Tag Archives: charter schools

Kirner Update and Charter School Follies in the Nevada Legislature

Kirner There’s a difference between stale bread and stale politics; stale bread is useful.

“Well, this: Assembly Member Randy Kirner (R-Reno) is trying hard (perhaps too hard?) to be a “play-a”. He flippantly confirmed to Riley Snyder what we’ve been reporting about him killing Senator David Parks’ (D-Paradise) sexual orientation conversion therapy ban (SB 353). He then claimed he was “worried about litigation costs”, despite the Senate removing the law suit portion of the bill. The truth came out in private later, when he told a visiting constituent he just doesn’t like Senator Parks (and he’s just too obsessed with raiding PERS & busting unions to allow LGBTQ lives to be saved).” [LTN] (emphasis added)

The first indication of threadbare banality is Assemblyman Kirner’s worry about “litigation costs” in regard to SB 353.  This is the second to last resort into which a member of the GOP will dock when a bill or policy is presented that might protect potential victims of discrimination or abuse. (The last resort is “God Says…”)

Our second clue revealing  Assemblyman Kirner’s platitudinous and unoriginal offerings is his adherence to ALEC’s talking points about public employee retirement programs and labor organizations.  It’s fairly easy to spot a Talking Point Politician – when he or she is faced with current facts and social needs, our undaunted culture warrior reverts to hackneyed and uninspired reiterations of someone else’s phrases.  “I’m worried about the costs of litigation,” applied to everything from civil rights law to equal pay for female employees. “I’m concerned about the effect this will have on the free market,” applied to everything from environmental standards to the appointment of consumer protection advocates.   This isn’t politicking, it’s sloganeering.  Real players bring something to the table for discussion – something besides personal animosities and stale talking points.

Industrial education isn’t the same thing as industrialized educationSB 509 is still alive and in the Assembly Education committee. There’s a phrase in the bill which should catch our attention, here’s the LCB analysis:

“Existing law requires an application to form a charter school to be submitted by a committee to form a charter school. (NRS 386.520, 386.525) Sections 21 and 22 of this bill authorize a charter management organization to apply to form a charter school. Section 2 of this bill defines the term “charter management organization” to mean a nonprofit organization that operates multiple charter schools. Section 21 also revises the required contents of an application to form a charter school. Sections 21 and 36 of this bill authorize a charter management organization to request a waiver of requirements concerning the composition of a governing body. Section 22 revises the manner in which a sponsor is authorized to solicit and review applications to form a charter school.” 

Let’s differentiate between EMO’s  (Educational Management Organizations) which are for-profit educational enterprises and CMO’s which are non-profits.  While there is this crucial difference, they share some corporate interests.  One of those interests is the promotion of schools – not school districts.  This becomes an important point when we’re discussing overall school administration because when comparing “successes” schools and school districts are very different creatures.

For example, KIPP (a CMO) operates individual schools in urban areas. However, KIPP doesn’t run school districts. Recently a KIPP school in New Jersey was touted for it’s high performance in Newark, but when a bit of expertise was injected from Rutgers University scholars the results were less than stellar:

“The bottom line is that KIPP schools performance on comparable measures of student growth, controlling for demography, resources, etc., are relatively average (marginally above average). Many district schools, including ones in Newark, far outperform them.” [SchoolFinance]

In other words, anecdotal evidence of high performance (without running a model of demographics across the district to see deviations)  doesn’t mean a particular charter school operation is necessarily “successful” or that its operating plan is better than that which might be achieved by a local district itself.

