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Learning Curves

2018 Has Seen K-12 Strike Wave Sweep U.S. — And It’s Still October

A generational upsurge of public school walkouts. For San Jose teachers, home isn’t where the NIMBYs are. Death of a black Humboldt State student.

Bill Raden

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Austin Beutner photo by Bill Raden.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

It’s official: 2018 has already seen the highest number of teacher work stoppages in a quarter-century, according to new federal numbers crunched by the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In an October 4 Labor Notes blog post, UMass Amherst sociology professor Jasmine Kerrissey says that five percent of all K-12 teachers have walked off the job since January. “Our figures for 2018 don’t yet include the teacher strikes around Washington State in September — or the big ones that may still be ahead this fall in Los Angeles and Oakland,” she adds. Chalk it up to stagnant wages and years of draconian austerity.

Whether or not L.A. Unified follows suit now is a matter between United Teachers Los Angeles, LAUSD negotiators and state mediators. Last week saw the climax to a legal tug of war between the union (United Teachers Los Angeles) and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner over a public records request for Beutner’s official appointments calendar. The resulting cache appears to confirm longstanding union suspicions that Beutner has been working closely and in secret with “charter operators, wealthy privatizers and related organizations.” UTLA documented at least 11 meetings between the superintendent and high-powered charter interests, including Jed Wallace of the California Charter Schools Association, Republican donor and charter backer Frank E. Baxter, and charter-aligned LAUSD lobbyists Mercury Public Affairs. How the discovery might impact contract talks remains to be seen. The next mediation is scheduled for today.

A NIMBY uproar by neighbors of San Jose Unified could threaten at least part of an innovative district solution to affordable teacher housing. With skyrocketing housing costs already a prime driver of SJUSD’s annual 200-teacher turnover, and with downtown San Jose in the running for a massive mixed-use Google development, the district has been considering nine properties on which existing schools with declining enrollments could be moved to make way for as much as several hundred housing units for teachers and school employees. The angriest battles have been in the tony South San Jose neighborhood of Almaden Valley, where residents signed an online petition, complaining that employee housing for public school teachers “will negatively impact the aesthetics of the area” and “will negatively impact home values.”

Inside Higher Ed is reporting that a disconnect between diversity recruitment goals by California colleges and the state’s least diverse communities is at the center of an unsolved April 2017 murder of a 19-year-old black Humboldt State University sophomore. David Josiah Lawson was stabbed to death during a fight at an off-campus party in the mostly white Northern California town of Arcata. Charges against a 24-year-old white local, identified by partygoers as the assailant, were dismissed for insufficient evidence.

The victim’s mother, Charmaine Lawson, has blamed police indifference and a lack of urgency by the university for the stalled investigation — charges that were bolstered by complaints from a consulting retired FBI agent over the lack of cooperation and honesty from the Arcata police department. Lawson has joined with students in demanding greater accountability from HSU: “They knew the type of environment where my son was going to school, and yet they recruited him. They recruited many students of color knowing that Arcata isn’t a safe town.”


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State Superintendent Race Hit With New Wave of Billionaire Bucks

In final weeks of race, pro-charter forces fill the coffers. DeVos fails to kill student debt relief rule. The kids are alright with socialism.

Bill Raden

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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


With November 6 now a mere 19 days out, EdSource last week updated what has become a favorite pastime for California election buffs — toting up the eye-popping amounts of private wealth supporting the Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate opposed to meaningful charter school accountability reforms. On October 9, EdSource reported that two independent committees, comprised of a handful of mostly charter-backing billionaires, had collected $20.4 million in support of former charter school CEO Marshall Tuck, who is making his second run for state supe. A Wednesday recount by Learning Curves, however, found that total had swelled to more than $22 million.

That is more than twice the $9.6 million raised by an independent committee in support of Tony Thurmond, funded primarily by unions representing teachers and school workers. The progressive Assemblymember and former social worker from Richmond has pledged to consider supporting a “pause” in unregulated charter expansions that threaten to push fiscally stressed districts into insolvency.

Correction: Anyone skeptical of last month’s Stanford University study of Golden State K-12 underfunding must either be unusually perspicacious or a veteran California classroom teacher. That’s because the true amount should have been $25.6 billion — $3.5 billion more than the figure originally cited by Getting Down to Facts II and a 38 percent annual shortfall from what the authors say is needed to give all California students opportunities to succeed in college and career. Lead researcher Jesse Levin issued the correction last week after discovering a calculation error had over-counted the state’s actual schools spending for 2016-17. The updated number does not change the report’s overall findings, Levin emphasized.

