Shanker and Friedman

Albert Shanker was past president of the United Federation of Teachers (1964 -1985) and past president of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997). During his tenure at  AFT, Mr. Shanker brought up the idea of a public school where teachers would have the opportunity to experiment with new,  innovative ways of teaching students.  In these so-called charter schools, teachers would have the opportunity to create high-performing educational laboratories to model for traditional public schools (NY Times).

The idea of charter schools was inspired by Shanker’s 1987 visit to a public school in Cologne, Germany. Teachers made critical decisions about what and how to teach their students, and stayed with the same students for six years. Students in Cologne came from a mix of abilities, family incomes and ethnic origins.

Teachers making critical decisions???  Richard M. Ingersoll, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that where teachers have more say in how their school is run, the school climate improves and teachers stay longer (NY Times) This is also supported by data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that low-income fourth graders who attend economically integrated schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools.

So what happened to Shanker’s idea?

Ten years after his visit to Germany, charter schools morphed into something very different from his original idea, as conservatives promoted charters as more of an open marketplace where families would have the opportunity to choose schools.

What conservatives were creating however, were more segregated schools. Charter schools on average are more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools, according to a recent study from the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A.

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Today we see a strong push for more charters, which are problematic on so many levels; segregation is only one of them.

In 1955 Milton Friedman had an idea that was also radical for its time. Friedman, a Nobel Laureate economist, was among the first to propose the financing of education be separated from the administration of schools, the core idea behind school vouchers (Education Next).

In his famous essay written in 1955 “The Role of Government in Education, Friedman argued that there is no need for government to run schools. Instead, families could be provided with publicly financed vouchers for use at the K-12 educational institutions of their choice. The idea boiled down to taxpayer funded but privately run schools. Such a system, Friedman believed, would promote competition among schools vying to attract students, thus improving quality, driving down costs, and creating a more dynamic education system.

According to Friedman, families should have the freedom to choose which school to use their funding. A voucher is equal to the government’s per-pupil spending amount. This would allow parents to pick a school and use the voucher to cover all or part of the tuition. Friedman said school choice would help racial minorities. “There is not a single thing you could do in this world that would do more to improve the condition of the black people in the lowest income classes …than the voucher scheme” (Washington Examiner).

Many argue that Friedman’s essay, published a year after the Brown v. Board decision, addresses the question of vouchers and school segregation, but perhaps in a way that supported segregation. First, he said: “I deplore segregation and racial prejudice.” Then he asserts his opposition to “forced non-segregation” of public schools (Dissent).  Friedman stood behind a Virginia law that authorized school vouchers, arguing it would have the “unintended effect of undermining racial segregation” (Dissent).  Mixed messages.

According to Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, “empirical studies of vouchers programs in the United States and internationally show  they increase segregation in schools” (The Century Foundation).

Halley Potter of the Century Foundation writes, “The best available data on the impact of school vouchers, tracking the movement of students in two different voucher programs that enrolled mostly black students, shows that voucher students by and large did not see an increase in access to integrated schools as a result of the programs. Two-thirds of school transfers in one program and 90 percent of transfers in the other program increased segregation in private schools, public schools, or both sector” (The Century Foundation).

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In an administration with a high level of distractibility (what I call the “look over here”), and an agenda to privatize public education, we must be mindful of what is being said and how it’s different from what history has taught us. What started as an innovative idea is now leading the privatization movement, but it is far from its original intention.

Privatizing public schools is being advocated by the secretary of education, billionaire philanthropists and others who are profiting from this movement, and the general public who is taking the hand fed bullshit about this being the cure for the ills of American public education.

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These are my reflections for today.

2/9/18

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The secretary, the first lady and the queen

Perry Stein of the Washington Post reported recently that more than 700 students at the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Southeast Washington will soon be looking for another school. On January 11, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously (6-0) to close Excel due to very little evidence of academic improvement. Not a big deal? Tell that to the more than 600 students in grades Pre-K through eight. Excel is the district’s only all-girls public charter school.

