Posted tagged ‘School Reform’

Lex Luthor is Waiting for Superman

September 20, 2010

I never really cared for comic book revisionism.  When they replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern I screamed bloody murder.  However, when John Byrne took bumbling mad scientist Lex Luthor and turned him into a corporate fiend, it was a brilliant move.  In the past, Luthor had build giant robots, death rays, a green and purple armored suit, but none of these posed a threat to the Man of Steel.  As a reader I knew this.   What John Byrne did in 1986 was to find a foe that Superman couldn’t face in a fair fight—a corporate executive.   Superman couldn’t just fly into a board room and haul Luthor off to prison, he had to catch Luthor in the act and to the public Luthor was corporate hero.  He hid his crimes behind a facade of good works.

For me, the new movie Waiting for Superman is very aptly titled for the movie is little more than propaganda designed to be  a happy face on those who seek to profit at our children’s expense.  To truly appreciate the movie you must accept three claims:

1. Public teacher unions are so powerful people like Bill Gates and the folks who run Walmart can’t figure out a way around them.

2. Countries like Finland and Sweden that have much more powerful teachers unions than we do and are considered the world’s top school systems have nothing we can learn from

3. Schools in the South are a utopia since they do not have teacher’s unions or have right to work laws that make them useless.

4. Public school teachers don’t care about kids, only corporations do.

5. The people pushing education reform based on standardized tests and strict discipline like KIPP seek education opportunities for their own children directly opposite the KIPP philosophy by mere coincidence

6. That a failed teacher like Michelle Rhee after 2 years of struggling to control her own classroom suddenly found the magic formula for teaching and abruptly left the classroom to recruit teachers.  She now is capable of running a big city school district despite the parents that live there seeing her as one of the main reasons to vote against the mayor that hired her.

I could go on, but really if you can look at those 6 and tell me that the movie still makes a lot of good points, there really is no reason to continue.   We want a first world education system and we should have it, but we do not have first world health care for children, we have third world levels of childhood poverty, we are no longer a country that values our lower class or most of our middle class.   Our poverty numbers exceed what they were in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson declared his war on poverty.   Jim Horn has some wonderful information here on just why this movie is so blatantly propaganda most vile.  I would also recommend checking out Charter School Scandals before holding them  as the panacea that the movie makers want you to.

It’s sad when children don’t make the lottery to get into the school they want or when they are called into the office to be told that they are a discipline problem, have special needs, or just are too low to remain at the charter school.   Fortunately, they can always go to the public school.   They take everybody.


Why Teacher Accountability Flounders

November 30, 2009

“If you catch a man a fish you can sell it to him. If you teach a man to fish you lose a wonderful business opportunity.” -Groucho Marx.

There was a blog post that I saw on twitter today from the ironically named Charter School Insights blog.   The post was entitled Michelangelo with a fillet knife and in it, the author makes a very compelling case why people who gut fish should be paid different rates based on their abilities.   Unfortunately, his post falls apart when he attempts to make an analogy between gutting fish and teaching children.

The problem with accountability is that in a school system like Chicago which is controlled by the mayor, the mayor is really not accountable for the schools.   Voters elect candidates based on a whole host of variables and the quality schools tends to be a very small part of any big city mayoral election.   Underneath our mayor is the Chief Executive Officer.  Despite a record of failure, our CEO went to Washington to run the Department of Education.  No accountability there.  Then you have the people who write the curriculum, the administrators, the area officers–nope, no accountability there.  In fact, the only people expected to be accountable are the classroom teachers.

Can you imagine the public outrage  if Obama gave his speech on Afghanistan this week and announced that the problem wasn’t our strategy, but the lazy and incompetent soldiers on the ground?  If only the grunts are accountable, you don’t have accountability.  What you have is a great place to pass the buck.

One example of the lack of accountability is the math curriculum mess in the city of Chicago.   The city’s teachers are required to use an ineffective curriculum that is based on the idea of not teaching to mastery, but of cycling through different topics.   That means that at any time if you were to ask a 4th grader if she knew what three times 12 was, she could tell you, “That’s multiplication.  I’m familiar with that”, but probably couldn’t tell you the correct answer.   Why do we have this curriculum?  The main reason is because the person who developed it at one of our local universities had a high ranking position in the city’s math department.  He then retired and sold this program to every school in the city.  Can you smell the accountability yet?

From teachers of young students who are left to potty train their students to teachers of older students breaking up gang fights, there is a large part of a teacher’s day that is not measurable by any standardized test.   If we really intend to make a move for accountability, let’s start with Washington where they continue to completely bungle health care.   Let’s look at childhood poverty.   Finland is supposed to have the best school system in the world.   Here’s a chart showing childhood poverty by country and tell me that it makes no difference in a child’s education:

Now, lest anybody think that I am making up excuses for teachers and arguing that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable because of all the difficulties they face in educating our nation’s youth, I must say I am not.   When we signed up to be teachers, we signed up for this.  From our first day of student teaching, we knew what we were getting into.   It is the job of a school’s administration to get rid of bad teachers.   I am simply saying that it’s real easy to scape goat teachers and demand accountability from them, but if we really want to make an improvement in our schools, we need to be better than that.

