Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Are Charter Schools Spending So Much on Administration?

The state of Arizona has long been a leader in charter schools. Of a million students enrolled in K-12 public education in the state, approximately 141,000 are enrolled in the nearly 550 charter schools. At roughly 15% of the school population in charter schools, Arizona leads the nation in its commitment to non-traditional schooling. Taxpayers in the state of Arizona spend more than $1 Billion annually to operate these charter schools.

Among the promised benefits of charter schools were that decentralised and less regulated entities forced to compete for students would necessarily spend less money on administration and more on instruction. No less eminent advocates of charter schools than Paul Hill and Checker Finn have made such arguments. The reality of the charter school movement has not kept up with such promises.

When expenditures to operate public schools in Arizona are broken down by categories like Instruction and Administration, interesting trends become apparent. For the 900,000 pupils in traditional public schools, approximately $4,000 per pupil is expended for Instruction. For the 141,000 charter school pupils, the average expenditure for Instruction is $3,200.

But the surprising differences in the costs of operating traditional and charter schools appear in the category of Administration.

  • Administration in the 1,500 traditional public schools of Arizona costs $760 per pupil.

  • Administration in the 550 charter schools of Arizona costs $1,344 per pupil.
So charter schools in Arizona are spending almost twice as much per pupil on administration as the traditional public schools. Denis Smith, writing in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch observed that in the state of Ohio “Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.” The Arizona situation seems to indicate that “overpaid administrators” is not just a Mid-western phenomenon. Exactly how much charter school administrators are paying themselves is difficult — or impossible — to determine nearly everywhere. They are public when requesting tax money; they act suspiciously private when asked about salaries.

Afterword: Interestingly, the figures for Arizona match almost exactly data reported by Arsen & Ni in a 2012 article entitled Is Administration Leaner in Charter Schools? Resource Allocation in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, which was published by Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Data source:

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

An Administrator Tells What It's Like in One Sector of America's Schools

KB, a school administrator on the East Coast was provoked by a posting on Infinite Campus on this blog to reply. His observations follow:
Public education today is a nebulous Pandora's box. What makes one parent happy will make another irate to the point of a complaint to the superintendent. Some parents need to care more about their child and others would do their child the best service possible if they let the kid do their own thing for a while. I read somewhere a quote, "no matter how tall your grandfather was, everyone has to do their own growing". This is so true in schools today but many parents feel they are actually helping their 17-18yr old child by babying them, calling teachers at the slightest grade change, complaining to VP's when their child is disciplined, doing any and all paperwork/etc., related to college application, etc. They have no idea the damage they are doing to these kids. The result of this is that parents are often raising children who have absolutely no clue how to advocate for themselves or handle their own issues.

For example, I had a mom call to complain that her son (18yrs old and graduating in a month) received a lunch detention because he left wood shop class early before the bell (seen on camera, picture printed, the case was rock solid). Her rationale for complaining to me was that 1) he never received a single referral in high school and she wanted to keep it that way and 2) she was "trying to teach him how to be a man and do the right things", Hello...he's 18yrs old!! Can't he come to the discipline office and plead his case?

Just today, I had a mom come in to our main office because she wanted to pick up working papers for her 17yr old son, who she happily told us was turning 18 in a week. Isn't it possible that this near-18yr old healthy male could have ridden his bike the 3 blocks to the school and done this himself? Our entire district is about 2miles in any direction (max)

We often joke in school that we have 2 types of parents. The first are the "helicopter" parents who are constantly buzzing around the school at the slightest issue and are always "in the know". The second are called "lawnmower" parents because the will literally mow you over until they get what they want, regardless of whether they are right or not.

Our recently retired superintendent used to say, "I'm know I'm raising my kids right simply because I'm NOT raising them like these parents". I feel the same.

These (and many others) are the reasons why schools select student information systems like Infinite Campus, Skyward, PowerSchool, (and the list goes on). Tell parents that their kids need to do their OWN growing and learning and I'll tell the school to stop sending student information updates every 5 minutes.

KB, Administrator

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Warren Buffet a Foe of Public Education? Not Exactly.

