Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana

Unmasking the Charter Chicanery in Louisiana


Recently I was contacted by The Progressive to write an overview of charter schools in Louisiana.  I have been watching this “experiment” unfold from a fairly unique perspective.  My first look was as a State of Louisiana Employee just after charter schools were becoming established haphazardly around the state.  When I started at LDOE I was told of some of the misdeeds of previous operators, and I struggled alongside some of them to get their data reported accurately and in a timely manner.  Our initial operators were mostly standalone outfits and not altogether bad and some with the best of intentions if not the best business sense or relevant experience.  For the most part these early operators were homegrown and unconnected to external forces and influences and my bosses had no strong feelings about them either way.

As my tenure at the department lengthened, and new Education Reformer obsessed State Superintendents came to the fore like Paul Pastorek and John White, charters schools took on a new, more sinister dimension and set of goals.  I finally left the Department in February of 2012 to start my blog.  My naïve plan at the time was to reveal some of the misdeeds and to try and reverse the tide of all the negative trends and policies being enacted by out of state interests and pirogue-loads of out of state money.

What follows is the intro of my original piece I submitted.  My full piece was close to 5000 words and not entirely complete and my allotted space was maxxed at 2000 words.  I worked with the editors at The Progressive to streamline my piece, but I will be publishing parts of my original work in various future blog posts – so my time and research was not wasted.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work with some national media sources and I hope you find the pieces I will write now and in the immediate future informative and useful.  I start off with a brief into on the charter movement as we see it today.

Albert Shanker, a former President of the American Federation of Teachers Union (1974 – 1997) is sometimes credited with founding the modern charter movement in 1988.  His idea was to create an environment focused on serving the neediest students. The basic premise was for charters to work collaboratively with school districts and their most challenging students.  Ideas that proved the most fruitful would be shared and applied throughout the public systems to make them stronger and more responsive.  As originally conceived, Charter schools were to be R&D laboratories, and their research would be used for the benefit of all public school students.

In 1991 Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie, education reformers from Minnesota, altered Shanker’s idea to one that would appeal to entrepreneurs, and squeeze out educators.

Nathan and Kolderie instead proposed that schools be authorized by statewide agencies that were separate and apart from local district control. That opened charter doors not only to teachers but also to outside entrepreneurs. Competition between charters and districts was to be encouraged.

By 1993 Shanker realized some significant flaws in his ideas and renounced support of his own idea, but by then it was too late.  Private industry and education reformers had spotted an opening, a new market, and would spend the next two decades ramping up resources and propagating propaganda to exploit it.

These resources would go to fund pro-privatization with an eye toward profit margins rather than children:

  • Candidates like Bobby Jindal, Barack Obama, Dannel Malloy and Scott Walker
  • Agendas like American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) and Democrats For Education Reform (DFER)
  • Organizations like Teach For America (TFA), Stand For Children (Stand) and the Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO)
  • Charter Sponsored Media and Movies like NBCs Education Nation, Waiting for Superman, and Won’t Back Down

These groups cover vast swaths of the political spectrum and use a cunning and effective combination of statistical sleight-of-hand, repetitive messaging and empathic emotional pleas to lure people to their banners and crusade.  To the casual observer, which most folks are, these forces offer beacons of hope; hope to the messages of despair they themselves seeded beforehand.  Their messages are wrapped up in pleasingly packaged message so many of us find so compelling and alluring:

Free enterprise and American spirit and ingenuity will come to the rescue of our “failing schools” and flagging nation! 

Research institutions like the Cowen Institute at Tulane and CREDO (a conservative Hoover offshoot based on Stanford’s campus lend it a liberal air) were funded or founded with the express purpose of promoting charter schools.  Publicity campaigns were rolled out to advertise the higher standards and quality of charter schools.  Charter schools were initially advertised as having better academics (although usually with fewer certified teachers and less experienced teachers) and being less expensive (usually they are much more expensive when factoring costs to communities and grants).  Charter schools were marketed in much the same way as margarine, Vioxx, and cigarettes.   As is so often the case with miracle products, as the data is eventually analyzed objectively, and the full ramifications understood the tragic flaws are revealed.

Research now shows that charter schools are most often no better than public schools with the same demographics, and sometimes they are much, much worse.  Rather than admit defeat, pull their products, or actually try to make them live up their previous advertising the campaign was switched to one of “Choice”.

Amazingly, I was just informed today that even the head of the CREDO institute has grudgingly come to this conclusion on her own.

Her reasons for why states need to exert more control raised a few eyebrows. A self-described supporter of free markets, Raymond said a totally free market is not appropriate for schools.

“It’s the only industry/sector where the market doesn’t work,” Raymond said.

But it’s “Choice” with capital  C!  It has to be good, right?

