Massachusetts Governor’s Office Advises Pro-Charter Allies to Use Private Emails

It is no secret that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker wants to more privately managed charter schools in his state. He has been openly campaigning for Question 2, that would privatize a dozen schools every year for the indefinite future. As readers on this blog have often noted, once charter schools are part of the picture, they dominate all discussions about education. As we have seen in many other states, charter schools fight any accountability or transparency even though they receive public money. They operate in secret with taxpayer dollars, keep the students they want, push out the ones they don’t want.

Recently some emails became public that reveal an interesting part of the discussion. The advocates for charter schools in the governor’s office are advised to use their personal email accounts, so their efforts to promote privatization cannot be subject to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law). They are paid by the public, and acting against the public interest, and they don’t want voters to read about their conversations.

The emails can be seen here.

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Ross Douthat: President Trump? Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

The New York Times invited Ross Douthat to be its regular conservative commentator. He writes here about the catastrophes that a Trump presidency would create.

First, he predicts, would come an economic crisis and a recession comparable to Britain post-Brexit.

Then would be inevitable civil disorders as white nationalists flaunt their new power, encouraged by Trump’s mouth.

Add to that international disorder as every other nation seeks to take advantage of Trump’s ignorance and naïveté.

And this is the view of the Times’ conservative columnist!

A portion:

“The first is sustained market jitters, leading to an economic slump. Trump’s election alone would probably induce a Brexit-esque stock market dip, but the real problem would be what happened next. Instead of Theresa May’s steadiness inspiring a return to fundamentals, you would have the spectacle — and it will be a spectacle — of the same Trump team that drop-kicked its policy shop and barely organized a national campaign trying to staff up an administration. Even without his promised pivot to mercantilism and trade war, a White House run as a Trump production is likely to mainline anxiety into the economy, sidelining capital, discouraging hiring and shaving points off the G.D.P.

“The second peril is major civil unrest. Some of Trump’s supporters imagine that his election would be a blow to left-wing activists, that his administration would swiftly reverse the post-Ferguson crime increase. This is a bit like imagining that a President George Wallace would have been good for late-1960s civil peace. In reality, Trump’s election would be a gift to bad cops and riot-ready radicals in equal measure, and his every intervention would pour gasoline on campuses and cities — not least because as soon as any protest movement had a face or leader, Trump would be on cable bellowing ad hominems at them.

“The third likely highly-plausible peril, and by far the most serious, is a rapid escalation of risk in every geopolitical theater. It’s probably true that Trump, given his pro-Russia line, would be somewhat less likely than Clinton to immediately stumble into confrontation with Vladimir Putin over Syria. But it’s silly to imagine Moscow slipping into a comfortable détente with a President Trump; Putin is more likely to pocket concessions and keep pushing, testing the orange-haired dealmaker at every opportunity and leaving Trump poised, very dangerously, between overreaction and his least-favorite position — looking weak.

“That’s just Russia: From the Pacific Rim to the Middle East, revisionist powers will set out to test Trump’s capacity to handle surprise, hostile actors will seek to exploit the undoubted chaos of his White House, and our allies will build American fecklessness into their strategic plans. And again, all of this is likely to happen without Trump doing the wilder things he’s kind-of sort-of pledged to do — demanding tribute from allies, trying to “take the oil,” etc. He need only be himself in order to bring an extended period of risk upon the world.

“The history of geopolitics prior to the Pax Americana is rife with examples of why this sort of testing should be feared. Overall, Trump’s foreign policy hazing, his rough introduction to machtpolitik, promises more danger for global stability — still a real and valuable thing, recent crises notwithstanding — than the risks incurred by George W. Bush’s interventionism, Barack Obama’s attempt at offshore balancing, or (yes) Hillary Clinton’s possible exposure of classified material to the Chinese, the Russians and Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners.

“There is no algorithm that can precisely calibrate how to weigh global instability against the reasons that remain for conservatives to vote for Trump. No mathematical proof can demonstrate that the chance of a solidly-conservative Supreme Court justice isn’t worth a scaled-up risk of great power conflict.

“But I think that reluctant Trump supporters are overestimating the systemic durability of the American-led order, and underestimating the extent to which a basic level of presidential competence and self-control is itself a matter of life and death — for Americans, and for human beings the world over.

“I may be wrong. But none of my fears (and I have many) of what a Hillary Clinton presidency will bring are strong enough to make me want to run the risk of being proven right.”

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Jane Mayer on the James Comey Letter

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker is a careful investigative reporter. Her most recent book is “Dark Money,” which explores the billionaires’ assault on democracy.

She wrote a post about James Comey and his decision to go rogue, breaking well-established policies at the Justice Department, not to make unsubstantiated accusations and not to meddle in elections.

She writes:

“Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.

“You don’t do this,” one former senior Justice Department official exclaimed. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.” The reason, according to the former official, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing cases involving the department, “is because it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”

“Traditionally, the Justice Department has advised prosecutors and law enforcement to avoid any appearance of meddling in the outcome of elections, even if it means holding off on pressing cases. One former senior official recalled that Janet Reno, the Attorney General under Bill Clinton, “completely shut down” the prosecution of a politically sensitive criminal target prior to an election. “She was adamant—anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” the former official said.

“Four years ago, then Attorney General Eric Holder formalized this practice in a memo to all Justice Department employees. The memo warned that, when handling political cases, officials “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” To guard against unfair conduct, Holder wrote, employees facing questions about “the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” should consult with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division.

“The F.B.I. director is an employee of the Justice Department, and is covered by its policies. But when asked whether Comey had followed these guidelines and consulted with the Public Integrity Section, or with any other department officials, Kevin Lewis, a deputy director of public affairs for the Justice Department, said, “We have no comment on the matter.”

