By Doug Porter
Educators and parents at EB Scripps, Oak Park Elementary and Claremont High Schools in San Diego staged ‘walk-ins’ just prior to the start of the school day on Wednesday. The local actions were part of a nationwide day of action, with events at 800 schools in over 30 cities urging communities reclaim their schools from misguided reform efforts.
The idea behind the ‘walk in,’ which gained prominence with parents and teachers in Chicago, is to bring teachers, parents, and students together for a gathering outside of their school. They then walk in their schools together, a gesture aimed at building unity in the desire for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities.
Organizers with the Oak Park group said they were participating to show support for public education, and to call on the District to reduce time spent on testing and instead use the time for more instruction.
According to a press release from the San Diego Education Association, approximately 90% of San Diego Unified School District educators believe students are being harmed from the overuse of standardized tests. A recent survey of SDEA members found that students lose up to five weeks of instruction every year due to test preparation, taking and analysis.
The nationwide day of action was organized under the aegis of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a coalition of labor, community and faith groups, united by the belief that future of public education in the United States stands at a critical crossroad.
From the Alliance website:
Over the past two decades, a web of billionaire advocates, national foundations, policy institutes, and local and federal decision-makers have worked to dismantle public education and promote a top-down, market-based approach to school reform.
Under the guise of civil rights advocacy, this approach has targeted low-income, urban African-American, Latino and immigrant communities, while excluding them from the reform process. The reforms have sown distrust and division among parents and teachers, and utterly failed to improve educational outcomes for children. These attacks are racist and must be stopped.
The time is ripe for a new education movement that provides students throughout the United States, regardless of their race or income, with equitably resourced neighborhood schools.
The group is calling for:
- Full, fair funding for neighborhood-based community schools that provide students with quality in-school supports and wraparound services
- Charter accountability and transparency and an end to state takeovers of low-performing schools and districts
- Positive discipline policies and an end to zero-tolerance
- Full and equitable funding for all public schools
- Racial justice and equity in our schools and communities.
Speaking of charter schools….
A Turkish Connection with Magnolia Schools?
A complaint has been filed with the California Department of Education, urging a full investigation into the financial practices of the Magnolia Public Schools charter school network, which currently operates 11 active charter schools in California.
The Magnolia Science Academy, a charter school in San Diego, is affiliated with this group. A quick perusal of web based reviews for the charter shows it is highly rated by parents, with test scores above norms for California students.
At the center of the complaint are allegations about Magnolia’s connection to the global organization of charter schools and businesses headed by Turkish national Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive Islamic cleric who resides in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
What looks to be allegations of financial improprieties gets a little more complicated with a little bit of research. The law firm representing complainants Dr. José Moreno (Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Chicano & Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach) and Tina Andres (public school teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District), also represents the interests of the Republic of Turkey.
The Gülen group is currently accused of attempting to overthrow the democratically elected Turkish government through a judicial coup in December 2013. The movement is often referred to as the Gulenist Terror Organisation (FETO) by Turkish officials, have been called a national security threat for by that country.
Further complicating matters are a raft of conspiracy theories, ranging from the belief they are Islamic terrorists (the US schools are secular, but foreign schools teach religion) to the assertion they are a creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
What’s most likely is that they are a network of religious or corporate entities with an opaque ideology and dubious intentions, ala Unification Church, complete with an over-sized public relations machine.
From Truth in Media:
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Gülen followers claim that he does not control or have anything to do with the day-to-day dealings of the massive network of charter schools he helped found.
Gülen-inspired schools are the largest charter network in the U.S. and receive approximately $150 million a year in taxpayer money. There are about 130 of these charter schools in 26 states where the majority of the teachers are from Turkey, as well as many of the contracts for construction and operation have gone to Turkish businesses. Those actions have raised red flags for the U.S. government.
The schools themselves are considered high quality and are focused on STEM-based learning — something that proponents of the Gülen Movement claim is lacking in U.S. education.
It’s also likely that the Turkish government has an international campaign underway to counter and undermine the Gülen movement, which makes the involvement of the law firm filing the complaint suspicious.
Follow the Charter School Money
Ultimately, this is about the money, how it gets used, and the lack of oversight mechanisms built in to the relationships between government agencies and charter schools.
There have been allegations by a former employee that the Gülen movement’s ultimate goal is to open charter schools in the U.S. to funnel tax dollars to back into the Gülen movement in Turkey.
Magnolia Public Schools CEO and Superintendent Caprice Young, who served as LAUSD board president from 2001-2003, says there is no connection between Magnolia and the Gülen Organization.
The complaint urges California authorities to examine Magnolia’s financial ties to the Pacifica Institute in Irvine, and similarities between Magnolia’s operating profile and that of other known Gülen Organization charter schools. It cites a 2015 California State Auditor review of the groups, saying:
“The State Auditor was unable to verify the propriety of a staggering 69% of financial transactions from a sampling at the Magnolia schools, but it did identify large contracts from Magnolia to affiliated vendors, and revealed that Magnolia has improperly spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on immigration lawyers to import teachers from Turkey,”
It turns out that Gülen Organization charter schools are among the nation’s largest users of the H1B visas. A 2009 story in the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that the schools received government approvals for 684 visas – more than Google Inc. (440) but fewer than Intel Corp. (1,203).
An article in The Atlantic details allegations of financial misdeeds from Gülen affiliated institutions around the country, leading to FBI raids in the Midwest and Louisiana.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State Board of Education has launched its own probe of the nearly 20 Gülen-associated charter schools in its state. As part of the investigation, four former teachers from Horizon Academy (the particular name of the Gülen charter school chain in Ohio) gave testimony. The teachers mentioned issues as disturbing as cheating on state tests, unsafe building conditions, overcrowding, and even sexual misconduct.
Charters: The Black Hole of Education Funding
An extensive study published last fall by the Center for Media and Democracy reviewed two decades of federal funding–totaling $3.7 billion– of the Charter Schools Program (CSP) for states.
CMD also found that states have not provided the public with sufficient information about amounts diverted from traditional public schools to each charter getting funds.
What is even more troubling is how little is known about how charters are spending federal and state tax dollars, even as governments continue to increase funding for them while slashing funds for traditional public schools. Unlike truly public schools, which have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending is largely a black hole.
This is due in part to the way laws governing charters have been built by proponents, favoring “flexibility” over rules. That flexibility has allowed an epidemic of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools.
Charters are policed—if they policed much at all—mainly by charter proponents, within government agencies and private entities with too limited oversight over “authorizers.”
California’s 1100 or so charter schools have more than a half million students enrolled.
Again from the CMD report:
It is also the largest recipient of funding to expand charters under the U.S. Department of Education’s CSP grants. It was awarded up to $254 million between 2010-‘15, including $42 million that year. With that level of funding the state education agency has created bureaucracy that is invested in and advocates for charters rather than engaging in robust oversight of them.
Nearly 200 charters have closed in California, nearly one of every five that have opened. Their failures have included stunning tales of financial fraud, skimming of retirement funds, and financial mismanagement, material violations of the law, massive debt, unsafe school conditions, lack of teacher credentials, failure to conduct background checks, terrible academic performance, and test results, and insufficient enrollment.
My New Favorite Bumper Sticker
The Washington Post ran an interview with the recently retired John Merrow, an award-winning broadcast journalist who spent 41 years covering public education in the United States for PBS.
This exchange hit it out of the ballpark for me:
- Q) If you had a favorite bumper sticker about schools, what would it be?
- A) We need a system that asks each child, “How are you intelligent?” not “How intelligent are you?”
On This Day: 1897 – The National Congress of Mothers was organized in Washington, DC, by Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. It was the forerunner of the National PTA. 1937 – Sixty-three sit-down strikers, demanding recognition of their union, were tear-gassed and driven from two Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. plants in Chicago. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court declared sit-down strikes illegal. The tactic had been a major industrial union organizing tool. 1972 – Pink Floyd began a 4-night stand in London. During the stand they premiered “The Dark Side of the Moon” a full year before it was released.
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