Charter Schools Are Reshaping America’s Education System for the Worse

Buttons opposing charter schools

A protester wears buttons opposing charter schools during a protest in Bellevue, Washington, on October 13, 2017. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren)

Charter schools have been hailed as the antidote to public-school dysfunction by everyone from tech entrepreneurs to Wall Street philanthropists. But a critical autopsy by the advocacy group Network for Public Education (NPE) reveals just how disruptive the charter industry has become—for both students and their communities.

Charter schools are technically considered public schools but are run by private companies or organizations, and can receive private financing—as such, they are generally able to circumvent standard public-school regulations, including unions. This funding system enables maximum deregulation, operating like private businesses and free of the constraints of public oversight, while also ensuring maximum public funding.

According to Carol Burris of NPE, charter schools “want the funding and the privilege of public schools but they don’t want the rules that go along with them.” She cites charter initiatives’ having developed their own certification policies, as well as disciplinary codes and academic standards—a tendency toward “wanting the best of both worlds” among both non- and for-profit charter organizations.

In California, a nonprofit charter industrial model has flourished. The California Virtual Academy (CAVA) network runs hundreds of schools, delivering online-based programs through “cyber” outlets, often concentrated on students in low-income communities of color. CAVA’s political influence has expanded along with its brand.

California’s 2016 primary elections saw fierce battles funded through charter-school industry groups, particularly the Parent Teacher Alliance, which spent several million dollars on races for local superintendents and legislators. Reflecting the ambitions of charter proponents to aggressively expand the sector statewide, the charter boosters pushed candidates who favored lifting district limits on opening new charters. Such policies have sparked controversy, since charter growth is associated with budget erosion for public schools and resistance to staff unionization in the host district. Another measure opposed by the charter sector would “make charter board meetings public, allow the public to inspect charter school records, and prohibit charter school officials from having a financial interest in contracts that they enter into in their official capacity.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District has seen dramatic effects from the expansion of charter schools as it wrestles with budget crises. The teachers’ union recently estimated that charter funding imposes costs on the district of about $590 million annually (the figure is disputed by charter proponents), which to critics affirms that charters receive a growing share of taxpayer funds while leaving regular schools to struggle with chronic funding shortfalls.

The “flexibility” granted to charter schools also drives questionable academic trends. One online charter chain, managed by the Learn4Life network, serves 2,000 students in 15 schools through distance-learning-based programs. But its modular “storefront” teaching system has been accompanied by a churning enrollment with huge attrition rates. According to NPE, in 2015, four-year graduation rates ranged from zero percent in two of its schools, to 19 percent, with an overall average of less than 14 percent making it through all four years.

NPE’s investigation found a similar pattern at a BASIS charter school in Arizona, part of a nationwide charter network. Drawing on an earlier report by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, and reflecting the findings of an ACLU investigation into de facto segregation at Arizona charters, NPE argues that, despite heavy private financing, the school falls short in equity. The predominantly white and Asian-American student body of the BASIS Phoenix school contrasts with the high-poverty, mostly Latino surrounding district. With about 200 students total, BASIS Phoenix ultimately graduated just 24 students in 2016, after shedding 44 percent of the graduating grade’s students over the previous four years. The statistics, which matched similar trends across Arizona’s charter sector, suggest charters may actually be perpetuating the discrimination and exclusionary practices that they claim to help remedy.

In response, several school administrators claimed to be striving to address racial disparities. BASIS has forcefully denied that it is abetting inequality in Arizona’s schools, stating that it is “incredibly proud of the diverse nature” of its schools. BASIS.ed also issued a public rebuttal to NPE contending that its chain of schools, overall, maintained high retention rates, did not discriminate by background or ethnicity, and attracted a diverse range of families, as well as donations from them.

But the values of the BASIS network don’t necessarily reflect community diversity. The NPE report cites a third-party analysis of BASIS in a high-profile ranking of schools, America’s Most Challenging High Schools: BASIS Phoenix earned a top rating, according to publisher Jay Mathews, based on standards focused on performance scores. BASIS denies that it unfairly screens out children, citing overall high retention rates across the network for most K–12 classes. But the company, which admits it is “not for everyone” and that students do leave, also promotes a structure that prioritizes retaining high-scoring students, while lower performers realize eventually they can’t meet the standards.

This approach may boost the schools’ business competitiveness, but education advocates who focus on the social goal of providing equitable education for all see it differently. As NPE argues, “there must be a balance between reasonable challenge and inclusivity.” The demographic polarization linked to charter-school expansion, critics warn, exposes the harmful impact of exclusion on diversity: Charters claim to serve diverse populations, but may actually just be segregating the system further.

