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Allowing school districts the final word on charter schools is dumb

In news of the weird, the American Fast Food Council has elected a majority of its board from a pool of current and former Burger King executives. Among the first to complain are industry lobbyists for competing for food chains including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Yum Brands (owners of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell).

I’m kidding.

Only education systems would be dumb enough to put an entity in charge of approving and regulating its own competition.

Case in point: the San Jose Unified School district has thwarted the attempt of Promise Academy, a technology-driven charter school serving low-income students, from opening its doors this year.

It’s a convoluted story to tell, but the gist of it is Promise Academy jumped through all the required hoops, including getting signatures from 300 prospective parents signaling their interest in enrolling in the school. After other attempts to kill the school failed, SJUSD escalated sabotage to an unusual level.

Here’s how EdSource reports it:

What the district did next was unorthodox, if not unprecedented: It telephoned parents to verify that they signed the document and were indeed interested in enrolling. Between disqualifying parents who didn’t fully fill out the forms, striking from the list parents they couldn’t reach and determining that other parents weren’t committed, the district pared the list to 72 — below the 80-student threshold that Prop. 39 requires for a district to provide space to a charter school. It denied the request.

Promise sued San Jose Unified. “The majority of families are low-income families of color and many have undocumented relatives or they are undocumented. They felt intimidated and it gave them pause as to how to respond,” since many had children currently enrolled in district schools, Johnson said.

San Jose Unified Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon said many of the signees had children in other charter schools with no intent to enroll their children in Promise — and supplied affidavits to that effect to the court.

On June 14, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thang Barrett ruled the district overstepped its “limited” authority in determining the level of families’ interest in enrolling. Promise had a financial incentive not to overstate its need, since it would have to pay rent for unused space if enrollment came up short, he wrote.

On its face, the story is just dirty, but it’s made worse by the fact that the school leaders and prospective parents are among those rarely afforded opportunity lead and learn.

The founder of Promise Academy is Mississippi-born Anthony Johnson who before entering education played minor-league baseball for the Washington Nationals. He has an Ed.D  from St. Mary’s University and experience with leading successful school turnarounds.

And, yes, he’s black, and male.

I’ve written before about our need to stop paying lip-service to the need for black males in education, and for the system to stop throwing tire-puncturing spikes on their road to serving children who need them as role models.

Yet, in San Jose, as elsewhere, it’s hard out here for a bruh. The institutional power of districts to prevent black educators from opening schools should embarrass all who do it.

Ok, a brief disclaimer: This doesn’t me that black skin and a college degree instantly gets you a free pass to lord of the lives of children.

However, it does mean if your application is legit you shouldn’t be shut down by institutions with longstanding records of failing children (SJUSD has some high performing schools, and also middling to low-performing black students).

The neighborhood where Promise Academy was set to open is said to be an education desert with parents who know it and want something different.

In an Oped Johnson says a conversation with a working-class father who wanted better options inspired him to embark “on a journey with hundreds of parents to design and open Promise Academy, a free public charter school to serve low-income students in downtown San Jose.”

Johnson’s “journey” included enduring rejections from public bodies at two lower levels before being unanimously approved by his last stop, the State of California.

He says:

…over the past two years, our efforts have faced stonewalling and political manipulation from some of the same people who are supposed to be fighting alongside us to better serve the children of San Jose.

It began when the San Jose Unified School District responded to our charter petition by calling the 300 parents who’d signed it and questioned their interest in the school. With many parents unable to even call back before the last-minute deadline, the district argued parents weren’t engaged and tried to invalidate their signatures. But our parents persisted, the hearing was held, and our dream inched forward.


District staff called our parents to see if they’d really signed our petition. Many of our parents are low-income, or immigrants or speak only Spanish. You can imagine what it was like to receive confusing and alarming calls from a government agency. They were intimidated, to say the least.

Shutting down a black man. Spooking immigrant parents. Blocking opportunity.

San Jose, a curse on your overpriced houses with brown lawns.

