MN EDUCATION REFORM CORE

Teach for America $ 7,894,600
Charter School Partners $ 4,726,464
MinnCAN $ 3,711,500
Hiawatha Academies $ 3,614,118
KIPP Minnesota $ 3,209,026
Harvest Preparatory Charter School $ 3,085,230
Educators 4 Excellence, Inc. $ 1,551,500
Minnesota Comeback $ 1,375,000
Policy Innovators in Education Network Inc. (PIE Network) $ 1,332,289
Students for Education Reform $ 1,064,000
Intellectual Takeout $ 961,000
Total: $ 32,524,727

 

ORIGINAL RESEARCH

Ember Reichgott Junge: I want to believe

Twenty five years later charter schools a costly, failed experiment

Ember Reichgott Junge's book provides a clear view into the history of charter schools in Minnesota, just not the one she intended

Rob Levine
May 7, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story

Ember Reichgott Junge, 2012

This is a big year for charter school aficionados in Minnesota, as 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the the nation’s first charter school in St. Paul. The legislation that authorized charter schools, enacted a year earlier, though limited in scope, promised a thorough consideration of the experimental education model, which has since sprouted up in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

The touchstone event for the movement occurred at a posh northern Minnesota resort sponsored by the Minneapolis Foundation and the Itasca Project

Since that time rules have been loosened, spending has multiplied many times over, and hundreds of charter schools have opened in the state. Many others have been closed. Have charters lived up to the grand boasts of supporters? Have the effects been more negative than positive? Do charters represent a threat to local, democratic control of public education? On the silver anniversary of the landmark school opening the local discourse is heating up.

Gotcha.

There has been little serious evaluation of Minnesota's charter school history. Boosters tend to dominate state discourse on the subject, and they're not inclined to take a critical look. Within those restrictions one of the most reliable content providers for this movement is former state senator Ember Reichgott Junge, author of the nation's first charter school law, passed in 1991, and author of the 2012 book Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story.

Reichgott Junge's book is insightful in describing the inside-baseball tick-tock of how the legislation actually passed into law. Beyond that it's hard to say she's a reliable correspondent, but in those gray areas between fact and fiction, and outright fiction, her book offers an opportunity for a deeper insight into the history of charter schools in Minnesota.

Part I: Grassroots or Tree Tops?

“It was October 2, 1988. I sat on a rock, enjoying the fall sunshine at beautiful Madden’s Resort near Brainerd, Minnesota. I was pleased to be one of a handful of legislators the Minneapolis Foundation had invited to their fourteenth-annual Itasca Seminar. This year the theme was public education. I looked forward to a stimulating discussion and some fruitful networking with a distinguished group of business, education, and civic leaders from around the Twin Cities.”

--- Ember Reichgott Junge , Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story

IN THE EPILOGUE OF HER BOOK Ember Reichgott Junge makes an ordinary-sounding claim about the nature of the charter school movement:

It was the enormous power of “citizens taking the lead”—despite politicians and despite unions. Chartering was spreading around the country as a grassroots phenomenon. It was not coming from the “grass tops” (sic).

This is a demonstrably false statement refuted by her own book. In fact, as Reichgott Junge recounts, the touchstone event for the movement occurred at a posh northern Minnesota resort and, despite the populist invocation of “citizens taking the lead,” the attendees at the Minneapolis Foundation-sponsored “Itasca Project” gathering consisted of a who’s who of the state’s business, civic, foundation, non-profit and political elite.

The institutional heavy-hitters who birthed charters have sustained the movement ever since. Since 2000 local foundations, plus a few national ones, have pumped more than $37 million into direct grants to charter schools in Minnesota. Those figures do not include the $20 million they've spent on charter advocacy in the same period -- money that has helped “sell” the education reform movement to the public and to policy makers for 30 years.

