How to Destroy a Public-School System
October 12, 2014 11:40 AM   Subscribe

How to Destroy a Public-School SystemIn Philadelphia, education reformers got everything they wanted. Look where the city’s schools are now.

A heartbreaking act of staggering cowardice
In a matter of seconds -- in a meeting that would last all of 17 minutes, and with one hasty comment from the public -- the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the state agency that has presided over 14 years of ruination of public education here, is about to explode a political bombshell. The SRC is about to revoke its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and cut the teachers' benefits -- and it's about to do it before this nearly empty room.

This is no accident. The lack of a crowd, and the lack of public debate, was an act of careful calculation. The calculation of cowards.
Reading, Writing, Ransacking
The politics of the move are as simple as they are grotesque. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has the approval rating of malaria right now and, if nothing changes, he's on his way to a historic drubbing in November. Picking this fight may be Corbett's last chance. However, he has picked the fight right in the middle of an ongoing scandal regarding the state's system of charter schools which, because of the same lack of transparency that surrounds Campbell Brown's financial angels and that surrounded the meeting in Philadelphia yesterday, has become a target-rich environment for the accountability-free grifters of the "reform" movement.
For reasons that aren't clear, millions of dollars have moved between the network of charter schools, their parent nonprofit and two property-management entities. The School District is charged with overseeing city charters, but "does not have the power or access to the financial records of the parent organization," according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "We cannot conduct even limited financial audits of the parent organization." That's despite the fact that charters account for 30 percent of the District's 2013-'14 budget. Aspira declined to comment. The $3.3 million that the four brick-and-mortar charters apparently have loaned to Aspira are in addition to $1.5 million in lease payments to Aspira and Aspira-controlled property-management entities ACE and ACE/Dougherty, and $6.3 million in administrative fees paid to Aspira in 2012.
So that's what the charter school movement has come to in Philadelphia -- a "flip this school" real-estate scheme. Lovely. And that's not even to get into the scandal around the state's "Cyber Charter," an Internet-based school the founder of which is currently on trial for funneling millions of dollars away from the school and into his pockets,  with which he allegedly bought himself a plane, and condos for his mother and girlfriend.
According to court documents unsealed Thursday by federal officials, Trombetta told one of his former associates, "I can no longer accept cash in bags in a Pizza Hut parking lot." After that, regular payments from Avanti Management Group were sent to One2One, according to the affidavit. The bags of cash, a private plane bough by Avanti but used mostly by Trombetta, a Florida vacation home and a home in Mingo Junction, Ohio, for Trombetta's former girlfriend all were described as perks enjoyed by Trombetta as part of a scheme to siphon money from taxpayers' funds sent to PA Cyber for more than four years.
Yeah, but the real tragedy was that some 75-year old retired Math teacher might have had to get her teeth fixed. Won't somebody think of the children?
posted by tonycpsu (50 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always wondered, is a "carpet-bag" a bag for carpets, or a bag made out of carpet?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I know it's not a serious question, but it's a bag made of carpet.

Thanks for posting this, tonycpsu.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:56 AM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


The latter
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2014


It's probably unfair of me, as I'm sure that good examples exist, but the phrase 'charter school' gives me the spine-twisting willies.

When a modern conservative speaks of "reform," check your wallet, then your house, then your relatives.
posted by delfin at 12:07 PM on October 12, 2014 [49 favorites]


Actually, in many cities, charter schools are a lot better off than public schools. And I'm as liberal as they get.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Corbett and his enablers in the legislature deserve jail time. They've stolen opportunities from a generation of kids*. I haven't hated anybody so much since Dick Cheney.

*I teach a lot of West Philly kids at a community college.
posted by angrycat at 12:26 PM on October 12, 2014 [23 favorites]


and given how much money could have been taken from the fracking industry and devoted to this essential public infrastructure -- well, it's basically that these kids could get good education, but since we want PA to be the Texas of natural gas, God forbid the industry be reasonably taxed for the privilege of environmental destruction.
posted by angrycat at 12:29 PM on October 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


"Start letting private interests try to pull a profit from it"
That's about it; that's all you need to destroy a public system.
posted by NiteMayr at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2014 [22 favorites]


in many cities, charter schools are a lot better off than public schools

Why do you think that is? In other cities is there more oversight, more money, more engaged parents? What is the differnece between a city that has a thriving charter school system vs what has happened in Philadelphia?
posted by saucysault at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: Actually, in many cities, charter schools are a lot better off than public schools. And I'm as liberal as they get.
Charter schools are a Trojan horse. They do better at least in part because they don't have to accept every child. This has the effect of making it harder and harder on the public school system to keep up. Not one penny of public money should go to for-profit schools.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:16 PM on October 12, 2014 [98 favorites]


They've stolen opportunities from a generation of kids
...thereby giving these children the most important education they could get today.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Run it like a business," indeed.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:22 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


in many cities, charter schools are a lot better off than public schools

That's on purpose. The republican strategy in general is to defund government, straight-jacket it with as many rules as possible, and then to turn around and point at what they just created and say 'See, government doesn't work. Government is the problem.'

Making money off of such failures is just the next step in the process.
posted by overhauser at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2014 [59 favorites]


The Will Bunch piece from Philly.com zeros in on an important aspect that often gets buried in the media's obsessive focus on both-sides, one side says/the other side says narratives: the contempt for democratic process & the gleeful sabotaging of the mechanisms by which we promote the common welfare.
But even if you're a Corbett supporter, and even if you think those "pampered" teachers need to be taken down a few notches, you still should be outraged at the massive one-fingered salute that the SRC just gave to the notion of democracy and public discourse, and to the people of Philadelphia.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


.
posted by jpe at 1:46 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Most sources I've read indicate that charter schools do not perform better than public. Not worse, either. They do seem to make segregation worse. They are really good at making a few people wealthy, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:50 PM on October 12, 2014 [18 favorites]


The response of our public school administration to charter schools was dismissive at first, but now they've responded by making some badly needed changes that the charter-supporting parents had been pleading for, and have begun to get the parents and general citizenry on their side again. Charter schools are effective for this reason even if they only put up equivalent numbers.
posted by michaelh at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


What a mess. Seems like there are no shortage of stories like this one.
posted by chunking express at 2:32 PM on October 12, 2014


Philadelphia is an interesting case because, historically, it has always had parallel school districts. There are, of course, an array of upper middle class and upper class private schools, but in addition to these (which exist in every city), there is also an extensive network of neighborhood Catholic schools. Catholic schools historically deliver good education at a relatively low price for parisioners (in the low thousands per year), and so the Catholic working class (Italians, Asians, etc.) sent their children to the Catholic schools while non-Catholics (i.e. blacks and the white underclass) were relegated to a terrible public school system.

The charters are just another, less passive front in this battle.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:02 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming that most of these kids can't move in with their auntie and uncle in Bel Aire.
posted by dr_dank at 3:41 PM on October 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Even so, the district-run Promise Academies showed the same encouraging results—until their budgets were gutted.

...wealthy districts spend more on wealthy students, and poor districts struggle to spend less on the poor students who need the most.

Spend money on education, get good results. Don't spend money on education, get crap results. Blaming ancillary issues when the core is rotten is never going to be solution. *sigh*
posted by redbeard at 4:35 PM on October 12, 2014


It's probably unfair of me, as I'm sure that good examples exist, but the phrase 'charter school' gives me the spine-twisting willies.

When a modern conservative speaks of "reform," check your wallet, then your house, then your relatives.


It is unfair of you. Unfortunately, since there are many anti-charter types with mixed motives, the moniker Charter School gets a whole bunch of automatic bad press, some deserved, a lot not. But people like hero/villain stories, so good luck trying to get to the root of these matters.

I agree with your distrust of "reform" pushers, but I would not limit it to moderns or conservatives. Schools are being asked to take care of too much stuff that is traditionally not really their mandate. Not sure they should be, either. When I was in school, a kid was expelled for telling a teacher to fuck off. Of course, that was the leafy suburbs, but even so.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:36 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Charter schools in Ohio failed miserably in their first five years - their excuse: they hadn't been given enough time. Five years. They have been an utter failure. They lack oversight, they lack resources - the few that do well are a statistical anomaly. The public school systems in the inner cities are not good, but creating charter schools hasn't helped. The solution also isn't as simple as just dumping money into the school systems as there are larger societal issues at play (race and poverty and so many other things). The parallels to Pennsylvania are pretty clear, and the solution is pretty clearly not in privatizing education, because we now have data that shows it just doesn't work. That children had to get a substandard education to prove charter schools don't work is horrific and everyone involved should be ashamed. Getting rid of the contract with the teachers union will only have one real effect: the quality of education will fall. Brilliant!
posted by combinatorial explosion at 5:07 PM on October 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Gosh, just think how much greater the suburban schools could be if only they would embrace the charter school movement!

Let's hold our collective breath until that happens.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:12 PM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


The solution also isn't as simple as just dumping money into the school systems

Maybe, but that would be a damn good start.
posted by nzero at 6:17 PM on October 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Let's hold our collective breath until that happens.

It is happening, at least where I live. Notably, the local charter school usually scores lower across the board on the standardized MCAS tests than the public* schools do. This is in spite of the advantages of not having to accept ESL and other challenged students. Union-haters and rent-seekers are everywhere these days.


* Charter supporters insist that charters are public schools, because blahblahblah. They haven't really provided a term for the schools that have to accept everyone and don't make somebody rich.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:23 PM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


How to destroy a public school system is easier than all that (or maybe the same): take away the money (defunding via variety of tax schemes), take away the smartest kids (private/parochial schools), and make the job of teacher overworked and under-rewarded. That's how in a nutshell.

The use of standardized test scores to destroy poor communities' educational systems is just another tool in the woodshed.

The solution also isn't as simple as just dumping money into the school systems

Honestly, it really and truly is ... along with the commitment to continue that sort of funding. If teachers made decent money, and public school facilities were akin to private schools, it would spark a revolution in this country.

Actually, to be slightly more complex, it's not just dumping money into the school system. It's dumping more money into the school system AND changing the funding system, i.e. disconnect it from property taxes. That is THE key issue.

"What we ought to do ultimately is get rid of the property tax completely as the primary means of funding public education, because it is inherently unjust."

AMEN.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:29 PM on October 12, 2014 [18 favorites]


take away the smartest kids

I think you meant the richest kids? One of the great failures of inequitable school systems is that we never get to find out who the smartest kids are. Imagine where we could be if we stopped wasting so much potential.
posted by heisenberg at 7:46 PM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


Gosh, just think how much greater the suburban schools could be if only they would embrace the charter school movement!

Let's hold our collective breath until that happens.


So, that Colorado School Board that's been making news for their crappy proposal about how to change AP history curriculum, is MY kid's school board, and most of their district is Suburban. Long before they were getting protests for changing the AP curriculum, they were getting protests for slashing funding to public school programs (like programs for special needs kids, and our fantastic preschool program) and and increasing money that's been funneled to charter schools.

Good news, you can breath again.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:05 PM on October 12, 2014


It's the poverty, stupid. Philadelphia leads the country in deep poverty, including 60,000 kids. To put that in perspective, the Philly Public School system serves only 131,000 students.

Two and a half years ago Donald Schwartz promised that if Corbett's DPW cuts were to take effect, "[t]here are folks that will die on the streets in Philadelphia," but the genius of budget cuts is that the Governor gets to cripple the very monitoring programs that would have described the murderous effects of his austerity. I've long since given up on expecting Gov. Corbett to help my neighbors here in Kensington, but he should at least have to witness the effects of his own neglect. We all should.
posted by The White Hat at 9:18 PM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


take away the smartest kids

I think you meant the richest kids?


There are scholarships to private schools (including athletic scholarships as well), but your point is well-taken.

Instead of "the smartest kids," I should have said "many of the best prepared kids with the most resources," or yeah, "richest kids." To be fair, having a lot of money does often provide many additional educational opportunities (e.g. travel to foreign countries). But yeah, you are right. "Smartest" was not a good choice of words. Perhaps "highest performing"? Most private schools have admissions standards...

Regardless, I find that it's the loss of those kids from the public-school system that is almost as damaging as the lack of funds.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:31 PM on October 12, 2014


The solution also isn't as simple as just dumping money into the school systems

Not dumping, sure. If you tripled the funding for public schools for the next year and then reduced the funding back to what it was they year after you'd probably waste an immense amount of money and not achieve much. That would be dumping.

On the other hand, if you increased funding by 10% a year for a number of years until you were at 150% of current funding levels and maintained that level then you'd certainly see results.
posted by atrazine at 4:09 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


The use of standardized test scores to destroy poor communities' educational systems is just another tool in the woodshed.
The solution also isn't as simple as just dumping money into the school systems
Honestly, it really and truly is ... along with the commitment to continue that sort of funding. If teachers made decent money, and public school facilities were akin to private schools, it would spark a revolution in this country.
Actually, to be slightly more complex, it's not just dumping money into the school system. It's dumping more money into the school system AND changing the funding system, i.e. disconnect it from property taxes. That is THE key issue.
"What we ought to do ultimately is get rid of the property tax completely as the primary means of funding public education, because it is inherently unjust."

The fact is that many struggling urban districts do actually receive greater per-pupil funding than their wealthier suburban neighbors. The problem is not simply funding injustice, it's segregation (racial and economic). In the wealthy suburb where I live, extracurriculars in the schools are funded in part by fees and fundraisers that are a minimal inconvenience for local parents but would be unaffordable elsewhere.
Property taxes as a funding stream are offensive but the real crime is the existence of districts at all. It's essentially a matter of osmotic pressure; so long as there are lines, even if there is only a one-point difference between two districts, the wealthiest, most mobile and most invested (and by extension the whitest) parents in our society will move in the direction of superior schools. even assuming no segregation to begin with, we would replicate it before the kindergarteners in our hypothetical schools graduated.
The notion that kids are more or less deserving of a quality education because of where they live is morally reprehensible but we support it as a society (take Hawaii for example, the only statewide school system in the country, largest private schools. Coincidence...?).
posted by Octaviuz at 6:47 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Gosh, just think how much greater the suburban schools could be if only they would embrace the charter school movement!

Suburban schools, or at least, middle class suburban schools, don't have to, because they don't have the same problems as urban public schools.

There is no reason why average kids who just want to get an education should be forced to be lumped in with the worst trouble makers. When I was a kid there was a separate school for the worst behavior offenses, and it made the rest of the schools a lot better. Even if all the charter schools did was segregate out the troublemakers and those who don't actually want to learn, dayenu! The interesting classes and other facets are really just icing on the cake.
posted by corb at 7:27 AM on October 13, 2014


The "troublemakers," many of whom are coming from the shit, deserve more resources, not fewer.
posted by angrycat at 8:37 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is no reason why average kids who just want to get an education should be forced to be lumped in with the worst trouble makers. When I was a kid there was a separate school for the worst behavior offenses, and it made the rest of the schools a lot better.

I'm all for separating out "the trouble makers" if it means that they get extra attention and help. That's the exact opposite of what's happening in my school district though. To help fund the charter schools the school board is cutting programs that help both "willing to learn" kids and kids who need extra attention. The kids whose parents can't afford charter schools (in terms of money, time, or whatever), are now stuck with with those same trouble makers you were hoping to keep them apart from. So, now the teachers are now dealing with more kids (because of staffing cuts), and have fewer resources to deal with any kid, regardless of how willing they are to learn.

Charter schools as they're currently being pushed (here) are doing the exact opposite of what you're claiming they should do. Willingness to learn is becoming even less important when compared to parents income as a factor in what sort of education you receive.

And you know, why should public money help a private corporation make money providing a function that a public school system would (as it did when you were in school) be able to provide with less cost (thanks to all the overhead costs saved by economies of scale)?
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:37 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


See also: season 4 of The Wire
posted by angrycat at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Suburban schools, or at least, middle class suburban schools, don't have to, because...

They don't have to, but they do anyway. The charter school movement is not about offering choice or improving education any more, if it ever was. It's about privatzing education so some people can get richer. As a bonus, it weakens a couple of powerful unions, furthering the corporatist agenda.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:09 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Simple. Hire a republican governor. That'll destroy it for you in short order.
posted by prepmonkey at 1:12 PM on October 13, 2014


"Suburban schools, or at least, middle class suburban schools, don't have to, because they don't have the same problems as urban public schools."

…except that's not true. Back when I was reporting in Ann Arbor — broadly a wealthy, suburban district — had charter schools that were run for profit. Some of them did reasonably well, others were a total shitshow (including one that had to be closed because it had standing water in the classroom for months).

It's awkward because there are some places where limited charter schools can achieve a lot more. For example, LAUSD has stifling, ossified bureaucracy that comes from 50 years worth of running the largest school district in the world. The funding models there are totally broken and based on systems set up decades ago. Some charter principals with the freedom to spend their funds in a less centrally-allocated way have made excellent strides in improving student outcomes. The other side of it is that other principals without the oversight inherent in the bureaucratic system have made a dog's breakfast of 'em.

There's plenty about schools that needs reform. But privatizing them is rarely the answer and often makes existing problems worse.
posted by klangklangston at 2:16 PM on October 13, 2014


This has always been the endgame for the voucher-mongers and public-school reformers: destroy another union.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:37 AM on October 14, 2014


"Run it like a business," indeed.

Previously.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:40 AM on October 14, 2014




A seven-minute interview with PA Governor Corbett on his education spending priorities.

No transcript, sadly, but an interesting listen.
posted by cjelli at 7:59 AM on October 16, 2014


See also: season 4 of The Wire

So everyone says how The Wire is so fucking great, but I've watching 6-7 episodes from the first season, and it's kind of a snooze. Does it get better, or am I supposed to be hooked from the start?

(I also do prefer The Money Pit to The Godfather.)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:25 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Season 2 is tremendous, but if you're not enjoying it by the end of season 1, I'd be inclined to say the show just might not be your cup of tea.

Which is fine -- nothing wrong with not liking things that are awesome.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:44 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]




The great charter school rip-off: Finally, the truth catches up to education “reform” phonies

Just more right-wing/conservative/Libertarian/Republican "privatizing" of the commons that just leads to corruption. I'm so weary of it. The drumbeat is relentless, the marketing so comprehensive and underhanded, and the benefits and costs so underevaluated. I hope it doesn't take a complete deterioration of our society to get voters to understand that they've been hoodwinked at every turn.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2014






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