The Deliberate Destruction Of Public Schools

Filed in Delaware by on June 4, 2013

(This one’s for you Mediawatch!)

First, Education Reform has very little to do with improving education.  It does, however, have a lot to do with union busting and corporations tapping into all that delicious tax payer education money.  It also thrives on propaganda.

When discussing education today there’s one theme that remains consistent:  Public education is failing our kids!  Our children aren’t learning!  Just look at the test scores!

Okay, let’s look at the test scores:

  • The chart below shows overall reading and math scores for 9-year-olds starting in the early ’70s. Since then, reading scores have gone up 12 points and math scores have gone up 24 points. Ten points on the NAEP roughly equals one grade level, which means that today’s 9-year-olds are performing more than a full grade level better in reading and two grade levels better in math compared to the ’70s.
  • Scores for blacks and Latinos are up more than scores for whites. In reading, as the chart above shows, white kids’ scores are up 14 points, while Latinos’ have risen 24 points and blacks’ 34 points. In math, scores for white kids are up 25 points, while Latinos’ have jumped 32 points and blacks’ 34 points. There’s still a significant gap between whites and other groups, but we’ve been making steady—and largely unheralded—progress for the past 40 years.
  • Private schools have done well, with reading scores up 10 points and math scores up 22 points, but public schools have also improved in reading (4 points) and math (25 points). Overall, the rise in test scores is due to improvements at both private and public schools.

Interesting, no?  And yet you rarely, if ever, hear about these results.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are problems, especially when children reach high school, and that must be addressed, but the idea that public schools aren’t educating children is nothing more than the Ed Reformers’ Marketing Strategy.

One of my biggest problems with charter schools is the way they rig the deck by controlling their population, not offering free and reduced lunch, and take taxpayer dollars while not being accountable to the public.  Basically, charter schools want to be public schools when there’s taxpayer money involved, and want to be private corporations whenever the public questions what they’re doing.

And the public should question charter schools, because they aren’t living up to their promises.

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.

But I’ve lost count of charter school promises.

First, they were supposed to be test sites for new educational techniques that would then be implemented into public schools.

Well, that didn’t happen.  Mainly because the charter model relies on controlling its student population.  Fine.  I get it.  But we need to stop pretending that a successful charter school is about an educational miracle, and start accepting that the success of a charter has far more to do with who they let into their classrooms rather than what goes on inside those classrooms.

Second, charters promised a better education for less money.

That one turned out not to be true either.  Overall, the education offered at charter schools is not better, and now they are working on getting more tax dollars. And it looks like they’ll get it

A bill that would toughen oversight of charter schools would also award more money to charters with proven track records and allow them to access capital funding from the state.

The bill’s supporters say it will help successful charters grow while holding them more responsible, but some critics worry it could sap resources from traditional public schools. They also say some of the oversight measures don’t go far enough.


House Bill 165, which is expected to be debated in committee on Wednesday, would create a “Charter School Performance Fund,” which the Department of Education would use to dole out extra funds to charters it believes have “a proven track record of success.”

And where will this 2-5 million come from?

Now, I would like to quote people who have concerns with this idea, but the News Journal didn’t quote any “critics”… only “supporters”.  (Have I mentioned how much I miss Nichole Dobo covering education?)  Guess I’ll work with what I have.

Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter School Network, said the performance fund would help schools that have proven they are effective reach more students. She challenged the assertion that charters are outside entities sapping money from the system.

“Our kids are public school kids, too,” Massett said. “We are part of the public school system; we just happen to be able to operate differently.”

Massett said charters sometimes face hurdles getting buildings set up because they don’t get capital funding.

Because they don’t get capital funding.  There’s the money quote, and for those of you not up to speed on what’s going on with charters, getting capital funding is now priority #1.  So, if you’re still holding onto the myth that charters offer a better education for less money, go ahead and toss it in the trash.  Their “waste, fraud, and abuse” meme has bit the dust.

But how exactly would supplying charter schools with capital money work?  Would charter schools be able to buy property/equipment with taxpayer money?  Would taxpayers own the building/equipment if the charter closed?  Would the taxpayer be at the front of payment line if a charter failed?  Are charter schools public schools first, or are they corporations first?  The answer seems to be… charter schools are public schools when it suits them, and when it doesn’t they’re corporations.

Look, the state just bailed out Pencader Charter.  We gave that school 350,000.00 so it could finish the end of the year.  Will we be paid back for that?  Of course not.

Back to the News Journal article.

At the same time that it frees up more state money for charters, the bill would toughen state oversight, especially on the fiscal front.

Any new charter school application or modification that would increase enrollment would require an impact study analyzing the effects the school would have on local traditional schools and the community from which most of its students would be drawn.

Are they serious?  If that’s the bar set then that’s the end of charter schools because charter schools negatively impact public schools.  That’s not even debatable.

One last thing in this article… “If a student would be eligible for free school lunches at a traditional school, charter schools would be required to provide that student free lunch, too.”  Seriously?  This wasn’t already required?  No wonder certain charter schools have such skewed demographics.

Back to the charter school PR.  They’ve already ditched the “charter schools are educational incubators” and “charter schools offer a better education for less money” talking points, so what is their new spiel?  Why, CHOICE, of course.  It’s all about choice – and public schools buy into this nonsense, as well.  Choice lets everyone off the hook for improving the education of all children.  I’ve said this before, but it boils down to this… struggling/failing schools don’t need to improve because parents can simply choice out (except they can’t choice into any schools closed to choice due to capacity and if they can’t get their kid to and from the choice school, or to the nearest existing bus stop for that school, then… no choice for you!) – and if they don’t choice out then they must be happy with their struggling/failing school.

And about that choice transportation… Let’s review the transportation rule for choice students.  If you choice your child out of their feeder school then you are responsible for getting your child to and from the choice school or to and from the closest existing bus stop for that school.  Everybody got that?  Good.  Okay, charter schools are all choice schools – choice schools that receive transportation funds.  Yep, charters get funding for buses.

Now, explain to me why a charter choice student receives transportation, but a public school choice student does not?  Go on, I’m stumped.

The new Choice mantra comes down to the myth that parents are capable of making the best educational choices for their child’s education.  Some are, some aren’t.  And given the amount of propaganda surrounding education getting accurate information is daunting.  Example… were you aware that some Pencader parents are considering Moyer Academy now that Pencader has closed?  Needless to say… this is not an informed choice – but I guess that’s okay in a world where CHOICE trumps everything and can be used as an excuse not to fix problems.

If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me!

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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (42)

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  1. Thanks for this great post, Pandora and for keeping your voice loud about education for the benefit of the DE Lib community.

    All of the regular Education-oriented blogs are on fire over what’s happening with Traditional Public Schools vis a vis Charters in Dover. Having Kavips, Delaware Libertarian, this blog and mine add in has got to be grabbing some additional ears.

    We need some letters going in to the News Journal etc. as well. Kowalko and Baumbach will need some help down there in the next few weeks.

  2. mediawatch says:

    A tip of the cap to you, Pandora, for pulling this piece together.
    More suggested reading: Mike Begatto’s column in today’s NJ (
    and the article on the layoffs of paraprofessionals and other education staff throughout the state (
    The news article demonstrates that Markell is doing to public education just what’s he has done to the broader state economy. Boosting the charters with this new “performance fund” while cutting basic funding to the traditional schools, which then have to lay off paras and teachers, parallels betting on Fisker instead of strengthening our employment infrastructure. And, in my mind, that’s not much different from promoting the “common core” curriculum while shrinking the core of education professionals who must teach it. No, I’m not trashing the common core (that’s the job of the 9-12 Patriots who just discovered it), which does attempt to raise the curriculum bar nationwide, but it is hypocritical of this governor to promote himself as pro-education while he chips away at its foundation while distracting us with window dressing on top.

  3. pandora says:

    Also, I swear I didn’t read THIS excellent post by Steve Newton before I wrote my post! Talk about great minds thinking alike! 😉 Go read it!