Key to that sales pitch: the idea that education is, at its heart, a business and should operate by the business principles that govern virtually every other sector of the economy, with a spoken goal of “breaking the government monopoly” on public primary and secondary education. The unspoken goals were many and varied but the budgetary results of those efforts are quantifiable: the conversion of nearly $1 trillion spent annually nationally on public primary and secondary education to private profit, and the breaking of the nation's teachers' unions.

To make this palatable, charter boosters focused on a righteous idea: the creation of better and more educational opportunities for poor children of color. In the end, the change model they embraced was what’s sometimes called the Shock Doctrine. First you create and/or declare an emergency in a cash-rich public sector, then you propose the solution that inevitably results in the privatization of as much of the sector as possible.

In a wide-ranging proposal to reform government called the Minnesota Policy Blueprint, Mitch Pearlstein, a leader in Minnesota's “School Choice Movement,” admitted as much in his chapter on education policy. In Pearlstein’s view, the answer to the challenges of public education is obvious: all public schools should be converted to charter schools.

Today only two of Minnesota's 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty

It's not hard to see why that conclusion appealed to Pearlstein. For decades, the teachers unions have been the bête noire to GOP lawmakers in state houses across the nation. As the founder and leader of a Republican “think tank”, the Center of the American Experiment, Pearlstein understood that unions would not be able to get a foothold in charter schools. He was right. Today, 22 years later, only two of Minnesota's 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty.

The school choice movement was rooted in the belief that there was a “crisis” in education in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. There was no real crisis, but there was a manufactured one, promulgated by the Nation At Risk (NAR) report produced by President Ronald Reagan's Department of Education. In her 2012 book Reichgott Junge explains how she became an education reformer after NAR was published:

“Examples of academic underachievement noted in the now-landmark report were sobering: Average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores fell over fifty points in the verbal section and over forty points in the mathematics section during 1963–1980...”

Seven years after NAR, in 1991, Sandia Labs explained the drop in test scores in a follow up report commissioned by President George H. W Bush. The conclusion: The seemingly dire decline in SAT scores was in fact the product of a positive trend: more students from lower socio-economic states were taking the test. In fact, according to “The Nation's Report Card” - the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing – test score proficiency in the country's primary and secondary schools had been steadily increasing in the US from the late 1960s onward.

The real threat to education, according to Sandia, was the political campaign against teachers and their unions, which the report predicted could lead to disillusion and demoralization of the teaching corps. In hindsight it's as if Reichgott and her allies read the Sandia report as a how-to manual instead of a cautionary tale, relentlessly turning up the heat on public education and its teachers with the push to create an education “market” where none had previously existed.

Still, in the 1980s Minnesotans were not convinced. Then-governor Perpich was touting Minnesota as the “Brainpower” state and such endorsements of traditional public schools did not sit well with the would-be reformers. Minnesotans needed to be convinced that their schools were failing.

Reichgott Junge recounts how Joe Nathan, one of the prime movers in this story, returned to Minnesota in 1987 after serving in the National Governors Association. He was disappointed when he saw a TV ad campaign refuting NAR titled “Ah, Those Marvelous Minnesota Schools.”

Nathan decided something must be done about this cheer-leading, so, as recounted by Reichgott Junge, he

“...talked with the Minneapolis Foundation, among others, about what they might do. 'The Minneapolis Foundation decided it was time to introduce into Minnesota some pretty radical ideas,' said Nathan. So plans got underway for the Itasca Seminar, with a focus on public education (emphasis added).”

This episode of “grassroots” perception management wasn't the first or last. Organizations like the Citizen's League, at times underwritten by the Minneapolis Foundation, had been working on the issue for years. The Minnesota Business Partnership actually authored the bill that Reichgott Junge introduced in the 1988 Minnesota legislative session requiring mandatory statewide testing – a necessary antecedent to the required evaluation criteria for future charter schools.

The reform proposals written by the Business Partnership come with a steep public cost. By 2016 the state would be spending over $19 million a year on standardized testing – not counting the cost of staff, buildings and other factors such as pre-testing and aligned curriculum - and half the schools in the state said had they spent three weeks or more administering testing. Some children spend three full days in a pressurized testing environment.

