I am a Charter School Abolitionist, and You Should Be, Too 


 


 
 


After three decades, it should be achingly clear.

 

Charter schools are a terrible idea. 


 

These types of schools have been around since 1992, a year after Minnesota passed the first law allowing certain public schools to exist under negotiated conditions (or charters). 

 
It works kind of like this. Here are all the rules public schools have to follow in order to be funded by taxpayer dollars – they have to be run by elected school boards, have open records, accept all students from the community, etc. Now here are the tiny set of rules this one particular school has to abide by – it’s charter, if you will.

So there’s one set of rules for authentic public schools and another for each individual charter school.

This means charter schools can be governed by appointed boards of bureaucrats, they don’t have to share their records with the public who are paying the bills, they can even pocket some of that taxpayer money as profit (and in many cases they can still call themselves non-profit). And they don’t even have to accept all students! They can cherrypick whoever is easiest to teach and tell those they rejected that it’s all the result of a lottery – a lottery that they don’t have to share with anyone to prove it was impartial.

 


No wonder the situation has been a disastrous mess! 

Even today they aren’t nationwide. Only 45 states and the District of Columbia have been duped into accepting these schools and even then they enroll just 6% of the students in the country – roughly three million children.

The five states that do not have charter school laws are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.

So after 32 years of trial and error, we’re left with a charter school system that does not get better academic results than authentic public schools (despite being given dramatic advantages in their charter agreements) and in many cases drastically fails by comparison. Not to mention all the fraud, malfeasance and ineptitude you get from removing regulations for any Tom, Dick or Harry who thinks he can open a school.

WHAT DEREGULATING PUBLIC EDUCATION GETS YOU

 Consider that more than a quarter of charter schools close within 5 years of opening. By year 15, roughly 50% of charter schools close. That’s not a stable model of public education.

Moreover, 1,779 charter schools (37 percent that receive federal grants) never opened in the first place or were quickly shut down. Since 1994, the federal government has spent $4 billion on these types of schools. Think of how much money has been wasted that could have been put to better use in our much more dependable authentic public schools!

According to a 2010 Mathematica Policy Research study funded by the federal government, middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools. And this was the most rigorous and expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the US Department of Education to date, yet it found no overall positive benefit for charter schools at all.

None. Nada. Zippo.

In the intervening years, the matter has been studied further with similar results.

A 2016 study found that Texas charter schools had no overall positive impact on test scores and, in fact, had a negative impact on students’ earnings later in life. So if you attended a Texas charter school you probably made less money as an adult than someone who attended an authentic public school.

Even a 2020 study by the charter-friendly Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter schools do not exceed public schools in most areas of the country. In addition, the study found vast variations in the quality of charter schools – some being better and many being much worse than the norm.

According to a 2018 report by IBM Center Visiting Fellow for Evidence-Based Practices, the things charter schools do that have the best academic outcomes are:

  1. Longer school days or academic years
  2. Zero tolerance and other strict discipline policies associated with rewards and sanctions
  3. Centering the curriculum on improving test scores and test prep.

Not exactly progress and innovation!

And that’s not even getting into how charter schools target children of color, increase segregation and fail to meet the needs of minority children.

WHY ABOLITION?

At this point, any sane person has to at least wonder if we should continue having charter schools at all. 

 
Some folks want to try reform. Let’s fix the rules, they say, so that charter schools are more accountable and less prone to fraud and malfeasance.  

 
However, you can’t reform a system that is at its core inequitable. No matter what you do, charter schools will always play by one set of rules and authentic public schools by another. That is fundamentally unjust.

We need better than just reform – we need abolition

 
Ask yourself: Why are we allowing charter schools in the first place?  

 
Really. 

 
Why SHOULD there be schools paid for with public dollars that don’t have to abide by all the rules?

 

 
If there are too many regulations, let’s look at them one-by-one and decide which ones should go and which should stay. But why are we giving special privileges to some schools and not others?  

 
That’s what’s led to the exact catastrophe we find ourselves in today

 
For me, the question is not whether we should have charter schools or not. It’s a question of how best to get rid of them.

I think the best way is as follows. 

HOW ABOLITION?

 
Many charter schools are private businesses.  


 

They are run by corporations or other private enterprises. In these instances, the schools should be given the choice to stay private or try to transition to the public system. If they choose the former option, they would become authentic private schools.   

 
This would be pretty easy and require no major changes. The charter school could go on exactly as it does now with one exception – it would no longer receive any public money.  


 
 
It would be just another private school subject to the whims of the free market. The major difference is the public would no longer be bankrolling it.

And speaking of business, time to pay up your debts. Now that you’ve become a private school, you should have to pay the public system back for any major assets you acquired during your start-up phase.

If the school bought any real estate, purchased buildings, etc. when it was a charter school, it should have to pay the taxpayers back. You want to be a private business now and abide by your own rules? Fine. We can work on a payment plan to reimburse taxpayers for these assets. You think you can just walk away free and clear? Uh-uh.

However, the biggest change for a charter school going through such a transition would probably be the need to charge a tuition fee now for students attending. That’s what private schools do, after all.

 
Perhaps students could get a school voucher or some kind of scholarship tax credit mumbo jumbo (voucher lite) to help fund tuition. I think that’s a terrible waste of tax dollars, too, not to mention unconstitutional, but that’s an argument for another day

 


TRANSITIONING BACK TO THE PUBLIC SYSTEM

So that takes care of private businesses. Which only leaves those charter schools who deem themselves public enterprises.  

They can try to become authentic public schools (and thus continue to receive taxpayer funding) if they meet certain conditions.

First, they have to start abiding by all those rules they sought to escape when they signed their charter agreements in the first place.

The difficulty of such a transition depends on how much these institutions acted like authentic public schools throughout their existence.

 
Perhaps they have elected school boards and open meetings. Perhaps they run themselves very similarly to an authentic public school. In that case, wonderful! They can pretty much continue to do so… 

 
IF – And I do mean IF – the neighborhood public school board agrees to accept the former charter into the district.  
 

But this time the public gets an actual say whether the charter school gets to exist – unlike how the charter was created at the outset.  

 
Today, charter schools are hardly ever a venture proposed by school boards or the public at large. Very rarely does a group of concerned parents or citizens rise up and demand a charter school in their neighborhood.  


 
These are ventures proposed primarily by outsiders who see an opportunity for themselves. Maybe they have only good intentions and want to meet this or that need that they see going unmet by the authentic neighborhood school. But instead of asking the public’s permission to follow their self-appointed plan, they barge in and force the opening of a charter school with the additional tax burden this often requires. 
 

Now that we’ve abolished the state’s charter school law, the choice goes back to the community. Do you want this former charter school to remain in your district? Do you want to incorporate it into the district? Do you want to continue supporting it with tax dollars so long as it abides by all the rules all the other public schools need follow?  

 
If the answer is yes, then the school can stay. And I think it perfectly fair to require a series of public hearings before any decision is made so that the community can be heard on the issue. 

 
However, unlike when the charter school was opened, there is no longer any state charter approval board to oversee this processes. There will be no rules requiring school districts to approve charter schools unless certain conditions are meant.  

 
Local communities are perfectly capable of making up their own minds without any interference from the state government. If this former charter school really is an asset to the community, the school board will vote to keep it. If not, the board will vote to close it. 

CONCLUSION

 
So that’s it. 

Charter schools are fundamentally unfair as proven by decades of waste, fraud, abuse, and a spotty academic record at best.

The only way to balance the scales and provide taxpayers with a fair return on their investment as well as provide every child with a quality education is to abolish this failed experiment.

I know it may seem impossible now, but it probably seemed just as impossible in the early ‘90s when the charter school project began. Now it’s time to undo that mistake.

If things can go wrong, we can set them right again. It just takes rational people of conscience to fight for it.

I invite you to join me and become a charter school abolitionist.


 

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Stay Woke, Public School Teachers

“I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.”

Lead Belly “Scottsboro Boys”

How can you understand a problem if you are not allowed to name it?

How can you fight injustice if you are forbidden from learning its history and connection to the present moment?

These questions are at the heart of a well-financed war against a simple term – woke-ness.


Since the summer of 2020, oligarchs and their tools in the United States have been waging a disinformation campaign against that term – especially as it pertains to our schools.

Chiding, nagging, insinuating – you hear it constantly, usually with a sneer and wagging finger, but what does it really mean?

To hear certain governors, state legislators and TV pundits talk, you’d think it was the worst thing in the world. But it’s not that at all.

In its simplest form, being woke is just being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.

That’s all – just knowing that these things exist and trying to recognize them when present.

I’m not sure what’s so controversial about that. If we all agree racism is bad, why is it undesirable to acknowledge it exists when it’s demonstrably there?

More specifically, being woke means focusing on intersectionality – how issues of race, class and gender overlap and interrelate with each other. It means practicing critical race theory – not the made up dog whistle conservatives use to describe anything they don’t like being taught in school, but the study of how racial bias is inherent in many Western social and legal systems. It means using the lens of Black feminism, queer theory and others to address structural inequality.

Again, why is that a bad thing? If we agree that prejudice is bad, we should want to avoid it in every way possible, and these are the primary tools that enable us to do so.

Our society is not new. We have history to show us how we got here and how these issues have most successfully been addressed in the past.

But these Regressives demand we ignore it all.

Shouldn’t we protect hard-fought advances in human rights? Shouldn’t we continue to strive for social justice and the ability of every citizen to freely participate in our democracy – especially in our public schools?

Of course we should!

But leaders of the backlash will disagree.

Like in so many other areas of our culture, they have stolen the term “woke-ness” and tried to co-opt it into another invented grievance. For people who deride their political opponents as being too fragile and unable to handle reality, they certainly find a million things to cry about on their 24-hour news networks to keep their base angry and engaged all the time.

They have attacked librarians, spied on and harassed teachers, banned books and weaponized the law to forbid certain ideas from our schools and public spheres.


They have targeted and demonized antiracist work. They have tried to discredit the concepts that Black women and LGBTQ people have created to explain and improve the inequitable conditions of their lives.

And the reason is crystal clear – they oppose that work.

They oppose anti-racism. They oppose the rights of Black women and LGBTQ people to better treatment.

They are against everyone but a perceived white, male, heteronormative majority that doesn’t even really exist.

They call their political opponents extremist. They call them groomers. They call them prejudiced and racist.

But it is Regressives’ anti-woke agenda that is really all of those things.

For them, up is down and circles are squares.

As public school teachers, being woke is not a choice. It is a responsibility.

For we are the keepers of history, science and culture.

Who will teach the true history that for more than 400 years in excess of 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade? Who will teach the true history of the fight against human bondage and the struggle for equal rights? Who will teach about women’s fight for suffrage, equal pay, and reproductive freedom? Who will teach about the struggle of the individual to affirm their own gender identity and sexual expression?

