About Andrea’s Blog

Welcome to my periodic musings on the state of American education, business, journalism, the consumer experience, women and food—how it is grown, cooked and eaten. A systems thinker since I wrote my first book, The Man Who Discovered Quality by W. Edwards Deming, most of my ideas and writing are informed by a systems view of the world.

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UPDATE: How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

On October 24, I posted the story below about dark money–much of it from out-of-state–flowing into Massachusetts to support a “yes” vote on a pro-charter-school ballot question known as Question 2. In the days just before the election, those funds have increased dramatically, making Question 2 the most expensive charter-school ballot initiative in the country, ever. In Massachusetts, which has the most highly rated public schools in the nation, more has been spent by proponents of Ballot 2 than both sides spent on any other ballot initiative in state history, and more dark money has flowed to the initiative than to any state or federal election. Here are the latest totals via Peggy Wiesenberg, attorney, activist and public-school parent who did the analysis for the original post:

 Families for Excellent Schools, $15.6 million

Other dark-money donors $2 million

–Hedge fund and other investment managers $1.9 million

–Jim and Alice Walton $1.8 million

–Other donors, $1.3 million, including a total $490,000 from Michael Bloomberg

 By contrast, union spending in opposition to Question 2, was about $11 million.

 Here’s the original October 24 post:

This post highlights the work of Peggy Wiesenberg, an attorney and Access to Justice Fellow working with Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a grassroots organization of Boston Public School parents dedicated to promoting quality, equity and transparency in public education. The Access to Justice Fellows Program is  a collaboration of the Lawyers Clearinghouse and the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

This election season, Massachusetts is shaping up to be a busman’s holiday for ballot committees organized on Ballot Question 2, which is being touted as An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools. If passed, the ballot initiative will lift the cap on charters by 12 schools per year in perpetuity and “radically destabilize school governance” and municipal funding in Massachusetts, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wrote in a Boston Globe editorial explaining why he is voting “No” on Question 2.

While 200 Massachusetts school committees—the equivalent of school boards—have come out against the initiative,  two in three businesses back charter school expansion. Massachusetts has become a battle ground among both pro- and anti-charter-school expansion forces. Funding for and against Question 2 has now topped $33 million, in what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history.

Lining up in favor of the Question 2, is a cadre of deep-pocketed funders who were behind an earlier ballot campaign, about six years ago, to raise the cap on Massachusetts charters; but in lieu of a referendum, in 2010, the state legislature passed a law lifting the cap. What’s particularly noteworthy is that the big-money backers of that earlier campaign have increased their spending on this year’s ballot initiative exponentially.

The stakes are, indeed, high because, ever since its storied 1993 Education Reform Act, Massachusetts has enjoyed the highest ranking in the nation on the NAEP test, the nation’s education “report card.”  Thus, if Bay State citizens vote to lift the charter cap, lower-ranking states will have a much harder time resisting pressure to open the flood gates for charter schools.

Maurice Cunningham here, and Mercedes Schneider here, have written about national organizations like  Democrats for Education Reform and Families for Excellent Schools, which do not have to disclose their donors, and which are funneling “dark money” to the ballot initiative, as well as about local ballot committees, which have been established specifically to support the ballot initiative and do have to disclose their donors.

Now, with early voting starting today in Massachusetts, DFER has just launched a $500,000 effort that focuses on phone calls, mailings, and radio advertising to shore up the pro-charter vote just as the latest polling shows “Democrats turning sharply against the referendum and threatening its prospects for passage,” according to the Boston Globe. Tonight DFER was “blasting Latino air waves,” writes Wiesenberg.

Together, four ballot committees established specifically to support Question 2, have raised over $20.5 million thus far. They are:

A fifth ballot committee, “Advancing Obama’s Legacy” was filed on October 17 and appears to be a successor organization to Yes on 2. The chairman of the group, Frank Perullo is a lead advisor to DFER and to Robert Kraft, owner of, among other things, the New England Patriots; the Kraft Group is also one of the biggest contributors to Question 2.  Perullo,  a seasoned election consultant, appears to have timed this late-comer ballot committee in order to collect contributions in support of charter school expansion from donors whose identities do not need to be disclosed until November 4th .

The leading ballot committee against Question 2, Save Our Public Schools, which is heavily supported by labor, has garnered $12.5 million

Wiesenberg, an attorney, Boston public-school parent, alum and activist, has combed through the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OFCP) database to ascertain who exactly is pouring funds into this clutch of pro-charter ballot organizations. By law, ballot committees must disclose their contributions to OCFP.

The OCPF filings reveal the broad swath of Massachusetts business people and entities behind the latest ballot initiative. Many of these local funders backed the earlier ballot committee, which helped lead, eventually, to the 2010 charter-school cap lift. The biggest funders of the predecessor ballot committee, which is identified by OCPF filings as  “the Committee for Charter Public Schools”, have increased their spending three- , four-  even ten-times as much as they did in 2009/2010–a good indicator of how high the political stakes have become.