Three years earlier – in 2013 - the state had also passed an onerous and invalid teacher evaluation law, requiring that 35% of a teacher's rating be based on test scores or peer evaluation. Educational research is unequivocal that a teacher's impact on student test scores is in the 15% range; the 35% figure came from charter school advocates. Many districts chose the peer evaluation route because, among other reasons, students are only tested in three subject areas. However the state didn't provide nearly enough money for these peer evaluations, so districts took teachers out of classrooms to do the work, thus raising class sizes.

Part II: Innovation, achievement, accountability and guinea pigs

The Shock Doctrine formulation proceeds from declaring a crisis to proposing a solution, one that always ends in privatization. The promised cure for our supposed educational malaise were the simple concepts of “freedom,” “choice,” and “accountability.” “Accountability” had one facet – standardized test scores. Or, as Reichgott Junge put it:

Chartering would become the “research and development” sector of public education. These schools would be held accountable through performance-based outcomes...Chartered schools allow the “freedom to be better.” To me, that means two things: the freedom to excel and to innovate. Both are fundamental to the origins of the chartering movement. Quality and innovation work hand in hand...

There are actually a lot of things wrong with that statement, but the notion that public school districts don't and can't innovate is not true. Minnesota has a rich and storied history of educational innovation in public schools, including experiments in individualized instruction, magnet schools, and special purpose schools such as language immersion schools. And don't the notions of “innovative” and “research and development” necessarily involve some failure?

But there was a special deal to be made for charter schools, as enumerated first by Lamar Alexander, then by Joe Nathan: “We'll regulate less if schools and school districts will produce better results.” A corollary shared by Nathan was that the state would allow schools to segregate if they got better test scores.

Twenty five years later the results of those “deals” are clear. After adjusting for external factors charter school students do no better, and probably marginally worse, on standardized test scores than students at regular public schools. And charter schools are decidedly more segregated than their regular public school counterparts. By 2016 there were 93 “hypersegregated” schools in the Twin Cities - more than 95% children of color. Almost two-thirds of those schools are charters. Children of color in the state who attend charter schools are twice as likely as their regular public school counterparts to attend a highly segregated school.

After the 1988 Itasca Project meeting, the Citizen's League released a report outlining a charter school proposal they had been working on. At the time Joe Nathan was worried, according to Reichgott Junge, about a proposed requirement the Citizen's League had included that called for charter schools to meet desegregation standards. He needn't have worried. Today, according to a report from the University of Minnesota's Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, “Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters.”

So the education reformers' promises haven't exactly panned out. Nevertheless Reichgott Junge takes some shots at skeptics – who mostly turned out to be right - of the charter legislation in her book. For example, in their opposition to early chartering laws the Minnesota Education Association had circulated a flyer that Reichgott Junge lambastes for suggesting that children might be turned into guinea pigs in an unholy educational experiment.

Unfortunately for many youngsters in the state that is exactly what has happened, and Reichgott Junge is either in complete denial or just doesn't care. Charter School Churn is a thing. We're now stuck – as a feature of the system – in an infinite loop of closing and opening charter schools, and all the chaos that entails. Apparently Reichgott Junge and her allies think this is a good thing.

Part III: Reichgott Junge: The missing years

Charters were originally called “Outcome-based schools.” Paradoxically (or, not), original charter contracts required two mutually exclusive things from the new schools: That they would be both innovative and high-achieving. The high-achieving part was unspecified but taken to mean higher test scores. Innovative, as Joe Nathan told the Star Tribune in 1992, essentially meant experimental:

“If we are going to make progress in education, we need to rethink what we're doing and know and try big experiments..."

In true experiments many, if not most efforts at gaining knowledge fail. Without thoughtful design and considerations experiments can fail and be useless as an experiment. So in order for the charter experiment to be a success there must be continual failures in educating children, i.e. churn. Children caught in charter school churn are some of the real “guinea pigs” that Reichgott Junge so forcefully said would not exist. Yet to this day reformers bristle at the idea that they are experimenting with the lives of children.