We, teachers, must help students understand what happened, what’s happening and why. And to do so we must protect concepts that emerged from decades of struggle against all forms of domination.

It must be us.

It won’t be the College Board, a billion-dollar American business calling itself a non-profit, that after years of stalling finally released its Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum – a college-level course available for high school students nationwide. In the wake of political backlash, the new course material is as watered-down as weak tea in comparison to previous drafts of the course.

This just goes to show that the free market will never stand up to political power if it is perceived as adversely affecting the bottom line. True education comes not from corporate academic standards or standardized test gatekeepers. It comes from teachers.

And we must teach like never before because our lessons have a pivotal impact on society at large.

Intersectional frames such as those under attack by billionaires posing as populists have been incredibly important in supporting overlooked social problems and addressing today’s human rights failures.

Those of us who know history understand that suppression of knowledge and intellectuals (especially those from marginalized peoples) are a tool used to increase racism and oppression – to overturn the progress of the last century.

Refusing students access to books, criminalizing “divisive concepts,” and discrediting those with whom they disagree have all been tools of domination. Just as denying the persistence of any inequality has been a tool to discredit its victims.

Progress has been made in the last hundred years, but the struggle is not over. And denying that there are any problems left to solve is a way of stifling that progress and turning back the clock against it.

If we give in to these partisan “anti-woke” imperatives, we enable the return of racist and cultural inequalities that had been at least partially rectified years ago. We clear the way for these extremists to bring back a mythical past in which women are meant to be merely subservient to men and where race, gender and sexuality are rigidly defined and limited according to the ruling class.

Teachers, we cannot allow this to happen.

We stand at the gates, the first (and perhaps last) line of defense, because we stand at the schoolhouse doors.

It is a responsibility none of us signed up to take. But here we are.

If we are truly educators, we must teach the truth.

We must put the facts in their proper context.

We must encourage our students to think about what came before and what’s happening now.

We must stay woke.

Or the whole world sleeps.


 

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When Students Cheat, They Only Hurt Themselves 

 
 
Paolo invited me to his desk yesterday.  


 
“Mr. Singer, take a look at this,” he said and handed me a scrap of paper with a few hastily scribbled lines of poetry on it.  


 
“What do you think?” he said and smiled up at me hopefully.  
 


 
I squinted at the page and said slowly, “I think it’s wonderful. The use of assonance in these lines is perfect…” 


 
And his smile matured into a grin, until… 


 
“…if only Edgar Allan Poe hadn’t already written them.” 


 
Cheating is a part of school.  


 
It’s probably always been.  


 
Students copy off of other students, they take quotes from books without giving the author credit, they make crib sheets to consult during the test. 


 
But since technology has pervaded nearly every aspect of our classrooms, cheating has skyrocketed


 
Just ask the students. 


 
According to a survey of 70,000 high school students conducted between 2002 and 2015 across the United States, 95 percent admitted to cheating in one way or another, and 58 percent admitted to plagiarizing papers outright.

According to a 2012 Josephson Institute’s Center for Youth Ethics report, nearly 3/4 of high schoolers said they’d copied a friends’ homework, and more than half said they’d cheated on a test.


It’s hard to blame them. These days there are few things cheaper than information.

Nearly every student – no matter how impoverished – has a smartphone. And even if they don’t, districts supply them with virtually the same features in tablets or laptops. Like never before, students can connect to the Internet anywhere, anytime, and they don’t even have to type in a question – they can simply ask Alexa or Siri.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen children sit in front of shelves stuffed to bursting with dictionaries as they clandestinely whisper into their phones asking how to spell certain words.

Mountains of studies show that technology has made cheating in school easier, increasingly convenient, and more difficult to detect. So much so that many students don’t even consider digital plagiarism to be plagiarism.

Current generations practically were raised on social media and thus have a warped sense of intellectual property. Watching TikTok parody videos, reposting images on Instagram, and repurposing memes on Facebook or Twitter have eroded their sense of what constitutes intellectual property and what counts as original work.

Going back to Paolo, I don’t think he consciously tried to pass off Poe’s poetry as his own. He was trying to complete an assignment using assonance (repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words) in a poem.

He probably asked his district-issued iPad for examples and was directed to a snippet from Poe’s “The Bells.” So he copied it down, changing a word here and there and thought he had created something new.

It wasn’t word-for-word. It was just very close. He didn’t realize that such an exact approximation of an iconic verse would be so obvious.

And it was my understanding – knowing the student, judging his reaction to being caught, and being able to piece together how this act of plagiarism took place – that informed my reaction.

I explained to him that he needed to go further a field – to create his own lines that might be inspired but more distinct from Poe’s. And he did.

This wasn’t the end product; it was a bump in the road.

However, not all cheating is so forgivable.

There are many cases where students know exactly what they’re doing and simply don’t care or feel the risk is worth the reward.

A study from 2021 published in the International Journal for Educational Integrity concluded that students’ emotions and attitudes toward assignments have a lot to do with whether they engage in purposeful cheating.

Students who feel sad, distressed or other negative emotions tend to be more open to plagiarism than those who feel more positive. In fact, one can use student’s negative emotions to predict the chances that they’ll cheat on assignments, according to this research.

The fact that so many aspects of modern day curriculum focus on standardized testing and teaching to the test also factors into the equation.

Students have admitted that drill-and-kill assignments, testing look-a-likes, etc. are seen as worthless and thus they are more prone to cheating on them.

Students will perpetrate fraud even on assignments that they see as valuable, but they are much more likely to do so on standardized curriculum – the kind policymakers and many administrators are increasingly pressuring districts and teachers to include in the classroom.

Educators are under incredible pressure to include the most boring and useless of skills in their lessons – not how to think critically, read thoughtfully or write expressively, but how to take this or that assessment. Then when students rebel by cheating, teachers are admonished to detect it at every corner but not to punish students too severely.

Thus we create an infinite loop of academic dishonesty. And no matter what happens, it’s the teacher’s fault.

The way I look at it, teachers should take steps to stop cheating in the classroom, but without administrative support, they can only go so far. If there aren’t academic consequences for cheating, administrators have tacitly accepted the behavior regardless of what teachers do in the classroom. If there are no consequence – no adequate disincentive – cheating is normalized regardless of the words written in the student handbook.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be grace and understanding, but there need to be consequences, too. Students feel more free to be authentic and original when they are immersed in a school culture where authenticity is valued over fraud.

After all, even in circumstances where teachers have full support, they can’t catch everything. And I think that’s okay.

Who is most harmed when students cheat? It is not a victimless crime. When students engage in such behavior, they aren’t really hurting anyone other than themselves.

Think about it.

You’re a student in school ostensibly here to learn. If you cheat on an assignment (a valuable assignment) you’re just stopping yourself from achieving the intended learning.

You’re limiting your own knowledge, your own skills and abilities. Instead of grasping how to write and read critically, for instance, you get the grade without the learning.


It would be like going to the doctor and presenting fake bloodwork. That’s not going to harm the physician – it’s going to hurt the patient.

It’s the same for accidental and purposeful cheating.

So what can we do about it?

1) Perhaps the most important thing to discourage the unintentional variety is to teach kids what it is – especially with relation to technology.

Districts have to shift from embracing any technology as a given to being technologically literate. EdTech is like the Internet – a sewer. There’s way more garbage in there than treasure. If the district can’t control its own technosphere, it’s best not to have one at all. Be purposeful about the kinds of hardware and software you allow, and actively teach students how to use it.

A 15-minute crash course once every four to eight years is not enough. At minimum computer etiquette and digital proficiency should be an annual semester course, because students who cannot navigate the new media will be forever slaves to it.

However, that’s only half of the solution.

2) The best way to discourage purposeful cheating is to present students with meaningful work.

If kids actually want to learn what you’re teaching, they’ll be less inclined to fake their way through it.

Of course, this can only be truly effective when educators are allowed a voice in their own curriculum, their expertise is valued, and they are free to determine how best to go about their jobs. But let’s be honest – that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

3) Focus on process more than product.

For example, when my students write an essay, I never give them the prompt and then wait to see the results. We do prewriting together that needs to be approved before they can even begin their first drafts. We discuss it every step of the way until they submit it for a grade – and if it still has issues, I simply don’t accept it. I hand it back with suggestions for changes again and again until it meets the agreed upon standard.

That makes cheating much harder to do. It also puts learning – the journey from point A to B – at the forefront rather than coming up with something arbitrary.

4) Finally, relationships are the bedrock of responsibility.

Nothing in my class is high stakes.

If a student messes up today, there’s always tomorrow. All assignments are accepted late up to a point. All tests can be retaken. Everyone gets another chance to succeed.

It’s a huge burden on me, the teacher, but I think it’s worth it to extend a little grace to students. It’s worth it demonstrating that I value them over their work.

In teaching, relationships are everything, and you’re less likely to get purposeful cheating from students who respect you and whom you respect.

I’m not saying this is perfect or that I have all the answers. But in an age where everyone seems worried about academic integrity without any concern for academic freedom, it’s important to put your priorities front and center.

Cheating may never go away entirely, but at least we can be honest about why it happens and who it hurts.


 

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

 

Students Crave Opportunities to be Creative

“Is that the bell?” A student asks in shock.

“Yes, it is,” I reply, picking up papers and pencils.

“This happens to me everyday,” he continues as he hastily gathers his belongings. “I barely finish my poem and the bell rings.”

“You know what they say – time flies when you’re having… fun?” I ask.

He pauses and gives me a stern look.

“Mr. Singer, you know I hate this stuff.”

Then he blushes and stomps out of the room.

The next class comes trickling in and the first student there throws her bag and thermos on her desk and cries out, “Are we doing poetry again!?”

“Yes,” I reply.

She collapses to her seat and sinks her head into her arms. Then she looks up and says hopefully, “What kind?”

After numerous interactions like this, I’ve come to a shocking revelation.

My middle school students like poetry.

Not only like it; they love it.

Oh, they’ll protest from homeroom until the afternoon announcements, but between all this whining and fussing, you’ll find classrooms of kids playing with words and language like toddlers with clay or blocks.

And I think that’s really the reason for our classroom renaissance.

Somehow we’ve made poetry something other than a lesson. It’s play.

And that’s when the deepest learning takes place!

This year I teach two different poetry classes – a 7th grade course focusing on writing it, and an 8th grade course focusing on reading it.

It’s not entirely exclusive. We do some writing in 8th grade and some reading in 7th grade, too. But each course is centered more on creation or explication.

My 8th graders seemed hooked when I introduced poetry by reading them a Shakespeare sonnet in a stuffy British voice.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bard. After all, my wife and I named our daughter Desdemona. But you might as well lean in to the expectation that Shakespeare is elitist with a question like, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Then follow it up with some video clips from Def Poetry Jam.

My students loved the idea that these street verses by Lamont Carey, J. Ivy and others were both instantly relatable and yet qualify as poetry.

