charter schools

More problems with education “reform”


Here’s another reason against being too eager to contract education “reform” fever – high school graduation rates.

In a new report released this week by a consortium of groups promoting the goal of graduating more high school students on time – that is, within four years – two darlings of the “reform” movement – charter and virtual schools – came up short.

Nationally, according to the “Building a Grad Nation” report, charter schools, which accounted for only 8 percent of all U.S. high schools, accounted for 30 percent of high schools that failed to graduate more than 67 percent of their students on time at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Virtual schools were even worse. Virtual schools accounted for only 1 percent of high schools in the country but accounted for 87 percent of the high schools with failing graduation rates. We all should be grateful that a legislative proposal last year to dump millions of tax dollars into virtual charters failed, following intense lobbying against it by TSTA and other public education advocates.

Some virtual operators would have made off like bandits, while thousands of Texas kids would have been victimized. The same operators, however, will be back before the Legislature next session, holding their hands out again, so the fight will continue.

Charters, virtual and alternative high schools combined accounted for 52 percent of the high schools with graduation rates of 67 percent or less, although collectively they accounted for only 14 percent of the country’s high schools.

Alternative schools and some charters have high proportions of low-income, at-risk students. But so do traditional public schools. About 60 percent of Texas’ public school enrollment, for example, is low-income. But the legislative majority continues to under-fund them at a rate about $2,700 below the per-student national average.

Traditional public high schools accounted for 84 percent of all U.S. high schools and only 7 percent of high schools with graduation rates of 67 percent or less in 2013-14.

School privateers tried to topple House speaker


They didn’t get a lot of media coverage, but two wealthy advocates of school privatization were involved in the unsuccessful effort to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus in the recent Republican primary in San Antonio.

One was Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who, along with other members of her family, is a major supporter of the charter movement. She gave $180,000 to Jeff Judson, one of Straus’ right-wing opponents. Walton lives in Bentonville, Ark., a long way from Straus’ home district, but she was trying to promote a cause – the cut-rate Wal-Mart school model — not local representation.

The other notable privatization contributor was San Antonio businessman James Leininger, a founder of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which wants to privatize just about all of state government. Leininger’s special interest is diverting tax dollars from public schools to create a voucher program for private school tuition. He gave $50,000 to Judson.

After losing millions in unsuccessful efforts to promote vouchers several years ago, Leininger kind of dropped from sight as a political donor. But with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick putting vouchers at the top of his education priority list, Leininger must see another opportunity.

Fortunately, Straus won. Unfortunately, both Walton and Leininger have a lot more money to waste (we hope) on bad causes.


Another computer billionaire meddling in education


Move over, Bill Gates, and watch out, educators. There’s another computer billionaire out there who has anointed himself an education expert. The story linked below is about  Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who, among other things, wants to expand charter schools and replace locally elected school boards with privately run boards.

He also is suspected of wanting to replace teachers with computers, and earlier this year he pledged $100 million to help accomplish his goals.

Hastings, a former president of the California State Board of Education, apparently has been convinced for years that privately run charter schools are the way to improve education in America. And the more computers those schools purchase to replace teachers, the more billions that he and his techie buddies will amass while the quality of education deteriorates.

In a speech last year to the California Charter Schools Association, Hastings proposed replacing locally elected school boards with privately run boards, such as those that govern corporate charters.

“The most important thing is that they (charters) constantly get better every year…because they have stable governance – they don’t have an elected school board,” he was quoted as saying.

Of course, there are some major problems with that statement. First, a lot of charters don’t get better every year, including charters that Hastings has been associated with. Many charters get worse, and some fail. Granted, as teachers in a couple of school districts in San Antonio know all-too-well, elected school boards can be disasters. But so can privately run boards, especially if they are stacked with high-tech entrepreneurs who know nothing about teaching and learning.

Parents, school employees and other taxpayers, though, can replace elected school board members at the next election, whereas they have no control over privately run boards.

Now, if only we had a way of “dis-electing” billionaires who insist that their fortunes have suddenly given them remarkable insight into the educational process.


Elections have consequences for education


Elections have consequences for public schools, and, if you haven’t already cast an early ballot, you have 5.2 million reasons – the children who attend those schools — to vote tomorrow (March 1) in the party primary of your choice.

Down-ballot from the presidential nominating contests, both Republican and Democratic voters will find local races for the Texas Legislature and the State Board of Education that could make significant differences in school funding, classroom sizes, the future of high-stress testing, the quality of textbooks and curricula standards and the success or failure of vouchers and other privatization efforts.

Most of these races will be decided in the primaries, not in the general election in November.

TSTA is not partisan. It is backing both Republican and Democratic candidates, based strictly on a candidate’s support and advocacy for public schools, students and educators.

Groups trying to undermine public schools for their members’ profits aren’t partisan either, and one in particular, the misnamed Texans for Education Reform (TER), is making significant contributions in selected legislative races.

In two races in particular – one Democratic and one Republican – TER is trying to unseat two of the strongest advocates that public education has in the Texas House. One is Democratic Rep. Mary Gonzalez in House District 75 in El Paso County, about whom I have written before, and the other is Republican Rep. Gary VanDeaver in House District 1 on the other side of the state in Northeast Texas.

Gonzalez has voted to increase education funding and fought excessive standardized testing, and VanDeaver, a respected, former school administrator, also is a strong advocate for giving students and educators the resources they need to succeed. Both are members of the House Public Education Committee, which makes them worrisome to TER, whose primary interest in education is diverting tax dollars to corporate charters and other for-profit schemes for its members.

So far, TER has contributed almost $300,000 in advertising and other services to Gonzalez’s opponent, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, and more than $100,000 to VanDeaver’s challenger, former Rep. George Lavender. As legislators, both Quintanilla and Lavender voted to under-fund education, and Lavender even voted to slash $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011, costing thousands of Texas educators their jobs.

To see all of TSTA’s Republican and Democratic endorsements in races for the Legislature and the State Board of Education, please click on the link below. They all are important for education, but the Republican primary race for the State Board of Education in District 9 in Northeast Texas is worth some extra attention. TSTA is supporting Lufkin ISD school board President Keven Ellis to succeed Thomas Ratliff, a good board member who is not seeking reelection.

One of Ellis’ opponents is Mary Lou Bruner, an extremist ideologue backed by the tea party who has accused President Obama of being a male prostitute, believes there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, dismisses climate change as a hoax dreamed up by Karl Marx and denies slavery was a major issue in the Civil War. Bruner can write all she wants about that on her Facebook page – and she has, and more — but we don’t want her on the State Board of Education trying to write that into our children’s curricula and textbooks.

Yes, elections have consequences for education, folks, big consequences. Tomorrow is your chance to say something about that. Go vote!