Saturday, July 09, 2011

for-profit predators waiting in the wings...,

NPR | Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are overseen by their own independent boards. Because of their independence, they are allowed to do things that traditional public schools cannot do. School administrators can experiment with things like the length of the school day and the makeup of each school's curriculum.

With that freedom, charter schools have become academic beacons for parents looking to find the best and safest schooling options for their children. But the system's lack of oversight has also created problems. In recent years, there have been investigations in states, including California, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which found charter school CEOs taking money from their own schools, putting unqualified relatives on their payrolls and engaging in other questionable activities.

On Monday's Fresh Air, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Martha Woodall details her ongoing investigation into Philadelphia's charter school system, where 19 of the 74 charter schools operating in the city are under investigation for fraud, financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest.

Corruption And Fraud
At one school, the Philadelphia Academy Charter School, parents raised concerns in 2008 after school administrators told them that there was no money available for special education students.

"The school kept saying 'We don't have money [for these students],' " Woodall tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "However, there was money being spent on all kinds of other issues. [When parents] raised questions at the Board of Trustees meetings, [they] were basically told, 'We don't want you asking questions.' "

Ultimately, both the founding CEO of Philadelphia Academy Charter School and his successor were charged with stealing almost $1 million from the school's coffers, including money students had collected for a Toys for Tots campaign. The two men — one of whom had only a high school education — also allegedly engaged in questionable real estate deals. As a result, the high school paid rent money for its facilities directly to them.

"They charged really high rental rates for the school to use the building and then they accumulated money through the higher rates," she says. "They were using taxpayer money that was supposed to go to the school for other purposes."

In addition, both the school's founding CEO and his successor had relatives on the school's payroll. The founding CEO's wife was the head of the board of trustees.

"They were making more money and supervising people who had far more experience and more credentials than they had," she says. "In order to keep the school open, the Philadelphia School District required the top administrators to leave and required a replacement of the board, and the board then basically fired all of the relatives. They wanted to sever all ties with all of the families involved."

But Philadelphia Academy Charter School wasn't the only charter school in Philadelphia with ethical and financial problems.

"We've had cases here where large numbers of family members are on the payroll and [other instances where there were] contracts awarded to relatives and friends that include leases on luxury cars," she says. "Part of the problem that we have found is that the boards that are overseeing some of these schools are not involved as deeply as they should be. ... They may be friends of the CEO and therefore they're reluctant to provide the type of oversight that they should be providing."

School districts are supposed to monitor charter schools' academic progress. In the Philadelphia School District, says Woodall, there are seven people overseeing all 74 charter schools in the district — but that office will soon be halved owing to budget cuts.

"You have so few people keeping track of the charter schools," she says. "They don't have opportunities to go out and visit the schools and pay too much attention until the charters are up for renewal. So that gives several years in between where people can get away with things."


OnTheRoad said...

Add to the list those who would funnel public school funds into parochial schools that often decline to provide service to the disadvantaged:

CNu said...

"Disadvantaged"..., is a loaded euphemism in the age of ni nis and ignants who are on the public school rolls for the revenue each represents, but have no intention or demonstrated ability to learn anything, and who consequently disrupt and squander the common learning opportunities of children who are attending the public school and making best efforts.

Forty years ago, when I was a child, poor and disadvantaged folk by-and-large recognized the value of education and pursued it with vigor and discipline. Nowadays, in the urban and suburban U.S., not so much....,

umbrarchist said...

How much would a National Recommended Reading List cost to create?

100 books for kindergarten, 200 for 1st grade, 300 for 2nd grade,...1300 for 12th grade.  That would be 9,100.  That is not even a large number of titles for a decent high school library.  But how many authors and publishing companies would object?

With books classified by age and subject kids that want to learn could find superior books without having to waste time wading through crap.  Why is this such a difficult concept that was not suggested decades ago?

Charter school corruption has more style and with than public school corruption.  Corruption should be efficient. 

Makheru Bradley said...

Autonomy isn't necessarily synonymous with corruption, but we do live in the Unethical States of America. Corruption runs amok on Wall Street, in Congress, in the White House, in the military-industrial complex, in the FBI, in the CIA running drugs into America, etc., etc., etc.  Of course there is going to be an element of corruption in the charter school community. But, I don't think the solution is more bureaucracy. In many charter schools the boards are in cahoots with the administration leaving the faculty and parents voiceless. Perhaps a requirement before the state grants a charter is a board balanced with rotating parent and faculty members.

CNu said...

FACT - So long as the primary chartering entities are failed and discharged flotsam and jetsam from the institutional public school systems, there can be no serious-minded expectation of institutional evolution and improvement can there?

umbrarchist said...

Why are we supposed to care about the institutions?

That is the problem.  The technology has made the institutions obsolete.  But the people with their economic interests tied into the institutions don't want to make efficient use of the technology which would disrupt their glorious institutions.

A good Recommended Reading List could have begun that disruption decades ago.

I began noticing in grade school that my sci-fi books had me reading about fission and fusion when the nitwit nuns didn't talk about atoms.  The rapid and efficient distribution of RELEVANT KNOWLEDGE would mess with the entire class structure.

CNu said...

 Well Umbra, people want and need low-cost, safe, and productive baby sitting whilst they pursue their day jobs.  To your point about the technology, I speck schools could become centers for music, athletic, art, health, and cultural enrichment with more effective use of technology and more effective child attention and organization management (a la that Indian clustering model where children study collaboratively in small pods around a PC)

But to your point, the reason this hasn't happened is because of the interests vested in maintaining the economic status quo...,

umbrarchist said...

With netbooks coming with 250 gigabyte drives we just need to create a 100 gigabyte information and education pack to load on them.  So the kids can go to school for the babysitting but they could actually get most of their education straight from the computers.  So what will happen the the institutions when all of the "smart" kids notice most of their useful knowledge is not coming from the people in the institutions.

When I was in grade school I began  deliberately asking questions I already knew the answers to.  It was shocking how much adults didn't know.  It ain't surprising how screwed up the world is now.  So doesn't distributing good info on the net just produce more cognitive dissonance?  And then people can't figure out what is causing the dissonance.

CNu said...

You mean like Edubuntu?

We got a "use it or lose it" spree spent on 300 spanking brand new netbooks about a week ago. Compared to an iPad or an Android tablet, the netbooks seem like a quaint clownshow.

Tom said...

Another one for the Reading List

Princeton Companion to Mathematics.  Sits right smack in that near-void between engineering math and "real math."   Of course Subrealists who can afford to pay for it should buy one, not download a bootleg pdf.