Tag Archives: charter schools

The Poor Pay the Highest Price for Charter School Experiments — Part 2 — Detroit

Part 1 of this series focused on New Orleans and the radical experiment there with ALL charter schools serving the city this year. I showed that New Orleans is an example of how investors and hedge fund managers see “reform” experiments as an option only for the poor. We really don’t see much, if any experimentation being proposed in the upper economic sectors of this country right now.

Next, let’s look at another example of the callous disregard for the future of poor children to serve the business desires of investors and edu-corporations.

Continue reading The Poor Pay the Highest Price for Charter School Experiments — Part 2 — Detroit

Poverty Is Still a Huge Issue for Students – Michelle Rhee Is Still Wrong

Michelle Rhee
Michelle Rhee – Credit: Education Week

Never really getting true reform, Michelle Rhee has stepped down from her role as the leading spokesperson for the corporation schools front organization Students First.

She held fast to an ideology – yes, ideology and not data – that denies the power of poverty in interrupting  poor students’ education. Instead, she focused on schools and teachers that serve those areas of high poverty. She placed blame liberally on teachers, insisting that with better teaching, poor students could succeed in spite of their poverty.

Continue reading Poverty Is Still a Huge Issue for Students – Michelle Rhee Is Still Wrong

5 Reasons Why Education Can Never be a “Business”


The current dysfunction with so many charter schools and testing efforts is tied to investors who are trying to make education into a profitable business venture.

In a very well documented story published just a few weeks ago in the Huffington Post, “Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools”, Hofstra University professor Alan Singer shows the many benefits that are lining up for investors in companies that develop private charter schools, especially for depressed neighborhoods inhabited by the poor.

And so to investors who have not dealt with the mysteries of the real education process, this looks like a tremendous new market that just has yet to be tapped.

There  is the same urge to raid public education much in the same way that corporate raiders like Mitt Romney/Bain Capital, T. Boone Pickens and others did to solvent corporations in the 1980s-90s.

What Investors are Missing

But, really, can hedge funds game education-related institutions like corporate raiders did to corporations in those years turning huge profits for the raiders? They have tried over the last decade; but, it hasn’t worked so far. That’s why charter schools are failing at such alarming rates. That’s why testing schemes are failing and losing the confidence of educators and the public at such a fast and large rate.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, This is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools, charters are going belly up with regularity, in one case just 30 days away from the end of their school year.

What investors don’t realize about education is that effective education has many more human mysteries than most regular business ventures. It involves a critical mass of trust and effort being formed between the host community, school administrators, teachers and the students. It is a unique and delicate circle that cannot be achieved by a company that is seeking short-term gains by taking over public institutions and hiring nominally committed teachers hired on the cheap.

A sign of the extreme hubris of investors who have never spent one night planning a lesson is that they believe that they can just import the usual corporate methods into education and turn it from a public good into a market of competing private entities.

I Have Witnessed How Hard It Is

I have seen the public, non-profit part of education up close, and I have seen the for-profit part of education up close, too.

In my teaching career I have spent 16 years as a public school teacher. Four summers out of those were spent grading essays for the for-profit Educational Testing Service for the AP U.S. History exam. Another 2 years have been spent as an online teacher for a for-profit online service that contracted to public schools and charters.  Currently, I am an ESL teacher for a community college in Oklahoma City.

So I have seen many aspects of the education process. And what I have seen is an attempt to turn education into a commodity that is sold using cost-saving measures and debt leverage.

In the case of the ETS, they make a profit by huge volume and having developed a reputation for delivering a reliable service to a narrow slice of the whole education effort. Even then, they come precariously close to failing in certain years.

In the case of the online service that I worked for, they worked hard and made a lot of good moves. However, eventually they had to write off a huge uncollected lump of fees that were not paid by bankrupt charters that had been loosely regulated, if at all. Their parent corporation took the write-off, and then sold them to another similar company. Time will tell if that venture will work.

Five Big Reasons

From a business standpoint, corporations simply cannot replace public schools without depending on the same or even higher levels of tax dollars, the same methods being used in public schools, and a reduction/elimination of accountability.  Corporate market efforts just won’t deliver ethical, reliable, consistent, quality education for less as they promise. Why not?  Let’s look at five big, systemic reasons:

1. Education cannot be stored in a warehouse until the market works in the favor of the vendor.

Children grow every minute of every day and they must have continuity of delivery right now. There is no holding and then releasing of money and inventory when the time is right. In education, the right time for delivery is now.

2. Education is not a product, it is a process that uses products. 

Yet, it doesn’t even have to have those products to work. Books can be borrowed and shared. Many schools in the poorest parts of the US and other countries just use information imparted by the teacher. As long as the human capital of the teacher is there, that is the key.

3. Education cannot be controlled to quality standards in the ways that a manufactured product or simple service can be.

Engineers can determine if an auto part meets engineering standards. Education cannot be measured successfully in the same way. That’s why we are seeing fundamental failures in testing schemes at present.

4. Machines will never be able to do what teachers do, not completely.

Effective teaching involves the teacher’s discernment and their relationship with the student. It is more likely to program a machine to take the place of an engineer than a teacher.

5. Not just anyone can teach, and so labor becomes a bigger issue than market-driven efforts can conquer.

A consistent, trained, monitored teacher corps whose prime loyalties are to the public, have proven to be critical to effective education in the U.S. and other countries over the long haul.

Teach for America is jokingly called “Teach for a Year” for good reasons. No matter how bright the person who goes through that program, it still takes years of experience to develop that critical ability to discern what each unique student needs and then deliver it effectively.  And so, those clearly smart young people see and understand that, and quickly leave for other professions or go into charter school administration.

Public Schools Are Public for a Reason

To hear hedge fund managers and investors talk, one would believe that the only reason why we don’t have a thriving education market made up of private corporations right now is either because people in the past were just stupid or the Communists among us have secretly sabotaged those efforts.

Neither is true.

What leaders over the years found was that public education is a public good like effective policing and fire protection. In U.S. history all three have been tried as private efforts and they didn’t work. Why? When profit motives drive private efforts in those three public goods, they become inconsistent, corrupt, and ineffective. Private efforts allow society itself to suffer.

That suffering is both unnecessary and unacceptable.

This Is How Bad It Can Get If Liberals and Progressives Fail To Vote This Year

The ass-kicking that Democrats got in the 2010 mid-term elections was a direct result of not enough people on the left getting out the vote. Whole segments of people who voted for the Democrats and President Obama in 2008 simply stayed home 2 years later handing the House of Representatives over to the Republicans and seriously weakening the Senate. The result was the most obstructionist, unproductive, hateful, bull-shitty Congress in U.S. history.

So, it’s time for us right now to be very clear about what is at stake if we don’t get out the vote this year: The Republicans could win control of the Senate and keep control of the House.

If Republicans can do that, here is what they are planning:

Impeach President Obama
Repeal the Affordable Care Act
Cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
Reduce women’s rights
Privatize education

Typically, those of us on the left get caught up in arguments and denials about such warnings arguing that surely no one would carry out such radical, destructive plans. That argument assumes a certain level of reason on the right that they just have not shown in a long time.

When was the last time that Republicans have NOT done the most destructive thing that many of us thought they would never do? About 20 years ago.

Radical Charter School Bill Defeated in Oklahoma House

Senate Bill 573 that would have made radical changes to the process of establishing charter schools under an appointed state-wide commission was defeated this evening. Nearly all Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans ended up being against the bill.

Two earlier posts in this blog, one from April 10th and another on the 14th, warned of the dangers with SB 573 that was indistinguishable from model legislation created by a national organization created to promote wide-open charter creation in all states.

More and more teachers, legislators, and parents, started to realize that the charter school bill, drafted and lobbied from outside of the state, had nothing to do with what was best for kids in Oklahoma, and everything to do with potential profits of for-profit corporations based outside of the state. Governor Mary Fallin continued to strongly promote the bill to the end.

Skepticism has grown recently even among those on the political right about State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her installing of top-level staffers from outside of the state who have a history of moving from one state to another to promote the agenda of for-profit education corporations.


This Is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools

This is what happens when a state hands over public education to investors and bankers: They use up the school start-up effort for financial reasons only and forget the potential for negative impact on the students if the school fails.

As reported by The Charlotte Observer, the most recent casualty is the StudentFirst charter school in North Carolina that abruptly announced last Friday that it would be closing its doors for good after numerous struggles with unethical administration and misuse of public funds.  Here is a reaction from an involved parent that day:

The Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature made this possible by instituting sweeping reforms a few years back that took local control out of the hands of locally elected school boards and handed it over to a statewide appointed commission that was supposed to be a big improvement of accountability for charter schools in the state.

Sound familiar? That’s because Oklahoma is proposing the same model framework in SB 573. I described the details of that bill in my earlier post.

The framework gives all accountability to one appointed state-wide commission that controls which charters are allowed and which are to be disciplined and controlled. Most importantly, this commission’s power is mostly after-the-fact, rather than proactive. When school debt is allowed, then the potential for a huge waste of taxpayer funds that cannot be recovered becomes larger than any negative potential of the current set of controls in traditional education in the states.

Perhaps it’s because it takes a very different person to do well as a banker or hedge fund manager than it does to be a teacher or a principal.

The NC fiasco shows the built-in weakness of the model that has been passed around from red state to red state that allows charter schools to go into debt. When a school administration knows that it cannot take up the slack of its administrative failings with going deeper into debt, then they know from the beginning that they better bring their “A game” to work from day one.

What happened?

1. Model legislation was passed.

2. Authorization of charters was given over to a central commission for the whole state. This was supposed to solve a number of problems that other states have seen by giving the authorization job over to special people with special training and talent to do that job of authorization and oversight. It didn’t work that way, just as it hasn’t worked in so many other states.

3. Due to bad administration at the school, financial problems started affecting the performance of the school. This shows that money actually does matter in public education and has a profound impact on the performance of a school.

4. Once word got out of financial difficulties, many parents pulled their students as soon as they could and moved to other schools.

School is less a place to be shopped than a relationship to be developed.

No problem, right? Wrong. What I heard in so many of my struggling students’ stories (and especially when I taught alternative school) was that things started falling apart when they started moving from school to school. Participation in a school has to do with consistency, relationships, and continuity of expectation. Going to school is not like walking into your favorite restaurant or clothing store. School is less a place to be shopped than a relationship to be developed

And this is the big difference between the way that a corporate raider thinks about school and the way that an experienced teacher or principal thinks about school. Teachers know that school is not a place, it is a relationship.

Conclusion: So, we can’t just do speculative work in one charter and – oh, well – if it doesn’t work we just offer a new “store” for the kids to shift over to. It doesn’t work that way. Schools are not stores and students are not customers. That sounds obvious to educational professionals; but, clearly it is not so obvious to bankers who want to make big bucks in the education business.