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, September 23, 2014

Everything Wrong With Education "Reform" Is In York, PA

When I was on Rick Smith's show the other day, kvetching about Chris Christie's education "policies" (it's the whole reason Rick has me on the show), he brought up a really good point:

As bad as Governor Chris Christie has been for New Jersey's schools, Governor Tom Corbett has been far, far worse for Pennsylvania's.

Under Corbett, "cyber charters" have proliferated, even though all the evidence shows they are little better than pits where taxpayers throw their money, enriching the operators and denying students proper educations.

Corbett brought us Vahan Gureghian, a school privatizing pirate who all but bankrupted the Chester-Uplands school district, thanks to Pennsylvania's insane special education funding policies. Now Gureghian has come to Camden on this side of the Delaware, thanks to the indifference of the South Jersey Democratic machine.

Corbett has actively abetted the willful destruction of the Philadelphia school system. But his commitment to inequality has spread all over the state, and Allentown, Reading, and other communities are suffering under his draconian education cuts.

But if you want to really see Tom Corbett's borderline sociopathic disregard for public education and the students it serves, there's no better place to observe the madness than the City of York, PA:

Back in 2012, Corbett cut $8.4 million - over 15% - from York's budget. The predictable happened: cuts to the arts, cuts to student services, increased class sizes, and so on.

I know it's fashionable within reformy circles to claim that schools like the ones in York are "failure factories." But the people who make such claims never seem to want to look at what really matters:

This is as quick and dirty as they come, but it makes the point. Every dot here is a school in Pennsylvania. The x-axis shows how many kids taking the state's reading test are in economic disadvantage, as measured by qualifying for free/reduced price lunch. The y-axis shows how many test takers scored "below basic," meaning, out of PA's four test proficiency levels, these students scored at the bottom.

Once again, note how economic disadvantage correlates to test score outcomes. Were I to do a simple linear regression here, 60 percent of the variation in this test-based outcome could be explained by student economic disadvantage.

I did a quadratic trend line to get things a little tighter (no, it doesn't matter, and you're a geek...). Then I highlighted all the schools in York, charters and publics. Big surprise: everyone is pretty much where you'd expect them to be. The elementary schools do a little better than prediction; the secondaries do a little worse. And the charters are right where we'd expect.

Considering that most of York, PA's schools have student populations where 80 percent or more of the children are in economic disadvantage, the test-based outcomes of the school district are hardly surprising.

York, PA does not have a school effectiveness problem: it has an economic inequality problem. The schools are reflecting the reality of life for children in York, PA; anyone who argues otherwise is being willingly obtuse.

Keep in mind that Pennsylvania is one of the most regressively taxed states in the nation:

So here's the play: Tom Corbett keeps taxes low on the commonwealth's rich, so any chance at public works programs or other sorts of economic stimulus are shot. He then cuts the public school budgets in cities that are suffering under his failed policies of tax cuts for corporations. Afterward, he gets his Secretary of Education to send in a known education privatizer to govern York's schools, under the pretense that they are now in "Moderate Financial Recovery Status."

In other words, the district is in significant fiscal trouble. Golly, I wonder how that happened...

But even this isn't enough for Corbett and his pals; here's reporting from the York Daily Record/Sunday News:
A crowd of York City School District employees and other community members rallied before a school board meeting Wednesday, asking board members to "say no" to bringing in charter operators to run district schools.
The school board has been exploring that possibility, an option under its financial recovery plan. Those involved with the rally included the employee unions, the York NAACP, and York Concerned Clergy.
The Rev. Aaron Willford, a former member of the city school board, said parents he's spoken to aren't in favor of bringing in charter operators, but they don't know where to turn. He said he wants to stand up for them.
"The main message is to say no to those who (want) to charterize schools," he said, adding that children shouldn't be "guinea pigs."
Clovis Gallon, a teacher and union representative, said Gov. Tom Corbett needs to restore funding for education, saying the district had many more programs when he attended. The city district has more challenges, but is expected to meet the same standards as others.
"I don't know if parents actually understand what's happening," he said, adding that if charter operators took over, teachers and staff would be lose their jobs and have to reapply. The salaries at schools run by the operators likely wouldn't be comparable to neighboring districts, he said.
"Why would a teacher want to come here to work under those conditions?" he asked. [all emphasis mine]
Well,  duh -- it's because, as we all know, good teachers are in reality saints! It's not like they need to feed their families...

