know some have strong feelings about gun rights, but I want you to know I’ve hit rock bottom and I am not interested in your views as it pertains to this issue,” he said, adding he would “de-friend” anyone who posted anything about “guns aren’t the problem” and “there’s little we can do” Acevedo closed the post saying, “This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing) (CNN.com).

Donald Trump addressed the shooting,”Unfortunately, I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas,” Trump said. “This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now. We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack”  (CNN.com).

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 8.25.31 PM

Speaking at a vigil in Santa Fe, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Tonight all of Texas is grieving…Our entire state, and all across the country, millions are lifting this community up in prayer, are lifting the students up in prayer who went through hell this morning” NBC News.

Both Trump and Cruz are staunch supporters of the National Rifle Association and have resisted attempts to tighten gun control.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) tweeted,

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.36.37 AM

Texas Governor Greg Abbott: “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families. It’s time in Texas that we take action” (NPR).

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote an open letter to Trump and Congress (News12).

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 8.13.14 AM

NBC News reported, “While the drama was unfolding, a flag-toting man wearing a Make America Great Again cap and a pistol by his side suddenly appeared outside the school. He was immediately stopped by police.”

David Hogg, a student at Parkland High School who has led the charge for stricter gun laws tweeted –

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.14.42 AM.png

Parkland student Jaclyn Corin said in a tweet directed at Trump,

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.20.31 AM.png

Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt has offered to pay for the funerals of the victims. On Friday, Watt tweeted, “Absolutely horrific” (Washington Post).

Houston Rockets star guard Chris Paul wrote, “We need to do better by our children” Paul  told reporters that the NBA playoff series against the Golden State Warriors “is minor compared to what is taking place down in Santa Fe”  (Washington Post).

Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, who has been outspoken in his calls for gun control, tweeted Friday that “gun owners have a responsibility to store their firearms securely.”  Sources say the two guns used in the shooting belong to the gunman’s father (Washington Post).

Houston Astros Manager A.J. Hinch told reporters he “doesn’t want to offer any more condolences.  “Lives are being lost for no real, good reason,” Hinch said Friday.  My anger is because I have kids and I can appreciate how terrible everyone has to feel … There’s no reason for our schools to be combat zones. And it’s turning that way” (Houston Chronicle).

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 8.17.48 PM

At a press conference, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas attributed the Santa Fe massacre to the high school having “too many entrances and too many exits.” He suggested it might be time for officials to “look at the design” of schools” moving forward. “There are not enough people to put a guard in every entrance or exit,” he argued (Salon). Patrick appeared on national TV, where he blamed mass shootings on just about everything but the weapons being used to carry them out. Patrick’s comments indicated that Republicans want to consider solutions to gun violence—as long as they don’t actually involve guns (Salon).

California Representative Eric Swalwell (D-) tweeted “Blame the doors? Anything but the weapon. Got it. Enough Is Enough.” Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D-) who is a staunch gun control advocate and a candidate for governor—tweeted: “Updated @GOP talking point: guns don’t kill people, doors kill people.”

NRA president Oliver North said in a statement he thought the problem was Ritalin. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, North said “We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease.” He said that American youth are “steeped in a culture of violence,” and ADHD medication exacerbates that violent culture. “They’ve been drugged in most cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male … and they’ve come through a culture where violence is commonplace (Fox News).

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in a statement, “Republicans have made it very clear 100 people could die in a mass shooting and they wouldn’t take up (gun) legislation… I’m interested on working on mental health and working on school safety, but those are all efforts by Republicans to distract from the real problem which is gun laws (CNN).

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 5.41.08 AM.png

Actions speak louder than words.

These are my reflections for today.

5/25/18

Follow me on Facebook

Legislation to arm teachers fails to gain momentum

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 8.29.59 PM

Speaking at the annual meeting in Dallas, Donald Trump reaffirmed his support of arming teachers as a way to combat school violence. Apparently the NRA has made it their top priority. “Trump endorsed a top NRA priority to allow trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools and to install more armed security guards. Signs declaring a school as a gun-free zone, Trump said, were essentially invitations to attackers to ‘come in and take us’ (Washington Post).

“Your second amendment rights are under siege but they will never ever be under siege as long as I’m your president” (Washington Post).

Since the mass shooting in Florida, ironically Florida is the only state to support legislation to arm teachers. The school safety bill passed allows some employees, such as counselors and coaches, to become armed marshals. Twenty four other states have unsuccessfully tried to pass similar legislation.

The NRA supports teachers having guns because arming even a small fraction of the United States’ 3.2 million teachers would be a financial gain for gun makers (Washington Post).

In response to arming teachers, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “The idea of arming teachers is ill-conceived, preposterous and dangerous. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards, or receiving training to become sharpshooters” (NEA.org).

