Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Greg Richmond Takes Local Control From Illinois. Next Stop, New Jersey.

Greg Richmond, CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, would like you to believe he knows what New Jersey's public school system needs.  

Don't believe him.  

Pay particular attention to this section of his NJ Spotlight editorial.
Even as nine new public charter schools prepare to open in September to serve families in predominantly low-income communities, there continues to be overwhelming demand for charter schools. Indeed, 20,000 New Jersey students are still on waiting lists for public charter schools. These students -- and every student across the state -- deserve access to high-quality public school options of all types(emphasis mine)
Now let's look at the model legislation NACSA has been pushing, the Charter School Growth with Quality Model Legislation.  Up until recently they were pushing this legislation through ALEC, until the tides turned and people wised up to the fact that corporate America was buying legislation in state after state. 

In January of this year, Richmond wrote a piece for Inside ALEC, in their special "Policy Overview for 2012" edition, called "Attracting Innovation in Education through the Charter School Growth with Quality Act Model Law."  In the piece, Richmond does not attempt to hide the true purpose of this legislation - to side step any semblance of local control over public education in communities that have rejected charters.
There are other reasons for reform minded legislators to consider the Charter School Growth with Quality Act.  It is a sound strategy for charter school expansion.  It can overcome the roadblocks to greater school choice put up by school districts or other agencies currently holding control over charter growth.  In order for most states to significantly expand their charter sectors, it will take a change in which kinds of institutions can issue charters as proposed by the act.     (emphasis mine)
One of the states to adopt this legislation just happens to be Illinois, Richmond's home state. 

Before Richmond became the CEO of NACSA, he worked for the Chicago Public Schools for a decade

From 1994 to 2005, Richmond worked for the Chicago Public Schools, where he established the district's Charter Schools Office. Under his leadership, Chicago was the first urban school district in the nation to release an RFP, requesting educators and community organizations to start charter schools. He also established the nation's first district-funded capital loan fund for charter schools and developed model accountability and monitoring practices. 
From 2003 to 2005, he launched Chicago's Renaissance 2010 initiative as the district's Chief Officer for New Schools Development, under Arne Duncan, then the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. In that capacity he continued to work with the district's charter schools, as well as small schools, contract schools and new, autonomous district-operated schools.  (emphasis mine)

With Richmond and Duncan working together, charters flourished in Chicago, and there are now over 100 charters in Chicago alone.  But the Washington Post pointed out, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, Chicago wasn't really fairing better than any other large urban district.
The federal readout is just one measure of Duncan's record as chief executive of the nation's third-largest system. Others show advances on various fronts. But the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education. (emphasis mine)
I have written previously that Carlos Perez, the CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, came to us by way of Chicago, where he was the President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS).  He gave an interview to John Mooney when he came to NJ, and talked about how hard it had been in Illinois to make progress and how much better it was going to be in NJ. 
 “There is a legitimate opportunity to make a change here. After five years of frustrating hard work and not seeing much momentum in Illinois, I saw we could put in that same effort here and really make a difference.”
Why was Mr. Perez frustrated?  Seems that he, Richmond, and Duncan were wildly successful packing Chicago with charters, but didn't have such great luck in the rest of the state because, until now, districts had the ability to approve or deny charter applications.  

Check out this map on the INCS website.  Look at the density in Chicago, and then look at the rest of the state.  Traditional public school districts in Illinois were given the option to chose charters, and most outside of Chicago chose not to.  

Not to be thwarted, NACSA, led by Greg Richmond, with the help of ALEC, got the Illinois Legislature to pass the Charter School Quality Law, Public Act 097-0152, which, just like the model NACSA legislation, establishes a State Charter School Commission.   

Under the new Illinois law The State Charter School Commission has been formed, and will be able to override the decisions of local schools boards.
The State Charter School Commission, established in legislation passed earlier this year, will be primarily charged with considering the appeals of charter agreements and proposals that have been denied, revoked, or not renewed by a local school board and authorizing quality charter school applications and denying inadequate applications.  (emphasis mine)
And guess who's the Chairman of the Commission responsible for making these decisions??  

Greg Richmond.

So the guy who works for NACSA, that wrote and lobbied for the legislation, gets to chair the Commission that will carry out the legislation?  Seriously?
In the drafting notes of the model legislation it says:

This proposal for an independent statewide charter authorizing commission is well suited for states seeking to establish new charter environments. It is also a good option for states seeking to grow their charter sectors but where growth is constrained because authorizing is essentially limited to local school districts. Variations on this strategy are now in place in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, and Maine, and it is under consideration in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere(emphasis mine)

Welcome to ELSEWHERE, New Jersey!  Clearly Richmond has his sites on our public education system, and in today's NJ Spotlight there is also talk of sweeping reforms of New Jersey charter school law.  Don't be surprised if the idea of a State Charter School Commission gets thrown into the mix.  

And if it does, don't believe the hype.  It's not about kids.  

It's about market share.

Let Illinois be a warning.  The reformers in New Jersey and the out of state "experts" they bring in will not stop once they have saturated, as Richmond puts it, the "five largest urban school districts in New Jersey."  They will not stop until the entire landscape of our state is littered with charters, whether the democratically elected local school boards or the majority of local parents and residents want them or not. 


  1. More on Richmond here: http://allenruff.blogspot.com/search?q=richmond

  2. Another home run, D! Thx for connecting the dots once again.

  3. Thank you for writing about this. Here in Illinois, there's very little awareness, and whenever I write or talk about it, I see the suppressed yawns.

  4. Your explanation helps me understand what has been happening to my local school district in Illinois. There is a proposal for a virtual charter school by a front non-profit group called Virtual Learning Systems. They have targeted 18 school districts in the western suburbs of Illinois. They gave sales presentations to the 18 Boards of Education that were inept. They couldn't answer about 80% of the questions asked. And worse, if they had any pride they would have taken the questions asked of the first boards that held hearings to prepare for subsequent hearings. But they were just as unprepared for those hearings too. Why prepare if you don't respect the people or Boards of Education in those communities? You don't have to give a good sales pitch if you already have the decision in the bag with the Illinois Charter School Commission headed by Richmond.