Sunday, December 30, 2018

Charter School Advocates Moving to a Complete Takeover of EBR Schools

The Advocate reports here on a trip to Indianapolis for EBR school board members paid for by pro charter school, super rich donors. These out-of-state education reformers seem to believe that the transfer of more and more of our school tax dollars to support new charter schools will somehow improve education. Yet there is more and more evidence piling up demonstrating that these charter schools have the absolute worst results as measured by the very tests that the reformers rely upon to measure school success. The average ACT scores for the Charter school graduates in EBR are the absolute lowest (14.6 out of a possible 36 points) in the state. Performance on the elementary math and English tests place EBR charter takeover schools 5th from the bottom of the state's 72 school districts.

Here is an Advocate article about some of the out-of-state donors who have worked for several years to elect more charter advocates to the EBR school board. They have now basically succeeded in taking over the Board. EBR superintendent Warren Drake's job is now in jeopardy if he does not quickly jump on the privatization train.

But apparently evidence of performance is not important to the reformers once a school is converted to a charter. The reformers rely on performance data mostly as justification for taking over our public schools and converting them to mostly "for profit" charter schools. Then they can conveniently ignore the data.

Even the so called "non-profit" charters usually end up being a cash cow for the operators. Since the charter school operators get to appoint their own boards, they can pay themselves high salaries. Charter operators also hide some of their profits by having the charter school pay management fees and rent to companies that they also own. Some of those high salaries and fees coupled with mismanagement often result in collapse or bankruptcy of charters, with the taxpayer getting stuck with the tab to restart the school. See this report by Mercedes Schneider on some of the failed New Orleans charters. EBR recently had a couple of charters that went under without paying their utility bills and other obligations.

The most appalling thing about this story is that the takeover of our public schools is being aided and coordinated by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce (BRACC). Somehow our business community has been duped into pushing this ill conceived scheme.

Much of the funding for promotion of privatization of our schools will be the newly formed City Fund, already worth a cool 189 million. This fund will be used to promote what is called the "Portfolio Model" for the privatization of our public schools. This City Fund was created by wealthy hedge fund managers and the owners of Netflix. The name "Portfolio model" is appropriate since hedge fund managers made their fortunes by managing portfolios of other people's money. Now they want to "manage" our tax money by giving it to charter operators.

Without a shred of evidence to support the assumption that privatized charter schools provide a better education for our public school children, these self-appointed stewards of our school tax money will be pushing the EBR school board to turn over more of our taxes to unqualified operators of these independent schools. That's our school tax money being diverted without our permission.

How are they doing it? Are they using some of that out-of-state money to buy school supplies, textbooks, modern science equipment or to boost teacher salaries so we can attract the best educators to teaching jobs? Nope, not a penny for those things! At least, not so far. The money mostly goes to buying influence by electing school board members dedicated to privatization, and to giving campaign contributions to legislators who pass laws making the creation of charter and voucher schools a priority. In politics, money is a powerful weapon.  A few years ago out-of-state money helped to elect our Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also dedicated to privatization. Pro-Privatization governor Bobby Jindal and the new BESE members appointed our latest state superintendent in January 2012 with the goals of increasing testing and test prep, blaming teachers for any low ranking of our education system and to increase privatization.  How has that worked?

The results of reform and privatization in Louisiana:
Here, again, is some of that pesky data on student performance: When White was appointed, our state was ranked about about 5th from the bottom of all states in student test performance on the national NAEP test. Now our average ranking is last among all states and just a hair above the District of Columbia schools. Recently, BESE and White removed basically all standards for student promotion from one grade to the next, and have lowered the passing standard on high school end-of-course tests to less than 20% correct answers on most of the state tests. It's no wonder that our graduation rate has increased in recent years.

How could the State Board of Education and even the reformers themselves condone and approve such ridiculously low standards for high school graduation? Probably because at least some of them don't know what the cut scores for passing grades really are. The raw cut scores for passing are kept secret from almost everyone by converting them to scale scores that look pretty good. For example, the lowest scale score for passing is 700 out of a possible score of 850 on the new LEAP 2025 tests. A simple calculation would seem to be 700/850 =  .82 or 82%. But scale scores cannot be converted in this manner to raw percentage scores. The conversion can only be done by using a conversion table originally known only to the testing company and to the LDOE. The conversion tables were revealed only because of public records requests backed up by the threat of lawsuits to enforce the law. For Algebra I, the conversion table reveals that the true passing score is only 14.7%.

Another investigation that reveals misleading practices of the LDOE is the revelation that in the last few years there has been great inflation of the various levels of achievement on the state LEAP tests compared to the NAEP. See this post. This practice makes it look like our students are doing a lot better in their basic skills courses than is indicated by the national tests.

But it's easy to fool people who have complete faith in educational reform and the people they have installed to implement it.  The Chamber and the big donors just want to believe that privatization and the blaming and shaming of teachers have produced real improvement. But in this era of alternate reality and alternate facts, sooner or later we need to come to grips with the real facts. Maybe then the hedge fund managers and the Chamber of Commerce will consider putting professional educators in charge and returning our public schools to the Louisiana taxpayers.