Why is Common Core Still Here?

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Common Core has become a national joke.

 

In fact, the set of academic standards has inspired a new genre of grade school humor – Common Core comedy.

 

For instance:

 

One student turns to another and says, “Common Core is about making us college and career ready.”

 

The other student replies, “It’s working. It’s making me drink more everyday.”

 

Here’s another one:

 

Question: Why can’t mommy help you with your Common Core math homework?

 

Answer: She only has a four-year degree.

 

And finally:

 

Question: How many whiteboards does it take to show you how to screw in a light bulb?

 

Answer: One, but it takes dozens to explain 1+4 in Common Core.

 

Parents nationwide know the pain of Common Core by the looks on their children’s faces.

 

They see bright, curious youngsters go to school and come back hating education and thinking they’re stupid.

 

Parents get the same feeling trying to decipher their children’s homework.

 

Meanwhile the majority of teachers hate the standards – and as they become more familiar with it, that number grows every year.

 

So why do we keep using Common Core? Why haven’t our schools thrown this bad idea on the trash heap of failed education policies?

 

In short – because industry is making a lot of money off it.

 

Common Core was created by private industry.

 

It was not made by the states, nor was it written by the federal government.

 

It was created to sell a new generation of standardized tests and textbooks.

 

It’s raison d’etre is profit not education.

 

School children didn’t need a unified set of academic standards. Big business needed them to sell more books and tests.

 

 

The standards were written by Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C., organization formed in 1996 by corporate leaders and six state governors. The endeavor was funded by Bill Gates and other corporate interests. It was reviewed by individuals and organizations also funded by Gates.

 

 

Then the federal government stepped in to strongly encourage states to adopt the standards. Not because anyone actually thought they were necessary. They did it because that was what wealthy donors wanted.

 

Eventually the standards were adopted in 42 states, but not because legislatures voted on them. The standards were quietly approved by state boards of education, unelected state education chiefs and boards of education. Many lawmakers didn’t even know what Common Core was or that their state had implemented it until voters started calling and asking questions.

 

Moreover, at the time of their adoption, the standards weren’t even completed. They were enacted in many cases sight unseen.

 

How did the federal government get state officials to do this? Money and threats.

 

Public schools were strapped because of the great recession. So the Obama administration swooped in to help – on the condition that states enact a series of reforms including Common Core.

 

The Obama administration did not write Common Core, but it did everything it could to make sure states enacted these standards. In the 2009 stimulus package, there was $4.35 billion in discretionary funds given to the U.S. Department of Education to hand out as state grants. But in order to qualify for these grants, states had to adopt the Common Core. With education funding at a premium, bureaucrats were only too willing to bend over backwards to keep their state’s schools running.

 

And when the carrot wasn’t enough, the federal government used the stick.

 

Many states were applying to the federal government for waivers to the disastrous No Child Left Behind legislation. Adopting Common Core and several other corporate education reforms was made a pre-condition. If states didn’t adopt these standards, their schools would be labeled “failing” and lose even more federal funding.

 

Despite all this, the media still often misrepresents the facts.

 

It is an objective fact that the Core was written by private industry. So the media never asks that question. It asks if the Core was “state led.” That way there is room for spin.

 

Who led the effort to enact these standards? Since a handful of governors and other government officials were involved in their creation, media patsies are able to pretend the initiative started with the states. But don’t believe it. It started with private interests – people like David Coleman and Bill Gates – trying to influence government to do what they wanted for their own ends. As President of the College Board, Coleman stood to profit off new books and tests. As co-founder of Microsoft, Gates stood to profit from the new technology needed to run many of these new tests and materials. They led the initiative, not the states.

 

No government official was ever given a mandate by the voters or their empowered representatives to create or enact Common Core. Those that did so acted in their private capacities. Bribing a handful of governors doesn’t make something a state initiative.

 

Just because a government official does something doesn’t make it policy. When Chris Christie orders a footlong hoagie for lunch, it isn’t the start of a government program to feed people at Subway. He’s just ordering lunch.

 

Moreover, when government officials are coerced into adopting a policy because otherwise they won’t be able to fulfill their obligation to voters, that isn’t an endorsement of those policies. You can’t offer a starving child a sandwich on the condition that he shouts a swear word and then pretend it was all his idea. You can’t offer a glass of water to a man dying of thirst on the condition that he shave his head and then pretend that he likes being bald.

 

Common Core was not adopted by states because they liked it. It was adopted to keep schools running.

 

Special interests used the federal government’s power over the states to circumvent the legislative process.

 

The result is a set of poor quality standards that are developmentally inappropriate and don’t help students learn. This should be no surprise since they were written with minimal input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. Instead they were created by standardized test authors. But even if the standards had been good, the process of their adoption was highly undemocratic.

 

Sadly, this is how government works now.

 

Charter schools, Teach for America, standardized testing – Public education has been high jacked by business interests.

 

 

Once upon a time, the goal was to help students learn. Now the main objective is to help big business profit off students.

 

If you can make a buck off something – even if it doesn’t help or actually hurts school kids – do it.

 

 

Nowhere is this clearer than with the Common Core.

