Jul 26, 2015

DC Corporate Profiteers Expose the Dark Side of Charter School Industry

Written by Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Recently, an education colleague asked me how do we make charter schools better? I really had no answer to his question in light of some of our recent local charter school scandals. Some of the lessons learned nationally from charter school mismanagement reveal that it is a business opportunity for some to make a quick buck at taxpayers and students’ expense.

Nobody embodies one of the most glaring problems of mismanagement of charter schools better than former Xerox Corporate executive Ken Amos in the District. He was exposed for siphoning off taxpayer money into the hands of for-profit management companies owned and controlled by the non-profit charter school sponsors all for their own personal gain.

Amos owned one of the largest charter school networks in DC. Amos is a DC Native who is highly regarded by many as a long time advocate for parents and children. He founded Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School, known as CAPCS in 1998. DC law requires that charters schools operate as non-profit corporations.

Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools served more than 1,600 students at four campuses, Armstrong, Burdick, Keene and Nicholson, including an online school.

In June 2014, Amos was charged by then DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan of funneling $13 million dollars in charter school funds for over a decade to a for-profit management company he owned.

The lawsuit alleged that Amos forced the charter school to pay his management company more than $13 million in what was known as “management fees” since 2004. According to Nathan in the lawsuit, "the diverted funds were used to enrich the company and Amos, to the detriment of the school."

Stories like Amos are all too common. I remember being surprised when J.C. Hayward, a popular Channel 9 news anchor here in DC became embroiled in the Options Charter school scandal in 2013. This scandal led to Hayworth being removed from her post as Channel 9 anchor after a long-time stellar career of forty years.

The lawsuit alleged that three former managers, the Options school’s board chairwoman, Hayward, and a senior official at the D.C. Public Charter School Board allegedly concocted an elaborate contracting scam that led to improper payments of more than $3 million to for profit companies

Days after the Washington Post submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request seeking information about contracts between the school and two for profit companies founded by the schools senior managers; Exceptional Education Management Corp. (EEMC) and Exceptional Educational Services (EES), the DC charter school board launched an investigation.

The sad thing about these stories, both schools ultimately closed their doors to its students, totaling 2,500 students. Regulations governing charters differ among states. In the District of Columbia, for example, a separate school board authorizes charters and monitors them.

Options closed at the end of school year 2015 after being placed under receivership and parents were given the choice to attend another charter school; Kingsman Academy. In February 2015, the DC Charter School Board unanimously revoked CAPCS charter and the school officially closed at the end of school year 14-15. The school’s campuses were transferred to other entities including DC Public Schools.

Amos and his management company settled his lawsuit by entering into an agreement to repay $3 million dollars, a far cry from the $13 million dollars diverted from the school.

Charter school closings due to financial mismanagement underscore the need for more transparency, oversight and accountability. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) claims that within the last 20 years, the federal government has spent $3.3 billion on charter schools but cannot account for which charters received taxpayer money and how those public dollars were spent.

This just isn’t acceptable.

Many believe charter schools should be held to the same standards as public schools to make sure students get the most of out of their educational experience and protect taxpayers’ investment.

The Annenberg Institute for Reform at Brown University has put out its own set of standards to bolster oversight for charters. Here are a few of their recommendations: [1.] charter school finance documents should be made publicly available; [2.] require charters to report administrative expenses; [3.] all vendor or service contracts should be made available to the public; and [4.] protect governing board members, students, staff, parents from retaliation for whistle blowing. Read the full report.

The Annenberg report is a major contribution to offering constructive suggestions on key concerns in the charter sector. Somebody has got to stop making it easy to steal from the kids.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jul 12, 2015

Teachers Say No Freaking Way to AFT Endorsement of Hillary Clinton

By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

On Saturday, July 11th - the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President, Randi Weingarten came under fire after her executive council voted overwhelmingly to endorse Hillary Clinton for the democratic primary for President of the United States. AFT is the parent organization of Washington Teachers' Union, Local 6 and has 1.5 million members. 

In an AFT press release, President Weingarten said "Hillary Clinton is a tested leader who shares our values, is supported by our members and is prepared for a tough fight on behalf of students, families and communities. That fight defines her career." 

Weingarten added that Clinton is a "product of public schools and believes in the promise of public education.... Hillary understands that policymakers need to work with teachers and their unions. She's ready to work with us to confront the issues of children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income equality and the lack of opportunity."

Even though AFT's press release explained the process of how members were polled, including several town hall meetings, multiple surveys and a "you decide" website, the announcement of the endorsement erupted a firestorm of outrage from AFT teacher members nationwide on twitter.

In the course of hours, many teachers hurled questions at @Rweingarten and @AFTunion twitter accounts asking, when was there was a poll of the membership and requesting links to all of the polls. 

Renowned NY Teacher *blogger, Arthur Goldstein  (known as NYC Educator) said "...AFT Link says they used telephone town halls and a web-based survey, I didn't even know existed."

Katie Osgood, a special education teacher from Chicago said "I know many AFT members too and have not heard one person polled either." Mary Ahern called it "B.S. and queried how many of the over 1 million members responded?”

Activist teacher members and others lamented that the AFT endorsement of Clinton was a clear reminder of President Randi Weingarten's autocratic leadership style that treats teachers like passive herd-driven professionals rather than independent thinkers with a voice.

Phil Soreneson tweeted to President Weingarten, “glad I’m NEA, u don’t speak for me, u just made teachers’ look politically inept. Thanks for nothing.”

Naturewoman tweeted to AFT, "guessing you did not poll your members! No to Clinton who promotes Teach for America and charters!" Mr. Stevens echoed "Clinton endorsement is a joke & local union voices are being silenced to retain AFT union funding."

Minnsanity added, "AFT tried to shove NCLB, common core, PARCC and now Hillary on us - we ain't buying." Barmak Nassirian ‏summed it up best in his tweet, "sad day when political expediency trumps legitimate representation of members' real priorities." 

Within hours teachers demanded fellow members to contact AFT and demand they rescind the Hillary Clinton endorsement. Teachers began adding their comments to Diane Ravitch’s education blog where she posted AFT’s press release on the Clinton for President endorsement. So far 147 comments have been posted, to date.

Given no one could locate AFT’s poll of members', the Badass Teachers Association  (BAT) took matters into their own hands by conducting a poll on Face Book. So far   1240 teachers endorsed Bernie Sanders and only 84 endorsed Clinton. One teacher said "Weingarten has this thing about giving false information via polls... It's scary." 

Some of our AFT members  are taking matters into their own hands and have created a petition to demand AFT rescind their Hillary for US president endorsement. Click on  LINK  for the petition. So far 1,109 had signed on.  

I too was up in the wee hours of the morning watching all of this unfold. Right here in DC, as an active member of WTU local 6 and elected General Vice President- I wondered how I had never been polled or invited to participate in AFT’s web based town hall or knew of members who had?

I concur with Aixa Rodriguez’s tweet, “it is 2:23 am and I am so mad at  AFT’s  #prematureendorsement I cannot sleep. And so I tweet. And all my friends are up too….”

Don’t get this twisted, in the words of Lace to the top, “The story isn't Randi Weingarten and AFT’'s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. The story is all the amazing teachers saying no freaking way!!!!”

 © Candi Peterson 2015

Jul 5, 2015

Allegations Surface: DC Principal Receives Monthly Wine Shipment at NW Elementary School

Tubman Elem. School wine delivery
By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

There aren’t many employers that would allow you to have your "wine of the month" shipment delivered to your job. Surely having a wine shipment sent to your elementary school likely will earn you a reprimand, even your walking papers.

When a local school principal (allegedly) received a monthly wine shipment from Last Bottle of Napa, California at her NW elementary school, here in DC– it caught the attention of a Fed-X employee who informed school staff. A picture of one of the wine delivery sent May 15, 2015 was provided to The Washington Teacher.

Pay attention to the shipping label on the box (pictured left)  which reveals the shipment was delivered to Amanda Delabar at 3101 13th Street NW, District of Columbia 20010, which is the address of Tubman Elementary school where Delabar is the principal. The label is stamped home pre-paid ALCOHOL and requires an adult signature.

One might ask what’s wrong with having wine delivered to you at your place of employment, which just so happens to be an elementary school? As an educational leader, principals are models of leadership for teachers and students and should maintain standards of exemplary professional conduct.

“If a principal would reprimand one of his/her staff for a similar type of offense then they too should refrain from engaging in such behavior”, stated a DC principal who wished to remain anonymous.

The Child, Youth, Safety and Omnibus Amendment Act of 2004  requires criminal background checks for certain DCPS employees who work with students prior to the commencement of employment, and reasonable suspicion drug/alcohol testing. This act led to the creation of the DCPS 2013 Employee Mandatory Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy which has certain provisions that also prohibit intoxicants at work.

Given that DCPS is committed to protecting the safety, health and welfare of young people in its charge, as well as that of its employees, a  safety sensitive employee (i.e. principal, teacher, school staff,) are prohibited from possessing a container of alcohol, while on duty (see Section 6 for prohibited conduct on page 10).

