Category Archives: Education

Challenging Charter Schools and the Privatization Agenda in Washington State

by Wayne Au, published on September 11, 2015 at Common Dreams

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A crowd of red-clad teachers, parents and students marched through downtown Seattle to mark a one-day teacher strike that closed Seattle Public Schools on Tuesday. Organizers estimated at least 4,000 teachers were there. (Photo: Kyle Stokes KPLU)

Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, was a good day for me. Late that afternoon the Washington State Supreme Court issued an earth-shattering ruling for corporate education reformers: By a 6-3 decision, they determined that Washington State’s charter school law was unconstitutional. This felt like a personal victory because I was heavily involved in the fight against charter schools in Washington State. In the lead up to the 2012 election season, where Washington voters would decide on the legality of charter schools here through popular vote on Initiative 1240 (I-1240), I was a very vocal opponent of the initiative and voiced my concerns about charter schools in newspaper editorialspolicy analyseseducational research, and public forums.

Washington State citizens narrowly passed I-1240 by a 50.69 percent majority vote (winning by roughly 41,000 of the over 3,000,000 votes cast), making charter schools law here. In response to the new charter law, I was asked to join a group of individuals and organizations as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of I-1240, where, in addition to lending my name to the suit, I provided expert advice and research in support of the legal arguments.

When the Washington State Supreme Court announced its decision overturning I-1240 as unconstitutional, I was elated. As an educational scholar-activist trying to defend public education from the forces of privatization, rarely have I felt like my personal efforts have contributed so concretely to such an important victory.

Continue reading Challenging Charter Schools and the Privatization Agenda in Washington State

In ‘Win for Public Schools,’ Wash. Supreme Court Rules Charter Schools Unconstitutional

by Andrea Germanos, published September 5, 2015 at Common Dreams

“The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along—charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding.”—Kim Mead, Washington Education Association

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Diane Ravitch writes that the ruling “gives hope to parents all across America, who see charter schools draining funding from their public schools, favoring the privileges of the few over the rights of the many.” (Photo: Chris Blakeley/flickr/cc)

Public education advocates are welcoming the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling late Friday that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

The Seattle Times reports that

The ruling — believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country — overturns the law [I-1240] voters narrowly approved in 2012 allowing publicly funded, but privately operated, schools.

Teacher and author Mercedes Schneider offers more on the Act:

As is true of charter schools nationwide, the charters in Washington State (up to the current ruling) were eligible for public funding diverted from traditional public schools. Charter schools were approved via a November 2012 ballot initiative (I-1240, the Charter Schools Act) in which charters were declared to be “common schools” despite their not being subject to local control and local accountability. And also like America’s charters in general, Washington’s charters are not under the authority of elected school boards.

Thus, Washington voters had approved to give public money to private entities—a one-way street that provided no means for such funds to overseen by the public.

That approval, as Education policy analyst Diane Ravtich explains, came thanks to a big-money effort.

Continue reading In ‘Win for Public Schools,’ Wash. Supreme Court Rules Charter Schools Unconstitutional

What Happens When Schools Stop Providing Buses?

BY CHRIS KARDISH, published July, 2015

Indiana is the latest state to find out what happens when districts aren’t required to offer students free transportation to and from school.

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A recent court ruling allows Indiana school districts to stop providing school bus services. (FlickrCC/Simon Schoeters)

Kids in Indiana will head back to school as usual this fall, but the sight of classic yellow school buses could soon become less common, thanks to a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court. Yes, school districts must offer free education that’s open to all, but as the court wrote in a decision this spring, “the [state] framers did not intend for every aspect of public education to be free.” In other words, districts don’t have to provide transportation.

The case dates back to 2011, when Franklin Township, Ind., an Indianapolis suburb facing a $16 million deficit, opted to terminate its school bus services. The move prompted a lawsuit from parents that would eventually make its way to the state Supreme Court, but it also led the Indiana General Assembly to pass a law allowing districts to end busing after issuing three years’ notice.

Additionally, schools that could prove extreme financial hardship could also petition the state Department of Education for an immediate closure; so far, only one district applied for immediate closure, and it was denied.

Continue reading What Happens When Schools Stop Providing Buses?

Growing Evidence that Charter Schools Are Failing

by Paul Buchheit, published July 6, 2015 at Common Dreams

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‘While there’s little difference in the overall performance of charter schools and public schools,’ explains Buchheit, ‘charters are riddled with fraud and identified with a lack of transparency that leads to more fraud.’ (Photo: Dean Hochman/flickr/cc)

In early 2015 Stanford University’s updated CREDO Report concluded that “urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers.”

This single claim of success has a lot of people believing that charter schools really work. But there are good reasons to be skeptical. First of all, CREDO is funded and managed by reform advocates. It’s part of the Hoover Institution, a conservative and pro-business think tank funded in part by the Walton Foundation, and in partnership with Pearson, a leading developer of standardized testing materials. CREDO director Margaret Raymond is pro-charter and a free-market advocate.