 

 

Unfortunately, our 2016 Presidential candidates don’t seem to get it.

 

 

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump seems to understand the problems with Common Core.

 

 

Clinton thinks the only issue is the way the Core was implemented in schools – not federal coercion, not poor quality standards, etc. Schools didn’t implement them too quickly. The standards are badly written, unproven to help and increasingly shown to hurt.

 

 

Trump, on the other hand, thinks it’s all wrong, but he has no idea why or what he can do about it. Like too many Republicans, he acts as if the only problem with the standards is Obama’s participation. He ignores or omits the one-time advocacy of prominent members of his own party for the Core like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee.

 

Neither candidate seems to understand that the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) bans the federal government from doing anything to promote Common Core, or any other set of education standards. This does not, unfortunately, repeal the standards. It emphasizes the states’ power to choose their own academic standards.

 

Each state legislature can keep, revise, or repeal Common Core. And in some cases, this has already begun. In Oklahoma, for example, Common Core was repealed entirely. In other states, like New Jersey, Common Core has been revised but largely left in place. In other states, the standards remain untouched.

 

Why hasn’t Common Core gone away? State legislatures haven’t acted.

 

No matter who wins the presidential race, whether it’s a candidate in favor or against Common Core, he or she has zero power to do anything about it. Hopefully, no one tries to exceed that authority by coercing states one way or another.

 

Meanwhile, state legislatures need to pay attention to the wishes of voters. If Common Core is repealed – and that’s what the majority of taxpayers want – we can only hope it’s done so in a more democratic fashion than it was approved. We can only hope it isn’t replaced with something worse.

 

Whatever happens it should be to benefit students, not corporations.

 

Or to put it another way:

 

Question: What if Common Core was created just to drive parents crazy?

 

Answer: Somebody must be making a fortune on crazy meds!!

Irony Alert: The Founder of Trump University Is Selling School Choice

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Donald Trump is in favor of school choice.

Well of course he is! After all, he made a lot of money scamming poor suckers out of their hard-earned cash with Trump University.

He knows how privatized education benefits the corporations who run the school and not the poor schmucks who want to learn.

If he gets his way, our national education motto will be caveat emptor.

He is betting the American public is so stupid they’ll give a man caught in a scandal for cheating people out of an education the power to set all education policy for our nation’s children.

And it’s all right there before the public.

In fact, the parallels between Trump University and school choice policies are apparent to anyone who looks. Here are just a few of the similarities:


1) False advertising

First of all, Trump University was never an actual university!

The New York State Education Department warned administrators when the institution was founded in 2005 that it was operating without a license. So what did the “school” do? It changed its legal name to The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

See? We’re not saying it’s a university anymore. I mean we still call it Trump University colloquially and in advertising brochures and so on. But on legal documents we never make that claim.

It’s a classic bait and switch scheme.

But the same could be said of many charter schools.

They don’t claim to be private schools. They claim to be public schools. However, they aren’t subjected to nearly the same transparency and accountability standards.

Public schools are run by an elected school board. Most charters are run by appointed boards.

Public school board meetings are held in public. Any taxpayer can attend, comment on the proceedings and demand access to public records such as its budget. Many charter school meetings are held behind closed doors. Taxpayers have no access or input in the decision-making process nor access to records that should by all accounts be public record.

Charter schools are public schools just like Trump University was a university.


2) Choosing Students

So who could attend Trump University?

Not just anyone. According to the “Private and confidential” playbook obtained by The Atlantic, the one essential qualification listed all in caps was “ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED IN FULL.” In other words, Trump’s school would accept anyone who could pay the entrance fee.

That same playbook, by the way, admonished staffers not to talk with reporters and “If a district attorney arrives on the scene, contact the appropriate media spokesperson immediately.”

Similarly, charter and voucher schools get to choose their students, too.

Advocates pretend school choice means parents get to choose where their kids go to school. Wrong! It means school administrators get to choose who they’ll accept.

At private schools that accept vouchers, the amount of taxpayer money spent at a traditional public school and given to the private school in the form of the voucher is rarely enough to pay for the full tuition. So voucher programs often make it impossible for poor kids to attend private schools. They just reduce the cost for rich kids whose parents can afford to pay the difference.

At charter schools, administrators are infamous for picking students based on the ease with which they can be taught. Sometimes they don’t accept students having academic difficulties or who are in special education programs. Other times they kick them out before state-mandated standardized tests. That way they can falsely inflate their own test scores and pretend like they’re doing a great job teaching all students when they’re not.


3) Quality of Services:

Former Trump University students are suing the reality TV star and Presidential candidate because they claim they paid tens of thousands of dollars for nothing.

You got a free 90-minute seminar that promised enrolling in the school would teach you everything you need to know about real estate investment. Then you were told to enroll in a $1,495 three-day seminar where you were told to enroll in increasingly more expensive additional seminars even up to an Elite Gold package costing $35,000.

However, very little attention was spent to actually teaching students much of anything. Each seminar was basically an advertisement for the next seminar.

Prospective students were told they would be “mentored” by “handpicked” real estate experts showing them Trump’s own real estate strategies.