Under the 2013 drug and alcohol policy, the consequences are rather severe and gives DCPS the right to require a fitness for duty, place an employee on administrative leave, detail the employee to a non safety-sensitive position and or terminate any covered employee who engages in any of the prohibited conduct outlined in Section 6, 

We need to bear in mind that principals are people with the same follies as their staff.

As a side note, DC Public Schools has no problem administering discipline to teachers when found guilty of similar offenses.

Should principals be held to the same treatment as their employees, if found guilty?

What do you think would be an appropriate way to handle this situation ? You tell me. Feel free to write me at thewashingtonteacher@gmail.com

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 28, 2015

H.D. Woodson Grad Receives Full Ride At Emory University

Christopher Chandler receiving Lorraine H.Whitlock award
Pictured CM Yvette Alexander, salutatorian- David Wynn,
Mayor Muriel Bowser & Ward 7 Dem, Ed Potillo
By Candi Peterson and Malcolm Lewis Barnes

You hear a lot about what’s wrong with DC Public Schools, but very seldom hear about the success stories. On June 25th at the 11th Annual Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Scholarship dinner sponsored by the Ward 7 Democrats at the Kellogg Conference Center on the campus of Gallaudet College, Woodson High School senior, Christopher Chandler added that scholarship to his already impressive achievement as the valedictorian of his 2015 class.

With a 4.18 Grade Point Average (GPA), Christopher had already received a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennial Scholarship to study engineering at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia which offers a unique 3/2 program which allows their participants to get grounded in liberal arts by studying three years at Emory followed by  two years at Georgia Tech’s rigorous engineering program.

“The one teacher that stands out the most was Laura Fuchs”, said Christopher. She helped him achieve his 4.18 GPA as his AP instructor who taught AP government and U. S. history. He credits her innovative teaching style with assisting him with the type of study guides and exposing him to the study skills that he feels will help him transition successfully to college. And he also feels that he was not the only one to benefit from Ms. Fuchs tutelage as he credits her with assisting the majority of her smaller 10 to 15 students in her class to achieve marked improvement.

Fuchs reacted as a proud teacher who takes delight in her student’s success. “Christopher is inspiring, gracious and humble.  He has an unending work ethic and always tries his best. At graduation, every time I got close to him I cried”, stated Fuchs. Her tears were tears of joy. She recalled how hard Christopher worked even during his 7:30 am AP Government class. Arrangements were made so Fuchs students could arrive at school earlier than the standard 8:45 am arrival time to fit in another class, known as the zero period since there wasn't room in their senior schedule to take this class.

Fuchs arrived at HD Woodson in 2007 as a DC Teaching fellow and completed her Masters degree at American University, while teaching. She believes in experiencing 'civil action' with her students. Also serving as Washington Teachers' Union, Committee on Political Education (COPE) Chairperson, Fuchs can often be found attending DC City Council hearings and education town hall meetings in the evenings with her students in towe.

Chandler was also inspired by a professional role model who successfully transitioned from DC Public Schools to a career in engineering. He met electrical engineer, Joanne Wilson two years ago and was impressed with her career success as a telecommunications professional who worked her way from Southern University to a position on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

He also received great assistance from his college mentor, Kevin Mungin from the College Success Foundation of DC that is also funded by the Gates Foundation that helps public school students from middle school to map out their career fields by arranging college field trips and career shadowing opportunities.

His college mentor also exposed him to the Higher Education and; Readiness Program or HERO program, which works closely with Woodson students from middle school through graduation. Chris started in 7th grade doing a “Design Your Dream Home” project because he was originally interested in architecture. Then he migrated to engineering when he got to high school when he got exposed to the advances in cellphone technology.

And finally he credits his parents were there the whole time. “Everything starts at home” said Chris. “And our lifestyle at home set the tone for how I performed in school”. He praised his parents, Renee Carthens and stepfather, Otis Leach for providing the consistent family support that kept him focused though out his time in high school at Woodson.

And to add icing to his graduation cake, Christopher added the Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Scholarship to the full ride that the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennial Scholarship provided to study engineering, which was named after the lifelong education and community activist from the Deanwood community of Ward 7. Chandler’s story is one of inspiration where as an African American student he defied the odds in an urban high school where only 60% of his peers graduate in four years.

