Friday, January 27, 2012

Ragin' Grannies v. For Profit Charter Operator

One of the founders of Speak Up South Jersey (yes, you heard that right, Speak Up Highland Park is branching out…) posted a link to a YouTube video on their Facebook page that, I'm not ashamed to admit, literally brought me to tears:

I say we take the Ragin' Grannies on tour.  Their fight in Chapel Hill is in many ways the same as the fight in Cherry Hill.  What sets their fight apart however is the inclusion of a for-profit entity, in this case National Heritage Academy, which prides itself on it's "mandatory and extensive" use of testing data to "inform and adjust teaching."

But it's only a matter of time before New Jersey is confronted with a massive for-profit invasion.

As I've detailed previously, Imagine Schools, the nation's largest and perhaps most controversial for-profit charter operator with huge problems in Florida, Washington DC and Indiana just to name a few, has already been behind four applications in New Jersey.   Last October the Star Ledger reported:

Among the proposals were some with ties to out-of-state charter school networks, like Imagine Schools, which helped local residents write applications in Jersey City, Newark, Camden, Trenton.
Imagine serves 40,000 students in 72 schools in 12 states, according to its website. "New Jersey is an area that is favorable for (education) alternatives," Samuel Howard, Imagine School’s executive vice president, said.
Christie has said he hoped to attract charter networks to New Jersey, but out-of-state companies face a roundabout process. A local group must first win approval for a charter then, if it wants to outsource the operation, must ask for bids. (emphasis mine)
Meanwhile, in St. Louis Missouri Imagine schools are an unmitigated disaster:

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro advised Jim French, chairman of the university's education division, to announce "immediately" the closure of the underperforming schools after this school year.
Nicastro's recommendation comes days after French said the university needed more support and direction from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as it scrutinizes the charter schools operated by Virginia-based Imagine Schools Inc.
The six schools, which enroll about 3,800 students, fared worse on standardized tests this year than nearly all traditional and charter schools in St. Louis. French said the university is not getting the direction it needs from the education department or from state statutes to ensure the schools are living up to their charters.
Nicastro wrote that it is the sponsor's role, not the state's, to regulate charter schools.

So with Imagine's abysmal track record across the nation, clearly New Jersey should be wary of for-profit operators.  And since a university authorized and oversaw Imagine in St. Louis, and then seemed not to know what to do with the ensuing disaster, clearly we should also be careful about who we select as authorizers.

What's that Governor?

Earlier this week in his State of the State speech, Governor Christie urged the legislature to make much needed changes to the state’s charter school law through bill A-4167 introduced last June.  Sweeping changes to New Jersey’s charter school laws are needed to remove barriers and roadblocks to the growth of high-quality charter schools. The current laws and rules governing charter schools act as a deterrent to growth instead of fostering expansion. It is time to aggressively encourage some of the nation’s most-respected and successful charter school operators to come to New Jersey while making it possible to implement the same model of innovation and results in other new and existing charter schools. (emphasis mine)

Guess the Governor got tired of that "round about process."  So, what is added to, and taken away from, the charter school law in bill A-4167 to make it easier for for-profits to step in?

10.  Section 4 of P.L.1995, c.426 (C.18A:36A-4) is amended to read as follows:
     4.  a. A charter school may be established by:
     (1) teaching staff members[, parents with children attending the schools of the district, or a combination of teaching staff members and parents.  A charter school may also be established by an institution of higher education or a private entity located within the State in conjunction with teaching staff members and parents of children attending the schools of the district] who either reside or are employed in the State;
     (2) community residents who reside in the State;
     (3)  a public institution of higher education, except that a charter school authorizer which is an institution of higher education shall be prohibited from reviewing and approving a charter application submitted by that same institution of higher education;
     (4)  a private entity that is either for-profit or not-for-profit;
     (5)  a charter school that is currently operating in the State; or
     (6)  a combination of any of the above. (emphasis mine, and for damn good reason, too)

Here's your lesson for the day on how to read a proposed bill, if you don't already know that is.  Everything not underlined is the original legislation, and everything underlined is new and what's in [brackets] comes out.  

In the original law, an eligible applicant had to either teach in the district they wanted to serve or have kids in the PUBLIC schools of that district.  But even with this supposed limited pool of eligible applicants, who were supposed to represent the needs of the community, the charter school movement in New Jersey easily managed to subvert the intent of the law and to override local wishes.   

Bill A-4167 will REMOVE the part about being a public school parent or teacher ENTIRELY, and will open the door to everybody and anybody, unless you are the actual authorizer.  That sure does make it easier, now doesn't it?  

So who is going to do the authorizing?  The bill will allow public institutions of higher education in New Jersey to be authorizers.  

The fact that the Imagine Schools in St. Louis were authorized by Missouri Baptist University doesn't lend much credence to the fact that adding universities as authorizers will increase accountability.  Did you notice that when the Imagine Schools blew up in their face MBU looked to the state and said, "What should we do?" 

The bill does however say that the local school board may be an authorizer…

NOW we're getting somewhere.  Until districts and/or voters have local control over their schools, I think we can expect many more disasters like Imagine schools in St. Louis.  

And with the Christie administration behind legislation that will open the door to non-profits, we NEED local control more than ever.  Keep up with Save Our Schools NJ to help fight for legislation that will work for students, not for-profits.  

Take it grannies:

Let's say no to charter schools
They don't follow any rules

NHA will rip us off
For-profit at a very high cost

What to do, oh, what to do
Support Carrboro and Public Schools

Great, now I'm crying again...

1 comment:

  1. Debra Rubin's article -- referenced in your prior post -- identifies Mr. Lishcin, the consultant who helped write the Tikun Olam application and defends it as a great one, as an employee of the NJ Charter School Resource Center. The Center is housed at Rutgers University and would be one of the entities that would approve new charter schools if Sen. Ruiz's multiple charter school authorizer legislation that Gov. Christie supports becomes law. Can you imagine an authorizer even less accountable than the State Department of Education?