But no one has yet been able to produce a single instructor handpicked by Trump. Moreover, many of these instructors didn’t even have any knowledge of real estate, They came from other academic fields.

Trump never reviewed the school’s curricula. It was developed by a third party for motivational speakers and timeshare rental companies.

Moreover, Trump never attended any of these seminars personally. Attendees were often told that he was in the building or on his way, but he never showed up. At one seminar, attendees were told they’d get to take their pictures with Trump but ended up getting pictures with his cardboard cutout!

Similarly, many of our nations charter schools provide a substandard education.

When compared with traditional public schools, no evidence has been found that they do a better job. In fact, the evidence says charter do no better and often much worse than traditional public schools.

One reason is that many charters don’t require their teachers to be of the same quality as traditional public schools. Charter often skimp by hiring uncertified teachers or Teach for America trainees who have no degree in education and have only passed a six weeks course.

Also, cyber charter schools, in particular, often use third party companies to create their entire curriculum. This is usually just taking a text book in a given subject, digitizing it and having students answer the questions that used to be in the back of the book.


The parallels are clear. Perhaps that’s why Trump feels comfortable championing choice in education.

He is, after all, an expert on how it works and how it cheats the public.

Creating one excellent education system for everyone is both cheaper and more efficient than dividing children up so they can be monetized. But such a system doesn’t allow corporations and investors to turn a profit. Let’s be real – that’s why Trump is advocating for it.

Several lawsuits have been filed about the Trump University scam and will continue haunting Trump well past the November election.

However, he still maintains it was “a terrific school that did a fantastic job”.

His son, Donald J. Trump, Jr., even gave a speech touching upon school choice at the Republican National Convention this week.

Young Trump never attended public school, but he knows his dad’s business model.

His comments came under fire largely because he repeated several passages written by conservative writer and law professor F. H. Buckley. However, the campaign defended the move saying Buckley helped write Junior’s speech.

It may not be outright plagiarism, but it shows the thinking of the Trump campaign. Rehash old ideas that have failed in the past and hope the voting public buys it.

And maybe they’ve got a point. As H. L. Menken wrote -“Nobody every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

That’s what the Trumps are doing. And if their education policy becomes a reality at our nations schools, they’re going to do everything they can to ensure that stupidity continues for generations to come.

For them education isn’t about making America great again. It’s about providing an endless stream of suckers to be taken advantage of by the predators of big business.

PA House: Online Courses for the Poor. Teachers for the Rich.

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Pennsylvania has a long history of under-resourcing its public schools.

State Rep. Jason Ortitay has a solution.

The Republican representing Washington and Allegheny Counties envisions a world where poor kids learn from computers and rich kids learn from flesh-and-blood teachers.

It’s all in his proposed legislation, H.B. 1915, passed by the state House on Monday. It now moves on to the Senate.

The legislation would assign the Department of Education the task of organizing a collection of online courses for use by students in grades 6-12. Some classes might be created by the state and others would be made by third parties with approval for state use. If anyone so desired, the courses could be utilized by anyone in public school, private school, homeschool and beyond. The online learning clearinghouse thus created would be called the “Supplemental Online Course Initiative.”

But what does this have to do with impoverished schools?

According to the bill, itself, state education officials would:

“Upon request, provide assistance to school districts which have been declared to be in financial recovery status or identified for financial watch status under Article VI-A by facilitating the school districts’ search for low-cost or no-cost online course options.”

In other words, this bill provides an alternative for schools where the local tax base isn’t enough to fund traditional classes presided over by living, breathing teachers.

In the distant past, the state used to made up some of the slack to level the playing field for students born into poverty. However, for the last five years, the legislature has forced the poor to make due with almost $1 billion less in annual state education funds. This has resulted in narrowing the curriculum, the loss of extra-curriculars, increased class size, and plummeting academic achievement.

While the majority of voters are crying out for the legislature to fix this blatant inequality and disregard for students’ civil rights, Ortitay’s proposed bill lets lawmakers off the hook. It allows legislators to provide a low quality alternative for the poor without necessitating any substantial influx of funds.

Here, Jaquan and Carlos. You can learn from this YouTube video. Billy and Betty will be in the classroom learning from a trained professional with an advanced degree in the subject.

None of this bodes well for state budget negotiations going on right now to finalize a Commonwealth spending plan by the end of June. Those expecting a proposal to heal the funding cuts most likely will be disappointed – AGAIN.

Nevertheless, the bill still needs to clear the Senate and a signature from Gov. Tom Wolf before it can become law.

In the House, the bill passed 128-66 with 8 abstentions. Though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported the measure, it was opposed only by Democrats.

If the clearinghouse becomes a reality, it would be implemented in two phases. In the 2017-18 school year, it would only offer courses on subjects tested by state Keystone Exams at no cost to local districts. Then in the following year, it would expand to include courses not tested on state mandated exams that can be purchased by local districts.

If the Keystone-aligned courses are free to local districts, who pays for them? Certainly these online classes aren’t being constructed, monitored and graded as a public charity.

According to the bill, the Department of Education should:

“Explore the possibility for Federal and private funding to support the clearinghouse.”

