Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Guide for Boston Charter Schools*

How to Get Great Test Scores, a $5,971,713 Annual Bonus,
and Seriously Harm 54,312 Boston Public School Children**

I’m the dad of a Boston Public School 2nd grader. Over the last 16 months I’ve been, along with others, looking into Boston’s charter schools. It began when my 1st grader came home with a note in her backpack, in January of 2014, telling parents that her school will begin seeing serious underfunding in the 2014/2015 school year.

Not long after that note came home, a group of parents from Boston Public Schools began to band together to try and fix what turned out to be a $90M+ district wide shortfall for our FY15 school year.

As we talked and dug into this, one of the things we discovered was that because of the way charter schools are funded, by receiving all of their funding from a district's state aid, that charter schools would be taking about 50% of Boston’s state aid this school year. That’s $100M+ for 7,500 charter school kids, and $100M+ for 54,312 Boston Public School Kids. That information is part of what began to put Boston’s charter schools under the microscope.

We began to hear (from our newly formed parent network of thirty schools) that charter schools dump vast amounts of kids right before MCAS/PARCC testing in March. It’s called skimming, and they do it to boost their MCAS/PARCC test scores.*** I dug into it, and the push out turned out to be 100% true. The skimming practiced by six Boston charter schools can be seen here. To this day I don’t understand how this is allowed and wonder if this is actually unlawful. About a month ago the Massachusetts charter industry was running around with a “CREDO” study that stated how Boston charter schools outperformed Boston Public Schools. Well, this is how they do it - they dump all the kids that won’t test well, along with the ones that might hurt their graduates to college rate, back into the public schools. Anyone could do that. My eight year old could do that. Yet, instead of starting an investigation into fraud, our Governor and our Secretary of Education just can’t seem get enough of these “High Performing Charter Schools”. They think that more of this is the answer. It’s beyond me. They’ve seen these charts, because I’ve sent them to them, and they do nothing - except advocate for more charter schools.

But wait, that’s just the beginning. We (parents) kept hearing that the charter schools got to keep the money for the kids they dumped out in February, right before the testing. I posted this information in the comments section of a Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, pro-charter-school editorial - and Mr Lehigh said he thought that the class population was taken monthly and that adjustments were made almost immediately. It looks like Mr. Lehigh was wrong. This is what’s on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

Whoa. I’m pretty sure that’s saying that it’s up to the charter schools to report the dumping of kids after February15th if they feel like it. If they don’t feel like it they get to keep all the funding, for the kids they no longer have, for the 40% of the school year that they don’t have them.

The following is my attempt to shed some light on and put some dollar amounts to what I believe is potentially - an enormous amount of fraud.

Let’s assume the charter schools don’t feel like reporting their skimming after February 15th, because, well…..
  • They don’t have to.
  • There’s no reason for them to.
  • They stand to keep a lot of money if they don’t.
  • They stand to lose a lot of money if they do.
  • This is exactly what we’ve been hearing that they do, from a variety of sources, for the last 16 months.
Given the Boston charter school industries track record of complete denial of their skimming practices, which are easily documented fact, there’s no reason to believe that they might suddenly begin to act in an honorable manner - especially when you see the amount of money involved, below.

So, if this all plays out the way I suspect it does, here’s the scam: (Some might call it a racket, or even - racketeering) Dump the kids right after February 15th. You get great test scores and you get to keep the $229,681.26**** remaining funding for the kids you dumped out/no longer enroll. Do you get what I’m saying? Each Charter School (possibly) gets to keep, on average, $229,681.26 for the last four months of the school year - for kids they’ve dumped back into the traditional public schools - (if they feel like it, of course)

And guess what BPS gets for taking these kids for the last 40% of the school year (if the charter’s don’t feel like reporting it) That’s right, nothing.

Using the Boston Charter School average of (possibly) scamming BPS out of $229,681.26 - per Boston charter school, per year, and multiplying that by the twenty six charter schools in Boston…. that’s $5,971,713 the charters get to keep, per year, for kids they don’t have - but hold on, it’s also $5,971,713 BPS doesn't get for kids, per year, that they do have. I think I’m coming up with a (probable) scam that’s actually valued at $11,943,426 per year. Am I right? That’s the (possible) total impact of this... situation? Yearly.

In Atlanta, teachers altered tests and went to jail. In Boston, charter schools alter who actually takes the tests - to change the schools test scores (level 1,2,3,4,5) and are hailed as saviors. I don’t really see a difference between the two. To me, both are cheating. To me, both appear unlawful. Both certainly should be against the law.

I don’t understand how this continues to go on, but I do know that a large part of the reason is because the Massachusetts press isn’t doing their job. Just a few days ago I saw that the pro charter school Boston Globe will be receiving funding from the Gates Foundation for “the ‘solutions’ approach to education journalism”. Seriously? Corporate ed reform is now funding the Globe to report on education? Is that even legal? I mean, for a real newspaper?

What I also don’t get is why no one with the power to stop this, is stopping this? It’s lying (year to year push-out/testing/fact) and stealing and corruption (probably fact) and it’s hurting children (fact). What one single part of that isn’t in itself enough for people to take action?

Hello Justice Department - Someone needs to launch an investigation. Someone needs to find out the truth, and if that truth is what parents have been hearing for the last 16 months, someone needs to see that the charter schools provide full restitution to the traditional public schools - and going forward, someone needs to protect the traditional public school children from scams like this.

If you’re a parent, or a concerned citizen, or a student, or a legislator, or a lawyer - and want to get involved - listed below are a few organizations you can join to help stop the destruction of, privatization of, corporate ed reform grab of, fleecing of, our public schools. (If you’re a legislator, please launch an investigation, pass a bill, make a law, do something)

Boston Educational Justice Alliance Facebook page.

Citizens for Public Schools Facebook page.

Quest (Quality Education for Every Student) Facebook page.

Less Testing More Learning Facebook page.

And coming soon to Boston - The Hedge Clippers Facebook Page.

I’m asking you to join up. I’m asking you to help. We’re true grass roots and we need your support. The money and the influence on the other side of this is huge, I’m talking Gates Foundation, Walton Foundation, Boston Foundation - huge, but we can win this fight, we can stop these scams, if we band together. We need to do that. Please “like” and “follow” all of the Facebook pages above. Show up to meetings when you can. Show up to events when you can. Take. Action. We can protect our schools, we can protect our children, and we will win this if we work together toward the common goal of saving public education .

John Lerner, public school dad and member of the Boston Educational Justice Alliance, Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Data Citations

*This document is referring specifically to Commonwealth Charter schools, not ''In-district" or "Horace Mann" charter schools.

**Maybe. I dare say, probably.

***Skimming year to year is documented. Concerning the push out in February, that’s what I hear, over and over. That’s why I’m calling for an investigation.

****My best dead reckoning. See the averages tab using the Data Citations link above.