Saturday, November 30, 2019

Ed Tech Giant Powerschool Keeps Eating the World

If you want to be a tech giant, you can try to grow organically within your company, or you can just look for companies that are already doing what you want to do, and buy them. Some are better than the strategy than others-- Facebook absorbed Instagram well enough, but Google seems to kill everything it touches.

Back in the day, PowerSchool was a simple little program for taking care of classroom clerical work. Of the e-gradebooks I was forced to use in my career, it was the last and the most usable. Not everyone loves it (though I suspect in some cases it's the local district IT department's choice of options that deserves the blame), and while I'm no technophobe, I never stopped using a paper gradebook and copying it into PowerSchool.

Pearson bought it. Then Pearson sold it to a private investment firm, which is not always good news. But on the user end, we didn't notice much difference.

That was about four years ago, and PowerSchool has developed Aspirations. Now they have finalized the purchase of Schoology, a learning management system that boasts a presence in over 60,000 schools. I have no idea if they're any good or not, though their website does boast one of my favorite Ambiguous Endorsements-- "We put Schoology in front of our teachers and their mouths dropped."

This is the ninth acquisition for PowerSchool since 2015. The goal is a "Unified Classroom" suite, and as described in EdSurge, it's not good news. The goal is "toconnect assessment, enrollment, gradebook, professional learning and special education data services to its flagship student information system, which already houses a variety of data including attendance, discipline, health, roster and schedules."

Nor does CEO Hardeep Gulati's description of the goal of a unified data ecosystem sound any better:

“Having all the information together in one place,” says Gulati, “offers educators a better way to create a personalized learning experience in PowerSchool.” He adds: “Schools should have one seamless way to travel between their student information system, learning management systems and assessment tools through common data sharing experiences and capabilities.” 

There are many reasons not to be excited here. The most obvious is the huge potential for data mining. In a state like Florida that has committed to establishing a full-on surveillance state for students, a program like this would be just what the doctor ordered to better keep its creepy eyes on every student. I expect that one side effect of all this disruptive innovation will be a new sales pitch for pricy private schools-- "Send your child to our swanky private school where we won't keep 24/7 digital records of her every move."

It's also worth remembering that all of this digitized data will be in the hands of a company owned by private investment firms. Data, particularly massive data kept on a whole new generation from childhood, is the new oil. Try to imagine a corporate boardroom where they look at this vast reserve of valuable data they have their hands on, and they just say, "Yes, we could get rich by monetizing this asset, but it would be wrong, so we won't." And even if the current owners managed to hang onto their scruples, what about the guys who eventually buy them out.

Beyond the big global ethical privacy and data concerns, there's one other to keep in mind-- the bigger a learning management system gets, the less use it is to a classroom teacher.

I was a Moodle guy; it was a hugely useful tool for me, with features I really liked and other features I could ignore and a very responsive support system that let me ask for what I wanted. No LMS I ever encountered made me happier as a classroom teacher. The problem--well, part of the problem-- is that when you add a "feature" to an LMS, you are adding a "way this particular function has to be done.": An LMS is particularly helpful when it lets you do something you couldn't otherwise do at all; Moodle let me run online threaded class discussion, a new way to extend student discussion. It was something that I couldn't already do.

But when an LMS moves into areas such as giving tests and record keeping, it is now telling me how to do things that I already do. Feature creep keeps going, and pretty soon the teacher is locked into whole methods of test giving, test grading, record-keeping etc etc etc. There is tell-tale language that often crops up. Schoology, for instance, talks about how great it is for administrators. And I'm sure, in terms of uniform record keeping and accessing and spread sheeting, it's lovely (particularly if you are an administrator who dreams of management by screen. But one size fits all LMS is not great for classroom teachers, Particularly--and this is another part of the problem--if the LMS was designed by computer guys and not actual teachers. And no, you don't get credit for using one or two teachers as consultants, because teachers are different. My management system in my classroom would have given some of my colleagues fits.

So it is not good news that PowerSchool is working on micromanagement and data mining in order to make things easier for the bosses. Big brother just keeps getting bigger, but mostly what that does is make a world in which the people who actually do the work just look smaller and smaller.

Friday, November 29, 2019

CO: READ Didn't Work. Quick, Call A Consultant!

In 2012, Colorado joined the list of states whose legislators don't understand the difference between correlation and causation. Colorado passed the READ Act, "born out of convincing research by a variety of sources...that shows students who cannot read by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school."

That's an interesting, possibly valuable correlation. But to argue, as many states now have, that forcing students to stay in third grade until they can pass a standardized reading test will somehow cause them not to drop out of school (or fail at school or fail at life, as other research has sugested)n is just dumb.

What do I mean about confusing correlation and causation in developing policy? Consider these examples:

Research shows that students who don't reach a certain height by third grade will be short as adults. Therefor, we should keep them in third grade until they reach tat certain height.

Research shows that if students use corrective lenses in third grade, they usually use them as adults. Therefor, no third graders will be allowed to use corrective lenses.

Research shows that students who have beaten up, ill-fitting shoes in third grade often are poor in high school. Therefore, we will buy all third graders a nice pair of shoes, insuring that none of them will be poor when they are in high school.

READ incorporated many of the usual dumb ideas. Like jamming reading, and the formal assessment of reading, down onto kindergartners. We know that academically oriented kindergartern is a bad idea. We absolutely know it. Here's just one paragraph from just one of the many articles that appear weekly, desperately trying to remind the People In Charge about this (in this case, it's Peter Gray in Psychology Today):

The research is clear. Academic training in kindergarten has no long-term benefit. In fact, it may cause long-term harm. It does not reduce the education gap between the rich and the poor, which is the usual reason offered for such training. It slightly increases academic test-scores in first grade, but by third grade the benefit is lost and, according to some of the best studies, by fourth grade those subjected to academic kindergartens are doing worse—academically as well as socially and emotionally—than those who were in play-based kindergartens (for some of the evidence, see here).

READ at least has the sense not to use third grade retention as the default strategy. It leans heavily on giving districts a bunch of money to come up with some kind of intervention strategy, selected from the state menu of strategies.

But it came with heavy support from astro-turf group Stand for Children. And it doesn't appear to have put a lot of thought into the idea of "on grade level," a construction that seems straightforward, but is not. Lots of folks have different ideas about what "reading on grade level means,' and there are a wide variety of tools available for measuring the grade level of a piece of writing, and they all mostly disagree with each other when it comes to any one piece of writing. The functional definition of "on grade level" has huge implications for these sorts of policies. If, for instance, you get "grade level by looking at the bell curve of reading test results for all third graders, and you mark the top of the curve as "on grade level," then voila!! Half of your third graders read below grade level. Or maybe you use a measure that a reading scientist cooked up in a lab, and you don't really know what "on grade level" means.