However, if the state can’t find someone else to foot the bill, the cost will be born by Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Specifically:

“There is hereby established a restricted revenue account in the General Fund to be known as the Online Course Clearinghouse Restricted Account…”

“The funds in the account are hereby appropriated to the department on a continuing basis for the purposes of paying expenses incurred by the department in carrying out its duties relating to the administration of the clearinghouse under this article.”

How much taxpayer money will be allocated to this initiative? It doesn’t say. Will this money come from an increase in education spending or will it cannibalize other education line items? Again, it doesn’t say. Apparently such decisions would be made while drafting the state budget – presumably not the one being hashed out now, but the 2017-18 spending plan.

“This initiative will give public schools, which might not otherwise be able to afford similar educational opportunities, the flexibility and ability to make use of online learning [for] the betterment of their students,” Ortitay said in a press release.

However, online courses have an infamous history throughout the Commonwealth, and, indeed, the nation.

All courses collected in the clearinghouse would be subject to approval by the state Department of Education. But cyber charter schools fall under the same jurisdiction often with disastrous results.

Internet-based classwork – like that which would be collected in the clearinghouse – makes up the curriculum at cyber charter schools. Moreover, these online schools have a proven track record of failure and fraud.

A recent nationwide study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction than traditional public schools and 72 days less of reading instruction.

In addition, researchers found that 88 percent of cyber charter schools have weaker academic growth than similar brick and mortar schools.

They have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students, according to researchers.

And THAT kind of curriculum is what the state House voted to increase using public money!

One of the biggest problem with online courses is the low quality of what’s being offered. Here’s how a cyber charter teacher describes the reading curriculum at his school:

“Most cyber schools get their curriculum from K12, a company started by William Bennett, a former federal Secretary of Education. My school gets the majority of its high school material from a mail order company called Aventa.

When Aventa creates a course it is fairly bare bones. They choose a textbook from one of the major textbook companies, and cut it up into lessons. The lesson will contain a few paragraphs introducing the topic, they will have the students read a section of a chapter, they will ask the student to do a few problems from the book, and lastly, there will be some form of graded assessment, taken from textbook review problems. That is all.”

This is like giving out nothing but worksheets and expecting high academic performance. Here. Read the book, answer the questions at the back, and call it a day.

Another problem is high turnover for students taking online classes. Though learning exclusively through the Internet seems novel at first, few students continue taking these courses more than a year or two.

This is especially true for younger students. It’s hard to imagine many 6th graders with the tenacity to persevere without anything but the most limited human interaction and adult supervision.

Advocates claim this is healthy experimentation. Students are trying out different means to accommodate their learning styles.

However, when students invariably fail at online education and return to their traditional public school hopelessly behind their peers, taxpayers bear the cost of remediating them. And their low academic performance becomes a reflection on the public school system where it is used as an excuse to denigrate teachers and close more brick and mortar buildings.

The online educational clearinghouse is supposed to be monitored and regulated by the state Department of Education – just as it does for state cyber schools.

Unfortunately, state budget cuts in K-12 education have left the department seriously understaffed and unable to do this job effectively.
Just look at the almost weekly news reports of fraud at state cyber schools.

For instance, PA Cyber Charter founder Nicholas Trombetta allegedly stole at least $8 million in public dollars only a few years ago. Federal investigators filed 11 fraud and tax conspiracy charges against him and indicted others in the case.

Another cyber charter founder, June Brown, was also indicted for theft of $6.5 million. Brown and her executives were indicted on 62 counts of wire fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. She ran the Agora Cyber Charter School, which was part of the K12 Inc. empire of virtual charters.

Why would we want to increase the opportunities for such fraud by encouraging students to take more online classes?

This bill is at best a distraction.

It’s a Band Aid for the fiscal irresponsibility of our lawmakers toward our public schools. It’s an excuse so that we’ll let them continue short changing our children for at least another year with yet another budget lacking in education funding.

This does not compute.

Make Tons of Money Doing a Terrible Job – Start a Cyber Charter School

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 If you’re a parent, you’d literally be better off having your child skip school altogether than sending her to a cyber charter.

 

LITERALLY!

 

But if you’re an investor, online charters are like a free money machine. Just press the button and print however much cash you want!

 

Ca-ching!

 

Nowhere else is the goal of corporate education reform as starkly clear as in the cyber charter industry. Nowhere else can such terrible academic results reap such tremendous financial gain.

 

Cyber charter schools are elementary and/or secondary institutions of learning where all or most lessons are given online via computer. Like brick and mortar charter schools, they are funded by taxes but are free from much of the regulations and oversight of which traditional public schools are subject. By every discernible report, the education provided by these online charters is truly execrable.

 

A recent nationwide study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction than traditional public schools.

 

180 days!

 

There are only 180 days in an average school year. So cyber charters provide less math instruction than not going to school at all.

 

Amazing!

 

Ever watched an episode of Sesame Street? Then you got a better math education than an entire year at an online charter!

 

Dora the Explorer, Barney the purple dinosaur, Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood, the Teletubbies – all are more mathematically rigorous than cyber charters!

 

But what about reading?

 

When it comes to that essential skill, online charters come out much better. They only provide 72 days less instruction than traditional public schools.