A few years ago, another CMO, Rocketship was supposed to be achieving “astronomical” results, and was all the rage. [WaPo]  Rocketship used an “industrial model” with lots of computers and an equally large contingent of inexperienced teachers.  Rocketship moved into San Jose, California, but a year later the San Jose Mercury News was headlining, “Rocketship we have a problem.”  It seems that corporations like Rocketship DO have to follow local zoning regulations.  More issues arose with the charter non-profit, and by May, 2014 the Alum Rock CA Board of Education rejected a Rocketship charter, saying (1) it had not made Adequate Yearly Progress, there was no assurance made to investors that the schools would make AYP in the future, students spent a large portion of their day with no licensed teacher (a violation of state law), the CMO offered misleading figures on student-teacher ratios by not including Learning Lab Students in the calculations (creating a 1:37 ratio), and while Alum Rock School District spends about 6% on overhead costs, the Rocketship school was required to set aside 15% for its corporate headquarters.  The final point in the rejection was that for all the Wonders of Technology described in the Rocketship process, the students were actually encouraged to be passive rather than active users of the technology.

A third CMO, Green Dot Schools, has had a similar rocky history.  After much initial ballyhoo, Locke High School in Watts, CA was subdivided into segments under the management of Green Dot. Two years later the segments were themselves closed – for lack of “success” – the result?

“In fact, Animo Locke II, Animo Locke III, and Animo Locke Tech all failed the 2012 WASC accreditation. forcing Green Dot to merge all of the campuses, operationally, into the one school to receive accreditation. Animo Watts will continue to operate independent of the schools located at the main Locke campus.” [Ravitch

Eli Broad and other Silicon Valley ‘reformers’ were challenged by the LA Times:

“Charters claim that their schools score far better than traditional public schools serving similar students. That’s not true. The students at Locke or any of the other at-risk high schools in LAUSD are not “similar students” when compared to those who have left the public schools and moved to the charters. What Broad, Green Dot and the others do not reveal is the scores of those charter students when they were in regular public schools. It’s our belief that those students were already outscoring their fellow students in the traditional schools before they moved into charters. Low-scoring students do not enroll in Broad’s charters. His charters have skimmed off the education-oriented kids who otherwise would be raising test scores for traditional public schools.”

Cracks were showing in 2010, when it was reported that by Parent Revolution’s own definitions 14 out of 15 Green Dot Schools weren’t reaching their promised levels of success, [examiner] and to add substance to the LA Times critique, Green Dot Schools were targeting schools for takeover which were already exceeding Green Dot results. [SeattleEd] (More at MJ 4/1/2011]

By 2013 the Green Dot experiment in Los Angeles was plagued by high teacher turnover, inadequate administration, and unstable evaluation policies.  Meanwhile, a Tacoma, WA middle school is being taken over by Green Dot Schools, but parents are advised that “space is limited.”  [TNTRib]  — not an admonition which can be pronounced by public schools.  The Seattle Times reported that most seats were already taken by April 29, 2015 — ‘lotteries were held for 6 of 8 charter schools.”  There are no “enrollment lotteries” for public schools.

It would indeed be interesting, if JUST ONCE some legislative body decided to put the kind of care, attention, concern, (and potential funding) in the hands of its public school districts as it does into the hands of privatizing and elite exclusionist interests.

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Battle Born and Still Squabbling: The Waning Days of the 78th Assembled Wisdom

Nevada Flag

Battle Born and still fighting.  Day 116 and the the squabble over revenue plans and priorities continues in the Assembled Wisdom.  See Let’s Talk Nevada for daily details.  The Latin Chamber of Commerce has lined up with the Governor’s proposal. [Slash Politics]  This makes some sense because those business interests which are opposing the Governor’s plan would actually pay very little under it. [Ralston] No, it doesn’t come as any surprise that those who are opposed to the plan don’t bear most of the burden, while supporters would pay a bit more than their share.

This morning’s agenda for Assembly Ways and Means includes SB 491, “Provides for the award of a grant to a nonprofit organization for use in Fiscal Year 2015-2016 and Fiscal Year 2016-2017 for the recruitment of persons to establish and operate high quality charter schools to serve families with the greatest needs..” 

Also on the agenda, AB 480, which would allow mortgage wholesalers from outside the state to act as mortgage brokers.  AB 481 would strike the limitations on the Consumer Affairs Commissioner and B& I Director to provide investigative assistance to the Attorney General in cases involving deceptive trade practices.

