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”]

These Schools Banned Trump Gear—Unless They Didn’t

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Over the past year, numerous outlets have reported on students who wore Donald Trump-branded clothes and hats to school and were asked to remove it—or just sent home. But a closer look shows the story to be more complicated—a mess of politics, publicity, and schoolkid emotions. What happens when a Make America Great Again hat hits homeroom?

WARNING: Some viewers will find this video disturbing,” a disclaimer above the clip reads. Press play and you’re on a school bus in Chesterfield, Missouri with Parkway West Middle School student Gavin Cortina. A female student is screaming, “You want to build a f**k-freaking wall!?” Cortina, wearing his bright red Make America Great Again hat, yells back, “What’s wrong with building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of our country?” Then he was “violently assaulted by the young indoctrinated leftist students,” one report reads. Cortina, various outlets reported, is ” pummeled” with punches by his peers who “gang up,” and corner him. “Want to know the even more disgusting part? After he was beaten up, the school suspended Gavin Cortina,” the Conservative Tribune writes. “SUSPENDED for wearing Trump hat,” the headlines read. The narrative was fully formed: a 12-year-old student assaulted for his right-wing beliefs.

At least that’s how it was reported by conservative news sites like The Gateway Pundit, The Blaze, The Daily Wire, The Conservative Tribune, The Right Scoop, Breitbart and Fox News.

In conversations with the school and Gavin’s mother Christina, I learned the story was a lot more tame. According to their accounts, the argument between Gavin and the other students began before they got on the bus. It didn’t start with politics—but after it went in that direction, Cortina put on the pro-Trump cap. A student flicked the bill of the hat and Gavin responded by pushing him in the back, according to a statement released by the school. There wasn’t a violent assault. No one was pummelled. As seen on the video, a brief altercation ensued between Gavin and a student wearing what appears to be a Vineyard Vines shirt and a puka shell necklace. Gavin’s mother Christina Cortina tells me over the phone that the school’s statement is correct—except that the hat was really flicked off by a student smacking her son in the back of the head. Three students in total, including Gavin, were suspended for fighting—not for the hat. A mediation process would follow.

Christina Cortina pointed to the incident as proof that “hypocrisy runs deep” during an appearance on The Allman Report, a show on ABC’s St. Louis affiliate. “It’s not even just the far left, it’s everyone: it’s liberals, it’s the far left, it’s the left in general — hypocrisy just runs so deep it’s sick.” She went into more detail on an Instagram post, where she wrote: “This is what some of you so-called ‘loving’ and ‘tolerant’ liberals have allowed and promoted.”

Trump and his supporters have pegged the news media as the “enemy of the American people,” while members of his administration wage war against each other using outlets like the New Yorker. Outspoken figures like Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones bemoan the media as a vehicle for liberal ideas—and paint paint outlets like InfoWars as guardians of the truth. Emerging is a group of Trump-loving students and parents, like Gavin and Christina Cortina, who understand how to wield their stories to demonstrate how toxic liberal ideals really are. Conservative sites are all too happy to provide coverage, flinging these figures to fringe alt-right fame in the process.

On a number of conservative blogs, both son and mother Cortina instantly became a symbol of the left’s hypocritical tolerance for censorship and violence as long as they’re used to confront conservative, Trumpian ideologies. Christina appeared on local news programs with a mission to spotlight liberal hypocrisy and prove that Trump’s supporters “aren’t just a bunch of white supremacists, bigot, sexist, hoosier douchebags from the midwest.” She absorbed abuse from commenters on some sites, but also admits that her public profile has been burnished by all the press post-Gavin’s incident. “That’s absolutely been a side effect of it,” she says. “It’s really helped me understand—I know it sounds cheesy—but that I have a voice.”

Since the incident, she’s joined a group called Right Side News as a contributor was a nominee in Hotties for Trump’s “March Madmad Tournament 2017.” Cortina’s case isn’t unique, though: there are a number of students across conservative media who have allegedly worn Trump gear, suffered for it, and been held up as examples of the left’s ruthlessness. And while Cortina has benefited from the ordeal, she isn’t happy with how her story was told across the spectrum—and she’s taken issue with conservative sites as well. “Everybody just lies to fit their own narrative,” she says, seemingly unaware that the same charge could be leveled at her.


Inspired by a trove of stories about bans and stern suggestions to students that they leave their MAGA gear at home, I initially set out to explore how campuses are dealing with Trump apparel on school grounds. Gavin Cortina was allegedly beaten up for wearing a Trump hat; at one New Jersey high school, Trump slogans were reportedly photoshopped out of the yearbook.

I wanted to know: Do schools genuinely need to forbid their students from wearing Trump paraphernalia? And just as schools have struggled to police students who are bullying others using Trump’s words, how are administrations dealing with verbal and physical altercations provoked by conservative viewpoints? Where does a school’s need for a peaceful learning environment end and the potential for censorship begin? Even The Daily Wire, the site founded by former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, can potentially see “parents [complaining] that pro-Trump apparel constitutes hate speech.”