 

That’s 40% of the school year!

 

So at a traditional public school you’d get a better education in reading if you simply took off at the end of February. You’d get more instruction if you only went slightly more than every other day!

 

The same study found that 88 percent of cyber charter schools have weaker academic growth than similar brick and mortar schools.

 

They have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students, according to researchers. Not only do they have fewer learning days in math and reading, they have a higher student-teacher ratio and much more limited opportunities for live-contact with teachers than brick and mortar schools.

 

For instance, student-to-teacher ratios average about 30:1 in online charters, compared to 20:1 for brick and mortar charters and 17:1 for traditional public schools.

 

And THIS is somehow a viable alternative to traditional public schools!?

 

Well caveat emptor, suckers! Thank goodness for the ignorance of the public!

 

But at least it’s easy to set up these failure factories.

 

Here’s all you have to do:

 

Give a child a computer with Internet access.

 

Buy a cheap, generic programmed package of study.

 

Then sit back and watch the money roll in.

 

From an education standpoint, the model is clearly unsound.

 

Here’s how a cyber charter teacher describes the reading curriculum at his school:

 

“Most cyber schools get their curriculum from K12, a company started by William Bennett, a former federal Secretary of Education. My school gets the majority of its high school material from a mail order company called Aventa.

 

When Aventa creates a course it is fairly bare bones. They choose a textbook from one of the major textbook companies, and cut it up into lessons. The lesson will contain a few paragraphs introducing the topic, they will have the students read a section of a chapter, they will ask the student to do a few problems from the book, and lastly, there will be some form of graded assessment, taken from textbook review problems. That is all.”

 

This is like giving out nothing but worksheets and expecting high academic performance. Here. Read the book, answer the questions at the back, and call it a day.

 

Even though it’s an online school, you do need a few flesh and blood “teachers” occasionally. Their job is to contact students every now and then, but – get this – in most states they don’t even have to be certified. In my home state of Pennsylvania, only 75 percent of cyber charter teachers need to be certified and even those are not subject to the same educator effectiveness accountability regulations as traditional public school teachers.

 

So you could have your cousin Vinnie calling students and asking how they’re doin’. It really doesn’t matter. Most times the kids won’t answer the phone anyway.

 

That’s about all it takes. And boy does it pay!

 

Nationwide there are about 200 online charter schools enrolling about 200,000 children. They raked in $426 million in 2013-14!

 

It’s almost like stealing, but it’s totally 100% legal!

 

Cyber charter operators pull in the same amount or more of tax revenues as traditional public schools – and here’s the best part – what they don’t spend on students is all bank for them and their shareholders!

 

Everything is set up to benefit online charter investors to the detriment of students and families. Take the very way online charters are paid.

 

They get money for each student enrolled. That money comes from the school district where the student lives.

 

However, in many states like Pennsylvania, each district spends a different amount of money per student. These expenditures reflect varying costs and available funding from the local tax base.

 

So cyber charters get whatever that local per-pupil expenditure is. It doesn’t matter if a district spends $8,000 on each student or $20,000. Whatever the amount, that goes to the cyber charter.

 

However, the cost of educating kids is drastically reduced online. Their programs are bare bones compared with what you get at a traditional public school. Most online charters don’t have tutors or teacher aides. They don’t offer band, chorus or extra-curricular activities. You don’t have to pay for any building costs, grounds, upkeep, large staff, etc. But funding formulas in most states ignore this completely. Cyber charters get to keep the difference – whatever it is. In fact, they have an incentive to keep as much as possible because they can do almost whatever they want with it. That includes putting it into operators’ pockets!

 

They just call it profit.

 

Even many online charters that claim to be non-profit do this.

 

For instance, take Pennsylvania’s Insight PA Cyber Charter School. On paper, it’s run by a nonprofit board of directors. However, the board gave over all day-to-day operations to a for-profit company, K12 Inc. On paper it’s one thing. In practice, it’s something else entirely.

 

And in some states when it comes to special education funding, it gets worse. In Pennsylvania, our funding formula is so out of whack that charters schools of all stripes including cyber charters often end up with more funding for students with special needs than traditional public schools. However, because of this loophole in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania online charters have been increasing the number of special education students they enroll and even working to add that label to as many of their students as possible. The state Department of Education has been so underfunded it does not have the resources to oversee these changes.

 

Issues like these permit a bait-and-switch that sends an awful lot of tax dollars earmarked to help children into the maw of private industry.

 

Sure there’s a lot of turnover. Few students stay enrolled in online charters more than a year or two before realizing they’ve been had. But they are easily replaced.

 

And – get this – when they return to their traditional public school hopelessly behind their peers, who has to pay to remediate them? Answer: you do! That’s a problem for traditional public schools and the taxpayers that support them – not cyber charters.

 

With all these issues, why do online charters keep getting approved? Ask the your local state Department of Education.

 

Unlike brick and mortar charters, which require approval at the district level, in most states cyber charters are approved by the Department of Education. Admittedly the online charter boom has slowed somewhat after news of fraud and abuse has become an almost a weekly occurrence in the national media.