One failure that explains at least part of the persistent underfunding, according to Confronting the Education Debt, a September report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, is federal shortchanging of the country’s most vulnerable students. Between 2005 and 2017, high-needs schools didn’t receive a combined $580 billion in funding required through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The $347 billion in Title I money that congress failed to appropriate over the past 13 years, the authors point out, could have provided health and mental health services for every student at the U.S.’s highest-poverty schools and had enough left over to hire a full-time nurse, a full-time librarian and either an additional full-time counselor or a full-time teaching assistant for every classroom in every Title I school.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Good news for the 90,307 Californians potentially eligible for student debt relief from predatory for-profit colleges — a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Department of Education to immediately put into effect an Obama-era student loan forgiveness rule. The order ends Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ yearlong attempt to delay implementation until the rules can be replaced by a rewrite that will make claims vastly more difficult for students saddled with debt and worthless degrees, now scheduled for 2020. The Education Department has reported that although for-profits account for only 10 percent of national enrollment, they generated 18 percent of the now $1.5 trillion in federal student debt.

Which may explain why American millennials’ opinion of capitalism has plummeted in favor of positive views of socialism, according to August Gallup poll numbers. If so, the connection is lost on the nation’s highest education official. Appearing Tuesday on the libertarian-leaning Daily Signal podcast, DeVos blamed a lack of K-12 civics classes for sending kids to college “without the background to even know and understand competing ideas.” It probably just slipped her mind, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss noted wryly, that only last year the Michigan billionaire tried to cut federal funding for a program to improve American history and civics education.


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Stanford Report Gives California Schools Mixed Report Card

Good news/bad news for state schools. Charter lobby’s burned bridge problem. Austin Beutner ratchets up tensions with Los Angeles teachers.

Bill Raden

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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Both sides of California’s neoliberal divide will find something to like in “Getting Down to Facts II,” the sweeping new report on the state of public education released this week by Stanford University and PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education). The good news: Overall test scores and high school graduation rates are improving, the achievement gap is narrowing, and out-of-school suspensions and school expulsions are decreasing. The bad: This progress has been limited, and California’s education landscape continues to be rife with inequality.

Some highlights:

  • California will need to find an additional $22.1 billion per year to give all kids an adequate education.
  • The state’s charter authorization, oversight and renewal laws are a hot mess, though urban charters score well for academic growth.
  • California lags behind most states in providing medical and mental health services, as well as school counselors.
  • California’s highest-needs schools get stuck with the least-experienced and worst-paid principals.
  • All the progress with new standards, curriculum, instruction and assessments is under threat by the qualified-teacher shortage crisis.

EdSource is predicting that this year’s race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction will be the most expensive ever. Again. With seven weeks to go before Election Day, the same pro-privatization billionaires that in 2014 unsuccessfully poured $10.4 million into unseating current state schools chief Tom Torlakson have already surpassed that amount in new fundraising for Marshall Tuck. That leaves the teachers-backed candidate, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), at a two-to-one money disadvantage.

And, says Julian Vasquez Heilig, educational leadership and policy studies professor at Cal State Sacramento, the flat rejection by voters of the charter camp’s gubernatorial candidate in the June primary is sure to see spending go even higher. “They spent a lot of money against [Gavin] Newsom on Antonio Villaraigosa, so they burned their bridge,” Heilig told Learning Curves. “You know what they say: If you burn your bridge, you have to learn how to fly. And [they need Tuck] to make sure that their agenda continues to march forward.”

California is officially rescuing fiscal train wrecks Oakland Unified and Inglewood Unified. Both school districts, which have been languishing under state receivership, will split $52.1 million under an education finance trailer bill signed by Jerry Brown on Monday. The catch? In Oakland’s case, it could still mean closing dozens of neighborhood schools, selling or leasing property, and laying off hundreds of teachers, nurses, cafeteria workers and custodians.

Teachers protesting Austin Beutner’s speech. (Photo: Bill Raden)

Which is more or less the scenario that Los Angeles Unified superintendent Austin Beutner has been raising in a PR blitz around stalled contract talks with teachers. His austerity campaign appeared to shift last week after union doubts about district claims that LAUSD had $1.2 billion in unrestricted cash reserves were proved justified (the amount is closer to $2 billion). At a policy speech delivered in the RFK Community Schools library, the superintendent ratcheted tensions with a call for “a transparent, efficient and fair process to manage ineffective teachers out.”

This veiled threat to teacher job protections, delivered against the backdrop of a possible strike, could explain why teachers were barred from the invitation-only event. And the unhappy fate of John Deasy, the onetime LAUSD supe who joined an anti-tenure legal attack in 2014, might further explain why Beutner quietly slipped out a side door while teachers protested in the front courtyard.


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Report: Do College Admissions Offices Ignore Black Activist Applicants?