Mr. Gallon remembers a time when his schools had many more programs. Of course, if they still did, parents wouldn't feel, as Rev Willford says, like "they don't know where to turn." See how it works? Gut the public schools under a shock-doctrine falsehood of "we don't have the money!" and the public then feels it has no choice but to take the charter school bread crumbs Tom Corbett throws their way. 

Harold Hill couldn't have run a better con. But even this isn't the worst of it. Because here's who Corbett's boy in York, Chief Recovery Officer (gimme a break...) David Meckley, wants to take control of the district:
David Meckley, the chief recovery officer for the district, issued a statement saying three options are being considered: the internal reform plan, or moving forward with either Charter Schools USA or Mosaica Education. Benchmarks in areas such as academics, safety and parent involvement are being reviewed for both companies and the district so a decision will be based on facts, he said. 
"We need to ask ourselves what solution will improve the educational lives of these students and what do we have to do to make that happen now," the statement says.
"Based on facts"?! If David Meckley gave a flying fig about "facts," he wouldn't have spent even two seconds considering either Charter Schools USA or Mosaica.

Let's take a look at some "facts" about CSUSA's Florida operations first:
Charter Schools USA (CUSA) has been operating charter schools in Florida for 20 years, including recently-opened schools in Hillsborough County: Woodmont Charter, Winthrop Charter, and Henderson Hammock Charter. Although charter schools sometimes struggle financially at first, CUSA eventually collects a 5% management fee from each to provide administration and guidance.
But 10 Investigates found a much bigger pot of money CUSA has been able to tap into: rent. When the company helps open a new school, its development arm, Red Apple Development, acquires land and constructs a school. Then, CUSA charges the school high rent.
For example, Winthrop Charter in Riverview may struggle to balance its budget this year thanks to a $2 million rent payment to CUSA/Red Apple Development. The payment will equate to approximately 23% of its budget, even though CUSA CEO Jon Hage has been quoted as saying charter school rent should not exceed 20%.
According to the FL League of Women Voters, CSUSA has been raking it in on charter school deals involving real estate and construction:
Our shining local examples in Hillsborough County are owned by Charter Schools USA. My first glimpse of Winthrop Charter School in Riverview in November of 2011 was during a scheduled visit with then Rep. Rachel Burgin. When told the two story brick building was a charter school, I was mystified. The site on which it was built was purchased from John Sullivan by Ryan Construction Company, Minneapolis, MN. From research done by the League of Women Voters of Florida all school building purchases ultimately owned and managed by for-profit Charter Schools USA are initiated by Ryan Construction. The Winthrop site was sold to Ryan Co. in March, 2011 for $2,206,700. In September, 2011 the completed 50,000 square foot building was sold to Red Apple Development Company, LLC for $9,300,000 titled as are all schools managed by Charter Schools USA. Red Apple Development is the school development arm of Charter Schools USA. We, tax payers of Hillsborough County, have paid $969,000 and $988,380 for the last two years to Charter Schools USA in lease fees!
The big prize purchased by Ryan Co. at the same time, March of 2011, was the 58,000 square foot former Verizon call center on 56th Street in Temple Terrace for $3,750,000. Ryan Co. made no discernible exterior changes except removal of the front door, added a $7,000 canopy and sold the building as Woodmont Charter School to Red Apple Development for $9,700,000! Who would not love a $6 million dollar boost in 6 months? Lease fees for the last two years were $1,009,800 and $1,029,996! Are we outraged yet? Woodmont made headlines in the Tampa Bay Times this spring as an “F” rated (FCAT score) school advertising for new students and a fired teacher reporting that out-of-field teachers and uncertified teachers were on the faculty.
Similar figures exist for the last of the triumvirate for CSUSA, Henderson Hammock Charter School in Citrus Park which opened in 2012. Their lease fees are the largest of the three, $1,170,000 for 2012-3013 and $1,193,400 for 2013-2014!
Sshhh... don't tell Jon Alter or Tom Moran about this! They might have to actually become journalists and admit that charter operators making big bucks isn't a conspiracy theory...

