A convergence of coverage today on charter schools, the play toys of the Billionaire Boys Club and a growing threat, particularly in Little Rock, to community public schools.

* THE BILLIONAIRES: An AP analysis says the super wealthy, led by the Walton family, have spent a half-billion dollars since 2006 on charter schools. It found the Waltons gave $144 million to 27 groups. (Sometimes it seems like it’s all being spent in Little Rock to destroy the LRSD The Waltons spend their aesthetically pleasing sums — museums, restaurants, bike trials and such — in NWA.) From AP:

“We ought to be paying more attention to who these organizations are, and what kind of vision they have, and what drives them. A lot of these organizations have extraordinary influence, and it’s often pretty quiet influence,” said Jon Valant, an education policy expert at Brookings.

Charters aren’t subject to the same rules or standards governing traditional public schools but are embraced by Gates and other philanthropists who see them as investments in developing better and different ways to educate those who struggle in traditional school systems, particularly children in poor, urban areas. Studies on academic success are mixed.

The charter support groups, as nonprofits, are typically forbidden from involvement in political campaigns, but the same wealthy donors who sustain them in many cases directly channel support to pro-charter candidates through related political action committees or their own contributions. 

Do tell about politics. That billionaires claim they are outspent by education organizations. Solution: Start competitor teacher groups in states, as they’ve done in Arkansas. Elect Republicans to the presidency who appoint Supreme Court justices who issue rulings aimed at destroying public sector unions. Control legislative committees. Elect governors who appoint education regulators who share the philosophy of destroying, say, the Little Rock School District.

* THE PROS: David Leonhardt writes on the New York Times op-ed page today of the glorious miracle of the New Orleans schools past-Katrina, thanks to charters. Academic progress is remarkable, he asserts. He also asserts some facts hotly contested by people on the ground — that no cherry-picking occurs in charter school composition.

Advertisement

* THE CONS: The New Orleans Tribune, Diane Ravitch reminds us, paints a starkly different picture of the New Orleans miracle. For example:

Early on, masking required the state to perpetually shift the cut-point that defined school failure. In November 2005 the legislature passed ACT 35, which raised the bar, multiplied the number of “failing” schools, and enabled state takeover of most public schools in New Orleans. Subsequently, after chartering schools, the bar was lowered to manufacture charter school success.

Later, of course, there were other fictions, including the assertion that charter schools were increasing achievement at the very same time they were cream skimming. That is, charters recruited and retained the students most likely to comply and/or perform academically, while excluding special needs students and violating their civil rights. This, of course, prompted a class action lawsuit by Southern Poverty Law Center.

What is more, the public was told charter schools in the RSD were graduating higher numbers of students. All the while students were being pushed out at indefensibly high rates and sometimes coded as out-of-state transfers to avoid the effects this would have on the calculation of graduation rates and ultimately the School Performance Score (SPS) that denote success or failure. Only in a fantasyland could institutions with such practices brand themselves as equitable.

Mercedes Schneider is another good source on the NOLA miracle.

And there are still more links here debunking the NOLA “miracle.”