Who doesn’t instinctively favor “choice” and freewill in a free society? It sounds liberating.  It sounds positive. Unfortunately it’s also an illusion.  Good “choices” only exist in clever online marketing ads sent to your Facebook account (with happy children of the same race as your own as determined by Big Data Algorithms) and in the mailers stuffed in your door handles and mailboxes.

Charter schools and their advocates go out of their way to obscure data and bash public schools so parents can’t make an informed choice.  States are run and overseen by officials bought with charter money to ensure this.  You can’t make a good choice with bad data and with only bad choices available.

“Parents can’t be agents of quality assurance,” Raymond said, stressing the need for better information to be available to parents as they pick schools.

When outsiders think of Louisiana and charter schools, they often think of Katrina and New Orleans.  New Orleans is now a 100% charter operated district. Charters are a manmade disaster heaped upon a natural one.  Hurricane Katrina was the once in a 100 year natural disaster that charter school operators and their allies chose to exploit.

I worked at the Louisiana Department of Education during this time.  I would learn later that while many New Orleanians were drowning in their homes, choking on the oily toxic flood waters, expiring from exposure on their rooftops, or furiously evacuating if they had the wherewithal, operatives at the Department and from the New Orleans area and State BESE board were meticulously conspiring to remake the city’s education system to their liking.   Many people perished, and we may never have a full accounting of the deaths.  On Monday, August 29th, 2005 canals were breached across New Orleans.  Public education also died that day.  Louisiana’s loss and the Nation’s shame was to become the Charter Movement’s gain.

The words of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan about Katrina will forever live in infamy for me and many of my friends, family and people.

…let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.

If you would like to see the next part of this story check out this month’s issue in The Progressive you can purchase a digital copy to support work of folks like me or wait until later this month when it is released.


My Recent Piece on Charter Schools in Louisiana has been Published in the Progressive.

I was recently asked to write and submit a story to The Progressive, a national magazine with a liberal slant established in 1909 and home of the Public School Shakedown, where I am listed as a featured writer for some of my blog posts.  Charter School fraud and abuse is a concern of both Liberals and Conservatives, and I try to speak to and educate both sides whenever the opportunity arises.  I am told this magazine is read by a large number of college professors at Universities across the United States.  We could really use their help combating the lies, fraud, and abuse of charter schools and their PR firms and phoney advertising campaigns and claims of success.  I hope this piece reaches some of them.  What is happening to our K-12 systems now will be happening to our university systems next.

You can see a Table of Contents of this issue here, which includes a brief history and examples of charter schools and their dirty dealings in Louisiana. My article is called Behind the Charter School Façade. I will let you know when they post a link to this story.

The Progressive will be posting and sharing stories from the issue all month.

Here is a link to the first piece: a cartoon/video The Progressive started sharing Monday about a charter chain named Rocketship Academies that has not yet come to Louisiana but which has every intention of doing so.

For those unfamiliar with this chain, Rocketship has large teacher to student ratios, largely employs inexperienced teachers, and keeps kids in large warehouse like environments filled with colorful confining cubicles crammed with computers which they must interact with most of their days on math and ELA test preparation. Very little time is spent on history, art, science, culture or PE in Rocketship Academies.


This animated video by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore looks at school privatization through the eyes of little Timmy, a kindergartener who likes his public school.

Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate education reform, starting with the rightwing mantra: “Public schools have failed.”

“But I like my public school,” Timmy protests.

– See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2010/12/187929/profitship-learning#sthash.qUWIkEMd.dpuf


Here the video is embedded in a web story with some explanatory text:


In my piece I will cover charter chains we sadly already do have in Louisiana and some of their misdeeds right in our backyards. I have numerous stories not included in this issue I will be rolling out this month (I had way more information than they could possibly print in a single story.)

However, there is no need to wait until the Progressive releases this content for free! You can purchase a digital or digital + print subscription for 10 or 14 dollars a year as I have done. This will give you access to all of the latest stories and content, fresh off the presses, and will go toward supporting more great investigative reporting of charter schools and school reformers.


Introducing the Progressive’s Public School Shakedown site and writers

Introducing the Progressive’s Public School Shakedown site and writers

The online magazine, the Progressive, has recruited some of the best pro-public education writers across the nation (and me) to produce content for their Attack on Public Schools coverage called “Public School Shakedown.”

For a list of my other esteemed colleagues who will be featured please refer to this page: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/featured-writers-all and consider bookmarking this site for easy/quick reference to a variety of education content from all your favorite writers in one place. http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/

For information about what the Progressive is hoping to achieve with this rollout please refer to this page: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/about

For easier reference I have copied the contents below:

The Attack on Public Schools

A fundamental struggle for democracy is going on behind the scenes in statehouses around the country, as a handful of wealthy individuals and foundations pour money into efforts to privatize the public schools.

