Friday, November 27, 2009

The Education Sector: What Crooks

The Education Sector has long been part of the ed deform crowd, with blogger Eduwonk, Andrew Rotherham leading the way for years. That he was a former Clinton admin ed official should give us a clue as to why we are not totally surprised at Obama joining the crowd. The Democratic Party is no friend of true ed reform.

So, they issue a supposedly unbiased report on charter schools and managed to leave out the critical findings. "What crooks!" was one comment we received by email.

(Here are a few previous Ed Notes posts on this gang:
teacher quality at the education sector... a stacked deck
the education sector's biased survey
check out the ednotes analysis of the biased education sector teacher survey which didn't ask about the impact of class size because the ed sector is totally on board with the usual suspects on this issue. ...)

We do have a wonderful nationwide network sniffing out these news nuggets.

Caroline Grannan sent this clue and I forwarded it to Leonie Haimson, who put this report together on the NYC Education News Listserve. Monte Neil from Fair Test sent out an original post and Alexander Russo blogged about it from his sources.

Here is Leonie's post. (By the way, it was great to see Leonie's husband Michael Oppenheimer's excellent stint on the News Hour the other day discussing: Bound for Copenhagen, Obama Faces Climate Change Obstacles.)

Tom Toch’s report on Charter Management Organizations was scrubbed by Education Sector – with many of the negatives taken out. Education Sector is a think tank heavily supported by pro-charter foundations like Gates and Broad. (see below discussion from Alex Russo’s This week in education.)

The report cites the following funders: Smith Richardson Foundation….. Education Sector has received grants from foundations that have funded charter schools, charter school networks, and other organizations mentioned in this report, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Specific disclosures of funder and board relationships associated with this report can be found in the endnotes.

Toch’s original findings as published in Education Week and elsewhere were remarkably balanced; see this excerpt:

In the decade since they emerged on the education landscape, nonprofit networks of charter schools called charter-management organizations, or CMOs, have built some of the biggest brands in education—the Knowledge Is Power Program, Aspire, Green Dot Public Schools, Uncommon Schools—and won plaudits from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, The New York Times Magazine, and “60 Minutes.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is now poised to give them a central role in the federal government’s multibillion-dollar school reform campaign. He has named leaders of the CMO movement to key posts in his department and has pledged to make “big bets” on the highest-performing charter networks with the expectation that they’ll produce large numbers of outstanding new schools for disadvantaged students.

But the research for a report on CMOs that I’ve produced for the think tank Education Sector reveals that many of these organizations are going to be hard-pressed to deliver the many schools that Duncan wants from them. Discussions with dozens of CMO executives and other experts, an examination of CMO business plans, consultant reports, and other documents, and visits to over a dozen schools run by prominent CMOs in different parts of the country make clear that a host of challenges—the need to find and finance school buildings, the expense of educating impoverished students successfully, the difficulty of recruiting high-performing teachers and principals, and, in many instances, strong opposition from traditional public educators—has left many CMOs working hard to sustain themselves academically and financially.

The report even now is interesting about finances of NYC charter schools, and makes clear that the funding it receives from Bloomberg is quite generous. See this:

Since pledging in 2003 to make New York “the most charter-friendly city,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have provided leading CMOs like Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP (as well as many individual charter schools) heavily subsidized space in under-enrolled city schools; subsidized custodial, maintenance, and security services; and independence over staffing, budgets, and instruction.37 Civic Builders, a nonprofit real estate developer established in 2002, bundles money from the city’s school system, philanthropies, commercial lenders, and various state and federal construction programs to buy real estate and rent it to charter schools at below-market rates. The organization has spent $227 million developing nine schools, including the retrofitting of a Brooklyn ice cream factory to house an Achievement First elementary and middle school.38

With the annual funding that they get in New York City (some $12,440 per student, plus additional local and federal monies, a sum that Achievement First estimates to be between 80 percent and 95 percent of the funding that the city’s traditional schools receive), Achievement First’s New York schools are able to operate without philanthropic subsidies once they are fully enrolled, says chief financial officer Max Polaner—in sharp contrast to Amistad in New Haven. Says CEO Toll: “We expanded into New York because of Klein and because the dollars are doable.” But such partnerships have been rare, because [most other] school districts are wary of losing students and revenue to CMOs, and charter networks have wanted to preserve their independence. And while New York City is relatively charter-friendly, the state as a whole has been less so, imposing strict caps on the number of charter schools that have only recently been increased after years of bitter political struggle.

See also this, about the high attrition levels at some charter schools, pointed out by Caroline Grannan:

Another challenge is high student attrition. Rigorous standards, struggling students, grueling schedules along with transient families and the other attendant problems of poverty often lead to significant numbers of students leaving leading CMO schools. The cumulative effect can be substantial. For instance, a 2008 study by SRI International, an independent research organization, found that an average of 60 percent of the entering fifth-graders at four Bay Area KIPP middle schools left before graduating at the end of the eighth grade, and that the students who left tended to be lower achievers (by law, charter schools must be open to all students and use a lottery if over-subscribed).44

One wonders how much more negative the report was originally before being scrubbed.

From: Monty Neill, Fair Test

Yesterday I scanned just the exec sum of this report from Ed Sector. It was clear that the recommendations were merely Ed Sector's pro-privatization agenda, said nothing about what presumably were findings of various kinds of problems with charters. Now it seems Ed Sector changed the original report by its co-founder Tom Toch, removing lots of content and tacking on its ideology as 'recommendations'.

Here are excerpts from Alexander Russo:

November 24, 2009 | Posted At: 05:59 PM | Author: Alexander Russo | Category: Think Tank Mafia

EdSector CMO Report: Who Lost Tom Toch?

Thanks to a couple of eagle-eyed readers (including MDM) for pointing out that the much-delayed Education Sector report on charter management organizations lacks the name -- and apparently much of the content provided by -- its original author, writer and EdSector co-founder Tom Toch.


Toch can't publish the original version of the report because of copyright issues but he points to several other pieces (in Education Week and the Kappan)

Read Russo's full post at:


  1. thanks for the link to my blog, norm, and for the other helpful information.

    do you mind not copying and pasting my entire blog post on your blog? a snippet or section should be enough, and then your readers can click over to read the full post if they want. i'm sure they'll come back when they're done.

    for the record, i didn't hear about the alterations from any of those you named. i don't claim to be the first one to figure out what was going on, but i found out through a different process.


  2. I copied and pasted what Leonie sent out. The formatting in my blog editor is awful but I'll try and fix it.

  3. I read Alexander Russo's post and forwarded the info to Norm, just in case it sounded like I was trying to take credit. I think Norm is just generally referring to the network of tips and links flying around, though, especially on a busy holiday weekend (whoops -- gotta get ready for my friend's Leftovers Potluck pretty soon).


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