Monday, August 28, 2017

After Hurricane Harvey, Will Houston Public Schools be Charterized? by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

It’s an all too familiar scene in America.
natural disaster devastates a major metropolitan city.
And then the forces of profit and privatization use the chaos and uncertainty as cover to steal public services and turn them into mechanisms to increase their own bottom line.
That’s what happened to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And, if Houston residents aren’t careful, it’s what could happen there in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which struck this weekend.
Right now the immediate danger is the weather.
The storm has already affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties. It’s been blamed for at least 8 deaths so far.
Thousands of people have evacuated to rooftops as rushing waters flooded streets and neighborhoods. Many roadways are only navigable by boat, and emergency services are so overtaxed that civilian volunteers have stepped up to help rescue stranded residents. By the time the weather system passes through, Houston could get as much as 50 inches of rain – the highest amount ever recorded in Texas.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was so overwhelmed by the news that she took to Twitter, saying, “Our prayers are with all those in the path of #HurricaneHarvey. @usedgov stands ready to assist impacted schools.”

To which noted liberal commentator Keith Olbermann responded, “The hurricane is going to do less damage to schools than you are, Motherfucker.”

And, if history is any guide, he may not be wrong.
In the aftermath of Katrina, New Orleans lost almost its entire public school system. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.
For those uninitiated into the mysteries of corporate education reform, charter schools differ from traditional public schools because they are financed by tax dollars but privately operated. They often are controlled by appointed boards with little to no transparency, and are rife with opportunities for investors to profit through fraud and neglect – opportunities that just aren’t present at traditional districts.
So, in effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.
Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved, but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.
This could be the future for the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
After all, Houston is where the infamous Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network got its start.
KIPP is known for two things: draconian discipline and high attrition rates. Even those kids who do well there often don’t go on to graduate from college. Two thirds of KIPP students who passed the 8th grade still haven’t achieved a bachelor’s degree 10 years later.

Moreover, its methods aren’t reproducible elsewhere. The one time KIPP tried to take over an existing public school district and apply its approach without skimming the best and brightest off the top, it failed miserably – so much so that KIPP isn’t in the school turnaround business anymore.
Yet, the charter network, one of the largest such chains with 209 schools nationwide, has one of the best propaganda departments in the industry. They pass off inhumanity to children as “rigor” and gloss over inability to teach difficult students as “high standards.”
Will Texas lawmakers be swayed by powerful charter operators to use the current catastrophe as a business opportunity to gobble up the existing school system?

Perhaps. But there are some significant differences between Houston and New Orleans.

For instance, the students served by the New Orleans system a dozen years ago were almost all living below the poverty line. By contrast, Houston has high and low poverty areas. In fact, many neighborhoods cater to upper middle class children.

It’s doubtful that parents from more affluent neighborhoods would put up with losing local control and all that goes with it. Their political and economic power would probably stop any wholesale charterization of the district. That’s why KIPP schools – and in fact most charter schools – are nearly nonexistent in wealthy neighborhoods.

However, there are plenty of community schools serving high poverty populations suffering from systemic disinvestment and neglect that could be in danger of just such “reforms.” In fact, many of those are exactly the ones that have been worst hit by flooding and weather damage. At least 10 consistently struggling schools could find themselves targeted for the New Orleans treatment. The state and federal government could withhold relief funding on the condition these schools give up their elected school boards and embrace the kind of Wild West, laissez-faire, free market deregulation that charter schools bring.

The Republican controlled state legislature already has a law on the books to swipe local control from struggling districts and turn them into charters. It’s a blatant threat to takeover entire districts like HISD if certain schools within the district don’t improve standardized test scores and other measures favored by corporate education reformers.
Hurricane damage could become a pretext to empowering state lawmakers to expedite this process. Perhaps they might even ask local school boards to give up control of their struggling schools in exchange for leaving alone the more affluent white schools.
I had the pleasure of visiting Houston a year ago for the United Opt Out International conference. There I met with parents, students, concerned community members and representatives of the local teachers union – the Houston Federation of Teachers.
They helped me understand that Texas has a unique perspective on school choice.
For instance, they aren’t generally too fond of school vouchers.
This session a Tea Party favored voucher initiative was squashed by more moderate Republicans. In fact, in Texas even religious leaders don’t like vouchers. This is surprising because the program usually allows tax dollars to be used at private or parochial schools. An organization, Pastors for Texas Children, has been particularly vocal about supporting public education over BOTH vouchers and charters.
However, this is the land of former Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the biggest charter cheerleaders in the country. His party broadly supports charter schools, yet the Texas legislature has struggled to increase them.
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick made a big push to increase charter schools across the state. In an unusual move, state House Speaker Joe Strauss refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Strauss held the issue hostage because he couldn’t get support for a new school funding formula.
It should be noted that all of these players are Republicans. Democrats are a minority with the ability to impact policy almost not at all.
It’s still too early to tell if the state and/or federal government will take a page from the Shock Doctrine playbook and use Harvey as a distraction to embolden their agenda.
One can only hope that voters have learned the lessons from Katrina and Louisiana.
Otherwise, over time a manmade disaster could once again eclipse the damage done by a natural one.

