Monday, May 2, 2016

Not In Our Back Yard!

Remarks as prepared for the Indiana Charter School Board hearing later today in South Bend, Indiana

A major drawback for citizens is that much of what goes on in the realm of charter schools is hidden from view.  But the little I have been able to learn about TeamCFA is not encouraging.

In 2006 TeamCFA opened the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis.  At its first audit the State Board of Accounts discovered significant problems:  School lunch reports were late and none of the applications were verified – this cost the Indianapolis school district real money.  Purchases lacked documentation and employees were paid improperly.

For unknown reasons TeamCFA withdrew its affiliation with this school in 2014.   

TeamCFA took over leadership of two Indianapolis schools in 2011 after then-Mayor Greg Ballard’s office declined to renew their charters.  Four years later Ball State University decided to close them.

Last year Team CFA opened the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence – which attracted only 85 students in grades K-4. Fifteen were old enough to take ISTEP. None of them passed it.

TeamCFA hews to the dubious “No Excuses” mantra in its schools.  The use of the word “academy” (which appears in all their schools’ names) implies a college prep school.  But as Joanne W. Golann, an education researcher at Princeton, wrote of this approach recently in a school she studied closely: 

“I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves.   
In a new era of accountability, schools are creating *worker-learners* to (appear to) close the achievement gap. Schools are emphasizing obedience because they need to create order to raise test scores . . . “

Chalkbeat Indiana has found that “When it comes to charter schools in Indianapolis, test scores suggest the locally managed schools outdo those that are part of national networks.”   South Bend has several such charter schools already in operation.  These are unlike TeamCFA who has encountered problems with citizens in Phoenix and North Carolina who feel that corporate charter schools are undemocratic.

Research has consistently shown that on average charters perform no better than traditional public schools.   As regards the ICSB guiding principles, TeamCFA would seem to be lacking in excellence in leadership, innovative approaches, and particularly in transparent accountability.  And some of the Challenge Foundation leaders, particularly their founder John D Bryan, make no secret of their desire to privatize public education in the United States.

At a minimum it would be prudent to see if progress is made in their new Indianapolis school before they take on a new city.  I ask that you deny their application.

Friday, March 11, 2016

TeamCFA 's first charter school in Indy

Don Wheeler

As we noted in Corporate Education To Arrive In South Bend 2017 TeamCFA intends to open a  K-8 Charter school in downtown South Bend in 2017.

In the South Bend Tribune story it was noted that TeamCFA currently operates the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence - which opened in 2014.  But it turns out that they have been involved in charter school administration in Indy prior to this.

In 2006 TeamCFA opened the Challenge Foundation Academy at 3980 Meadows Dr.  For reasons unknown, it became uninvolved in 2014 - though the re-named school is still in operation.

Doug Martin, author of Hoosier School Heist, explains the genesis of this school in great detail.  His investigation discovered that one of the Challenge Foundation's (the parent organization of TeamCFA) strategies is to couple with other interested parties to achieve its goals.

I speculated in my earlier piece that the gentrification of  downtown South Bend might be an attraction to TeamCFA.  After reading of CFA's coming to fruition, it seems a near certainty.

As mayor in 2006, Peterson had approved Strategic Capital Partners’ proposal to build the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis’ Avondale Meadows district.  At the Indy charter, which was honored by Indiana superintendent of public instruction,Tony Bennett, in 2010, two SCP members still sit on the board of directors, Gene Zink, the leader of the Avondale Meadows gentrification project, and Charles J. Garcia, who has also directed the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) which with Conexus Indiana offers online degree programs to “prepare Hoosiers for manufacturing and logistics careers.”
The Avondale Meadows charter was intended to be part of what is called a "Purpose Built Community".  Martin explains how this tends to play out.

The SCP/PBC type of public-private investment in “mixed income housing” and charter schools hardly ever turns out well for anyone but the investors, as professor Kenneth Saltman has outlined in Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools. In illustrating how the Commercial Club of Chicago wrote the Renaissance 2010 blueprint for mayor Daley, Saltman details how in the guise of urban renewal to help the poor, the city and big business blended “real estate profiteering and land grabs at the expense of the most vulnerable,” (137) then called for ungodly guidelines which made it impossible for the city’s poorest to reenter the new mixed housing developments, “sometimes even restricting anyone with an extended family member with a [criminal] record” (136). This exemplifies gentrification nationwide. After decades of neglecting public housing and school decay, big city mayors and privatizers move in with state grants, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money, and other funds, and build expensive housing projects to drive minorities into the suburbs or homeless shelters, while wealthier white residents move in. Pauline Lipman, an outspoken critic of Renaissance 2010 and the gentrification/charter school schemes in general, adds that this real estate development breeds financial speculation, which, “in turn, causes increases in property values and rising property taxes, driving out low-income and working-class renters and home owners” (p.7). As Saltman notes, after Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 1995, they ended the requirement that for each demolished public housing project a new public project be created (135). At this point, the public schools are shut down and charter schools start cropping up to take taxpayer money for the poor students who have been lucky enough to get new public housing with their families.

