In the final stages of making our film response to Gates supported "Waiting for Superman' we had the chance to interview former Achievement First parents. Leonie and I expected to do a quick 15 minute interview but instead were riveted for almost 2 hours of horror stories. A few days later I interviewed our pal Khem Irby (who has left us to cause trouble for ed deformers down in North Carolina). We only used a few minutes in the film but you can see all the interviews below. The video we shot was used by activist groups opposing AF in Rhode Island to defeat some of their plans to take over a swath of schools in Providence. (I'm posting links at the bottom of this post -- really watch some of these interviews and get your rage up.)
Pat Dobosz, a Brooklyn pre-k teacher in Williamsburg writes:
Here is an article about this despicable place. We had an AF charter at my school for about four years.
This article by Sarah Darer really gets into the weeds of the Gates/AF/TFA connection. Oh, and TFA also has that southern pre-Civil War mentality too.
A Window Into Gates Foundation Dystopiahttp://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/a_window_into_the_bill_and_melinda_gates_foundation_dystopia/#.UbwIGekKDW4.facebook
by Sarah Darer Littman | Jun 13, 2013
In 1948, sociologist Robert K.Merton coined the phrase “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come ‘true.’ The specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning,” Merton wrote.
A database engineer friend helped me realize this phrase described the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in education reform during a discussion of the information I’d received under a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the foundation’s $5 million grant to the city of Hartford last December.
Here’s how it works: Mr. and Mrs. Gates have a dangerous combination of billions of dollars and strong ideas about how to reform public schools, despite having no background in education and sending their own children to private school. Their foundation commissions research to prove their ideas are correct. Based on research the Gates Foundation pays for, it makes grants to implement their ideas. In the grant documentation, the Foundation specifies: “The Compact City Partner . . . agree(s) to participate in research and information gathering efforts with the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, which is currently engaged with the foundation to support the project.”
What the Gates Foundation means by “engaged with” is “funded by.” The CRPE also receives funds from the usual pro-charter school names, i.e. The Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Interestingly, it also receives funds from the U.S. Department of Education.
Lo and behold, CPRE produces “research” that supports the claims and beliefs of the Foundation. A prime example: the PR piece put out by Achieve Hartford in April: entitled, “Improving Student Outcomes and Opportunities in Hartford Public Schools.”
The “research” came with a warning: “This piece, however, is limited in that it cannot directly attribute any of the changes to any particular reform initiative. A more-detailed longitudinal analysis of progress made before and after the district initiated its reforms, and controlling for important factors, would be needed to more precisely and confidently attribute the changes to specific initiatives. Moreover, this piece has not yet undergone a thorough peer review.”
Yet armed with this non-peer reviewed data to back up their initial faulty assumptions, the Gates Foundation and its partners continue the reign of error.
Witness how Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto used the “facts” in this non-peer reviewed research report to call for another Achievement First charter school in Hartford.
Perhaps that’s because the Gates grant calls for “AF, HPS and JA to work together” to advocate for “equitable state funding” and “access to facilities” for public charter schools. In fact, the grant proposal even mentions “the district’s close relationship with state educational efforts.” That wouldn’t have anything to do with Achievement First’s relationship with Stefan Pryor, state Commissioner of Education and co-founder of the Amistad Academy, would it? It couldn’t possibly.
Another component of the grant is for the expansion of Achievement First’s Residency Program, with the aim of allowing for “the direct and explicit transfer of best practices” from the “high performing” charter to the “traditional district context.”
But since the grant was awarded, we’ve learned a bit more about Achievement First’s high performing methods and best practices. Thanks to the New Haven Independent, we know that Amistad’s claim of 100 percent college acceptance actually means a 43 percent attrition rate from the students who started in 9th grade four years earlier.
We’ve also learned that Achievement First is indisputably ranked first in Connecticut by a huge margin in the suspension students of kindergarten age.
Amy Burns, a licensed professional counselor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of children, adolescents, and families was skeptical of the Achievement First approach.