The Assembly Taxation Committee will take on SJR 13, the Settelmeyer, Gustavson, Goicoechea proposal to restrict property taxes — “no new taxes, and even less of the old ones” —  “This resolution proposes to amend the Nevada Constitution to limit the amount of certain property taxes which may be cumulatively levied per year on real property to 1 percent of the base value of the property. “ How does this fit with revenue plans and local government interests? It doesn’t.  The beast got out of the Senate on a 12-7 vote.  The city of Reno estimates it will cost about $8 million in lost revenue.

The Assembly Committee on Education will be looking at SB 509 which pertains to charter schools.  From the LCB analysis:

“Existing law requires an application to form a charter school to be submitted by a committee to form a charter school. (NRS 386.520, 386.525) Sections 21 and 22 of this bill authorize a charter management organization to apply to form a charter school. Section 2 of this bill defines the term “charter management organization” to mean a nonprofit organization that operates multiple charter schools. Section 21 also revises the required contents of an application to form a charter school. Sections 21 and 36 of this bill authorize a charter management organization to request a waiver of requirements concerning the composition of a governing body. Section 22 revises the manner in which a sponsor is authorized to solicit and review applications to form a charter school.”

“Existing law authorizes a sponsor to revoke a written charter or terminate a charter contract under certain conditions and requires a sponsor to take such action if the charter school demonstrates persistent underachievement. (NRS 386.535, 386.5351) Sections 5 and 27-29 of this bill: (1) authorize a sponsor to reconstitute the governing body of a charter school in such situations; and (2) revise the conditions under which such action is authorized or required.”

The Senate Education Committee will be looking at SB 92, which requires a teacher deemed minimally effective after the three year probationary period is reverted to probationary status.  And, then there’s the predictable assault on “seniority” as defined in master contract agreements:

“Existing law provides that when a reduction in the workforce is necessary, the board of trustees of a school district must not lay off a teacher or an administrator based solely on seniority. (NRS 288.151) Section 30 of this bill requires the board of trustees of a school district to consider certain factors when reducing the workforce. Section 30 also provides that, if two or more employees are similarly situated after the application of those factors, the decision by the board of trustees to lay off one or more of the employees may be based on seniority.”

Meanwhile, back at the Battle of the Budget……………..

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Hutchison, Schools, and Reforms: A questionable mixture

Hutchison Mark Hutchison, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor has a message for public schools – and it’s not all that supportive. Yes, he wants more funding for schools, BUT there are some ropes attached:

“As for students, they should be able to read at grade level or higher by the time they’re in third grade.

For teachers, he said it should be easier to fire bad ones and hire those just out of college or in the “Teaching for America” program that sends the best and brightest to schools that need help.

And parents should be given a choice between sending their children to public schools of government-subsidized private schools to encourage competition.”  [LVRJ]

Read and Heed: Okay, having kids read at grade level is fine, and a worthy goal. However, perhaps the first thing we ought to note is that third grade isn’t the big hurdle. It’s the 4th one.  In most school curricula reading changes during the 4th grade. 

First grade is about the mechanics if you will, how to decode those printy things on the pages. Second grade is still pretty much reading for the sake of  knowing how to read.  And, two years isn’t all that long to introduce phonology (sound units), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), sematics (relationship between language and meaning), orthology (fancy name for spelling), and “pragmatics” (choosing the best word.)  [Ed.gov pdf]  We also know from the research that children have different vocabulary levels associated with socioeconomic levels, with youngsters from professional families coming to school with an average 1100 word oral vocabulary, those from working class families average about 700 words, and those coming from disadvantaged households having about 500 words. [Ed.gov pdf]

Third maintains and reinforces the flow.  Nevada tests little readers in the 3rd grade using passages about 300  to 500 words long, and measures things like knowledge of prefixes and suffixes, and reading comprehension items like “themes.” 