Meanwhile, the charters are happy to take advantage of the fact that kids of wealthier families, more "ready to learn" are suddenly available.

You might wonder where the money is in all this.  Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now looked into that in 2010. 

And what happens is, the investors who put up the money to build the charter schools get to basically virtually double their money in seven years through a 39 percent tax credit from the federal government. In addition, this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re collecting interest on the loans, as well as getting the 39 percent tax credit. They piggyback the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits, like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfields credits. The result is, you can put in $10 million and in seven years double your money.  
And the problem is that the charter schools end up paying in rents the debt service on these loans. And so, now a lot of the charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debt — their rent has gone up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year, or huge increases in their rents, as they strain to pay off these loans, these construction loans. And the rents are eating up huge portions of their total cost. And, of course, the money is coming from the state.
Martin contends that Team CFA does not seem to be interested in that angle, however.  As he puts it:
Bryan (the founder) and Team CFA don’t believe in a government-run school system, but they don’t turn down federal money. Their plan seems less about making money for themselves than about helping destroy a system so that future corporations can profit handsomely, where local control is abolished, and where a fake patriotism conceals a more undemocratic plan.  In fact, Challenge Foundation Properties, its real estate branch, owns the school in Indy and plans on selling it to the school through bonds, if it hasn’t already. Money made from Challenge Foundation Properties is used to invest in building more charter schools. Indiana is one of the group’s main targets.
But their friends are.

There is not a great deal of oversight done on charter schools, but the State Board of Accounts does perform periodic audits.  For the period of October 25, 2005 to June 30, 2007 they found some significant problems, including:

- Monthly school lunch reimbursement claim reports for fiscal year 2006-2007 were not electronically filed with the Indiana Department of Education in a timely manner. The August 2006 and January 2007 reports were not electronically filed within 60 days of the month end and therefore did not qualify for reimbursement. Supporting documentation presented for May 2007 indicated that paid and free meals reported were under stated by approximately 768 and 134, respectively. The School Corporation, as a result, received less than the amount allowed. 

- The School Food Authority Verification Summary Report was not accurate. The report indicated that 100% of the Free and Reduced Lunch applications approved were verified. Evidence presented for examination indicated that none of the applications were verified.

- The Report of Average Daily Membership (ADM) was not performed or reported until November 6, 2006. The ADM count date was September 15, 2006, and the report date to Indiana Department of Education was no later than September 29, 2006. Political subdivisions are required to comply with all grant agreements, rules, regulations, bulletins, directives, letters, letter rulings, and filing requirements concerning reports and other procedural matters of federal and state agencies, including opinions of the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, and court decisions. Governmental units should file accurate reports required by federal and state agencies. Noncompliance may require corrective action.

- Payments were made to Fifth Third Bank for credit card purchases that were not supported by original bills or invoices. Credit card statements presented for October 2006 through May 2007 lacked some or all supporting documentation for purchases. 

- Payments were made to employees that were not included in the payroll system or on a salary schedule or contract. Payments were made to employees by vendor checks. Payroll taxes were not properly withheld or remitted. Payments were not reported on Internal Revenue Service Form W-2, but were reported on Internal Revenue Service Form 1099.
Not exactly a well-oiled machine.

And what kind of a school was this, anyway?  Well, the now-named Avondale Meadows Academy outlines their mission thusly:

Every AMA student knows and follows the High 5 Expectations:

  1. Be respectful
  2. Keep hands and feet to yourself
  3. Come to school prepared and ready to learn
  4. Follow directions
  5. Be responsible
 Next time we'll look into their current operation, and a bit more of their background and intent.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Corporate Education to arrive in South Bend 2017

We knew it was just a matter of time.  Per the South BendTribune:

A national chain of charter schools has signaled it wants to open a school in downtown South Bend that will enroll as many as 900 students. 
TeamCFA Foundation has notified the Indiana Charter School Board — one of a handful of current charter school authorizers in Indiana — that it intends to apply to open a kindergarten through eighth-grade school here in the fall of 2017.

Though South Bend has some charter schools now -  Success and Career Academies, Veritas, and Xavier all have been developed locally and are fairly small.  TeamCFA is another kettle of fish entirely.  The Trib continues:

TeamCFA currently serves more than 7,000 students in 15 schools across the Southwest, the Southeast and the Midwest.

 TeamCFA also features the organization structure those of us who follow the corporate education movement have become all too familiar with.  The schools operate via the non-profit entity  (as required by law).  But guess who they'll pay for facilities and services?  Why yes, you are correct - their for-profit entity .  And all that money will be diverted from the South Bend School Corporation schools.