Perhaps because of Buffet’s close association with Bill Gates — they played bridge together over the Internet and Buffet gave his billions to Bill & Melinda because he trusted their philanthropic instincts — it would be natural to think that Buffet and Bill have similar views about the future of education. Not so.

In a recent book review, Sacramento journalist Seth Sandronsky wrote: “What accounts for the reformers’ success is not actual facts but copious greenbacks from wealthy interests. … Call this class war. And according to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, his class is winning. Funding this conflict are venture philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, and the Walton Family foundation.”

You would have to know a lot about Warren Buffet and his views on society not to come away from that paragraph thinking that Buffet is right there with the other reformers as an enemy of teacher unions and public education. Well, the truth is that Buffet does not stand with the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). In fact, the Sage of Omaha is a sworn supporter of public education. Perhaps Sandronsky should have read this entry in the Huffington Post before loosely connecting Buffet to the likes of the Waltons, the Broads, and education reformers Bill & Melinda:

What if I said to you that the solution to the problems in our education system would be to "make private schools illegal and assign every child to a [state] school by random lottery"?

That's the view not of Karl Marx or the Chinese Communist Party but of the billionaire US investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett. The "Sage of Omaha" has been a longstanding campaigner for equality of opportunity and social mobility — and sees the existence of private schools as a major barrier to both. For Buffett, the fact that a tiny minority of wealthy families can choose to opt out of the state sector, and send their children to expensive and elite private schools, has a negative impact on the overall education of the vast majority of students whose families cannot afford to do the same.

I have long contended that a large part of Buffet’s success as an investor is due to the fact that he has spent almost his whole life in Omaha, Nebraska. His location and surroundings have given him a practical view of reality often missing in the minds of Wall Street hotshots and hedge fund managers. When the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street were chasing — and losing — fortunes buying Netscape and Napster stock, Buffet reasoned that humans in the future would probably buy underwear, and he assumed a big position in Fruit-of-the-Loom stock. I suspect that his views on public vs private education are equally sound. (Check out this previous posting on Buffet and the Circle of Competence.)

Back to Bill Gates, the Waltons, and Eli Broad. In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the poor milkman of Anatevka, sings the classic song “If I Were a Rich Man.” Embedded in the lyrics are these lines:

When you’re rich, they think you know.
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
It won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
Yes, some rich people are right, and some are wrong.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Myth 13. Teach For America kids are well trained, highly qualified, and get amazing results.

What follows is an edited excerpt from the recently published book, 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools, published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

TFA ascended from a college senior thesis to a multi-million dollar national nonprofit over the course of about twelve months in 1990, led by founder and current CEO Wendy Kopp (Kopp, 2001). The decade before Kopp’s thesis, President Reagan sought to fulfill his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education by commissioning a blue ribbon panel to report on the sorry state of the nation’s education systems. Called the National Commission on Excellence in Education. In 1983 this panel produced A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The commissioners argued our nation was a small step away from losing its place in the world due to an ineffective and inefficient education system. The culprits? Teachers who didn’t know the subjects they were supposed to teach or how to teach them, and the universities that prepared them. The report was both sensational and filled with inaccuracies.

In this climate of fear, panic, and despair, TFA argued that the education system described in A Nation at Risk and similar reports could be fixed by recruiting the nation’s best and brightest to lead us out of the darkness. By teaching for two years, then using that frontline experience to fight for systematic change in the education system, the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor, minority and majority could be closed.