Nor is reading ability a static state, a set of skills that transfer equally well in all situations. A student who loves baseball may be a great reader of a passage about baseball, and a terrible reader of a passage about economic policy in early Asia. Measures are further warped by the biases of the test designers. But a student who is good at interpreting marks on the page as sounds isn't necessarily a good reader, just as a student who is good at making guesses about the passage based on pictures and hints without actually decoding any of the marks on the page-- well, that child isn't necessarily a good reader either.

All of which is to say that assessing literacy is really, really hard, and virtually every expert has an investment in one particular point of view, including the people whose point of view is "I would like to make a lot of money selling you reading stuff." Colorado's ac t leans toward multiple measures rather than a single test, but there are still just so many problems here.

Not the least of which is that READ seems to be utterly failing.

It's 2019, and Colorado's reading numbers haven't shown any real improvement.

This has led to lots of dumb ideas in response. Take this gobsmacking headline from Chalkbeat Colorado last March:

Seeking better results, Colorado lawmakers want to tell schools how to teach reading

This is straight from the file of crap that other professionals don't have to put up with but teachers get dumped on them all the time. We don't see "Seeking better flight results, lawmakers tell pilots how to fly planes" or even "Seeking more wins, lawmakers tell head coach how to call plays" and certrainly not "Seeking fewer illnesses, lawmakers tell doctors how to practice medicine." Oh, no, wait, sometimes we do see that-- and it looks like these dopes in Ohio mandating a medical procedure that doesn't actually exist. So maybe we aren't the only ones ever, but it's still dumb.

But no-- the state legislature wants to retrain all the reading teachers. And it wants to hire a consultant to spend a few years (and a few million dollars) figuring out why READ tanked. Colorado wants to hire WestEd, a 50-year-old descendant of the federal regional education laboratories established under LBJ. While other of these labs have fallen by the wayside, WestEd has "diversified" its funding (You can get lots of video about them here). They are to audit the money from READ.

What's baffling here is that the legislative response to READ's failure doesn't seem to include anything along the lines of, "Hey, let's go out and talk to the actual classroom teachers who are actually devoting their professional lives to teaching littles to read. Maybe they could tell us what some of the obstacles are, or why READ didn't work. Maybe--and I'm must spitballing here--we could ask them what sort of help they need to get this job done."

I suppose it's not that surprising. Colorado is a state awash in reformy disruption, and where reformy disruption goes, teachers are largely ignored and dismissed.

But still. Imagine your eight year old child is having trouble reading. Who do you call? A legislator? A consultant? Or do you get ahold of the actual teacher who is actually working with your child on a daily basis?  And the beauty of this as a strategy for the state is that all those teachers already work for them, so you wouldn't have to spend $5 million to get to the bottom of READ's failure. Soneone is going to say, "Well, WestEd is probably going to do that as part of its consultimg," and on the one hand I think, boy, I sure hope so but on the other hand I'm thinking, you mean the state of Colorado needs to speak to their teachers for them, because it's so hard for them to do it themselves??

So many bad choices lined up in a row. Here's hoping that WestEd can talk $5.2 million worth of sense to the Colorado legislature.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Be Grateful

It's ironic, with a very American sort of irony, that we have a national holiday about thankfulness and gratitude, because we are kind of lousy at that whole thankfulness and gratitude thing.

We're more attracted to the self-made story, the I-pulled-myself-up-by-my-own-bootstraps story, the story that in this country, anyone can get ahead with grit, virtue and hard work (and if you haven't gotten ahead, it must be because you did not display any of these things). We're a little less "there but for the grace of God go I" and a little more "I've got mine, Jack." We don't mind the idea of paying it forward, as long as we get to pick someone deserving to pay it forward to.

The board of directors watch their
first Macy's parade. Balloons!
Our lives exist at some intersection of choice and fortune. We start with the cards that life or fortune or God or random accidents deal to us, and then we make choices from where we are and then the deck is shuffled again. It's an abrogation of responsibility to claim that we are just a leaf on the ocean, and it's a denial of reality to claim that no force is stronger in our lives than the force of our own wills. (And even the force of our will is the result of forces we don't control, but nobody else controls how we respond to that and on and on and on.)

Gratitude is, at root, a recognition that not all human beings start out on the same level playing field with the same resources and choices available to them. Gratitude is about looking at your own life and understanding that you didn't make all that (whether "that" is good or bad). Be proud that you did a good thing. Be grateful that you had the ability and opportunity.

The attitude matters because it colors the rest of our lives. The self-made person gets angry at people who fail because it's their own damn fault. They could have tried harder, been smarter. At a bare minimum, they could be satisfied about settling into what is obviously their proper station in life. This is why people like Betsy DeVos are the way they are-- they hold an axiomic belief that in life, people get what they deserve, and trying to mess with that divine distributive justice is to fly in the face of God himself.

Oh, some people will offer a kind of faux gratitude, which comes out basically as "I am grateful that I have received everything that I so richly deserve." This is gloating, not gratitude. Oddly enough, the Puritans got this--their doctrine, at least on paper, was that all any human actually deserved was to burn in hell for eternity, and anything that made your life better than that was strictly a gift from God, who gave it to you not because of who you are or what you've done, but because of who He is. You could do your best to live a good life, but under no circumstances would you be able to stand before God and declare, "You owe me this. You have to give me this." God does not owe you jack, Jack.

The fruit of true gratitude is service, kindness, generosity. True gratitude is recognizing that what you got could just have easily belonged to someone else, that you have somehow been presented with a great big benefit for which you have never been billed, and so you must owe somebody something.

Gratitude, I should also add, is personal. It is not gratitude to point at someone else and say, "Hey, you should be grateful for what you got, and let me tell you what you owe the world." I can talk about my own debt to God, other humans, the universe and everything, but I have no way of knowing what yours might or might not be.

I lead an extraordinarily fortunate and privileged life. I have, mostly, tried to make the most out of it, but I try never to forget how much I owe to other people and to circumstances that have shaped me and presented me with opportunities that I did not necessarily earn. That includes being grateful for your attention, readers, and for the chance to do and stand up for the important work of public education. And I'm grateful for all the other folks who do the same. Have a good day!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

AI: Bad Data, Bad Results

Once upon a time, when you took computer programming courses, you had two things drilled into you:

1) Computers are dumb. Fast and indefatigable, but dumb.

2) Garbage in, garbage out.