At first the reformers were embarrassed by their high-profile failures. Eventually they came to embrace school churn, just as they have come to embrace segregation, as a positive feature of their new system.

Upon the closing of a charter school in 2007 Nathan, possibly the movement's cheeriest promoter, was still selling the everything-is-ok song to the Star Tribune, emphasizing that the great majority of charters at that time were “thriving” because of the help he and others were providing. But apparently someone didn't tell the schools themselves, as nine of them failed over the next three years, including five in 2010 alone.

After those school closings failure became an integral part of the charter school plan. Al Fan, the former head of Charter School Partners - an organization that wouldn't even exist without the funding documented here - and the new head of Minnesota Comeback wrote in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2011 that

An important strategy in addressing this achievement-gap crisis in Minnesota is to accept the notion of "churn," which is rooted in a sense of urgency about needing better schools for many low-income children, rather than an incremental march toward school improvement. Churn involves efforts to transform good schools into great schools; close low-performing schools; open new high-quality schools; and, when possible, "restart" struggling schools.

In hindsight, given the inherent contradictions in the creation of charter schools, and the caviler way in which the industry has been created and managed, it should have been clear to all from the beginning where this experiment was headed.

Another question Reichgott Junge explores is the role of teachers in charter schools. She envisioned a world where teachers are involved in the governance, and possibly the creation, of new charter schools. But requiring that charters are run by teachers? That was a bridge too far:

“...I couldn’t fathom how a board made up of a majority of teachers could govern a school. Not only did that limit the size of the board and limit outside financial and other expertise, but it was also, in my view as an attorney, an outright conflict of interest.”

Fair enough. But in what reality are parents and/or teachers expert, rich and around long enough to start a school? And it's ludicrous to say that most or even many charter schools starting up in Minnesota have anything to do with a teacher or parent. More likely they are an extension of an already functioning network, either local or national, or the pet project of of a rich foundation, most probably the Walton Family Foundation, which has started or helped to start 30 percent of all charter schools ever opened in the state. In effect we've partially outsourced the starting up of new schools to the heirs of the Walmart fortune.

Then there's the prime character of charter schools: That they will be accountable for “outcomes.” Reichgott Junge mentions the terms “accountable” or “accountability” dozens of times. But what does that really mean? Turns out, short of criminality, very little.

In the legislation surrounding charter schools there was no definition of accountability, even for test scores. What level of proficiency on standardized tests should be a trigger for the closing of a charter school? Twenty five percent proficiency? Ten percent? In reality few charters have ever been closed for low test scores. Most closings are due to financial, enrollment and fitness to educate reasons.

One Minneapolis charter school, the Minnesota Internship Center, enrolled 363 students in 2016, 86% of them Black / African American. That same year it had an average test score proficiency rating of 3.6%, about the level it has been stuck at for four years:

Minnesota Internship Center charter school

El Colegio, a 98% Hispanic / Latino charter in south Minneapolis, has had math, science and reading scores approaching or reaching zero for the past four years. (The entire state average is about 58% proficiency.) Yet no one is calling for the closure of El Colegio. Indeed, local foundations have actually accelerated their giving to the school, contributing more than $100,000 over the past five years.

El Colegio charter schools

At Lincoln International School in Minneapolis test score proficiency hovered near zero for all three tested subject areas of the past four years. Lincoln's 144 students are 77% Black / African American and 21% Hispanic, and was started with a $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation in 2008.

Lincoln International charter school

St. Paul's Dugsi Academy, a charter school that opened in 2005, has math, reading and science scores approaching zero for 2016. Dugsi enrolled 392 students in 2016, 99% of them Black /African American.

Dugsi Academy charter school

Minneapolis' new district/charter collaboration, the Mastery School, started by an educational outfit that specializes in radically segregated schools and an authoritarian pedagogy, doesn't do a whole lot better. Hailed by locals in 2012 as a breakthrough collaboration, the school, which is 96% Black / African American, has received millions of dollars in foundation money, yet in 2016, after four years of operation, registered a 14.4% proficiency in reading and a 33% proficiency in math. Meanwhile the proprietor, Eric Mahmoud, was inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Hall of Fame.