 

For instance, PA Cyber Charter founder Nicholas Trombetta allegedly stole at least $8 million in public dollars only a few years ago. He bought an airplane, a $900,000 condo, houses for his girlfriend and mother, and nearly $1 million in groceries and personal expenses, according to the grand jury. Trombetta allegedly set up numerous for-profit and nonprofit businesses to provide goods and services to the cyber charter. Federal investigators filed 11 fraud and tax conspiracy charges against him and indicted others in the case.

 

While Trombetta awaits trial, the school continues to do business awaiting a potential state audit.

 

Another cyber charter founder, June Brown, was also indicted for theft of $6.5 million. Brown and her executives were indicted on 62 counts of wire fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. She was well known for student test scores and had a reputation for claiming large salaries and filing suits against parents who questioned her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

 

Brown is also awaiting trial. She ran the Agora Cyber Charter School, which was part of the K12 Inc. empire of virtual charters.

 

With this kind of fraud and a record of academic failure, perhaps the most amazing thing about cyber charters is that taxpayers allow them to exist at all.

 

You hear educators say it’s all about the children. But not at online charters.

 

There it’s all about the Benjamins. Heck! The McKinleys! The Clevelands! The Madisons! The Chases! The Wilsons!

Co-opting the Language of Authentic Education: The Competency Based Education Cuckoo

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Cuckoo!

 

Cuckoo!

 

Such is the incessant cry of the hour from one of the most popular souvenirs of the black forest of Germany – the cuckoo clock.

 

Time is demarcated by the chirp of an 18th century animatronic bird jumping forward, moving a wing or even opening its beak before making its distinctive cry.

 

However, in nature the cuckoo has a more sinister reputation.

 

It’s one of the most common brood parasites.

 

Instead of investing all the time and energy necessary to raise its own young, many varieties of cuckoo sneak their eggs into the nests of other birds. When the baby cuckoos hatch, they demand an increasing amount of their clueless foster parents’ care often resulting in neglect of the birds’ own children.

 

Parental care is co-opted. The love and affection natural to raise parent birds’ own children are diverted to another source. And the more parent birds try to help the interloper’s child, the less they can help their own.

 

Corporate education reformers must be bird lovers. Or at very least they must enjoy antique cuckoo clocks.

 

In fact, one could describe the entire standardization and privatization movement as a Homo sapien version of brood parasitism.

 

Profiteers co-opt authentic education practices so that they no longer help students but instead serve to enrich private corporations.

 

When parents, teachers and administrators unwittingly engage in corporate school reform strategies to help students learn, they end up achieving the opposite while the testing industry and charter school operators rake in obscene profits.

 

But some of us have seen through the scam, and we think it’s cuckoo.

 

We’ve seen this kind of bait and switch for years in the language used by oligarchs to control education policy. For instance, the defunct federal No Child Left Behind legislation had nothing to do with making sure no kids got left behind. It was about focusing obsessively on test and punish even if that meant leaving poor kids in the rear view.

 

Likewise, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has nothing to do with quickening the pace to academic excellence. It’s about glorifying competition among students while providing them inequitable resources. Teach for America has very little to do with teaching or America. It’s about underpreparing poor children with unqualified instructors and giving cover to privatization operatives. School Choice has nothing to do with giving parents educational alternatives. It’s about letting privatized schools choose which students they want to admit so they can go through the motions of educating them as cheaply as possible and maximize profits for shareholders.

 

And on and on.

 

The latest such scheme to hoodwink communities out of authentic learning for their children is Competency Based Education (CBE) a term used interchangeably with Proficiency Based Education (PBE). Whatever you call it, this comes out to the same thing.

 

Like so many failed policy initiatives that came before it offered by the same group of think tank sycophants, its name belies the truth. CBE and PBE have nothing to do with making children competent or proficient in anything except taking computer-based tests.

 

That’s what the whole program consists of – forcing children to sit in front of computers all day at school to take unending high stakes mini-tests. And somehow this is being sold as a reduction in testing when it’s exactly the opposite.

 

This new initiative is seen by many corporate school reformers as the brave new world of education policy. The public has soundly rejected standardized tests and Common Core. So this is the corporate response, a scheme they privately call stealth assessments. Students will take high stakes tests without even knowing they are doing it. They’ll be asked the same kinds of multiple-choice nonsense you’d find on state mandated standardized assessments but programmers will make it look like a game. The results will still be used to label schools “failing” regardless of how under-resourced they are or how students are suffering the effects of poverty. Mountains of data will still be collected on your children and sold to commercial interests to better market their products.

 

The only difference is they hope to trick you, to hide that it’s even happening at all. And like a cuckoo pushing its egg into your nest, they hope you’ll support what’s in THEIR best interests while working against what would really help your own children.

 

And the method used to achieve this deception is co-opting language. They’d never enact what real classroom teachers want in school, but they will take our language and use it to clothe their own sinister initiatives in doublespeak.

 

So we must pay attention to their words and tease out what they really mean.

 

For instance, they describe CBE as being “student-centered.” And it is – in that their profit-making machine is centered on students as the means of sucking up our tax dollars.