The rise of artificial intelligence is supposed to make us forget both of those things. It shouldn't. It especially shouldn't in fields like education which are packed with cyber-non-experts and far too many people who think that computers are magic and AI computers are super-shiny magic. Too many folks in the Education Space get the majority of their current computer "training" from folks who have something to sell.

AI is too often used inappropriately, when all we've really got is a fancy algorithm, but no actual intelligence, artificial or otherwise. We're supposed to get past that with software that can learn, except that we haven't got that sorted out either.

Remember Tay, the Microsoft intelligent chatbot that learned to be a horrifying racist? Tay actually had a younger sister, Zo, who was supposed to be better, but was just arguably worse in different ways. Facial recognition programs still mis-identify black faces.

The pop culture notion, long embedded in all manner of fiction, is that a cold, logical computer would be ruthlessly objective. Instead, what we learn over and over and over and over and over and over again is that a computer is ruthlessly attached to whatever biases are programmed into it.

Wired just published an article about how tweaking the data used to train an AI could be the new version  of sabotage, a way to turn an AI program into a sleeper agent. Imagine cars trained to veer into a ditch if they see a particular sign,

“Current deep-learning systems are very vulnerable to a variety of attacks, and the rush to deploy the technology in the real world is deeply concerning,” says Cristiano Giuffrida, an assistant professor at VU Amsterdam who studies computer security, and who previously discovered a major flaw with Intel chips affecting millions of computers.

It's not just education that suffers from a desire to throw itself at the mercy of this unfinished, unreliable technology. Here's a survey from Accenture finding that "84% of C-suite executives believe they must leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve their growth objectives." And in what is typical for folks chasing the AI mirage, "76% report they struggle with how to scale." They believe they need AI, for some reason, but they have no idea how to do it. So it's not just your superintendent saying, "We're going to implement this new thingy wit the AI that the sales rep tells me will totally transform our learning stuff, somehow, I hope."

Reading faces is just one example. It's not just facial recognition for the implementation of the surveillance state enhanced school security. We've seen multiple companies that claim that they have software that can read student expressions and tell you what the students are thinking and feeling. How? How do you train a very dumb, fast, indefatigable object to read the full range of complex human emotion? It would have to be via training, which would mean reading a bunch of practice faces, which would mean what-- some computer engineer sits in front of a camera while an operator says "Now think a sad thought"--click-- "Good! Now think of a happy thought!"

The Wired piece talks about the danger of deliberately introducing bad data into a system, which in an education setting could mean anything from clever new ways to juke the stats and data, all the way to tweaking software so that it trains certain responses into students.

But an education system wouldn't need to be deliberately attacked. Just keep pouring in the bad data. Personalized [sic] learning programs allegedly driven by AI depend on the data from the various assessments; what is the guarantee or check that assures us that those assessments actually assess what they are meant to assess? Who assesses the assessor? The very fact that the data has to be generated in a form that a computer can process means that the data will be somewhere between "kind of off" and "wildly bad." It's no wonder that, despite the many promises, there is still no software program that can do a decent job of assessing writing. Schools are generating bad data, corrupted data, incomplete data, and data that just doesn't measure what it says it measures-- all at heretofore unheard of rates. Trying to harness this data, particularly for instructional purposes, can only lead to bad results for students. Garbage in, garbage out.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my Facebook account just spent a week using facial recognition tagging software to identify everything from my two-year-old twins to random bits of fabrics as various random friends. And mass-mailing software continues to send the occasional item to my ex-wife at this address. Best recent achievement by my data overlords-- a phone call to my land line at this house from someone who wanted to sell something to my ex-wife's current husband. These are not just cute stories; everyone has them, and they are all reminders that the computerized data-mining AI systems do a lousy job of separating good data from bad, and that all of that bad data goes right into the hopper to help the software make its decisions.

Computers are big, dumb, fast machines, and when you give them junk to operate with, they give you junk back. That hasn't changed in sixty years. The notion that these big dumb brutes can be trusted with the education of young humans is a marketing pipe dream.

Finn And Hess Accidentally Argue For Teacher Tenure

Chester Finn (honcho emeritus, Fordham Institute) and Rick Hess (AEI education guy) are concerned about the threat of rampant wokeness, particularly in the reformster universe. And they are not afraid to exercise some strenuous prose in service of the point:

School reformers have long seen themselves as plucky champions of change. Today, however, as funders and advocacy groups chant from a common hymnal of wokeness, the rules have changed and courage is hard to find. In its place we see cravenness and appeasement from reformers desperate to avoid the all-seeing eye of the progressive mob.

Hess has been particularly alarmed by the ousting of Steven Wilson from the helm of Ascend charter network. Wilson (who is white) has impeccable reformy credentials-- Harvard grad, years with Edison education, Pioneer Institute-- ran into some trouble over a blog post, and in "the progressive-driven culture war that has consumed charter schooling" a petition was raised and Wilson was canned.

Finn, only mostly retired
Hess and Finn list some other areas where the rising tide of progressive wokeness has threatened the charter world. The ultimate effect is "self-styled reformers biting their tongues for fear of alienating funders, angering advocates, or becoming targets themselves."

I'm not here to comment on the issue of wokeness in the reform movement. The break in the social justice- free market partnership that fueled the movement for years has been discussed at length for about three years, and it is as sad as any divorce. They grew apart. They want different things (in fact, have always wanted different things). Now they keep fighting about how to bring up the kids properly. Not news.

But I can't help noticing something else. Here they are, worried that some people are being driven out of schools, or even keeping silent because they are afraid that if they express their political or social beliefs it might cost them their jobs, and I'm thinking if only there were some sort of policy or law that protected educators from that sort of firing. But of course there is-- the due process requirements usually lumped under the shorthand term "tenure."

Hess, as is usually the case, has a somewhat nuanced position on tenure. Finn, on the other hand, would like to take it out behind the shed and shoot it. Both like to imagine a world in which teacher job security is strictly based on the quality of their work (which we don't know how to measure, so we'll just keep using student test scores until we come up with something better), but of course that's not the world we live in, so teaching remains a political act and teachers-- even charter teachers-- continue to answer to several hundred different bosses, any one of whom might have a particular reason for wanting a teacher fired. This should not be news to anyone in the education universe, and yet the obvious solution--due process job protections-- doesn't seem to occur to Hess and Finn. Instead, they close with an impassioned plea for a tone-deaf stand:

There is now a loud, punitive-minded cohort of “reformers” who honestly believe that data is a tool of white oppression and that leaders who champion academic rigor should be fired as bigots. The many of us who abhor their nihilistic doctrine — and believe that improving our children’s schools is far too serious a cause to be undone by their shenanigans — must stand up and be counted.

