That’s Right Nate

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Posts Tagged ‘Charter Schools

Celebrating Charter Schools Week

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I have to admit, despite being a socialist, a communist, and a fascist sometimes President Obama comes up with a great idea.   Such an idea is Charter Schools week which will be observed this year between May 2nd and May 8th this year.   There will be no such day for ordinary public school students, but you know what they say about membership having its privileges.   I have been a big advocate of charter schools for some time now.  As President Obama said, “a world class education is our best avenue to prosperity.”

From Dennis Bakke at Imagine Schools to Green Dot’s Steve Barr to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, these edu-preneurs have managed to use their charter schools to put them well on the road to prosperity.   Without pesky unions and local oversight, charters offer the savvy investor myriad opportunities to make a quick buck.  Why else would so many hedge fund managers and movers and shakers like Goldman-Sachs be so involved in the charter school movement.

While ordinary public schools will not be getting their own week, there will be several other important education weeks this Spring:

Dehumanizing Wealthy Schools Week – From Veronica Mars to Glee to the films of John Hughes, these schools provide us with one of our greatest resources — teen angst.   Sometimes when fitting in is impossible, you’ve just got to break all the rules. May 11-May 17

Tough Urban School with Only One Competent Adult – Whether it’s Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver, or Freedom Writers you better find that one adult.  While other teachers show up drunk and sleep through class, there is that one adult who cares and will tutor students in his/her own until 1AM.  May 18-24

Rural/Suburban School with a Cool Outsider – The White House will celebrate those schools where everything seemed boring until that one stranger moved in.   Maybe that stranger is the Fonz or maybe he just wants to dance in a town that’s forgotten how to party, but one thing’s for sure school will never be the same.  May 25- June 1.


Written by thatsrightnate

April 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Imagine Schools Cash in On Education

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Dennis Bakke is on top of the education world.   As the CEO of Imagine Schools, he oversees the fastest growing brand name in the education business with over 36,000 students at 74 schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia.   He is rightfully heralded as one of the leaders of the education reform movement.   The Washington Post lauded Mr. Bakke and his wife Eileen for winning a lawsuit to force Maryland to increase their funding for charter schools by over 60%.   Jason Botel, who directs KIPP charter schools in Baltimore, is one educator who knows what the Bakkes have accomplished. “Their funding of advocacy efforts has helped make sure that . . . charter schools like ours can provide a great education for children in Maryland,” he said.

Bakke has done quite well for himself and for other charter operators.  In fact, last year he donated $20,000 to Republican politicians in his own name.   He’s a member of The Family, a Christian organization that was recently in the news following several sex scandals.  What does Bakke owe his success too?  He sums up his philosophy in two words, “have fun”, which is a philosophy that has served Bakke well over the years.   In fact,  he wrote a book on it called “Joy at Work” which was a very successful publication.   The Bakkes say parents are attracted to their schools in part because of the emphasis on character. “We talk to the kids from Day One,” Eileen Bakke said. “What does it mean to be responsible? What does it mean to have integrity?”

One trick that Imagine Education has used was just revealed in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch in the form of a leaked email from Bakke to his top executives at Imagine Schools.  The email explains several tricks for picking the executive boards of Imagine Charter Schools carefully to avoid board members who feel, “ownership of the school. Many honestly believe it is their school and that the school will not go well without them steering the school toward “excellence”. They believe they are the “governing” Board even if that adjective to describe the board has never been used by an Imagine School person.”

The board members probably get this idea from local laws that usually require local residents govern the charter school.  There is an excellent article in the November 1st Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that shows how the entire charter process was manipulated by Bakke and Imagination Schools in opening up 4 chart schools in Fort Wayne Indiana.  The paper concluded that the advisory board makes no decisions and gives no advice, “Not the $87,510 a year to operate school buses. Not $114,871 to run a lunch program. Not which teachers are hired or whether to hold summer school, or even whether to borrow more than $1 million for operations.”

So how much money is Imagination Schools making on the for profit education game?  In Indiana the local contract required the schools there to give the parent company 12 cents on every tax  dollar they took in.   This seems to be a fairly standard contract for the company.   If they have 36,000 students and states are giving them on average about $6,000 per student simple math comes out to about $26 million tax free.   That’s good, but let’s face it you can barely pay the salary of one power hitting third baseman for that.    Fortunately, you can’t beat real estate for generating profits.

The Dallas News explained how Imagine’s real estate works.   The real estate arm of Imagine Schools is called Schoolhouse Finance:

In Nevada, the state awarded 100 Academy of Excellence in North Las Vegas a charter, and the school hired Imagine to run its educational services. Schoolhouse Finance, the Imagine subsidiary, paid for the school’s property and building construction. Schoolhouse Finance then leased the property to the charter school for $1.4 million a year.

Next, Schoolhouse Finance sold the $8 million property to a real estate investment trust, Kansas City, Mo.,-based Entertainment Properties Trust. The trust then leased the property back to Schoolhouse Finance at a lower rate than the charter school pays.

Money remaining after Schoolhouse Finance pays its lease to the trust goes to Imagine Schools Inc. This tiered lease system has led to 10 percent returns on investment for owners and investors in the two companies.

A principal in Indiana and another one in Las Vegas were fired after complaining to Imagine about rent that cost them approximately 40% of their operating budget.   Most charters pay 10-15% of their operating budget for rent if they don’t own the property outright.  This leaves the schools with very little money for things like books and teachers.    From May of 2008 until November of this year, Imagine went from 51 to 74 schools.   Yet, this year the teachers at the Imagine Charter School in Weston, FA were hit with pay cuts of up to 22 percent.

OK, I had to do another serious education story and yeah, it’s kind of dry with all the money talk.   Sometimes, outrage does overtake my desire for satire.   The point here is that in the world of for profit education, expanding is everything.   Whether you’re talking about KIPP, UNO, or any of the other charter school groups with multiple schools you have to follow the money.   Tax dollars that should be going to the children of this country, in too many cases are going to companies like this.   Is this really reform?  Is opening up more schools like this really a race to the top?



Written by thatsrightnate

November 9, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Arne Duncan Clears Himself in Student Death

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Today, Arne Duncan came to Chicago for a summit on youth violence with Mayor Daley.   I’m not actually, sure what made it a summit as community leaders were shut out from the event at Chicago’s posh Four Seasons Hotel, but Arne Duncan was able to proudly proclaim that the school reform he helped to implement was not part of the issue.

I am reminded of the great scene in Casablanca where Claude Raines as Major Renault announces he is shocked and appalled to find gambling going on at Rick’s place just as he’s being handed his gambling winnings.   It was with the same condescending arrogance that Duncan was able to declare himself innocent on all charges, but the spike in Chicago’s violence among teenagers since the beginning of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 can’t be denied.  Through every step of the process of closing down the other schools around Fenger, parents warned Duncan that violence would happen if charters were allowed to open which would force the neighborhood kids to cross multiple gang territories.

It didn’t just happen at Fenger either.   All throughout Chicago, parents and community leaders have come out to warn about the dangers of this sort of school reform and at each school and each community they were ignored.   Daley then compounded matters this year by replacing the faculty and administration at Fenger in a wholesale house cleaning in the name of education reform.   Even the lunch ladies and janitorial staff were replaced.   The adults who had relationships with the students and could help keep tensions from boiling over were put out on the street.  The amazing thing about Renaissance 2010 isn’t that there has been a spike in violence, but that the spike hasn’t been even bigger.

The Obama administration’s big new Race to the Top education initiative, rewards states for opening more charter schools. Innovative charters have a place, but much of the charter movement has not been innovative nor successful.  Instead, public education has been privatized and the result is a two tiered system.  Whether they are allowed to or not, charters do not educate the most difficult students.  Those students wind up in the public schools.   As a country, we need to make sure that we do not have two educations systems–one for the privileged and one for everybody else.  Our country should be better than that.

Written by thatsrightnate

October 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Chicago Student Killing & Turnaround Schools

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Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley designed many of the policies responsible for increased violence at Fenger High School

[First, I’d like to let my regular readers know that this will be a very different type of post from me. This is a serious issue that any real reporter should have been able to unravel in about 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of journalism in many places in Chicago.  I felt compelled to write about it and I can’t see how to make this pithy or humorous.   Somethings do need to be serious I guess.  It’s taken me 880+ posts to get to a serious story and I really hope it is at least 10 times that many before I get to another one.]

Last week a 16 year old high school student named Derrion Alberts was brutally killed during a violent battle between rival students from Fenger High School.   Nothing can possibly absolve his attackers from their responsibility in this tragic death.   However, there are explanations for what happened and how a public became a war zone that I think deserve a second look.

Fenger High School is located on Chicago’s Far South Side at 116th and Michigan.  The neighborhood has been a pretty tough neighborhood for a long time, but it was in the early 1980s when a lot of area’s jobs went away never to return.   At one time Fenger had been a pretty solid school.  It had outstanding shop programs that were designed to help students make their way into the work force, but of c0urse those classes eventually got phased out in favor of a 100% college preparatory curriculum.  This one size fits all education has been a mainstay of high school in Chicago since the 1990s.

Located at 131st and Doty, Carver High School was a neighbor and rival of Fenger.   The children of Altgeld Gardens Housing Project went to Carver High while the children of a neighborhood nicknamed “The Ville” went to Fenger.   Five years ago, as part of Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program, Carver High School became Carver Military Academy and the students from Carver High School were displaced to Fenger.   Immediately, trouble began between the kids from Altgeld and the kids from “The Ville”.   This unfortunately has become an all too common problem with education reform as practiced by Mayor Daley and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  In one of the most gang ridden cities in the United States, the constant closing of schools has frequently forced kids to cross into different gang territories to go to high school.   The result has been a skyrocketing youth homicide rate.

Fenger High School was a powder keg, but the one thing that seemed to keep the situation under control was a dedicated faculty.    One by  one the schools around Fenger were replaced by charter schools.  Calumet became a campus of Perspectives charter school and Englewood became the Urban Prep charter school and a small school with admission by lottery.  Fenger sadly received all the students that the other schools wouldn’t take.   Then the inevitable happened.   Because of poor test scores, the Chicago Public Schools announced that they would make Fenger a turnaround school for the 2009 school year.

There is an excellent writeup of the hearings by Kristine Mayle at The community came out to argue against doing so, but the board went ahead with their plans.  If you aren’t familiar with the term turnaround school-it is being pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan nationwide.  In a turnaround school, the faculty and principal of a school are removed and replaced by new teachers.   Sometimes, the schools close for a year and a lot of money is spent of rehabbing the school.  Unfortunately, by doing this, the CPS got rid of almost everybody in Fenger High School who knew the students and new the neighborhood.  The result was a dramatic increase in gang related violence both inside and outside the school.

On the day of the shooting, shots were reportedly fired at Fenger High School and a call was made to the police, but apparently nothing was done to deal with the trouble bubbling just below the surface of a normal Thursday at the high school.  Would a more experienced faculty and administration who were familiar with the students and the neighborhood have been able to act to stop the violence from escalating?  It’s impossible to say.   However, it is schools just like Fenger nationwide that are targeted for these kind of changes as part of education reform.  Parents, faculty, and community leaders warned of escalating violence that could happen, but they were ignored.   A 16 year old honor student was killed.   Sadly, he was not the first victim of school reform and he probably will not be the last.

The Educational Miracle That Saved UNO

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An ungrateful community resident complains about UNO

I hate to write about local stories because I know that I am shrinking my audience.   Why would anybody care about what’s going on in Chicago if they lived in New Jersey.   I’m happy to say that with Arne Duncan as our Secretary of Education, this Chicago miracle may well be exported to a school district near you.   I’ve talked about charter schools before and raved about them.  They’re a great way to crush the teacher unions and at the same time use the free market to make some good money educating children.

The UNO Charter School Network has been around Chicago since the early 90s and  now has 9 schools in the Chicago area named after important Hispanic figures like Bartolome de las Casas who was an important figuring in bringing African slaves to the Americas.  The United Neighborhood Organization began as a grassroots movement on the Southside of Chicago, but has since moved way beyond that.   Their charter schools are now nationwide and they are very close allies with Chicago’s Mayor Daley.   In fact, they had a back to school celebration this week that doubled as a rally for Mayor Daley’s pet project bringing the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.   They just took $100,000,000 in stimulus money to build new charter schools, but now let’s get to the educational miracle.

Up until June, De la Cruz middle school was a top performer.  It had won the Spotlight Award from the state board of education for 2008 and despite being in a neighborhood with a lot of students still learning English and a serious gang problem, De la Cruz had managed to be a rare educational success story in the city of Chicago.   Unfortunately, when the city cut bus service to the school attendance dropped and while small classes are a selling point for charter schools, in public schools it is called “under utilization.” At an emotional meeting last year in front of Arne Duncan it was announced that the school would be closed and the building demolished.

At that point, most urban school districts would have given up the building for dead as it closed out the year, but Chicago is the city of broad shoulders.  A new phone system was put in, a perpetually leaking basement was plugged, installing new windows, and  repair and renovation was taking place all the way up until the last day of school.  Yesterday, at the Chicago Board of Education meeting all that repair paid off.  It seems that UNO needed a building for its Octavio Paz school and now with all the repairs the former De La Cruz building is now inhabitable.   The city was able to lease that building to UNO for $1.  Now everybody’s happy, right?

Unfortunately, we still have the ungrateful parents of the neighborhood aren’t thrilled to have a UNO moving into the building.   They can’t understand why their school was too small, but UNO would be able to cap their enrollment at 480 students for the year.   UNO continues to build an amazing power base.  Big-time national players have taken notice. Former President Bill Clinton once courted UNO. The group has promoted the interests of North America’s largest waste hauler, Waste Management Inc., utility giant ComEd and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.  However, it was yesterday’s educational miracle that makes me think they have friends in even higher places.  They are truly blessed.