 

They talk about “community partnerships,” but they don’t mean inviting parents and community members into the decision making process at your local school. They mean working together with your local neighborhood privatization firm to make big bucks off your child. Apple, Microsoft, Walmart – whatever huge corporation can sell computers and iPads to facilitate testing every day.

 

 

They talk about “personalized instruction,” but there’s nothing personal in it. This just means not allowing students to progress on their computer programs until they have achieved “mastery” of terrible Common Core standards. If standardized testing is a poor form of assessment, these edu-programs are worse. They don’t measure understanding. They measure zombie cognitive processes – the most basic surface type of spit-it-back to me answers.

 

And if that isn’t bad enough, such an approach subtly suggests to kids that learning is only valuable extrinsically. We don’t learn for intrinsic reasons like curiosity. We lean to get badges on the program, to progress forward in the game and compulsively collect things – like any good consumer should.

 

Today’s children already have problems socializing. They can more easily navigate cyber relationships than real flesh-and-blood interactions. And CBE will only make this worse. Not only will children continue to spend hours of after-school time on-line, the majority of their school day will be spent seated at computer terminals, isolated from each other, eyes focused on screens. And every second they’ll be monitored by that machine – their keystrokes, even the direction their eyes are looking!

 

I’m not making this up! It shows engagement, tenacity, rigor – all measurable, quantifiable and useful to justify punishing your school.

 

They call it “one-to-one computer technology.” Yes, each child will be hooked up to one device. But how does that alone help them learn? If every child had a book, would we call it one-to-one book access? They call it “blended learning” because it mixes instruction from a living, breathing person with sit-and-stare computer time. It sounds like a recipe. I’ll blend the sugar and milk until I have a nice whipped cream. But it conceals how much time is spent on each.

 

Don’t get me wrong. There are effective uses of technology in schools. But this is not one of them.

 

Students can make Keynote presentations, record movies, design graphics, write programs, etc. But taking endless testing disguised as a video game adds nothing but boredom to their day. A few years ago, I was forced by administrators to put my own students on iStation twice a week. (I’ve since convinced them to let us be.) In any case, when we used the program, it would have been more effective had we called it nap time. At least then my kids wouldn’t have felt guilty about sleeping through it.

 

The corporate education reformers are trying to sneak all of this under our noses. They don’t want us to notice. And they want to make it harder to actually oppose them by stealing our words.

 

When public school advocates demand individualized learning for their children, the testocracy offers us this sinister CBE project. When we decry annual testing, they offer us stealth assessment instead.

 

We must continue to advocate for learning practices that work. We can’t let them steal our language, because if we do, they’ll steal our ability to engage in authentic learning.

 

And to do that, we must understand the con. We have to deny the technocrats their secrecy, deny them access to our children as sources of profit.

 

We must guard our nests like watchful mama birds.

 

The cuckoos are out there.

 

They are chirping in the darkness all around us.

 

Don’t let them in.

Why is It So Hard to Vote in America? Voter Suppression is Desperation Politics

 

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No one should have to stand in line an entire work day to vote.

 

But that’s what happened to people in yesterday’s Arizona primary election.

 

Lines stretched literally for miles. People actually ordered pizza to be delivered to them IN LINE!

 

Citizens were already getting in line when polls opened at 6 am, and hundreds were still in line when polls closed at 7 pm. The last ballot wasn’t cast until midnight – a new record for the Grand Canyon State!

 

What the fuck!

 

The most populous county in the state, Maricopa County, reduced polling locations from 200 during the last election to just 60 this year. That amounts to over 20,000 voters for every location.

 

The reason? They were trying to save money.

 

Let that sink in. When you run government like a business, services suffer. It means fewer resources for your schools. More lead in your water. And long as fuck lines to vote.

 

Oh. And if your skin happens to be black or brown, you get it even worse.

 

Hispanics and Latinos make up more than 40% of the population of Phoenix (30% state wide). Yet in these densely populated neighborhoods, there were few to no polling places open. I can’t imagine why!

 

And to top it all off, this “oversight” was used for political gain.

 

At roughly 8:30 pm, a little over an hour after polls closed, with less than one percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Arizona primary.

 

In Democratic primaries delegates are awarded proportionally. It’s not winner take all. Delegates are awarded by the percent of the vote each candidate receives. If the race is really close delegates are split.

 

Prematurely declaring Hillary the winner while hundreds are still waiting to vote discourages Bernie Sanders supporters from staying in line and, thus, can reduce the number of delegates he receives.

 

These are not the actions of a robust Democracy. These are the actions of a de facto oligarchy trying desperately to crush any last remnants of majority rule.

 

In an age when you can buy anything you want on-line, why do we have to wait on line to vote? If the Internet is safe enough for global commerce and government, why is it too risky for casting a ballot?

 

It isn’t. The only reason this hasn’t happening is because it would dramatically increase voter turnout. It makes things too easy. While pundits decry “slacktivists” on Facebook and massive political participation on Twitter, they actively discourage bringing Democracy to those same forums.

 

It’s the same reason why election day isn’t a holiday. If people didn’t have to sneak voting in before or after work or during their lunch break, too many of us would be heard.