The answer wasn’t as simple as finding banned Trump gear, though, because, in speaking to a number of schools, students, parents, and administrators, I didn’t find a school that outright barred it from campus, despite what many conservative sites have reported. Instead, I discovered people and media outlets speaking out on the subject in ways that seem to align with their preferred narratives.

Connor Mullen, who wore Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hat to South Portland High School, was aware of how his situation could be weaponized. Starting in April 2016, Mullen was teased by classmates; a teacher reportedly said to him, “Thank God you can’t vote.” Mullen tells me that fellow students call him racist and accuse him of hating immigrants. The school’s administration suggested, according to him, that he ditch the hat if he wants the bullying to end, but Mullen still wears it. When I ask him if there’s something he wishes the school would do, he says, “Not push the liberal agenda.”

Armed with his story, Mullen reached out to the Trump campaign after the original incident. His reasoning echoes the Cortinas’. “I thought it would help because it shows that the ‘pro’ free speech people were trying to shut mine down,” he says.

In late 2015, a high school banned Trump gear from a football game because it could be interpreted as “offensive” or “racist,” according to Breitbart, echoing language in a student-run newspaper. The story was picked up on The Blaze, Daily Caller, and Gateway Pundit added a “WOW!” in its headline. The story even crawled all the way up to Fox News, which—along with every one of those outlets, but for Breitbart which claims it unsuccessfully reached out—apparently didn’t corroborate the report before publishing. (Fox News did not return a request for comment.) But none of them reported what I learned after calling Corona del Sol High School: the school’s official comment is that nothing was, or has been, forbidden. When I called the school, the woman who answered the phone laughed at me when I asked if there was any truth to the story. “Of course” there’s no rule about Trump apparel, she said. The faulty info about banned Trump apparel originated in an op-ed in the student-run newspaper. It’s since been deleted from the paper’s site.

In the summer of 2016, nine-year-old Logan Autry was allegedly banned from wearing a Trump hat to his Fresno, California elementary school. After attending a Trump rally, Autry wore it to school three days in a row until he was asked to remove the hat. Autry started making the rounds—a local station in Columbus, Ohio, ABC30, NBC11, and eventually ended up on the national NBC News site and the New York Post—and invoked the constitution. “The First Amendment says I can wear my hat,” he told NBC4i Columbus, WCMH-TV. His story blew up to such a degree that Trump reportedly sent Autry another signed hat after a dog used the original as a chew toy.

The story according to the school, though, is that Autry was briefly asked to remove that hat because it was causing a disruption. “However, to be clear, school officials never imposed an outright ban,” Fresno Unified School District’s superintendent Michael Hanson told the Los Angeles Times. “School officials reached out multiple times to the guardians to inform them that the student could continue to wear the hat as long there were no further incidents of disruption,” a school statement reads. “However, the guardians have not responded.” Autry’s family, however, says that administrators never reached out about the hat.

Incorrect or incomplete original stories clouding out corrections isn’t unusual, though. In the case of Parkway’s Gavin Cortina, misinformation quickly spread way beyond Chesterfield, Missouri and became a galvanizing force for those on Cortina’s side. The district was inundated with calls from people screaming profanely into the phone about how it bungled the aftermath of the fight on the bus. A representative for the school tells me that almost none of the calls were actually coming from the Missouri area, but instead from places all over the country.

The facts here can stand in the way of anything worth getting riled up about. Even the most severe instances are limited in scope: in most cases, students, parents, and administrators agree that Trump gear can stay at home for a brief period of time. When I ask Christina Cortina about the severity of the fight, she says that if the kids were brawling over something other than politics, like a girl, maybe, “it wouldn’t have been a big deal,” she says. “I would have been like, ‘Suck it up, bro.'”


Free speech has always had its limitations—and determining what’s allowed gets even thornier when it’s done on a school campus. Even in cases where students were asked not to wear Trump gear, it’s possible their schools are in the clear: it’s legal to prevent students from wearing something if it’s proven to be a disruption.

Henry R. Kaufman, a First Amendment lawyer who’s done work in the educational field, says that while it would be very hard for the courts to entertain the concept that the President is so disruptive his apparel needs to be banned, he could see it happening. “Wearing Trump clothes could be disruptive in particular environments,” says Kaufman when I ask if the clothing could pose a problem in places like California or the south of Texas given Trump’s deportation policies. But historically, disruption has been a tricky standard to meet. The United States Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District(1969), the landmark case for free speech at schools, says that “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

These more recent cases will likely never sniff Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s robe, though. Most of the ones I encountered in the media involve either a suspected lone wolf—like the New Jersey high school’s Photoshopgate, which resulted in the suspension of the teacher who advised the yearbook class—or kids getting teased for wearing something Trump-related and then being asked to remove it because it’s caused a distraction. These confrontations are distressing, but they aren’t proof of a large-scale conspiracy by schools to brainwash children with liberal values. Even a teacher (who wished to remain anonymous) who works at a school that made local headlines in Virginia for the way a student wearing Trump apparel was allegedly “mistreated” said she herself hasn’t witnessed any students dressed this way. However, she did write back to say she’s heard students talking about how they’d seen instances of students saying racist things to black and Latinx students after the election.