Finn and Hess might do better to acknowledge that the objections they decry are not manufactured out of thin air, but are rooted in reality. Calling those who bring those concerns to the table "nihilistic" and their concerns "shenanigans" simply proves their point for them-- that what Hess and Finn call "true reformers" don't really care about issues of race and class at all. "Nihilistic Shenanigans" would make a great band name, but it's a lousy way to characterize the behavior of people you claim as your allies, and suggests that they aren't really your allies at all, but just handy props that refuse to stay in their proper place.

In the meantime, I'm not sure what "stand up and be counted" actually entails. Whatever it is, I bet it's easier to do if you don't have to worry about losing your job because of it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

TN: Doubling Down On Bad Reading Policy

Among the worst policy ideas of the past decades, we have to count third grade reading retention laws. These laws can sometimes give schools a brief bump in test scores, but the consequences for actual human students are not good. And some folks in Tennessee have decided that more of a bad idea would be super.

Why tell a eight or nine year old child that they failed third grade, even though they did passing work on everything but the reading test? The theory is that third grade reading ability correlates with later academic success, and since too many policy makers don't know the difference between correlation and causation, well, let's just hold them back. If you are cynical, you might also notice that this keeps the bad test-takers out of fourth grade, where the more high stakes testing occurs ("Look! Our fourth graders now read better than ever!").

Time to get to work, you little slackers
The policy also latches onto the idea that punishment, threats and fear are the best motivators. Maybe it's the teachers who have been holding back, or maybe it's those little eight year old slackers, but if we threaten them all with some tough consequences, maybe they'll try a little harder and the teachers will really teach and the students will try to learn, because that's probably the most likely explanation for why the third grade test scores are low.

In Memphis, school leaders have decided that's still going to easy on the little punks.

Proposed last spring, the district has now implemented a failure rule for second graders.

The policy comes courtesy of chief academic officer Antonio Burt, who is steeped in reformia, from his time with TNTP to his stint improving TVAAS scores to his time with the Achievement School District to his work as Director of School Transformation in Pinellas County, Florida.

The policy is now in place, and this year's kindergarten students will be the first to be affected, so they had better stop messing around and get to work. The chicken littling that put this policy in place is based on TNReady scores, the state's Big Standardized Test that just raised cut scores after years of being a giant clusterfarpfegnugen. This policy (and the third grade one) keep talking about "reading at grade level" as if that were a scientifically set thing, but grade level discussions often have the same problem as the old No Child Left Behind directive to make all children above average-- if your "grade level" is pegged at the top of a bell curve well then,, yes-- half of your students are reading "below grade level."

But beyond that is the fact that after years of these policies, we don't have a shred of evidence that they actually work. Yes, they get you a brief bump of scores on the test (almost as if these policies incentivize teaching to the reading test), but no long term benefits. They are the educational equivalen of private equity strategies that pull money out of a business right now while weakening the business's strength in the long term. Only instead of Toys R Us, we're talking about tiny human beings.

I cannot say enough bad things about this policy. The only thing that keeps it from being the worst idea ever is that it doesn't rely on the single data point of test results. But it's still indefensible.

"But our children can't read," will be the protest. If that's true (and I'd question whether "read" and "score well on standardized reading test" are the same thing), then threats and punishment will not be the answer. If the best motivation you can think of for a small child is a threat, then you probably should not be working with small children. Do you think it's the teachers? Then get them the training you think will help. Do you think it's a lack of resources for the children? Then get them the resources. Do you think that holding them in second grade "until they can read" is for their own good, I defy you to show me a shred of evidence to back that up.

Otherwise, get rid of this stupid, stupid policy.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

ICYMI: Good Lord Is Thanksgiving Really Next Week Edition (11/24)

I find that in retirement holidays sort of sneak up on me. I suppose it's because I'm not exposed to the daily reminders from students and the school calendar. Mostly I like it, but sometimes I'm surprised. In the meantime, here are some readings from the week. Don't forget-- share what you like (from its original source). That's how the word gets out.

Rising Tide Review

Fordham released a "report" suggesting that having charters in a community improves all the schools. Yongmei Ni has a review of that report at the National Education Policy Center. Spoiler alert: Fordham's work is not entirely believable.

A Strike for Racial Justice and Democracy in Little Rock Schools

At Jacobin, Eric Blanc has a terrifically thorough look at what exactly has been going on in Little Rock, and how this is one more strike that is about the common good.

An Army of Children Toils in African Mines  

Not about US education, but an eye-opening look at one of the horrifying evils that feeds our modern tech.

When Testing Trumps Teaching, the Students Suffer  

Tiffany Moyer-Washington in the Hartford Courant makes a good case for what we already know. Share it with someone who doesn't get it yet.

East Lansing Public Schools Had a Surplus

All kinds of unusual in this story from the Lansing State Journal, from the surprise surplus to what the board decided to do with some of the extra money.

PA Tax Credits Don't Benefit Poor  

We have tax credits in PA, and the secrets of how they are used is carefully guarded, but Avi Wolfman-Arent did figure out that private schools are not exactly filling up with voucher-bearing poor kids.

LA Federation for Children and Out Of State Money

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider takes a look at how out of state money pours into local school board elections.

Voucher Programs Hurting Rural Schools  

About that whole "vouchers will help students escape failing schools" thing. Turns out it's  not entirely accurate. Patrick Redmond at the News Sun has the story.

Unequal Access and Denial of Opportunity

Jan Resseger looks at how the portfolio school reform model is just not working.

Trump's Pledge Delayed By Education Department

One not-awful Trump pledged to do  was erase the student loan debt of disabled veterans. But the ed department is stalling it. Not so much nefarious as the kin d of incompetence when someone with no administrative experience takes over an agency she wants to kill. Politico has the story.

Howard Schools Plan In Motion

The Howard district has actually tried to balance the level of poverty across it schools. They plenty of rough pushback, but they did it anyway. The Baltimore Sun tells the story of how they managed to do the right thing in the face of nasty threats.

The New Deal For Education  

Cheri Kiesecker tracks another move toward implementing the cradle-to-workplace pipeline. It's not a happy story.

2019 Bulwer-Lytton Awards

This annual competition celebrates really bad opening lines for unwritten bad works. I do love it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

President Grant and the Reconstruction That Wasn't

I've finished the biography Grant by Ron Chernow, the author who famously wrote that bio of Alexander Hamilton (and a really good one of Rockefeller, too). In the end, Ulysses S. Grant remains a little more opaque than some of Chernow's other subjects, but the history that Grant himself lived through is a striking reflection of our nation in a troubled time. He failed at business. His in-laws were a slave-owning Southern family. He won the Civil War, and then he presided over Reconstruction, a period that is both hugely important and hugely ignored by US citizens. We are still paying the price for that ignorance.