When I told them that rap also met our literature book’s definition, they were floored.

We read Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and even Tupac Shakur before looking at Tennyson and Whitman.

I’ll never forget the excitement on their faces as we read about the Light Brigade’s charge against the Russian gunners. Nor their looks of remorse as we read about Our Captain! Our Captain! Lying cold and dead!

I recited the Whitman poem aloud, and as my voice shook and my eyes watered, a student in the front row said I should have been an actor. But it wasn’t acting. Many of us felt that same emotion. It was right there on the page.

Today they were wrestling with Poe and Dylan Thomas with a kind of seriousness of purpose you rarely see in 13- and 14-year-olds.

In years past, I often had to point to this or that, guide them to consider one thing or another. But this morning, I could have gone to get a cup of coffee, and I don’t think they would have even noticed my absence.

My 7th graders took a bit more convincing.

When I announced we were starting a unit on poetry, they almost all lamented about how much they hated it so much. So I made them write a journal about why they felt that way. No public performances. Just put it down on paper.

Then as an extra twist, I had them take their prose and turn it into a poem.

It was funny how verbal complaints melted away in the face of stanzas and verse. Many admitted on the page that they liked poetry – some poetry – but they felt scared of getting the wrong answer.

So we began writing a series of about 18 poems – each in a different style. So far we’ve written cinquains, clerihews, list poems, haikus, alphabet poems, and today even a limerick.

The things they write about!

The very first poem brought out such emotion and turmoil. One girl wrote about the recent death of a family member. A boy wrote about how he felt he was never good enough no matter how high his grades.

Some showed off real talent with figurative language – personifying colors, using vivid imagery, perfect similes, a gift for rapid fire rhymes.

They still complain. Every day.

But you can tell its more route than real.

We’ve settled into a groove, and as long as I reassure them that their best effort is always good enough, they are willing to try almost anything.

Today I had them sing the rhythm of the limerick with me. I lead a chorus of:

Da DUM da da DUM da da DUM,
Da DUM da da DUM da da DUM,
Da DUM da da DUM,
Da DUM da da DUM,
Da DUM da da DUM da da DUM.

They laughed. (I did too.) They looked at me like I was crazy. (Perhaps you have to be to teach middle school.)

But they did it.

And they tried to write their limericks.

I’m not saying the results were all perfect. Few of them were. But the kids tried and some will continue trying.

There’s a word for that.

You try to climb to the top of the monkey bars…. You fall down. You get right back up and try again.

It’s play. Pure and simple.

That’s what’s been missing from so much of my kids school days recently.

After how many years of disruptions from the Covid pandemic and then number crunchers demanding this pretest and that standardized benchmark, the kids just want to get out there and play.

They want to be creative.

They’re yearning for it like a drowning swimmer yearns for air.

The opposite of standardized testing isn’t routine lessons. It is creativity.

I’m not saying I’ve somehow cracked the code – that this is the only way to do it. I’m as surprised as anybody that what I’m trying seems to be having these effects – or at least to this degree. It’s a matter of rapport meeting childhood need.

These kids want to be creative.

That’s what we need to prioritize and provide for them as much as possible – now more than ever.

Meanwhile, we’re still being warned against learning loss – a bogeyman designed by testing companies, book publishers and tech bros. Who out there is decrying creativity loss – vanished childhood – missing chances to be a kid?

These are what we should be worried about.


There will be plenty of time to catch up with academics. You can always learn, but you’re only a child once.

Your mind is only that malleable, your personality that open and willing to try new things – once.

Moreover, play and creativity are not antithetical to learning. They are the very heart of it. They are when we pick up, master, review the best!

So let my kids swim, paddle and glide in verse. Let them dive, bathe and wade up to their shoulders and beyond.

Because when they do, they transcend school and learning.

They become poetry, itself.


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“We Support Our Police” Signs are Empty Gestures or Whitewashing Dysfunction

 
 
It is a tragedy when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. 

Like nearly everyone in McKeesport and the surrounding communities, I mourn for Officer Sean Sluganski who was shot to death last week.

And I hope for the quick recovery of his fellow Officer Chuck Thomas Jr. who also was injured in the same incident. 

However, unlike many of my friends and neighbors, I will not be putting up a sign in my yard saying “We Support Our Police.” 

Nor will I be buying blue lightbulbs or other jingoistic bric-à-brac – even if the proceeds are supposed to be going to the Sluganski family. 

“Why?” you may ask. 

“Why won’t you join in on this act of communal loss, unity and pride?” 

Put simply – because it is at best an empty gesture. And at worst, it’s something much more sinister and alarming. 

“But it’s just a sign,” you say. “How can putting up a sign cause any harm?” 

Okay, I respond. Then tell me what that sign means.  

Really. What does it mean to say “We Support Our Police”? 

Does it mean we should pay them more? I might be able to get behind that sentiment. 

Does it mean we should acknowledge the danger they put themselves in to keep people in the community safe?  

Okay. I acknowledge it.

But let’s be honest here – most of the time police don’t keep the community safe.

They don’t stop crime. Typically they arrive AFTER a crime has already been committed. If anything, they are an instrument of justice – of ensuring the guilty are punished, but let’s not keep up this fantasy that they routinely prevent crime from taking place.

 

At best, this is a deterrent to crime. But that only works if the justice system works – and, frankly, our courts are in shambles. 

How many times have we seen criminals escape consequences – especially if they’re rich and powerful?  

We have people like George Santos in Congress caught in multiple lies and frauds. And nothing seems to be happening to them. 


 
We have people like Matt Gaetz in Congress accused of sex trafficking and assault, and they aren’t even being actively investigated. 


 
We have a former President who lead a coup against our government, and he isn’t being held accountable at all. In fact, he and the other lawmakers who enabled him are still in power and even seeking new terms in office. 


 
You think police deter crime? Not in a country without justice.  


 
If you’re poor and you’re accused of a crime, you often have to spend weeks or months in jail awaiting trial because you can’t make bail. And when you’re incarcerated, you could lose your job, your reputation and who knows what violence may befall you behind bars?  


 
And this is just if you’re accused. There’s no “innocent until proven guilty.” You’re treated like you’re guilty UNLESS you can pay to be treated innocent. 


 
“But this is the justice system,” you say. “The police aren’t responsible for the justice system.” 


 
Maybe not, but they support it. They prop it up. The system couldn’t exist without them.  


 
We often call police the thin blue line, but what is that line between? It’s not between criminals and the law-abiding. It’s between the government and its citizens.

And increasingly between businesses and consumers.


 
The purpose of police is to prop up our system – and it is an unjust system.  


 
If police refused to do that, maybe the system might get fixed.  


 
Take the incident in question where Officer Sluganski was killed.  


 
According to accounts in local papers, he and his partner were responding to what they thought was a domestic dispute. A McKeesport resident – a former member of the military – was suffering from PTSD and acting violently toward his family. He had guns in his home and had already made a death threat to people at a banking institution weeks earlier.  


 
The police knew all about the incident, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, but the details don’t seem to have been accurately conveyed to the officers responding to the scene. And the result was gun play and death.  


 
Is that supporting our police?  


 
Wouldn’t real support be sending a counselor to this person’s home long before it ever got to this situation? Wouldn’t support be disarming someone with a mental illness before he got violent? Wouldn’t it be responding immediately after he made the death threat and not only after he was ready to act on it?  


 
And speaking of supporting the police, what about this mentally ill veteran? If you really want to support our men and women in blue, don’t send so many of our children across the sea to unnecessary wars that enrich the wealthy and waste our resources here at home.  


 
That’s what I’d call supporting the police. Not putting up a stupid sign.  

You want to support the police? How about common sense gun regulations so that there aren’t so many firearms out there with which to shoot them? The US literally has more guns than people and you think a yard sign is doing anything for law enforcement!?


 
It won’t help the police. All it will do is make any criticism of the police or the system they serve seem outrageous.  


 
How dare you criticize our officers or our system!? Don’t you appreciate how this man died!? Don’t you appreciate the bullets he and his partner took for you!? 


 
And that’s the BEST case scenario.  


 
Now let’s look at the other possibility. 


You think there’s no harm that can come from signs like this all across our community? Ask a black person.


 
How many of our black brothers and sisters have police murdered without justifiable cause?  


 
Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown….  Poor little Antwon Rose! He was a 17-year-old boy shot and killed five years ago as he was running away from police in East Pittsburgh – not far at all from McKeesport and where last week’s incident took place. 


 
I know his mother. He has family and friends in the school where I’m a teacher.  


 
Michael Rosfeld, the officer who killed Antwon, was fired and he was sued civilly in court. But that doesn’t make up for the murder of a child. 


 
Where are Antwon’s signs? Where are his novelty lightbulbs?  


 
And he is not alone. US law enforcement killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence since 2013 when experts first started tracking the killings nationwide, according to new data analysis. 


 
Police across the country killed an average of more than three people a day, or nearly 100 people every month last year according to Mapping Police Violence


 
In 2021, police killed 1,145 people; 1,152 in 2020; 1,097 in 2019; 1,140 in 2018; and 1,089 in 2017. 


 
And you want me to put up a sign saying “We Support Our Police?” 


 
I know all police officers are not bad. But the system is. It is broken, and putting up a sign like that helps draw attention away from that fact and ensures nothing will get done to fix it.  

After all, why should we bother? Everyone here supports our police.


 
There are real solutions we could enact that might bring us some peace.  

Clinicians and medics could responded to mental health calls like the one last week instead of the police. In fact, this has been tried successfully in Denver. If they need backup, THEN call police. But you shouldn’t start the interaction with armed law enforcement officers who do not have sufficient training or expertise for these types of situations.  

You could restrict traffic stops for minor violations. Decriminalize things like jaywalking and other minor infractions. We don’t need broken windows policing when it leads to more citizens in body bags and more police getting killed. 

And can we get some gun control? Please?


 
We need broad systematic change to reduce lethal force from police. We need to get rid of qualified immunity for officers so that if they make a mistake, they can be held accountable for it. We need incentives to make them think twice before taking a life. 


 
These are the kinds of things that would START to bring about positive change. These are the kinds of things that I DO support.
 

But, no, I don’t support police without qualification.  


 
I don’t support anyone that far. 


 
It is ridiculous to oversimplify our world down to such a slogan.  


 
That’s why I will mourn with my community over this senseless act of violence.

And I will appreciate all that law enforcement does right.

But I will also demand better for our boys and girls in blue, our community and my black and brown brothers and sisters who bear the brunt of our societal dysfunction. 


 

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Finally! PA Court Rules Unfair School Funding is Unconstitutional! 

Welcome to Pennsylvania, where a common-sense judgement takes 8 years in court


 

And regressive Republicans respond with more illogical nonsense. 

 
A judge in Commonwealth Court finally ruled this week that the state’s school funding system violates the state constitution.  

 
It took school districts, parents, and advocacy groups banding together to file the lawsuit back in 2014, but it was really kind of a no-brainer. 

It basically comes down to whether you can provide a mountain of funding to rich kids while throwing a few pennies at poor kids.

Spoiler alert: You can’t.

The reason? The state Constitution guarantees a “thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth” – and cake for rich kids while poor kids get crumbs just isn’t thorough or efficient or meets the needs of the Commonwealth.

The problem is that the state funds schools based heavily on local taxes – so rich neighborhoods can afford to pile on the monetary support while poor ones do the best they can but fall far short of their wealthier counterparts.

If the state paid more of the cost of educating Commonwealth children, this would be less of an issue. But Pennsylvania is 43rd in the country when it comes to the share of revenue for local school districts that it pays.

The result is one of the biggest spending gaps between rich and poor kids in the nation.  

Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer, a Republican, ruled that this was discrimination. In short

“…the Pennsylvania Constitution imposes upon Respondents an obligation to provide a system of public education that does not discriminate against students based on the level of income and value of taxable property in their school districts… 

The disparity among school districts with high property values and incomes and school districts with low property values and incomes is not justified by any compelling government interest nor is it rationally related to any legitimate government objective…

[Therefore] Petitioners and students attending low wealth districts are being deprived of equal protection of law.” 


 
Unfortunately, no mention was made in the nearly 800-page ruling of exactly how to fix the problem. 

The trial began in November 2021 and lasted more than three months. You’d think the judge had time to toss off a line or two about what to do next, maybe that it’s up to the state to take up the slack or something.  


 
But no. 


 
Which leaves room for right wing creeps like the Commonwealth Foundation to crawl out from under a rock and give their own nonsense solution.


 
Enter Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Harrisburg based conservative and libertarian think tank that pushes for the destruction of any common good – especially public schools


 
Benefield wrote a response to the ruling praising it for leaving the legislature and executive branch to find a solution, rather than “mandating more money to a broken system.” 

Um, Benefield? Buddy? It’s broken mostly because we haven’t paid to keep it in good repair.

But he goes on…

“The only way to ensure that ‘every student receives a meaningful opportunity’ is for education funding to follow the child. Students that are trapped in their zip-code assigned school — especially in low-income and minority communities — often have no alternatives when their academic or social needs are unmet.” 

So the solution to not having enough money is more choice!?

I can’t afford to buy breakfast. Having a choice between raisin bran and pancakes won’t make a difference. I CAN’T AFFORD EITHER ONE!!!!

If every district received fair funding, it wouldn’t matter what your zip code is anymore. That’s the whole freaking point!

But look for neofacists and libertools to start spouting this kind of rhetoric at every turn now that they can’t hide behind the old excuse that it’s somehow fair to steal poor kids lunch money and give it to rich kids.

The next step is not entirely clear.

Some think it likely that the state will appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

However, they would have a pretty weak case if they did, said Maura McInerney, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“The record is very, very clear that local school districts are not adequately resourced,” she said. “I think it would be extremely difficult to be successful on appeal.” 

Judge Jubilerer wrote in her ruling that she hoped everyone would work together now to find a solution:

“The Court is in uncharted territory with this landmark case. Therefore, it seems only reasonable to allow Respondents, comprised of the Executive and Legislative branches of government and administrative agencies with expertise in the field of education, the first opportunity, in conjunction with Petitioners, to devise a plan to address the constitutional deficiencies identified herein.” 

It may sound naive, but it’s happened in other states – specifically New York and New Jersey. 

A suit filed in 2014 in New York argued that the state never fully funded a 2007 Foundation Aid program. The program was supposed to consider district wealth and student need in order to create an equitable distribution of state funding. 

The Empire State settled in 2021 and is now required to phase-in full funding of Foundation Aid by the 2024 budget. 

New Jersey tackled the issue way back in 1981. A state court ruled officials had to provide adequate K-12 foundational funding, universal preschool and at-risk programs. 

This made New Jersey the first state to mandate early education. The state also undertook the most extensive construction program in the country to improve the quality of school buildings in impoverished neighborhoods, according to the Education Law Center. 

Could such sweeping reforms be coming to the Keystone state?

“For years, we have defunded our public schools at the expense of our students,” said state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D- 38th district), who is the minority chair of the PA Senate education committee. “[The ruling] is game-changing for our students across the Commonwealth.” 

Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, said the state can afford a big boost in aid to the poorest schools right now because we have billions of surplus dollars in the bank. 

This is exactly what is needed.

During the trial, plaintiffs presented evidence that schools are underfunded by $4.6 billion, an estimate that they said does not account for gaps in spending on special education, school buildings and other facilities. 

 Some organizations like PA Schools Work are calling on legislators to act now by adding approximately $4 billion in Basic Education Funding. They even suggest the increase be at the rate of one billion per year over the next four years to make it more feasible. Finally, they propose this money be distributed through the Fair Funding Formula and the Level Up supplement so that it is more equitably distributed to districts in need.

To make matters even more complicated, the state uses an “outdated” formula to calculate how to allocate school funding.  

The legislature developed a new formula based on enrollment numbers and how much it costs to educate students who are living in poverty, English language learners, or have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  However, a large chunk of money isn’t distributed using that new formula.

The way I see it, the Commonwealth has a lot of education funding issues to fix.

Hopefully, this ruling finally means we’ve stopped arguing over whether a problem exists and can start focusing on how to solve it.

That, itself, would be a huge victory!


 

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Come Visit Your Wasted Tax Dollars at Commonwealth Charter Academy’s Waterfront Luxury Office Space

There’s plenty of fun to be had if you go to the Waterfront in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

There’s a Dave and Busters, Primate Bros, and even an AMC Loews’s multiplex movie theater.

But right across from the Barnes and Noble is a building with a neon green sign advertising its tenant – Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA).

This is the newest satellite office of the biggest cyber charter school network in the entire state! One of 51 locations statewide.

These are not your typical brick-and-mortar charter schools. They’re remote schools where students are taught at a distance via computer.

Like other charters, they’re still publicly financed, often privately run, and free from most safety precautions that ensure kids get a quality education at authentic public schools – things like being run by elected school boards, requiring entirely certified teachers, etc. But cyber charters don’t have to house children during the school day. They just need computers and Internet access.

Unfortunately, since Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991, they have spread through at least 45 states. However, only 27 states also allow CYBER charters like this – schools that teach mostly (or entirely) distance learning through the Internet.

Nationwide, Pennsylvania and Ohio have the largest cyber charter enrollment. In 2020-21, the Keystone State enrolled 61,000 students in 14 cyber charters – and roughly 21,000 attend CCA!

Who would have thunk it?

Sometime since the deal was signed in 2021, the mega giant headquartered in Harrisburg opened a luxury charter school office during the Covid pandemic right here south of Pittsburgh – by Starbucks and the Venetian Spa!

Oh, sure! There’s an authentic public school in this neighborhood, too, right up the hill. It’s not located in nearly as trendy a spot though. Moreover, its four buildings were constructed around the 1970s and are crumbling down in places. But the new cyber charter school building looks like a palace!

According to Shannon Construction, the 62,000 sqft. space converted from a former Macy’s Department Store has:

“administrative offices, conference rooms, seminar areas, production labs and live session rooms. Some features include state of the art exterior lighting and signage, high-quality audio/visual and security equipment and 52 new perimeter windows to allow for ample natural lighting. The interior is complete with custom wall graphics, acoustical panels, wood plank ceilings, a fireplace and a Techworks room that provides users with a full digital experience.”

Wow! We paid for that!

It’s hard to imagine why a glorified office building where students don’t attend school needs to be so fancy. Or why it needs to be located on such prime real estate. With such high rents. On the public dime.

I teach at Steel Valley Middle School nestled among residential homes on top of the hill. There’s no Panera nearby, but there is Munhall MiniMart just up the street.

We have no wood plank ceilings or Techworks rooms, but my classroom has fluorescent lights, a wipe board that doesn’t fully erase, wobbly tables and chairs, and no windows.

CCA doesn’t sound like a school. It sounds like a tech company. And I guess it kind of is.

The K-12 cyber network’s Homestead building isn’t designed for students – it’s designed for executives. The people who make the big bucks work here – though maybe there are a few teachers holed up here and there behind computers typing away to their students through screens across the state.

Much of the responsibility for these students doesn’t seem to rest with teachers. It belongs to their “learning coaches,” adults responsible for assisting kids at home – usually parents or guardians.

According to CCA’s Website, learning coaches are expected to spend five hours each school day helping elementary students with coursework and monitoring lessons, and between two and three hours a day with students in middle school.  

Why are we paying CCA again?

And how much are we paying them?

It turns out the so-called non-profit business, which in 2020 posted almost $39 million in net income, gets at least $10,000 per student. So given its enrollment figures, that’s at least $210 million a year – not counting additional money some districts have to provide. For each child from a district that enrolls in a cyber charter, the sending district pays the cyber a rate based on what the district spends on average per pupil – one rate for students in regular education and another for students with disabilities. This means that tuition rates paid to a particular cyber school can be vastly different.  

But since online charters have far lower operating costs than brick-and-mortar schools of any stripe, we end up overpaying them nearly every time.

I guess that’s why CCA has enough money to pay $19 million on marketing from 2019 – 2021, including getting a promotional TV spot in a Thanksgiving Parade, according to Education Voters of Pennsylvania.

CCA spends millions of dollars each school year on advertising. For example, in its 2018-19 IRS Form 990, a required disclosure for all nonprofits, CCA reported that it paid $8.5 million to Bravo Group, an advertising, marketing, and lobbying firm.  

CCA is sitting on so much extra money, it can afford to offer families cash reimbursements of $200 for monthly field trips.

But, of course, these trips aren’t always of much educational value. They’ve gone to petting zoos, laser tag, bowling and kayaking. A parent of a CCA student even bragged on Facebook about using these funds for Dave and Busters Arcade, a Motley Crue concert, Eagles tickets, and family vacations to Universal Studios and Disney, according to Education Voters of Pa.

Can you imagine taking your kids to an expensive theme park, or going to see an NFL game, or seeing Motley Crue play “Shout at the Devil” on the public dime?

Does that sound nice? Absolutely.

But is it fair to all the other schools in the state starving for enough money just to keep the lights on? Is it fair to kids in extra large classes, without new textbooks, and dealing with mold in the bathrooms?

Moreover, is it a good learning strategy to get kids to sit in front of a computer for 30 days with the promise of a field trip at the end of the month?

One thing’s for sure – it doesn’t seem to be getting academic results. CCA’s 4th and 8th grade reading scores in 2018-19, for example, were the worst in the state. 

Only 28.8% of CCA students achieved proficiency on English Language Arts and Math PSSA exams on a two-year, combined basis, according to state Department of Education data. The school’s growth score was negative – so they actually regressed academically. They would have done better not to have even gone to school! 