To legitimize its entry onto the scene, TFA needed a villain. So, intentionally and unintentionally, the organization cast several groups as the Banditos of the Education System: teachers, teacher unions, teacher educators, teacher preparation programs, and school and district leadership. TFA “spinoffs” like The New Teacher Project, the Knowledge is Power Project (KIPP), the Relay Graduate School of Education and even the chancellorship of Michelle Rhee in Washington DC all reflect TFA’s beliefs about the “limitations” of working within the system, and the need to overhaul public education from top to bottom. Recruits seek acceptance to TFA because they feel that teachers aren’t doing their jobs well, or systems are failing communities, or unions are holding the system hostage, or they remember the bad teachers they had when they were in school. (Fischman & Diaz, 2012)

While demonizing unions, TFA praised others as the saviors of public education: business leaders; certain elected officials; philanthropic foundations; wealthy institutions and individuals. “Bad teaching” is the enemy, not the dismantling of public assistance programs meant to combat poverty and redistribute wealth. Low quality teacher education programs are the villains, not local chambers of commerce that fight for lower tax burdens for corporations that shrink public coffers. Teacher unions are “terrorist organizations,” as Secretary of Education Rod Paige publically called them, but at the same time philanthropic foundations that use their wealth to push an ideology of privatization and limited government were to be respected. The Administration of George W. Bush was among the most vocal supporters of TFA, even commending the organization in a State of the Union address. And providing more publicity, First Lady Laura Bush, and her daughter Jenna, donated all the profits of a children’s book they authored to TFA.

In one of the first books about TFA, curriculum theorist and professor Thomas Popkewitz (1998) described the majority of corps members as privileged people “struggling for their soul:” simultaneously trying to save themselves from the damnation of corporate greed and the legacy of institutionalized racism while saving the souls of unfortunate youth born into poverty through no fault of their own. Others, less generously have described teacher corps members as “résumé builders.”

In the words of Kopp herself, “If top recent college graduates devoted two years to teaching in public schools, they could have a real impact on the lives of disadvantaged kids. Because they themselves excelled academically, they would be relentless in their efforts to ensure their students achieved. They would throw themselves into their jobs, working investment-banking hours in classrooms instead of skyscrapers on Wall Street. They would question the way things are and fight to do what’s right for children.” (Kopp, 2001, p. 6) (While TFAers struggle along for a couple years on beginning teacher salaries, Kopp — once a "top recent graduate" of an Ivy League school — exercises her extraordinary fund raising skills and pays herself an annual salary of roughly a half million dollars — $416,876 in 2012.)

Rhetoric aside, Teach For America is founded on one very problematic assumption, namely, that TFA first- and second-year teachers are better than other teachers. TFA teachers are expected to teach more effectively and efficiently, and to lead their students to higher academic achievement than the people who might otherwise hold their position in a school. The experience, training and commitment of that other person does not matter.

The best answer to the question “How good are TFA teachers?” is “It depends.” The data on TFA teacher effectiveness are contradictory. Some studies indicate that TFA teachers are as effective or slightly less effective as beginning teachers who have graduated from traditional university teacher training programs, while other studies show they are slightly more effective. TFA’s website features a review of studies conducted by research institutes and state departments of education that support the effectiveness of TFA teachers, entirely contradicted by a review recently published by the National Education Policy Center (Helig and Jez, 2010). Perhaps all these reports are right. In some places, TFA teachers do better than their peers, and in other places, TFA does worse. And when we explore what we mean by “peers,” we add even more to the complexity of finding an answer to the question “How good are TFA teachers?”

It is hard to say whether TFA teachers are better or worse than other teachers. But, we can certainly challenge an assumption that the entire organization rests on – that their first- and second-year teachers will be the force in schools that will bridge the achievement gap. In addition, as many critics of TFA have pointed out, TFA has problematically and significantly contributed to the mission of conservative, neo-liberal movements to destroy unions and public education. TFA adds weight to the notion that any smart, young person can outperform old, tired, union-dues-paying school teachers. Smart, young people also cost less money, and are not likely to complain as much when the pensions and health care programs of older teachers are gutted. And, if teaching school is nothing but a trade that anyone can be trained to do in a five-week summer program, it hardly deserves the autonomy, respect, and pay accorded to real professionals. Nearly every TFA success can be cited as a justification for “non-traditional” teacher certification programs that condense teacher training to a few months or a few on-line courses. Thus Texas, filled with neo-conservative policy makers, now has about 50 percent of all new teachers coming out of TFA and other non-traditional teacher education programs. These novice teachers have experienced enormously variable training, and almost all of them teach poor and minority students. The set of beliefs that are the cornerstone of TFA, along with data suggesting that relatively untrained teachers of the poor may be as good as traditionally trained teachers, provide neo-conservative reformers support for their negative views about teachers, and helps mask their indifference to economic injustice.