Mark this as another story proving Burger King should not regulate the food industry, and school districts should not have power over their competition.

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Charter Schools

I don’t care if KIPP changes their slogan if they still get results


Good People, some of y’all keep asking me about the internal work the KIPP charter school network is doing to interrogate itself for racial justice concerns, which begins with them changing their well-known slogan”Work Hard, Be Nice.”

I’ve resisted commenting because I think it’s a phony problem.

But, since questions continue to come my way, here a few thoughts:

1. KIPP can change their slogan to whatever they think helps them meet their organizational objective. You don’t have to like it. Stay in you lane.

2. People from the Right love any facile news peg that allows them to belabor the case that “woke” is going too far. I’m sympathetic to their complaint, but notice they have ZERO to say about it when white supremacy goes too far…..ever. It’s way too convenient and I’m tired of that. To them I say: woke isn’t doing nearly the damage to our country and out culture that your president, your party, and you are doing. Clean your own toilet before inspecting others’.

3. So-called “Ed Reform” is full of self-important individuals with axes to grind for one reason or other. Sometimes it’s just straight up competition, sometimes it’s malignant jealousy, sometimes its egotism because they didn’t get a grant or one of their AMAZING criticisms wasn’t heard, or whatever. To them I say, focus on your own house people and shut up about what others are doing.

4. On the liberal side, there are school/reform leaders who blow with the wind and will swing to something like racial justice theology as a shrewd value-signaling move to save their position within the field. Their perfection of woke-speak is a shield meant to position them as “allies” against white supremacy even as they enjoy every privilege and benefit of it.

5. I don’t give a damn if KIPP changes their slogan from “Work Hard, Be Nice” to “Eat Healthy, Drink Water,” or “Say Nice Things To People,” or “Don’t Take Crap From People On The Internet” – just as long as they keep teaching kids to beat the odds in the classroom. As of this point I haven’t heard a single them from them that tells me they aren’t going to keep focusing intently on teaching, learning, and outcomes.

6. And, finally, no – telling kids to “Work Hard, Be Nice” is not telling them to be complicit or be a slave or be compliant to white masters. That is almost as stupid as saying changing the slogan it teaching kids that merit doesn’t matter. Both claims are so damn stupid I can’t imagine educated people aren’t embarrassed to make them.

In the end, I hope everyone can focus on education, focus on results, and focus on the opponents of our field.

Please people: pop open a can of Mind Your Damn Business and drink heavily.

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Charter Schools

Sydney Johnson: California charter schools support their families during a tough time

If you listen to critics you’ll believe charter schools are the enemy of public education. If you look at how many of them are serving their students and families during the coronavirus pandemic, you might see a different story.

Private schools and some charters have found the transition to “distance learning” relatively easy, but public school districts have struggled to ensure students have functioning technology, internet access, and teachers trained to teach online.

Even worse, less than half of school districts have written plans to address pandemics even as experts have been warning of one coming for years. (Isn’t it delicious for public school cultists that Bill Gates is one of those who sounded the alarm about a coming pandemic, and he’s now putting his considerable resources toward expediting the search for a COVID-19 vaccine?).

Sydney Johnson tells the story of how *some* charter schools in California have acted quickly to meet the needs of families (even beyond their educational needs):

For schools like Fuerza, shifting to online classrooms was a relatively quick endeavor because the TK-5 charter school already had technology in place. At home, ensuring a supportive learning environment for students is more of a challenge. Fuerza and a handful of other charter schools across the state are responding by connecting families to resources they need so students can participate in class at home, from internet discounts to legal support.

In the switch to distance learning, many California schools have struggled to purchase devices for students, get teachers up to speed with online teaching and contact parents of students who aren’t participating in distance learning. But at Rocketship and some other charter schools, students were already completing digital assignments daily and teachers were routinely reaching out to parents through texts and home visits.