“As a general rule, we never put a child in time-out longer than about 1 minute per year of age, so these 90-minute or more time outs for kids would not be an effective punishment, especially with younger children. Developmentally speaking, if a kindergartner is put in this ‘break room’ all day, it is unlikely that they will remember what they did to get put in time out by the end of the punishment. It would be much more effective to use 5 minutes of isolation, as the child will not be reinforcing the undesired behavior,” Burns said. “What works even better than punishing inappropriate behaviors is rewarding positive behaviors. Using something like a token economy punctuated by appropriate use of time out will produce much better results than sending these kids away for the day.”
But even more disturbing to this mom of a young adult who went through school with an IEP was the news of how Achievement First mistreated students with special needs.
Earlier this week a new federal agreement was announced in settlement of a civil rights complaint filed by Greater Hartford Legal Aid Inc. on behalf of students with disabilities at Achievement First Hartford Academy Middle School. The complaint alleged that students with disabilities were spending too many hours out of the classroom for disciplinary reasons because of behaviors that were related to their disability.
In one particularly shocking story, “Johanna Rodriguez, whose eighth-grade son was included in the civil rights complaint, said her son was suspended and at home for most of last year, while this year she said he was suspended in school most of the time in a room set aside for students who are removed from class because of a behavior issue. For lesser offenses, he was given ‘re-orientation’ where he could remain in class, but had to wear a white shirt and other students were not allowed to talk to him.”
Charters like Achievement First call themselves “public schools,” yet they appear to be operating outside the statutes — like the state Department of Education’s Educator’s Code of Professional Responsibility, which states that an educator shall: Section 1 (K) Apply discipline promptly, impartially, appropriately and with compassion, and furthermore, lists under unprofessional conduct that an educator shall not Section (f) (D) Emotionally abuse students.”
Perhaps this is a consequence of Achievement First’s “close alliance” with Teach for America, whose “corps members and alumni play an integral role at Achievement First.” Whereas, district teachers must be certified, TFA corps members are considered too “elite for such niceties. They undergo a mere five weeks of training at TFA’s Summer Institute. Clearly, dealing with special education issues and the complexities of complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is not adequately addressed during that training.
As school counselor Christina Ketchem pointed out: “Most of the time, special needs kids struggle to fit in anyway, so excluding them or singling them out publicly will only exacerbate any existing issues.” Burns called the white shirt shaming “wildly inappropriate” and wrote that “most of these children who have mental illness already feel isolated and a target of their peers; this is a modernization of the ‘dunce cap’ of education of old, and should be stopped immediately.”
Alfie Kohn, a leading author and lecturer on education, is even more blunt.
“Anyone who punishes children by suspending them repeatedly, confining them, or stigmatizing and publicly humiliating them is either deeply ignorant about how to help kids or is more concerned with the adults’ convenience than with doing what’s in the best interest of the students. Or I suppose there’s a third possibility, which is that the school deliberately mistreats challenging kids in the hope that they’ll give up and withdraw, thereby allowing the school to weed out students with special needs so Achievement First can boast about its results. If the Gates Foundation is funding schools that engage in practices like this, that’s a strong argument for us to resist its involvement in education.”
A spokesperson for Hartford Public Schools responded to questions about the suspension rates Friday: “Hartford Public Schools doesn’t accept high suspension rates among elementary school students and has been working with Achievement First to assertively address the problem.” The Gates Foundation opted not to comment for this op-ed.
At next Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting in Hartford, there will be a second reading of a plan to create another Achievement First school in the city for 2014-15 — part of the Gates Foundation plan. Given what we have learned about Achievement First’s methods and “success,” is this really the most effective way to spend our education tax dollars, when teachers in the district schools are paying for their own photocopy paper and don’t have enough books?
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.
Here are the videos embedded with 3 former Achievement First parents. You might want to watch them directly at Vimeo to get better results by clicking on the links in the titles.
Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children Part 1 from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.
Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children Part 2 from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.
Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children Part 3 from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.
Charter School Parent Part 4 from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.