For a brief period of time, Trump tweeted support for stricter gun measures such as raising the legal age to purchase AR-15s and similar types of rifles to 21 and expanding background checks to guns sold at shows and online. However, his support was brief.

After meeting with members of the NRA, Trump was quick to back step support, instead calling for “more modest gun-related measures such as legislation to improve information sharing for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System” (Washington Post).

Eskelsen Garcia said, ““Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards, or receiving training to become sharpshooters(NEA.org).

In the ill-fated interview on 60 Minutes, DeVos was vague when Lesley Stahl asked for her stance on arming teachers. First, she argued it “should be an option for states and communities to consider,” but went on to say that she would hesitate to think of “my first grade teacher, Mrs. Zoerhoff…having a gun and being trained in that way.” She then changed tack again, adding, “but for those who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered, but no one size fits all” (Fortune.com).

Results of a NEA Poll found teachers opposed to the idea of carrying guns. Among their findings:

82 percent, say they would not carry a gun in school, including sixty-three percent of NEA members who own a gun.

64 percent, say they would feel less safe if teachers and other educators were allowed to carry guns.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 8.28.25 PM

“The White House and Congress owe it those victims of gun violence and survivors across the country to work together to implement common sense solutions that really will save lives. We need to listen to them.”(NEA.org).

We used to be able to engage in conversations about controversial topics with respect – and agree to disagree. Now controversial issues are polarizing, with an attitude of, ‘I’m right, and you’re an idiot.’ I certainly have very strong opinions on this topic, and tend to share my opinions with like-minded individuals. I’ll admit it, it’s easier.

My hope is for more conversations to take place. Conversations. Dignified people who can come to a consensus; compromise. Lately that seems to be asking too much. High school students are reminding us how it’s done as they lead by example. We could all learn a thing or two from them. They’re inspiring.

These are my reflections for today.

5/18/18

Follow me on Facebook

 

“Defendemos La Educación Pública”

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 8.11.30 AM.png

“Defendemos la educación pública” (We defend public education). This chant was heard in the capital building in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March. Teachers, parents, and supporters of public education rallied against a proposal to close more public schools.

If you ask Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher why she is closing an additional 283 schools this summer (last summer it was 167 schools), she would say it’s because of the declining enrollment as many students and their families fled to the US after Hurricane Maria. Keleher would cite 1 in 13 (22,350) students have left their neighborhood schools. There are 1,100 schools remaining (NPR).

Puerto Ricans have a long-standing history of resistance in the sphere of education. Lauren Lefty pointed out that since 1960’s and 1970’s, campaigns promoting community control of schools, along with the curricula focused on Black and Puerto Rican studies, with slogans, “Seize the schools, que viva Puerto Rico libre!” formed an essential part of the education reform.

But despite a history of strong resistance, “the island’s political leaders and investors are hoping the post-hurricane confusion and demobilization will allow them to push their agenda through” (Jacobin).

If you ask Mercedes Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation the same question, she would say Keleher is using the hurricane as an excuse to accelerate closures. “Our Secretary of Education has a plan to shut down schools. She wants to privatize and close more, but the communities have fought back” (NPR).

Martínez sees these reforms as part of a larger push to hollow out the public sector, undermine labor rights, and sell the island’s public education system to the highest bidder. “Public education in our country, like in all capitalist countries, has been under attack for many years,” says Martínez. (Jacobin).

An investigation of school closures revealed Keleher “never conducted a comprehensive analysis of the impact of closing the 283 schools she plans to close.” However, after seeing mounting opposition to her plan, she quickly backtracked saying she plans to visit every one of the 283 schools on the closure list to make a quick and hurried assessment (NPR).

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.48.40 AM.png

Keleher has advocated to bring charter schools and reform the educational system since her arrival to the island as an education program specialist for the DOE in 2007.  She was appointed Education Secretary in January 2017. She has argued the hurricane has given Puerto Rico an “opportunity” to reform the system, citing the changes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Telesur).

The Puerto Rico public school system still is very rural and many of the schools are small, serving poorer communities that are some distance from urban centers. Following the hurricane, many schools became community centers and aid distribution sites and shelters. In some communities, parents and neighbors cleaned schools of debris and did repairs, even helping provide food for meals so children could return to classes (NBC News).

“No a los charters buitres!” (No to the vulture charters!).

Much like in New Orleans, the movement to privatize public education in Puerto Rico started before Hurricane Maria struck.  An IMF-backed, hedge fund–commissioned report sought school closures, with school-choice policies in 2017. However, unlike New Orleans where 7,000 public school teachers were fired after Katrina, Keleher announced there will be no layoffs or employment terminations. Those who currently work in schools slated for closure will be given new assignments in different locations.

