Friday, July 20, 2012

Privatizing Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus

IF YOU ARE AN EDUCATION NEWS JUNKIE, and who isn't, you've probably heard Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Governor "Candy Bar" Chris Christie in New Jersey talk about problems in education. Usually, when they mean "problems," they mean teachers and unions. Their favorite solution? Let's privatize America's public schools. It's the Tea Party Holy Grail. If we are to believe what they say we would know that government is always bad and business is pure and good. So let's see how privatizing schools is working in that place we liberals call "reality."

Frontier Virtual Charter High School (based in Philadelphia) closed down this week after Pennsylvania State Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis revoked the school's charter less than one year into "operation." Authorities said they had no choice but to take drastic measures, "citing an astonishingly long list of academic and financial problems."  Most of those problems came to light in March when John Craig, Frontier CEO, laid off the teaching staff and principal.

Minor details.

At that point the school year came to a grinding halt. Parents reported that kids sat around for weeks, pretty much doing nothing. Frontier failed to provide promised computers. Minor details. And failed to provide...classes. Minor, minor details. It gets even better. When school leaders, those still left, realized everyone was going to fail for the year they created "Save-My-Year" credit packets to stave off academic disaster. Meanwhile, authorities reported, the people who ran Frontier "spent a 'significant' amount of money on things that weren't related to the cyber school."

Next, let's give it up for Pennsylvania Cyber School! If you're a foe of privatization this one is almost too good to be true. On July 12, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

Federal agents executed a series of search warrants today at Pennsylvania Cyber School offices in Beaver County and several other locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio in connection with an ongoing investigation.

It's safe to say that any time the words "federal agents" and "series of search warrants" appear in a sentence about schools, well, we're not having the best educational day.

On July 15, the Post-Gazette added details. PCS, is the largest internet school serving Pennsylvania and Ohio, enrolling 11,300 students and raking in $103 million from local school districts last year. The school was founded by Nick Trombetta, 57, who announced in May that he was leaving the field to "try something else."

Read about all the spinoffs PCS created if you'd like details. Read how one "education" company begot a second and then a third and fourth, how different executives and boards at all these various entities, filled with ex-PCS executives, pocketed millions. Read how Trombetta held several paying positions at once. You might be excused if you suspected he was leaving education to try his hand at bank robbery.

Or:  working for J. P. Morgan.

STILL NOT CONVINCED THAT BUSINESS HEROES, aided and abetted by politicians like Governor John Kasich here in Ohio, can save our children? Or that they'll really care??? How about K-12, Inc. an online school operation, which owns Ohio Virtual Academy? The company spends $6,108 per pupil vs. $10,660 at traditional brick and mortar schools, mainly because K-12 pays teachers half what regular public schools do. This huge savings for taxpayers! Ohio Virtual Academy has only one building and 7,277 students (although numbers do fluctuate wildly) and a student-teacher ratio of 56-1 vs. a state average of 16-1. Assigning each teacher three-and-a-half times as many pupils and paying them less, allows K-12, Inc. to make tidy profits taxpayers a fantastic deal. What? Not such a deal? The school's own website admits to a yearly dropout rate of 14.9%.

The average for the rest of the state:  4.3%. Really. You can look it up.

What about ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow)? According to education reformer Diane Ravitch the school enrolled 12,000+ Ohio students in 2010-11. Sadly, 6,738 satisfied customers...we mean "students"...withdrew in a period of nine months. Another 3,045 dropped out. A turnover rate of 81% in a single year! So what do you do when private enterprise really sucks?

You cover up a staggeringly bad graduation rate, 35% as recently as 2009, by donating $220,000 to leading GOP politicians.

If paying off politicians doesn't work do what Success Academy Charter Schools Inc. does in New York. The company operates ten schools and is headed up by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who knows a money-making scheme when she sees one. Moskowitz is demanding an increase in funding of $1,350 to $2,000 per child from the state, preferably the higher figure, citing an "unsustainable" deficit. Juan Gonzalez, writing for the New York Daily News paints the picture in slightly different colors. On its annual tax forms, SAC has consistently reported year-end surpluses, $23.5 million last time Gonzalez checked.

You don't want to run a privatized school on the cheap, not when you know the State of New York is footing the final bill. So why not spend (tax dollars) to advertise?

As Gonzalez notes:
Last year alone, the [SAC] network spent an astounding $883,119 on "student recruitment"--much of it for glossy flyers mailed to hundreds of thousands of parents; bus stop and Internet ads and an army of paid recruiters to go door-to-door soliciting student applications...It paid $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a high-powered public relations firm, to supplement its own in-house press people, and another $129,000 to a Washington consulting firm...But that wasn't all that Success Academy spent on marketing itself. The network's first seven schools incurred an additional $912,000 "student recruitment" expenditure last year, most of it going to big advertising and branding companies.

And how does Moskowitz do helping students? She do nicely, herself, yes she do. In 2006-2007, for example, when her network ran four schools and enrolled 1,000 students, Eva raked in a healthy $371,000 in salary.

Business people. Always putting kids first and profit second. Not like all those greedy, greedy teachers.