Wanted: Black College Students (just not at our college). Diane Ravitch’s Power Elitists. An inconvenient truth for LAUSD.

Bill Raden

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Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Topping this week’s list of least surprising findings in an education study: White college admissions officers are more prone to screen out prospects who appear to be black civil rights activists. At least that’s the conclusion of “We Want Black Students, Just Not You,” a Sacha Baron Cohen-esque sting of admissions offices devised by Florida Gulf Coast University assistant professor of sociology Ted Thornhill and published by the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

Thornhill created four fictitious black personas, ranging from an assimilationist milquetoast to a racially woke activist, and sent emails in their names to 517 white admissions counselors at predominantly white colleges and universities. He asked each of them if “he” or “she” would be “a good fit” at their colleges. The result? “Racially salient” emails had a response rate of only 55 percent — 10 percentage points lower than the nondescript milquetoast. The response to the likely Black Lives Matter applicant dropped 17 more points.

Black Names Matter: Names chosen by Ted Thornhill to hint at racial identities to admissions counselors.

Looks like the Trump rescue of for-profit colleges — via Betsy DeVosproposed gutting of Obama-era “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” rules — has come too late for Education Corporation of America. The national for-profit college operator said on Wednesday it will close 26 campuses by early 2020, including four of its 10 California Brightwood College campuses, located in Bakersfield, Fresno, Palm Springs and Sacramento. “Insufficient enrollment demand,” explained an ECA spokesperson. Regulatory crackdowns, negative publicity and a booming job market, adds Inside Higher Ed’s Andrew Kreighbaum.

This week’s must-read for the informed anti-privatization activist comes courtesy of Diane Ravitch and an encyclopedic trove of new research from her Network for Public Education Action. “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools” is not exactly a Forbes 400 of anti-public education plutocrats — call it a description of a dark money pipeline that has been financing the destruction of America’s democratic system of universal public education, one school board race at a time. Los Angeles Unified school board members Ref Rodriguez, Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and Monica Garcia get featured billing — and an interactive money map — in one of “Hijacked’s” nine national case studies of the independent expenditure spigot in action.

The looming likelihood of a teachers’ strike at the nation’s second-largest school district wasn’t on the official agenda of this week’s Los Angeles Unified School Board meeting, but the boardroom fairly seethed with subtext. Especially when the district’s positive budget was down-certified by L.A. County Office of Education’s chief financial officer, Candi Clark, to a “qualified” rating. That’s when District 1’s George McKenna gave a lesson in leadership to a board majority weirdly complacent with the coming storm: Resurrect and put before voters, McKenna advised, the parcel tax that had polled high in July but which the majority flatly rejected. “How can bold people lack the courage to take the step?” demanded the ex- Compton Unified deputy superintendent incredulously. “I’m saying it’s in good faith to [show] our labor partners that we’re trying to do something other than to threaten them with cuts.” Mediation is set for September 27.


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U.S. Department of Education Flunks School-Shootings Math

Why Betsy can’t count. How school kids lost 11 million days of class. Will CAVA cave?

Bill Raden

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Photo by Pandora Young

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Even by the standards of a White House besotted with “alternative facts,” the U.S. Department of Education’s botched tally of school shootings for the 2015-2016 academic year was a lulu. Instead of the “nearly 240” incidents claimed last spring by the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), NPR reported last week the true figure was probably closer to the 29 tracked by the Everytown for Gun Safety database. Blame the confusing design and wording of the biennial survey of the nation’s 96,000 public schools, NPR concluded.

Why the carelessness? American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California attorney Amir Whitaker points to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed repeal of Obama-era discipline guidelines aimed at easing racially skewed suspension rates. “The administration,” Whitaker said, “is now using the flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education.”

Whitaker just co-authored “11 Million Days Lost,” the first of two data snapshots from the CRDC written with Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, which together make the case for staying the Obama course. The report says that California’s share of the 11 million instructional days lost by American kids to suspensions during 2015-16 totaled nearly 750,000 days, and were disproportionately suffered by African-American students. That may change should Governor Jerry Brown sign SB 607, authored by state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The bill, which cleared the legislature last week, expands through the eighth grade the state’s current ban on “disruption and defiance” suspensions for grades K-3 (though Skinner’s bill originally barred such suspensions in all grades through high school).

But the most anticipated education bill passed in August may be the for-profit charter school ban authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). Assembly Bill 406 would affect 34 for-profit charters in the state, including California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the state’s largest and scandalously low-performing for-profit cyber charter run by Virginia-based K12 Inc. Unlike a similar measure vetoed by Brown in 2015, there appears to be little reason for him not to sign McCarty’s, given that it already won the state charter lobby’s support by narrowing the bill’s definition of “for-profit management.”