Count Christopher Chandler as a true success story, but credit the love and support he received from his parents, help he received from his AP instructor Laura Fuchs; his college mentor Kevin Mungin, and his professional role model, Joanne Wilson for inspiring him from middle school through graduation to valedictorian with a college career goal.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 22, 2015

A Teacher's Story of Workplace Bullying/Incivility in DCPS

Incivility & Workplace Bullying
photo by Kristian Hammerstad
By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Incivility is a general term for social behavior lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behavior. The word "incivility" is derived from the Latin incivilis, meaning "not of a citizen".

I received both criticism and praise on my blog story about principal bullying in DC public schools. It's a story that must be told.

An opinion piece recently featured in the New York Times, titled 'No Time To Be Nice at Work' by Christine Porath highlights how mean bosses can be bad for workers and the company's bottom line. Porath is an associate research professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She has done extensive research on incivility in the workplace.

In schools, workplace bullying/incivility hurts student success and contributes to teacher turnover (which isn't good for schools).

For as long as I have worked for DC Public Schools (since 1992), rudeness and bad behavior amongst certain school administrators has  been a reoccurring theme. A great deal of my union work in our schools has focused on retaliatory bosses. An increasing number of teachers have reported being subjected to bullying in the workplace by their principals. Administrators often defend their position by describing themselves as tough managers or view it as a way to motivate their staff .

How we treat each other at works matters. Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor states when employees experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often , their immune systems are affected and lead to major health problems like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers.

As if this isn't bad enough, incivility in the workplace has physiological effects as well. It shuts down the pre-frontal cortex. When you instill fear, the ability to think gets compromised.

Incivility has tangible costs too. It's a no brainer, when employers are mean, employees tend to have less focus, contribute less and lose their conviction and creativity. Porath's studies show that a group of participants who were belittled performed 33% worse on tasks and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task. Participants who encountered rudeness, subsequently performed 61% worse on tasks.

What sort of workplace would condone behavior that engenders fear in its teachers and ultimately hurts our students and their ability to achieve? Teachers cannot contribute their best when under fear of bullying, harassment or abuse.

Teachers fear reprisal and rarely report incidences of workplace bullying even to their union. Having the spotlight on increases the pressure on our schools to do something. Here's a teacher's story on bullying in the workplace. The teachers name and the name of the DC school have been removed to protect confidentiality.

Bullying at My School

To whom it may concern:

"Fortunately, I'm on the principal's good side. She likes me, so she really doesn't bother me. However,
I have witnessed her bully my colleagues, use intimidating techniques, and lie on teachers- creating a divisive environment. I understand that what affects some, will eventually affect all. What bothers me most is hearing her mention how she doesn't like working with African Americans. She is always comparing her previous school which was mostly Caucasian staff to her staff now. She boasts about how she preferred working with this kind of staff. I'm not even Black and this is offensive to me.

Our principal has single handedly ruined staff morale. I hate to say this because we have really great teachers here. She gossips about teachers to one another. I should not know the details of a staff member's medical issues. But I do because the principal discusses teachers' personal information. She has spread rumors about which staff members are sleeping together. It is uncomfortable being in the position where I know things about people that I shouldn't. Isn't this an ethical violation? I am fearful of telling her how I feel. She has demonstrated time and time again, that the way teachers feel isn't her concern. Speaking up will cause me to be added to her 'hate' list. No one wants to be on her 'hate' list. I have witnessed her make teachers miserable because she dislikes them, so it is easier just to be quiet.

Principal X is not a good leader. She is not passionate about student achievement. Student achievement appears to be the least of her concern. She does not motivate and support teachers as it states in the principal job description. According to her job description, she is supposed to implement consistent school-wide instructional practices that are clear, results-oriented and research-based. This is not the case. Principal X is not consistent with anything. Things change from one day to the next and usually occur last minute. She implements practices that are irrelevant to student growth.

She actually believes that student test scores are low because teachers are incompetent. Principal X does not consider the fact that maybe she's a poor leader which affects student test scores, as well. I know that I will continue to work in constant fear. It is hard enough to deal with challenging students. I do not need a leader to make it any worse."

Anonymous teacher in DCPS

Photo courtesy of Kristian Hammerstad- New York Times


© Candi Peterson 2015


Jun 14, 2015

No Teacher Left Behind: The Story of Ballou Senior High Reconstitution


Created by Ballou HS Students @ Teacher Sit-In
By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Ballou teachers stage a sit-in in the cafeteria with their students in protest of their schools reconstitution on Monday-June 15th. Follow
updates @TheWashTeacher - hashtag #TeachersMatter, #BallouTeachersMatter

In a letter to Ballou Senior High staff, dated May 21, 2015, DC Public Schools Deputy Chief of Human Resources, Crystal Jefferson announced the restructuring of the high school.

The Deputy Chief cited poor performance and the desire for the district to improve student outcomes as the reason to begin restructuring the school.

Staff were called into the school's auditorium at the end of the school day with only a day's prior notice. A "Frequently Asked Questions" fact sheet on Reconstitution was distributed. Instructional Superintendent (IS), Daniel Shea cited No Child Left Behind Act as the authority under which restructuring process will begin.

While NCLB allows any school district multiple options for restructuring, IS Shea and Ballou's principal, Yetunde Reeves said that all staff will have to re-apply for their jobs and only 50% would be selected to remain. Of course the schools principal will not be among those heading for the exit door.

Principal Reeves shared a PowerPoint presentation of her new vision for the next school year. Much like other principals before her, you couldn't help but think - here we go again!

Among the 65 teachers currently at the school, Latisha Chisolm, teacher and WTU Building Representative said only twenty-two teachers were chosen to remain next year. Chisolm says she was not selected to remain at Ballou.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted to improve education through a system of accountability for schools and school districts. Schools who fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for five years in a row must undergo a series of five restructuring options.

These options include: [1] reopening the school as a public charter; [2] replacing all or most school staff relevant to AYP failure; [3] collaborating with an external partner; [4] submitting to a State takeover; or [5] developing another major restructuring effort.

This is the second time Ballou has been reconstituted in five years. The last time was 2010. At that time Ballou had a 30 percent proficiency rating in reading and 26 percent in math for high school sophomores on the 2010 D.C. CAS. Three years prior (in 2008), Ballou's test scores were in the single digits.

Despite a reconstitution in 2010, Ballou's scores have declined even further to a 16 percent proficiency rating in reading and a 15 percent in math.

% ProficientBallou High SchoolDC
200920102011201220132014
0255075100
24
30
21
20
14
15

Reading

% ProficientBallou High SchoolDC
200920102011201220132014
0255075100
22
26
19
23
19
16

Math


The bottom line: this NCLB strategy doesn’t work.

Ballou, also commonly referred to as a "drop out factory' has a 63 percent attendance rate with a 50 per cent drop-out rate which is lower than the city wide average.

Wouldn't it be wise to consider less drastic measures and try another approach?  After all playing musical chairs with teachers and administrators hasn't yielded better outcomes for our students. This is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results.

There are five things that schools have to do to rapidly improve their end-of-the-year test scores according to the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. They found five essential supports that matter for student success and school improvement.

The first support is shared leadership in the building. Next, there is the instructional process that occurs in every classroom. There is improving the professional capacity of the teachers and principal. There is engaging parents in what is happening at school.

For example, parents in this study learned the Illinois standards so they were prepared to help with homework. And the last of the essential supports is the climate for learning. These schools have to have a culture and climate where people increasingly trust each other and are able to work together to create these rapid increases in results.

We know NCLB does more harm than good. "It is time to pull the plug on No Child Left Behind. It has had adequate time to prove itself. It has failed. ..... there is no reason to believe that the results of NCLB will get dramatically better. Now is the time for fundamental rethinking of the federal role in education," says Diane Ravitch, research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Ravitch previously served as a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, so I believe she knows that NCLB has not worked in urban schools in high poverty neighborhoods.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 9, 2015

DCPS Principal Shuffle

By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

It's that time of year again when DC schools approaches its final days as the school year comes to an end. Some principals have already faced principal terminations or if you prefer a nice way of saying their contract was not-renewed. Some leave before they get the axe and go on to greener pastures because they know their shelf-life as a principal is soon coming to an end.

Principal churn in DC Public Schools leaves many of us questioning exactly what is the criteria for not renewing a principal's contract? Parents and community members don't always agree with Chancellor Henderson's  guidelines for termination. One thing for sure the principal shuffle has not helped student achievement in our district. 

According to a source who shall remain anonymous, here's the list of 26 DC's School leadership changes for school year 2015-16. It is reported that four more schools may be added later.

Schools
Aiton ES
Bancroft ES
Brookland EC (will be known as Bunker Hill ES in 15/16)
Bruce Monroe ES
Dunbar SHS
Hendley ES
Janney ES
Johnson MS
Kelly Miller MS
ML King ES
Kramer MS (Interim principal was serving at the school)
Luke C. Moore Academy SHS
Malcolm X ES
Mamie D. Lee (consolidating school)
Payne ES
Peabody ES/Watkins ES
Powell ES
Roosevelt SHS
Sharpe Health (consolidating school)
Shepherd ES
Simon ES
Smothers ES
Thomas ES
Washington Metropolitan HS
West EC
Wilson SHS (Interim Principal was serving at the school)