Master School

Granted, these schools are bad exemplars of charter schools, and some charters do better on test scores for specific demographics compared to state averages, but they're not entirely atypical and no one is moving to close them despite years of low test scores. These schools are also part of a cynical strategy of the foundations to create a series of so-called “Poverty Academies” (nee Segregation Academies) strung across the poorest and most racially concentrated areas in the Twin Cities. The map below shows charter schools supported by the philanthropies in the Twin Cities with an overlay map of concentrated racial poverty:

The Twin Cities Poverty Academy archipelago

This kind of evidence of charter school failures has been continuous since their inception. Yet promoters retained their optimism. Back in 2010 - in the days of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law - the Minnesota Department of Education (MDOE) used to compile a list every year of the state's "lowest performing" schools.

The MDOE report for 2010 included 11 of the state's 154 operating charter schools in its list of the 32 lowest performing schools in the state, for a failure rate of seven percent. Twenty one of the failing 32 were regular public schools. At the time there were 2,485 regular public schools, giving a failure rate of less than one percent. So according to NCLB standards and Minnesota test scores, charter schools in the state were failing at a rate seven times greater than regular public schools.

But not being held “accountable” for low test scores just scratches the surface of an accountability black hole for charters. The much larger problem is that charters are not democratically accountable for what goes on in their schools. If people don't like what's going on in their regular public schools they have a democratic remedy: They can vote in a new school board. There is no such possibility with a charter school, where the boards are often filled with unaccountable friends and confidants.

Part IV: A movement built on myths

ONE DOESN”T HAVE TO WONDER VERY LONG about what the legislative outcome would have been for a charter school bill in Minnesota in 1991 if supporters had told the truth about what they were planning. It's hard to say which problems they actually foresaw, and which took them by surprise. But it didn't really matter because their project was not educational, it was ideological and political.

In their promulgation of charter school legislation supporters rarely specified just what their educational pedagogy would be. Certainly nothing was suggested that regular public schools weren't discussing or trying out in one way or another. One goal that was clear involved mimicking the privatization of government services that was occurring in many other sectors of the US economy. Activists were obsessed with “breaking the government monopoly” on public schools. Arch capitalists told education historian Jonathan Kozol in 2007 that they considered public primary and secondary education the “Big Enchilada” of untapped spending.

In Minnesota local reform leaders like to cloak their charter advocacy in high minded principles, but a look at the movement's leaders tells a very different story. One key leader is Ted Kolderie, the Yoda-like education whisperer who has been envisioning education reform policy thought since the 1980s. There are more than a hundred references to him in Reichgott Junge's book, which is also dedicated to him. Former St. Paul Pioneer Press editor Ron Clark described Kolderie's vision of government as a payer but not provider of services in 2000:

The concept of government as provider, not always the producer, propelled Kolderie in the 1980s to begin - with others - to develop the notion of a charter school. As his views evolved, he came to believe public schools could not be compelled to reform. Rather, he championed a new law opening up opportunities for teachers and others to create new and better public schools that would be models of innovation, focused on improved results or outcomes. (emphasis added)

To drive home the point of Kolderie's importance to the movement, Clark also quotes Reichgott Junge, who pays him due credit:

“Charter schools would not be here without Ted,'' she said. “He was instrumental at the start, but more important, he was instrumental in the growth of charter schools around the country every step of the way.”

This is why charter schools cannot be fought with evidence and reason: It is primarily an ideological and political project. Nothing about the promises given around charter schools has come true except that they provide an alternative, in some places, to regular public schools. For a movement built around “outcomes” charters have not proven to be superior to regular public schools. In real-world comparisons they do worse. They have not innovated in ways that have profited their regular public school counterparts. There is no theory about why charter schools might provide a better education other than the unproven notion that competition will produce superior results. And charters have not been held accountable for their poor outcomes, increased segregation, failure to innovate, and constant churn.