Among the biggest backers of the 2009-2010 drive to expand charter schools are men who are now top officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, and are leading both Massachusetts education and the Question 2 drive. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser who, in 2009-2010, was Managing Partner of New Schools Venture Fund, a leading charter-school funder and gatekeeper, in cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., founded the Committee for Charter Public Schools. In 2009, 39 contributors to that committee gave a total of $387,275. In this year’s ballot initiative, Paul Sagan, a venture capitalist and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, alone contributed $100,000, a 10-fold increase over his 2009 contribution to the earlier ballot campaign committee. The Boston Globe recently reported that charter opponents have cried foul over Sagan’s contribution to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools; Sagan countered, in his ethics filing, that the contributions were made “as a private individual” and that pro-charter groups could not use his position in advertising and publicity materials.

Other heavy-hitters, in addition to Sagan, are:

  • Jim Walton who contributed $1,125,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools
  • Alice Walton contributed $710,000 to Yes on 2, three-times the amount she gave in 2009.
  • Charles Longfield, founder of Target Analytics and chief scientist for Blackbaud, companies that offer data management services to non-profit foundations, corporations and schools (not to be confused with Blackboard) contributed $100,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools –10-times the amount he gave in 2009.
  • Raymond Stata, chairman of Analog Devices and venture capitalist investor, gave $100,000 to Great Schools Mass. – 20-times the amount he gave in 2009.

Other pro-charter Question 2 contributors who have exponentially upped their ballot-initiative contributions over the amount they contributed in 2009:

  • Stephen Mugford, VP of Capital One Financial Corp., gave $60,000 up 12-fold from 2009.
  • Joshua Bekenstein, Managing Director of Bain Capital and board member of New Profit Inc. a venture philanthropy fund that invests in charter schools, contributed $40,000, up eight-fold from 2009
  • Paul Edgerley, also a Managing Director of Bain Capital and a board member of New Profit Inc., contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Joanna Jacobson, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Seth Klarman, Founder of The Baupast Group, a hedge fund, contributed $40,000 up four-fold from 2009
  • Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $30,000, up 10-fold from 2009

Among the 2009 contributors, only the $25,000 contribution of Lawrence Coolidge, of Loring, Walcott & Coolidge, was equal to the amount he contributed in 2009.

Contributors to Question 2 who did not contribute funds to the earlier ballot initiative include:

  • Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund, $150,000
  • Charter Public School Association, $100,000
  • Partners Healthcare, $100,000
  • The Kraft Group, $100,000 (CEO Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots.)
  • State Street Bank and Trust Co., $100,000
  • Suffolk Cares Inc. , $100,000
  • Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and the recent winner, in the high-stakes power-struggle over control CBS-Viacom, her father’s media empire –$100,000
  • Edward Shapiro, Partner of Par Capital Management, $200,000
  • Bradley Bloom, Managing Director of Berkshire Partners, $100,000. Contributions from  4 other Managing Directors at Berkshire Partners totaled another $150,000. Bundled contributions from Berkshire Partners are up 25-fold from the $10,000 amount that a lone Berkshire Partner contributed in 2009.
  • Abigail Johnson, CEO Fidelity Investments and Manager of FMR LLC, contributed $40,000. Contributions from 31 Fidelity and 2 FMR employees—most in $1,000 increments—total an additional $ 62,710.
  • EMC Corporation contributed $75,000, more than seven-fold the $10,000 amount that William Teuber, EMC CEO (now Vice Chair of Dell-EMC), founder of Mass Business Leaders for Charter Schools, and one of 16 business titans who formed the Mass. Competitive Partnership PAC that is listed with OCPF as the address of two of the five Question-2 ballot committees, contributed  in 2009;
  • Massmutual Financial Group of Springfield contributed $50,000
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated also contributed $50,000

The above lists are almost surely a small number of the deep-pocketed contributors to Question 2. At least a dozen individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 initiative do not show up as contributors to the five main Question-2 ballot committees, which are required to disclose donors. Many are likely contributing “dark money” to organizations like DFER and Families for Excellent Schools, instead.

The 2009 contributors who are no-shows on the five Question 2 committees, include Amos Hostetter, Chair of Pilot House Associates LLC and founder of the Barr Foundation. In 2016, after officials of the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association Inc. filed Ballot Question 2, the Barr Foundation made awards to support major expansions of Brooke Charter School Network and Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston and to the MPCSA to launch a common application for Boston charter schools similar to those in Newark and New Orleans.

Eli Broad and the Fisher family, two of the nation’s leading education reform philanthropists and charter-school funders, also contributed to the 2009 campaign to lift the charter cap, and are absent from the Question 2 committees.

The  Fisher family’s absence is particularly noteworthy as John Fisher co-chairs the board of the  Charter Growth Fund  and chairs the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP Foundation,) the largest charter organization in the nation, which is getting ready for a major expansion of the KIPP brand in the Bay State should the ballot initiative pass

Another KIPP Foundation board member who contributed to the 2009 ballot initiative, but who does not appear on official Question 2 ballot committee filings with OCPF is Mark Nunnelly, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology who reports directly to Governor Charlie Baker, a major supporter of the ballot initiative.

