Tuesday, October 29, 2019

CAP Wants The Feds To Boost Charters

The Center for American Progress is supposedly a left-tilted thinky tank, but when it comes to education, they really love corporate reform. Here on this blog, I literally ran out of ways to title sa post "CAP is still working hard to push common core" (seriously-- just use the search bar in that upper left corner).

CAP became a little rudderless when Hillary Clinton's candidacy failed; till then it had served as a holding tank for Clinton staffers. But they're still plugging away to throw their weight behind neoliberal corporate education reform disruption.

Take this recent piece from Neil Campbell. He's a "Director, Innovation" whose expertise is K-12 education. His focus is personalized [sic] learning, charter schools and "effective use of student data." Campbell came from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education (2years) because A) all the best progressives come from the Bush camp and B) in the last decade, roughly three people have become new figures in the corporate reformster movement--everyone else just keeps cycling between the various groups. Campbell also worked at USED under Arne Duncan (3 years), did some consulting free lancing, and further back we find him as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group. He studied economics, political science, and business administration--oh, and he interned at Lowes. So the basis for his "expertise" in K-12 is... a mystery. Actually, the big mystery is how Duncan hired him with nothing but the BCG gig, the Lowe's internship, and two years as manager at something call (r)evolution under his belt. I'm betting there's a story there.

His role at CAP involves some fancy juggling. On the one hand, he has written some pieces with strong opposition to the Trump/DeVos administration. On the other hand, he's been pushing charters since he arrived at CAP, mostly claiming they'll be the great equalizer.

So here he is last week, sticking up for the federal Charter Schools Program. You may remember the CSP as a long-standing federal program used to give entrepreneurs start-up money to get into the charter school business. You may also remember the CSP as the program that has thrown away a billion dollars on charter waste and fraud, including charter businesses that closed quickly or never even opened. This is a program with some serious oversight and accountability problems.

But Campbell does not want to end the program nor tighten it up. H woiuld like to "modernize" it, by which he appears to mean broaden the sorts of charter business that CSP throws money toward, "to reflect the current strengths and challenges of the charter sector." Yes, "challenges" is a great word when you don't want to admit any failures or weaknesses in your program. But what does Campbell want to see?

In addition to grants to open new schools and facilities financing assistance, the CSP should reflect a balanced approach to charter school policy focused on encouraging the smart growth of excellent schools, improving the quality of existing charter schools, and confronting challenges in the charter sector. Using this approach, federal policymakers can support states and local communities in reaching the goal of public schools having a good seat for every child.

The last sentence makes no sense unless Campbell wants to argue that charter schools are public schools. They aren't. The rest of this... well...

What the heck is "smart growth"?

It appears to involve a couple  of proposed factors. There should be "community-wide analyses" to figure out what kind of programs the community wants or needs. It should apply "an equity lens" in order to provide programs for underserved students--for instance, dual-language or career and technical education, because CAP has been consulting through a time machine and flashing back to the days when we thought CTE programs were for low-achieving students and poor kids.

As further part of smart growth, the CSP should help push unified enrollment systems. One application good for the whole "eco-system," public and charter both. Charters like this for several reasons. It helps foster the perception that they are part of and equal to the public schools, and it automatically gives them a larger pool of customers to select from. The benefits to a public school from such a unified application system are basically non-existent.

Finally, in the smart department Campbell wants--well, it's a little hard to decipher, because he has a great command of bureaucratese. But it looks like he also wants to throw money at fledgling charter management organizations and make existing charters eligible for some more federal largesse. I am not sure why this is smart.

Help existing charter schools improve.

"Researching the impact that charter schools have on student outcomes is challenging." Oh, there's that word again. What he means is that charter supporters are having a ard time coming up with any compelling research to show charters doing any better than public schools. Which has created a real marketing challenge, both in marketing charter businesses and in marketing the policies that support them.

And what he doesn't mention is that virtually nobody is doing the research that matters-- are the results from charter schools worth the many costs to the public schools in the same community?

Charters have "marked variability" in performance, and Campbell notes that one response to that variability has been to invest in the "successful" schools. As a former FEE-ster, he should already know that corporate charter fans consider this a feature, not a bug. Free market competition sorts out the "winners" and "losers," identifiable by how much money they're getting. But what he's proposing doesn't really have anything to do with that.

The CSP should fund special ed consortia between district and charter schools. Which sounds a l;ot like "solve the problem of charters that won't/can't handle students with special needs by 'teaming up' with public schools to manage that load." The CSP should fund charter consortia to help them achieve economies of scale so they can save money ordering stuff. And the CSP should fund dstribution of curricular resources from super duper charters. I'm not sure we need to bother with this one; I have yet to see a charter that had discovered anything about education that folks didn't already know.

Note that there really isn't anything here about strengthening weak charters.

Confronting those darn "challenges" in the charter school biz.

Campbell has noticed that the charter business includes some "bad actors" (go search #anotherdayanothercharterscandal on Twitter) and those bad guys might be sullying the charter brand. So maybe there should be a few more regulations, like banning compensation for student recruitment. Families shouldn't have to pick a school without "receiving high-pressure sales pitches from people with money on the line." Again, a former FEE guy should know better-- everyone involved in a charter has money on the line because a modern corporate charter school is a business. But I think he just means "no working on commission."

There should also be clear rules against self-enrichment through real estate or other self-dealing shenanigans. It is not clear to me how CSP, which is busy handing out money to charters that aren't even operational yet, can enforce such a rule. But he also says the school's board should retain control, not the management organization which--I mean, you're hiring them to manage the school. How does that even work?


"Do that stuff." It's a pretty simple conclusion.

There are two things to notice about this proposal. Okay, three. Four if I remind you that all of this CSP largesse is funded exclusively by public taxpayer dollars.

First, this is from a supposedly lefty thinky tank, but then entire piece would be perfectly at home on the old FEE site or at the uber-righty Center for Education Reform. I can't think of anyone in the reformster biz who would look at this and say, "Wow, that's just too far left for our blood." That's because it's not particularly progressive at all.

Second, this is about widening access at the trough. Why offer free federal money just to start-ups when you can use it to help feed existing charter businesses.

Third, there's something weirdly "full circle" about this piece. When modern charters kicked down the education door, they did so by declaring that students needed to be rescued from failing public schools, and they needed to be rescued Right Now, so let's have no talk about taking measures to improve public education and certainly no more money because we gave you losers enough money already. Now that charters have failed to revolutionize the actual educating of students, it's suddenly  give them more time, give them more money, give them help in dealing with their "challenges," and a dozen other arguments that were soundly rejected back when they were proposed in support of public education.

Finally (this is just a bonus thing), it is past time for professional reformists with no actual education experience but an uncanny ability to bounce from one reformy group to another-- it's past time for these folks to just take a seat and hush. And I don't know what exactly CAP's issues portfolio is aimed at these days, but they need to just back away from education. They've been too wring for too long.

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