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Last June, the New York Times published a gushing piece about the success of a segregated charter school in Minneapolis. The author, Conor Williams of the New America Foundation, worried that Betsy DeVos’s fervent advocacy for charter schools might persuade liberals and progressives that charter schools are simply another form of privatization (which is true). His goal was to persuade progressives that segregated, non-union charter schools are doing a great job on behalf of poor and minority students. His example was Hiawatha Academy in Minneapolis. Williams claimed that the “math and literacy proficiency rates for students learning English are more than double the statewide averages for that group.”
He asserted: “Hiawatha schools should be easy for the left to love. They’re full of progressive educators helping children of color from low-income families succeed. And yet, they’re charter schools.”
Whoops! Time for an update.
Rob Levine, charter school critic, recently offered a brief history of charter schools and exposed the sham of Conor Williams’ claims:
Success is a relative word, as Williams made clear; in this context he meant better student test scores than students in the same demographic throughout the state.
If Williams had written this a few years ago he would have been right in one respect:Conor Williams in the New York Times. In a few of those years Hiawatha test scores reached their zenith with proficiency rates that exceeded state overall averages. This was especially intriguing because of one peculiarity about Hiawatha schools – they are essentially single-race, with about 98% of its students being Hispanic/Latino.
At one time Hiawatha had passable test scores, but this story, like so many education reform stories, was not what it seemed. In recent years Hiawatha’s test scores have dropped steadily back down to earth, so that now they’re less than half of the state averages. For some reason national, and especially local media aren’t interested in that now.
If on his trip to Minneapolis correspondent Williams had wandered out the front door of Hiawatha Academy and sauntered just four blocks north he would haveEl Colegio come across El Colegio, another segregated charter school that is 100% Hispanic / Latino. El Colegio has had test score proficiencies ranging near zero for the past five years, including zero percent math proficiency in 2016 and zero percent reading proficiency in 2017. Yet it is a favorite of local philanthropies.
And so it goes with charter schools in the Twin Cities where an archipelago of deliberately segregated charter schools are being built in areas of concentrated racial poverty, all funded by a few local and national philanthropies, including the Minneapolis Foundation and the Walmart heirs at the Walton Family Foundation. And unlike Hiawatha, more than a few of these radically segregated schools have had test score proficiencies in the zero to 10% range for half a dozen years or more.
These are places that people like Williams seldom mention. Most charter schools perform roughly the same as comparable public schools on standardized tests. Yes, there are a few charter schools that do marginally better on standardized test scores than their statewide cohort. But they are the exception, not the rule.
How many times can charter advocates tell the same lies and get away with it?
As long as the Walton, Gates, Broad, Bloomberg, Hastings, and other billionaires keep pumping out the propaganda, and as long as the New York Times publishes their false claims, they will keep on hoaxing the public.
Funny, I read an obituary in the New York Times yesterday about William Helmand, who collected memorabilia about medical quackery, claims that this product or that product would cure anything and everything.
Mr. Helfand spent more than a half-century accumulating materials that hawked things like Bile Beans (“for Health, Figure & Charm”) and Docteur Rasurel’s Hygienic Undergarments. He gave much of his collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Academy of Medicine and other institutions, helping them with exhibitions over the years.
He became something of an expert on the history of quackery and the methods of promoting it.
“It’s probably the second-oldest profession,” he said in a 2014 talk at the Institute Library in New Haven. “It was one of the easiest things to get into, because all you had to do was say ‘My product cures some serious disease,’ and you did not have to back it up…”
“We cannot always be sure of the motivation of the seller,” he told The Times in 2011. “It may be quackery to us, but he or she may have thought it could cure everything.”
As I read the obituary and scanned the beautiful posters, I kept thinking of charter school quackery.
Speaking of charter schools and privatization as the “cure” for ailing schooldistricts, you may want to tune in to this webinar at 3 pm today, where charter cheerleader Joe Nathan of Minnesota and voucher cheerleader Howard Fuller of the Now-defunct Black Alliance for Educational Options encourage listeners to get politically involved to support privatization. They make the hilarious claim that the resistance to charters is “well funded,” when the opposite is true. The federal government just handed out $399 million to spur more charters. The Walton Family Foundation gives out between $200-300 Million to charters every year. The charter industry is funded by a gaggle of billionaires, too numerous to list, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, the Fisher Family, the DeVos Family, the Koch brothers, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Singer, Daniel Loeb, and Philip Anschutz.
If you listen, please take notes on who is funding the opposition to charters. If you find out, please let me know so the Network for Public Education can get some of that big money to counter the pro-privatization forces.