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.