One argument we see over and over and over again from school privatizers is that charter schools are more effective than public schools because public schools are not accountable for their performance. Because their funding, their very existence, are guaranteed by the government they have no incentive to improve.
That last sentence, by the way, reads very easily even without an explicit statement of what it is, according to privatizer propaganda, that the public schools don’t have an incentive to improve. Which is a sign of how thoroughly public discourse about public schools has been shaped by the charter school industry.
There’s no satisfying answer to this question of what public schools need to improve, at least not one that satisfies anyone who sees children, students, as actual human beings, of fully equal value to every one of the disrupting grifters corruptly siphoning off billions in public funds meant to educate these kids.
Privatizers try to make this narrative hang together by using vague nouns like “outcomes,” “results,” “accountability.” What is it that public schools need to be accountable for improving? Outcomes and results! But the story doesn’t really work, not to the extent that they need it to work, without there being some concrete, some superficially objective,1 way to measure this putative non-improvance.
The technical details of the actual metrics don’t matter much since all that’s needed to serve the purpose is a bunch of numbers. You can read about them here online if you want to but feel free not to as they’re all lies and also quite boring. And the flip side of this narrative is that charter schools are nimble2 and run like businesses3 unlike the public schools they’re out to destroy. To really underscore this last point it turns out to be politically expedient for charter proponents to once in a while toss one of their schools off the sleigh to be devoured by the hungry wolves that follow.
Which is exactly what the mainline charter conspiracy does in California. The California Charter School Association, premiere privatizer lobbying conspiracy, has a program called Public Calls for Non-Renewal whose sole purpose is to pick off a few schools each year that miss their benchmarks and publicly, that is in front of the authorizing entities, advocate against their targets being renewed. They openly justify this program, this process with an appeal to nothing more than its political expedience for their movement:
We applaud the many charter schools that are among the highest-performing schools in the state. However, we believe that a small number of chronically underperforming charter schools threatens the overall success of the broader charter school movement.
And this is a really disconcerting position to be taken by people who will not for an instant shut up about how they put kids first, how they’re the most overwhelmingly efficient educators in history, how they are the only ones who can save children from the horrors of government incompetence. This kind of realpolitik calculus is fine4 when all the parties involved are adults, are responsible and able to look after their own interests. But real human children are gravely harmed when their schools close down.
It’s traumatic. It’s also well-known to be traumatic. When CCSA decides it’s acceptable to shut down schools for the sake of their movement they can’t plausibly plead ignorance of the trauma they’re discounting in exchange. And it’s traumatic whether public schools are closing or charter schools. And even if not every student in a school is doing well, is being educated, there are always plenty who are doing great, who are thriving in that environment, even whose test scores are high. Who are being educated. For whom the closure of their school will disrupt, maybe destroy, the delicate social networks that are nurturing them. As scholar Andrea Gabor put it in a very good tweet:
In markets some companies win; others lose–that’s the point of competition. When that happens, grownups suffer–laid off employees, communities, customers etc. When charters close suddenly, children suffer–and usually the most vulnerable ones.
And I guess it’s no surprise that the lobbyists at CCSA don’t actually valorize the needs of children. It’s not really their job.5 The people who actually run the schools, though, really ought not to sacrifice children, kids for whose well-being they’re not just morally but legally responsible, for the sake of political advantage. Our state legislature has seen fit to place actual human children, vulnerable children, into the care of the charter school operators whose interests these psychopathic utilitarians6 at CCSA are paid to further. On the pretty-much unverified representation of these self-proclaimed educators7 that they care about children no less, that they’re somehow uniquely qualified to teach them, to improve their lives.
The people running the schools at least ought to be guided by the well-and-widely-understood fact that school closures harm children much more than they help and therefore oppose closures as a remedy for anything at all. But of course they’re as fanatic about their movement as the flacks at CCSA. These self-proclaimed kids first educators are, it appears, perfectly happy to sacrifice the needs of actual individual children on the altar of the greater good, the movement, the cause. To sacrifice it by shutting down schools that don’t measure up to whatever loony standards privatizers invented to support their propaganda initiatives. And that’s not empty cynicism. As you may have guessed, I have evidence!