Moreover, the school’s graduation rate falls well below statewide averages and state goals. Its four-year cohort graduation rate is 53%; its five-year rate is 67%; and its six-year rate is 70%. For the 2018-19 school year, more than 10% of CCA students dropped out. That’s about twice as many as the average rate for charter schools and seven times as many as the average rate for authentic public school districts.

 

In short, the school’s performance ranks among the bottom 5% of schools statewide.

In the commonwealth, cyber charters were first allowed in 2002. They are authorized by the state Department of Education and operate statewide.

Which begs the question – has the state been doing its job to hold this cyber charter network accountable? According to the Times Tribune, CCA hasn’t been audited by the state in a decade, though the school disputes this fact and a press release claimed it has independent audits.

I don’t know about you, but as a teacher, parent and taxpayer in the Commonwealth, none of this makes me happy.

The best I can do is come down to the Waterfront and see the result of all this tax money – mine and yours – in a beautiful new building that isn’t doing anything to help students learn.

If you want an even closer look inside CCA, indeed.com has you covered. The site allowed employees or former employees of companies to review their places of work.

While there were a few reviews that were entirely positive of CCA schools across the state, the overwhelming majority were incredibly negative.

Take an unfiltered look at the inside of CCA:


Stressful, not flexible  

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – September 24, 2022 

CCA has changed for staff. They are no longer flexible and change requirements and hours with no notice. Staff need to read the administration’s mind to determine the new rules and regulations that changed continually. Work life balance is a struggle with this school.  

I’d pass on this one. 

High School Special Education Teacher (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – December 2, 2022 

CCA started out as a great place to work. Unfortunately, it quickly went down hill. Management had little spies that taught among us and reported back. I felt like I was in grade school all over again. The number of students on any given caseload is 60+ students. It was almost impossible to progress monitor, make phone calls, and complete all necessary paperwork on time. The expectation was to work 12 hour days as well as nights and weekends. No life for you. As time went on management became very top heavy. If you had a target on your back you might as well hang it up. They don’t really help you to improve even though they say they do. Burn out comes quickly and upper management could careless. Professionalism does not exist in this place especially from upper management. CCA does not support you as a teacher. You can easily be replaced and they will. 
Pros 
Flexible Schedule 
Cons 

Everything else….Management, Caseload numbers, Professionalism, etc. 

2 Stars

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pennsylvania – October 12, 2022 

What is the best part of working at the company?
Teaching students and coworkers. 

What is the most stressful part about working at the company?
Middle and upper management lack of communication, lack of flexibility, low pay.

What is the work environment and culture like at the company?
Not healthy. Upper management claims to listen but they don’t implement any suggestions. 

What is a typical day like for you at the company?
8-4 pm teaching, phone calls, grades, etc. 

Poor communication and lack of professionalism  

Administrative Assistant (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – August 9, 2022 

Upper management at CCA is unprofessional, some downright rude, and has extremely poor communication. No training or onboarding process, upper management doesn’t seem to know or care what most employees do on a day to day basis, and the environment is unhealthy both physically and mentally. Disappointing that when concerns were even expressed to the CEO, no response was even given at all. There seems to me a mindset that if given bonus money; $1,00 to $5,000 taxed money, periodically, that everything is great, which is not the case and it doesn’t reflect anything other than a means to disperse unused profits, especially since it’s been given to employees regardless of their length of employment or job performance. 
CCA is lacking integrity and are not what they claim to be in media advertising or to parents.  

Here is my view 

Administrative Assistant (Current Employee) – Allentown, PA – July 5, 2022 

“Equality” is not something that is known for the staff at this company. If you are not in the main office or a teacher you are treated like the “red headed step child”. They care more about money than making sure their staff is financially or mentally taken care of.  
Cons 
Pay, Flexibility 

 

A changing company/school that supports family. 

Family Mentor (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – March 5, 2022 

This position can be fun but also compromising . You can be promised one area then it be changed to an impossible location. Taking too much time to be worth the pay. When location is favorable then the job is great. 

No Work Life Balance 

Teacher (Current Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – February 13, 2022 

Great benefits, but at the cost of your sanity and peace. No work life balance. A constant push for in office/ in person during a Pandemic. If you’re single with no kids and no life this is a great fit.  
Pros 
Benefits and shiny buildings 
Cons 

Literally no life. 

My manger changes 5 times in 6 months.  

Success coach (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – December 16, 2021 

The new managers don’t know anything but are supposed to be your supervisor. You don’t get paid when the kids aren’t there so the job is like part time pay.  
Pros 
Benefits are amazing! 
Cons 
No advancement, very little direction. 

 

Not a good company to work for  

Teacher (Former Employee) – Homestead, PA – August 20, 2021 

Management says one thing and does another thing. Too many managers that don’t communicate with employees very well. Not understanding when personal issues arise  
Pros 
Great technology 
Cons 
Too many chiefs not enough Indians 

Not worth it 

Accounting Clerk (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – March 4, 2021 

Never felt comfortable with coworkers from day one. Also management was very unpleasant and spent way more time than necessary watching employees at their desks. They had seriously ridiculous expectations on performance after only a few weeks on the job. It was expected that I would just know how to do something I had just been trained on and do that task perfectly. Not worth the stress and anxiety it caused. 
Pros 
Great benefits 
Cons 
Toxic work environment 

Collaboration but inconsistent management, disjointed and unqualified leadership, unprofessional behavior, no training, inappropriate expectations 

Teacher (Former Employee) – Pennsylvania – December 19, 2020 

Sounds and looks much better to work there than to actually work there. Stressful, lack of communication, no consistency, lack of professionalism, focus on avoiding legal issues is driving force, facade of supportive atmosphere and family like environment. Work life balance is zero.  
Pros 
Remote 
Cons 
Totally inconsistent and poor leadership 

Authentic Leadership Is Nonexistent at CCA 

Career Facilitation Coordinator (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – June 29, 2020 

CCA cannot be great under current leadership. During my time there, it became evident that students are not at the center of this organization, but instead, the selfish interests of senior leadership prevails (note: I use the term leadership loosely). Among many things, the culture of micromanagement is toxic, resulting in unbelievably high turnover in certain positions. In a functional organization, senior leadership would work to mitigate this issue. Here, matters such as this are swept under the rug. For whatever reason, certain “Directors” are protected and there is no accountability. Professionals are not treated as such and their expertise is grossly undervalued. HR is not objective and gossipy…especially at the senior level, which is extremely unprofessional to say the least. If you’re searching for an innovative and inclusive organization which promotes growth and cohesion, KEEP LOOKING. If you decide to interview, do your best to find out the history of your position. If offered a position, run far and fast. 
Pros 
Nice building 
Cons 
Zero accountability, culture of nepotism, inauthentic leaders 

Save yourself the agony 

Unlisted (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – April 19, 2020 

Horrible place to work, bad management, inadequate pay. There is no flexibility and employees are not valued at all. Every day of my time there was miserable. 
Pros 
None 
Cons 
Everything 

Teachers are micromanaged and required to complete tasks that do not improve students’ education. 

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pennsylvania – February 22, 2020 

The school’s administration is very top-heavy. Teachers’ salaries are low compared to peers in brick and mortar schools. Workload among teachers is not fairly distributed. Teachers are required to award grades to students that do not reflect their learning. Students are awarded up to 35% of their grades for ‘participation’ that does not assure that actual learning took place. 

The hardest part of the job is not being able to engage the many students who use the cyber-school setting to avoid going to school. The administration does not put adequate resources to removing these students from the school. 

 

Poor organizational structure doesn’t support teachers 

Teacher (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – February 17, 2020 

Teachers aren’t valued much. Young and inexperienced administrators hand picked if they are yes-men to upper administrators push teachers to the limit. Upper administration has alternative agendas, and the ‘school’ is a company to them. Office cubes are loud and not conducive to work. 

Stressful, not flexible  

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – September 24, 2022 

CCA has changed for staff. They are no longer flexible and change requirements and hours with no notice. Staff need to read the administration’s mind to determine the new rules and regulations that changed continually. Work life balance is a struggle with this school.  

Little Guidance From School 

Instructional Assistant (Former Employee) – Ligonier, PA – July 7, 2019 

I worked as an in-home IA with a special needs student. There was almost no guidance from the school as far as coursework, deadlines, etc. All of my student’s goals came from the BCBA, and the school had very little to offer in terms of direction. The first paycheck came two months late, and there were no benefits involved , as it was an independent contractor position. On the plus side, though, with the relaxed approaches to education, it was quite easy to allow the student to work on subjects that interested him, and it was nice to have that kind of independence when it came to planning the school days. 
Pros 
Flexibility, relaxed environment, student home-based options, pay. 
Cons 
Little guidance, hard to contact the school, communication in general. 

Once Upon a Time, CCA was a Wonderful Company But Now…. 

Teacher (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – June 8, 2019 

When I started at CCA back in 2009, the CEO was Dennis Tulli. He was a wonderful leader who truly cared not only about the students & their families but also every employee who worked for him. He made sure his staff was compensated fairly and provided free health care benefits (no monthly premium) for teachers & their families. Providing CCA met their yearly goals, generous monetary bonuses were given to all employees in September. When Dr. Tulli left and Dr. Flurrie took over, the culture slowly began to change. More and more responsibilities were added to all employees but especially teachers w/o any duties being removed. Night & weekend hours became mandatory but again, there was no compensation. Many veteran teachers, who were making a decent yearly salary, were forced out so they could be replaced by younger less experienced teachers at half the salary. Raises became smaller, w/the exception of this CEO & his senior leadership team, and bonuses all but disappeared. Dr. Flurrie made it known that all employees were replaceable so the theme became “be grateful you’ve got a job here”. Over a 2 year time frame, the culture slowly changed from a democracy, where you could voice your concerns or ideas and know you would be heard, to a micromanaged dictatorship, run from the top down. If you are an older woman, do not expect any advancement opportunities. This CEO primarily gives advancement opportunities to men and young, attractive women. Under Dr. Tulli and for the first year under Dr. Flurrie, there was very little turnover. Once Dr. Flurrie’s “honeymoon” period was over as a CEO, true colors began to show. From his second year to now, the turnover rate has continued to consistently increase. Keeping special education teachers has become a real challenge. We used to be able to work from home but the majority of those positions have been removed so plan to report to an office everyday. Bottom line, if you think CCA is better a option than the traditional brick/mortar schools, you are mistaken. This CEO has eliminated any incentives to choose this company over the traditional public school. –  
Pros 
New state-of-the-art building, travel expenses reimbursed, coworkers are generally very friendly/helpful people 
Cons 
CEO’s ever increasing ego, smothered by micromanaging administrators, no more work from home/bonuses, low salaries/negligible raises 

Stressful environment 

Success Coach Coordinator (Former Employee) – Philadelphia, PA – December 27, 2018 

This was a stressful and uninviting environment. No room for advancement. Would not recommend others to a position with this community. Management upgrades are needed. 

