One of the applications approved, Paterson Collegiate Charter School, is founded by Boston native Steven Wilson who is also the president and founder of a Charter Management Organization (CMO) called Ascend, based in Brooklyn. Ascend licenses their educational materials from Sabis Educational Systems, which originated in Beirut, Lebanon and conducts US operations out of Eden Prairie, MN.
Clearly, this school will have deep roots in Paterson.
Both Wilson and Sabis have had long histories of failure running charter schools across the country, but of course this is not mentioned in the application to the state. Wilson was removed as CEO of his first for-profit CMO, Advantage, and the chain of charters was bought out by another CMO. His new CMO is set up as a non-profit, so Wilson can take advantage of New Markets tax credits. These tax credits allow Wilson and his investors to make "windfall profits" renovating buildings in low-income urban areas and turning them into charters. Investors can double their money in seven short years.
Wilson has to stick to low-income urban neighborhoods to take advantage of the tax credits. He has made it quite clear that this is his intent, and has even gone so far as to assure families in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that he will not move into more "affluent" areas and does not foresee "an influx of white students." Wilson can sell his charter chain as a way to "close the achievement gap" but in reality he's just going where the money is.
A former Brooklyn Ascend teacher has spoken out about the "no excuses" school culture at Ascend. It is the "no excuses" culture that is credited with closing the gap. Children are expected to sit with their hands folded on their desks for most of the school day, and are subjected to almost constant test prep exercises from December until May when state tests are given. Ascend recruits a young, Teach for America style teacher corps, and is quite clear that teachers interested in working at Ascend should value "being effective over being creative" and should be "committed to education standards, statewide testing, and accountability."
It seems hard to find and retain teachers willing to tow the Ascend line. In the 2010-2011 school year 45% of the charters teachers left the school.
But Brooklyn Ascend touts the highest test scores of any other CMO in Brooklyn on the 2012 state tests. Under the Machiavellian, the ends justify the means education regimes in New York and New Jersey, all that counts is higher test scores, not how you get them.
And in New Jersey it also doesn't matter whether a community wants a charter. The NJDOE press release about yesterday's approvals may claim that they solicit input from the public, but I have clearly demonstrated that this application sailed through the DOE's review process with little to no community input. In fact, the only Paterson person on the application is a board member of another Paterson charter school with no affiliation with the Paterson public school district. The only community outreach conducted was done by an Ascend "community organizing consultant" and the response from the community was reported to be "indifferent to positive." No community partnerships have been established.
There is no mistaking that this is being done TO the people of Paterson, not WITH them.
I wish it hadn't been so easy to call this one. Steven Wilson and his CMO Ascend are exactly what Commissioner Cerf is looking for. Ascend will get uniformed minority children to churn out high test scores, and will house them in brand new state of the art facilities. We should just ignore that Ascend will pull funds from the district, and leave them with less resources to handle harder to educate children in deteriorating buildings.
But it looks like the folks in Paterson see what's happening here. In yesterday's Alternative Press, reporter Joe Malinconico spoke to Paterson board member Dr. Jonathan Hodges.
“They won’t try to pull this stuff in the suburbs, but they want to decimate the public schools in the inner cities,’’ said Board of Education member Jonathan Hodges.Yup, sounds about right. My good friend Jersey Jazzman took this idea one step further.
That is exactly the plan right now: expand privatization in the areas where Chris Christie knows he won't win votes, while preserving public schools and local control in his suburban, Republican base. Which is why Riverbank Charter School out in leafy Florence lost its bid for expansion while the NJDOE shoves two new charters down the throats of the people of Paterson.The NJDOE only gets away with this nonsense when they do it completely under the radar. So much of the NJDOE's charter agenda simply does not stand up to any amount of scrutiny. And when their approvals are scrutinized, they are often shown to be arbitrary, self serving, and not based on the actual merits of the application. Think Regis Academy.
Dr. Hodges rightly points out that:
...the head of the Collegiate school was someone who came from the private school management company that Cerf once had been in charge of. Hodges said the apparent connect may have helped Collegiate’s application. “It raises some questions as to how they got approval."It sure does Dr. Hodges, it sure does. So let's go get those answers, shall we?