There are better and deeper studies of Reconstruction than the handful of chapters that it gets in this book, but the context underlines just how quickly things fell apart and how little time and space Grant had to come up with a federal response.

The challenges started with the moment of Confederate surrender; Grant earned the loyalty of many Southern military leaders by allowing officers to keep firearms at surrender. It gave Grant unique leverage in dealing with the returning states.

The problems of Reconstruction were both simple and, perhaps, unsolvable. How to bring the Southern states back into the country they had rebelled against; under what terms to you welcome traitors back to the fold? At the same time, how to bring former slaves into the nation as full citizens. These had been faced by Johnson, whose solution so clashed with that of Republican Congress that he was impeached.

But the bigger problem was left to Grant. You can abolish the institution of slavery, but how do you get rid of the mindset that made it possible. In a land dedicated to the prospect that all people are created equal, you get a lot of cognitive dissonance by upholding laws that allow people to be bought and sold and owned, and the American solution to that cognitive dissonance was to believe that African-Americans were not people.

The end of slavery did not mean the end of that belief.

In 1867 the Bureau of Education was created to educate freed people; Congress kept gutting its budget.

Under Grant, the vote was extended to freed men. That move enraged and enflamed Southerners. The Klan and other such groups sprang up, intent on reversing Reconstruction. Sometimes history talks about "intimidation" of Black voters, but I'm not sure that word really captures a period in which African-Americans were dragged from their homes in the dead of night and beaten, tortured, killed. Black Republicans were elected in the deep south and that just spurred greater reaction. The specific examples are too numerous, and all horrifying. In Meridian, Mississippi, in 1871, three Black citizens were arrested on charges of delivering incendiary speeches; in court, the Republican judge and two of the accused were killed, kicking off riots in which thirty Blacks were gunned down, "including all the leading colored men of the town with one or two exceptions." Black militiamen were arrested on trumped up charges of murder, then dragged out of ail and lynched. When we read today about countries were judges and elected officials are murdered for daring to hold office and do their jobs-- that the US South during Reconstruction.

The level of domestic terrorism unleashed by the Klan during Reconstruction is almost inconceivable. Congress brought up various acts to combat it, but Southern white representatives saw these as just a way to deny them power in their own states. By 1872, Grant had largely suppressed and broken them, and yet within a year, there was more of the same. In April of 1873, Black politicians won leading positions in Grant Parish. A mob of several hundred whites stormed the courthouse, burned it, and slaughtered the men inside. Grant sent in federal forces; 72 men were indicted, and three were convicted.

This is repeatedly the story of Reconstruction. The North won the war and lost the peace. Federal troops were sent to the South to protect freed people, but Grant was reluctant to completely obliterate the states' right to govern themselves, and as long as the states governed themselves, they would make sure that such government remained firmly in white hands. They would undo the results of the war.

We can blame it all on the South, but Chernow makes it clear that one of the things holding Grant back was a lack of national will, a collective white sigh of "This stuff again? Are we still having this argument." Political fatigue is not simply a modern problem. And Northerners were not, on the whole, any better than Southerners when it came to recognizing the humanity and personhood of freed people.

The political solutions had failed. Blacks had been beaten back from taking any political power. And in 1876, politics failed again. The election was an unresolvable, corrupted mess, with the end result that the South was able to hold the Presidency hostage. "We'll let this election go," they said, "if you remove every last trace of federal support for Reconstruction." And so the troops went home, Northerners gave a sigh of relief that that was all over with, and Southerners worked at maintaining a new status quo that in many ways resembled the old pre-war status quo. Jim Crow took over.

Why rehash this? Because the version of history that many of us were brought up on, especially in the North, especially if we're white, was something different.

"There was slavery. Then there was a war," it says. "And the war ended slavery, and so at that point, Blacks and Whites were on an even playing field, and wherever they are now, 150 years later, is their own doing."


There was never a level playing field. Here and there, African-American citizens may have gotten the rights they were entitled to, sometimes with a huge fight, but that was the exception, not the rule. Read works like The Warmth of Other Suns, to get a sense of how long the reach of Reconstruction's failure has been. Works like Stony the Road give a picture of some of the ideas underneath it all, but I'm always struck by just practical things. In 150 years, White families have had generations to build ladders of money and property-- maybe not vast wealth, but enough to give your children something to stand on. Black families haven't had that chance, through the days of sharecropping up through the days of redlined neighborhoods where houses would never accrue any real value. And the housing issues have, of course, been turned directly into education issues.

What we forget is how very short Reconstruction was. If we count the Johnson years (and that would be generous), it was barely more than a decade. Less time than we have been in Afghanistan. Mostly it rested on the back of a single two-term President. Is it any wonder that we still have so much work to do.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Booker Returns To The Corporate Fold

On Monday of this week, Cory Booker went full charter school in an op-ed for the New York Times, a choice that made a little more sense when I looked at my Wednesday e-mail from Whitney Tilson.

Whitney Tilson is a successful hedge funder who started Democrats for Education Reform mostly because at that point, Republicans for Education Reform would have been unnecessary. The GOP was already behind the idea of privatization; it was the Dems who needed a push in that direction. In some states, actual Democrats have repudiated the D in DFER, and since Betsy DeVos became the public face of so many of their favorite policies, they've been struggling for Democrat leverage. Look for them and their friends every time you hear of a poll that shows how much Real Democrats love charter schools.

Cory Booker was a hot young star and a friend of DFER, so things were looking good. But then suddenly the 2020 election actually involved more education discussion than just thirty seconds about universal pre-K, and Booker's close ties to charters and, yes, Betsy DeVos, were looking like an obstacle.

Apparently, Booker has decided to just lean into charter support. Monday's op-ed was a compendium of the usual pro-charter baloney. Students are trapped in zip codes with bad schools; this is not baloney, but the idea that we should let some privatized amateurs rescue a few of those children instead of investing resources in the improvement of the public schools-- well that is baloney. The back seat of my car is filled with fast food boxes and twinkie wrappers-- clearly the only solution is to buy a second car.

And Booker tries to dance along the thin line that has been frustrating reformsters for the last three years:

For-profit charter school schemes and the anti-public education agenda of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are hurting teachers, students and their families. Of course, we must fight back against these misguided and harmful forces. But we shouldn’t let the worst actors distort this crucial debate, as they have in recent years.

Dude. You worked side by side with DeVos, cheering a multitude of for-profit schemes (and please don't insult our intelligence by trying the old "for-profit charters are evil but non-profits are fine" dodge. There are plenty of ways to profit from non-profit charters, and you have seen most of them). Hillary tried this stuff. Mayor Pete is trying it right now.

