Saturday, May 10, 2014

NJ Ed Truth Squad Call to Action! Part 1

We interrupt this Teacher Appreciation Week to bring you a call to action:

Two pieces of information crossed my cyber desk this morning at the crack of dawn:

2. This very sad accounting of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's proposed conversion of a successful and beloved elementary school—Hawthorne Avenue—into a charter school. I write about this in my next post.

First, the House bill 

Sadly, one of the few things many Democrats and Republicans both in Congress and around the nation agree on is taking money out of public education to expand charter schools. While some Democrats want to do the right thing but are simply ill-informed, far too many have shown their true colors by abandoning the core values and principles of the party in favor of the almighty dollar. New Jersey's own Mother Crusader, aka Darcie Cimarusti, reports on the boatloads of money being spent on behalf of Shavar Jeffries in the Newark mayoral race (election is 5/12) by groups and individuals with ties to DFER (Democrats for Education Reform). 

Of course, education 'reformers' and the politicians they fund on both sides of the aisle have co-opted the civil rights rhetoric even though their laws and regulations—starting with Race to The Top—have resulted in more segregation in our nation's public schools. Diane Ravitch quotes a study by George Washington University Professor Iris Rothberg:

"There is a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income. The risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program."

But according House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) when commenting on the bill, "Expanding education opportunity for all students everywhere is the civil rights issue of our time. I say we help those students by expanding those slots so they can get off the waiting lists and into the classrooms." 

... even if those classrooms segregate students! 

Apparently the existing legislation did need some fine tuning and that's what this bill intended to do, but key amendments were voted out: 

Teachers unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association raised concerns that the legislation would not subject charter schools to federal education requirements, such as reporting teacher attrition rates and student discipline codes.  But the unions, key Democratic Party supporters, did say that the measure would include some improvements over current law such as creating weighted lotteries for charter school funding. 

The House rejected, 190-205, an amendment offered by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) that would require the Secretary of Education to develop conflict of interest guidelines for all charter schools receiving federal funds, such as disclosing individuals with financial interest in a given charter school. (emphasis mine)
"There have been very serious cases all across the country over the past few years involving the conflict of interest in charter schools," Castor said. 
But [House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman] John Kline (R-Minn.) said the proposal would be unnecessary. "This amendment is an overreach of federal authority," Kline said.

So, it's okay if the federal government overreaches into our classrooms with the wackiness of Race to The Top, the Common Core and its related testing, but any measures to protect taxpayers from 'massive fraud, mismanagement and abuse' is an 'overreach'.
Paul Rosenberg reported in Salon this week:

Just in time for National Charter School Week, there’s a new report highlighting the predictable perils of turning education into a poorly regulated business. Titled “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse,” the report focused on 15 states representing large charter markets, out of the 42 states that have charter schools. Drawing on news reports, criminal complaints, regulatory findings, audits and other sources, it “found fraud, waste and abuse cases totaling over $100 million in losses to taxpayers,” but warned that due to inadequate oversight, “the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.” (emphasis mine)

(Excuse me while I go relieve myself of my breakfast...)

Back to Congress:

Members also rejected, 179-220, an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to require charter schools to publish data regarding student enrollment criteria, discipline policies and orientation materials on their websites. (emphasis mine) 

"It is important to ensure that our parents have information and certainly should have info regarding the kind of discipline atmosphere that is there. They should also know whether or not there are serious commitments to making sure that their child's holistic future is in front of them," Jackson Lee said. 

Kline said that requiring charter schools to publish such information would impose an unnecessary workload not required of public schools. 

"I don't think we should be adding additional burdens onto charter schools," Kline said.

So let me get this straight: the federal government requires public schools to disclose student discipline codes, but Kline thinks it would be a burden on charters to do so? 
I think he's more concerned about ticking off some potentially big campaign donors if they think Congress is trying to level the playing field in any way, shape or form. 

For the record: I have not investigated Kline's donors, and I am in no way implying that he receives campaign donations from charter school investors.

The House gave voice vote approval to an amendment offered by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to require the Government Accountability Office to audit federal funds given to charter schools for administrative costs. 

"It is important we attempt to maximize the ability of the dollar to reach the classroom," Cassidy said.

Well, that's a good thing because there have been plenty of stories of inequity among what charter school administrators and their staff make, and what all charter school employees make vs. public school employees. See Texas and New Jersey. States like
 North Carolina are fighting to simply get that information disclosed. And 'reach the classroom' does include teacher salaries because you can have the greatest supplies and equipment in the world, but if you don't have a qualified, motivated and, yes, well paid educator in there, you won't get much ROI.

Here's how the New Jersey delegation voted on this bill:

Now, I don't have all the details of it, but as the article stated, it did fix certain problems with the current law and did pass with overwhelming bipartisan support which is about as rare as Halley's Comet. And I'm not accusing any of the Democrats listed here of purposefully trying to undermine public education. While I have never had a conversation with Reps. Sires, Pascrell or Payne, during my three years running for NJ State Assembly I did speak with both Reps. Pallone and Holt several times about education issues, and both of them are on our side. 

But here's what the #NJEdTruthSquad needs to do: We must contact every one of them on a regular basis and educate them on what we experience on the front lines. I've made it very easy to do. Look on the right hand side of this page and you'll find links to contact both your state and federal representatives. You can click on those links, find your rep and call or send him or her an email. It really is that easy!

And we must continue to do so any time an issue arises. Education is a powerful tool and we are experts at it! We must continue to let our representatives know how education 'reform' is killing public education, hurting our students and damaging our profession. 

The bill is headed to the senate next. We must contact Senators Menendez and Booker.

Please take a moment and contact them right now.