Special Thanks to Zakary Rodriguez for help navigating the Texas education scene.

Fallout From Racist Diatribe by NY Charter School Billionaire Continues by Jake Jacobs

In our August 4 report, we mentioned Dan Loeb, a Wall Street tycoon serving as Chairman of the Board at Success Academy Charter Schools, the biggest charter network in New York, whose students are 93% black and Latino.
Last week, Loeb was lambasted widely for a racist remark he made likening Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the pro-public education NY State Senate minority leader, to the KKK.
Calls for his resignation came from many corners, but Loeb, who quickly apologized for the comments, announced he wasn’t going to resign. Loeb, who is a close donor/advisor to House speaker Paul Ryan, has made racist comments before and has also been connected to a number of dark money PACs looking to influence policymakers on charter expansion.
Betty Rosa, NY Board of Regents Chancellor said Wednesday that the issue is “beyond apologies.” NYC mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife agree, as does the NY Daily News editorial board, NYC Council leadership, city labor leaders and Reverend Al Sharpton, who already deployed his National Action Network to protest at Success Academy’s Harlem 1 school.
Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP, called Loeb’s comments “appalling”, while Joe Belluck, chair of the SUNY Committee on Charter Schools, which authorizes and oversees Success Academy schools, announced they are “reviewing options.” This news comes as the same SUNY committee is considering allowing charters to hire uncertified teachers, a controversial proposal originally championed by Success Academy because over 60% of their teachers leave each year.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries joined two other Congress members and other elected officials from NY for a rally in support of Senator Stewart-Cousins. They demanded Cuomo return Loeb’s campaign contributions and called for Loeb’s resignation. Other groups, such as Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Working Families Party, Citizens Action NY, the Badass Teachers Association, NY Indivisible and Hedge Clippers launched a petition asking Governor Cuomo to return the $170,000 that Loeb contributed to his campaign, along with potentially millions more that went to Cuomo through charter school PACs.
One such PAC, StudentsFirstNY, where Loeb serves as trustee, gave over $10 million to help Republicans win control in this solid blue state, blocking votes on the DREAM Act, funding for needy schools and affordable housing legislation, among other bread-and-butter issues.
Also brought to light by the Dan Loeb dust-up is the fact that he is one of three Success Board members who have invested heavily in debt obligations in Puerto Rico. A fourth hedge-fund billionaire, John Paulson, was a founding investor in Success Academy and leading Trump donor. These “debt vultures” not only pressure Puerto Rico to lower wages, cut budgets and raise taxes, they invariably siphon money from US taxpayers after bailout packages are structured. 

Although they buy the debt at deep discounts, they demand full repayment, contradicting the suggestion that they are philanthropists. Wall Streeters from both parties aggressively lobby and fund campaigns to target low-income communities in Puerto Rico and NYC for school privatization under the guise of ‘saving’ children of color from failing schools and teacher unions, mirroring a popular Trump trope. 

The furor over Loeb combined with the recent events in Charlottesville may have hastened action against Carl Paladino, a charter billionaire in Buffalo, who as co-chair of the Trump campaign in NY, has sponsored upstate rallies where Confederate flags flew.
Paladino was supposedly just joking when he shared a picture of a “Trump plow” designed to mash protesters, but after Charlottesville, where a 20-year old white man intentionally ran over and killed a protester, it’s not so funny.‬
The image was sent to a list of friends with whom Paladino shared racist memes, as was another email that led to the vote to remove him from the Buffalo School Board. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia removed Paladino on Thursday. Paladino’s email declared first lady Michelle Obama an ape, and was sent by accident to a local paper.
Less known about Paladino are his controversial “leaseback” deals to charter schools, that divert tax dollars to his development company. Paladino claims he makes only a modest profit, but also buys land around charter schools pre-construction, on the “inside track”.
Also Thursday, Eva Moskowitz condemned Trump’s muddled remarks about the Charlottesville protests, noting she disagrees with him over everything (besides expanding charter schools) and should have spoke out sooner, adding “It’s one thing to have a President with whose politics you disagree; it’s another to have a President who doesn’t even seem to care about your welfare.”  