The 2015 CREDO study received much of its input, according to a Louisiana source, from the New Orleans Recovery School District and charter promoter New Schools for New Orleans, who together had “embarked on a bold, five-year journey to standardize, validate and export the New Orleans charter restart model…addressing the problem of failing schools by restarting them with schools operated by charter operators.”

Regarding national findings, a review of the CREDO study by the National Education Policy Center questioned CREDO’s statistical methods: for example, the study excluded public schools that do NOT send students to charters, thus “introducing a bias against the best urban public schools.”

Charters Are Underperforming

The inadequacies of charter schools have been confirmed by other recent studies, one of them by CREDO itself, which found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.” Another recent CREDO study of California schools reached mixed results, with charters showing higher scores in reading but lower scores in math.

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Mom Misled By Kaplan For-Profit College: Part Of Miami Herald’s Blockbuster Industry Expose

by David Halperin, published April 24, 2015

A blockbuster, year-in-the-making investigative series about the for-profit college industry appears online in the Miami Herald today, and, as industry analysts at BMO Capital Markets predicted earlier this week, “Obviously, this is not going to portray the industry in a positive light.” It doesn’t, but that’s because the industry practices and conduct that the Herald found are simply abominable. (I have studied bad actors in this industry for five years and have found the same.) With both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush already addressing this issue, it’s one that’s drawing increasing public attention.

The Herald‘s disclosures about the way for-profit colleges have ripped off students and taxpayers, while buying influence with powerful politicians, are too many to recount, but here are just a few bites to tempt you:

Student Rose Grier: “I specifically said, I can’t take on loans,’ and [the EDMC for-profit college recruiter] said ‘Oh, you won’t be taking on loans.”

Grier said it was a few months after enrolling in 2010 when she received statements in the mail showing she had already tallied nearly $4,000 in loans. Grier was stuck, and loan servicer Sallie Mae would demand payment.

And:

Sir, why did you leave Kaplan [for-profit college]?” [Florida] Assistant Attorney General Rene Harrod asked former recruiter Mark Stegall on Nov. 22, 2010.

“I was disgusted with myself,” Stegall responded. Stegall testified he had previously worked in other sales jobs, and “there are some things I don’t feel bad about selling.” But at Kaplan, he said, “you just felt like you were putting these people who were already in a bad situation in life in a worse one.”

Continue reading Mom Misled By Kaplan For-Profit College: Part Of Miami Herald’s Blockbuster Industry Expose

Abuses At Corinthian Are Mirrored At Other Big For-Profit Colleges

by David Halperin, published April 22, 2015

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An education technology executive who previously worked with the for-profit college industry told me last year, “The biggest misconception about for-profits is that they are schools. They are call centers that happen to have a school built around it.”

That is a deadly accurate insight.

Numerous federal and state law enforcement investigations, and media investigations, have exposed an industry desperate to always be closing — signing up as many students as possible for high-priced, questionable quality career education programs, without regard to whether the programs will help a given student, or instead will leave that student unemployed and mired in college loan debt. Often the deals that these for-profit colleges pitch are terrible value for students and thus can only be sold through deceptive and coercive sales tactics.

The collapse of for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges, which had been taking as much as $1.4 billion annually in federal student aid at its Everest, Heald, and Wyotech schools, and the shocking revelations of abuses in that company have led some advocates for the for-profit college industry to now claim that Corinthian is an isolated case, the only bad apple. But, as I have written in my e-book and articles, in fact a number of large for-profit colleges are engaged in comparable predatory practices. We might expect similar reports in a detailed series starting Friday in the Miami Herald, the result of a year-long investigation by that paper.

Continue reading Abuses At Corinthian Are Mirrored At Other Big For-Profit Colleges

Senator Blunt Blames College Students for Borrowing

by David Halperin, published April 21, 2015

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Parroting a familiar talking point by bad actors in the for-profit college industry, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), appeared last week to blame students for their high student loan burdens. After questioning Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday about regulations aimed at for-profit colleges, Blunt, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said [VIDEO at 1:38:00]:

We ought to be talking about … the debt problem when you get out of school. How much of that related to the actual cost of going to school and how much it related to what you thought your living standards should be while you went to school, and I’m pretty confident over the years that the student expectations for their personal living standards in school have often increased where they would have been a few just years ago.

Exclusive video obtained in 2012 by Republic Report of a meeting of the for-profit college trade association APSCU showed an industry executive engaged in similar blaming of students for alleged overborrowing — to buy cars, cover child support, and pay parking tickets — a remark that led to thunderous applause by fellow executives in attendance.

Similarly, when in 2013 I asked a spokesperson at for-profit giant EDMC about a veteran who had incurred tens of thousands in debt at EDMC before dropping out, he said:

Current laws and regulations permit students to borrow more than the cost of tuition and fees up to the maximum loan limits set by Congress. While we cannot limit the amount of debt a student incurs, we strive to provide access to resources that encourage responsible borrowing and repayment of loans.