On the heels of a book promotion tour in 2014 Reichgott Junge stopped off to visit MinnPost's Beth Hawkins for a chat. At the time Hawkins and MinnPost were essentially spokespersons for the movement, and the foundations reciprocated with $2.3 million in grants since 2008.

Reichgott Junge was worried that people might have the wrong idea about charter schools, and she had developed a theory that people who didn't like them believed what she called “seven myths.”

Hawkins typed up Reichgott Junge's “lessons” in a July 2014 MinnPost story titled “Ember Reichgott Junge confronts seven myths and misconceptions about charter schools.”

The first “myth” is that “Charter schools have partisan or ideological roots.” No – they don't have “partisan” roots – but they do have ideological roots, and that ideology is the sustaining force of the movement. Not a myth.

Myth number two is “Charters are publicly financed private schools.” This point has been argued in public many times; the bottom line is charter schools are basically private institutions that are funded with public money. They have no citizen-accountable board of directors, and the community has no levers over the school. The supposed myth is actually a very accurate description. Not a myth.

Myth number three: “Charters are a wedge to crack open the door to private school vouchers.” In fact, former Republican Governor Arne Carlson did try to get some vouchers going in Minnesota, but failed. Did charters help or hinder that effort? Hard to say. However, the threat of vouchers has been used as a stalking horse for charter proponents, who argued that without the milder charters Republicans would instead move to vouchers. So Reichgott Junge's point is kind of true, but misses a larger context.

Myth number four: “Charters divert money from district schools.” Reichgott Junge doesn't argue this point – so it's not a myth. She instead makes the point that money should follow the student, which is a different thing than saying money is not drained from school districts. In Minneapolis nearly 12,000 students attend charter schools, and in St Paul another 13,000. This bleeding of students to charters is starting to turn into a real issue.

In 2013 Moody's Investors Services issued a report warning that charter schools could drain enough money from regular school districts to in effect create a mini death spiral. It warned that in response to lost revenue districts might “...cut academic and other programs, reducing service levels and thereby driving students to seek educational alternatives, including charter schools...” It's worth remembering that in 2016 the Minneapolis school district experienced an unexpected $20 million shortfall.

Myth number five concerns for-profit schools, which aren't allowed in Minnesota, so this one is irrelevant.

Myth number six is that charter schools are not innovative. Again – Reichgott Junge agrees with the statement that state charters are not educationally innovative, so it's not a myth. Instead she argues that the new kind of innovation is “accountability.” As shown above there is anything but accountability for Minnesota charter schools.

The last “myth” on the list might be the most interesting: “Charter schools do not perform as well as district schools.” Given real scholarship on this subject over the years, comparing similar children with similar demographics it is indisputable that charters school students do no better than regular public school students on standardized tests. As mentioned above, some Minnesota charter school students do get test scores marginally higher than the state averages for various demographics.

For someone as supposedly obsessed about accountability as Reichgott Junge, it's strange to see her espousing essentially a nihilist view of the research, as she says in MinnPost that “You will find a study for any point of view...” She then goes on to cite research from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to support her view.

So in Reichgott Junge's list of charters school “myths,” five are clearly not myths, one is irrelevant, and one is a half myth.

“None of us involved in the birth of chartering knew the whole story”

In telling the legislative history of charter schools in Minnesota Reichgott Junge informs her readers that “None of us involved in the birth of chartering knew the whole story.” While that may be technically true, it obscures the fact that “policy entrepreneurs” like Ted Kolderie and financiers at places like the Minneapolis Foundation had been pursing a strategy of what they called removing the public's “exclusive franchise” on public education for years.

And those same “policy entrepreneurs” would be working overtime the next 25 years to build political support for charters, loosen the laws that regulate them, and eventually finance a soup-to-nuts movement pursing these goals. It's probably true that Reichgott Junge didn't understand the big-picture or the deep pockets that were out to destroy public education in Minnesota, but rest assured that those pulling the strings were aware, and were overjoyed when they were able to bring a Democrat on board as a true believer.