Booker is going to assert that "high-performing charter schools" are some kind of entirely different beast, and he's going to try to attach "public" to them. They aren't. He's going to try to paint the privatization and charter mess in Newark as a success, which is a generous read. Then there's this gem:

As Democrats, we can’t continue to fall into the trap of dismissing good ideas because they don’t fit into neat ideological boxes or don’t personally affect some of the louder, more privileged voices in the party.

Can we fall into the trap of dismissing bad ideas because they are bad? Because I don't have a problem with unaccountable, privately owned and operated, non-transparent, selectively creaming, public school draining, redundant, segregationalist, profiteering charter schools because they ofend some ideological box of mine.

And about those "louder, more privileged voices" in the party-- well, that brings me back to Tilson's Wednesday e-mail, in which he stumps for Booker.

Turns out that Booker had a couple of meetings with Tilson last week, and now Tilson is convinced that Booker is "viable." He'll beat Trump "handily." He published the "courageous" op-ed that I'm assuming was Exhibit A in Booker's "You Rich Guys Can Trust Me" pitch. Also, they're longtime friends, and Booker helped Tilson's daughter with a class project.

It appears that Booker has decided to join Mayor Pete and Bloomberg and that other guy whose name I've already forgotten in trying to tap the Rich Guys Who Are Scared To Death of Warren and Sanders wing of the party. And why not-- Booker might as well run as himself and not court whiplash by trying to veer leftward. A later paragraph in his op-ed suggests he might be trying to stake out a place in the Make Everybody Happy Lane:

As a party, we need to take a holistic approach to improving outcomes for children who are underserved and historically disadvantaged. That must mean significantly increasing funding for public schools, raising teacher pay, fully funding the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, investing in universal preschool, eliminating child poverty — and yes, supporting high-performing public charter schools if and when they are the right fit for a community, are equitable and inclusive, and play by the same rules as other public schools.

"Equitable and inclusive and play by the same rules as other public [sic] schools" is a mighty tall order, one that charters have pretty consistently kicked back against. After all, they will say, the whole point of being a charter school is to not have to play by those rules. The funny thin here is that if Booker actually meant that-- if he actually meant that charters must be owned by the taxpayers, and operated by taxpayer-elected boards, and must raise the tax money needed to operate, and operate with complete operational and financial transparency ,and students teachers and staff all have all their rights and protections, and all students must be accepted even if that means the additional expense of providing necessary programs for special needs, and teachers must be fully certified and free to unionize, and must be operated by fully qualified trained educators, and cannot be used in any kind of profit-making shell game-- if he actually meant all that, then he wouldn't be quite so far removed from Warren and Sanders. But then, if he actually meant all that, I don't think Whitney Tilson would be writing him a glowing letter of recommendation.

No, it appears that Booker remains a good friend of corporate ed reform, the kind of guy who, had he been elected in 2016 ,would have been perfectly happy to install Betsy DeVos or Eva Moskowitz or Michelle Rhee as Secretary of Education and pursue the same failed policies that we suffered under in the Bush-Obama years. I'm already on record-- my expectations are low and I will vote for Cory Booker-- hell, I'll vote for Cory Booker's dog-- should he win the nomination. But until that day comes, public education voters should steer clear

The Waltons Try To Disrupt Elizabeth Warren (updated)

Elizabeth Warren was in Atlanta at Clark Atlanta University to talk to black voters, when the rally was disrupted by a group of charter school supporters, angry about the hard line stance Warren has staked out on the charter school industry.

The group of grass roots charter supporters had, they said, "come from all over the country," and if that doesn't send up a little red flag, then perhaps their perfectly matching t-shirts and signs might.

Intercept reporter Ryan Grim was there, and with some interviewing and online searches, he unraveled the whole thing pretty quickly in a series of tweets that are collected in this write-up.

The group said they raised money on GoFundMe, which turned out to be true-- however, the funding was stacked with  anonymous $1,000 donors.

The group included Memphis Lift Parent Institute, Sarah Carpenter is the founder and chief exec, but she didn't do it alone. The group was aided by Strategy Redefined, a Nashville education consulting firm, and Natasha Kamrani, head of Tennessee's chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and the wide of Chris Barbic, the original head of Tennessee's ill-fated Achievement School District. Grim says that the group is 100% funded by the Waltons; published reports say they've given Memphis Lift $1.5 million since 2015. Since their 2017 filing shows $375, 200, with $200 coming from public contributions, that 100% seems just about right. Here's a glowing profile of the group on the Walton Foundation site.

[Update: Per Matt Barnum* the group also include Howard Fuller and a few other activist groups funded by Walton and City Fund money.]

It's not unusual for the Waltons to find and fund black faces to put forward their charter agenda. And while Memphis Lift sometimes claims to be agnostic about public-vs-charter schools, that is one big batch of charter-loving folks backing up this grass roots group.

As Grim tweeted, "A group funded by some of the richest people in the world, the Waltons, just disrupted an @ewarren speech on the 1881 Atlanta washerwoman strike. Can't make this stuff up." It's not a new game; charter advocates have often loaded up parents and students, made them some t-shirts, and deployed them as citizen lobbyists.

There's a lot of money and power behind the charter school movement. Expect more of these shenanigans if Warren continues to lead the Democratic pack. The charter industry is not gong to let her go without a fight.

*Update: There's a good further account of the meeting and more details about the group that protested here by Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat

The One And Only Lesson To Be Learned From NAEP Scores

It has been almost a month since the NAERP scores have dropped, and some folks are still trying to torture some sort of useful insights from the numbers (here's Mike Petrilli at Fordham writing a piece that should be entitled "What to learn about being better a hitting the wrong target").

The world of education is a fuzzy one, with some declaring that teaching is more art than science. But then the National Assessment of Educational Progress is issued. “The Nation’s Report Card” is greeted as a source of hard data about the educational achievement of fourth and eighth graders (and in some years, high school students), theoretically neither biased nor tweaked as state tests might be. 

NAEP scores were released three weeks ago, and they have been percolating down through pundits, ed writers, ed bureaucrats, and ordinary ed kibitzers. So now that we have had weeks to absorb and process, what have some folks offered as important lessons, and what’s the only lesson that really counts?

Some have offered lessons that are simply misreadings of the data. The three NAEP levels (basic, proficient, and advanced) do not necessarily mean what folks think they mean, which is why Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was incorrect when she claimed that NAEP showed two thirds of students don’t read at grade level. NAEP’s “proficient” is set considerably higher than grade level, as noted on the NAEP site. (This is a lesson that has to be relearned as often as NAEP scores are released.)