You may recall that a few weeks ago, not long after I with the able help of Robert Skeels, went and filed a petition against The Accelerated Schools seeking to compel their compliance with the California Public Records Act, a few other charters who’d long ignored my requests for records, began spontaneously to comply.8 One of these was the uber-white-savior charter management organization known as the Inner City Education Foundation, whose metaphorically mobbed-up mouthpiece, Erica Klein, let me know in late December 2019 that emails I’d requested in July would be forthcoming.
And eventually they did come forth! And in this rich set of material was a series of emails between CCSA operative Elizabeth Robitaille and Parker Hudnut, supreme commander of ICEF charter management organization the topic of which is CCSA’s 2017 decision to publicly call for LAUSD not to renew the charter of ICEF’s Lou Dantzler Elementary School. The first concrete sign of trouble ahead came at the end of August 2017 when Robitaille emailed Hudnut to tell him that CCSA’s visit to Lou Dantzler had not gone so well:9
CCSA would like to strongly encourage Lou Dantzler Elementary to engage with CCSA in a Multiple Measure Review as outlined in the attached letter (and our communications below from mid-June and late July). Our window for these reviews closes September 15, so we are respectfully requesting that you respond to us as soon as possible. This request has taken on a new urgency as we have looked at preliminary results from the 2016-17 CAASPP. Though the CDE has delayed the official release of 2016-17 CAASPP scores, CCSA’s modeling of your school’s performance leaves us very concerned that your school is likely to be below initial filters of CCSA’s Minimum Academic Accountability Criteria for Renewal. CCSA support for your renewal would thus likely need to be based on non-public data that would emerge from a Multiple Measure Review. If we are to rely on public test score data alone, it seems likely that CCSA would, in fact, be opposing the renewal of Lou Dantzler Elementary. Though we will not have certainty on this until after the 2016-17 CAASPP data are released, we urge you to work with us to share more compelling non-test-score based data showing student outcomes. Please let us know as soon as possible if you will be able to submit data as part of our Multiple Measure Review by September 15th
This communication is also interesting for its revelation of the fact that even though CCSA took the trouble to set up and administer this Public Calls for Non-Renewal program, apparently adverse to its interests, nevertheless they’re not willing to leave it solely up to objective numbers. Robitaille is very clear on the fact that on test scores alone CCSA would oppose renewal, but if ICEF can come up with “non-public data,” which is edubabble for “loopholes”.
And after additional back-and-forth, which is interesting but not essential to the story,10 Hudnut sent an email to Robitaille at the end of August 2017 essentially agreeing that Lou Dantzler would have to rely on the unspecified bundle of loopholes rather than the putatively objective test scores and also thanking her for the multiple chances CCSA had given ICEF, which is also ironic given the charterites’ obsession with rules-based accountability, a practice apparently incompatible with multiple discretionary extra chances:
I very much appreciate your candid response and assessment. I share your sentiments almost verbatim. For Lou Dantzler, I can promise you we fall below the threshold based solely on SBAC [test scores] so the MMR [loopholes] is the only way to go. I am speaking to folks today to get them to reprioritize this work and get it to you as soon as possible.
I personally appreciate the continued support and accountability that you and Allison have given ICEF as a whole and these two schools in particular.
And CCSA spent the month collecting and analyzing the loophole-enabling data, but it turns out that even that wasn’t good enough to save Lou Dantzler Elementary School from serving as an example. At the end of September Robitaille emailed Hudnut with the news that the numbers were just too horrid and that almost certainly CCSA was going to have to sacrifice the school on the altar of expediency to the movement although, as is usually the case when the zillionaire classes are regulating one another, there are still more chances available:
We just completed the review of additional materials submitted by Lou Dantzler in addition to the NWEA Similar Student Report (SSR) for the CCSA Multiple Measure Review. This was in addition to the initial submission of materials along with all publicly available from the California Department of Education. Unfortunately, I have to report that after reviewing all the data to date, we are not finding a consistent, data-based compelling case of growth in learning for Lou Dantzler students that tells any different story than what is publicly available. There are a few positive spots in the NWEA data which we’d like to walk you through. But other than that, we are not seeing other evidence that would lead to a consistent and compelling picture of growth in student learning.
While the review process is not over, we have reached a critical juncture as the CCSA advocacy position recommendation to our Executive team and then Member Council hinges on the school being able to show a strong case for student learning on internal measures to counter what is publicly available. Now that we have analyzed the CAASPP data released this week we have confirmed that Lou Dantzler is below the initial filters of CCSA’s Academic Accountability Framework and CCSA’s support/non-support of the school’s renewal now hinges on the Multiple Measure Review. We do not currently believe we have that narrative supported by the data to bring forward. I want to be forthcoming that as of right now, based on the data we have reviewed, we are leaning toward a recommendation of non-support for the school’s renewal.
But we are not done. I am reaching out to arrange a time next week to speak with you by phone. We would like to discuss if there are potentially any other data points you have not yet shared with us that would demonstrate a different case for student learning at the school than what you have shared and that is publicly available. We want to help you think through other data points you may have to the extent that we can and give you every opportunity in the week ahead to provide us with additional data that may be supportive to the case for student learning at the school.
And they did have a conference call, and ICEF did submit more data and plead their case, but to no avail. On October 10, 2017 Robitaille emailed Hudnut with the bad news that CCSA was unconvinced and was now pretty sure, although still not completely committed, to begin public advocacy for nonrenewal of Lou Dantzler Elementary:
When we spoke last week, we agreed that we would prioritize reviewing the new BAS data as quickly as we could after you submitted it last Thursday. We have now done so. Unfortunately, we did not see compelling gains in student learning on the BAS data that would paint a different, more compelling picture of accelerated student growth than the other data we reviewed.
We will be pulling together all data this week for final recommendations to CCSA’s Executive Team, Member Council and Board. I want to be forthcoming that as of right now, based on the data we have reviewed, we are leaning toward a recommendation of non-support for the Lou Dantzler Elementary’s renewal. Given the timeline needed to move through the process, it is likely that CCSA’s support/non-support advocacy position won’t be finalized until after October 25th. I recognize that this may not align with the school’s desired timeline for submitting its renewal petition.
Here are our next steps:
Week of 10/23: Final determination after review by CCSA’s Executive Team, Member Council and Board (there is always the potential for questions back to the school as well)
Week of 10/30: Notify school leadership and Board Chair of results and discuss next steps
Week of 11/6: (If necessary), notify authorizer staff and authorizer Board Members of decision (Not necessary if a school is above our metrics based on the results of the Multiple Measure Review or for a school that determines to self-close as a result of a non-support advocacy position).
November 14th: (If necessary), public call for non-renewal for schools that bring their petition forward for renewal in which we determine a CCSA non-support advocacy decision (Not necessary if a school is above our metrics based on the results of the Multiple Measure Review or for a school that determines to self-close as a result of a non-support advocacy position).
I commit to keeping you informed as we move through our process. Please let me know if there are any other questions you have at this point. We remain deeply appreciative of the dialogue we have had with you as we move through the Multiple Measure Review.
And apparently ICEF submitted some more data but to no avail. On October 27, 2017 Robitaille emailed Hudnut with the news that CCSA was going to publicly call for the nonrenewal of Lou Dantzler Elementary School’s charter. And even more interestingly, attached to this email was an official notification of a type I have not seeing before, in which CCSA lays out its case for closing the school. This is important in itself, but also important for the light it sheds on the charter industry’s plans for our public school system, in which such closures for such reasons will be standard.
And there was some more discussion over the next month, but it came to nothing. CCSA decided that it would in fact publicly advocate for the nonrenewal of Lou Dantzler Elementary School’s charter. In response to this decision Parker Hudnut went to his board of directors and they decided to close down the school unilaterally without having to undergo the indignity of a public process. Here’s the email discussion between Hudnut and Robitaille.
