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The Big Sleazy: All-Charter “Achievement Districts”

on Sat, 11/07/2015 - 01:44

The Big Sleazy:
All-Charter “Achievement Districts”

After battling shamelessly for 20 years, SC policymakers are under court-order to do “something” for our poorest students.

Momentum is building to turn SC kids over to parasitic charter chains as part of a statewide “ACHIEVEMENT DISTRICT”, like the one in New Orleans.

Once you:

  • CLOSE neighborhood schools
  • FIRE thousands of career teachers & replace them with untrained temps
  •  FORCE kids into charter school chains


Closing the ACHIEVEMENT GAP is actually CHEAP & EASY!!!

Let free-markets do the work!

Many of these charter chains are overtly for-profit, while others pay exorbitant rentsand fees to partner” corporations.


Now, who would fall for such horse puckey?

Anybody desperate for a cheap, easy fix.


Egged on by corporate-funded Astroturf groups like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, some have grown sweet on the idea of an all-charter system built on temp labor that replaces democratically-controlled public schools.

Tell policymakers to reject this gift to privatized McSchools:

COPY & PASTE to,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

MUCH More Below...

Who wouldn’t fall in love with stats like these?

“High-school graduation rates have risen from 55% before Katrina
to 73% now; 

drop-out rates have fallen by half.”


Anybody who takes 5 minutes to examine them, that’s who.


Post-Katrina achievement stats are like cafeteria veggies: 

cooked beyond recognition.

Scroll way down for details.
For now, let’s pretend the data is real.

To replicate The New Orleans Miracle,

SC will need to make a few adjustments:



Dump the Chumps

A federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the systematic shunning of special ed students by New Orleans charters.

Disabled students cost money and hurt achievement stats.  

No upside there!

recent study of New Orleans charters found that one-third of their leaders admitted selecting and excluding students by:

“Counseling students who were not thought to be a good fit to transfer to another school,

holding invitation only events to advertise the school,

or…[not declaring]
 open seats…rather than attract students who might lower school test scores.”


Market-based reforms don't turn kids into customers.

They divide them into assets and liabilities.

Jack Per-Pupil Spending Up…WAY Up!

Pre-Katrina (2004): $7,800
State Avg (2007): $9,800

New Orl. RSD (2007)$22,500 (excludes construction)
Eager to showcase the power of free markets to “fix” education, corporate-reform foundations (and their shill, Arne Duncan), showered money on post-Katrina charters.

I think that’s called a “subsidy”.  Not so free-market, really.

Anybody hear Bobby Jindal or StudentsFirst talking about this?
Folks who push the lie that, “Throwing money at schools won’t help,” should refrain from doing so during their libertarian pipe dreams.

Impose Martial Law

66% of students suspended? 

In-school suspension for wearing the wrong socks or belt?

Demerits for failure to raise hand at a right angle or walk on taped lines in HS hallways?

This federal civil rights complaint reads like a gulag memoir.

This brand of discipline is a central part of the “No Excuses” model embraced by most charter chains.

It does drive out “the wrong element”well before test day.

Now there’s an upside!

Churn ‘Em & Burn 'Em

It’s amazing what you can coerce people to do when you strip away all job protections.

Teachers in many “No Excuses” charters are expected to work 80-90 hrs/wk.
Would it worry you if your schools had double the turnover

Former New Orleans RSD Supt. Paul Vallas:

I don’t want the majority of my teaching staff to work more than ten years.
The cost of sustaining those individuals becomes so enormous.”

constantly churning cycle of untrained Teach For America temps ensures that 40% of New Orleans students have a teacher with 3yrs or less of experience.
Even some of the bean-counters who run these sweatshops are starting to catch on (sort of):

“Superintendent Mark DiBella…found that more experienced, stable teachers were producing noticeably better student results,” 

and is working on,

getting more teachers to commit to at least five years in the classroom.” 

Scatter Your Poorest Students to the Wind. 

New Orleans lost 40% of its enrollment after Katrina.

Poorer evacuees were more likely to stay away or return later.

New arrivals have higher incomes than the evacuees who trickled back.

Boosters point to high percentages still qualifying for free & reduced lunch, ignoring the fact that qualifying families can earn as much as $41,000 or as little as $0 per year.

SorryANY comparison of pre-and-post storm achievement data is apples-to-coconuts.

Lengthen the School Day and Add More Days of School

That’s one thing New Orleans charters did with all the cash pre-Katrina schools didn’t have.

 See the pattern?



Why the Sudden Interest in Poor Children?


If this trash is so great, why not take McSchools to the suburbs?

Wouldn’t those parents be psyched about turning their kids into cash cows for hedge fund managers?


“Firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas
can collect a generous tax credit - up to 39%.

“The credit allows them to double the money they invested in seven years.” 

The head of a real estate investment trust called EPR was asked what asset looks most promising to buy right now. 

He bypassed their movie theaters and waterparks:

 “Well, probably the charter school business.

We said it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio…a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set in rough measure annually.”

One popular business model: spending less on kids and more on management than traditional schools. 

In 2011, one charter chain CEO’s salary doubled to $5 Million, despite the fact that:

“Nearly 60% of its students are below grade level in math, and 50% in reading. 

One-third don’t graduate on schedule.”
Your tax dollars at work

His bonus was linked to enrollment, not student performance.
Finally…merit pay I can get down with!
I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but these are not new concepts.

SC was a pioneer in establishing completely

separate, deregulated schools for our poorest students.

Most of them will look familiar.
“Hey...if it works…”




 Click, or see below


That's Not Gumbo You Smell

When you dig into The Miracle, expect to hear about:
  • a dramatic decrease in failing schools
  • big gains in school letter grades
  • skyrocketing graduation rate.
The Percentage of Kids in “Failing Schools” Hasn’t Changed

The Definition of “Failing” Has


Before Hurricane Katrina, the performance score that triggered a state takeover was 60.

A state law passed after the storm raised that benchmark to 87.4…(just below state average), but ONLY in New Orleans.
This change allowed the newly-created all-charter Recovery School District (RSDto capture almost every school in New Orleans and hand them over to charter chains.

It excluded only a handful of highly-successful (wealthier) schools.
Charter promoters now routinely lump them in with RSD schools to create bogus statistics for “New Orleans Schools”.
Meanwhile, those cut scores for “failing schools” continue to bob up and down as needed.

Today, the cut score for state takeover is 50.


Fewer “failing schools”.
School letter-grades are routinely manipulated in like fashion:

Had consistent criteria been used in grading RSD-NO from 2012 to 2013, its district letter grade would have remained a ‘D.”

“Dude, Where’s My School?”

The real stats are probably even less encouraging…

When charter chains fail (as they often do), they leave a 3-year gap in the data.

They aren’t given a rating for their final year

The new school isn’t given a rating for 2 years.

In 2013, 40% of RSD charters had no rating at all.

Some particularly troubled schools (and their kids) have been handed off several times.

I could go on and on and on

That is Waffle House data, folks:
 it's been scattered, smothered, & covered.
So, What Really Happened for Kids in New Orleans?
Charter boosters crow that "New Orleans" graduation rates &ACT scores are,

Now near the state average!”

That trick only works if you include the high-flying schools that WEREN’T seized by charters.
For RSD charters, those stats are absolutely miserable.

They’ve gotten worse as schools have been weaned off federal aid and millions of dollars pumped in by corporate-funded pro-charter foundations to manufacture a success story.

Graduation rates?

Once you pull out the wealthier schools that were left alone, RSD charters are at 59.5%, nowhere near the state’s 74.5% rate.
In 2011 (after years of federal and private subsidies) they were at 67.7%.
The money dried up, and the stats have plummeted.

ACT Scores?

This story will sound familiar.

Last year, Louisiana's average ACT score was 19.2

The RSD average score was 16.4

….a drop from 2012's peak score of 16.8.

For context, those scores are all far too low for admittance to any 4 year state college,

and RSD 
does not test all of its students as required by law (only 85%).
"Show Us Your Data!!!"
No Beads for You, John White.
Getting to the bottom of what’s going on in New Orleans is harder than you would imagine…

State Supt. John White (who used to run the New Orleans RSD) fought for 5 years to avoid releasing state performance data to independent researchers.

He recently lost. 
To date, the only researchers allowed to see raw data were from handpicked entities bought and paid-for by the same corporate charter advocates who’ve bankrolled the New Orleans all-charter experiment.

Their work has been harshly criticized by independent experts.
As the lights come on, the roaches have begun to scatter.

“Miracle” claims are being downgraded to “promising signs”.
Leaks and back-door analysis have long indicated that data was deliberatelydoctored and withheld to paint a misleading picture of New Orleans charter performance.

That façade is beginning to crumble, just as corporate-funded Astroturf groups like StudentsFirst ramp up their efforts to expand this fraud to states like SC.
Wal-Mart has been a very big player in trying to run your schools like their stores…low wagescheap products,high profits
Thieves in the Temple 

With all the cash floating around in New Orleans, there must be some pretty serious oversight, right?


"The state relies on a
 largely self-reporting oversight structure that is easily manipulated by the schools themselves.

Deregulation of charters also allows them to self-police for cheating, reporting to the state only if an internal investigation finds evidence of cheating.

You’ll be relieved to learn that Lafayette Academy (whose test scores doubled in 5 yrs) found no such evidence.
Not Bad Work, If You Can Get It

While teacher salaries in charter chains are kept low by hiring untrained Teach for America temps, management salaries are…quite generous.

“Sanders cites John McDonogh High School, where Future is Now CEO Steve Barr collected an annual salary (subsidized by public grants) of $250,000 for a school with fewer than 200 students.

Barr hired a principal for the 9th grade class of less than 20 students at an annual salary of $115,000.

The academic payoff? An obscenely low school performance score of 9.3.”


What Have We Learned, Class?

If SC leaders are looking for lessons from New Orleans, here are the shocking conclusions:
Spend more money.

Keep it coming.

Pre-and-post Katrina comparisons carry massive caveats about outside funding, favorable demographic shifts, a huge change in the grad rate formula,
...and the fact that the same group of schools literally does not exist anymore.

Still, what’s the best-case scenario for such a comparison?
ACT Scores up 2 points since 2005!!!
(but still one of the lowest in the state)

Graduation Rates soar by 5%!!!!
(That's more than 4%!)


I’m not so sure SC needs to jump on that float quite yet.

Nothing that charter chains have done in New Orleans is patented.
If we really think that the best solution is to spend $22,000 per pupil, march kids up and down the halls like toy soldiers, and keep them there from 7:30 to 5:00... 

...we don't have to suspend democracy and generate obscene profits to do it. 
If we want to sack thousands of teachers without cause and replace them with cheap temps, that's tricky...for a reason: 

It should be.