Indeed, national charter school organizations and CMOs are already getting ready to seize large swaths of public-school districts—and their funding—should the measure pass. Stay tuned for more on CMO strategies in a later post.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | 3 Comments

How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

This post highlights the work of Peggy Wiesenberg, an attorney and Access to Justice Fellow working with Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a grassroots organization of Boston Public School parents dedicated to promoting quality, equity and transparency in public education. The Access to Justice Fellows Program is  a collaboration of the Lawyers Clearinghouse and the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

This election season, Massachusetts is shaping up to be a busman’s holiday for ballot committees organized on Ballot Question 2, which is being touted as An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools. If passed, the ballot initiative will lift the cap on charters by 12 schools per year in perpetuity and “radically destabilize school governance” and municipal funding in Massachusetts, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wrote in a Boston Globe editorial explaining why he is voting “No” on Question 2.

While 200 Massachusetts school committees—the equivalent of school boards—have come out against the initiative,  two in three businesses back charter school expansion. Massachusetts has become a battle ground among both pro- and anti-charter-school expansion forces. Funding for and against Question 2 has now topped $33 million, in what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history.

Lining up in favor of the Question 2, is a cadre of deep-pocketed funders who were behind an earlier ballot campaign, about six years ago, to raise the cap on Massachusetts charters; but in lieu of a referendum, in 2010, the state legislature passed a law lifting the cap. What’s particularly noteworthy is that the big-money backers of that earlier campaign have increased their spending on this year’s ballot initiative exponentially.

The stakes are, indeed, high because, ever since its storied 1993 Education Reform Act, Massachusetts has enjoyed the highest ranking in the nation on the NAEP test, the nation’s education “report card.”  Thus, if Bay State citizens vote to lift the charter cap, lower-ranking states will have a much harder time resisting pressure to open the flood gates for charter schools.

Maurice Cunningham here, and Mercedes Schneider here, have written about national organizations like  Democrats for Education Reform and Families for Excellent Schools, which do not have to disclose their donors, and which are funneling “dark money” to the ballot initiative, as well as about local ballot committees, which have been established specifically to support the ballot initiative and do have to disclose their donors.

Now, with early voting starting today in Massachusetts, DFER has just launched a $500,000 effort that focuses on phone calls, mailings, and radio advertising to shore up the pro-charter vote just as the latest polling shows “Democrats turning sharply against the referendum and threatening its prospects for passage,” according to the Boston Globe. Tonight DFER was “blasting Latino air waves,” writes Wiesenberg.

Together, four ballot committees established specifically to support Question 2, have raised over $20.5 million thus far. They are:

A fifth ballot committee, “Advancing Obama’s Legacy” was filed on October 17 and appears to be a successor organization to Yes on 2. The chairman of the group, Frank Perullo is a lead advisor to DFER and to Robert Kraft, owner of, among other things, the New England Patriots; the Kraft Group is also one of the biggest contributors to Question 2.  Perullo,  a seasoned election consultant, appears to have timed this late-comer ballot committee in order to collect contributions in support of charter school expansion from donors whose identities do not need to be disclosed until November 4th .

The leading ballot committee against Question 2, Save Our Public Schools, which is heavily supported by labor, has garnered $12.5 million

Wiesenberg, an attorney, Boston public-school parent, alum and activist, has combed through the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OFCP) database to ascertain who exactly is pouring funds into this clutch of pro-charter ballot organizations. By law, ballot committees must disclose their contributions to OCFP.

The OCPF filings reveal the broad swath of Massachusetts business people and entities behind the latest ballot initiative. Many of these local funders backed the earlier ballot committee, which helped lead, eventually, to the 2010 charter-school cap lift. The biggest funders of the predecessor ballot committee, which is identified by OCPF filings as  “the Committee for Charter Public Schools”, have increased their spending three- , four-  even ten-times as much as they did in 2009/2010–a good indicator of how high the political stakes have become.

Among the biggest backers of the 2009-2010 drive to expand charter schools are men who are now top officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, and are leading both Massachusetts education and the Question 2 drive. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser who, in 2009-2010, was Managing Partner of New Schools Venture Fund, a leading charter-school funder and gatekeeper, in cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., founded the Committee for Charter Public Schools. In 2009, 39 contributors to that committee gave a total of $387,275. In this year’s ballot initiative, Paul Sagan, a venture capitalist and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, alone contributed $100,000, a 10-fold increase over his 2009 contribution to the earlier ballot campaign committee. The Boston Globe recently reported that charter opponents have cried foul over Sagan’s contribution to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools; Sagan countered, in his ethics filing, that the contributions were made “as a private individual” and that pro-charter groups could not use his position in advertising and publicity materials.

Other heavy-hitters, in addition to Sagan, are:

  • Jim Walton who contributed $1,125,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools
  • Alice Walton contributed $710,000 to Yes on 2, three-times the amount she gave in 2009.
  • Charles Longfield, founder of Target Analytics and chief scientist for Blackbaud, companies that offer data management services to non-profit foundations, corporations and schools (not to be confused with Blackboard) contributed $100,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Public Charter Schools –10-times the amount he gave in 2009.
  • Raymond Stata, chairman of Analog Devices and venture capitalist investor, gave $100,000 to Great Schools Mass. – 20-times the amount he gave in 2009.