And the kids and the parents whose educations, whose lives, were to be disrupted by this politically expedient closure? Eggs broken for the sake of the grand charter school omelet, nothing more in the eyes of these utilitarian privatizers. Not mentioned really, not empathetically, in the exchange:
From: Parker Hudnut [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Friday, December 1, 2017 9:19 AM
To: Elizabeth Robitaille <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Allison Kenda <email@example.com>
Cc: Akeysha Goods <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ryan Gomez <email@example.com>; Shuron Lincoln <SOwens@icefps.org>; Cassy Horton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Lou Dantzler
Elizabeth and Allison,
After a lengthy Board discussion last night, ICEF has decided to voluntarily close Lou Dantzler at the end of the charter term. We are now embarking on the details of supporting students, families and staff and communicating with them once we have those plans in place.
It is honestly difficult for me to say much else at this time but I wanted you all to know the direction from the Board.
I confirm receipt of this notification. I acknowledge how very difficult this decision must have been for your entire school community. Please consider us a partner and a resource as you work with your students, families and staff over the weeks and months ahead.
And that’s more or less a preliminary vision of the nightmare world the charter school conspiracy wants to create for us, with schools closed down abruptly with no consideration given to the kids involved, purely for the sake of political expedience. No. Thank. You!
Image of Parker Hudnut is ©2020 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and once upon a time and far, far away…
- Which is the closest I will ever come to agreeing that there even is any such thing as objectivity. There are superficially objective things, sure. They look objective. But peek behind the curtain and it’s subjectivity all the way down. Mixing metaphors now to celebrate the lack of objectivity.
- Unless they’re reciting the story of that kid who jumped over the candlestick anyone who uses this word is lying to you.
- Claiming that something that isn’t a business is nevertheless better for being run like a business is another reliable sign of a liar in action. Unless they mean something along the lines of being first in line for government bailouts to save them and society from the predictable consequences of their own greed and nihilism. That’s not usually what these charter operators are talking about though when they talk about organizations being run like businesses.
- Or maybe it’s not fine, I don’t know. I can’t think of every possibility right now. What I mean here is that as far as the argument I’m making here goes it doesn’t matter if it’s fine or not fine.
- Their job is to destroy public education in California. If you ask them they’ll tell you it’s something different, I can’t remember what, but whatever it is it doesn’t involve valuing the actual needs of actual children over the lobbyists’ need to score propaganda points.
- I use this word in the worst possible sense. As an insult, fighting words. And yet John Stuart Mill is an intellectual hero of mine. On Liberty is my fifth gospel. Come at me!
- Their completely unsupported, unsupportable representation no less. The more I study the situation the more clear it is that any self-important fool with a four year degree and nine months at the freaking Broad Academy can drop in to LAUSD and have a couple hundred children and their attendant state money just handed over to them.
- Which is fine with me. I would have gotten around to suing them eventually but I’d always much rather get the records without the suit. I always hope that any given petition I file will encourage a few of my still-recalcitrant clients to come to their damn senses and start producing. For reasons I don’t care to speculate on this hasn’t really happened with business improvement districts. Maybe charter people are smarter than BID people? Wouldn’t take much to beat out that gang!
- The linked-to email is from Hudnut to Robitaille. It’s her down-chain email I’m looking at here. If ICEF had done a competent search in response to my request I would have copies of each email. They did not but it was good enough that it’d feel like a waste of my time to pursue perfection with them. Might change my mind on this later, ICEF folks, so don’t get too complacent!
- Although as I said it is interesting. It shows that Robitaille knew early on that Lou Dantzler would have to rely on these unnamed non-test-score loopholes because their test scores were so crappy. And that the school’s principal had failed to produce all the requested materials, as had the ICEF front office. Never going to know at this late date whose fault it all really was, but it certainly was someone’s fault. Another weak point in the whole hypercompetent charter school narrative, to be sure.
- Yes, apparently Parker Hudnut is precisely the kind of clueless nerd that thinks this kind of nonsense is funny. Only more clueless thing along these lines I can imagine is if he named one or more of this kids something with the same initials so they could carry on the tradition. I say this purely as an attempt at a joke. I have no idea if Hudnut has children, and I do not care, either.