Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Voucher and Charter Abuses

The Baton Rouge Advocate carried a story that stumbled upon a common practice of both voucher and charter schools called creaming. This story is about a child who received a voucher to attend a religious school in Ascension Parish. Upon attempting to enroll her child in the school, the parent found out that the school required an entrance interview and the taking of an enrollment test. Following the testing, the parent was notified by the school that her child would be required to repeat the 4th grade in order to be accepted by the school. The student had passed the 4th grade LEAP which normally is the main criteria for promotion to the 5th grade, yet the voucher school would not honor the previous placement of the student. As a result the parent will probably choose not to enroll her child in the voucher school.

These practices (the entrance interview and grade repeat requirements) allow a school to skim only the most "acceptable" students without officially refusing entry to some students they don't want. Many charter schools "manage" their enrollment in this manner to insure high performance ratings. Real public schools must accept all students no matter what it does to their performance scores.

Another story in the same issue explains how Crestworth Middle school will now be taken over by the state from its charter manager partly because of fire code violations. But it also turns out that the charter board has not been paying its bills and is probably in financial trouble. So even though the media has buried the real story, all but one of the charter takeover schools in the Baton Rouge area have now been taken back from their charter operators. And the one still in the hands of its charter operator is a Turkish operated school still under investigation for possible violations of policy and/or law. Instead of reporting on the complete disaster of the Baton Rouge takeovers, The Advocate a couple of months ago announced that the State Department had created a new "achievement zone" to take over failing Baton Rouge schools. That article forgot to mention that all but one of the schools being taken over were really failed Recovery District schools.

You couldn't make this stuff up! The voucher and charter schools are a huge waste of our taxpayer dollars, yet the new media in Baton Rouge continues to assist the State Department of Education in trying to dupe the public. This one story by reporter Charles Lussier is the first one by the Advocate that begins to tell the public truth about how deceptive the Recovery District has been in dealing with the charter school disasters.

Take a look at the latest posts by Diane Ravitch just today that demonstrate how dangerous these vouchers and charters can be to our public school systems and how they shortchange our students. To add insult to injury, Louisiana is becoming a laughing stock across the country for Jindal's reform fiascoes.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wall Street Vultures

A member of the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education sent me this link to a Reuters news story dated Aug.2 about a recent business conference where the opportunities for school privatization schemes were discussed with interested business persons. It seems that many of the Wall Street guys see K-12 education as a major source of big profits. Big profits? How can that be at this time of shrinking school budgets and increased mandated costs to local school systems?

Here's the gist of it. The wall street guys have figured out that the major cost of providing K-12 education is in personnel. You know the cost of salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators, central office personnel, and even custodial workers. Also because of a major pension and health insurance cost escalation (much of it caused by the shenanigans of those same Wall Street guys) local school systems and states are looking for alternatives to the high cost of education personnel. Some entrepreneurs are proposing to replace education personnel with various forms of computerized instruction. Another big factor working in the profiteers favor is the current panic about the supposedly poor performance of our public education system compared to other industrialized countries. (See Diane Ravitch's analysis of this bogus issue) Some politicians are convinced that the way for America to boost education performance is to turn over large segments of the education process to private enterprise.

Louisiana of all states is probably the most ripe for the picking by these opportunists. Governor Jindal has fixed it so that almost any huckster with a “great new educational product” is allowed to raid the MFP funding for public schools and make a profit with almost no accountability to the taxpayers. I don't know of any other state that has opened up the public treasury to more "no bid" deals for grabbing education tax dollars than Louisiana.

Some have proposed that the free market system in the long run will insure that taxpayers will get the best results with education dollars spent on privatization. You know the famous Jindal quote: “Parents are the best accountability system.” That's not at all guaranteed. Let me give you one example from a related area. A few days ago I saw an ad on television for the University of P____, promising young people a great career if they would just pick up the phone and make a call for information. So instead of making the call, I decided to google a few facts about the University of P____. I found out that this for-profit company has an enrollment of over 300,000 students, many of them receiving instruction on line instead of in a building where you have to pay rent, utilities, custodians etc. Also since there is no guarantee of maximum class size, we have no way of knowing how much contact students have with instructors. You can be sure that this for profit company is minimizing their instructional personnel costs. According to the University web site, the tuition is over $11,000. I couldn't tell if that was for a semester or a year of instruction. I wondered how successful this “University” has been in preparing students for valuable careers as is claimed in the ad so I googled graduation rates and found that this school has only a 2% four year graduation rate! Then I googled student reviews of the school and got a bunch of remarkably negative reviews. Mostly the reviews were by young adults who claimed that they ended up deeply in debt with college loans and could find no one willing to hire them with their U of P degree. I wondered how so many young people could be fooled into signing up for this obviously bogus education? Then I googled entrance requirements and found out that all you need to get into this school is a GED. So part of the problem is that these online education sellers “take” anyone who is willing to get a government guaranteed loan and worry very little about whether or not the student gets something for his/her money. This is obviously an extremely successful company as measured by profit but a total ripoff of the students and taxpayers! Do a little googling of your own and you will find dozens of other high profit, low standard, low performance online schools just like the U of P. The problem is that now that we are allowing corporate America to buy many of our politicians there is very little chance of government oversight.

So how does this relate to K-12 in Louisiana? Plenty! Just look at the multitude of ads for K-12 virtual school and Connections Academy where they are trying to lure students away from public schools into their online schools. Soon our MFP will pay the tuition for every kid who gets lured to these sites (Next year there will be no limit to how many students can enroll using the course choice option, and our guidance counselors are prohibited by the new law from discouraging enrollment in such off campus courses). In Colorado the media has uncovered the fact that many of these online students drop out after the online school gets the bulk of the state funding and the students often go back to the public school that has had its funds raided. Those that actually stay in the online schools are performing significantly lower than similar students who go to a real school.

Massive advertising campaigns work! Look at all the legislators and BESE members Jindal and his corporate buddies were able to get elected to office with slick advertising campaigns. Louisiana taxpayers and parents are being fleeced at an accelerating rate. Louisiana as poor as it is, and with all its tax giveaways to big business, is now the proving ground for raiding public education funds to make rich people even richer while our kids get less and less.

Do you want to do your part to stop this attack on public education in Louisiana? If so, you can join my Defenders of Public Education. I believe that dedicated educators can do much to stop this destructive privatization effort. Just last week we sent emails thanking the two BESE members who had the moral fortitude to oppose what I called the Whitewashing of accountability for voucher schools. We know however that our best hope of success is with the legislature. There are dedicated public educators who live in every legislative district in this state. If educators will just use their political influence with their own legislators, I believe we can accomplish much. Have you really had a face to face talk with your two legislators about the major problems with Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session? Our initiative for the next month or two will be to have those face to face talks with our legislators. Please send me your home address or at least your zip code and favored email address to louisianaeducator@gmail.com so I can place you in the data base according to your legislative districts and send you custom emails as future legislative decisions are being considered.