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?

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World Bank warns of learning crisis in education in countries like India

File photo. “This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. Photo: AP

File photo. “This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. Photo: AP

Washington: The World Bank has warned of a learning crisis in global education particularly in low and middle-income countries like India, underlining that schooling without learning is not just a wasted development opportunity, but also a great injustice to children worldwide.

The World Bank in a latest report on Tuesday noted that millions of young students in these countries face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life.

According to the ‘World Development Report 2018: ‘Learning to Realise Education’s Promise’, released on Tuesday, India ranks second after Malawi in a list of 12 countries wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text. India also tops the list of seven countries in which a grade two student could not perform two-digit subtraction.

“In rural India, just under three-quarters of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as 46 – 17, and by grade 5 half could still not do so,” the World Bank said. The report argued that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all. “Even after several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write or do basic math.

This learning crisis is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them,” it said. Young students who are already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills, it said. “This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “When delivered well, education promises young people employment, better earnings, good health, and a life without poverty,” he added.

“For communities, education spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend on learning, and schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it’s a great injustice: the children whom societies fail the most are the ones who are most in need of a good education to succeed in life,” the Bank president said.

In rural India in 2016, only half of grade 5 students could fluently read text at the level of the grade 2 curriculum, which included sentences (in the local language) such as ‘It was the month of rains’ and ‘There were black clouds in the sky’. “These severe shortfalls constitute a learning crisis,” the Bank report said. According to the report, in Andhra Pradesh in 2010, low-performing students in grade 5 were no more likely to answer a grade 1 question correctly than those in grade 2.

“Even the average student in grade 5 had about a 50% chance of answering a grade 1 question correctly—compared with about 40% in grade 2,” the report said. An experiment in Andhra Pradesh, that rewarded teachers for gains in measured learning in math and language led to more learning not just in those subjects, but also in science and social studies—even though there were no rewards for the latter.

“This outcome makes sense—after all, literacy and numeracy are gateways to education more generally,” the report said. Further a computer-assisted learning program in Gujarat, improved learning when it added to teaching and learning time, especially for the poorest-performing students, it said.

The report recommends concrete policy steps to help developing countries resolve this dire learning crisis in the areas of stronger learning assessments, using evidence of what works and what doesn’t to guide education decision-making; and mobilising a strong social movement to push for education changes that champion ‘learning for all’. PTI

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Prince Charles backs $10 million new education bond for marginalised children in India

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attend a cultural event at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attend a cultural event at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

London: Britain’s Prince Charles, on a two-day visit to India, has given his backing to a new development bond for India to provide education to marginalised children in the country.

The $10 million education development impact bond (DIB) has been created by the British Asian Trust, founded by the Prince of Wales to fight poverty in south Asia, and is designed to improve learning outcomes for thousands of marginalised children in India.

The bond is intended as an innovative and sustainable social impact investment tool which will be tied in with performance and outcomes of educational initiatives, starting in India and then across the trust’s other regions of operation.

“I hope that through the trust we can impact the lives of not just children in India but also change the mindsets of philanthropists around the world,” said Prince Charles, who arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday. The education development impact bond has been developed by the trust alongside UBS Optimus Foundation with the aim of transforming the future of education in India.

Under the initiative, the DIB will provide funding to four local not-for-profit delivery partners in the country over four years, delivering a range of operational models including principal and teacher training, direct school management, and supplementary programmes.

It is intended to improve literacy and numeracy learning levels for over 200,000 primary school students from marginalised communities in Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The UK government’s department for international development (DfID) will contribute technical assistance and insights to the project as part of a wider partnership.

“The DfID is exploring new and innovative ways to finance programmes which will transform the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. We are proud to support the British Asian Trust as they develop their development impact bond, which will provide access to quality education for hundreds of thousands of children,” said DfID minister Priti Patel.

The bond has been described as a step towards a greater focus on social impact financing as a transformational tool for philanthropy. The concept of development impact bonds is intended as a result-oriented way to attract new capital into development, with a strong emphasis on data and evidence.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the British Asian Trust, explains: “At the heart of our programme strategy is a real determination to continue applying business principles to the work. We are convinced that only by applying these to philanthropy and to development are you really able to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.”

Sir Ronald Cohen, international philanthropist and a champion of global impact investing, described the British Asian Trust’s initiative as “ground-breaking” and capable of delivering vital social improvement at scale. In India, Prince Charles will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bilateral talks as part of a series of events planned during his two-day visit with wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. PTI

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Heritage reaches $46.7m in education funds

Education fund experts: Gerry Swan and Charles Jeffers of Heritage Agency (Bermuda) Ltd

Heritage Education Funds International has paid out a total of $46.7 million to families in Bermuda to fund their educational needs.

The organisation, which runs savings plans aimed at helping with the costs of postsecondary education, added that it has paid out $2.88 million in Bermuda in the first nine months of this year alone.

And during the past three years, the company has paid out more than $8.8 million to families on the island in savings and Educational Assistance Payments, commonly known as “scholarships”.

HEFI, which has offered its services on the island for more than three decades, stressed that with tuition costs for postsecondary education continuing to rise at an average of 5 per cent annually, saving for education is especially important.

If this trend continues, tuition for a four-year degree programme could exceed $160,000 in ten years, depending on the programme of study and the location, HEFI estimates.

Gerry Swan, HEFI’s director of Heritage Agency (Bermuda) Ltd, said: “We recommend parents start saving for their children’s college or university education as soon as they are born.

“Using a conservative 5 per cent rate of appreciation, parents may need more than $350,000 for a child born this year, to pursue a four-year degree programme in the US.

“The Heritage Plan is designed to encourage parents to save as much as they can comfortably afford now to reduce that financial burden when the time comes.”

He said his team was working to broaden HEFI’s reach across the island.

“We want more families to be aware of the Heritage International Scholarship Trust Plan and, more importantly, we want to make our education savings plan available to more parents and grandparents allowing them the comfort of knowing that through proper planning and prudent investing, funds will be there when they need it most.”

Student participants in the Heritage Education Savings Plan, who received their third and final EAP this year, benefited from a return of 6.4 per cent per annum.

The Heritage Plan is a US-dollar denominated savings plan which has, to date, benefited thousands of students from Bermuda attending postsecondary institutions at home, in the USA, Canada, the UK and other parts of the world.

Jason Maguire, president and chief executive officer of HEFI, said: “We are very proud of these numbers as they indicate that more families in Bermuda than ever before have been using our ESP to help fund postsecondary studies for their children and grandchildren.

“Year after year, HEFI continues to reach important milestones and exceed expectations.

“This is due, in no small part, to all of the Bermudian families and friends who want a better world for their children — one where their academic success isn’t limited by the price tag on education.”

Source:-royalgazette