Charter Schools Will Fix Education if We Let Them

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As today is the the first day of school for many children in this country, I thought I’d address the charter school movement.  It is an area that I feel very strongly about and one that I hope we can all agree upon.   The support that these schools get from both the left and the right makes me believe that like the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation, this is something we can all get behind.  Education in this country is in a very sorry state.  If we are going to be able to compete with the top education countries in the world like Finland despite having higher childhood poverty than any industrialized country, but Mexico and an extremely high child mortality rate, we need to get our lazy teachers to do something. Charter Schools get public money, but are freed from the strict controls placed on public schools.  In this way they are like the brave folks of Blackwater or as they are now called Xe.

Charter Schools began for four noble reasons:

  1. To replace the ineffective public education system with a profit-based system.
  2. To give wealthy, involved, and politically connected parents a chance to separate their children from the less desirable children in their community.
  3. To create an island of educational utopia because fixing the public schools would be way too much work.
  4. To crush teacher’s unions.

Charter Schools have not been very successful in raising student achievement on standardized tests, but aren’t schools supposed to be about more than test scores?  KIPP for instance has managed to open 82 schools in 19 states in a relatively short amount of time.   The profit motive is a great incentive  to keep expanding.   The public schools don’t have this kind of incentive.

Teachers unions are crippling education.   Let’s face it.   Where else can you make 30K a year or more for watching a couple dozen adolescents for 6 or 7 hours, still get a 20 minute lunch, and take your work home with you instead of staying in a depressing cubicle until you’re finished.   Worst of all, like cops and firemen teachers have ridiculous due process rights that require a school district to prove that they’re incompetent in order to fire them.   In a charter school, they can fire you that day if your shoes and belt don’t match.  That’s the way corporate America is and that’s the way our schools should be.  Public schools also require teachers that work for them to be licensed and certified.   Charter schools are freed from this bureaucratic monopoly of the education process.

Chicago is currently in the middle of an educational renaissance.   In fact, the program Chicago has established is called Renaissance 2010.  I hope that former Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan will bring this program national.   Every year, the city opens up 10-20 new charter schools and closes some public schools.  Conceivably, this educational miracle will be completed by next year and I can’t wait.   The Heritage Foundation and some other conservative think tanks have no trouble being for charter schools and being against a public option for health care because they don’t want to see public and private insurance competing.   On the other hand, I think the two issues are one and the same.   Public schools don’t work for the same reason public health care wouldn’t work.   More charters mean more profits and more profits mean more learning.

Written by thatsrightnate

August 24, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Stop Obama’s Big Socialism

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People, it’s time to stand up for your rights.   The Socialists…I mean Democrats seem bound and determined to put a public health care plan in place to compete directly with our good old American private insurance companies.   At, they come right out and say it, “If the “public plan” is so good, show, do not tell.  Show us by creating a better product on the the (unfree) market, and let consumers decide.  Do not tell us it’s better and make it a crime for taxpayers not to fund it.”

That’s a clear and concise summary of the issue.  If the government can make such a great plan, then why should tax payers fund it?   The always insightful Heritage Foundation claims, “The likely incentives for government officials would be to set rules to advantage the government’s own health plan and to disadvantage the private health plans, including setting the government’s health plan premiums artificially low, reducing or eliminating cost-sharing requirements, or more heavily subsidizing certain benefits to make the government health plan more attractive than the private health plans. These plans would operate without incurring any of the normal financial risks that private health plans must bear.”

I couldn’t agree more.   We can’t expect a publicly funded enterprise to compete fairly with a privately funded one.  What’s odd though is that the Heritage Foundation is also a big advocate for increasing charter schools in this country.   Since charter schools are privately run schools  that compete directly with public schools in a system with public school districts are player and umpire in pretty much exactly the same way.  Of course the answer is simple–eliminate public schools in this country and let the charters provide education in a free market system.  We know that charters are better than public schools, but they score poorer on standardized tests than their public counterparts because it’s the public school districts that create the tests through the State Boards of Education.

It’s already troubling that UPS and Fed Ex are expected to compete with the United States Post Office, but the increased funding in the stimulus plan for public transportation is only going hurt the auto industry’s attempts to rebound.   Why would anybody buy a $50,000 car and fill it with expensive gasoline when you can ride on the tax payer’s back plus a buck or two?  Don’t even get me started on public broadcasting.

I’ve never even liked government funded roads.  I believe that the government went way above their Constitutional powers when it built the first national road in 1806.  Privately funded roads like the Lancaster Turnpike were doing just fine before the government got involved.   Let’s get the government out of businesses better left to private companies like roads, mail delivery, education, transportation, security, and insurance.   Socialism is not the American way.

Written by thatsrightnate

July 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm