When it comes to the debate on charter schools, in Connecticut or otherwise, flawed arguments are plentiful
Opponents of reform often parrot off misleading talking points — see Randi Weingarten’s recent absurd claim that school choice is rooted in segregation — but Connecticut blogger, Ann Cronin takes it a step further.
Not in magnitude, but certainly quantity.
Somehow, Cronin manages to fit in nearly every tired, flawed anti-charter talking point at once in her latest post blasting the state’s decision to approve an expansion of Capital Prep Harbor school in Bridgeport.
Allow me to elaborate! Below I’ve broken down in detail exactly why she gets it wrong — it’s long list, so be prepared:
- Cronin makes the claim that appointed state school boards point to political corruption. She writes:
“On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.”
Her post, entitled ‘Something Rotten In The State Of Connecticut,’ tries to paint Connecticut’s governor as corrupt. Here’s the first place she makes this connection, pointing to the fact that the State Board of Education is appointed.
Of course, this is ridiculous. 70 percent of state governments appoint all or some of their state school boards, and there is a very good reason why most states do this. When boards are elected they are subject to the whims of politics — for example, the millions of dollars special interest groups like the teachers union spend on campaigns.
Look at what happened in Bridgeport in 2013. The teachers union spent nearly $150,000 on a board of education race, stacking the board with supporters of their platform.
- Cronin depiction of the Bridgeport Board Of Education letter to the State Board leaves out school board politics. She writes:
“The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.”
This one is laughable.
I’ve lived in Bridgeport for three years and covered board of education politics for almost as long.
Anyone with any insight into the community would know that Bridgeport’s Board of Education response was a foregone conclusion, and has nothing to do with the views of the community at large.
I’m sure there are parents with reservations about Captial Prep. There’s plenty of people who feel let down by the school, but not everyone. Definitely not as many as the BOE’s letter to the state board of education would suggest.
The school board met last Monday for a special meeting, only 6 out of nine members showed up. According to parents I spoke with after the meeting, the room was full of with members of the teachers union and the board allowed only those who agreed with them to speak. The rest of the public was barred from voicing their opinion because that’s how Bridgeport BOE functions.
They steamrolled that letter through because certain members have an ax to grind. Any calculations of added costs done by the school district should be taken with a grain of salt. Last time they released information on the amount of money that opening of charter schools would cost the district, it turned out the figures were a gross over estimation.
I’ve written about this before. Bridgeport has funding issues, but it has nothing to do with charter schools.
In Connecticut, per-pupil funding does not “follow the child.” Though according to state law, districts technically don’t count state charter schools students in the ECS grant funding formula, the state’s “hold harmless,” in practice, has the effect of districts continuing to receive money for students who leave the district for charter schools.
In other words, looking at increased transportation and special education costs alone as the district has done, doesn’t give an accurate picture of the impact of opening new charter school seats — but nice try!
- Cronin falsely claims that charters are costing the state more money. She writes:
“Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.”
Connecticut is in a budget crisis, but charter schools are hardly the problem.
If anything, charters do more with less money since most on average get thousands less per-student in tax payer funding. And, unlike traditional public schools whose buildings are owned and paid for by municipalities, charters have to pay for their facilities cost either by raising money or through their general operating grants.
If you want to talk about government waste how about we talk about the fact there are traditional public schools that have been failing students for decades. Look at Bassick, which has been a merry-go-round for half a century. We are pumping money into a school where zero students are on grade level in math and only about 50 percent of seniors graduate.
- Cronin’s comparison of enrollment between a district and a school is misleading. She writes:
“Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.”
Of course, the percentages are off!
Bridgeport Public Schools has 22,000 students, but Capital Prep Harbor School only has a little over 350 — that’s sixty-two times the amount of students. If Cronin is going to call out Capital Prep, then she needs to call out Bridgeport’s Magnet schools as well.
High Horizons has zero English Language Learners. Same with Park City Magnet school. Notice how there is little outrage over that?