In related crazy-town news, lawmakers in Louisiana passed legislation three weeks ago to expand a school voucher program, "allowing educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups." Republican Valarie Hodges put up a valiant, highly unexpected, last-ditch effort to halt the move. Hodges was gung ho and ready to vote "yea," until some random thought started rattling around inside her head and she realized such legislation might mean the little Louisiana boys and girls might attend...Muslim schools!

You can't fool Valerie Hodges! No, mam, no way. The woman knows her U. S. Constitution and her Bill of Rights. “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” Hodges assured reporters. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

Only...not so much if parents were Muslim...or, we can probably safely assume, Jew.

(This is why many thinking individuals, such as those who cherish First Amendment rights, tend to believe we should keep the Bible, both King James and Latin Vulgate versions, the Koran and the Book of Mormon out of public schools.)

Hodges went on to sound a typical tocsin (or might "toxin" work better) of right-wing alarm: “Unfortunately [the expanded voucher program] will not be limited to the Founders’ religion.” The danger was clear. All you had to do was look under the bed and there was that terrorist Boogie Man, sort of a paranoid Tea Party person's version of the imaginary friend. "We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools," she continued. "There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Good save, heroic defender of liberty! Honor the freedoms you supposedly cherish by imposing your ideas about religion on fellow citizens.

Finally, if you're going to fund religious schools, you have to have standards. So, we save the best for last. According to the HeraldScotland (which follows all Loch Ness-related stories, even in this country) Louisiana taxpayers' support for religious schools will include...well, not those dirty Muslims...but vouchers for "private schools [that] follow a fundamentalist curriculum including the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme to teach controversial religious beliefs aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism." Those who teach ACE science like to believe "that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man then Darwinism is fatally flawed."

According to Scottish reporters, who have to be scratching their heads, ACE textbooks are also "hostile towards other religions and other sectors of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism; and present a biased version of history that is often factually incorrect."

No problem so far! The story continues:
One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

If you're a liberal you don't think Nessie appears to be anything. You think these right-wing crackpots who want to privatize public schools and spend taxpayer dollars to support all kinds of religious schools are nuts.

Use a little imagination and you can hardly wait to see what kind of science they'll be teaching at Scientology High, perhaps coming soon to Shreveport, Opelousas or Baton Rouge.

Coming soon to a taxpayer funded school near you!


  1. Replies
    1. BurntChrome, is there some way I can have you share other posts, if they're good?

  2. Why can't people believe this is happening? It is. And it will destroy public education if it doesn't collapse on itself.

  3. How could someone have been an objective teacher with the perspective you write with? No way...

    1. There's a vast difference between working in a classroom, where a teacher should keep many of his own ideas to himself and writing for a blog, which involves stating one's positions.

      See. It's really, really simple.

      Or, do you have some kind of evidence to the contrary? Evidence is good. That's why I don't believe Nessy is a dinosaur--in fact, I don't believe Nessy exists.

      I do believe in the extensive fossil record, however.

  4. Sarcasm and teachers seems to be a competency of most. Unfortunate for those who see a far greater and deeper service than the surface, and ill use of teachers sarcasm. I'd suggest you read how indoctrination happens, apparently you believe you separated your personal views from how you conducted your classroom. No way. Your vote, and your sarcasm against the free market that this no separation.

    1. Your ability to judge all teachers as a group is, frankly, amazing. Your ability to know what I was like as a teacher without ever seeing a second of my work is even more stunning.

      Your inability to read is baffling. The original post is about crookedly-operated charter schools. Am I to assume, from your comments, that you are a big fan of crooks? Or, do I offend with my sarcasm?

      If you want insight into how I taught, read the posts from December 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th.

      If you want to know about other good teachers, read
      the dozens of positive comments made by former students about other professionals in my district: January 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th and 15th.

      Finally, if you will pay copying and postage, I can send you a few hundred letters and positive comments I received over the years.

      Otherwise, take your magic powers elsewhere. You don't have a clue what you're talking about when you criticize what I did in a classroom. I don't know what YOU do; I'd never fault your performance, though, unless I saw you in action.
      For all I know, you're a lepidopterist. You might even be a good one. I can't know though, because I've never met you.

  5. Your ability to judge all others who oppose your view, is amazing. It's why if you were objective, you would encourage others to learn about perspectives far different than your own, rather than preach the gospel according to a teacher.

    1. I'm not judging anyone, except you. I'm thinking you're a fool.

  6. And you've met all other teachers, and labeled them good? If anyone is generalizing, it's you, sir.

  7. See if you can find a sentence in this blog post, or any other, that says "all teachers are good." You seem to need remedial reading help. Or you are seeing illusions.

  8. Did you speak to students this way? Dispicable. You should be ashamed, but your 'approach' is not uncommon of the arrogance found in teachers. It is however, extremely sad that this is how you must prove yourself. Look no further than the generalizations in the first paragraph of the article above.

    1. No, dear, kind, sir. I'm only speaking to you.

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  12. Mr. V,
    You're so rude to your blog readers. U DOLT!

    1. I am happy to know a former student is reading my blog on occasion. Dolts stick together.

  13. The Johnathan Swift of modern education. I laugh, but mostly I cry.

  14. I knew ACE schools were stupid. But "Nessie" made my day.