Then the scene changes, during the 4th grade it’s not just reading to understand the words being read, and the story being told;  it’s reading to learn.   Here comes the notorious 4th Grade Slump. Along with this, enter the Curriculum Debate, especially with the advocates of phonics and other mechanics of reading. Vocabulary development is crucial. “Understanding key words that support the main idea or theme and details that contribute shades of meaning further enhance comprehension to create a richer experience. This association is reflected in the results that show that on average students who performed well on the vocabulary questions also performed well in reading comprehension.”  [NAEP]

Now, think back to the numbers given above.  Some kids will start school with a vocabulary of 1100 words mastered, some will show up with a vocabulary half that – and then there are all the youngsters in between. So, what are we measuring in the 3rd grade?  This is the point at which we’d be better served by looking  locally rather than globally at the testing results. For example, which is a better question? (A) How well do Nevada children score on reading/vocabulary tests in comparison with children in other states? or (B) How much progress has Student X made in vocabulary development and reading skills from the end of the 1st grade to the end of the 3rd?

The answer to Question A is interesting, and informative for general policy discussions, but ultimately the answer to Question B is a better indicator of instructional success – especially as that 4th Grade Slump looms:

“Suddenly, it’s not good enough to simply sound out words. The child has to make sense of the context in ever more difficult textbooks. Whether or not he (or she) has the motivation, maturity or physical (including brain development) capacity to do that, teachers will now throw more and more sophisticated reading materials at him, along with expectations that he’ll do plenty of reading outside of school hours.” [Keen]

With this  information in mind,  we have to figure out what candidate Hutchison means by “reading at grade level.”  Does he mean that 100% of Nevada’s third graders will score 100% on CRT items covering spelling, common prefixes and suffixes, pragmatics, and vocabulary? Are they to score 100% on basic questions about content and theme?  100% from 100% is indeed laudable, if somewhat unrealistic – and is further from the subject of educational success if we take the view that basing educational policy on the test scores of 8 year olds is taking the easy way out.  The real test is how well the kids can do when faced with the transition from reading to read, and reading to understand short passages and stories, to reading for learning.

Undue Process:  For the 1000th time (or so) Nevada does NOT have teacher tenure.   Not sure about this? Read NRS chapter 391.  Now take a look at the teacher evaluation process; half based on test scores and half based on modeling good instructional practices. [LVSun]   It really isn’t all that hard to fire “bad” teachers.  Every teaching contract is for one year. The only safeguards teachers have is that after completing a probationary period they have access to due process if fired.  Here’s what makes it hard to fire “bad” teachers:

Bad administrators – the ones who don’t adequately document poor instructional techniques, poor classroom management, and inadequate preparation.  These are usually the first to complain that they “can’t” fire Mrs. Sludgepump because of the “union.”  They could, if they’d adequately documented Sludgepump’s slumbers at her desk, but since they didn’t do that the hearing isn’t going to have their desired outcome.   Or, we have the Fill in the Blank Administrator – the one who will hire absolutely anyone to teach almost anything just to get the position filled.  You get what you want, even if it’s not what you want.  Which brings us to Hutchison’s next recommendation.

“It ought to be easier to hire those just out of college or in the Teaching for America program.”

We might assume that Hutchison means anyone, with any degree, just out of college?

The Teach for America program assumes, almost as a point of reference, that currently trained professional teachers are failing, and that highly motivated top tier college students who complete a five week training program will ride in to save the day. Not quite, the internal numbers indicating success are “not up to the standard for research,” and in most cases show TFA personnel are “at least as effective” as non-TFA teachers. That’s a relatively low bar if the initial assumption is that non-TFA teachers are less competent or effective.   [Atlantic] [Rubenstein]

Since a leadership change in 2013 TFA is becoming ever more closely associated with “market based” educational reforms – such as those coming from the often debunked Michelle Rhee et. al.  [Ravitch] [Rubenstein]  Nothing says “Marching with Michelle Rhee” quite so clearly as  catch phrases about making it easier to hire untrained teachers, and ascribing Silver Bullet qualities to TFA, a route to the classroom which seeks to bypass licensing requirements and longer preparation programs.  