If anything that movement is now stronger and better financed than ever before. Last year one of the foundations' key grant recipients – Charter School Partners – announced it was closing. This was not a cause for alarm because what it was really doing was just moving to a new virtual address.

The leader of the organization, Al Fan, and most of his staff moved to the new organization, Minnesota Comeback, and all its funders moved along with them, actually doubling down on their investments. Comeback immediately announced commitments from those funders for $30 million, and a plan for 30,000 “relevant and rigorous seats” (whatever that means) in Minneapolis.

Since the Minneapolis Public School district (MPS) no longer sponsors charter schools, and it has disbanded its office of New Schools, the 30,000 new “seats” must be in charter schools. Currently around 48,000 students attend K-12 public and charter schools in Minneapolis, 36,000 of them in the public school district. For Comeback to be successful the numbers dictate that MPS must essentially whither to an educational afterthought.

In the end Rechigott Junge's tale is primarily a political story and in that it provides a valuable resource for researchers and historians to get inside the heads of the people who made charter schools a reality. It is not a tale of charter schools in Minnesota, as she makes clear in the opening of Zero Chance of Passage.

That's too bad because the tale of charter schools in Minnesota is a wild ride of high expectations and promises followed by a few successes, prominent failures, numerous unexpected problems, and dozens of schools pretty similar to the regular public schools they were meant to improve upon.

With the new commitment of $30 million to Minnesota Comeback, millions more to an entire media/political ecosystem, and a lock-hold on education discourse the reformers can now see a bright horizon. Ember Reichgott Junge was the lever that opened the floodgates.

A journalist once seeking to report on the Gates Foundation's education activity lamented how difficult the job was because nearly everyone in the education community was taking his money. That's how it is in Minnesota education policy discourse. The only voices making it through our media din are the ones with a steady stash of tax-exempt income. The reformers' money guarantees a seat at every table.

When they're not dredging up or paying for bogus studies or polls, the foundations and organizations are sponsoring events to push their agenda. These events are then broadcast by local public media, presented as a “public service.” This is especially true for non-profit media the foundations contribute to, especially MinnPost, but also including Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT).

Education reformers will need all that firepower because evidence and reason are always just around the corner. They can only make excuses for low test scores, all kinds of impropriety, incompetence and segregation for so long. Providing marginally better test scores at a few segregated schools won't cut it. And it remains to be seen how long the voting public will take paying taxes to support schools while having little to no control over them. If we wait much longer to take action to end the failed experiment of charter schools it could very well result in the end of the Minneapolis public schools, and that's just a start.

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MORE ORIGINAL RESEARCH

Rob Levine
April 23, 2017

Free to choose a Walmart school

Poverty Academies, Segregation Academies and a foundation plan to erase the Minneapolis public school district

“School choice” is all the rage in Minnesota these days. The kind of school choice most in vogue are charter schools, where, according to promoters, less affluent parents can experience the same kind of education “marketplace” that rich people enjoy with their private schools.

Ok – that's an argument. But just what kind of choices are there for, say, low-income parents of color in the core Twin Cities?

Read the full report


February 1, 2017

Segregated 'Poverty Academies' underperform public schools

The implicit deal was to trade charter school integration for higher test scores - but it hasn't turned out that way

Questions about segregation, integration, and academic performance have been intrinsically linked in American education policy since at least 1954, when Brown v. Board held that segregated educational facilities are inherently unequal. The research leading to that decision,and the overwhelming social science consensus ever since, has suggested that segregated schools produce a host of harms for their students, and integrated schools generate a host of benefits.

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Rob Levine
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"High performing" Charter Schools

Beating the odds, or beating the test?

“Odds-beating charter school.” Those words are like an impenetrable shield for those who operate such places. They are also the holy grail of the education reform movement, which is constantly seeking shortcuts to radically increase measures of educational achievement, which these days is pretty much defined by increased math and language test scores.

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