Workplace drone 

Teacher (Current Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – October 24, 2018 

As the company continues to grow, so does the ego of the CEO and management. Little thought is considered for the professional teaching staff and all teachers are “replaceable.” Don’t even ask for a work from home day. I miss the old management style of Connections Academy. 

Productive and great team atmosphere 

Teacher (Former Employee) – Harrisburg, PA – March 13, 2018 

CCA is a growing school but be very careful as they grow what do they forget? The special education and general ed caseloads are so high but the school will not increase staff as they leave. 
Pros 
Health insurance, team atmosphere with team 
Cons 
Micro managed every step, no voice, top down management, non elected school board 

Sucks the life out of you

Teacher (Former Employee) – PA – February 3, 2018
Coworkers were wonderful, but the company is not run well and is frustrating and takes advantage of their workers. The highest levels of management are unaware of what the underlings are doing and don’t send a message that employees are valued.

Pros

Collaborrating with coworkers, supporting one another.

Cons

The worst most incompetent employees are the ones who get promoted.

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A Private Equity Firm, The Makers of the MAP Test, and an Ed Tech Publisher Join Forces

 
 
Prepare to watch more of your tax dollars spiral down the drain of standardized testing. 


 
A year after being gobbled up by private equity firm Veritas Capital, ed tech company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is acquiring K-12 assessment giant Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). 

Let me put that in perspective – a scandal-ridden investment firm that made billions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bought one of standardized testing’s big four and then added the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to its arsenal.

This almost certainly means the cost of state testing is going to increase since the providers of the tests are shrinking. 

“It used to be if you put out a [Request for Proposal] RFP for state assessment, you get five, six, 10 bidders,” said Scott Marion, executive director of the Center for Assessment. “Now you’re lucky to get three. When you’re doing that, there’s maybe not as much expertise and certainly the cost will go up” (emphasis mine).

Under the proposed deal announced in January, the testing company’s assessments and the ed tech company’s test prep materials will become intimately entwined. 

NWEA, best known for its MAP assessment, will operate as a division of HMH. And NWEA’s tests will be aligned with HMH’s curriculum.

You can just imagine how this will affect the marketplace. 

NWEA serves about 10,000 school districts and HMH estimates it works with more than 50 million students and 4 million educators in 150 countries, according to a press release about the proposed acquisition. 

So we can expect districts and even entire states which rely heavily on the MAP test to be encouraged to buy as much HMH curriculum as possible. That way they can teach directly what is on their standardized tests.

That is assuming, of course, the acquisition agreement is approved after a 90-day regulatory review period. 

To be honest, I would be surprised if there are any objections. 


 
Such cozy relationships already exist with other education companies. For example, Curriculum Associates provides the aforementioned curriculum for its own i-Ready assessment.

It’s ironic that an industry built on standardization – one size fits all – continues to take steps to create books, software and courses aligned with specific tests. It’s almost like individuating information to specific student’s needs is beneficial or something. Weird!

After all, if these sorts of assessments can be gamed by increased access to materials created by the same corporate entities that create and grade the tests, are we really assessing knowledge? Aren’t we just giving students a score based on how many books and software packages their districts bought from the parent company? Is that really education

I remember a time when curriculum was determined by classroom teachers – you know, experts in their fields, not experts in the corporate entity’s test du jour. 

But I guess no one was getting rich that way…

NWEA used to be focused more on formative assessments – tests that you took several times a year before and sometimes even after the big summative state assessment to determine if you were progressing toward passing the high stakes goal. However, in 2021, the company acquired assessment-related technology from Educational Testing Service (ETS) and took over several state contracts from Questar Assessments. This includes contracts for New York, Georgia, Mississippi, and Missouri.

This made NWEA attractive to HMH which had, itself, consolidated into mostly educational technologies and sold off most of its interests in book publishing and assessments. In fact, various versions of the company from Harcourt to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt used to be considered one of the big 4 standardized testing companies until only a decade ago. With revenues of $1.37 billion in fiscal year 2014, for example, the company held a 44% market share including Common Core instructional resources.


 
However, in 2018 it divested its Riverside clinical and standardized testing (Riverside) portfolio to Alpine Investors, a private equity firm based in San Francisco, for a purchase price of $140 million, and then sold its publishing assets in 2021 to HarperCollins.


 
Then in February of 2022, New York-based private-equity firm Veritas Capital acquired HMH at a price of $21 per share, or about $2.8 Billion. And under Veritas, HMH acquired NWEA and the two companies will work together to do many of the things that HMH used to do by itself – like a golden dragon perched atop the standardized testing treasure trove.

All for the benefit of Veritas Capital.

Make no mistake, the investment firm wouldn’t have become involved if it couldn’t make a profit off the situation. That’s what it does – through scandal after scandal.

Founded in 1992 by the late investment banker Robert McKeon (who died by suicide after mounting improprieties came to light), Veritas Capital began its life buying up government contractors and forming close ties with former senior government officials. Of the company’s many defense-related investments, the most infamous was its 2005 purchase of DynCorp International, a shady company involved in the US’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars.


 
Under Veritas ownership, DynCorp benefited from lax oversightfrequently billed the government for work that was never requested, and was embroiled in a sex-trafficking scheme, according to reports. 

Veritas also made headlines when a company it bought in 2008, Global Tel-Link, a telecommunications company that provides telephone services for prison systems, racked up exorbitant fees on calls to inmates

In 2006, the firm acquired MZM Inc., an intelligence contractor, which was investigated for providing bribes to Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., in exchange for help obtaining Pentagon contracts. 

Throughout its history, Veritas has fostered close ties to government officials. Campaign finance records show executives at the investment firm have given over $100,000 to various politicians, mostly Republicans. In 2014, Veritas paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a speech.

The New York Times reported in 2001 that numerous retired generals were on Veritas’ payroll and the company used such ties to the Pentagon and frequent appearances in the media to boost Veritas-owned military contractors, including DynCorp.

And now the little investment firm that could has its sights on the standardized testing game.

Why?  

Because there’s gold in them thar tests!

Taxpayer money, that is.

Current Veritas’ CEO and Managing Partner Ramzi Musallam has taken the firm from $2 billion in investments in 2012 to $36 billion in 2021 doing things just like this.

Musallam focuses on technology companies like HMH that operate in sectors dominated by the US federal government such as standardized testing. After all, the only reason public schools throughout the country have to give these assessments is federal law. It’s a captive market paid for by tax dollars.  

We could just let teachers teach and then assess their students in whatever ways seem most accurate and fair. Or we could continue to rely on corporations to do it for us without any real proof that their products are better or even as good as what your local neighborhood educator could provide.

Veritas is banking on the latter.


 
America spends $6.8 trillion a year on defense, health care and education – markets dominated by the government. 


 
 
“These are government-influenced markets, no doubt about it, and being close to how the government thinks about those markets enables us to understand how we can best invest,” Musallam said. 


 
So this merger of two of the most influential education companies in the US is great news for investors – and terrible news for taxpayers who will be paying the bill. 


 
For students and teachers – it’s more of the same


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Fact Checking Propel Charter Schools – Do They Live Up to Their Own Hype?

The Propel Charter School network has a history of making fabulous claims for its schools – claims not always backed up by reality.

The non-profit chain of 13 schools based in Pittsburgh, Pa, boasts high academics, safe campuses and certified teachers.

At least, that’s what its advertising blitz proclaims from every grocery store cart, newspaper page, radio announcement and billboard. Which just goes to show that anyone will tout your virtues if you pay them enough money – taxpayer money, that is.

Take Propel McKeesport – the franchise located in my own neighborhood.

The other day I saw a bus advertisement bragging:

“Catch Your Star!

#1 Elementary Charter School in the Nation – Just Blocks Away!

Propel McKeesport”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any support for this claim anywhere.

When I went to Propel’s own Website, in fact, there was nothing about it. Instead, it claimed Propel McKeesport was:

“…ranked as ONE OF THE BEST charter schools in the nation by U.S. News World Report” (Emphasis mine).

One of the best is not THE best. But it’s still good. Let’s call it embellishing the school’s resume.

According to Propel’s Website, in 2021, the McKeesport location was #11 in the state’s charter elementary schools and #7 in the state’s charter middle schools.


I suppose that is impressive, too, though being one of the best CHARTER SCHOOLS isn’t the same as being one of the best SCHOOLS.

In fact, when compared with all schools in the state, Propel McKeesport is in the bottom half for standardized test scores in both math and reading – one of the main metrics used to calculate its rank by US News and World Report.

The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math was 7% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 38%) for the 2020-21 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading was 34% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 55%) for the 2020-21 school year.

Moreover, test scores in both subjects were higher at the McKeesport Area School District, the local authentic public school – 17% higher in math and 3.5% higher in reading at the elementary level and 6% higher in math and 2% higher in reading at the middle school level. Propel McKeesport does not teach beyond 8th grade.

So what exactly is Propel celebrating?

Maybe it’s the fact that its McKeesport location achieved these standardized test scores while teaching an intensely racially segregated student body – 86% minority (mostly Black). By comparison, the authentic public schools range from 52-71% minority students (mostly Black).

I’m not sure that’s much of a victory. Wasn’t one of the major tenants of the civil rights movement having racially integrated schools – that doing so would help students of color achieve academically because resources couldn’t be horded away from them?

That still sounds like a worthy goal – and one that is being actively worked against by Propel’s business model.

Moreover, Propel McKeesport is the only school in the charter chain where students of color outscore white students. Across the Propel system, white kids do anywhere from 17.6% better in math at Propel Pitcairn to 32.6% better in science at Propel Braddock Hills.

Not exactly a civil rights victory.

So what about the rest of Propel’s claims?

Since charter schools are paid for with tax dollars but can be privately operated (like Propel), they are free from many of the safety regulations that make authentic public schools great – like elected school boards, and transparent curriculum and finances.

The corporation runs the following schools in Allegheny County: Propel Andrew Street High School, Propel Hazelwood K-8, Propel Montour Middle School, Propel Braddock Hills Elementary School, Propel Homestead K-8, Propel Northside K-8, Propel McKeesport K-8, Propel Pitcairn K-8, Propel Braddock Hills High School, Propel Montour Elementary School, Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, Propel Montour High School, and Propel East K-8.

According to an advertisement in mass circulation, each of the schools in the charter chain provides:

“Safe Learning Environment

Individual Attention


Small Class Size

100% Certified and Qualified Teachers

Award Winning Arts Programs

Leaders in Technology Integration

Uniforms

Tuition Free”

Let’s take a look at each claim in turn.

-Safe Learning Environment

What exactly does that mean?

Propel schools are no more safe than other schools in the area. There certainly isn’t any evidence they are somehow MORE safe.