So far, the “school choice” movement has succeeded in setting the terms of the debate. To the layperson, “school choice” and “education reform” sound like benign policy goals that aim to improve children’s access to high-quality education.

But behind these buzzwords there is a coordinated, well-financed ideological attack on the very idea of community support for free, excellent, public schools that are available to every child.

Parent organizations have popped up here and there to resist budget cuts, school-voucher plans, and other measures that threaten their local public schools. But these groups lack the network and organization that the school-choice movement has built so effectively.

The Progressive Magazine has launched the Public School Shakedown web site to show what is at stake as the rightwing begins to dismantle public education, to follow the money, expose the privatizers, and help parents, teachers, and concerned citizens understand what is going on and connect with each other to stick up for schools.

In straightforward, vivid, and comprehensible prose, we intend to lay out the threat to public education and help the ordinary citizens who are not education experts understand what is often opaque: Who is behind the drive to privatize public education? What are vouchers? Why are they so destructive of public education? Are children with special needs and minority and low-income students better off at voucher schools? What are the different types of charter schools? How are they different from voucher schools?

We intend to provide a platform for the excellent research already being conducted by university professors, local news organizations, and nonprofit groups.

While there are already several excellent resources tracking school voucher laws and their effects by such groups as the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, Colorado, the National Council of State Legislatures, and the National School Boards Association, there is not yet a journalistic platform that makes this information immediately accessible, or that seeks to “localize” it with articles that put a human face on policy matters where people live.

We believe we are particularly well situated to provide such a platform.

Key components of our site include:

• “Mob charts” of the state lobbyists who push education privatization in all the states.

• A “Hall of Fame” celebrating citizens who are doing exemplary, even heroic work on this issue.

• A connection point for public-school advocates who are scattered in communities across the country.

• An interactive map tracking not just of existing legislation but bills and proposals in statehouses, legal challenges and planned events and rallies.

• A “discredited research file” pointing out when articles appear in the mainstream media that rely upon research that has already been discredited by peer-reviewed academics in the field.

The Progressive Magazine, a national political magazine founded in 1909 by Fighting Bob La Follette, has been a voice for democracy and social justice for more than 100 years.

From our base in Madison, Wisconsin, we have made the attack on public schools a particular focus of our reporting over the last eighteen months.

We have done so for a simple reason: Wisconsin is ground zero for the nationwide school privatization drive.

The first private-school voucher program was launched in Milwaukee by then-governor Tommy Thompson in 1990.

The Bradley Foundation, also located in Milwaukee, is a major donor to the national school choice movement, as documented in a recent report by One Wisconsin Now.

Bradley (one of the biggest foundations in the United States, with more than $290 million in assets) has spent more than $31 million since 2001 supporting organizations promoting education privatization, academics providing favorable pro-privatization pseudo-science, media personalities promoting the privatization agenda, and lobbying organizations advocating for privatization legislation.

Bradley, the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the Michigan-based American Federation for Children, and a handful of wealthy individuals and family foundations have bankrolled the effort to privatize public education across the country.

In Wisconsin, they have scored a series of successes.

The Progressive has covered the rise of “school choice” foundations and lobby groups in our state, which over the last decade have grown to equal the size and influence of the state’s largest business lobby as major players in state politics.

Three former speakers of the state assembly are now school choice lobbyists: Scott Jensen of the American Federation for Children, and Jeff Fitzgerald and John Gard—both of School Choice Wisconsin.

In 2011, when Governor Scott Walker provoked a nationwide backlash with his attack on unions, and teachers in particular, The Progressive intensively covered the uprising, which took place only a few blocks from our office. Immediately afterward, we also covered the next biggest thing to happen in Wisconsin politics–the emotional testimony from parents and teachers who packed education committee hearings in the state capitol building to oppose the combination of historic school budget cuts and proposals to siphon public money into private schools that threatened to torpedo Wisconsin’s great public school system, cause schools to close and small towns all over the state to die.

The battle over school privatization in Wisconsin is particularly emotional because parents and local communities have so much to lose. The schools system in Wisconsin has been one of the most highly rated in the nation. Now, especially in rural communities, Wisconsinites are anguished by budget cuts and privatization schemes that threaten to close schools and kill small towns.

Currently, we are tracking the controversy around the second Walker budget, which maintains the historic $1 billion in cuts to the state’s public schools, while also expanding private-school vouchers to create a separate, publicly funded statewide school district.

We continue to report on the school-choice agenda of Republican Presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has been a school privatization leader.

What Comes Next?

We will continue to marshall our resources and connect with like-minded organizations to present a comprehensive picture of the threat the school privatizers pose to our democracy, nationwide.

Join us, get informed, become part of the conversation, and be part of the citizen movement to defend this cornerstone of our democracy—the public schools.

