An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools

The former dean of students at a New Orleans charter school urges teachers and staff at No Excuses schools to ask some hard questions about the model’s social and emotional costs…

By Ramon Griffin

Dear You:

no excuses chalkboardYou were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the *No Excuses* school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the No Excuses model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know? Continue reading →

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

Are no-excuses charter schools setting kids up to struggle later by pushing academic skills too hard, too soon? 

By Emily Kaplan
backpack-schoolThe very youngest children at the charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I AM A…SCHOLAR,” the two hundred children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

I HAVE THE POWER TO DETERMINE WHO I AM, WHO I WILL BECOME, AND WHAT I DO IN LIFE. They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. I WILL STAY FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE. 

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

I WILL MAKE SMART CHOICES BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT MYSELF, MY TEAMMATES, AND MY COMMUNITY. 

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: TODAY IS A STEP ON MY PATH TOWARD SUCCESS! On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.” Continue reading →

Are Charter Schools the New Subprime Mortgages?

A new study warns that we may be headed towards a charter school *bubble*…

sad bubbleEduShyster: It’s unusual to see the words *hair-raising* and *academic study* in tandem, but your new study merits that marriage. You and your co-authors make the case that, just as with subprime mortgages, the federal government is encouraging the expansion of charter schools with little oversight, and the result could be a charter school *bubble* that blows up in urban communities. Do I have it right?

Preston GreenThe problem of subprime mortgages began in part because the government tried to increase homeownership for poor people and minorities by enabling private entities to offer more mortgages without assuming the risk. Under the old system, the mortgage originator was still at risk if the mortgage went into default. With subprime, they were able to spread that risk by selling the mortgages on the secondary market. You had all these mortgage originators that could issue more mortgages without careful screening because they no longer had skin in the game. Now how are charter schools similar to subprime? In the charter school context, charter school authorizers are like mortgage originators. Continue reading →

Bad Apples

Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker shines a light on some extremely shady charter industry practices—and causes my hair to literally catch on fire…

BadAppleEduShyster: Your new study, about the policies that charter school operators use for financial benefit, is harshly critical of a few bad apples. But why focus on them as opposed to, say, the high-performing many?

Bruce Baker: The important context for this report is to understand just who are the dominant charter managers in the landscape. You’ve got Imagine, you’ve got National Heritage, you’ve got White Hat and you’ve got Charter Schools USA. A lot of academics and charter advocates are going to think well *those aren’t the big ones like KIPP and Uncommon.* But KIPP and Uncommon aren’t the big ones. The big ones are Imagine, National Heritage, White Hat and Charter Schools USA. If we were to decide that here and now is the time to clean all this stuff up and just shut down a bunch of these operators, we’d be taking out a sizable share of charter schools in Florida and Ohio. Continue reading →

Just the Facts, Ma’am

I sit down with Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump (which is a lot more exciting than it sounds…)

Bump

State Auditor Suzanne Bump performs an audit of her audit.

EduShyster: First of all, allow me to congratulate you. You took the top spot in a category that I like to call *most read audit by people who have never read an audit before.* I’m talking, of course, about your audit of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), specifically, their oversight of the state’s charter schools. What did you find?

Suzanne BumpWhat we found was that DESE was using subjective standards, that there wasn’t an even application of standards when they were, say, renewing the charters of schools. We looked to try and determine whether the data they were putting out relative to student demographics was accurate, whether waitlists were accurate. This is information that guides DESE’s policy making and we found it to be unreliable because the state never verifies it. Data reliability testing is the first thing you do in auditing. You can’t reach proper conclusions if we can’t rely upon the data and we found that we couldn’t rely upon the data. That’s a warning to DESE that they shouldn’t be either.  Continue reading →