Saba Bireda, a member of the DC Public Charter School Board said, “The longer girls are at Excel, the further they fall behind their peers in the city” (Washington Post).  Excel Academy is not alone. Since 2012, 24 charter schools have closed in DC due to poor performance.

In arguing against the closure, school leaders said the framework to assess schools is biased against those with a high percentages of at-risk students, and two-thirds of Excel students are considered at-risk. However, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that 22 of the city’s 120 charter schools have greater at-risk populations than Excel, and most of those schools perform better on their annual assessments (Washington Post).

Nationwide, there is a repeating pattern of charter closures.  Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, “Each year, about 400 charter schools open in the country, while 200 to 300 close because of low enrollment, poor performance and financial woes” (Washington Post).

In April Betsy DeVos visited Excel with Melania Trump and Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. DeVos made a statement after the visit.

Excel Academy is a shining example of a school meeting the needs of its students, parents and community. As Washington’s first public charter school for girls, Excel Academy shows the transformation that can happen when parents are empowered to choose the education setting that best fits their child’s individual needs, and when kids are given a true chance to learn and thrive. The school’s focus on STEM education prepares its students for success in high-potential fields that need more female representation (Ed.gov).

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DeVos touted Excel as a “shining example”.  Nine months later, the school is preparing to close. Excel is not a shining example at all. It is an example of the failure of yet another charter school to turn students around academically, while siphoning money away from the public schools.

With regard to the closing of Excel Academy, what are the thoughts of the secretary, the first lady, and the queen now? I really wish someone would ask them.

#anotherdayanothercharterscandal 

These are my reflections for today.

1/26/18

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ECOT

No, that’s not a typo, though writing about EPCOT would be more fun that what I’m writing about today. Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow, or ECOT is the largest online charter school in Ohio.  There is an attractive website touting themselves as “a tuition-free, fully accredited online public school education.” There are so many charter scandals being reported almost daily, and ECOT is just one more.  The most egregious claim against the school is for inflating their enrollment.

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In 2016 ECOT reported an enrollment of 15,322 full-time students. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reports that number was inflated by roughly 143% as the actual number of enrolled students was 6,313 – a 60% difference. The travesty in this story is the $6,900 ECOT received from the state for each student “enrolled”.  In 2016, ECOT received a total of $106 million from the state (Dispatch).  For the second year in a row, the school is fighting with the state about repaying millions of dollars. The school owes over $60 million.

According to The Alliance Review the school has been misrepresenting data in other ways:

ECOT counted some students who reported completing more than the required 920 hours of annual “learning activities” as more than a full-time student, and asked for more funding. Curious to know how one becomes more than a full-time student.

Students are required to log 920 hours of time on their computers. One report from ECOT showed a student logged on for 300 consecutive hours, and another straight through from Christmas Eve through New Year’s.  Looks like ECOT’s computer tracking system will count student participation as just having the computer was logged on to the system, regardless of how long, or whether or not they’re actually interacting with the system.

Last summer, the school voted to cut its budget and lay off 250 employees – but not to cut $22 million in annual payments to its founder Bill Lager, who owns two companies that provide management and software services to ECOT. (WOSU). Nice work if you can get it.

ECOT argues that state law entitles them to full funding for a student as long as the student doesn’t drop out or isn’t removed from school due to truancy triggered by failing to log in for 30 consecutive days.

State Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, said ECOT “has been ripping off taxpayers and cheating students out of a proper education.  ECOT should pay back the money it owes the state immediately” (Dispatch).

In September, state officials told the school it must also repay an additional $19.2 million, based on a review of the school’s 2016-17 student-login records. In recent months,  the ODE withheld more than $10 million from its monthly payments to ECOT, in an effort to recover more than $60.3 million in per-pupil funding the school improperly claimed during the 2015-16 school year with the falsified enrollment statistics (Dispatch).  At last count, ECOT owed $112 million.

In October  the school threatened to shut down in the middle of the school year. They claim the ODE’s efforts to recover the now $80 million dispute is having “a fatal impact” on its operating budget (WOSU).  Ya think????

If ECOT closes, hundreds of educators and administrators would lose their jobs, and thousands of academically struggling students would be displaced.

This week the Ohio Supreme Court rejected ECOT’s request for an injunction or expedited appeal, even though the state’s largest charter school says it will run out of money by March. This is the latest defeat to the charter program.

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According to Education Week, four out of thirteen virtual schools in Ohio have already shut down as a result of attendance and funding disputes.  Provost Academy, the Marion Digital Academy, Southwest Licking Digital Academy, and the Virtual Community School either closed or suspended operations before the start of school this year. Southwest Licking Digital Academy was found to owe the state $140,000 and the Virtual Community School was found to owe $4.2 million (Education Week).

The exhaustive argument ECOT uses to remain open is how devastating it would be for students to return to their already failing schools, saying many will just drop out of school altogether. Nobody at ECOT considers how devastating it is to take money from schools, thus diminishing their ability to provide services children need to succeed all the while the CEO still gets paid $22 million.

Unconscionable.

These are my reflections for today.

12/22/17

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Still more charter scandals

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This is the fourth blog I’ve devoted to charter scandals. Sadly this could become a monthly post. These stories are from November.

Milwaukee, WI –  Out of 126 teachers at the Milwaukee Charter Prep (MCP) school, 22 are not currently licensed. Milwaukee Public Schools teachers are required to have a license to teach, so are MCP teachers. According to Rob Rauh, the CEO of MCP,  they are “working diligently” with Teach For America and Milwaukee Public Schools to get the applications processed.

Rauh explains why there is a high number of unlicensed staff. Some teachers were recruited from another state. Others are taking part in recruitment programs like Teach For America. Others have pending applications for renewal. But one of the biggest obstacles, Rauh says, is the state’s rigorous certification exam known as the Praxis (Fox.com).

“It’s a challenging test,” Rauh said.  Nghia Foster, who is the Dean of Students for Milwaukee College Prep, struggled to pass the Praxis. “A test does not justify what you can do in a classroom,” Foster said (Fox.com). 

Thirty seven states require students pass Praxis to gain state licensure. Other states require a different exam, but all require a test as a criteria for licensing.

My question: How is reformers answer to failing public schools unlicensed teachers who can’t pass a basic core competency exam?

Chicago, IL –  In 2005 Pamela Strain founded the Beacon Hill Preparatory Academy, a private school for underprivileged children in a south Chicago suburban neighborhood.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Strain is suspected by the FBI of using the school to steal $2.7 million in funds over a seven-year period, including money from federal school lunch subsidies and other grants designed to provide nutritious food to low-income children. “During one visit to the school’s Harvey location in 2015, a state inspector encountered offices with badly outdated equipment and records of a food program that were either missing or incomplete. The school appeared to have no dedicated food prep area, and an empty classroom where food was being stored was infested with moths Chicago Tribune .

Strain, 60, is charged with using school funding to “…pay for a lavish lifestyle, including her home and other properties, luxury cars, spas, salons and shopping sprees at stores such as Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s” Chicago Tribune.

My question: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see why so many people are misappropriating funds?

Dover, DE –  Noel Rodriguez, principal of the Academy of Dover, a charter school was recently charged with embezzling $145,480 from the Academy over a a three-year-period beginning in July 2011. “Rodriguez used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as electronics, gardening and camping equipment, automobile costs, a dog house, personal travel and home improvement items” (Delaware State News).

My question: If this gentleman was under investigation from the beginning, why did it take so long to investigate?

Chicago, IL – Megan Kotarski, 28 was a teacher at the Horizon Science Academy was charged this month with having sexual contact with a 16 year old student. Kotarski is charged with a felony count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim between 13 and 18 years old (Fox News).

My question: What the hell????

Tobyhanna, PA – Reverend Dennis Bloom, 62, was the former CEO of the Pocono Mountain Charter School, and pastor of the Shawnee Tabernacle Church. This month Bloom was fined $55,000 by the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission for filing deficient financial statements for four years. Additionally he was charged with ethics violations. “According to the commission, Bloom gave his wife a substantial raise and hired his children for positions in the school(Pocono Record).

Bloom founded the K-12 school in 2003 and resigned as CEO of the charter school in 2010 under a cloud of controversy regarding his personal and school finances.  The PA Charter Appeals Board revoked the charter’s license renewal application, because of “excessive entanglement between the school and its landlord, the Shawnee Tabernacle Church” (Pocono Record).

My question again: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see a pattern of misappropriation?

I’ve written of only a few of the multitude of stories about charter scandals. We know what happens when the fox guards the hen house, and we continue to watch it happen. Shame on us.

These are my reflections for today.

12/1/2017

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Storms and Charters

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed most of the infrastructure of New Orleans’ public schools. The storm also largely destroyed the state and local tax bases from which the school district drew its revenues.

Hurricane Katrina displaced 64,000 students and caused $800 million in damage to public school buildings in New Orleans. With state policy opening doors to charters two years earlier, charter schools in New Orleans swept in seizing the moment and filling the spaces left in the wake of Katrina. Though a small but strong group of charter school supporters existed previous to Katrina’s arrival, the mass devastation and disruption caused by this natural disaster created an educational vacuum.  The charter movement quickly expanded its footprint across the city’s parishes.

In September 2017 Hurricane Maria caused over $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico- leaving most people without homes and drinking water, and everyone without power for a period of time. After the storm, every one of the 1,113 schools across the island was closed. As recently as  early  November,  598 or almost half of the schools are still closed.

More than 140,000 families have left the island since the storm hit September 20, and some experts estimate more than 300,000 more could leave in the coming two years. Schools in the US are dealing with an influx of Puerto Rican students; by some estimates up to 14,000 new students. Many families have gone to Florida, followed by Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and New Jersey (ABC News). This from Orange County (Orlando) Superintendent Jesus Jara:

“Our No. 1 priority from Day 1 was to welcome our fellow American citizens into our community and into our schools, to bring normalcy back into their life,”

Teachers have also fled, many to Florida and Texas, though they have until January 8, 2018 to return and reclaim their jobs (Suarez, 2017).

By the numbers:

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School administrators are considering using the storm, similar to New Orleans, as an opportunity to privatize the public schools.  Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher has already called New Orleans’s school reform efforts a “point of reference” — tweeting last week that Puerto Ricans “should not underestimate the damage or the opportunity to create new, better schools” (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).

In the midst of a $73 billion debt crisis that pushed the island into a form of bankruptcy and forced hundreds of school closures, Keleher — a former U.S. Department of Education official who has worked since 2007 to transform Puerto Rico’s schools — announced a plan to decentralize the island’s unitary education system (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).

Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center For Education Reform, said reformers “should be thinking about how to recreate the public education system in Puerto Rico.” Allen, who was involved in the New Orleans school reform efforts, says charter operators should be thinking about how they can get involved in Puerto Rico’s post-Maria landscape (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).

You know Einstein said about insanity…

“Puerto Rico has been in an economic depression for over a decade and its schools were struggling before Hurricane Maria. Between 2006 and 2016, 700,000 students left the island. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico closed 200 schools as part of its austerity effort.

“Further, 90 percent of the island’s public-school students were low income before the hurricane. Last year, fewer than half of the island’s students scored proficient in Spanish, math, English, or science. The graduation rate is at 75 percent” (Chavez & Cohn, 2017).