This isn’t to argue against those effective, dedicated, and successful TFA teachers out there, many of whom have made teaching a career choice rather than a 2 yr. stint.  However, there is evidence aplenty that teacher retention is more important in low income areas than in upper income level schools in terms of student achievement. [EdUtp] [AEFP pdf] [Harvard 2013 pdf] Interestingly, those TFA teachers who had more Education background or who held Education degrees were the ones most likely to stay in the field – probably a matter of both initial interest and preparation?

Ask one of those non-TFA professionals what improves instruction and most of them will offer answers falling into the categories of (1) lesson plan preparation, (2) classroom management and discipline, (3) continuous student evaluation, and (4) support from parents and administration.  Ask teachers what factors motivate them to stay and most responses will relate to administrative support, collegiality, appropriate in-service professional development, and  school culture. [Harvard 2013 pdf]  Notice that none of these elements  directly relate to norm-referenced or criterion-referenced testing.

And finally, we ought to ask why students at Harvard University have asked its president to cut ties with TFA?  Answer here.

In short, what Mr. Hutchison is proposing is little more than the platitudes of market based educational “reform,” and a preference for the “reforme du jour” Silver Bullet approach to educational improvements.

When Choice isn’t a Choice?  And then there’s the blatant give-away that Mr. Hutchison isn’t talking about supporting public schools at all. Not really.   Awaiting the next round of public school funding are those who would like nothing better than to get their mitts on the money.  Some of these organizations are relatively effective, some are demonstrably close to criminal.  CPD recently blew the lid off in an expose of “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”  No one wants to read something like the following conclusion:

“Charter school officials have defrauded at least $30 million intended for Pennsylvania school children since 1997. Yet every year virtually all of the state’s charter schools are found to be financially sound. While the state has complex, multi-layered systems of oversight of the charter system, this history of financial fraud makes it clear that these systems are not effectively detecting or preventing fraud.”

Then there’s Chicago’s dismal history of top down reform.  This doesn’t diminish the expectations of the budding “Charter Industry” whose formula is to use standardized testing to “prove” public schools are failing, then put these schools under unelected authorities and have the authorities replace the public schools with charters. [Nation]

“Thus, what “slum clearance” did for the real-estate industry in the 1960s and ’70s, high-stakes testing will do for the charter industry: wipe away large swaths of public schools, enabling private operators to grow not school by school, but twenty or thirty schools at a time.”  [Nation]

The Bottom Line

And there we have it. Mr. Hutchison’s version of Heaven on Earth:  Third graders who all read at grade level – whatever that might be – and however that might not relate to the development of skills necessary to get beyond the 4th grade slump;  Removing the right to due process when one’s livelihood is threatened; Hiring just about anyone to teach just about anything – ready or not, including from a program with controversial ties to the Market Based Reformers and Goldman Sachs; and Offering up more opportunities for educational entrepreneurs to profit at taxpayer’s expense.

Good enough reasons to support the candidacy of Lucy Flores.

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Dear Grandkids, We’re Leaving You Some Bills

GrandparentsDear Grandchildren,

It’s March 16, 2013 and we’re all in a dither about the debt we’re passing along to you.  Yes, it’s a big one.  The lines on the charts look devastating indeed:

National debt by administration

We chose to ignore the actual debt and real deficit reduction efforts in order to focus on cutting the “size of government” in your life so you could have more “freedom.”

National Debt Presidencies But, all this said, we are leaving you some bills we sincerely hope you can pay!  In our fervor to erase the national budget deficits and reduce the level of national debt we left a few things for you to do to pick up after us, we hope you don’t mind.

The Water Bill:    We knew that as of 2009, and more information is coming on March 19, 2013, that we were running up an $11 billion per year backlog of funding to replace aging water system components.  In reality, the 2009 report wasn’t our first clue:

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded in 2003 that “current funding from all levels of government and current revenues generated from ratepayers will not be sufficient to meet the nation’s future demand for water infrastructure.” The CBO estimated the nation’s needs for drinking water investments at between $10 billion and $20 billion over the next 20 years.” (emphasis added)

We knew that there had been a 159% increase in the demand for clean drinking water between 1950 and 2000, but we did precious little about the issue.  We moaned about the ARRA’s expenditures for water treatment, about how it would run up the Debt, so our Congress appropriated a “drop in the bucket.”

“The new federal stimulus law provides $6 billion for water projects, with $2 billion of that directed to drinking water systems. But that money is only, well, a drop in the bucket: a report released last month by the E.P.A. estimated that the nation’s drinking water systems require an investment of $334.8 billion over the next two decades, with most of the money needed to improve transmission and distribution systems.” [NYT, 2009]

We knew that the design life of concrete treatment plants would expire in 60-70 years, so the plants built in 1950 are now on their last legs.  We knew that the trunk mains were built to last from 65 to 95 years. Some of those are now aging into oblivion. [ASCE]  So we’re leaving you with the bill for $334.8 billion over the next twenty years to pay for the maintenance of a water distribution system we bragged about but didn’t really want to pay for.

The Sewer Bill:  Our 15,000 public wastewater treatment facilities serve about 225 million people in this country, but we’re still subject to about 900 billion gallons of good old raw sewage discharged every year from aging and dilapidated facilities. [NYT 2011]  We knew back in November 2002, when you were just little tykes, that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the expenditures needed for new and improved wastewater treatment would be in the range of $3.2 to $11 billion. [CBO pdf]  There was a Gap Analysis conducted by the CBO back in 2002 which had some more disheartening information:

“According to the Gap Analysis, if there is no increase in investment, there will be a roughly $6-billion gap between current annual capital expenditures for wastewater treatment ($13 billion annually) and projected spending needs. The study also estimated that if wastewater spending increases by only 3% per year, the gap would shrink by nearly 90% (to about $1 billion annually).

The CBO released its own gap analysis in 2002, in which it determined that the gap for wastewater ranges from $23 billion to $37 billion annually, depending on various financial and accounting variables.”  [ASCE]

So, when all is said and done, we dawdled around until the EPA estimated that it would cost about $390 billion over the next 20 years to repair or replace inadequate water treatment plants and other components of the systems.  We hope you don’t mind we’re leaving you this bill for $390 billion?

The Education Bill:  It’s hard to account for all the needs of our 98,917 public schools in this country. [NCES]   If we’re being honest, we haven’t really looked at the number of aging buildings, or carefully studied their functional age since the “turn of the last century,” in 1999.  We do know that children who are in poverty are also in the oldest buildings. [NCES]   Additionally, we’ve known this not-so-fun fact since the 1999 study: “While 40 percent of small schools (enrollments of less than 300) were built before 1950, 23 percent of large schools (enrollments of 1,000 or more) were built before 1950.”  Since large schools tend to be secondary, we can assume we’ve been following the time honored practice of building nice big new high schools and moving the junior high kids into the old buildings?  Then there’s the “portable building” problem — we’ve known since the Fall of 2005 that portable buildings have more problems which interfere with instruction than standard buildings. [NCES] While the issues might not be too far from the similar interferences in standard buildings — we know they exist — it was just cheaper to ignore them.  Our spending on school construction, as analyzed by the ASCE might give you some pause:

“While detailed conditions and needs numbers do not exist, we do have up-to-date numbers on spending levels. According to the American School and University’s 34th Annual Official Education Construction Report, school construction completed in 2007 (which included both new construction and renovations) totaled more than $20.2 billion. That is down from a peak of $29 billion in 2004. The downward trend is expected to continue: with $52.7 billion in funding is projected between 2008 and 2010. This represents a significant decrease from the $68.4 billion spent between 2005 and 2007.1″

If you are thinking that you might be able to kick this discussion down the road, as we did, because privatization is the solution to every public problem, please think again. First, the charter schools are public buildings in which instruction is immediately governed by groups outside the system.  Secondly, they may not be located conveniently near you, or serve the age groups of your offspring:

“In 2009–10, over half (54 percent) of charter schools were elementary schools. Secondary and combined schools accounted for 27 and 19 percent of charter schools, respectively. In that year, about 55 percent of charter schools were located in cities, 21 percent were in suburban areas, 8 percent were in towns, and 16 percent were in rural areas. [NCES]

There are studies indicating some charter schools are doing better than some public schools, but we have to be careful with our numbers.  For example, one summarization of the different levels of educational achievement (read: test scores) failed to note that charter schools youngsters tend to be from more financially secure families.  [WaPo]  However, if we’re honest, we’d tell you that we’ve not been looking too closely behind the numbers of either the cost of building or maintaining schools, or at the cost of employing qualified teachers… But, Hey, we walked to school and back uphill both ways in driving blizzards.   And, about those standardized tests — “States are likely to spend $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion between 2002 and 2008 to implement NCLB-mandated tests, according to the non-partisan Government Accounting Office (GAO),” as of 2005. [RSO]  We’re leaving you the bill for that too. Whatever it might be.

The War Bill:  We were going to have another “Splendid Little War,” the one in Iraq.  The Bush Administration and a compliant Congress authorized the expenditures as “supplemental appropriations,” meaning that we didn’t have to look at the tab we were running in real time.

Total federal spending associated with the war has reached $1.7 trillion. Future promised health and disability payments for veterans through 2053 add up to $490 billion. So, as it stands now, the Iraq War has cost $2.2 trillion, which is a far cry from the initial 2002 estimates of $50 to $60 billion. When you factor in the interest, war expenses could swell to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. [NYDN]

So, we missed by a few dollars… but we’re leaving you with the very possible  $6 trillion bill anyway.

We might have paid for some of these items ourselves. We might even have given more consideration to the state of our bridges, dams, and public buildings.  We could have thought of the state of the air traffic system, or the highway syste, or the rail transportation system, we were leaving to you.  However, fretful as we were about these expenses and future costs, we decided that it was not in our best interests to close tax loopholes for giant multi-national energy corporations, or for yachts, or for private jets.  We decided that we “over taxed” our corporations, and rewarded them when they “repatriated” money earned overseas to the U.S.   We decided it was more important to appropriate money for airplanes that didn’t fly than to pay for G.I. benefits earned by service.  We decided it was more important to protect the interests of Wall Street than Main Street.  We decided that money earned in speculation was just as hard won as income from investments or good old fashioned hard labor.   We didn’t want to “burden” you with restrictions on financiers, or humongous banks, or on the incomes to be earned by the top 1% of the population — we wanted you to be “free,” to have “liberty,” and to say nice things about America!

We love you dearly, and want you to know that we think of you always.   Good Luck.   (PS: Hope you don’t mind we’re moving in with you.  After cuts in Social Security and the voucherization of Medicare we’re having a little financial difficulty at the moment.  Even Meals on Wheels isn’t coming anymore.  We could babysit for you now that the Headstart Program serves only a few kids in your neighborhood?)

The Gramps

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Privatization Posse Rides With Rhee

“There they go again.”  The Privatization Posse rolled into Nevada with the most recent incarnation of plans to privatize our public education system. “The proposed bill would allow parents and teachers to petition school district officials to execute one of several federal recipes for school improvement, including replacing the principal and half the staff, closing the school or converting it into a charter school.”  [LVSun]

Consider the Source

The first clue to the ultimate intent of the legislation is the enthusiastic sponsor — Nevada’s very own right wing Tea Party state Senator Mike Roberson (R-LV).  The second clue is that the astroturf StudentsFirst organization founded by former Washington, D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, is aligned with the Chamber of Commerce, and Republican Governors in Ohio and Michigan, and — not surprisingly — Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. [HuffPo]

The third clue is that the vultures are circling; here’s one example among many:

“In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.  The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.” [Reuters]

The Premise

The proposed legislation rationalizing the privatization of our public schools rests on the highly questionable premise that parents have “no voice” in the operation of their schools.   Not True.   At worst, this premise discourages parents and guardians from active participation in school district discussions by informing parents in advance that they are powerless in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy.   After spending many a less than thrilling hour attending school board meetings, I can say without much fear of too much contradiction, a packed room works wonders in terms of the enlightenment of school committee or board members.  Nothing so moves a recalcitrant principal to action as a few telephone calls from parents, and nothing is more appreciated by classroom teachers than calls from parents asking what they can do to get Johnny or Susie’s arithmetic grades up.

Parental involvement matters.  Better still, parents don’t have to adopt proposals for expensive consultants, pricey Silver Bullets from corporate vendors, and for-profit “management solutions.”   Corporate proposals for education are analogous to selling any other product — We, say the corporations, will do for  you what you don’t want to do for yourself.  And, that’s the premise of any private service, from selling carpet cleaning to lawn care — the corporation or firm will do for us what we do not wish to do for ourselves.

It’s ironic that while stoutly defending and “promoting” parental involvement in the education of their children, the proponents of the right wing privatization plans are essentially telling parents: Here’s a legislative answer to your desire for better education which allows you to outsource the education of your children to for-profit corporations.   And, IF your local elementary school is transferred to the management of a private corporation answerable to their shareholders from an elected board of education who are members of the community — then which organizational structure is obviously more closely accountable to parents in the LOCAL area?  In which structure do parents have more power?

Fiscal responsibility matters.  The Privatization Posse depends on the myth that private sector management is always cheaper and more efficient.  Not True.  They are cheaper. [BIPP]  They are not necessarily more efficient, nor do they necessarily provide a better outcome.

Management Issues:  There appears to be a generalized premise that public schools can fail, but charter schools do not.  Wrong.

“Of the approximately 6,700 charter schools that have ever opened across the United States, 1,036 have closed since 1992. There are 500 additional charter schools that have been consolidated back into the district or received a charter but were unable to open.”  [AJC]

So, from 1992 to 2011 6,700 charter school lost 1,036 to closure and another 500 to reversion.   That computes to a 22.92% failure rate, approximately 1 in 4.

What were the reasons for the failure: “There are five primary reasons for charter closures – financial (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), academic (18.6 percent), district obstacles (6.3 percent) and facilities (4.6 percent).” [AJC]

Combine the top two reasons for charter failure and we find 65.7% going down because of financial constraints and/or mismanagement.   Now we should return to the question of parental and voter involvement, because the solution offered by proponents of chartered education are NOT advising more parental control, to wit:

“As overseers of charter school performance, financially affiliated directors serve as an important link to external resources and support flowing into the school insofar as they act as a credible signal to other donors and sponsors. Additionally, the academic program supplied by the charter school must be of high quality and financial resources are properly managed by school administrators and governing board.”  [CharterNB] (emphasis added)

To whom are the charter managers and administrators responsible?  “Donors and Sponsors.”  Those are not necessarily voters and parents.

Getting Results

The essential question should be for all the abdication of parental influence in school management, and for all the public funds funneled to private education corporations and groups — do charter schools offer better education?

“Middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools, according to a study funded by the federal government and released Tuesday.

This is the first large-scale randomized study to be conducted across multiple states, and it lends some fuel to those who say there is little evidence to back the drive for more charters.” [ChSciMon]

Similar results were obtained in a study of charter schools in Michigan. [MLive] [EJ.org] There is some evidence that urban low income areas may benefit from charter schools, but the notion that charter schools have an across the board advantage over the public schools is not substantiated by the research to date.

This is a Test

Q: If the research to date does not offer evidence that charter schools are necessarily any better at educating our children, then why should parents hand over their authority to directly elect school boards of education to boards of unelected corporate managers?

You may open your blue-book now.

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