Other pro-charter Question 2 contributors who have exponentially upped their ballot-initiative contributions over the amount they contributed in 2009:

  • Stephen Mugford, VP of Capital One Financial Corp., gave $60,000 up 12-fold from 2009.
  • Joshua Bekenstein, Managing Director of Bain Capital and board member of New Profit Inc. a venture philanthropy fund that invests in charter schools, contributed $40,000, up eight-fold from 2009
  • Paul Edgerley, also a Managing Director of Bain Capital and a board member of New Profit Inc., contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Joanna Jacobson, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, contributed $40,000, up four-fold from 2009
  • Seth Klarman, Founder of The Baupast Group, a hedge fund, contributed $40,000 up four-fold from 2009
  • Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $30,000, up 10-fold from 2009

Among the 2009 contributors, only the $25,000 contribution of Lawrence Coolidge, of Loring, Walcott & Coolidge, was equal to the amount he contributed in 2009.

Contributors to Question 2 who did not contribute funds to the earlier ballot initiative include:

  • Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund, $150,000
  • Charter Public School Association, $100,000
  • Partners Healthcare, $100,000
  • The Kraft Group, $100,000 (CEO Robert Kraft owns the New England Patriots.)
  • State Street Bank and Trust Co., $100,000
  • Suffolk Cares Inc. , $100,000
  • Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and the recent winner, in the high-stakes power-struggle over control CBS-Viacom, her father’s media empire –$100,000
  • Edward Shapiro, Partner of Par Capital Management, $200,000
  • Bradley Bloom, Managing Director of Berkshire Partners, $100,000. Contributions from  4 other Managing Directors at Berkshire Partners totaled another $150,000. Bundled contributions from Berkshire Partners are up 25-fold from the $10,000 amount that a lone Berkshire Partner contributed in 2009.
  • Abigail Johnson, CEO Fidelity Investments and Manager of FMR LLC, contributed $40,000. Contributions from 31 Fidelity and 2 FMR employees—most in $1,000 increments—total an additional $ 62,710.
  • EMC Corporation contributed $75,000, more than seven-fold the $10,000 amount that William Teuber, EMC CEO (now Vice Chair of Dell-EMC), founder of Mass Business Leaders for Charter Schools, and one of 16 business titans who formed the Mass. Competitive Partnership PAC that is listed with OCPF as the address of two of the five Question-2 ballot committees, contributed  in 2009;
  • Massmutual Financial Group of Springfield contributed $50,000
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated also contributed $50,000

The above lists are almost surely a small number of the deep-pocketed contributors to Question 2. At least a dozen individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 initiative do not show up as contributors to the five main Question-2 ballot committees, which are required to disclose donors. Many are likely contributing “dark money” to organizations like DFER and Families for Excellent Schools, instead.

The 2009 contributors who are no-shows on the five Question 2 committees, include Amos Hostetter, Chair of Pilot House Associates LLC and founder of the Barr Foundation. In 2016, after officials of the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association Inc. filed Ballot Question 2, the Barr Foundation made awards to support major expansions of Brooke Charter School Network and Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston and to the MPCSA to launch a common application for Boston charter schools similar to those in Newark and New Orleans.

Eli Broad and the Fisher family, two of the nation’s leading education reform philanthropists and charter-school funders, also contributed to the 2009 campaign to lift the charter cap, and are absent from the Question 2 committees.

The  Fisher family’s absence is particularly noteworthy as John Fisher co-chairs the board of the  Charter Growth Fund  and chairs the board of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP Foundation,) the largest charter organization in the nation, which is getting ready for a major expansion of the KIPP brand in the Bay State should the ballot initiative pass

Another KIPP Foundation board member who contributed to the 2009 ballot initiative, but who does not appear on official Question 2 ballot committee filings with OCPF is Mark Nunnelly, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology who reports directly to Governor Charlie Baker, a major supporter of the ballot initiative.

Indeed, national charter school organizations and CMOs are already getting ready to seize large swaths of public-school districts—and their funding—should the measure pass. Stay tuned for more on CMO strategies in a later post.

Posted in Business, Charter Schools, Massachusetts Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why The New York Times Is Wrong, and the NAACP Right, in the Question of A Moratorium on Charters

This weekend, the NAACP is expected to vote on a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools at a meeting in Cincinnati. This week, too, The New York Times, in an editorial, called on the board of the NAACP not to ratify the resolution, one of several major news organizations that have called the NAACP to task for its resolution. Here I explain why The New York Times editorial, in particular, was wrong, and why the NAACP is right to call a moratorium until key flaws in the charter system are addressed by policy makers.