Imagine Schools Cash in on Education

November 26, 2009

Reprinted from – November 9, 2009

Dennis Bakke is on top of the education world.   As the CEO of Imagine Schools, he oversees the fastest growing brand name in the education business with over 36,000 students at 74 schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia.   He is rightfully heralded as one of the leaders of the education reform movement.   The Washington Post lauded Mr. Bakke and his wife Eileen for winning a lawsuit to force Maryland to increase their funding for charter schools by over 60%.   Jason Botel, who directs KIPP charter schools in Baltimore, is one educator who knows what the Bakkes have accomplished. “Their funding of advocacy efforts has helped make sure that . . . charter schools like ours can provide a great education for children in Maryland,” he said.

Bakke has done quite well for himself and for other charter operators.  In fact, last year he donated $20,000 to Republican politicians in his own name.   He’s a member of The Family, a Christian organization that was recently in the news following several sex scandals.  What does Bakke owe his success too?  He sums up his philosophy in two words, “have fun”, which is a philosophy that has served Bakke well over the years.   In fact,  he wrote a book on it called “Joy at Work” which was a very successful publication.   The Bakkes say parents are attracted to their schools in part because of the emphasis on character. “We talk to the kids from Day One,” Eileen Bakke said. “What does it mean to be responsible? What does it mean to have integrity?”

One trick that Imagine Education has used was just revealed in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch in the form of a leaked email from Bakke to his top executives at Imagine Schools.  The email explains several tricks for picking the executive boards of Imagine Charter Schools carefully to avoid board members who feel, “ownership of the school. Many honestly believe it is their school and that the school will not go well without them steering the school toward “excellence”. They believe they are the “governing” Board even if that adjective to describe the board has never been used by an Imagine School person.”

The board members probably get this idea from local laws that usually require local residents govern the charter school.  There is an excellent article in the November 1st Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that shows how the entire charter process was manipulated by Bakke and Imagination Schools in opening up 4 chart schools in Fort Wayne Indiana.  The paper concluded that the advisory board makes no decisions and gives no advice, “Not the $87,510 a year to operate school buses. Not $114,871 to run a lunch program. Not which teachers are hired or whether to hold summer school, or even whether to borrow more than $1 million for operations.”

So how much money is Imagination Schools making on the for profit education game?  In Indiana the local contract required the schools there to give the parent company 12 cents on every tax  dollar they took in.   This seems to be a fairly standard contract for the company.   If they have 36,000 students and states are giving them on average about $6,000 per student simple math comes out to about $26 million tax free.   That’s good, but let’s face it you can barely pay the salary of one power hitting third baseman for that.    Fortunately, you can’t beat real estate for generating profits.

The Dallas News explained how Imagine’s real estate works.   The real estate arm of Imagine Schools is called Schoolhouse Finance:

In Nevada, the state awarded 100 Academy of Excellence in North Las Vegas a charter, and the school hired Imagine to run its educational services. Schoolhouse Finance, the Imagine subsidiary, paid for the school’s property and building construction. Schoolhouse Finance then leased the property to the charter school for $1.4 million a year.

Next, Schoolhouse Finance sold the $8 million property to a real estate investment trust, Kansas City, Mo.,-based Entertainment Properties Trust. The trust then leased the property back to Schoolhouse Finance at a lower rate than the charter school pays.

Money remaining after Schoolhouse Finance pays its lease to the trust goes to Imagine Schools Inc. This tiered lease system has led to 10 percent returns on investment for owners and investors in the two companies.

A principal in Indiana and another one in Las Vegas were fired after complaining to Imagine about rent that cost them approximately 40% of their operating budget.   Most charters pay 10-15% of their operating budget for rent if they don’t own the property outright.  This leaves the schools with very little money for things like books and teachers.    From May of 2008 until November of this year, Imagine went from 51 to 74 schools.   Yet, this year the teachers at the Imagine Charter School in Weston, FA were hit with pay cuts of up to 22 percent.

OK, I had to do another serious education story and yeah, it’s kind of dry with all the money talk.   Sometimes, outrage does overtake my desire for satire.   The point here is that in the world of for profit education, expanding is everything.   Whether you’re talking about KIPP, UNO, or any of the other charter school groups with multiple schools you have to follow the money.   Tax dollars that should be going to the children of this country, in too many cases are going to companies like this.   Is this really reform?  Is opening up more schools like this really a race to the top?