- Cronin forgets to mention the whole story of the alleged cherry picking at Capital Prep Magnet School. She writes:
“Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.”
Hartford Courant reporters Vanessa de la Torre and Matthew Kauffman uncovered 131 students were enrolled into Captial Prep Magnet School in Hartford outside the lottery in the 2013-2014 school year. Though it’s true that Steve Perry was principal when students were admitted outside the lottery, there is more to the story than Cronin is offering.
According to the state auditor’s report, a majority of the students admitted outside the lottery to Captial Prep that school year were white.
This may sound damning, and it is, but remember that Hartford’s magnet school enrollment is restricted by quotas set by Sheff v. O’Neil, the landmark school desegregation case. The Sheff guidelines require that schools have no more than 75 percent minority student populations. Capital Prep was not meeting that quota until 2013, which basically means they were at risk of having to cut back on the number of seats they could offer to students.
Aside from a few anecdotal stories, there’s no evidence that students were admitted because of athletic ability, but there seems to be evidence that Capital Prep Magnet School may have admitted students to met racial quotas set by the state.
- Cronin misquotes a State Department Of Education study. She writes:
“Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from unstable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bussed from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.”
Did Cronin read the study she referenced? It says the exact opposite of what she’s claiming.
Here’s a quote from it: “In the Grades 6 to 8 cohort, public charter schools alone showed statistically meaningful gains at or above Proficient and Goal levels on the CMT.”
The State Department Of Education study, Evaluating the Academic Performance Of Choice Programs in Connecticut, found that in middle school, public charter schools showed statistically significant gains compared to traditional public schools.
Granted the study recognizes its own limitations and cautions against taking these conclusions into consideration without further evidence.
Referring to national studies is meaningless when we’re talking about Connecticut schools. There’s state like Michigan that has terrible charter laws that allow anyone and every to authorize schools. In this state, we have one authorizer, the state itself. (granted there are issues with that too)
According to the most recent data from the latest round of state testing, 83 percent of charter schools out performed their district counter parts in ELA and 78 percent outperformed their peers in Math.
- Cronin cherry picks charter fraud cases. She writes:
“Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public tax money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.”
This last point is just ridiculous.
Charter schools are public schools as defined by state and federal law. Cronin doesn’t get to decide that they aren’t because she doesn’t like them. Charter schools are subject to the same laws and regulations as public schools, including the state’s Freedom Of Information Act.
And, if she wants to talk fraud. Fraud in public schools isn’t reserved to charter schools — For example, look no further than the state’s Technical High School system, whose superintendent resigned when it came to light that she spent over $5 million dollars on inappropriate marketing contracts. Some of the services these companies performed included managing her personal twitter account.
- If Cronin wants to talk about “monied political structure,” why is she leaving out the millions the teachers union spends on lobbying? She writes:
“ADD IT UP: There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Connecticut.
Fighting the corruption is an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money-making operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in that monied political structure?”
If you want to talk about “monied political structure,” how about we talk about the fact that in 2015 the CEA spent more money than almost any other group on administrative lobbying. They spend five times more than the second biggest spenders, according to CT Trends.
Additional, what is she really saying? She’s claiming that Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money making schemes, but she hasn’t demonstrated that at all. Who profits? She hasn’t named any names or connected any dots.
Charter schools in Connecticut are required by law to be registered non-profit organizations. Their governing boards can not make any money off the schools. And, even if you accept her conclusion, wouldn’t those evil venture capitalist she mentions benefit from an elected, rather than an appointed board?
Think about it. They could be giving money directly to campaigns.
Cronin says she’s an educator “reclaiming the conversation.” Hardly.
According to her profile, she’s an education consultant. She’s not representative of classroom teachers. I’m not either, but at least I’m honest about that.
She does, however, represent a group called “Connecticut Coalition For Real Learning” — whose membership includes familiar faces: Thomas Scarice, Robert Cotto, Carlos Torre and Ray Rossomando, among others.
All four are outspoken opponents of education reform, and Rossomando even works for the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Suprise, surprise! He’s a registered lobbyist for that organization.