Monday, March 30, 2015

Campaign donations to charter schools

Okay, I found two databases with which to look up campaign donations in support of charter schools. The first one has been used to write some pieces on the subject, I used the site Follow The Money to run a query “Show me School Choice Advocates contributions to ballot measure committees that supported or opposed Vouchers/Charters ballot measures in elections in 2014 (within core federal, state, and local data)“ and it turned up nothing. But this appears to be a good database to use to check on what's going on with campaign finances.

A much more useful site, I ran a query on Campaign Finance Online for PA and found that a particular contributor, Joel Greenberg, contributed $350,000 to the Students First PAC in 2014 alone.

As to general patterns on giving to campaigns that support charter schools, I saw that in in Washington State, 91% of the campaign donations came from just 10 donors. Bill Gates, a Walton heiress and the Amazon people were among the donors. “Of all of the money raised for the charter school initiative, just one-half of 1 percent came from donations of less than $10,000.”

Over the past ten years, campaign spending in PA for and against charter schools has been $10 million for and $8.3 million against.

Among one of the lobby's biggest donors is Vahan Gureghian, the CEO of CSMI, which manages the Chester Community Charter School in Delaware County. According to Follow The Money, Gureghian pumped $336,000 into the campaign coffers of former Gov. Tom Corbett - making him his second largest individual donor over his gubernatorial career.

Gureghian has also donated close to a million to other Pennsylvania politicians and PACs.

The aforementioned Vahan H. Gureghian's Chester Community Charter School teaches 2,600 students. He's number five on a list of the ten biggest PA political contributors. Overall, he runs 150 charter schools spread over nine states.

A 2012 piece from Public Source includes detailed summaries for the 10 biggest contributors in PA.

Joel Greenberg and Arthur Dantchik are partners in Susquehanna International Group, which has used lessons from poker to build a successful broker-dealer firm. The two men spent $446,000 on groups that support vouchers for private schools such as charter schools. In 2010 their Students First political action committee contributed $4.9 million to pro-voucher gubernatorial candidate Anthony Williams, who lost in the Democratic primary election.

Former Governor Corbett was a big recipient of donations from pro-charter school interests and Republicans generally have received more, but some Democrats have received money for that purpose as well.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Money people and management competence

So, a charter school group serves 11,000 students. One of the members of the management group is a hedge fund billionaire. High employee turnover is a strong sign of poor management and this group has so much of it and other problems that the remaining employees want to form a union.

Sears is run by a hedge fund billionaire and may be entering a death spiral.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney ran Bain Capital, not a hedge fund, but a private equity firm. Pretty similar though, in that the position meant he made lots and lots of money sitting at a desk. He served one term as Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, but by 2012, was so unpopular in that state that he lost MA to Obama 61% to 38%.

It's not that being a businessman who makes bucket-loads of money hand over fist necessarily means you're incompetent, it's just that making lots of money doesn't necessarily make you a good manager.

Will the charter school group teachers be successful in forming a union? We sure hope so for the sake of both the teachers and the students, but the hedge fund billionaire and others are probably going to fight a union tooth and nail. If the current managers really cared about the teachers and students, they would have recognized that their group was doing a poor job and reforms would have been instituted. No, the managers and the billionaire are in the charter school business to make money and a union would cut into their stakes in the group.

So, when Teachout, an organization of teachers and students in New York City, says that hedge fund and Wall Street billionaires are exerting pressure to force schools to accept standardized test scores as a means of evaluating teachers, I think we'd best give the teachers and students the benefit of the doubt and say that depending on standardized test scores is probably not a great idea.

Monday, March 23, 2015

This cartoon disturbingly depicts today's reality, except that it's from a 1933 edition of Progressive Magazine. Who would you substitute for the "false economy" symbolized by the man? Learn more about a central player in the organized effort to dismantle public education, ALEC:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How do corporate-private charter schools measure up?

Poorly. Not only do charter schools fail to “boost high school graduation rates or pass rates on most Advanced Placement exams. Another study, released this year, found that students who graduate from traditional Boston public high schools are actually more likely than charter graduates to earn a college degree or another form of postsecondary credential within six years.”

A generally-accepted figure for 9th all the way to 12th grade graduation rates is 85% to 90%. If you're a student, you have about a nine out of 10 chance of making it all the way to graduation. How about in a charter school? The rate there is about 60%.

Who are the people backing charter schools? Basically lawyers and hedge fund managers, people with lots of money who have run out of places to invest it all in. [16 Mar 2015]

Update: Yeah, charter schools can“stimulating” marketing to get students in their doors to begin with, but that doesn't solve the retention problem.