You can read more about CSUSA's crony capitalism here. But let's make sure we also spend a little time on Mosaica's shenanigans:
This for-profit charter management company was founded in 1997 by Sandy Springs resident Gene Eidelman and has since expanded to a network of 90 schools, generating more than $125M in annual revenue.  For several years, Inc. Magazine has ranked Mosaica as one of the fastest growing companies in urban America.[i] 
Unfortunately, students attending schools managed by Mosaica have not seen their educational trajectories rise with the management company’s revenue.  Instead, Mosaica’s students around the country consistently underperform their peers.
Mirroring the organization’s national record, Mosiaca’s local charter school, Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA), is one of Georgia’s worst performing schools on annual exams, with students in all grades scoring in the bottom 20% statewide. 
The school is currently up for charter renewal and has requested that the Atlanta Board of Education grant it a five-year charter extension.
During the December 2012 school board meeting, Mr. Allen Mueller, Executive Director of Innovation for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), recommended that the Board of Education decline to renew APA’s charter, citing low academic achievement and concerns about the school’s financial independence from Mosaica.  District 1 Board of Education representative, Ms. Brenda Muhammad, quickly rebuffed this recommendation and advocated extending the school’s charter for an additional five years.  The Board ultimately voted to delay any decisions until its January 2013 meeting.
That's from Georgia blogger Jared Apperson, a guy who, as far as I can tell, is sympathetic to the charter school movement -- but Mosaica is too much even for him. His article is a catalog of fiscal sins committed by Mosaica across the country, and a record of academic mediocrity:
A comprehensive analysis conducted by Arizona State University lists the first 36 schools founded by Mosaica since it began operating in 1997.  Twenty seven of those schools have since been shut down by local authorizers or have extricated themselves from Mosaica’s management.
Of the nine which survived, eight can be classified as categorical failures.  They have consistently scraped along the bottom of the barrel in their states as measured by performance on annual exams.  Here are those schools’ most recent statewide percentile rankings on exams as compiled by SchoolDigger:
  • Arts and Technology Academy of Pontiac (MI) – 10th Percentile
  • Bay County Public School Academy (MI) – 15th Percentile
  • Columbus Arts & Technology Academy (OH) – 11th Percentile
  • Columbus Humanities Arts and Technology Academy (OH) – 8th Percentile
  • Grand Blanc Academy (MI) – 16th Percentile
  • Howard Road Academy (DC) – 14th Percentile
  • Phoenix Advantage Charter School (AZ) – 34th Percentile
When Mosaica couldn't make money in Muskegon Heights, MI, the charter chain cut and ran. Expect the same in York if this horrible "charterized" district idea ever comes to pass.

And it will pass, if Tom Corbett has his way. Like any master grifter, Corbett has been playing the long con: cut taxes for the wealthy, starve the schools while claiming budgetary poverty, declare an educational emergency, and then let edu-vultures like CSUSA & Mosaica pick at the bones of a decimated school system.

The only chance the good people of York -- and all of Pennsylvania -- have of saving their schools from Tom Corbett and his minions is a concerted and united stand against the brazen privatization of our public schools.

If you're anywhere near York, please consider making your voice heard:
Clergy, NAACP leaders, teachers, and parents will speak out against plan before Community Education Council charter presentations Sept. 24 
York, Pa. (Sept. 19, 2014) – York Concerned Clergy and the NAACP will stand with the city's teachers, education workers, and parents to speak out against a planned charter takeover of the York City School District before charter CEOs present their proposals to the Community Education Council next week.
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Speakers will also highlight some troubling details about the two leading for-profit charter corporations competing to take over every one of York City's public schools – Mosaica Education, Inc. and Charters USA. 
Media coverage is encouraged. 
What: Rally before Community Charter School Presentation Where: Hannah Penn K-8 School, 415 E Boundary Ave, York When: Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, 5:30-6:30 p.m. 
Details: The rally will occur outside the school cafeteria. Participants will then attend the Community Education Council meeting and Charter School Presentation beginning at 6:30 p.m. 

Stay strong, York. If you win, we all win.

The White Rose City. How's the beer?

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