Not everyone’s impressed, however. Though the ban would stem the outflow of tax dollars to shareholders, San Diego education attorney Sarah Sutherland warned Learning Curves that it will still allow corporate-governance schemes to convert ed dollars into private wealth. “It’s a small step in the right direction that is likely to have little impact,” she said.

In a powerful rebuke to Los Angeles Unified over stalled contract talks, United Teachers Los Angeles reported that members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, should UTLA leaders decide one is necessary. With 81 percent of members casting ballots, the vote was 98 percent in favor. The vote came amid sparring by both sides that also included an exchange of unfair-labor-practice charges. But at least one union complaint has been sustained by the district itself. An August 6 review by the district’s Independent Analysis Unit of “Hard Choices,” a controversial report released this summer by then-private-citizen Austin Beutner’s Advisory Task Force, agreed with the union that “many” of the report’s assertions “appear to be based on questionable data, assumptions, or methods.”

The most contentious assumption of “Hard Choices” was that comparing L.A. Unified teacher wages with other districts could offer a window on fair pay. Not so, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In research released Wednesday, EPI authors Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel found that pay for teachers everywhere has been deteriorating, particularly relative to other professions. That widening gap — which they called the “teacher pay penalty” — grew to a record 23.8 percent last year, meaning U.S. teachers earned 76.2 cents to their non-teaching college classmates’ dollar. Though California’s 14.2 percent pay penalty is better than some, the widest gaps were claimed by Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado — states that virtually encompass the entire red state teacher rebellion.


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Los Angeles Teachers Prepare for Strike

Tensions mount between L.A. teachers and the city’s public school district. Betsy DeVos’ No Gun Left Behind grants. Will California’s charter school law be revised after 26 years?

Bill Raden

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Photo by Bill Raden

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

United Teachers Los Angeles took a critical step closer to a strike last week — L.A. Unified’s first in 29 years —with a strike authorization vote by 33,000 union educators at the nation’s second-largest school district. The outcome won’t be announced till tomorrow, but teachers on the opening day of polling at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake were confidently predicting a 90 percent affirmation at their site. In the meantime, tempers have been heated on both sides. UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has accused the district of intentionally stalling in setting a September 27 mediation date, which LA School Report’s Mike Antonucci reports could be true, and teachers continue to express anger over what they say are unfounded assertions made by “Hard Choices,” the district “realignment” blueprint commissioned by Austin Beutner prior to his being named L.A. schools chief.

“Teachers here have to work second jobs in order to make ends meet, and we’re told we’re overpaid,” Wil Page, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at King Middle School’s Environmental STEAM Magnet, complained of the blueprint. “Our district does need to make some hard choices, but it doesn’t need to be solely on the backs of educators.”

Betsy DeVos Update: The U.S. Secretary of Education triggered near-universal condemnation last week when she was reported to be considering using federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant money to buy guns for teachers. It was left to the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss to point out the irony that DeVos had told a Senate subcommittee in June that her Federal Commission on School Safety, which was created by President Trump after the Parkland, Florida school mass shooting, would not be looking at gun control as a possible recommendation for stopping violence at schools.

California’s top education official has announced the formation of his own commission, albeit one that will be reviewing California’s 26-year-old charter law. According to a state Education Department press release, the Action Team on Charter Schools was appointed by termed-out State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to “objectively examine issues regarding charter schools with the goal of promoting equity for all students and helping all students succeed in 21st century careers and college.” It follows on comments made last month by chief deputy superintendent Glen Price on the need to revise the “out of date” law to, among other things, allow consideration of financial impact on host districts when authorizing new charters. Such a revision could be a game-changer. Complaints that the current law’s virtual carte blanche for charter startups to open whenever and wherever they like in fiscally savaged districts are at the heart of California’s quarter-century education wars. Expect a report by the end of the year.

One group certain to be following the Action Team’s work is #WeChoose Bay Area, a new, pro-public school coalition of over a dozen veteran education equity organizations and community groups, anchored by the national Journey for Justice Alliance and the Oakland Public Education Network. According to Oakland organizer Mike Hutchinson, the group will be traveling to Sacramento on September 7 to make its official California debut at a rally in front of the state Capitol, followed by a march on the State Board of Education. Its objective? “To make sure our elected officials know that public education is an issue that we will be voting on in this year’s election.”


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Will Jackie Goldberg Run for School Board Again?

LAUSD’s empty chair. A prep academy shuts its doors. Reed Hastings helps launch a $200 million something.

Bill Raden

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Jackie Goldberg addresses Los Angeles' school board. (Photos by Bill Raden)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

A week after Los Angeles Unified’s new schools chief, Austin Beutner, touted the district’s latest robocall campaign to increase attendance during his opening day back-to-school tour, the LAUSD school board had some bad news for the families in Board District 5: Their board member, who represents roughly 99,000 students, will be marked absent for the rest of the school year.

That’s partly because the earliest that a winner of a March 5, 2019 special election can be certified will be mid-June if the race goes to a May 14 runoff— a full 11 months after convicted money launderer Ref Rodriguez vacated the seat.


With her offer to serve as an interim LAUSD appointee (with a pledge to not run in the election) spurned, Jackie Goldberg may now toss her hat into the ring.


Mostly it’s because Rodriguez’s former pro-charter voting block turned back a motion on Tuesday to appoint Jackie Goldberg to her old District 5 seat. The 73-year-old former Compton teacher — already twice elected to the board by District 5 voters — had offered to serve as an interim appointee with a pledge to not run in the March election. Now, however, the spurned Goldberg says she will consider formally tossing her hat into the ring.

Instead, Rodriguez’s chief of staff Aixle Aman, whose own resume is rife with corporate reform alarm bells like Teach for America and Democrats for Education Reform, will fill in during the interregnum, albeit without a say in school board business. “The office of District 5 continues to provide service every day, taking calls and addressing needs and communicating throughout the organization,” board president Monica Garcia told Tuesday’s audience.

While we’re at it, say goodbye to PUC International Preparatory Academy charter school in L.A.’s Eagle Rock neighborhood. According to a Wednesday announcement on its website, the PUC board of trustees pulled the plug on the dual immersion elementary school because its 114-student enrollment “fell far short of what was needed to be financially sustainable.”

The 15-charter PUC network is better known as the Ref Rodriguez-co-founded chain that was at the center of additional allegations last year of possible self-dealing shortly after his money laundering indictment. PUC checks totaling $285,000 in public funds had been paid out by the disgraced school board member to businesses with which he had personal ties. The conflict of interest has drawn attention by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Leave it to intrepid education reporter Thomas Ultican to spread the alarm over a July 31 story by Chalkbeat that Netflix CEO and school privatization hobbyist Reed Hastings and the anti-labor, retired hedge fund manager John Arnold have kicked in to launch a $200 million something called The City Fund. Its mission? Push financially squeezed urban districts to put district schools under the control of private nonprofit foundations, while promoting charter school growth through mechanisms like common enrollment systems. One of its first targets for $10 million of charter expansion is Oakland, according to a Gates Foundation grant spotted by Leonie Haimson ‏of Class Size Matters.


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New Report Tallies the Hidden Costs of Charter Schools

Also in this week’s column: Omarosa reveals Betsy DeVos’ nom de Trump. Austin Beutner hires Chris Christie’s Newark schools supe. Gary Hart’s “legislative jiu-jitsu.”

Bill Raden

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Omarosa Manigault Newman photo by Gage Skidmore

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Though last year’s 25th anniversary of California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992 came and went with little fanfare, former state Senator Gary Hart, the author of that deeply polarizing law, surfaced at EdSource this week to take a birthday bow. In an interview with John Fensterwald, the retired Democrat grudgingly admitted “some districts face loss of revenue due to charter growth” and suggested that some sort of state mitigation for siphoned-off enrollment might be in order.

But Hart’s most telling admission is the act of “legislative jiu-jitsu” he said it took to squelch deliberation on his radical experiment in privatized education before the full senate: “[We] pulled the bill out of conference committee and passed it quickly off the senate floor with no debate and sent it to [Republican governor Pete] Wilson.” Had the teachers unions been permitted to be heard on the bill, he added, “it likely would not have passed.”

The lost-revenues impact of Hart’s law gets put into powerful dramatic relief in a five-minute documentary (shown above) posted this week by education advocates In The Public Interest. The unequivocally titled “Charter Schools Are Draining California’s Education Funding” canvasses the same three highly chartered and fiscally teetering districts profiled in ITPI’s charter fiscal impact study from May — Oakland Unified, San Diego Unified and San Jose’s East Side Union High School District.

We can now stop wondering whether Donald Trump has a private endearment for Betsy DeVos. According to this week’s bombshell from former Trump White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman, he does, and it’s “Ditzy DeVos.” To be fair, it’s an unusually mild pejorative considering the half-baked bigotry attributed to the Secretary of Education in Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, Manigault Newman’s sensational tell-all memoir.

Recounting the Amway billionaire’s reaction to being booed by angry graduates at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, Manigault Newman writes that DeVos afterwards dismissed the protesters, saying, “They don’t have the capacity to understand what we’re trying to accomplish.” “Oh no, Madam Secretary,” Manigault Newman claims to have shot back. “They get it, and they aren’t happy about you or your goals.” Ditzy promptly bumped her from the motorcade.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line about there being no second acts in American lives clearly doesn’t apply to a pair of veteran ed reform consultants just hired by L.A. Unified schools chief Austin Beutner.

Before joining Team Beutner, ThirdWay Solutions founder Cami Anderson was Newark, New Jersey’s parent-alienating schools superintendent from 2011 to 2015. Her Mark Zuckerberg-funded “One Newark” universal enrollment scheme led to numerous neighborhood school closures, mass firings and multiple complaints of civil rights violations.

And Erin McGoldrick Brewster, a partner at “portfolio district” specialists Kitamba, was singled out in a 2011 investigative piece by USA Today for helping then-Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee stonewall an investigation into higher-than-typical erasure rates on multiple-choice standardized tests during Rhee’s controversial test score-linked merit pay program.

The consultants, who are part of a new deregulation initiative announced by Beutner last week, will be paid off the LAUSD books, courtesy of a $3 million discretionary fund partly financed by billionaire school privatizer Eli Broad.


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Betsy DeVos Throws Education Department in Reverse

DeVos takes an ax to student-loan forgiveness. A charter school folds in Los Angeles, while striking Banning teachers walk the line.

Bill Raden

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Closure: Misspelled notice on Celerity website.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

DeVos Watch: For shareholders in unscrupulous for-profit colleges, July brought the best kind of tidings from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — a reversal of key Obama curbs on industry practices that a 2012 Senate report described as “exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation.”

To defrauded, debt-saddled students and their families, however, DeVos’ draft regulation rescinding Gainful Employment rules, and her rollback of loan forgiveness for victims of predatory colleges, come as the latest confirmation that the department has left the business of improving access to high-quality postsecondary education. And she’s only warming up.

Next on the chopping block are baseline student protections — whose “hollowing out,” advocates warn, will open up Title IV federal student aid dollars to sketchy programs by virtually eliminating oversight. DeVos’ negotiated rulemaking committee is expected to dismantle regulations on:

  • The credit hour, academia’s longstanding measure of student progress and a safeguard against course inflation and degree fraud;
  • State authorization and its guarantee that online programs satisfy state licensing requirements;
  • Accreditation, and assurance that colleges offer a quality education;
  • Regular and substantive interaction by online instructors with their students.

“It’s an undoing from the inside out so there are no rules at play,” Antoinette Flores of the Center for American Progress told the education news site Inside Higher Ed.

Say goodbye to Celerity Rolas Charter School, one of seven schools operated in Los Angeles by the corruptiontainted Celerity Educational Group. The charter organization announced last month that the Eagle Rock K-8 elementary and middle school didn’t have the enrollment to open its doors for the new term. In a bizarre parody of local control, Rolas had been one of two new Celerity schools authorized by the State Board of Education to open July 1 of last year — one day after, and with the same principals in the same locations as two other Celerity charters that were closed after being denied renewal by SBE. Schools that were meant to be shut down by three different education agencies effectively got away with simply changing their names.

Though the closure hardly makes a dent in California’s 1,275 charter school inventory, it’s hard not to see it as yet another indicator that mass school privatization may be losing its appeal among California parents, along with a good deal of its political welcome. Since California passed its first charter law in 1992, charters have failed to meaningfully outperform public schools — a fact which may have contributed to voters’ overwhelming primary rejection of Antonio Villaraigosa, the movement’s $23 million-backed candidate for governor. And last week, Ed Source reported that California charter growth has slowed dramatically in recent years — a rate that could grind to a halt should a Governor Gavin Newsom sign anticipated charter reforms into law.

With schools starting next week amid tense face-offs between teacher unions and school districts up and down California, a looming question is whether this bluest of blue states could see an outbreak like last spring’s red-state teachers rebellion.

In California, teacher exasperation at being asked to do more with less is never far from the boiling point. It comes after a 40-year, statewide schools disinvestment that a pre-Great Recession adequate funding study by the Public Policy Institute of California conservatively pegged at $17 billion.

In May, Oakland’s teachers union, angry over the district’s poor pay, immense turnover, large class sizes and dilapidated facilities, declared an impasse in contract negotiations and told teachers to prepare for a strike when school resumes in August. Ditto for teachers in San Jose’s Evergreen School District, which ended the last school year in stalled contract talks and the possibility of a strike in the fall. And in Los Angeles, where a deadlock between L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles has moved to state mediation, union president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced a strike authorization vote for the week of August 23.

But it was tiny Banning Unified in Riverside County, where teachers, furious over the district’s uncompensated, unilateral lengthening of the work day, became the first on Wednesday to actually call a three-day walkout. Whether or not strike fever spreads may lie more with the sympathies of parents than in the spirit of compromise.


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Learning Curves

Education Critics Attack California’s New Online College

Flex Learning Options for Workers (FLOW), a new online addition to the 115-school community college system, is set to launch in fall, 2019.

Bill Raden

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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


One study has found that far from expanding access for the state’s hard-to-reach students of color, online classes have been an “engine of racial inequality.”


 

“What I like about Chipotle is the limited menu,” said Governor Jerry Brown in May, praising the fast-food chain’s build-your-own-burrito approach as a model for California higher education. “You put a little cheese, a little this, a little that, and you’re out of there. I think that’s a model some of our universities need to follow. … It takes kids six years instead of four years. If [universities] would go to a limited menu concept, everyone would graduate on time.”

A week later, Brown got his burrito when the legislature passed a nearly $200 billion state spending bill that offered little monetary relief for tightly squeezed University of California and California State University budgets — but included $100 million to launch California’s first wholly online, statewide virtual community college. Called Flex Learning Options for Workers (FLOW), the new two-year addition to the 115-school community college system is set to launch in fall, 2019.

Yet despite enthusiastic backing by California Community Colleges (CCC) chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, FLOW had to run a gauntlet of opposition comprised of community college stakeholders and Sacramento lawmakers, whose consensus is that the measure is being overly rushed and under-thought. One study, in fact, has found that far from expanding access for the state’s hard-to-reach students of color, online classes have been an “engine of racial inequality.”


FLOW has remained a tough sell for a governor who has demonstrated a decided tendency to adopt the latest, untested fad in cost-cutting education reform.


Although no teachers have been hired or courses announced yet, the cyber-college comes loaded with rosy assumptions that it will successfully serve what an April study by a Bill Gates-supported education policy nonprofit says are 2.5 million of the state’s most difficult-to-reach pupils — older, “stranded workers” who are typically unable to drive to a campus but who still need access to the career and technical training that will allow them to get ahead economically.

Nevertheless, FLOW has remained a tough sell for a governor who has demonstrated a decided tendency to adopt the latest, untested fad in education reform, so long as it holds out a promise of doing more with far fewer resources. Brown was quick to jump aboard the school-choice bandwagon and, as mayor of Oakland, founded two charters — the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute — that have consistently failed to distinguish themselves from their public school neighbors, in spite of lavish private funding.

Two of FLOW’s severest critics are University of California, Santa Barbara professor and education author Christopher Newfield, and researcher Cameron Sublett, an associate professor of education at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Earlier this year, in a paper published by Inside Higher Ed, the pair disaggregated the numbers provided by the CCC’s chancellor’s office to starkly illuminate the deficiencies of moving face-to-face classroom learning online for students of color.

“When we did that, you find that the stories that the chancellor’s office is telling us are not accurate,” Sublett explained to Capital & Main. “In developmental ed courses — so-called remedial courses — the face-to-face/online disparity is actually greater. Furthermore, if you look at it by racial category, the disparity is actually not closing but remaining stable over time. So the whole idea they’re at parity between face-to-face and online courses is only a partial representation of the truth. In fact, for certain subpopulations of student groups within the community college system in the state, success rates remain flat in online courses, and those success rates remain persistently lower than they are in face-to-face courses.”

The misrepresentation doesn’t stop there. Some of the FLOW proposal’s most impressive claims for parity between — and even the superiority of — online over face-to-face learning rely on data from the Action Lab, the research arm of public online learning behemoth Arizona State University.

But in a June Forbes exposé, investigative reporter Derek Newton discredited wide swaths of Action Lab findings in “Making Digital Learning Work,” a Gates Foundation-funded research partnership between ASU and the Boston Consulting Group. Newton accused the study’s authors of outlandish, if self-dealing misreadings of elementary data: “To describe the ASU report as sloppy is generous. Dishonest is more accurate,” the reporter charged.

Some of the most persuasive rebuttals of the FLOW numbers come from data harvested far closer to home. Public Policy Institute of California’s higher education research team of Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia and Kevin Cook has regularly sifted through the student outcomes of learners from the Online Education Initiative (OEI), the statewide project that is ironically led by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and has long made CCC the largest provider of online classes in the nation, surpassing the one million enrollment mark in 2013.

“African American and Hispanic students have respectively 17.5 and 9.8 percentage points lower online course success rates than white students,” reports 2015’s “Successful Online Courses in California’s Community Colleges.” Also, “we find that online course success rates are between 11 and 14 percentage points lower than traditional course success rates. In addition, we find that online learning does nothing to overcome achievement gaps across racial/ethnic groups — in fact, these gaps are even larger in online classes,” adds PPIC’s 2014 report, “Online Learning and Student Outcomes in California’s Community Colleges.”