Many educators in Puerto Rico fear the Department’s refusal to open habitable schools is a signal of “permanent closures and school privatization” (Chavez & Cohn, 2017). The department has already estimated up to a fifth of schools will never reopen. School buildings have been used as community centers, but when asked if they will reopen as schools, the answer is vague.
Aida Diaz, President of the island’s teachers’ union, which has 40,000 members, is concerned about Keleher’s reform efforts. “This is why we are reopening the schools, this is why teachers are cleaning and rebuilding those schools. We don’t want anyone to come here and start doing charters here” (Suarez, 2017).
In New Orleans, thousands of veteran teachers were fired, and replaced by reformers-many coming from Teach for America. Advocates are still fighting to regain control of local school boards, and the success of the charters has been slow, and riddled with corruption and failure.
Now, leaders in Puerto Rico are following the model of New Orleans as an exemplar  – or as the Education Secretary called it a “point of reference.”
That reformers would seize the moment to bring their brand of reform to the vulnerable people of the island is difficult to accept. The answer to failing schools is not charters. There is an absence of research to support this reform.  As The Network for Public Education says, ‘another day, another charter scandal’.
To call New Orleans a point of reference is true, but it is a reference of what is wrong with charters, not an exemplar.
These are my reflections for today.
11/17/17
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Bill Gates’ new project

Back in 2000, Bill Gates threw his hat into the ring of “fixing” public education. He spent millions and millions of dollars on an idea to break big high schools into smaller schools.  After a few years he abandoned this idea as the test scores of high school students in the smaller schools didn’t climb, as he had hoped.

Next came his support of aligning teacher performance evaluations to student test scores. Not only is this a highly researched and unproven idea, it became one of the conditions for any state applying for Race to the Top funding. In order to qualify, states had to connect teacher performance with student test scores. This, too failed.

Then came Gates’ idea of Common Core Standards.  While many states went ahead with the adoption of national curricula standards, test scores did not improve after implementation. This may be, in part, because they were written by non-educators, never piloted, and cost school districts millions to implement; many abandoning millions of dollars worth of textbook series’ adoptions because they didn’t align with the new standards.

This week, Gates announced he is investing $1.7 billion to “bolster public education in the United States.” He made the announcement this week, saying “Education is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging areas we invest in as a foundation,” Business Insider. Perhaps this is because his investments have not been paying off.

Where will the money go this time? Nothing specific was outlined in his announcement. However he hinted the money will be divided like this:

Roughly 60% of the funding will go toward supporting “the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions,” Gates said. A large chunk of those problems involve schools that are effectively segregated based on race.

Another 25% will go toward “big bets” — programs that could change public education over the next 10 to 15 years (no further details provided).

And 15% will address the sector of charter schools, which Gates believes are vital for helping kids with moderate to severe learning disabilities receive a high-quality education Business Insider.

First, the development of new curricula. Back in 2014, Sue Desmond-Hellman, Gates Foundation Director said of Common Core Standards, “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning” (Washington Post).
Creating new curricula did not work the first time, and now Gates wants to spend more money trying again.  At what cost (again) to school districts?

Next, programs that could change public education.  In 2016 a scathing editorial in the Los Angeles Times called, “Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda” (LA Times).  In the editorial,

The Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run (LA Times).

And finally,  charter schools. If you are a frequent reader of this blog or any other source for news on public education, you know how that’s going. Charter scandals. More charter scandals. Even more charter scandals… Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arizona, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, and so many others. Previous blogs I’ve written on charters are here, here, here, and here. Charters rob low-income districts of funding, and run without accountability. Another failed reformer idea.

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Mr. Gates is a smart, successful business man. Here are a few questions he and his foundation should consider: What could $1.7 billion buy low-income school districts? Teachers? Technology? Support Services? Books? Professional Development? Modern facilities? Healthcare? Clean water? Parent education? After-school programs?

He’s building a house of cards, but at least it’s with his own money.

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These are my reflections for today.

10/27/17

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Et tu, New Jersey?

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On August 29, 2017 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the M.E.T.S. Charter School in Newark.  M.E.T.S., which stands for Mathematics, Engineering, Technology and Science (a spin-off of the more popular S.T.E.M. acronym).  M.E.T.S. also operates a school in Jersey City.