Keleher’s plan is to start with 14 charter schools, two in each of the island’s seven provinces. “If the schools are super successful and more people want them, we should allow that up to a point” (The Intercept).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a group of reporters “she was very encouraged by Puerto Rico’s leadership for embracing school choice after the hurricane. She praised its approach for thoughtfully “meeting students’ needs … in a really concerted and individual way” (Politico).

The proposed legislation would also allow for the creation of virtual charters in Puerto Rico – a particularly contentious type of online school, even among school choice supporters. (DeVos is a big proponent of virtual charters, and a former investor in them.)  (The Intercept).

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has exacerbated concerns he is not considering the risks of the proposed education reforms. Last week he visited an ASPIRA charter school in Philadelphia, and reported it represents an “excellent charter school model.” Interesting statement. Two months ago Philadelphia voted to close two ASPIRA charter schools for their low academic quality, as well as a host of financial scandals and mismanagement issues (The Intercept).

Diane Ravitch identified many misleading statements coming from Puerto Rico regarding school closures and the impact to the island:

  • The Government of Puerto Rico has been unable to sell any previously closed schools and is leasing 50 schools for $1 annually.
  • The Governor acknowledged there is very little cost savings from closing schools.
  • A recent Pew research study found municipalities get a fraction of the savings they budget for when they close schools.
  • The government just passed voucher and charter school legislation written by Betsy DeVos that would cost the Puerto Rico up to $400 million a year.
  • The Puerto Rico Secretary of Education argued that school closings were driven because the fiscal board required it. However, in a recent interview with Telemundo, Jose Carrion, Chairman of the Fiscal Control Board, said the Fiscal Board did not require school closings.

If Keleher is closing schools because of declining enrollment, then why is she also opening charter schools at the same time? Using New Orleans or Philadelphia as exemplar models should scream what NOT to do. We know how this story ends. We’ve seen it before.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.48.40 AM.png

These are my reflections for today.

5/11/18

Follow me on Facebook

Teachers Wanted or Wanted: Teachers

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 8.58.07 AM

Any of you familiar with Blazing Saddles which is IMHO the second best Mel Brooks movie (Young Frankenstein being #1, of course), are familiar with this poster. My parallel today is with this poster and the charter/voucher debacle in Florida.

Last week I saw a headline from the Network for Public Education. “Raleigh charter school on state ‘watch list’ for employing teacher with suspended license.”
Under any other circumstances this is an alarming and disheartening headline.

But when I saw one from Florida, Raleigh paled in comparison. “Convicted criminals working as teachers. Welcome to voucher schools in Florida.” Orlando Sentinel reporters  Annie Martin and Leslie Postal wrote how Florida’s voucher schools are hiring convicted felons — “some of whom are supposed to be barred from teaching under state law.”

This report comes on the heels of a series of investigative reports on charter/voucher issues plaguing Florida. Scott Maxwell of the Sentinel writes, “We’re talking a billion or so dollars worth of public money and tax credits into a ‘scholarship’ system that has far fewer checks, balances and even basic requirements than public schools.”

Two convicted teachers were in classrooms, yet – according to Florida law- should be banned from teaching in any public school.

“One former convict was discovered at a Pine Hills school after she was arrested again on a child-abuse charge involving a student.”

“Another teacher was fresh out of prison on $47,000 worth of Medicare fraud — and banned from teaching in public schools — when she was hired by a voucher school the next month” Orlando Sentinel.

Hiring convicted criminals is just the most recent example of the dysfunction in Florida. Recent investigative reporting  () uncovered a host of other issues plaguing charter/voucher schools in Florida. Following are headlines from their reports:

October 17, 2017 – Florida private schools get nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight

October 17, 2017 – Florida’s school voucher and scholarship programs face little oversight

October 18, 2017 – Orlando private school with troubled history took millions of dollars in state scholarships.

October 19, 2017 – After student alleges abuse, principal shutters one private school, opens another

Betsy DeVos, while speaking at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education said, “The Sunshine State is one bright spot in otherwise gloomy national achievement results and should be an exemplar to other states”. She continued, “It’s really attributable, I think, to this concerted effort to tackle reforms on a student-focused, student-centered basis”  (The74Million).

In contrast, Maxwell wrote, “Florida’s voucher system is the Wild Wild West of education with tax dollars and children’s futures on the line” (Orlando Sentinel).

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 4.11.09 PM.png

Life is Beautiful. In this movie, Roberto Benigni’s character was at least aware life wasn’t beautiful. DeVos has no idea.

Public schools would not close in the middle of a school year leaving children at a loss, employ convicted criminals, close in one neighborhood because it’s failing only to open in another.
Billions of dollars are poured into charters/vouchers not only in Florida, but all over the country. No oversight, misappropriation of funds, child-abuse…the list goes on.
Recruit certified teachers who will work tirelessly to help children. Invest in public education.

These are my reflections for today.

5/4/18

Follow me on Facebook