It’s worth noting that there is some debate about whether or not NAEP data says what it claims to say. There are arguments about how levels are set, with some arguing that the levels are too high. An NCES report back in 2007 showed that while NAEP considers “basic” students not college ready, 50% of those basic students had gone on to earn a degree. A 2009 report from the Buros Institute at the University of Nebraska also found issues with NAEP results. It’s possible that those issues have been tweaked away in the decade since, but that would have implications for any attempts to trace trends over all that time.

NAEP is extraordinarily clear that folks should not try to suggest a causal relationship between scores and anything else. Everyone ignores that advice, but NAEP clearly acknowledges that there are too many factors at play here to focus on any single one.

Betsy DeVos argues that the NAEP scores show that the U.S. needs more school choice. Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, which has long supported charters schools over public schools, argues that the NAEP scores are evidence that the U.S. public education system is failing. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues that the scores are proof that the country must courageously pursue more of the reform initiatives that he launched while in office. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute called the poor results “predictable”as he blames them on the Great Recession, and pointed to a few small data points as proof that the kinds of reforms backed by Fordham work. The National Council on Teacher Quality claims that the static scores are the result of college teacher education programs that don’t teach teachers the proper ways to teach reading and math. It’s clear that when your only tool is a hammer, the NAEP looks just like a nail.

Critics of education reform like Diane Ravitch note that the NAEP scores showthat a “generation of disruptive reform” has produced no gains, that the NAEP trend line stays flat. DeVos singled out Detroit as an example of failed policies, yet the policies that have failed in Detroit are largely those reform policies that she herself pushed when she was an education reform activist in Michigan. And some policies may improve scores without actually helping students; Mississippi in 2015 joined the states that held back students who could not pass a third grade reading test, meaning those low-scoring students would not be in fourth grade to take the NAEP test. It would be like holding back all the shorter third graders and then announcing that the average height of fourth graders has increased. 

In all discussions, it’s useful to remember that the increases or decreases being discussed are small– a difference of just a few points up or down. NAEP scores have shown neither a dramatic increase or decrease, but a sort of dramatic stagnation. That is arguably worse news for education reformers, who have been promising dramatic improvements in student achievement since No Child Left Behind became the law almost twenty years ago. 

So what’s the one actual lesson of NAEP? One continuing belief for some students of education policy is that if we just had some cold, hard data, we could really get some stuff done. We could settle arguments about curriculum and pedagogy and policy, and by making data-driven decisions, we could steer education into a new golden age.

Well, here’s our regular dose of cold hard data. It hasn’t settled a thing. 

That’s the one actual lesson of NAEP; the dream of data-informed, data-driven decision making as a cure for everything that ails us is just a dream. Data can be useful for those who want to actually look at it. But data is not magical, and in education, it’s fruitless to imagine that data will settle our issues.

Originally posted at

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Yes And

This tweet (shared with permission) really hit me where I live. Because defenders of public education have too often let themselves be pushed into a one-part argument when a two-part argument is what's called for.

Blame No Child Left Behind. It was educational baloney, but rhetorical genius. Every attempt to discuss the empty baloniness of it was met by the same response; "Well, then, which children do you want to leave behind."

Ever since, this has been the ed disruptors' framing for everything. If you want Goal A, then you must support Method Z. If you want accountability, you must support high stakes testing. If you don't like bad schools, you must support privately run charter schools (also, if you support freedom, you must support charter schools).

When pressed, reformsters double down on descriptions of the awfulness of the problem.

Reformster: Look at these test results. Look at these x-rays. You definitely have a brain tumor, and if it's not fixed, you'll soon lose feeling in your limbs and your legs will stop working properly.
Patient: Oh my God! Save me!
Reformster: Certainly. I'm just going to use this chain saw to cut off your legs.
Patient: Wait! What? How will that help with my brain tumor?
Reformster: Look at these x-rays! Look at how big it is! Right there in your brain! This is terrible!
Patient: But how will hacking off my legs-
Reformster: X-rays! Brain! Terrrrrrrible!

What's always missing is the link, the evidence that the proposed solution is the only solution acceptable to someone who cares about the problem. Question VAM and hg-stakes testing? It couldn't because there are real problems with those instruments-- the only possible explanation is that you hate accountability.

This is where we need "yes and"

Not even "yes, but." Because "yes, but" implicitly acknowledges that linkage as legit. "But" signals a change in direction, which suggests that the people you're butting were headed in the direction they said they were in. It lets things stay connected that are not truly connected. It agrees that some things are mutually exclusive, when they really aren't.

See, the problem with most of the reformster disruptive solutions is not just that they're bad practice, bad pedagogy, bad economics, or just plain bad. It's that they aren't going to solve the problems they purport to solve. It's a problem that some students attend schools that are under-resourced, under-staffed, and generally a mess. Charters will not solve that problem. It's a reasonable goal to provide students and family with educational choices. Modern corporate charters do not solve that problem, It is right and reasonable to have some form of accountability in place for public schools and the people who work there. High stakes testing soaked in VAM sauce does not solve that problem.


Yes, I want an end to high stakes testing, and I want a useful measure of accountability.

Yes, I want charters to be reined in with accountability measure, elected local control, and no form of profit attached to them at all, and I want to see every student in this country in a good school.

Yes, I want an end to programs that put warm bodies with inadequate training in classrooms, and I want every student to have a quality professional teacher.

Yes, I want to end all the practice testing and test prep, and I want us to get better at targeting and addressing the needs of students.

Yes, I want to chuck every foolish piece of ed tech in the ocean, and I want to find good classroom uses for current technology.

Yes, I reject attempts to make teaching jobs less secure and teachers easier to fire, and I want the teaching pool to get better and better, with fewer and fewer lemons.

Yes, I reject attempts to compare students in Idaho to students in Vermont, and I want parents to be able to know how well their children are doing.

Yes, I think college and career ready standards are a stupid idea, and I want every student to be able to move into a college or career that suits them.

Yes, I think rich amateurs should shut up and sit down on the topic of education, and I think we should be having a robust national discussion about education.

I could go on all day. You get the idea.

Look, we have real issues to deal with in education, and they've been largely exacerbated by rich and powerful amateurs who have shiny disruptions to sell. The other important part of "yes and" is that it allows us to focus on real issues and real solutions instead of getting caught up in arguments about whether or not someone should cut off our legs with a chainsaw. Granted, the chainsaw wielding pretend doctor is a real threat, but somehow we can't let him drain all our attention and energy. And we certainly need to reject and work past the notion that his solution is the only one that serious people can consider.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

David Osborne Tells The Big Charter Lie

Somewhere on the other side of the Wall Street Journal paywall, David Osborne is bloviating about why charters are swell and Democratic candidates should stop telling "big lies" about them. The WSJ undoubtedly considers this a real stroke of some kind because Osborne is nominally a Democrat, the kind Arne Duncan hugging, Al Gore assisting Democrat who loves him some charters just as deeply as any conservative.