 

During every election cycle, there is an outcry against shady practices like what happened in Arizona, but we never do anything about them after the election cycle. We look at our antiquated primary and caucus system (especially on the Democratic side) and wonder how a modern country can actually function this way. We shake our heads at the Electoral College and maybe make some noise about changing it until the next President is sworn in. Then we all go silent.

 

Meanwhile, voter suppression efforts gain ground every year – even when the White House isn’t changing hands.

 

Despite low turnout and nearly non-existent cases of voter fraud, state legislatures are making it increasingly more difficult to vote.

 

A total of 36 states now have draconian Voter ID laws on the books – 33 of them are being enforced this cycle. During the 2015 legislative session, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting were introduced or carried over in 33 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

 

I know. I was part of the successful effort that defeated one of the most severe Voter ID laws in the country in my home state of Pennsylvania. State Rep. Mike Turzai proudly bragged in 2012 that our law would give the state to a Republican president. After protests and petitions from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between, the state Supreme Court struck it down.

 

Meanwhile, other states are trying to enact the same kinds of laws that were ruled unconstitutional in the Keystone State. Wisconsin’s Voter ID law is almost identical to the defunct Pennsylvania legislation. Instead of being defeated, Republican lawmakers are trying to restrict the kinds of permissible identification and prohibit country and town governments from issuing any IDs to residents for free.

 

And last year, a year after enacting a voter ID law, Alabama shuttered 31 driver’s license offices — most of them in rural, impoverished, majority-black counties. Civil rights groups have filed suit, arguing that the change disproportionately affects racial minorities.

 

All across the country, early voting hours are being cut. Same day registration is being discontinued. Mountains of paperwork are being required to ensure proof of citizenship. And mysteriously people who have had no problems voting for decades are finding themselves given provisional ballots because of bookkeeping errors.

 

This has to stop.

 

Either we live in a country governed by majority rule or not.

 

Corporations and billionaires set national policy. If we want any chance in taking back our country, we must continue to have the right to vote.

 

Voting should be protected. It should be free and easy. It should be every citizens right.

 

Fight for it, America. Fight like your life depends on it.

 

Your freedoms certainly do.

United Opt Out Conference Highlights Dual Role of Technology in Education

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Technology is the most powerful weapon we have against corporate education reform.

 

It is also our greatest foe.

 

Such were the remarks of Dr. Stephen Krashen at the United Opt Out Conference on Friday.

 

The linguist, educational researcher and activist gave the opening keynote address to hundreds of people who traveled to Philadelphia for the conference.

 

Krashen, who is known for his work on second language acquisition and bilingual education, has been a strong critic of the test and punish policies of the Barack Obama administration.

 

He warned the assembly of parents, students, teachers, professors and activists about the dangers of Competency Based Education (CBE), the next big thing in the movement to dumb down public schools.

 

CBE is touted as a way to reduce high stakes standardized testing by allowing students to work at their own pace while on various computer programs. However, Krashen sees this is an increase in testing.

 

In effect, it’s testing everyday. The computer programs used in CBE are little more than the same kinds of questions you’d see on a standardized test. An emphasis on CBE would replace a robust school curriculum with never-ending test preparation and multiple-choice assessment.

 

In the hands of a classroom teacher, technology can be an excellent tool to help kids learn. However, top-down policies like CBE only take away educators’ autonomy and turn them into mere facilitators of prepackaged materials of dubious quality.

 

He noted that the National Governors Association – an organization promoting CBE and Common Core State Standards – admits that there is no research supporting this new policy. But they’re suggesting we do it anyway. In fact, provisions to increase CBE are embedded in the new federal education law – the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 

He sees this as a massive boondoggle to swipe the $600 billion we spend on technology in schools. After all, CBE will require increasingly newer computers at every school that will need to be constantly replaced as they become obsolete.

 

Krashen quoted Gerald Bracey: “There’s a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things we shouldn’t be doing at all.”

 

There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

 

The same technology that is being used to pervert the education system can be used to help save it.

 

Krashen advised activists to use the power of social media to spread the word about CBE and other Trojan Horse reforms – policies that look like they’re helping children while actually hurting them.

 

“The Internet is our underground,” he said, “Facebook and Twitter are our weapons.”

 

Though policymakers and journalists rarely listen to experts like classroom teachers, the Internet allows us to spread our message. We don’t need anyone’s permission to speak up. We are all free to do so and should do it more often.

 

I know many people are scared to speak up, he said, but we can all educate ourselves about what’s happening and then share it and retweet it. We need to do more of this. We need to reach a critical mass. We need to show the world the truth and that it can’t be ignored and buried under the dominant media and political narrative being sold to the public as if it were truth.

 

These policies, while dangerous in and of themselves, also overshadow the real needs of our school children – namely devastating, generational poverty.

 

When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Healthcare, and No Child Left Homeless, then when can talk about No Child Left Behind and Every Child Succeeds, he said.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about this issue, claiming that solving poverty would in turn solve any problems with education.

 

Krashen’s keynote was an exciting beginning to a conference that promises to be eye-opening, exciting and energizing to the community of people fighting to take back our schools from the oligarchy.


 

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