Examining the broader social impact of charters, NPE tracked financial manipulation and fraud at various schools. In Pennsylvania, lax financial regulations have allowed charters in some districts to absorb extra funding with little oversight. In the New Hope–Solebury School District, for example, the government contributes $19,000 per pupil attending a charter school, even if they are only learning through a screen, since “Those costs must even be paid to cyber charters that have no facilities costs at all.” Another financial question surrounds lopsided pay structures with much higher salaries for charter principals.

Another subsurface problem at many schools is harder to measure: Charters are known for high faculty-turnover rates. Although turnover is a problem in both charter and non-charter schools, NPE’s Burris notes that chaotic management and unregulated expansion, combined with intense academic pressures and high student attrition, can destabilize the whole institution. Traditionally, however, public schools have served as social pillars for the surrounding community. In stable schools, teachers and families grow up together. “Community schools are family schools in many, many ways,” Burris says. “And when they become businesses all of that is destroyed…those relationships are just not there, the way they are in the neighborhood community school.”

Charters may offer a different relationship to communities, but their brand of “free market” schooling carries costs. Who accounts for the lost social opportunities when education becomes just another market investment?

[“Source-thenation”]

Top Gear America’s first trailer looks exactly like every other Top Gear

Image result for Top,Gear,America’s,first,trailer,looks,exactly,like,every,other,Top,GearThe first trailer for BBC America’s rebooted American Top Gear has finally been released. It’s short, but we do get a glimpse at the new crew driving the Acura NSX, a Lamborghini Huracán Spyder, and a few other wild rides. The series premieres on July 30th at 8PM ET.

Top Gear America’s first season will consist of eight hour-long episodes. It stars eternal “that guy” William Fichtner (The Dark Knight, Contact, Armageddon), professional drag racer Antron Brown, and British automotive journalist Tom Ford. From the trailer, it looks just like other versions of Top Gear, meaning this show’s not going to reinvent the format of “three dudes + fast cars + antics = TV show.”

That means it will probably be a decent show — if it ain’t broke, why wrench it? — but I’d be surprised if Top Gear America surprises me, because all the different permutations of Top Gear never seem to stray from that equation.

The Top Gear that most people think about — which itself is a reboot of a show from the 1970s — is still airing new episodes in the UK on BBC. It’s currently hosted by Friends star Matt LeBlanc, car enthusiast and reviewer Chris Harris, and automotive journalist Rory Reid. They took over hosting duties from the most well-known Top Gear trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.

The LeBlanc-led version of the show spent one season in transition rotating hosts from a cast of about eight, but that really, truly didn’t work out. The current hosts emerged from that wreckage and have developed a pretty good chemistry, which is a minor miracle, but the show’s format is still airtight. There’s a few serious segments about specific cars, a celebrity guest, and typically one goofier segment. BBC essentially pulled the idol-for-bag-of-sand switch from Indiana Jones here — it just happened to spill a lot more sand than the fictional archeologist.

The trio of Clarkson, Hammond, and May now have their own show on Amazon called The Grand Tour, which is headed into a second season, and follows a similar (but slightly remixed) format. They split off from the BBC show after Clarkson was fired for attacking a producer. The show leans even harder into the personalities of its hosts, which is a bold move considering Clarkson’s brutish behavior kept the hosts’ Top Gear tenure in the crosshairs for years.

Top Gear America isn’t the first attempt to bring Top Gear to the US. A&E Networks recently aired five seasons of a show called Top Gear USA on the History Channel, but that was canceled last summer. Its hosts — median Adam Ferrara, Rallycross driver Tanner Foust, and NASCAR personality Rutledge Wood — had developed a pretty good rapport by the end of the run, but it seemed to survive so long almost because of, not in spite of, its obscurity. It was as inoffensive as Top Gear gets.

The point is, we’ve seen Top Gear with all sorts of different (male) hosts, but it’s always still just Top Gear. I don’t know what Top Gear could or even should evolve into (how about more women hosting!), but it is exhausting that the BBC keeps trying to arrive at a different answer by running the same equation. Of course, looking at how well reboots and sequels do for Hollywood, the video game industry, and even modern television, I understand why the BBC keeps trying.

[“Source-theverge”]

Trump is destroying America’s image around the world

It might seem like a subjective judgment to say that Donald Trump is wrecking America’s image. But a new Pew poll of 37 countries shows that this is measurable reality: Perceptions of the United States have collapsed since President Trump took office.