The predatory for-profit college companies tend to accept no responsibility for their sky-high prices, deceptive enrollment and financial aid tactics, and poor quality programs and job placement records that push so many students deep into debt. They blame their own students instead, implying that the students are pocketing the money themselves to buy Escalades and Cristal.

I have been told by staff members at EDMC and elsewhere that there are in fact some students who do enroll in order to pocket some cash and walk away, but these staff say that the management at these schools recognize the problem and don‘t care, because the school gets its federal aid dollars anyway. Indeed, industry insiders say that some for-profit college recruiters actually dangle the idea of extra spending money as a way to entice wavering students into enrolling — get a new laptop, get some cash. No doubt some students at non-profit and public colleges also borrow extra to cover some personal expenses. But the vast majority of for-profit college students are not keeping any cash – they are turning over their federal checks to the school, borrowing more money in private loans, and often going broke in the process. And in fact colleges already have tools at their disposal to limit student borrowing to what the student actually needs.

In an odd follow-up to his line of questioning, Senator Blunt then asked Duncan to “provide a year-to-year summary of marketing and advertising expenses for the Department over the last three fiscal years, as this relates to a topic I’ve been interested in, whether we should specifically identify that this is a taxpayer funded marketing effort.” Duncan replied, “We don’t do a heck of a lot of it” but promised the data.  Blunt didn’t explain what he was getting at. I’m not aware of what the Department of Education might be “marketing” or of “advertising” run amok. But I am aware that Blunt’s fellow Senators, notably Dick Durbin (D-IL), have long argued that for-profit colleges should not be permitted to use taxpayer dollars for marketing, after a Senate committee report found that big for-profit colleges were getting as much as 90 percent of their revenue from federal funds and spending almost a quarter of their revenue on marketing.

Continue reading Senator Blunt Blames College Students for Borrowing

The American Dream Is Leaving America

by NIcholas Kristof, published October 25, 2014

THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education. But a new study underscores that the escalator is broken.

We expect each generation to do better, but, currently, more young American men have less education (29 percent) than their parents than have more education (20 percent).

Among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, only 5 percent make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23 percent.

The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country — a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.

These figures come from the annual survey of education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., and it should be a shock to Americans.

A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility. But the American dream seems to have emigrated because many countries do better than the United States in educational mobility, according to the O.E.C.D. study.

As recently as 2000, the United States still ranked second in the share of the population with a college degree. Now we have dropped to fifth. Among 25-to-34-year-olds — a glimpse of how we will rank in the future — we rank 12th, while once-impoverished South Korea tops the list.

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Porsches, Potholes and Patriots

by Nicholas Kristof, published July 2, 2014

The anti-tax crusader pulls out of his driveway in his Porsche, hoping that the neighbors are watching. He’s proud that it’s the most expensive car on his block. “That’s the greatness of America” he muses. “That’s what we should celebrate on July 4! I spend money so much more wisely than government.”

Three blocks later, Babbitt, as we’ll call him, swerves to avoid one pothole and lands in another. There’s a sickening thud. With a sinking heart, Babbitt gets out to examine the damage.

“*@# government!” he curses. “They can’t even fix the roads. Now I’ve got a flat, and my rim is bent! What’s the point of owning a hot car when the government can’t even fix the roads?”

Babbitt calls a tow truck and gets to the office two hours late, missing a meeting with a client. “The government is like George III,” he moans. “Robs us blind and doesn’t do anything for us!”

Voters like Babbitt will play a major role in this year’s elections, and politicians are often too timid to point out the blunt truth: Sometimes money is better spent by the government than by individuals. Indeed, it seems to me that we’re at a point where we would be better off as a nation paying a bit more in taxes and in exchange getting better schools, safer food, less congested roads — and, over all, a higher standard of living.

America’s infrastructure is now so wretched that, in some areas, the only people who drive straight are the drunks. Anyone who is sober swerves to avoid potholes.

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Enjoying the Low Life?

by NIcholas Kristof, published April 9, 2015

he United States is the most powerful colossus in the history of the world: Our nuclear warheads could wipe out the globe, our enemies tweet on iPhones, and kids worldwide bop to Beyoncé.

Yet let’s get real. All this hasn’t benefited all Americans. A newly released global index finds that America falls short, along with other powerful countries, on what matters most: assuring a high quality of life for ordinary citizens.

The Social Progress Index for 2015 ranks the United States 16th in the world. We may thump our chests and boast that we’re No. 1, and in some ways we are. But, in important ways, we lag.

The index ranks the United States 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, and a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth. O.K., we know that we have a high homicide rate, but we’re at risk in other ways as well. We have higher traffic fatality rates than 37 other countries, and higher suicide rates than 80.

Continue reading Enjoying the Low Life?