First, the Times argument relied heavily on research by the Center for Education Research Outcomes CREDO; as Andrew Maul and I have shown, the CREDO research, which uses a controversial methodology—comparing each charter school student to a “virtual-twin,” a composite of up to seven public-school kids who attend “feeder” schools and who “match” the charter students on both demographics and test scores—is highly flawed. Most egregiously, the CREDO study implies that the “virtual twins” are drawn from the general population of traditional public schools—specifically that a school is considered to be a feeder if even a single student transferred during the study period. This is not the case. CREDO excludes public schools that send less than five students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools in cities like New York where the best schools send few, if any, students to charters. I learned of the five-student minimum via an email exchange with Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director, when the study first came out, but it is not disclosed in the study’s technical documents. (Nor does the study explain why it didn’t look at all “neighboring” public schools with comparable/charter-like demographics—whether they send kids to charters or not.)

Also, in the case of New Orleans, CREDO has admitted to violating its own methodology by comparing charter-school students in New Orleans, not as the methodology requires, to virtual twins in New Orleans public schools—because there are few public schools left  there—but to public-school kids elsewhere in Louisiana.

Second, as the recent UCLA study shows, “charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate than non-charter schools, some of which have suspension rates north of 70 percent. But a disproportionate amount of those suspensions fall on black students, who are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities, who are twice as likely to be suspended as their non-disabled peers.”

Third, while there are good charter schools, you can’t build a system on either exceptions or on organizations that violate the norms of public-school behavior. In New York City, the largest CMO, Success Academy Charter Schools, is known for sky-high test scores, as well as a Dickensian practices, such as screening out the least desirable students and harsh discipline. The CMO also has fought government oversight, including a state audit of its operations.

Too often—Detroit is a case in point—policy makers and charter school leaders use other people’s children in ill-advised education experiments. Charter school advocates have declared “mission accomplished” without sufficient evidence that they are, indeed, better than public schools, while ignoring considerable problems with these schools and the narrow test-based methods used to evaluate them. They also ignore the damage done to public schools when charters siphon off both public funding for education and the easiest-to-teach students. The NAACP is right to call a moratorium on charter schools until policy makers figure out both how to hold charter schools accountable, as well as the tipping point at which the number of charter schools begin to do serious damage to neighboring public-schools.

 

 

Posted in Charter Schools, CREDO, Education, New Orleans Charter Schools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Future in the Bay State: Why Brockton May Have A Case for A New School-Funding Lawsuit

Brockton, a down-at-the-heels Massachusetts town, has been a bell weather of education reform for more than a quarter of a century, ever since it spearheaded a class-action lawsuit charging inequitable school funding, which served as a catalyst for the state’s historic 1993 Education Reform Act. That law, a grand bargain that traded increased school funding for greater accountability, would help make the Bay State the nation’s top performer in education, its kids outscoring every other state on the NAEP, the nation’s report card, as well as most foreign countries on international tests.

But the law’s foundation budget formula, which was supposed to accurately calculate what it costs to provide an “adequate” education for every Massachusetts child, whether she lives in a rich district or a poor one, is now out of date, according to a recent Massachusetts review commission. In addition, recent changes in the way the state calculates the number of poor children in each district short change towns like Brockton, which has a high population of undocumented children.

So, Brockton is getting ready to renew its fight for equitable funding for its schools, which serve a community of mostly poor, immigrant kids. Kathleen Smith, the superintendent of Brockton public schools, said she is now actively searching for a lawyer who will take the case on a pro-bono basis. Smith says she even spoke to Michael Weisman, the attorney who represented Jami McDuffy, the lead plaintiff in the historic equity lawsuit, but he said he wouldn’t be available.

“With high-stakes testing, when every diploma depends on how students do on an online testing platform,” and when many of the richest districts spend three-times the foundation formula and “have one-to-one laptops for their students never mind what they have in their homes–ipads, computers, cell phones,” Brockton is seeing its funding slip further and further behind, said Smith in an interview last week.

Ironically, Brockton’s latest struggle for equitable funding comes at a time when its flagship high school, the largest in the state, just achieved Level One status, which is reserved for the top-performing schools in the state. The achievements of Brockton High, which has undergone a remarkable years-long turnaround catalyzed, in large part, by the historic ed-reform law, has endured despite aforementioned funding difficulties, which have resulted, among other things, in ballooning class sizes that its principal Sharon Wolder has called unsustainable.

Last year a commission reviewing the Massachusetts funding formula found that the Bay state seriously underestimates the costs of educating the state’s neediest children, calculating that, in 2016, more than $568 million would be required to meet those needs. The commission’s findings note that “[t]he actual costs of health insurance and special education have far surpassed the assumptions built into the formula for calculating the foundation budget. As a result, those costs have significantly reduced the resources available to support other key investments.”

The review commission’s findings read like a text-book case for the education-funding plight of poor town’s like Brockton:

A consistent point made by the superintendents and educators with whom we spoke was a sharp rise in students with interrupted education (SIFE) and students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE), often children from war torn regions, or refugees, who have serious social and emotional needs and arrive at school with little to no formal education for school districts to build upon. This challenge is exacerbated at the high school level, where such gaps in learning must be made up in an extremely short time frame, often with highly staff-intensive interventions involving class size of 10 or less per teacher, and support staff as well.

If Brockton seeks relief from the courts, however, it will not be because of the inadequacies of the foundation funding formula because, however outdated it is, the state is still meeting its obligations under the law.

What has “handed us an entry into an equity of education lawsuit,” says Kathleen Smith, who has been considering a lawsuit for over a year, is a decision driven by the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, who changed the way low-income students are counted in the state. Instead of relying on the free-and-reduced lunch forms that families filled out each school year, Massachusetts now counts only families that have been “direct certified” for some form of state assistance, such as SNAP (food stamps) or Medicaid. According to Smith, the new rule introduces “systemic bias” against towns like Brockton and other so-called sanctuary cities that are home to large numbers of undocumented immigrants who do not register for public services. Brockton is home to large numbers of refugees from Haiti, many of whom began flocking to the city after the devastating 2010 earthquake, as well as from Cape Verde. (Students from both countries typically come to Brockton without speaking English and most have had their schooling interrupted.)

Undocumented immigrants “don’t fill out the census; they are not going to sign up for state benefits,” says Smith. “These kids are in school, but they are under the radar in every other way.”

The new rules, according to Smith, have reduced by a third the official “poverty rate” for Brockton schools, which will cut future funding to the schools. “No way we went from 81 percent low-income to being 55 percent,” says Smith referring to the latest data on Brockton following introduction of the direct-certification rules. “Those kids didn’t go away.”

Brockton has faced other major financial challenges this year as a charter school, New Heights, was approved against overwhelming objections from the community, and then failed to open on time. The school has since opened in Norwood, 22 miles away from Brockton. The charter school struggled to meet its 315 enrollment target. Smith says she will carefully document the number of children who return to Brockton public schools during the course of the academic year.

The charter school is expected to siphon off $10 million per year from the school district, about 6 percent of its budget.

Brockton is contemplating another equity funding law suit just as the state is getting ready to vote on Question Two, a ballot initiative, this November, that would, essentially, blow up the cap on charter schools by allowing 12 new charters to open each year in perpetuity. That would mean a charter-school growth rate three-to-four times the level Massachusetts has seen historically, according to Senator Stan Rosenberg, president of the Massachusetts Senate, putting enormous new pressures on traditional public schools. Regardless of what happens with Question Two, said Rosenberg in an interview in August: “We need to put $1.2 to 1.4 billion new dollars into public schools.”

Even if Question Two is defeated, the future looks hazy for continuing the state’s impressive education trajectory. “In 1993, all the stars were aligned,” says Rosenberg. The education law brought together a Republican governor, the democratic leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate and a business community, all of whom were determined to produce a bi-partisan approach to education reform.

Last summer, Rosenberg and several of his colleagues proposed a law called The Rise Act, which sought a “targeted cap” lift on charter schools in underperforming districts and an increase in overall funding for Massachusetts schools. It also sought to address many of the problems with charter schools, such as lack of transparency and creaming.

But the stars are no longer aligned in Massachussetts. The Rise Act went no where. The governor and his education secretary are banking on nothing but charters to improve schools in Mass. even though charters played virtually no role in the impressive performance of Massachusetts in the 20-or-so years following the 1993 education law. Once again, poor and struggling Brockton may have to serve as the catalyst for an equitable and rational approach to school reform.

Posted in Brockton, MA, Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

UPDATE: Brockton’s Charter Fiasco Continues As Controversial School Prepares to Leave Town

After multiple construction snafus that kept a controversial charter school from opening in Brockton, MA, the commissioner of Massachusetts public schools granted conditional approval yesterday for the school to temporarily move to a site in Norwood, 22 miles away from Brockton.

The decision to allow New Heights Charter School its last-minute move to Norwood is “political,” wrote Sue Szachowicz, the recently retired long-time principal of Brockton High, in an email. It shows how badly the Massachusetts department of education “wants to be sure that this school gets its opportunity.”

Adds Szachowicz:

This will be interesting to see what happens.  Norwood is a pretty affluent town, and not particularly easy to get to.  Parents who thought they would be sending their kids to school in downtown Brockton will get their kids to school over twenty miles away in Norwood???   I do not understand this one!  Politics, politics…”

Mitchell Chester along with Jim Peyser, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education and Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, are all major proponents of an upcoming ballot initiative, known as Question 2, which would raise the Bay State’s cap on charter schools.

Chester did impose a number of conditions on New Heights, according to The Enterprise, the local newspaper: The school must offer two days of childcare to make up for pushing back the start of school. It must also establish occupancy in Brockton by January 3 or face charter probation or revocation. The school also must issue daily reports on student attendance on each of the first seven days of school, followed by weekly updates on enrollment counts, staffing and monthly financial statements.

“While it is not unusual for a new school to have challenges with a single site, it is rare to have it happen at two places,”said Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Nonetheless, this is not the first charter school to open temporarily outside its region. … While a temporary site is not ideal, families appear willing to try to make it work.”

The Enterprise writes:

There will not be any additional taxpayer cost from the move, Reis said. Based on the maximum first-year enrollment of 315 students from the sixth to eighth grade, New Heights is receiving $3.96 million in combined state and local funds for its first year, which it supplements with grants and privately raised money.

Here is more background on Brockton-now-Norwood charter fiasco from an earlier post:

Amid an escalating battle over a statewide ballot initiative, this November, that would lift the cap on charter schools in Massachussetts, the Brockton charter mess highlights the greatest fears of charter skeptics, including:

–A sloppy approval process, and this in a state that prides itself on having the most rigorous charter approval process in the nation.

–A political establishment that ran rough-shod over the wishes of the local community.

–As families give up on the charter, which has enrolled about 200 students so far, well below its expected first-year enrollment of 315 students, for grades six through eight, they have already begun to return back to the public school system, wreaking havoc with enrollments.

As readers of this blog know, the New Heights charter was approved earlier this year over intense local opposition and after the organization’s first charter was derailed in 2015, at least in part, by the school’s failure to address Brockton’s large population of English Language Learners. At the time, in a scathing 14-page analysis of New Heights Charter School’s application to the state board, local officials, including School Superintendent Kathleen Smith and Mayor Bill Carpenter, urged the state to reject the application noting that the proposal “lacks services and supports for English language learners and students with disabilities.”

Within a year, New Heights had renewed its request for a charter, having addressed some of the flaws in its former proposal. Once again, the opposition was widespread. Opponents of New Heights’ application include the local newspaper, The Enterprise, which says it is generally “supportive” of charter schools. It included the mayor of Brockton, city council members, state representatives, members of the local school committee and, yes, parents—lots of them.

The New Heights Charter School will not serve Brockton’s diverse educational needs,  charged Tom Minichiello, vice chair of the Brockton School Committee: “Let’s look at what students the charter school wants: not our 30-plus percent English language learner population or our approximately 14 percent special education population. No, charter advocates want students from our grades 6-12 student population that testing shows are making progress. The data shows that the longer students remain within the Brockton school system, the more successful the test results.”

Indeed, Brockton is home to the largest and one of the poorest high schools in Massachusetts, and one of its greatest public school success stories .

The new charter, which plans to add high school grades, threatens Brockton’s steady trajectory. Were the charter to open, the Brockton school district expects to lose $10 million in funding, about 6 percent of its annual school budget. Tight budgets already have led to a net loss of funding at Brockton during the last two years. In the 2014-15 school year, Brockton High had to cut four teachers who taught electives in nutrition, cooking and personal finance. The school also has lost teachers via attrition. The result of a new charter, which expects to add high school classes, may be larger class sizes, which for many subjects at Brockton High already average around 35 students per class, according to Brockton’s new principal, Sharon Wolder.

New Heights has already postponed the start of school once. Yet, its founder is unapologetic. This is what Omari Walker, executive direc tof the New Heights Charter School told The Enterprise, the local newspaper: “The only thing I care about is the opinions of my family, friends, and families from my school.”

That disdain for the impact Walker’s school will have on the local community and its public schools, pretty much sums up a major critique of charter schools in general. It’s a disdain that Chester, Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, all major proponents of the upcoming ballot initiative, seem to share.

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, Massachusetts schools and children would benefit from more nuanced education policy, such as a draft law, known as the Rise Act, which sought to address many of the problems that have dogged the charter industry, including lack of transparency and community involvement. The Rise Act, which went no where, sought, among other things, to strengthen community involvement by requiring charters to have parents on their boards and by increasing the ability of local school committees to reject charters in their communities.

Had Brockton had that power, the New Heights fiasco would never have happened.

 

 

Posted in Brockton, MA, Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Brockton’s Charter Fiasco Continues As Controversial School Prepares to Leave Town

A controversial charter school that was approved for Brockton, MA against overwhelming local opposition is now preparing to leave Brockton. The New Heights Charter School is now awaiting approval from Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of Massachusetts public schools, to move to a temporary location in neighboring Norwood, after multiple construction snafus in Brockton have kept the school from opening there, prompting local residents to wonder: How was this fiasco-of-a-charter ever approved in the first place?

Or, as Sue Szachowicz, the former principal of Brockton put it, in an email to me yesterday:  “I can’t believe this bumbling group was granted a charter.”

Amid an escalating battle over a statewide ballot initiative, this November, that would lift the cap on charter schools in Massachussetts, the Brockton charter mess highlights the greatest fears of charter skeptics, including:

–A sloppy approval process, and this in a state that prides itself on having the most rigorous charter approval process in the nation.

–A political establishment that ran rough-shod over the wishes of the local community.

–As families give up on the charter, which has enrolled about 200 students so far, well below its expected first-year enrollment of 315 students, for grades six through eight, they have already begun to return back to the public school system, wreaking havoc with enrollments.

As readers of this blog know, the New Heights charter was approved earlier this year over intense local opposition and after the organization’s first charter was derailed in 2015, at least in part, by the school’s failure to address Brockton’s large population of English Language Learners. At the time, in a scathing 14-page analysis of New Heights Charter School’s application to the state board, local officials, including School Superintendent Kathleen Smith and Mayor Bill Carpenter, urged the state to reject the application noting that the proposal “lacks services and supports for English language learners and students with disabilities.”

