Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Charter Corruption


A huge Pot of Gold had turned into a disaster for schoolchildren in Newark. Charges of racism appear at the end of Newark's Pot of Gold Rainbow. And parents and voters are learning just how little they really knew about what was going on until their neighborhood schools began closing. Hundreds of millions of dollars were involved. Here's the gist of what happened:

New Yorker article graphic
Late one night in December, 2009, a black Chevy Tahoe in a caravan of cops and residents moved slowly through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Newark. In the back sat the Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, and the Republican governor-elect of New Jersey, Chris Christie....

Booker had been a champion of vouchers and charter schools for Newark since he was elected to the city council, in 1998, and now he wanted to overhaul the school district. He would need Christie’s help....

...[R]eformers argued that well-run schools with the flexibility to recruit the best teachers could overcome many of the effects of poverty, broken homes, and exposure to violence. That usually meant charter schools, which operated free of the district schools’ large bureaucracies and union rules. “We know what works,” Booker and other reformers often said. They blamed vested interests for using poverty as an excuse for failure, and dismissed competing approaches as incrementalism. Education needed “transformational change.” Mark Zuckerberg, the twenty-six-year-old head of Facebook, agreed, and he pledged a hundred million dollars to Booker and Christie’s cause.

Almost four years later, Newark has fifty new principals, four new public high schools, a new teachers’ contract that ties pay to performance, and an agreement by most charter schools to serve their share of the neediest students. But residents only recently learned that the overhaul would require thousands of students to move to other schools, and a thousand teachers and more than eight hundred support staff to be laid off within three years. In mid-April, seventy-seven members of the clergy signed a letter to Christie requesting a moratorium on the plan, citing “venomous” public anger and “the moral imperative” that people have power over their own destiny. Booker, now a U.S. senator, said in a recent interview that he understood families’ fear and anger: “My mom—she would’ve been fit to be tied with some of what happened.”... [emphasis added]
Graphic from "Flipping Schools" article below
Behind New Jersey Education Reform,"
By Owen Davis, Truthout, August 2014.
Half a year after Newark Public Schools launched an "agenda to ensure all students are in excellent schools," the plan has come under a federal civil rights investigation to determine whether it "discriminates against black students."

The investigation centers on a cluster of school closings in Newark's predominantly black South Ward. Absent a consistent reason why the district targeted these schools - such as poor academics or declining enrollment - activists alleged discrimination. The "One Newark" reform plan, they wrote, would "continue a pattern of shuttering public schools in communities of color."

This investigation could illuminate the structural forces behind Newark school reforms. Though there's been ample media coverage of the city's noisy school politics - from Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to this year's contentious mayoral election - so far, these structural forces remain opaque.
But an in-depth look into the district's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to close one South Ward school reveals how real estate concerns and facilities funding increasingly drive neighborhood school closings and the expansion of privately managed charter schools. By allocating millions of dollars in little-known bonds exclusively to charters while imposing austerity on public facilities, the state has quietly stacked the deck for charters, leaving neighborhood schools to molder in decline....

All told, the district's plan would impact a third of Newark's schools....
...Newark charters have become "infamous for being able to leverage their bonds to flip buildings"....
But the fact that New Jersey stoppered facilities funding while directing $300 million in bonds to charters gives the lie to the notion that charters and district schools compete on a level playing field. As dilapidated neighborhood schools importune the SDA for urgent repairs, charters watch major construction projects break ground through no-interest loans not available to schools....
It's a familiar pattern. By systematically underfunding the public sector while extending market incentives to private actors, the Christie administration has essentially placed its thumb on the scale for charters. The result: Some charters enjoy gleaming new facilities (bankrolled by the same financial milieu that spends its down time plugging them), while the public sector continues its decline. [all emphasis added]
For more information on the purpose of charter schools in New Jersey and elsewhere see my book the deliberate dumbing down of america. On pages 427-428, you can read an excerpt of article from 1998, “COMING SOON TO A SCHOOL NEAR YOU: FORCED LABOR” By Paul Mulshine, columnist for the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger. Mulshine warned:
Imagine a state that uses its school system not to produce independent-minded, broadly educated citizens, but compliant workers trained to behave. A state where, in their early teens, children are forced to make a lifelong decision from 14 government-sanctioned career possibilities with such depressing titles as “waste management,” “administrative services” and “manufacturing, installation and repair.” A state where students in the government schools are forced to spend one day a week toiling in menial labor.
The old Soviet Union? China?
Nope. New Jersey.
I wish I were making this up. But I’m not. This is a fair summation—minus the jargon— of the School-to-Work program that the state is planning to impose on us next year....