Pew asked people in countries ranging from Canada to Brazil to Russia whether they had favorable views of the US, and whether they had confidence in the US president to do the right thing in world affairs — questions they had also asked of people in these countries back when Barack Obama was president. The change between the Obama results and this year’s Trump results in Pew’s worldwide average are striking:

(Pew)

When you break down the results by country, things are even more eye-popping. Confidence in the American president has collapsed nearly everywhere:

(Pew)

This negative assessment of Trump, according to Pew, has directly translated into more negative views of the United States as a country.

“In countries where confidence in the U.S. president fell most, America’s overall image has also tended to suffer more,” the report explains. “Since 2002, when Pew Research Center first asked about America’s image abroad, favorable opinion of the U.S. has frequently tracked with confidence in the country’s president.”

Take the US’s neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Trump gets the lowest ratings ever recorded in Pew’s data for any American president in those two countries — and, under his leadership, the US has the lowest marks in its history as well. It’s even worse than the end of the Bush administration, when the US was mired in Iraq and the global economy was taking a bad turn:

(Pew)

“For the first time in 35 years, maybe much longer, a majority of Canadians have an unfavourable view of the US,” Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, writes.

There are only two exceptions to this trend, where the US does better under Trump than it did under Obama: Russia and Israel. In Israel, confidence in the US president went up by 7 points under Trump; in Russia, it was a whopping 42.

Obama was widely unpopular in Israel, particularly after the Iran deal and high-profile fights over both Iran and the peace process with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Likewise, Obama took a hard line on Russia by the end of his administration, imposing crippling sanctions after Moscow invaded Ukraine. Trump … well, you know what Trump thinks about Russia.

But aside from those two very specific cases, the overall pattern is clear: Donald Trump is tanking America’s image around the world.

[“Source-vox”]

New TV Show “America’s Greatest Makers” to Showcase Latest Tech Innovations

americas greatest makers

Who doesn’t enjoy a unique television show — one that goes beyond mere entertainment to offer useful business ideas and life lessons, and drive business results that matter? Mark Burnett, six-time Emmy winner and producer of “Survivor,” “Shark Tank,” “The Voice” and “The Apprentice” has a new television show coming this Spring called “America’s Greatest Makers.”

The Making of “America’s Greatest Makers”

“America’s Greatest Makers” is an unscripted reality TV show documenting makers taking a product to market. The show aims to come up with the next big thing in wearable tech and smart connected devices by pitting 24 teams of makers from across the country that fly to Los Angeles to pitch their latest game-changing technology in a head-to-head competition for a huge cash prize.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced to the crowd at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco last year that his company, Burnett’s United Artists Media Group and Turner Broadcasting System are collaborating to produce the forthcoming show, and will award $1 million grand prize to the winner.

Casting submissions for the show have already concluded. The submissions consisted of a written application, small video describing the product idea and the prerequisite fine-print signatures. If you’d like to stay in the loop on some of the wacky and brilliant innovations already submitted, you can follow the #americasgreatestmakers on Twitter.

It is worth mentioning also that contestants were not excluded from casting considerations if they didn’t already have a working product. Producers are banking on this allowance to create some interesting drama on the screen as contestants experience the rigor, highs and lows of product creation.

The first-of-its-kind technology competition will feature a panel of celebrity judges who will vet contesters’ pitches, including award-winning actress Mayim Bialik who co-stars in the hit series “The Big Bang Theory,” NBA studio analyst for TNT Sports Kenny Smith and sports legend Shaquille O’Neal.

The show will also include speed pitches to tech industry experts among them Intel CEO Krzanich, truTV’s co-host of “Hack My Life” Kevin Pereira and business and financial expert Carol Roth, Turner Broadcasting said in a press release.

Although only one team takes home the grand prize, “the reality is that everyone on the show is a winner,” Roth told Small Business Trends. “From the resources that they receive, to the community connections that they create, to receiving exposure for their products to millions of people around the world, every single competitor ‘wins’ on many levels.”

The Premier of “America’s Greatest Makers”

The season premier of “America’s Greatest Makers” series comes to TV Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 9:00 P.M. ET/PT and will run on TBS Network along with digital episodes that will be available between the more traditional linear TV episodes.

Steve Fund, Intel’s chief marketing officer, has also hailed the “powerful stage” offered by the collaboration of Turner Broadcasting and Burnett, and the potential of what amounts to a nationwide talent search and innovation showcase.

The show is part of Intel’s global initiative to inspire ideas and fuel innovation.

Image: Intel

[“source-smallbiztrends”]