This followed the resignation of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) president Shavar Jeffries, which reportedly occurred before the Loeb remarks. Jeffries visibly opposed Trump and urged lawmakers to distance themselves as well, so he surely bristled when Success met Trump and welcomed incoming Secretary DeVos. Shavar is a cousin of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries who warned Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon was a “stone cold racist” when he first entered the White House. Hedgefunder John Petry co-founded Success Academy, but also co-founded DFER, which now needs a new president.
Civil rights groups like the NAACP are quick to call out local Republicans who agree publicly with Trump on issues of race, causing school privatization to gain more attention than usual as Loeb and Paladino make headlines and racial discord reverberates through the country.
Another factor is the coalescing of “independent” charter schools around principles that address some of the complaints against them, starting with the lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, top-down decision making and cherry-picking of students. The new coalition vows instead to “actively recruit the highest-need students” and collaborate, not compete, with district schools.
Consider also the awkward episode at the annual progressive NetRoots conference in Atlanta, where Democratic state legislator Stacey Evans, who is running for Governor of Georgia, was protested with chants and signs that equated her to Betsy DeVos after she voted in favor of charter schools and private school tax credits equating to vouchers.
Cuomo has been similarly likened to Secretary DeVos for supporting both charters and backdoor vouchers, but the governor may be “evolving”. According to NY state Republican chair Ed Cox, Mr. Cuomo only helped the charter industry to generate campaign donations, and will be backing away just as his re-election and presidential bid get going. As at least nine of Cuomo’s associates remain under indictment, it’s notable that Todd Howe, an aide who pled guilty to bid-rigging charges, also ran a lobbying firm who successfully revived a for-profit “zombie” charter despite a 2010 ban on the practice.
With Democrats bailing and Republicans carefully considering their alliances, the Trump era has brought school privatization into stark relief. Yesterday, Carl Icahn, another charter school hedge fund billionaire, resigned from Trump’s business council. But in New York, the balance of power in the Albany hinges on lucrative charter PAC alliances. 

In his deleted comment, Loeb began by thanking God for Jeff Klein, the leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight senators who have raked in $677,000 this year from charter PACs, including $50,000 from Loeb. In return, they have ceded the NY senate to Republicans. As reported in the article which originally triggered Loeb, Stewart-Cousins asked whether Cuomo favored Klein over her because she was a female with “black skin.” Stewart-Cousins and Klein were invited to meet the Journal News editorial board together, but Klein will only agree to meet separately.
"Cut the Corporate Bullshit, Get the REAL News"
~ Jordan Chariton, Founder of TATM News

Study: Closing Schools Doesn’t Increase Test Scores by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

You might be tempted to file this under ‘No Shit, Sherlock.’
But a new study found that closing schools where students achieve low test scores doesn’t end up helping them learn. Moreover, such closures disproportionately affect students of color.
What’s surprising, however, is who conducted the study – corporate education reform cheerleaders, the Center for Research on EDucation Outcomes (CREDO).
Like their 2013 study that found little evidence charter schools outperform traditional public schools, this year’s research found little evidence for another key plank in the school privatization platform.
These are the same folks who have suggested for at least a decade that THE solution to low test scores was to simply close struggling public schools, replace them with charter schools and voilĂ .
But now their own research says “no voilĂ .” Not to the charter part. Not to the school closing part. Not to any single part of their own backward agenda.
Stanford-based CREDO is funded by the Hoover Institution, the Walton Foundation and testing giant Pearson, among others. They have close ties to the KIPP charter school network and privatization propaganda organizations like the Center for Education Reform.
If THEY can’t find evidence to support these policies, no one can!
After funding one of the largest studies of school closures ever conducted, looking at data from 26 states from 2003 to 2013, they could find zero support that closing struggling schools increases student test scores.
The best they could do was find no evidence that it hurt.
But this is because they defined student achievement solely by raw standardized scores. No other measure – not student grades, not graduation rates, attendance, support networks, community involvement, not even improvement on those same assessments – nothing else was even considered.
Perhaps this is due to the plethora of studies showing that school closures negatively impact students in these ways. Closing schools crushes the entire community economically and socially. It affects students well beyond academic achievement.
The CREDO study did, however, find that where displaced students enrolled after their original school was closed made a difference.
If Sally moves to School B after School A is closed, her success is significantly affected by the quality of her new educational institution. Students who moved to schools that suffered from the same structural deficiencies and chronic underfunding as did their original alma mater, did not improve. But students who moved to schools that were overflowing with resources, smaller class sizes, etc. did better. However, the latter rarely happened. Displaced students almost always ended up at schools that were just about as neglected as their original institution.
Even in the fleeting instances where students traded up, researchers noted that the difference between School A and B had to be massive for students to experience positive results.
Does that mean school closures can be a constructive  reform strategy?
No. It only supports the obvious fact that increasing resources and providing equitable funding can help improve student achievement. It doesn’t justify killing struggling schools. It justifies saving them.
Another finding of the CREDO study was the racial component of school closings.
Schools with higher populations of blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be shuttered than institutions serving mostly white students. In addition, schools with higher poverty populations were also more likely to be closed than those serving middle class or rich children.
Yet you really don’t need an academic study to know that. All you have to do is read the news. Read about the closings in Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit – really any major metropolitan area.
The fact that CREDO admits it, only adds credence to arguments by critics like myself.
It is no accident that poor black schools get closed more than rich white ones. Poor students of color are targeted for this exact treatment.
Corporate education reform is not just bad policy; it is racist and classist as well.
Greg Richmond, President of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, was shocked by these findings.
“We are especially troubled by the report’s observation of different school closure patterns based on race, ethnicity, and poverty,” he said in a statement. “These differences were present among both charter schools and traditional public schools and serve as a wake-up call to examine our practices to ensure all schools and students are being treated equitably.”
But his industry benefits from these practices. Just as CREDO’s backers do.
Never has our country been less prepared to deal with the real problems besieging it. But if the time ever comes when sanity returns, we cannot simply go back to familiar habits.
School closures and charter school proliferation are bad no matter who proposes it – Republicans or Democrats.
Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, regardless of who represents us in federal, state and local government, we have to make sure they do the right things for our children.
That means learning from our mistakes. Beyond partisanship. Beyond economics.
It’s the only way to build a better world.
CREDO’s study just adds fuel to the fire surrounding the regressive education policies of the last decade.
If we’re ever in the position to hold a match, will we have the courage to strike it?
BATs Board of Directors Statement on Hurricane Harvey, the Pardon of Arpaio, and Banning Transgender People from the Military.