Here's another big difference.  The charter schools we have now seem perfectly willing to take on students from challenged backgrounds.  That's probably why their test scores are fairly low in the local range.  But it's important to know that they don't have to.  And TeamCFA is all about building the brand, so it's pretty safe to assume they will be more selective.

Also, they are not obligated to pay teachers at the level earned in the SBCSC, nor insist on the same levels of qualification.  We will likely see at least some Teach For America folks with no education degree and a total of five weeks of training under their belts.

And like other charters, they don’t have to answer to a democratically elected school board if things go wrong.

So who's behind TeamCFA?  Well, there are a 
couple of finance guys and a guy with no bio .  The other two deserve an even closer look;

First the Ed Rephorm maven:

William M. Steinbrook, Jr. Reverend William “BJ” Steinbrook organized and established the Challenge Foundation as a leader in K–12 educational grant making with grants totaling $55,000,000. He serves as the Executive Director of the foundation and continues to direct the overall program for grant making, staffing, and operations through which he has planned and carried out a highly successful national initiative to start exemplary K–12 public charter schools. Rev. Steinbrook is also the founding Executive Director of the Trust for School Reform, which became a leading national foundation supporting K–12 educational reform. He has served as a member of the Center for Education Reform, Philanthropy Roundtable, and Alliance for School Choice helping direct national school reform efforts.  
Reverend Steinbrook has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Oklahoma State University and Divinity degrees from Princeton and Columbia Theological Seminaries. He has served pastorates in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia. He has also served on several local charter school boards in Indiana, North Carolina and Arizona.

 Then the Koch fiend:

Ryan Stowers Mr. Ryan Stowers is Director of Higher Education at the Charles Koch Foundation. CKF supports research and education programs across the United States with grants to organizations interested in exploring the relationships between free societies, societal progress, and wellbeing. Mr. Stowers also serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Institute, an organization dedicated to educating high school students on America's founding principles. Mr. Stowers is a Member of the Board for the Association of Private Enterprise, which works to advance the ideas of free enterprise in academic research and teaching. 
Prior to joining the Charles Koch Foundation in 2005, Mr. Stowers was program manager of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute. He earned a BA in liberal arts and an MS in political economy from Utah State University. 

 I don't see anyone who looks like a friend to public education in this group.

So how have things gone are schools they run?  Not a lot of news shows up on a search, but they did have
 some trouble in the Phoenix  

Following a failed attempt to remove Ridgeline Academy’s director Keven Barker at an ad hoc meeting over winter break, TeamCFA, the school’s umbrella organization, decided to jettison the charter school it helped establish in 2012. The school plans to continue operating.  
TeamCFA’s announcement came as a surprise in the form of a letter posted on Ridgeline Academy’s website Jan. 14, notifying the school, staff and community of its intent to dissolve its affiliation with Ridgeline. 
“It has become evident that the community and parents are happy with the school that they currently have at Ridgeline Academy and the continued support of TeamCFA is no longer desired by the school community,” stated Cheryl Reinstadler, TeamCFA’s director of operations.

 Then there was that kerfluffle in North Carolina.

The Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a public charter school in Rutherford County, is quick to promote the school’s high SAT test scores and international field trips to China, Europe and South America.  
But not as widely advertised is the Western North Carolina public school’s connection to John Bryan, a retired Oregon business executive and significant funder of the conservative school choice movement.  
Nor is the school’s annual diaper drive for a local anti-abortion religious group, an activity that an expert says violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. 
Bryan’s $37 million family trust, the Challenge Foundation, contributes heavily and regularly to conservative causes like challenging global warming research and scaling back government in addition to lending its name to public schools like the Thomas Jefferson charter school. 
He’s a national figure in libertarian circles when it comes to charter schools, and spoke last June about the push to expand charter schools at an annual retreat held by the billionaire Koch brothers, according to a copy of the retreat’s agenda obtained by the Center for American Progress.

It doesn't seem much of a reach to think that this operation is a K-12 variant of the increasing Koch Alliance's infiltration of higher education.  As public institutions of higher education suffer funding cutbacks, KA offers the carrot of money, in exchange for curriculum influence.

But the real beauty for TeamCFA is they get to it at the taxpayers direct expense - and their own profit.

Their proposed location is an interesting one.  Short-range plans for the downtown area are likely to create something of a de-facto gated community.  The streets are to be narrowed dramatically to discourage through traffic, and a substantial number of high-end living units are due to come on line. TeamCFA may well be calculating they can take advantage of the new population of advantaged students who can walk to school.

This syphoning off the easier to educate (hence, cheaper to educate) kids will increase the burden on the South Bend Community School Corporation.  SBCSC will lose funding for those kids and will likely experience new problems.

Just as TeamCFA planned.  But they will likely be there to help us out with another charter school.

What do you think it symbolizes?