During the first week of distance learning, Anguiano’s oldest son Abraham, who is in fourth grade, was unable to turn on the laptop provided by his school, and the family didn’t have an extra working computer to give him. The next day, Anguiano had a new charger for her son’s laptop and was ready to go after replying to the morning text message, notifying staff that the device wasn’t working.

Most days, Anguiano said her kids have what they need. But the transition to distance learning has been difficult for the whole family. On top of managing two kids and her own office work, which is now mostly remote, her husband, along with thousands of other workers throughout California, was recently laid off from his construction job.

To help families with similar struggles, Rocketship, a charter management organization with 13 schools in California, initiated a new program at each campus called the Care Corps, a team of staff who reach out to every family every day during the shelter-in-place order to ask if they need support.

“Some say, ‘I’m an essential worker and I’m concerned that I will bring something home to my family,” said Christina Vasquez, the business operations manager at Rocketship Fuerza. “Sometimes they just need someone outside of the home to talk to.”

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Charter Schools

Why aren’t teachers freaking out about Biden and Bernie’s education task force?

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, put together an advisory council to help his state “reimagine” public education. Fearing Cuomo and his partner, the Gates Foundation, will produce a plan that creates accountability and expectations in their public school pension farm, the NYC teacher types pounced.

“There’s no current classroom teacher on this list of advisors” they whined.

For the record, here is Cuomo’s list of advisors:

  • Kaweeda Adams, Superintendent, Albany City School District
  • Jaime Alicea, Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
  • Jody Gottfried Arnhold, Founder, Dance Educator Laboratory (DEL) 92Y
  • Melodie Baker, Director of Education, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County
  • Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director, New York State PTA
  • Meg Benke, Provost, SUNY Empire State College
  • Jackie Burbridge, Parent, Suffolk County
  • Katie Campos, Partner, Strategic Collective
  • Anthony Collins, President, Clarkson University
  • Stephanie Conklin, Master Teacher, South Colonie Central School District
  • George Dermody, CEO, The Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference
  • Karol Mason, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Austin Ostro, President, SUNY Student Assembly
  • Martin Palermo, Master Teacher, William Floyd School District
  • Roger Ramsammy, President, Hudson Valley Community College
  • Seema Rivera, President, Guilderland Central School District School Board
  • Shannon Tahoe, Interim Commissioner, New York State Education Department
  • Dennis Walcott, Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

As you can see, teachers, parents, students, higher education, nonprofits, superintendents, and other education officials are represented.

Now, contrast that with the farcical “unity” education task force assembled by current and failed presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Per Vox Media, here’s their list:

Sanders’s picks:

Biden’s picks:

  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), task force co-chair and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Christie Vilsack, literacy advocate

Hmmm. This feels a little paltry.

Let’s start with the fact that Sanders seems to continue his trend of giving zero effs about honest Black representation or truly addressing K-12 education’s pedagogical and social issues beyond what political neosocialist agenda setters tell him works best.

Looking at his picks tells me his post-racial disaster socialism once again proves him an unserious candidate for any post responsible for educational progress.

Now, Mr. Biden, what gives?

Two national teachers’ union bosses, a political consultant, and the former first lady of Iowa?

Together, these picks reveal why the Democrats’ education agenda is useless to America’s most marginalized students:

Their list includes:

  • No school leaders who are successfully educating children deemed “hard-to-teach” by an out-of-touch education establishment;
  • No classroom teachers with a track record of success;
  • No parents of color desperate for improved educational options;
  • No one with direct pedagogical insights into what will improve education for those who are poorly served in today’s public schools;

In short, both Biden and Bernie, when given the chance to show how genuine their interest is in educational improvement, fail the test by stacking the deck with political advisors in place of accomplished educators.

The funny thing is, none of the Badass Miseducators so abundant in social media grievance groups have come for Biden and Bernie, even as they have indignant seizures about the fact that Cuomo dare work with Bill Gates for his “reimagine” counsel in New York.

I guess that’s the surest sigh it’s all politics folks.

If you care about fixing education so it works equally well for everyone, there’s nothing to see here.

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