Raquel Hernandez, who worked as a fifth grade math teacher at the predominately Latinx Stand Watie Elementary School in Trump-leaning state Oklahoma, says that she also didn’t see much Trump apparel on campus. Instead, according to Hernandez, it was mostly teachers who stickered their cars with Trump endorsements and made off-color comments to students about issues like abortion. “Too many of you people use it as a form of birth control,” Hernandez recalls a teacher telling a student. And in Georgia, a third grade teacher who asked to remain anonymous, says she’s never seen students wearing political apparel. “Although they do repeat their parents’ political opinions,” she says.

Many students’ everyday lives aren’t affected by politics. An elementary schooler in Massachusetts who has a Trump supporter in her class says it wasn’t really a big deal. She says that while a kid with a Trump shirt did spark lunchroom debates and a new seating arrangement where MAGA kids occasionally sat at a separate table, things always fell back into place without any residual hurt feelings. “People kept friends,” Elizabeth says. “They’d talk about it and then maybe they’d sit at different lunch tables and then they’d be back to being best friends again.” She also says that most of the Trump supporters didn’t have much to say about Trump beyond calling him great, and probably supported him “because their parents liked him.”

It’s important to let kids express themselves at school when it doesn’t cause other people harm, but it’s just as important for outlets to report the full story. Think back to Gavin Cortina’s fight on the Parkway bus: before it was reported as the latest battle in the culture wars, Gavin’s mother explains, the fight actually started because Gavin told a classmate to stop talking about her personal politics. “My son was like, ‘That’s kind of inappropriate conversation,'” says Christina. She would spend the next days on television defending her son’s freedom of speech and right to express himself.

[“Source-gq”]

CBSE pulls up its Mumbai schools without special educators

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The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has pulled up its schools for not adhering to affiliation rules that make appointment of special educators to cater to differently-abled students compulsory.

Mumbai schools said there was a shortage of qualified teachers in the city, because few universities offer specialisations in it.

A special educator needs to work with children and young adults who require additional support to learn.

Appointment of special educators was made mandatory in 2015 under rule 13(11) of the board’s affiliation by-laws to promote inclusion of students with disabilities/special needs in schools according to the provisions of the “Persons with Disabilities Act 1995” and in conformity with the National Policy of Education.

Observing that many schools were not following the rule, Jaiprakash Chaturvedi, deputy-secretary of affiliation, said in a recent circular, “The management and the head of CBSE-affiliated schools are hereby directed to strictly follow the provisions and arrange to appoint special educators in schools.” He added that the schools will have to inform their managing committees about the provision for stricter compliance.

But city schools said it was difficult to meet this condition. DAV School, New Panvel, has been advertising for a special educator for the last two years, but did not find any qualified professionals. “We have been trying to hire a special educator since 2015. This year, we advertised twice but still did not get anyone good,” said Jayashree Khandekar, principal of the school.

Educators blamed it on the lack of courses available for special education. In Mumbai, only SNDT Women’s University, Churchgate and Juhu, offer a full course in special education, while few other private colleges offer short-term certificate courses.

There are barely 300 special educators in the state for more than 16 lakh children with learning disabilities, said Dr Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist who suggested that instead of mandatory appointments, the board can train regular teachers on basic remedial education. “This way, the existing faculty can be used for remediation, while authorised centres can carry out the tests,” he said. He said the human resource development ministry needed to start more courses on special education.

Some city schools are using counsellors in place of special educators or hiring them part-time. “We are unable to find full-time special educators, so our counsellor helps in remediation,” said Deepshika Srivastava. She added that although teachers have been sensitised in identifying students with learning disability, they could not pay individual attention to all because there were 40 to 50 students in each class.

 

 
[“source-hindustantimes”]

Detroit Public Schools Faces Another Challenge as It Looks to Recruit Teachers

Detroit Public Schools Faces Another Challenge as It Looks to Recruit Teachers

Detroit Public Schools has had quite the school year this year, closing nearly all of its schools for several days at a time due to teacher sick-outs in protest of undesirable working conditions. Though the last sick-out was less than a month ago, DPS is optimistic and hopeful that it will be able to recruit a significant number of teachers for next school year. “The district is holding a ‘DPS Day’ recruitment fair for new teachers at Martin Luther King High School on Tuesday. Officials admit that’s a challenging task when the district’s future is so insecure,” said Michigan Radio. All in all, the district is looking to fill 350 openings with an emphasis on positions in “early childhood education, special education, math, secondary science and world languages.” DPS is facing yet another challenge this year as it looks to recruit for openings despite the fact that Michigan legislators are still debating budget proposals that will have a significant impact on the district’s future. The last sick-out occurred because teachers were informed that the district might run out of money to pay them their earned salaries over the summer should the state’s legislators not act. Two sick-outs later, officials finally guaranteed that teachers would receive pay no matter what. Read the full story. Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor