I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

NJDOE's Failed Charter Office

UPDATE: Mother Crusader is on the case! Some choice quotes from 100 Legacy's board meeting minutes at the post.

In the name of "choice," the NJDOE granted a charter last year to the Newark-based 100 Legacy Academy Charter School. Enormously pleased with themselves, the Christie Administration and the NJDOE nearly dislocated their shoulders from patting themselves on the back so vigorously:
Demonstrating the Christie Administration’s strong support for increasing the number of high-quality school options for New Jersey students, the Department today approved 9 charter schools to open in September, bringing the total number of charter schools in New Jersey to 86. In addition, the Department continues to improve oversight and accountability for charter schools by instituting new Performance Frameworks that will set clear expectations for charter school performance and will serve as the basis for school evaluation, monitoring, and intervention. 
“We are deeply committed to ensuring that every student in New Jersey has access to a high-quality public school option that is a good fit for them, no matter whether that is a district, charter, magnet, or vocational school,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf. “We are confident that the charter schools we approved today will provide great options for the children of New Jersey.” [emphasis mine]
NJDOE had actually granted 100 Legacy an extra year of planning just to make sure they were ready to hit the ground running in the fall of 2012. The department had bragged about strengthening its approvals process for charters through a partnership with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA); they were "approving only high-quality new school applications" from now on.

So, how's that working out?
The state Department of Education yesterday released its letter to the 100 Legacy Academy Charter School in Newark, informing the school that its state charter had been revoked after just seven months of operation. The April 11 letter cited a number of violations and findings concerning the school’s instructional programs, financial viability, and general operations. [emphasis mine]
Just seven months in, and the school is shutting down. The hundreds of families who enrolled their children in the charter - confident that NJDOE's approval process had thoroughly vetted the school - will now have to find other "options" for their children, who basically wasted a year:
First probation: The middle school opened in August, 2012, with roughly 270 students, part of a partnership with the 100 Black Men of NJ organization. But by January it was placed on probation, after review found the school in violation of state statute in several areas, including special education and required criminal background checks of staff.
Didn’t get better: The state followed up in early February. According to the letter from assistant commissioner Evo Popoff, “This visit confirmed that school conditions had indeed deteriorated, putting at risk not only the safety, well-being and academic progress of students, but also the overall viability of the school.”
And again: The school submitted a remediation plan in late February, including pledges to improve its programs. But state officials said further visits found that “classrooms instruction had not sufficiently improved,” read Popoff’s letter. “Students were observed with their heads down, disengaged and frequently disruptive.”
Finally: The school submitted a long-term plan in March, and the state rejected that as well. “The department has no confidence that, given more time, the school will be able to improve its performance to the high standard the Department maintains for all charter schools.”
Less than a year ago, the NJDOE was so confident in this school's viability that it granted 100 Legacy its final approval and let the parents of 270 kids put their children's lives into the school's hands. But now the department is saying they have "no confidence" in the school.

The people who should have "no confidence" are the parents of Newark: they should have "no confidence" in the NJDOE's ability to properly vet charter applications.

Oh, am I being unfair? Was 100 Legacy's application so strong that this failure comes as a shock? Were there no clues that the school's prospects were not good?

100 Legacy, it turns out, had teamed up with a for-profit charter management organization, Victory Educational Partners, to help open the new school:
“Newark is in the midst of a historic reform of its school system, and the development of high quality charter schools is a crucial element of this turnaround,” said Victory Education Partners’ Director of School Development and Partnerships Aquila Haynes. “We are confident that this partnership between the school’s Board and 100 Black Men of New Jersey will result in a tremendous education for hundreds of young people in Newark and Irvington through 100 LEGACY Academy Charter School.”
100 Legacy is, interestingly, no longer on Victory's client list (they do list Newark Legacy Charter School, but not 100 Legacy. Yeah, the names...). But Victory does have a press release for the opening of 100 Legacy on their website; they have also posted job listings for 100 Legacy, so there is a clear connection. What's Victory's track record?
Maybe the politicians finally understand. Last week the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which makes recommendations to the New York State Department of Education, decided not to support a charter school proposed by Victory Education Partners in Brentwood. According to a report in Newsday , the superintendent of Brentwood schools "applauded the state's decision." The district is already financially hard-pressed. It lost $40 million in state aid during the last two years and was forced to lay off about 100 teachers.
SUNY officials told "Victory" that it was not satisfied with proposals for the school's "governing structure, academic program and accountability platform." 
Unfortunately "Victory," a profit making business, is not good at accepting defeat and plans to revise and resubmit its proposal, for Brentwood or perhaps for another Suffolk County community. Victory Education Partners advertises itself as an educational management company. For ten percent of state and local funding for a school, it group provides teacher recruitment, administrative coaches, accounting work and other services. The company would have made about $2.2 million over five years for its services to a Suffolk County Prep Charter School. [emphasis mine]
I've not seen the application for 100 Legacy, but this report begs a question: how much taxpayer money was Victory paid to start up this educational failure in Newark? And how did 100 Legacy ever get approved in the first place when it had a clear record of failure in New York State?
The reality is that Victory Education Partners has been associated with a series of education failures. The New York State Regents shut down Victory's New Covenant Charter School in Albany in 2010. Two of the high schools it provides management services for in New York City, Lehman in the Bronx and August Martin in Queens are on the Restart List. Its show place charter school, Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, received the 15th-lowest score on the 2010 city progress report cards, ranking in the bottom one percent of all schools. It received "F' grades in the school environment and progress categories. Most of the school's teachers reported problems with order and discipline and they recently voted to unionize.
Boy, you'd think that last phrase would have really captured the NJDOE's attention! Again: how in the world did this charter ever get approved? Well, long time readers at this blog will not be surprised:
The secret to "Victory" approach is its CEO, James Stovall, a personable African-American lawyer who is primarily a salesman. He uses his own success story to sell private charter management to poor minority communities. His supposed educational experience was an Eli Broad Foundation residency but, according to the foundation's alumni website, what Stovall actually did during his residency was act as "general counsel for Victory where he oversaw and directed the company's legal, compliance and regulatory activities." [ed: update link to Stovall profile at the Broad Center here.]
Dear lord - he's a Broadie. Like NJDOE Commissioner Cerf. Like the folks who plotted the takeover of Camden's schools. Like the Jersey City superintendent Cerf had installed. Like all the little Broadies currently running the NJDOE.

The Broad Foundation, you may remember, donated $140,000 to the state to "bolster the state’s oversight of charter schools." That donation was made June 6, 2012; the state announced Legacy 100's approval on July 16, 2012. Quite the coincidence, don't you think?

Is this how the Broad Foundation "bolstered" oversight of charter in New Jersey? By getting NJDOE to grant charters for schools, managed by Broad alumni, that fail within their first year?

Let's be very clear about this: 270 students had a year of their education ruined because the NJDOE didn't properly vet the track record of a company with strong ties to the Broad Foundation. This is an unconscionable failure and a blatant violation of ethics.

Who's going to answer to the taxpayers for this? Who's going to answer to the children who were so poorly served? Who's going to demand that the circus that is New Jersey's charter school oversight and approval system finally be brought to account?

Accountability begins at home.


Unknown said...

Accountability is for public school teachers, donchaknow?

Does anyone know more about this independent documentary exposing the corruption in edu-reformy biddness? The producer is Nancy Letts, a retired teacher.


GFallon said...

...who are the corporate officers of Victory Educational Partners and how much did they donate to Crispy's reelection campaign, directly or indirectly through a Super Pac????