I didn't read then piece, because I'll be damned if I'll give that Fox-in-a-fancy-tux news outlet any of my money, but I've been watching the conversation about it all morning, and I'd like to chip in two cents more, because even if David Osborne were right, he'd be wrong, and even the fileted chunks of his piece that I've seen are not countering the Big Charter Lie-- they are perpetuating it.

Leonie Haimson fired off a letter to the WSJ that she also posted at NYC Public School Parents, and it cuts straight to the chase.

Osborne is particularly upset about the scurrilous claim that charter schools drain revenue, and he offers as counter-proof that a school that falls below 75% enrollment can start renting out space to charters. Haimson reminds us that in NYC, public schools are forced to hand over that space for free.

Osborne also argues that in some states, the public school is "cushioned" from having money drained by charters, and he gets his list of states really wrong there, but here's the thing-- he's just indulging in the true Big Lie of charters. (His baloney about charters being public schools is just marketing baloney.)

Let's say a full cushion really happens. Let's say that in Pennshiretuckia, when a charter pulls $1 million away from a public school, the state just cushions that hole so that the public system doesn't actually lose any money. What is that cushion made of? An extra $1 million of taxpayer dollars! A "cushion" would be a de facto tax increase to fund charter schools! It's like this conversation:

Son: Can I have five bucks to buy gin?

Dad: Absolutely not.

(The next day) Son: Can I have five bucks for lunch money?

Dad: Sure. But what happened to the ten I gave you yesterday?

Son: I spent half of it on gin.

Dad: Well, thank God I didn't give you any money to spend on gin.

The Big Lie of Charter Schools is that we can fund multiple systems for the exact same cost that we spent to operate one. But no charter advocate has the balls to stand up and say, "I want to raise your taxes so that we can open new, privately operated, profit-generating schools in addition to the ones you're already funding." So instead we either force public schools to cut what they can't afford to cut, or we put extra money into the total education ecosystem and hide it as donations from rich people or grants from a government slush fund or nice words like "cushion."

SMH. Look, if you want something scholarly, there's a whole new study showing how North Carolina's charter system is gutting its public system. But this really isn't rocket science. As soon as you suggest that a "cushion" protects a public system from being harmed by charter vampires, you've admitted two things:

1) Anyone who doesn't have a cushion is being harmed and

2) The whole premise of charters for cheap is a big lie

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

PA: Charter Drains Public Schools, Now Wants To Absorb Them

This week the Philadelphia Enquirer ran the story of a charter operator that wants to take over all of a district's public elementary schools. This is perhaps a logical next step in a district that has been steadily and methodically starved over the past decade. Once you've sucked out the blood and consumed the flesh, what is there left to do but feast on the bones?

The school district is Chester Uplands, and they've been in the charter-related news before. Specifically, they were the poster child for how a careful gaming of the charter system in Pennsylvania could result in huge charter profits. As I wrote at the time:
The key is that while all CUSD students with special needs come with a hefty $40K for a charter school, they are not all created equal. Students on the autism spectrum are expensive to teach; they make up 8.4% of CUSD special ed student population, but only 2.1% at Chester Community Charter School, and a whopping 0% at Widener and Chester Community School of the Arts. Emotionally disturbed students are also costly; they make up 13.6 % of special ed at CUSD, 5.3% at Chester Community, and zero at the other two. Intellectual disabilities make up 11.6% for CUSD, 2.8% for CCCS, and zero for the others. 
Speech and language impaired, however, are pretty inexpensive to educate. CUSD carries 2.4% of the special ed population in this category, but the three charters carry 27.4%, 20.3% and 29.8%.
Back in 2015, this helped put CUSD in the astonishing position of giving more money to charter schools than it received from the state.

Gureghian's PA home, where he
no doubt sits and thinks about
how he does it all for the children
Meanwhile, the district has been under the supervision of a court-appointed receiver since 2012. The state takeover hasn't exactly helped; the administrative side of things is such a monumental mess that in 2017 the state auditor general aid his office could not complete an audit of the district-- too many records were lost or just screwed up. The third of the court-appointed receivers was re-appointed this year--and promptly to spend more time with his actual day job. This is not supposed to mess up the newest recovery plan roll-out, as that work is being done by some hired consultant.

In 2015 the district made a deal for charters to accept less money for students with special needs, but the cyber charters went to court to be exempted-- and the court eventually agreed, giving CUSD a huge retroactive bill to pay cyber charters.

The district has long been attractive to worst of charter vultures. Not just the cybers, but for-profit management companies like CSMI, founded by the infamous Vahan Gureghian, charter school multimillionaire and generous GOP donor.

Currently, charters enroll about half of the 7,000 student district population. CSMI would like to have a larger piece of the pie and run all of the elementary education in Chester Uplands, and it has asked the court to hand them over (because the district itself has no say in this). CSMI runs some charters elsewhere, including a school in New Jersey that is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was filed by a former principal who says she was fired for making a fuss over CSMI's policy of cutting corners to make a buck. Cutting corners didn't just mean cutting services; it also meant falsifying records and misappropriating funds. Great company.

The Palm Beach mansion Gureghian just sold at a profit.
There's probably a whole separate room just for thinking
about the children.
It is unclear how much money CSMI would make on the Chester Uplands deal because, as a private business, it doesn't have to account for its financials activities-- even though they are funded by trhe taxpayers. Do you see why, when someone like Cory Booker or Pete Buttigieg starts talking about how only for-profit charters are bad, they are just selling thinly sliced baloney. Chester Community Charter School is as non-profit school--that generates profits for the CSMI management company that runs it, and runs it like a business and not like a school.

The Inquirer quoted the CUSD school board president--his primary concern isn't the charter takeover of the elementary schools as much as it is the inadequate funding from the state. "Ask them what they have done for 25 years in Chester Upland." He has sort of a point, but the fact is that this non-weathy non-white district is in danger of losing all local control and voice.

This is what chartering as a tool of privatization looks like. Gut the public schools. Chase the students into profitable charters. Strip every last asset from the public school and strip all the power from the voters and taxpayers. Operate charters like businesses; every dollar you spend on students is a dollar you don't get to keep. Make some guy a multimillionaire while stripping public education and democratic voice from the members of a poor community.