Here is some of the posts other bloggers have posted about this site:

By Jonathan Pelto: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/09/03/add-public-school-shakedown-bookmarks/

By Dora at Seattle Education: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/new-cool-education-website/

And here is the official Press Release:

Press Release from Public Schools Shakedown 9/3/2013

A New Resource to Fight the Ed Reform Machine

 As students and teachers head back to the classroom this fall, the Progressive Magazine is revving up the movement to save our public schools. On our brand new web site, www.publicschoolshakedown.org, we are pulling together education experts, activists, bloggers, and concerned citizens around the country.

Public School Shakedown is dedicated to EXPOSING the behind-the-scenes effort to privatize our public schools, and CONNECTING pro-public school activists nationwide.

“Public School Shakedown will be a fantastic addition to the debate,” says education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch. “The Progressive is performing a great public service by helping spread the word about the galloping privatization of our public schools.”

“Free public education, doors open to all, no lotteries, is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Ravitch adds. “If we allow large chunks of it to be handed over to private operators, religious schools, for-profit enterprises, and hucksters, we put our democracy at risk.”

That’s where Public School Shakedown comes in. While there are already groups such as the National Education Policy Center doing terrific research on education privatization and its real effects, and bloggers writing pointed, hilarious reports from their home states, there is still not a great deal of understanding in the general population of how the education privatization movement works.

Teachers understand that the attack on public education is an attack on the very heart of our democracy. Yet the “school choice” movement has succeeded in setting the terms of the conversation. To the layperson, “school choice” and “education reform” sound like benign policy goals that aim to improve children’s access to high-quality education.

The time is right for a journalistic platform like the Progressive to put the pieces together.

 From our base in Madison, Wisconsin, the Progressive has made the attack on public schools a particular focus of our reporting.

Wisconsin is ground-zero for the school voucher movement. The first school voucher program started in Milwaukee back in 1990. But the last few years of the Walker Administration really brought the importance of this issue home.

As we marched in the streets with our kids’ teachers, we saw how much we had to lose–a great public school system, open to all, and a democratic community–not just a pay-as-you-go system of winners and losers that leaves the poor and middle class behind.

This month, as I take the helm of the Progressive as editor-in-chief, I am pleased to have an excerpt from Diane Ravitch’s forthcoming book, Rein of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools: http://knopfdoubleday.com/book/228036/reign-of-error/ on our cover.

In October, we will have a live chat with Diane Ravitch on the Public School Shakedown site. I hope you will join us!

Visit the site and meet the rest of our Featured Writers: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/featured-writers-all —a network of brilliant, funny, and well-informed education experts who have been tracking the attack on public schools around the nation.

They include cult favorites like EduShyster: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/EduShyster , who has built an avid fan base with the funniest, most irreverent writing on the education reform industry in America today.

Our nationwide network of bloggers is coordinated by Jonathan Pelto: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/node/109 , a leading public school advocate, former state legislator in Connecticut, and the author of the most-read commentary site in his home state.

“If President Eisenhower were alive today he would be warning us about the dangers associated with the Education Reform Industrial Complex,” says Pelto. “Public School Shakedown will be an extraordinarily important source of information and a leading force in the developing battle to take back control of our public schools and stop the education reform industry as they seek to privatize and undermine public education in America.”

Our partners include:

 The National Education Policy Center: http://nepc.colorado.edu/ which brings together the best education experts in the country to provide academically rigorous, peer-reviewed research and analysis of education policy.

The Center for Media and Democracy: http://www.prwatch.org/ which has exposed the ALEC agenda in the states: http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

, including the assault on public education:


 Wisconsin Democracy Campaign: http://www.wisdc.org/ which tracks money in politics in Wisconsin—and has dug deep into the rise of the school-choice lobby as a leader of campaign spending.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network: http://www.mcfn.org/ which tracks money in politics in that state—a hotbed of national anti-public-school activism.

One Wisconsin Now: http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/ , a nonprofit progressive advocacy group that has done groundbreaking research on the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation: http://www.bradleywatch.org/ , a major behind-the-scenes player in the anti-public-school movement nationwide.

Rethinking Schools www.rethinkingschools.org the teacher-founded nonprofit journal of education.

At The Chalk Face http://atthechalkface.com/  the progressive news site and radio show founded to put educators’ voices back into the conversation about education.

And, most importantly, YOU!!

It’s up to active, engaged citizens to stand up to the moneyed interests that are trying to tear down this cornerstone of our democracy.

Across the country, the fight is on.

Join us!

We’re just getting started but I’m hoping this brings us more coverage to these issues. While this is a progressive site, these are issues that are of concerns to people on all sides of the political spectrum, and it is important we reach out to as many folks as we can. The corporate machine is speaking out of both sides of its mouth to progressives, liberals, moderates and conservatives. They tell each group exactly what they want hear, all the while disguising their true motivations which are not children, but profit, privatization, greed and increased federal oversight and control.