Summer 2013 brought with it a well-organized attack on TFA by a large number of its alumni. The TFA critics were especially angry over their organization’s role in support of the privatization of education. They saw privatization, ultimately, as the goal of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision in 2013 to close 48 schools and lay off 850 teachers and staff. But at the same time he planned to welcome 350 new TFA corps members who are likely not to do well, and are likely to leave the profession in 2-3 years.


Fischman, G. E. & Diaz, V. H. (2012). Teach For What America? Beginning Teachers’ Reflections about their Professional Choices and the Economic Crisis. In D. R. Cole (Ed.), Surviving Economic Crises through Education. New York: Peter Lang. Hartman, A. (2011) Teach For America: Liberal mission helps conservative agenda. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Heilig, J.V. & Jez, S.J. (2010). Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved July 8, 2014 from .

Kopp, W. (2001). One day all children: The unlikely triumph of Teach For America and what I learned along the way. Cambridge, MA: PublicAffairs/ Perseus Books.

Popkewitz, T. S. (1998) Struggling for the soul: The politics of schooling and the construction of the teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Myth #10. Teachers in the United States are well-paid.

Some critics cite higher than average salaries for teachers in the United States compared to their counterparts in some other industrialized nations with similar years of experience and grade level teaching assignments as evidence that American teachers are in fact well-paid. Incredibly, some tone-deaf economists even claim that teachers are overpaid. One anti-public education critic, whose mother was a teacher, also claims teachers are paid more than they are worth — I won't touch that little bit of family dynamics with a ten-foot pole. Reading these practitioners of the dismal science makes clear that they attribute no value whatsoever to the sensitivity, emotional maturity, and empathy that it takes to act in loco parentis for a group of 25 7-year-olds. I wonder at what price they value a mother's labor?

In reality, American teachers are paid less than teachers in many other countries as several critical comparisons will reveal: 1) relative wages of other domestic workers with similar levels of education, 2) salaries per hour based on the amount of time spent teaching each day; 3) differences in top salaries between starting and experienced teachers; and 4) salary trends over the last decade.

U.S. teacher salaries are considerably lower than those of other full-time, full-year workers (ages 25-64) in the U.S. with comparable levels of post-secondary education. For example, teachers employed in U.S. public schools who meet the minimum training requirements and have more than ten years’ experience receive an average annual salary ranging from 28% less at the upper secondary level to 33% less at the primary level than that of other similarly educated workers (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012).

Teachers in several European and Asian countries enjoy higher salaries per hour than teachers typically earn in the U.S. While some critics justify teachers’ relatively lower wages as appropriate given the flexibility and additional vacation time often built into schedules in American public schools, it is not surprising that the average salary per hour (based on net contract or teaching time) for U.S. teachers with at least 15 years of experience is lower than the OECD average (OECD, 2012). Specifically, American teachers with 15 years’ experience earn on average $41 to $46 USD per hour of teaching, at the primary and upper secondary levels, while average teachers with 15 years’ experience in comparison countries earn $49 and $65 USD per hour at the same levels (OECD, 2012). In fact, upper secondary teachers in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Japan reach an hourly salary up to $90 USD or more.

When compared to the average salary of teachers with at least 15 years of experience in 2000, salaries for teachers in the U.S. fluctuated each year from 2005-2010, increasing little in any given year across primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary levels (OECD, 2012). In fact, upper secondary teachers’ wages actually decreased 2% in 2005 compared to five years earlier (OECD, 2012).

Another thing that hurts lifetime earnings of U.S. teachers is low starting salaries. A typical U.S. teacher will make as little as half the top salary for his or her situation in the first year or two. In many nations, the starting salary is only 20% to 25% below the top salary. Teachers in the U.S. who leave the profession after a few years take very little with them to their next career.

Despite this reality, each year enthusiastic American college students choose to enter teacher preparation programs in hopes of making a difference in the lives of children. Most of them are probably aware that they will earn relatively lower wages than many of their college-educated peers and even starting teachers in other industrialized countries. While their desire to help children learn may draw these new teachers into the profession, the real challenge may prove to be retaining them in the classroom year after year without adequate increases in compensation.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2012). Education at a glance 2012: OECD indicators. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from

David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Am I Just Cherry Picking Charter School Disasters?

Jeff Bryant has done a pretty impressive job of documenting many instances of corruption in the charter school sector. And I have not been able to control my outrage here about the misdeeds of several charter schools companies, especially the highly questionable cyber-charter industry.

But wait. Are traditional public schools the land of the righteous? Isn't there corruption and plenty of miscreants running traditional public schools? Well, their malfeasances are not showing up in my mailbox; but perhaps that is just the result of selective attention. Am I purposely overlooking all the corruption in traditional public schools which could be occurring at the same rate as corruption in the charter realm?

I may be cherry picking, but it's hard to believe if true. Just look at the question of compensation of these principals or "directors" of charter school systems. Eva Moskovitz, who runs a dozen or so charter schools in NYC, pays herself about a half million dollars a year. Now that doesn't sound like a job much more taxing than being the superintendent of a modest sized school district in most urban centers in the country. But my friends tell me that superintendents in comparable circumstances might make $200,000 if they are lucky and a $500,000 salary would be unheard of.

There are about 5,000 - 6,000 charter schools in the country. There are about 95,000 traditional public schools. Now if corruption is as prevalent in the traditional sector, we should see about 20 times more reports of it as we do in the charter sector. Is it out there and I just don't see it? Or is corruption much more prevalent among those who operate charter schools?

Tell me. Write me (gvglass @, or post comments here. Are traditional public school administrators 20 times more likely to be ripping off the public?

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The 115 Most Influential GERM Antibodies on Twitter

If you are interested in what is happening to public education in the U.S. as it is being attacked by profit-seeking corporations and the Billionaire Boys Club, then you need to be on Twitter tracking the latest developments. The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) seeks to privatize public education for the benefit of a small number of investors and many taxpayers. It uses the instruments of charter schools, high-stakes testing, national standards, vouchers, tuition tax credits, Teach For America, and union busting.

I recently asked the Twitter World to name the most influential critics of GERM who could be followed on Twitter — these are the GERM Antibodies in effect. Here they are, all 115 +/- of them.


If you are not following these Tweeters, you probably ought to be. If I have missed you or your favorite GERM Antibody, please leave their Twitter handle in the Comments section below, and I'll put out an augmented list later.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Dismissed" "Fired" "Counseled" What Difference Does It Make?

When Rick Hess decides to hold forth on the Vergara verdict, he perpetuates the same narrow way of thinking that has clouded the debate on teacher competence for decades.
"First, I think the plaintiffs were clearly right on the merits. California's employment laws have made it ridiculously tough on school systems to do anything about lousy teachers. There are 275,000 teachers in California. Even if just one to three percent of teachers are lousy, as defense expert David Berliner estimated, one would expect 3,000 to 8,000 teachers to be dismissed each year for unsatisfactory performance. Instead, the average is just 2.2."
This "back-of-the-envelope" analysis is not uncommon, but it deserves no serious consideration. Schools and administrators don't act this way! They don't hire individuals, watch them perform for a couple years, then say to themselves, "Nope, he's lousy; guess I'll fire him." Not only is this not the case in public education, it's seldom the place anywhere. Employees who are not "working out" – whether we are talking bout public education, Wal*Mart or IBM – are usually gently and humanely urged to leave, counseled into other lines of work, or redeployed in some other manner rather than brutally "fired" – the very term conjures images of being consigned to the flames of Hell for wrong-doing.

Thousands upon thousands of pre-service teachers in training, probationary teachers, and even teachers on continuous contracts are diverted into other endeavors each year, and they leave with their self-respect in tact. To claim that California has something like 5,000 incompetent teachers and "dismisses" only 2 a year is an absurdity. (Just as, I might add, was some of the testimony for the plaintiffs' experts in Vergara.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The VA and VAM

What is the connection between the VA (Veteran Administration) and VAM (Value Added Measurement). Actually, there is a very close one.

The VA hit the news a couple weeks ago when a whistle blower went to the media and said that 40 veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital died while waiting for appointments. If the whistle had stopped blowing there, the news cycle on the story might have been a few days. Is the VA underfunded and understaffed? Who isn’t these days? Did 40 veterans die because they weren’t seen in a timely manner? Did they die of the same cause for which they requested an appointment?

As callous as such questions seem, I bring them up merely to make the point that the big news from Phoenix wasn’t about delays and death, it was about duplicity and lying. The whistle blower exposed the fact that the Phoenix VA had been keeping two sets of books: one that reveals the actual overly long wait times for appointments and another set that makes the wait times appear much shorter.

Now, why would anyone do such a thing? The answer is simple. A few years back, General Shinseki, erstwhile head of the VA, instituted a “pay for performance” accountability system for the VA hospital. Keep your wait times short, and the head administrator will get a nice bonus, of the order of $10,000.

And here is where the VA and VAM converge. Value Added Measurement of teachers is an accountability system that rewards – but mainly punishes – teachers based on the pretest-posttest gains of their students on standardized tests. It’s a stupid idea, which has not kept Arnie Duncan and a couple big testing corporations from pushing it. Experts called together by the American Statistical Association examined it and found it not ready for implementation, to put it mildly.

Putting VAM pressure on teachers is exactly like telling VA hospital administrators they’ll be punished – by withholding of bonuses – unless they meet quantitative targets set up by bureaucrats. The VA administrators cheated; they kept two sets of books. And, I am sorry to say, teachers and their administrators will cheat if subjected to VAM systems. I am not moralizing on this issue. I cheated too when repeatedly asked by politicians to fill out forms accounting for my time working as a university professor. (In several decades at several different colleges, my colleagues and I reported the same number of weekly work hours: 51 hrs. It was a fatuous number and exactly what the politician deserved. It had all the veracity of a politician’s expense account.)

Professionals simply will not and should not tolerate being subjected to these pay for performance schemes that they regard as having no legitimacy. The schemes are technically flawed. They are imposed by powerful persons who do not understand the work of professionals and who would not tolerate such procedures being imposed upon themselves.

An investigation into the VA scandal revealed that about 75% of the VA hospitals were cooking their books to get bonuses. Shinseki’s replacement, one Sloan Gibson by name, immediately put the kibosh on the pay for performance system. Just as any intelligent manager should do with VAM.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Basis Schools Horror Story

Staci Almager is Executive Director of "Transplants for Children: Keeping Children Alive, Keeping Families Together" in San Antonio, Texas. Basis Schools Inc. is a company that has opened a dozen charter schools nationwide, most recently in San Antonio. US News and World Report consistently ranks Basis charter schools among the top ten high schools in America, in spite of the fact that each school graduates something of the order of two dozen students annually.

Staci and her husband recently enrolled their 12 year-old son in Basis San Antonio. What follows is the horror story of that experience, recounted by Staci herself.

Background and Introduction to BASIS San Antonio
We enrolled our son in BASIS San Antonio in June 2013 after an introduction to the school from other parents at our son’s elementary school. At that time, it appeared to be an answer to our prayers. We were struggling with the decision of where to send him for middle school. Our son attended NISD elementary school, Aue Elementary School from 1st -5th grade and it was not been a positive experience. Our son is an exemplary student, never missed a question on standardized tests and a student in the Gifted and Talented “Alpha” program starting in Kindergarten. But, the education he received in elementary school did not match his educational abilities. Starting in the 3rd grade, my husband and I started stressing about where to send him for middle school. We were led to believe from educators in our son’s school that the middle school that he was assigned to attend based on our geographic boundaries was just a continuation of the less than exemplary education that he received in elementary school. We contacted many private schools in the area, considered selling our home in order to move to an area with a higher rated middle school and my husband actually considered transferring to another state with his job. When we learned about BASIS San Antonio, it sounded too good to be true. We attended all the information sessions, did online research about the school and our son participate in the hiring process of the teachers of the school. We felt very fortunate when he was registered in the school.

The Education
Our son is a 6th grade student. His education at BASIS included Chemistry, Physics, Algebra, Art History, World History, Biology, Physical Education. Every night starting the first day of school, he was assigned between 3-5 hours worth of homework. Throughout the school year, he gave up all extracurricular activities in order to complete the homework requirements. By the end of the school year, he would come home at 4 pm, open his books and go to bed at 9 pm only stopping to eat dinner. If he did not have his homework completed 100% by the next school day, he would receive a zero on the homework assignment. The homework assignments and projects were also required on Saturday and Sunday.

After the first day of school, all communication from the school stopped. Our son was never provided a progress report until the end of the first grading period. No emails sent to the teachers were returned. Calls and emails to teachers and to the Head of School were not returned. The lack of leadership and quality administration of the school was profound. We discovered that the qualifications of the Head of School were not accurate on the website and were misrepresented in writing. The BASIS San Antonio Parent/Community Facebook page was administered by cyberbully parents. According to children attending the school, the students were kind, respectful and courteous but the parents were bullies to each other and the students. By the end of the school year, mandatory detention for any and all infractions was developed and highly enforced with no oversight by the Head of School.

Why our Son Stayed at BASIS – One Single Quality Administrator
We were concerned about the lack of communication, 3-5 hours of rigorous homework per night but there was one single individual who we greatly respected. The Assistant Head of School was the “exemplary” educator that we felt had our son’s best interest at heart. Dr. Abby Hasberrry assured my husband and me that our son was the exact type of student that BASIS tries to find in the public school system. We really believed that the school was the best place for him and she empowered us to help him master the process of the first year at BASIS San Antonio. In addition, our son scored very high on the mandatory “pre-comp” testing required at BASIS. We were assured that all kids have a hard time adjusting to the educational rigor and that we needed to be patient and let the school system work for our son.

Charter Schools Have No Nurse
There is not a requirement /regulation of a nurse at BASIS San Antonio. Our son became ill with the flu in December. Because there was no nurse and no nurse’s station, when our son became extremely ill at school, he was sent to the boy’s bathroom and was unsupervised by an adult for over 45 minutes while young boys using the restroom walked in and out of the restroom. When I arrived at the school, he was lying on his backpack under the urinals in the boy’s bathroom. As a result, our son was placed in the PICU for treatment of pneumonia and the flu and missed three weeks of school. When I posted the facts of what happened to our son on the school Facebook page in order to work with other parents to discuss Best Practices at other charter schools and to discuss solutions, over 75 personal threatening comments from other parents were posted in response to my comment asking to work together for a positive solution comment. In addition, a student with a headache is directed to the office. The office staff instructs the children that until they vomit they are expected to go back to class.

Lack of Leadership
After my son was found in the restroom, violently ill under the urinals, the Head of School, Tiffany O’Neil, was contacted about what happened to my son on her campus. She was called and emailed repeatedly by both myself and my husband. She finally responded four days after the incident with our son with a call to us after 9 pm. We never heard from her again despite multiple calls and emails sent to her requesting a meeting, to discuss safety at the school as well as establishing a better protocol of how to help kids when they get sick at school.

Unsafe Conditions
The parking lot of BASIS San Antonio is very dangerous. Parents dropping off their children would drive straight through orange safety cones. My husband and I donated signs, cones and provided additional donations from the City of San Antonio. Without our donation of safety equipment, the school would not have any safety supplies. In addition, students at BASIS would frequently steal each others lunches, backpacks, cell phones and other personal property with no direction from the administration of the school.

Charter Schools Have No Lunch Program
There is no lunch program at charter schools. My son had his lunch stolen from his backpack by another student. The students are not allowed to use the phone at the school and my son went an entire day without eating food. He snuck a crust of another student’s pizza out of the garbage can to sustain himself during the day.