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I Support Tom Nelson for Congress in Wisconsin

If you live in Northeast Wisconsin, I urge you to support Tom Nelson for Congress.

He has never accepted money from DFER or any other privatizers.

He has fought Scott Walker over Walker’s full-blown efforts to privatize public funding for public schools.

He has served in the state legislature and as a county executive.

Elect a friend of public education to Congress!

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Troy LaRaviere Warns Boston Teachers About Charters

Troy LaRaviere, award-winning principal in Chicago who was dismissed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for what was probably political reasons (he supported Senator Sanders in the primaries and he is an outspoken critic of Rahm) recently spoke to the Boston Teachers Union. He came to warn them to fight hard against Question 2, which would expand charters. He explained the havoc that charters have wreaked in Chicago, the damage they have done to public schools, even though public schools outperform the charters.

His talk was “Why Public Schools Are Far Better than Charter Schools.”

Although Rahm fired him, LaRaviere was elected by his colleagues as president of the Chicago Principals’ and Administrators’ Association.

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Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker: Did the Candidates Forget about K-12 Education?

Rebecca Mead writes in The New Yorker that the presidential campaign has almost entirely overlooked K-12 education. The subject never came up in the presidential debates (nor did climate change).

She writes:

Unsurprisingly, the candidates differ as much on their approach to education as they do on virtually every other issue, as the Washington Post outlined in a helpful analysis earlier this month. In September, Donald Trump delivered a speech at the Cleveland Arts and Sciences Academy, a charter school in Cleveland, Ohio, in which he offered his vision, though not before delivering an extended peroration about the perfidies of his Democratic opponent—e-mail, Iraq, the Clinton Foundation—unrelated to educational concerns. When he did get around to his own proposals, he spoke of expanding existing school-choice programs, promising that in a Trump Administration twenty billion dollars of federal education funds would be reassigned to provide a block grant enabling the eleven million students living in poverty to attend the private or public school of their parents’ choice. “Competition always does it,” he said. “The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.” He advocated merit pay for teachers, stated his opposition to Common Core, and spoke in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions. “It’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again,” he declared, thereby failing to meet the second-grade Common Core standard 2.1.E. (“Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.”)

Clinton has a long-standing commitment to educational issues; as First Lady of Arkansas, in 1983, she headed a committee to improve academic achievement among the state’s public-school students. She has declared the intention of “preparing, supporting, and paying every child’s teacher as if the future of our country is in their hands,” and has given some suggestions as to how that estimable goal would be accomplished. She has said that she will provide funding to increase the teaching of computer science; she has also pledged to fund the rebuilding of school infrastructure, and to address the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, whereby African-American and minority students are disproportionately subject to overly punitive disciplinary policies, often involving law enforcement, within the schools they attend; she would fund interventions in social and emotional learning, to the tune of two billion dollars.

Clinton has left us all guessing about charter schools, but she has a balancing act: She needs money to run her campaign (think DFER), and she needs to satisfy the her strong supporters, the teachers’ unions, whose very existence is put at risk by the growth of the non-union charter industry (more than 90% of charter schools are non-union).

But of this we can be sure: Trump is 100% aligned with the far-right that hates public schools and unions. He loves charter schools and vouchers. He thinks he will “get rid” of the Common Core, but he doesn’t know that the president does not have the power to do so. His surrogate Carl Paladino of Buffalo, New York, said that Trump would not put an educator in charge of the Department of Education. The Trump campaign seems to look at public education as a cancerous growth on American society.

A vote for Trump is a vote to cripple and perhaps abandon public education.

A vote for Clinton is a vote for a candidate who has some good ideas and who knows that Obama’s education policies have been unsuccessful. Many think she will continue the status quo, but count me as one who expects that she will look for ways to improve public schools, not destroy them.

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What Kind of a School Fines a Departing Teacher $6,087 for “Liquidated Damages”?

EduShyster knows the answer: A popular suburban charter school in Massachusetts called the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. This is a school that was created by a group of friends and families that wanted the equivalent of a private school at public school prices. It makes up its own rules. It has very high test scores. And the state has received scores of complaints about the school.

She writes:

So what were parents complaining about?

Special education services, denial of;

English Language Learners, complete lack of;

Teachers, high turnover of;

Property all over Malden, snapping up of (in cash, which seems, um, kind of strange);

Open meeting laws, ignoring of;

Friends and family of founders, hiring of/preferential treatment of;

Admissions lottery, odds-defying nature of, especially when concerning founders, friends and family of;

Communication with board, difficulty of;

Spending priorities, nature of (see $12 million athletic facility, building of)

Student club and athletic team fees, high cost of;

Day-to-day management of the school, interference in

Parents and students who complained, repercussions against, nudging towards door of

In which we pause briefly to consider one downside of the charter model

Let’s pause here briefly to consider why these parents have been deluging state officials with their complaints. You see, because charter schools are autonomous, overseen by their hand-picked boards, parents who have issues with the school and its management have no choice but to bring their complaints to the friends-and-family-esque Board of Directors. Which can be *awkward,* not to mention difficult, because of the board’s penchant for conducting much of its business out of view of the public. The state, meanwhile, doesn’t have much leverage either. While it can step in when the law is being broken or non-complied with, there is no statutory penalty for what might best be described as *dick-ish-ness.* Add in the fact that Mystic Valley is awash in the very treasure that the state most treasures these days—high MCAS scores and a long wait list—and, well, you see where this is not going. As for those unhappy parents, they have a choice: suck it up or *vote with their feet.*

The founders treat the school as their private school, funded by taxpayers. No one cares about the complaints of parents or teachers. The state provides no supervision. What will happen if the charter cap is lifted and more such publically funded, unaccountable, elite charters pop up?

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