“We already have the infrastructure in place to offer this program they’re seeking,” notes Jim Mahler, a veteran San Diego Community College math and engineering professor, and president of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers. (Disclosure: CFT is a financial supporter of this website.) “I don’t see a need to create a new college from a policy standpoint. The amount of money they’re throwing into it is larger than the budget of most community colleges. It’s the kind of money that could be used for better purposes that would serve students in a better way.”

This is not the first time, Sublett noted, that Brown has aggressively pursued the cyber-education dream of reaping cost benefits on the backs of students by moving high quality, face-to-face instruction online. In 2013, the governor famously brokered a private-public partnership between the for-profit Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) provider Udacity and San Jose State University. Six months later, the deal imploded following revelations that more than half the students in the rollout failed their final exams and that Udacity’s online courses actually reduced remedial education outcomes.

“I think that is Governor Brown’s paradigm,” Sublett reflected. “I think he does embrace online learning to the degree that he does because he sees potential cost savings. “There’s this idea among many people that online is cheaper and faster, but I don’t think you’ll find lots of support among people that know how online learning actually operates.”


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Learning Curves

L.A. School Board in Limbo After Member’s Felony Plea

A troubled charter-school advocate calls it quits — but not before participating in a string of key policy votes.

Bill Raden

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Ref Rodriguez photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

The three-year scandal that has embroiled the Los Angeles Unified school board concluded anticlimactically this week when besieged District 5 board member Ref Rodriguez tendered his resignation. The bow-out followed a Monday court appearance in which Ref pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy and three misdemeanors connected to his laundering $24,000 of his own cash during his successful 2015 election campaign.

It ended an ethically challenged 10 months in which Ref’s legal bills were paid by his lone legal-defense fund donor – billionaire charter school enthusiast and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. The patronage had kept alive LAUSD’s slim, 4-3 pro-charter school board majority as it doggedly ticked off a dream list of California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) wins. Gut “district required language” for charter petitions? Check. Deny CCSA bête noire Ken Bramlett a contract renewal as inspector general? Check. Hire non-educator venture capitalist Austin Beutner as a disruption-prone superintendent? Check.

The suddenly even-split LAUSD board now has 60 days to either appoint a successor or to follow recent board precedent by letting District 5 voters decide in a special election.

One group paying close attention will be L.A. teachers, whose union on Tuesday submitted its “last, best and final offer” in contract talks that it says have again ground to a deadlock. “Anti-union, pro-privatization ideologues are currently running the school district but are setting us up for failure,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl charged in a statement. The district has 48 hours to respond to the LBFO.

One of California’s most notorious charter corruption cases reemerged last week with the announcement of a court settlement stemming from 2017’s catastrophic failure of Tri-Valley Learning Corporation (TVLC). The undisclosed payment to bond trustee UMB Bank, by municipal bond law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, was for its part in brokering a 2012 bond issue for the Livermore-based charter management organization.

This latest fallout covers only a fraction of the $67 million in tax-exempt, facilities-funding bonds at the center of a bankruptcy that affected over 1,200 students and shuttered four TVLC schools.

The closures led to a devastating June, 2017 audit by the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, which forwarded multiple allegations of possible fraud and misappropriation of assets against Tri-Valley and its former CEO, Bill Batchelor, to the Alameda County DA. It also resulted in state Assembly calls for closing regulatory loopholes that have allowed millions of dollars to be converted into the private real estate holdings of limited liability companies and charter management organizations.

“There is no authority, body [or] entity that I know of that [a charter management organization] has to answer other than to a self-selected board of directors,” testified Livermore Unified superintendent Kelly Bowers at 2017 Education Committee hearings.

Outraged California public school and community college teachers converged on a CalSTRS Teachers’ Retirement Board meeting in West Sacramento last week to demand that the $224 billion pension fund divest itself of about $13 million of investments in for-profit prison operators CoreCivic Inc. and the GEO Group.

The Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy has meant booming business for both companies, which together operate around 50 facilities of various types in California, including a CoreCivic ICE prison in San Diego and a GEO Group detention center in Adelanto that are being sued by detainees over the alleged use of forced labor and other practices.

“We’ve collectively put decades [of our lives] into California, into raising up diverse communities,” declared De Anza College professor Miriam Martín of the activist group Together We Will-San Jose, “and we didn’t do that to profit off of the criminalization of migration and the locking up of kids of color.”

CalSTRS Chief Investment Officer Christopher Ailman told the CalSTRS Investment Committee that he would order a review.


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