Reader D.L. Paulson writes here about the charter industry’s sabotage of local control in education.
The overruling of local school boards is a terrible problem in California. Now that it’s hitting an upper-income community (actually, the Mt Diablo district is mixed in its demographics), middle class parents will see what poorer urban districts have had to contend with for years.
Stories abound of charter schools not only wanting the equivalent of what real public schools get, but feeling like they deserve even more. Their mode of operation is to achieve through political connections what they can’t obtain by deceptive marketing practices or bullying of local school boards.
At the bottom of this post are links to stories of a charter network called Caliber, which operates in the poor districts of Richmond and Vallejo, CA. It has another questionable educational program, especially for math, which consists of plopping kids in front of a computer for endless repetition and test prep, masquerading, of course, as “personalized learning”. All that Caliber really does is siphon badly needed funds from other schools for a relatively select group of students that it can profit from.
One particularly interesting thing about Caliber is the couple which founded it: Ron Beller and Jennifer Moses. Mr. Beller was famous for the collapse of his hedge fund and an odd story of a secretary embezzling millions of dollars. Both are part of a cabal of rich individuals that have torn apart the public education system in England, with Ms. Moses funding and pushing heavily for charter schools there. They left London a few years ago for unexplained reasons, but possibly because they smelled blood and opportunity in the charter-infested waters of Northern California.
Many people wonder, if charter schools like Caliber are non-profit, and they’re spending the same money as real community-run schools, how can anyone accuse founders of profiteering? The answer: land grabs and self-dealing. Many of the networks that run these schools, like Rocketship, buy their products (software, supplies and more) from the same companies they or their friends invest in. The properties they purchase are securitized by taxpayer dollars, allowing them to leverage an investment in the same manner as a Real-Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Since there is no public oversight over their purchasing, no bid requirements, no review of salaries or per-pupil spending, they can quite literally get away with anything.
The motives of investors like Ron Beller and Jennifer Moses are not philanthropic. That’s why they and so many other hedge-fund managers love the story of failing schools, so they can cover-up what they’re doing by pretending to serve poor minorities and other victims of some mythical failing system. No matter what jargon is used to describe their “personalized” or “no excuses” model, making poor minority students walk in straight lines, silently, and then plopping them in front of a brain-numbing computer program is not giving them the same educational opportunities as kids in, say, Lafayette, CA (right next door to Mt Diablo). It’s greed, pure and simple, as evidenced by Goldman Sachs seminars telling investors exactly how to make money through the privatization of schools. It is destroying public education in this country, and it’s going to worsen our problems of racism, community polarization, and income inequality.
We can only hope that Jerry Brown will “get it” soon. He understood similar issues with redevelopment agencies, and he ended them early in his first term. Perhaps ending the insidious invasion of charter schools will be his second term legacy.