Yesterday it was reported the school would close its doors in June 2018. Students currently enrolled as juniors and seniors will finish the rest of the year, while freshmen and sophomores will be sent back to their neighborhood schools. Less than eight weeks after its doors open with the pomp and circumstance that often follow the highly unpopular governor, the doors will close leaving half the 250-student body without a plan.

This is not the first time these M.E.T.S. students have been displaced. In March,  three Newark charter schools — Newark Prep Charter School, Paulo Freire Charter School and Merit Prep Charter School — were on probation for academic problems. After a school performance review, the NJ Department of Education closed the schools. District officials said 110 of the 140 students in grades 10-12 at M.E.T.S. came from the three closed charter schools — Newark Prep, Paulo Freire or Merit Prep (NJ.com).

In a letter sent home to parents, the Board of Trustees cited their reason, “The M.E.T.S. Newark campus cannot in good conscience say that it is currently equipped to provide the highest level of education to the number of students currently enrolled. High school is such a vital time in a young person’s life, and it would be a detriment to our students to not find a truly appropriate placement for them.”

While no specific details have been provided as to exactly why the school is closing, one report noted, Earlier this month, a 15-year-old student was found with a loaded 9MM handgun at the school. The boy was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon in an educational institution (NJ.com).

The letter to parents also stated that M.E.T.S. teachers and administrators were working to ensure a smooth transition. This is a complete disruption of learning to at least half the students, who now go back to their neighborhood school likely behind their public school classmates because of this disruption. They were allowed to open in August and then realized a few weeks into the school year that they were going to fail. I’m wondering how long it took to realize weren’t going to make it. In New Jersey as in so many other states, there is no oversight, or accountability to charters. M.E.T.S.  got the blessings of the governor to open and seven weeks later there’s a conscience? Irresponsible.

The most hypocritical part of the letter to parents, “We remain committed to our 12th graders and want to ensure you that they will receive an outstanding educational opportunity through the end of this school year that will allow you to graduate from M.E.T.S.” (TapIntoNewark)If your child was a senior, would you trust that?

During Christie’s term as Governor, the number of charter schools has increased from 60 to 89.  The website of the Office of the Governor heralded the charter’s opening:

LEGACY OF UNPARALLELED CHARTER SCHOOL GROWTH: Demonstrating his strong commitment to investing in innovative charter schools that outperform and exceed expectations at every level, Governor Christie today helped cut the ribbon for the new M.E.T.S. Charter School high school in Newark, one of 89 charter schools operating in New Jersey this school year.

Further, the website boasts:

EXPANDING CHARTER SCHOOLS TO PROVIDE HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION TO UNDER-SERVED STUDENTS: Five new schools – two of which are in Newark — are opening this year, approved by the NJ Department of Education after meeting a rigorous, multi-stage approval process. The review process is in place to ensure the school has the structures in place to ensure academic success, equitability, financial viability and organizational soundness.

Christie described charter schools, as “salvation for families” especially those in urban districts. He has set goals for expanding charter school enrollment and proposed a charter school deregulation plan currently pending before the state Board of Education (NJ.com).

Camden Community Charter School, which was slated to have its charter renewed this year was denied because of poor academic performance. (NJ.com). Why have 20 charter schools closed in NJ? Because they were failing. The amount of money taken away from public schools to (partially) fund charter schools has a direct impact on the public school’s ability to do the job of educating students. Every student who walks away from the public school to a charter school takes with him the per pupil spending money. Why are charters allowed to experiment with schools and children? Because the governor lets them. Children should not be part of a social experiment.

Christie wants less accountability and oversight for charters, and to lower the certification standards required for teachers and administrators, at the same time so many charters continue to show their inability to meet the basic academic needs of students in New Jersey who need the most help (NJ.com). 

Deplorable.

These are my reflections for today.

10/20/17

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