Within a year, New Heights had renewed its request for a charter, having addressed some of the flaws in its former proposal. Once again, the opposition was widespread. Opponents of New Heights’ application include the local newspaper, The Enterprise, which says it is generally “supportive” of charter schools. It included the mayor of Brockton, city council members, state representatives, members of the local school committee and, yes, parents—lots of them.

The New Heights Charter School will not serve Brockton’s diverse educational needs,  charged Tom Minichiello, vice chair of the Brockton School Committee: “Let’s look at what students the charter school wants: not our 30-plus percent English language learner population or our approximately 14 percent special education population. No, charter advocates want students from our grades 6-12 student population that testing shows are making progress. The data shows that the longer students remain within the Brockton school system, the more successful the test results.”

Indeed, Brockton is home to the largest and one of the poorest high schools in Massachusetts, and one of its greatest public school success stories .

The new charter, which plans to add high school grades, threatens Brockton’s steady trajectory. Were the charter to open, the Brockton school district expects to lose $10 million in funding, about 6 percent of its annual school budget. Tight budgets already have led to a net loss of funding at Brockton during the last two years. In the 2014-15 school year, Brockton High had to cut four teachers who taught electives in nutrition, cooking and personal finance. The school also has lost teachers via attrition. The result of a new charter, which expects to add high school classes, may be larger class sizes, which for many subjects at Brockton High already average around 35 students per class, according to Brockton’s new principal, Sharon Wolder.

New Heights has already postponed the start of school once. Yet, its founder is unapologetic. This is what Omari Walker, executive direc tof the New Heights Charter School told The Enterprise, the local newspaper: “The only thing I care about is the opinions of my family, friends, and families from my school.”

That disdain for the impact Walker’s school will have on the local community and its public schools, pretty much sums up a major critique of charter schools in general. It’s a disdain that Chester, Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, all major proponents of the upcoming ballot initiative, seem to share.

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, Massachusetts schools and children would benefit from more nuanced education policy, such as a draft law, known as the Rise Act, which sought to address many of the problems that have dogged the charter industry, including lack of transparency and community involvement. The Rise Act, which went no where, sought, among other things, to strengthen community involvement by requiring charters to have parents on their boards and by increasing the ability of local school committees to reject charters in their communities.

Had Brockton had that power, the New Heights fiasco would never have happened.

Posted in Brockton, MA, Charter Schools, Education, Massachusetts Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Age of De Blasio, A Bloomberg Era Small School Reunion

In July, I found myself back in the East Harlem cafeteria shared by Global Technology Preparatory and P.S. 7. The occasion for my visit was a reunion of Global Tech’s first class of eighth-graders, who were now, four years after their middle-school commencement, graduating from high school.

I was eager to return and see how the students had fared. I knew from my ongoing contacts with the school and its students that several had endured more than their fair share of tragedy, including homelessness, violence and depression, and yet many were getting ready to go to college.

Global Tech, as the middle school became known, was one of the first public schools that I began to follow as part of my research on how business ideas, especially those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would influence K-12 education. I also was curious to see how a school that was seen, in many ways, as a Bloomberg-era success story was faring under the administration of Mayor Bill De Blasio, and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña. A number of changes, some driven by the new administration’s desire to merge small schools—a major departure from Bloomberg policy—may foreshadow significant shifts at the school.

Here is the story I published this week in Gotham Gazette.

Below are some photos taken of Global Tech alumni at the reunion, in July, and during their frequent visits to the school, over the last few years, where they have maintained close ties with their former teachers.

Chrystina Russell, founding principal of Global Tech with (from left) Quentin, who is going to Monroe College in New Rochelle; Travis, who is going to New York City Tech/CUNY; and Dariel who has been studying to be an auto mechanic and will attend Duchess Community College

Chrystina Russell, founding principal of Global Tech with (from left) Quentin, who is going to Monroe College in New Rochelle; Travis, who is going to New York City Tech/CUNY; and Dariel who has been studying to be an auto mechanic and will attend Duchess Community College

Kaira Bridge and Matthew1

Kaira (right) who was valedictorian at the iSchool and will be attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY in the fall, chatting with her former teachers at the reunion. Jhonary Bridgemohan (left) still teaches ELA at Global Tech. Matt Fernandez came to the reunion from Long Island where he now serves as a police officer.

Jackie Pryce-Harvey helped found Global Tech with Russell, and now serves as interim-acting principal of P.S. 7; the two schools share a building.

Jackie Pryce-Harvey, at the Global Tech reunion, helped found the school with Russell, and now serves as interim-acting principal of P.S. 7; the two schools share a building.

 

PizzaParty1 - Copy

Reunited at an alumni pizza party in 2015

Raven and Baiz - Copy

Raven gets help with her high school homework, in 2014, from David Baiz, her former math teacher, who succeeded Russell as Global Tech’s principal.

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