The Board of Directors of Badass Teachers Association wishes to acknowledge the natural and presidential disasters that occurred this week.  We send our wishes for the safety and comfort of the people in Texas bearing the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, and hope they stay out of harm’s way. We condemn the presidential pardon of Joseph Arpaio, and the banning of transgendered citizens from serving in our military. With these actions, President Trump has endorsed both institutional racism and bigotry, and shown complete disdain for the rule of law and the equal rights granted by our Constitution.

The children of our nation deserve strong, positive role models. President Trump has made the nation less safe for our children, and all of our citizens, with his continued support of racists and fascists. He has also attacked our transgendered service members. These fine Americans put country before their own lives and are repaid by a Commander-in-Chief who ignores the 14th Amendment, refusing to recognize transgender service members’ equal protection under the law.  All of this occurring on a day when our nation's leaders should have been focused on the state of Texas. BATs extend our support to the communities in Texas suffering catastrophic losses from hurricane Harvey.

"The latest action by President Trump shows complete disdain for the rule of law and furthers the commitment by our Commander-in-Chief to ally himself with bigots while doing everything in his power to make life difficult for the rest of us. Indeed, the Trump Presidency has been an infinite search for rock bottom with no end in sight." ~Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging/Research

“There have been 160 hangings in Arapaio’s jails which have cost Maricopa County over a hundred million to litigate and compensate. Arpaio called his jails "concentration camps." Arpaio tortured inmates, housing people awaiting trial in tents in 130 degree heat, so hot their shoes melted. He shackled and chained women in childbirth, he set up a webcam in a women’s bathroom. He failed to investigate sexual abuse of young children citing costs, yet had money to investigate Obama’s “Kenyan” birth. These abuses are well documented in the Phoenix New Times, and in the Arizona and Federal courts.  If we don't speak out every time, our silence is our consent.” ~Terry Kalb, Co-Director BATs Special Education Committee

Another of our Directors insightfully shared, “ I know people will disagree with me but as a person of color Trump was right. Arpaio was doing his job. The purpose of the police is to harass people of color, particularly Blacks. Ever since they functioned as Slave Patrols, Slave Catchers and morphed into the protectors of White Society after the emancipation of former Slaves, that is what their role is.I know people may be in denial about that, but I declare fully this is what the situation is and has been in this country. The outrage about this latest stroke Trump has pulled, can on its surface seem a bit disingenuous since people of color have been shouting about police oppression since time immemorial to unheeding minds.”

