Party Pivot: Why Democrats Are Rethinking School Choice

From the Sanders plan to the Warren plan to Cory Booker’s reluctance to talk about education reform on the campaign trail, the Democratic Party seems to be backing away from its decades-long embrace of charter schools. While pundits cite the influence of teachers unions within the party, our guest Jon Valant says more complicated forces are at play, starting with the unraveling of the liberal/conservative coalition that brought charters into being. Complete transcript of the episode is here.

And in our special extended play version for Patreon subscribers, Jennifer and Jack tackle the edu-wars that just keep flaring up between Sanders and Warren supporters.

DNA Test: The Ancestry of Charter Schools

Did you hear the one about how charter schools were the brainchild of Albert Shanker, the legendary teachers union head? Writer Rachel Cohen did, but when she began tracing the tale back to its origins, she found that the real *father* of charter schools looks a lot like their biggest fans today: market-oriented reformers who aren’t crazy about public institutions or labor unions. As for claims that the charter school vision has been *hijacked* from Shanker’s original vision, well, that’s a myth too. Charter schools have turned out very similar to how their *dads* first conceived of them back in the frenzy of government deregulation that began in the 1970’s and has never stopped. It’s Have You Heard #18!

Teachable Moment

A Massachusetts charter school suspends its controversial discipline policy. But parent complaints about the state’s largest charter are nothing new and are usually ignored…

Related imageBREAKING: that Massachusetts charter school that was disciplining Black students for the way they braid their hair, and using equity-ish ling as justification has officially backed down. Trustees voted last night to suspend the controversial and nonsensical policy. Their decision wasn’t exactly a surprise; seemingly every single legal advocate, including Attorney General Maura Healey, had weighed in. But Mystic Valley’s change of heart also raises a question, or make that hundreds of questions. Over the years, the state has amassed hundreds of complaints from parents about the way that the trustees run this school, and those complaints seem to have gone exactly nowhere. To your personalized learning device, reader. It’s teachable moment time. Continue reading →

Crony Capitalism

Deregulation in education has led to cronyism, corruption and conflicts of interest. Dr. Preston Green sees a familiar pattern and a cautionary tale…

Jennifer Berkshire: Our Secretary of Education is visiting a Florida charter school that is best known for being started by rap-u-preneur, Pitbull. But a lesser known true fact is that the school’s powerful and politically connected management company, Academica, ran afoul of the feds for a little something something called *related-party transactions.* What is a related-party transaction? And why do I have the feeling that Betsy DeVos didn’t drop by to, um, continue the investigation?

Preston Green: Related-party transactions occur when you have two entities that have a pre-existing relationship. For example, if two entities have common management, or in the charter sector context, you could have an EMO that also has a real estate arm, which then leases property back to the charter school at a greatly inflated rate. In the case of Academica, which is the management company that runs the school Secretary DeVos visited, it’s *all of the above.* You see different entities sharing the same board of directors, conflicts of interest and questionable real estate dealings, including charter schools paying rents that are well above the market rate to companies that Academica owns.     Continue reading →

What Went Down in Massachusetts

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh with parent organizer Malikka Williams.

Why the campaign to lift the Massachusetts charter cap went down in flames…

We were motoring around when the ad came on. It was one of those golden fall afternoons we’ve had a string of lately, the foliage suspended in a globally-warmed cocoon of brilliance, and suddenly there he was: Boston’s mayor Marty Walsh. Or as he pronounces it, *maeh.* Even with the mostly missing ‘r’s,’ his message was unmistakable: Question 2, the proposal to lift the state’s cap on charter schools, was deeply misguided. And he didn’t just mean bad for Boston, he meant bad for the whole state, making an already broken school funding system worse. *What were they thinking by going to the ballot?* my husband asked. Actually he said *What were they !@#$% thinking?* And for once I didn’t chide him for swearing.

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By election day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters. Continue reading →