Lack of Governance
I contacted Victoria Rico, the Chairman of the George Brackenridge Foundation. I offered to help the school obtain access to a nurse at no cost, help establish collaboration with local hospital systems and help obtain grants to help fund, the result was very positive. A meeting with the CEO of the Texas BASIS Schools was scheduled. The result of the meeting with the CEO was that there was no interest on the part of BASIS San Antonio to collaborate with the community nor add infrastructure that was not required. Dan Neinhauser, CEO of BTX (Basis Texas)

Lack of Interest in Becoming a Community Partner
I offered to raise awareness of BASIS San Antonio by helping host tours of those who fund my nonprofit agency, host board meetings at the school and introduce innovative collaborators who would have a vested interest in the growth and success of the school. All offers were declined by the CEO of BASIS Texas Schools, Dan Neinhauser, CEO of BTX (Basis Texas)

Lack of Nurturing and Compassion
We have a 22 year old daughter with a terminal illness. I emailed all of our son’s teachers/administrators to let them know that our son may need additional support and at times could be sad due to the situation at home. Not one teacher or administrator communicated back. I called and left messages with all teachers. No calls were returned. I contacted Mr. Ross, new Assistant Head of School and he claimed that he received the email but he was transitioning into his new role and just forgot to contact us.

Mandatory Detention
Our son proceeded to master the rigorous challenges of the curriculum and succeed at BASIS. Once he felt very confident that he had mastered the schoolwork, homework and projects required, a note came home stating that BASIS would be implementing a mandatory detention for students who were late to class and unprepared in any way. The first week, my son received mandatory detention for forgetting a dry erase marker in Algebra, for not completing three problems out of 180 required Algebra problems and forgetting a poem in English Class. The “Take This Job and Shove It” approach was evident when he received the third detention. My son threw his required communication journal in the garbage can to the displeasure of his Algebra teacher. When I emailed her to discuss, she told me that assigning mandatory detention was the way to “build character attributes desirable for all BASIS students” I emailed Victoria Rico at the George Brackenridge Foundation. I share the mandatory detention requirement with her and she was not aware and horrified. She agreed that the detention should be stopped immediately, there needs to be stronger oversight of the school by a better administrator/Head of School and a staff member to interface with the family. She told me that she offered to BASIS Corporation to pay for a staff member and the offer was declined.

The End of BASIS for our Son
On May 6th, 2014, I was called by Mr. Ross, Assistant Head of School. He was Dr. Abby Hasberry’s replacement, (she was hired to be the Head of School for the new BASIS North Campus). My son was found alive yet mentally nonresponsive sitting on the floor under an Art Table. Upon arriving at the school, I immediately knew that he needed mental health support. I took him to Clarity Child Guidance Center. Upon evaluating my son, the diagnosis was extreme depression, anxiety disorder and suicidal thoughts to harm himself. The hospital / psychiatrist medical opinion, they believed that our son was suffering from PTSD from the experiences at the school due to the rigorous educational requirements coupled with the mandatory detention had become a source of terror for him. Our son is now a patient at Clarity Child Guidance Center. He spent time inpatient at the hospital and is now receiving day program outpatient treatment at a cost of $835 per day inpatient and $125 per day outpatient.

Terror – Not an Isolated Experience
I contacted Victoria Rico at the George Brackenridge Foundation and she asked if she could help “make it right” for our family. She offered to help find another school for him to attend. The damage has been done. We feel comfort and extreme sadness to learn that our son’s experience at BASIS San Antonio is not an isolated experience. When we took our son to Clarity Child Guidance Center both the psychiatrist and counselor both told us that other children had been seen inpatient and outpatient at the facility and had been at BASIS San Antonio, same symptoms, same story.

Future of Education for our Son
We have no idea where to take our son for education at this point. But, we know that whatever decision we make that nurturing and compassion of a child must be the foremost important factor in the choice we make. Our son was terrorized at a high performance charter school and he is not the only one. This can not be the future of children in our community. We are publicly sharing our experiences because it should have never happened to our son. He was a victim and more importantly he is 12 years old. Children should be in a safe and nurturing environment. BASIS San Antonio is more of a concentration camp than a school for children.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.