There have been numerous incidents of arrest, criminality and danger in and around Propel Schools.

In 2021, a security guard at Turtle Creek, Pitcairn and McKeesport Propel Schools was fired after being charged with open lewdness and indecent exposure, according to court documents. North Versailles Police said the suspect was captured on video exposing and fondling himself inside a Walmart. When confronted by police, he allegedly showed officers his Propel School ID badge.

In 2015, two teenagers at Propel Braddock Hills High School were arrested after one allegedly tried to sell guns to another in a bathroom during the school day. Two guns were recovered by police and the students were taken into custody on campus. The rest of the students were placed on lockdown until police cleared the area.

In 2015, a visiting dance instructor at the Propel Middle School in Braddock was fired and arrested after allegedly sexting a 13-year-old female student. He allegedly told the girl not to tell anyone about it. In a statement from Propel, school officials say it happened “after school hours and off of Propel property.”

In 2019, Pitcairn Propel was evacuated when fumes made three teachers and four students nauseous. Roughly 280 teachers and students were evacuated from the school and the affected people were taken to nearby hospitals. Monroeville Borough was doing work on a sewer when fumes got into the school.

In 2019, police arrested four people in connection with a scheme to steal nearly $23,000 from Propel Schools by forging checks in the charter school operator’s name. The Propel Schools Foundation filed a report with police after discovering nearly two dozen fraudulent checks in Propel’s name had been cashed at various places, a Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman said. At least 28 checks drawn against the school’s bank account were counterfeit, the complaint said. The fake checks were cashed using the forged signature of the school’s co-founder, Jeremy Resnick.

So does Propel provide a safe learning environment? Maybe. But not more so than any other district.

Individual Attention and Small Class Size


The problem here is verification.

Charter schools are not nearly as transparent as authentic public schools. They are not required by law to provide as much information about their operations as neighborhood public schools. For instance, nearly every authentic public school district is run by an elected school board which has open meetings and open records.

For Propel it is unclear exactly how members are chosen for its corporate board, but it is difficult for parents and community members to be appointed.

According to an article in Public Source, individuals can only become board members if they are already members of the “Friends of Propel,” but the charter chain did not provide information on this group or how its members are selected.

So for most details we’re really left with just taking Propel’s word without any method of verifying it.

When it comes to class size, most Propel schools report having student-to-teacher ratios slightly smaller or the same as at neighborhood authentic public schools. But who knows? There’s no way to tell whether classes may actually be larger.

However, individual attention is even harder to verify.

Most schools focus on more individual attention these days.

Unfortunately, the network provides very little detailed information about its curriculum.

Even in 2018 when Propel had submitted applications to the state to consolidate its network into a Multiple Charter School Organization, it did not submit its entire curriculum which had been requested to see if it was aligned to state academic standards. The state ultimately denied this request due to insufficient information.

So does Propel provide individual attention? Your guess is as good as mine.

-100% Certified and Qualified Teachers

Authentic public schools need to have certified and qualified teachers by law. To teach math, for example, you usually need someone with at least a 4-year teaching degree or more. Only in the case of shortages can positions by temporarily filled by individuals with emergency certifications. Not so with charter schools. They only have to have certified and qualified teachers in core content areas – English, Math, Science and Social Studies.

So this claim by Propel is a way of bragging that the network doesn’t have to have certified and qualified teachers, but it does so anyway.

Unfortunately, it is definitively false.

According to those US News and World Report spotlights that the charter school network likes to highlight, several Propel schools do not have all certified teachers. For instance, Propel McKeesport only has 92% full-time certified teachers, Propel Homestead only has 94%, Propel Pitcairn only has 96%, etc.

Moreover, a state audit of the Propel network conducted in 2016, found that even in core content areas, Propel charter schools did not have “highly qualified” teachers in accordance with state law.

So does Propel have 100% Certified and Qualified Teachers? Absolutely not.

Award Winning Arts Programs

Kudos to Propel for recognizing that arts are an important part of the curriculum. Or at least using it as a selling point on its advertisements. However, without details of its curriculum submitted to the state and verifiable by audit, there is nothing to back this claim up factually.

In fact, on Propel’s own Website, the only reference I see to awards for art is a brief mention in its after-school program which they label as “award-winning.”

What award did it win? The ‘Propel Presents Itself with an Award’ Award? Is there anything more substantial to this claim?

-Leaders in Technology Integration

Some Propel charter schools do claim to provide laptops to students. However, details are pretty sketchy beyond this point.

Moreover, technology in school is a terrible end in itself. It really matters how it’s being used. There are very few details on this that I can find.

-Uniforms

Yes! Propel does require students to wear blue, black or khaki clothing of a particular type. And you can even buy clothing on the network’s Website.

But is this really such a positive? Standardized testing is bad enough? Do we have to standardized dress, too?

Certainly every school should have a dress code, but can’t students express themselves freely anymore? I just don’t see why emulating the worst qualities of private schools is a great thing – especially when it adds an unnecessary cost for parents.

-Tuition Free

Charter schools are funded with public tax dollars. So, yes, you don’t have to pay a tuition to attend. However, you do have to pay for extras like school uniforms.

Also having multiple schools that provide duplicate services is instrumental in raising your local taxes.

Think about it. You already have an authentic public school you pay to operate. Now here comes Propel, a charter school network, demanding to open up shop. That means an additional tax burden on all residents and a reduction in resources for the neighborhood schools already in service.

In fact, overcoming the unpopularity of charter schools because of the increased expense for taxpayers is cited by Droz Marketing – the company that made all those glossy Propel advertisements – on its Website portfolio as an obstacle the company had to overcome to sell Propel to the masses.

Which brings us back to the beginning.

Does Propel go beyond the facts in its claims for itself?

Certainly.

Many businesses do that these days. And make no mistake – Propel IS a business. If it can cut a corner or find a loophole to put more money in operators’ pockets, it will.

Don’t let its non-profit status fool you.

For instance, in 2016 the state caught Propel stealing $376,922 of your tax dollars to pay for rental fees on properties it already owns. It was literally charging itself an unnecessary fee and paying itself with your money.

Technically, this is not illegal. But it certainly doesn’t help educate children. It just goes to enrich the charter school operators.

Non-profit? Yeah, in name only.

However, let me end with what may be the most telling indicator of what it is like at Propel’s charter schools.

indeed.com is a Website workers use to decide if they should apply at a given job site. Employees anonymously review their current place of employment to let prospective job applicants know what it is like there and if they should consider seeking a job there.

The site has many entries on schools in the Propel network. Some are positive. Some are glowing. But most are incredibly negative.

Here in their own words is what it’s like inside the Propel network from the people who work (or worked) there.

Propel Schools – Insiders’ Accounts:

 

 

Students rule.

Para Educator (Former Employee) – Propel East, Turtle Creek – July 19, 2020

Pandering to the cultural climate and using all the right talking points still doesn’t provide a quality education because of the many behavior problems.

 

 

 

Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – August 4, 2022

Management verbalizes a desire, but does not actively seek to improve diversity within the ranks of educators. The lack of diversity directly impacts how the student body is educated.

 

Stressful, consuming place to work with little support from administration.

First Grade Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – April 15, 2022
I worked at Propel McKeesport for 9 days before I realized it would negatively affect my mental health greatly if I stayed. Everything about the school was chaotic and unorganized. There is so much asked of the teachers, and they are given little to no support in the process. The people that are put in place to act as supports are spread so thin, that you aren’t able to receive the support necessary. I would have to get to work early and stay late in order to get all of my tasks done. I had no time for my personal life, and I was constantly overwhelmed. Leaving was the best decision I could’ve made for myself and my well being.
Pros
Higher than average starting pay for new teachers, healthcare benefits
Cons
Unorganized, consuming, little support/structure

 

 

Hope you have a good therapist if you get hired at the Hazelwood location.

Elementary School Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – February 3, 2022
My time at Propel Hazelwood was the worst experience I have ever had in a professional setting. The principal, at the time, had all sorts of big ideas, and no clue how to make them actionable. Behavior was managed through a failed token economy… so I’m sure you can imagine what behavior looked like. But good news, they’ll just fire you before you qualify for benefits, and trick the next poor sap. For reference, I was the 3rd of 5 teachers to go through that position in 2 years.

In summary, I hope you line up a therapist before you sign your soul away to Propel. I know I needed one.
Pros
There were no pros. I can’t even make one up.
Cons
Pitiful everything. People, leadership, attitudes, slogans, curriculum (or lack there of). Run away… fast.

 

 

Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – September 3, 2021
Propel McKeesport cannot keep their staff members. They have so many open positions because their lesson plan template is 6 pages long, and the work pile-up is more than loving your scholars. The wonderful scholars don’t get a chance to love who you are because you (if you are not a favorite) are swamped with work. The job is a nightmare.
Pros
There is not one pro I can think of.
Cons
Flooded with work. Lies and says it is “Propel-Wide”

 

Don’t work for them

Janitor (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 3, 2022

Hr treats you bad
Teachers treat you bad
You are less then nothing to everyone even your bosses
Never work for Braddock propel worst school I’ve seen
Pros
Nothing
Cons
You will be treated like you are worthless

 

Pure and total chaos

Teacher (Former Employee) – Braddock Hills, PA – September 27, 2021
Wow. It sounds good from the outside but is terrible in the inside. High school students were out of control. Administration offered little help. The parents were just as aggressive as their children. The teachers will throw anyone under the bus as soon as possible.
Pros
Great pay. Amazing benefits. Stellar retirement and health insurance.
Cons
Terribly behaved students, aggressive parents, woke and offended staff

 

Long school day, longer school year, longest time spent working outside of contractual hours

Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – May 21, 2021
Even though I went in knowing the hours would be long and the school year would be longer, I was not prepared for the lack of work life balance. I have worked with Propel for 3 years and I will say that it is all consuming. I have been expected to not only do my job during building hours, but outside of work as well. This would be fine if it was occasional, but especially during COVID, it has become constant. Not only is the work never ending, but in my buildng we are not given adequate time to eat (25 minutes) or plan (50 minutes, but this time is often taken up by meetings almost daily). On top of limited planning time and expectations that never seem to stop coming, many of us have been forced into taking on additional, unpaid roles that we did not ask or agree to, and “no thank you” is not accepted as an answer. The district struggles to employee substitutes, so teachers are often expected to split classes when other grade level members are out. This has resulted in 30+ students in classrooms during non-COVID times, with one educator.
Pros
Good benefits, reasonable pay for the area, great curriculum
Cons
Short breaks, underqualified building administration, limited support

 

Schools care for kids but profit can get in the way

Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 13, 2021
Propel staff does care a lot about the students, but it doesn’t feel like those who are higher up care as much about them. Having a CEO/Superintendent may be the reason for this.
Pros
Dedicated cohorts
Cons
Work-life balance off

 

Administration had a lack of trust for teachers and lack of discipline for students.

teacher (Former Employee) – Montour, PA – July 24, 2020
There was always a feeling of being watched in a critical way throughout the day. Administration was constantly evaluating teacher performance in the classroom which created a negative work environment.
When a student became disruptive in the classroom administrators were difficult to locate. If an administrator did come to the classroom he/she would coddle the student with candy or a fun activity before returning him/her to the classroom. Needless to say the disruptive behavior would continue within an hour. Positive effective leadership was nonexistent.