"The pardon of former Sheriff Arpaio was a blatant, overt signal to the white nationalist, neo-nazis, hate groups supporters that violent, abusive, sadistic actions against 'the others' would be supported by the 45th President of the United States. America, a pluralistic society, #EPluribusUnum, as a society takes care of each other. When one of us is in need, we are all in need. Therefore, through the Grace of God go I." ~ Roberta Reid, Co-Director BATs Social Justice Committee

The Badass Teachers Association  condemns these actions by the President, and most especially during a time when the full focus of our government should be on the safety and well being of the people who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  We send our deepest thoughts of safety to the people of Texas and encourage those in our network to help them in whatever way possible.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Who is Responsible for Student Achievement? by Steven Singer

Billy is an average middle school student.

He sits down and takes a test.

The grade comes back.

Who is responsible for that grade?

This should be the dumbest question you can ask in the field of education.

The answer should be obvious.

Billy is responsible.

Billy did the work, he took the test, he earned the grade.

But all across this great country of ours we’re giving the wrong answer.

This is ridiculous. Teachers could not do the work for the student. Teachers could not take the test for the student. How can you possibly assume the teacher is responsible for the grade?

In fact, if the teacher really were responsible – if she did all the work and took the test – how could you rationally say this grade belonged to the student? No, it wouldn’t be Billy’s, it would be his teacher’s.

The truth goes something like this: You are responsible only for things within your control. The greater your degree of control, the greater your degree of responsibility.

This is not complicated.

It is simple logic. Cause and effect.

But ignoring it is perhaps the most virulent, incorrigible, fact-resistant mistake in the entire field of public education.

Lawmakers are getting it wrong. The media is getting it wrong. Superintendents, principals – even teachers are getting it wrong.

And the reason is somewhat pernicious.

We’ve been sold a lie.

We’ve been told for so long that educators are responsible for their students’ work that we’ve begun to accept it without question.

Just today at a training in my district, I was shown a spreadsheet of student test scores and told in no uncertain terms that this was something I have control over.


I don’t have control over the raw scores. I don’t even have control over how much a student improves from one year to another.

The student does.

HE controls how hard he works on assignments. HE exhibits the most control over the results of his assessments.

This doesn’t mean I’m completely helpless.

I do have control over certain aspects of students’ academic experience.

I control what work is assigned, when it is assigned and to whom.

I control whether there is extra credit, what counts as homework, who gets extra help, etc.

In many cases, I even get to decide whether students have completed their work and if assessments have been completed successfully.

I raise the hurdles, but the student actually goes through the obstacle course.

Yet he is not alone here. Besides, me, his teacher, there is also the principal, the student’s parents, his friends and even society as a whole.

All of these and more contribute to student success.

The principal controls school policy. He determines what discipline the student receives, the clarity of school rules, etc.

Likewise, students’ friends are part of their social network. They can help with homework, form a study group, or distract from school work, denigrate work ethic, etc.

Society also plays a role. If a student is part of a community that values education and work ethic, that student will more likely put forth more effort. If the student lives in a community where school is seen as unimportant and teachers are not respected, that will have a negative impact, etc.

And the number one factor other than the student, himself, that contributes to his success is parents. They control home life, emotional support, tutoring, nutrition, etc.

All of these complex factors combine to add up to an individual student’s success. However, at the end of the day, it is the student, himself, that bears the brunt of the responsibility for what he does.

That’s why we call it HIS grade and not someone else’s.

This is the most obvious thing in the world, but it has certain consequences for education policy.

For instance, it immediately invalidates the majority of teacher evaluations given throughout the country. The reason? Most evaluations are based at least in part on student test scores.

As we’ve seen, this misrepresents the student-teacher relationship. It blames the teacher for things well beyond his or her control.

It turns students into passive objects acted on by magical super teachers who can somehow make them learn simply by – what – endless repetition of test prep materials?

Why would students put forth their best in this scenario? If they’re failing, it’s somehow not their fault. It’s their teachers!

Parents, for instance, are crucially important, but we’re leaving them completely out of the loop.

When parents struggle to fulfill their responsibilities, why is there little to no help? The answer: because we’ve hidden the fact that such responsibilities even exist. We’ve thrown it all on the teacher and the school.

All these out-of-school factors are obscured, yet taken together they are almost determinate. After all, this is why poor and minority students disproportionately struggle academically.

You can demand every student jump six feet straight up, but those with the best resources will meet this goal much more frequently than those without.

And who is in control of those resources? Who decides which children get the smallest class sizes, the best home environments, the most conducive social networks, etc.?

We’re told all you need is a good teacher.

But this is not true.

You need much more.

The ultimate responsibility may rest with the student, but until we all realize and acknowledge our collective responsibilities to all students, success will always be out of reach for far too many of them.

Billy may take the test, but it is society that is failing to meet its responsibilities.