 

Not very friendly

Accounting Manager (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – March 4, 2020
Did not get the job I was hired to do. Turnover was high. Cannot speak to majority of the the issues that I had due to a clause in my severance package.

 

Ehhh.

Educator (Former Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – February 3, 2020
Challenging work environment, burn out is high, little support from administration. Propel varies from building to building, but overall its sounds great in theory and in their “plans”, but they’re not able to carry out what they promise to students or staff.

 

This is a good ole boys system

Principal (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 26, 2020
Pros: Let me start by saying, the students are amazing! The parents can be challenging but they truly want what’s best for their children. Cons: If you aren’t LIKED by the superintendent and assistant superintendent your days with Propel are numbered. From the onset, I was deceived by this organization. I spent 4-months interviewing for a High School principal position. I was offered the position of high school principal only to find out I would be a K-8 principal. This was the first red flag of many. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well liked therefore I received very little of what I needed to effectively lead the school. Instead, I got the unhelpful support they thought I needed and none of which I requested. By Feb. I had lost both my APs – one by choice and the other by force. In March I was given a replacement AP that wasn’t a good fit. Work-life balance does NOT exist at Propel Charter Schools. On average, I worked 12 -14-hour days. Sadly, this is the norm for principals in this network. If you are considering Propel for a position as a school administrator, I would not recommend it.
 
 
Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – September 18, 2019
The staff is wonderful and very supportive. However, the students there are very disrespectful, rude, and have major problems with authority. As a teacher walking into the classroom, they refuse to listen, talk over you, cuss you, and not a lot is done about it.

Cons

Being cussed at and put down by students daily
 
 
 

Poor working place

Teacher (Former Employee) – Homestead, PA – August 10, 2019
Propel is not ran like a school, it is ran like a business. They do not give the students a fighting chance for a bright future. They are more worried about the name ‘propel’ than anything. The work-life balance is awful. They expect way too much of your own time and when they don’t get it, you are looked down on for it. They create cliques and if you are not in the clique, consider yourself gone. They place you wherever they want, certified or not, and will watch you fail. There is lack of help and support from the administration. The only decent people around are your co-workers. I would never recommend this as a work environment nor for parents to send their kids there. No learning takes place. You constantly deal with behavior problems while the children who want to learn are put on the back burner. They change rules half way into the school year and fudge their data. At the rate they are going, they will never compare to peers across the state for PSSAs due to behavior issues and poor management. Not to mention, your lunch is 20 minutes so I hope you can eat fast and 9X out of 10, your planning time to taken away from you for meetings! Be prepared for meetings!!!

Pros

Good benefits

Cons

Everything
 
 
Teacher (Current Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – May 6, 2017
There was little time to be able to practice individualized teaching practices and spend time working with students. Leaders were only focused on enrollment and test scores, and did not focus on the important needs of the child. Work/Home life balance did not exist, as emails and texts were sent at 9:00 PM at night. Money is the number one focus, and for a school system, it was not what was expected.

Pros

Teaching children, benefits and compensation

Cons

Bad work/home life balance

 


 

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No, Public School Teachers are Not Turning Their Students into Communists

Have you heard the latest Republican lie?

There are so many it’s hard to keep track, but here’s the newest one.

Public school teachers are turning their students into communists.

I’m not kidding.

That’s what they’re saying on far right blogs, podcasts and TV shows.

Everyone from Betsy DeVos to Ron DeSantis and the sober fellows of the Heritage Foundation are up in arms.

All because Mr. Singer wore a red sweater vest one day to class.

Not really, but that might have been a better provocation than the reality – which is all in far right pundits’ heads.

So for the GOP, it’s all about fear – what can you scare voters to believe that will shepherd them to support your agenda?

So to start with, Republicans want you to be terrified of public schools.

The reason?

They want you to have to pay to get your kids educated – but public schools give learning away for free to everyone – just for paying taxes.

Right-wingers would much rather make it all a business where the more you pay, the better the education your kids get. There’d be poor quality charter schools for those who can’t afford the entry fee, but the best of everything would be reserved for the kids of the rich and powerful whose parents would use school vouchers to offset some of their tuition at private institutions.

Public schools would undo all that – especially if they were adequately funded.

Can you imagine a country where EVERYONE was fully educated!?

People might become informed voters and demand freedom and justice for all!

Lawmakers might have to create real policies, a platform, solutions – to actually govern!

So GOP operatives spread hysterical lies about public schools. They call them “government schools” as if that meant some imposed bureaucracy of outsiders and not what it actually does – schools governed by elected members of the community.

The lies and innuendo are never ending. Public school educators teach fake history where the civil rights movement was a good thing. They refuse to instill the truth of Creationism over fake Evolution. Teachers are pedophile groomers – never mind the actual Republican lawmakers charged with pedophilia and rape. And on and on and on.

Which brings us to the latest one – the new red scare that public school teachers are raising the next generation to hate Adam Smith and love Karl Marx.

The whole idea seems to have started with DeVos, the billionaire heiress and former Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump.

Robert Bluey, vice president of publishing for the Heritage Foundation, asked her a question on The Daily Signal Podcast (a Heritage Foundation mouthpiece) about the growing popularity of socialism among young people.

And it’s true, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, Americans aged 18 to 29 are almost as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).

So on behalf of the right-wing think tank behind the critical race theory brouhaha, transphobic legislation, climate change denial and a host of other regressive causes, Bluey asked DeVos why young people aren’t as firmly championing capitalism as previous generations.

DeVos, of course, blamed teachers. She responded:

“I recall visiting a classroom not too long ago where one of the teachers was wearing a shirt that said “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth.”

This is a rather strange answer. It may be the case that there are absolute truths in the world, but economic theories certainly don’t qualify. In matters of opinion, isn’t it better to tell students the facts and let them think for themselves about their relative virtues?

Not for DeVos. Indoctrination apparently is just fine so long as you’re indoctrinating kids into the right things.

Tell them capitalism is great. Tell them socialism is terrible. Screw critical thinking.

The Heritage Foundation, at least, liked her answer, using it as a template to fund a plethora of stories about public schools – not just leaving the matter up to students to decide – but actually bullying kids into championing communism.

Douglas Blair, a Daily Signal producer, codified the idea in his article “I’m a Former Teacher. Here’s How Your Children Are Getting Indoctrinated in Leftist Ideology.”

In the text of article, Blair admits he was only “in education” for 4 years, but it seems he was not a full-time classroom teacher for most of that time. According to his Linked-In account, he was a French teacher for 9 months in a school in Portland, Oregon. Before that he was an Extracurricular Aide, an English Language Assistant and Language Immersion Counselor at various schools in the US and France.

His evidence of indoctrination reads like “Kids Say the Darndest Things – Republican Edition.”

For example, he says he asked an elementary school girl if she liked Winston Churchill, and she frowned calling Churchill racist.

I’m not sure why that’s so upsetting. Churchill led Great Britain through WWII, but he undeniably WAS a racist, too. Churchill said that he hated people with “slit eyes and pig tails.” To him, people from India were “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans.” He admitted that he “did not really think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people.”

So Blair’s examples of indoctrination come out to complaining that kids learned accurate history.

If only the GOP could use history and education to change minds instead of decrying them.

Florida Gov. DeSantis is giving it a try. In 2022, he signed a law requiring schools in the sunshine state to actively teach about the horrors of communism.

That’s right. Whether teachers need to or not, they have to spend at least 45 minutes on it every November.

“We want to make sure that every year folks in Florida, but particularly our students, will learn about the evils of communism. The dictators that have led communist regimes and the hundreds of millions of individuals who suffered and continue to suffer under the weight of this discredited ideology,” DeSantis said, adding that “a lot of young people don’t really know that much” about the political ideology.

At first blush, this may sound like a good idea. More historical knowledge is a good thing, but it’s the context that makes this troubling.

Florida Republicans already have passed a battalion of laws telling educators what they CANNOT teach.

So you can’t teach about racial issues including the history of slavery if it makes any student “feel uncomfortable.” Math books are censored from depicting “prohibited topics.” You can’t talk about a wide range of human sexuality including LGBTQ people because of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

But you’d better teach about how bad communism is! Or else!

First, this is the very definition of a GOVERNMENT SCHOOL the legislature dictating what teachers teach on a given day and not trusting them to do their own jobs.

Second, why single out communism? Certainly it has lead to horrors and misery, but so has capitalism. Are we to teach about the terrors of rampant greed, sweatshops, wars for oil, runaway inequality? After all, students in impoverished neighborhoods going to underfunded schools are actual victims of free enterprise, not collectivism. The free hand of the market is soaked in blood, too.

Third, there’s the subtext. This sounds to me like an invitation to conflate communism with socialism (which are two different ideas with different histories) and to champion one ideology over another.

Finally, let’s not forget this all comes from state law. It’s politics, not pedagogy, and in politics it’s only indoctrination when someone else does it.

So are public school teachers really molding their students into young Bolsheviks?

I seriously doubt it.

Economic theory rarely comes up in math, reading or science. Maybe it comes up occasionally in social studies.

In my middle school language arts classes, we discuss all kinds of things that come out of the books we’re reading.

Sometimes economic inequality comes out of S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” or Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When we read Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” the concept of distribution of resources is broached.

In each case, I encourage my students to think about the problems from the stories, the solutions offered in the narratives and to discuss the matter with classmates. We hold Socratic Seminars and write critical essays. For “The Giver,” students work in groups to create their own utopias – you’d be surprised how many are socialist, though there are also a number of capitalist republics, dictatorships and anarchies. Kids love anarchy.

And I admit it – I encourage my students to think for themselves. I try not to give them my answers – my truths.

Facts are facts and opinions are opinions.

I would be a bad teacher if I forced my conclusions on my students.

So why ARE young people increasingly more critical of capitalism these days and more friendly toward socialism?

I’d say it’s because of the income inequality they see in the world around them.

Despite Republican’s claims, capitalism is not a perfect system. To be fair, no system is. But criticizing capitalism is not a bad thing, and finding value in aspects of socialism is no crime.

To achieve a better world, we have to do more than simply recreate the one in which we live.

That’s why education is so important. It is one of the chief engines of change, and nothing can truly stop that.

If Republicans think they can, they’re in for a shock.

Perhaps they should have paid more attention in school.

Or exposed their opinions to more rigorous critical thinking…

Nah!

I wonder what lie about public school they’ll try next.


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