  4. MIke O. says:

    FYI, the Seventh Type Official Style Guide no longer honors the clumsy formulation “Traditional Public Schools.” Public schools ARE traditional – and then there are the quasi-public charter schools. Funding isn’t the only thing that determines whether a school is a public school.

    As the riddle goes (sometimes attributed to Lincoln):

    Q: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

    A: Four. Because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.

  5. pandora says:

    100% agree, Mike.

  6. xyz says:

    “and take taxpayer dollars while not being accountable to the public”


    How are they not accountable to the public?

    I would say they have the ultimate in accountability. They are accountable to the consumer.

    They have to get parents to apply and to continue to keep their kids in the school. If they are not doing the job parents pull their kids out and find other alternatives.

  7. MIke O. says:

    “They are accountable to the consumer.” That is like saying frackers are only accountable to their gas customers for the quality an quantity of gas that comes out of their well. Never mind the rest of the community.

    We are all consumers of public education, whether we have children or not. Accountability is representation. Unlike public school boards, charter boards are not elected by the community.

  8. Steve Newton says:

    I would say they have the ultimate in accountability. They are accountable to the consumer.

    They have to get parents to apply and to continue to keep their kids in the school. If they are not doing the job parents pull their kids out and find other alternatives.

    That’s crap. Try pulling your kid out of, say, DMA, after ninth grade year, and getting him or her into any other charter or magnet. Accept new students at the tenth grade level? Not Cab, not Conrad, not CSW, and not AI (unless it is your feeder pattern).

    Choice is pretty much a one-time thing at each level. You choose a school and if either you don’t like it or they don’t like your kid (“counseling out”) then your option (aside from private school) is to return to your feeder pattern where they have to take you.

    This “accountability to consumers” meme is one of the biggest laughs in the whole argument.

  9. xyz says:

    The point is that you always have the option to vote with your feet. If the charter isn’t offering what you want, you leave. If you don’t like the way the board runs the school, leave.

    If the charter doesn’t meet the needs of the students or is poorly managed, it fails. See Pencader, Marion T, etc.

    The money follows the student. Less kids at a charter, less operating funds.

    The bottom line is charters are immensely popular in the state. There have been some failures but the vast majority have been successful.

    This is what the people of the state want and Markell is responding to the vast majority of his constituents.

  10. pandora says:

    “The point is that you always have the option to vote with your feet. If the charter isn’t offering what you want, you leave. If you don’t like the way the board runs the school, leave.”

    Ain’t that simple. Well, I guess it is if you love your feeder school, but if you were happy with your feeder why would you choice out? (Okay, the one example I can think of is if your feeder was AIHS and you choiced into CSW. But what if your feeder was Glasgow?)

    Choice isn’t as easy as you make it sound. Many of the “desirable” schools start out closed to choice – they are at capacity with their feeder students. Choice begins with limited options. And Steve makes the best point: “Choice is pretty much a one-time thing at each level.” Better get it right the first time.

  11. MIke O. says:

    “The bottom line is charters are immensely popular in the state. ”

    That is because the state does not release aggregate data on charter performance and profiles, whereas they do release aggregate data for each district. The public is misinformed about overall charter performance and the state seems happy to keep it that way.

  12. Steve Newton says:

    First, Education Reform has very little to do with improving education. It does, however, have a lot to do with union busting and corporations tapping into all that delicious tax payer education money.

    A minor technicality: the ed reformers did not exactly bust DSEA; they just bought the state leadership.

    That way they get to keep the logo and claim that teachers support whatever they do.

  13. Mike Matthews says:

    Blog post of the day. Thanks, p.!

  14. pandora says:

    Thanks, Mike! 🙂

  15. PainesMe says:

    “the idea that public schools aren’t educating children is nothing more than the Ed Reformers’ Marketing Strategy.”

    They’re both educating children, but they’re producing workers for the Industrial age, not the Information age.

    Democratic schools are where it’s at.

  16. DEvoter302 says:

    Decentralize the school system. It’s a one size fits all model that hasn’t changed in over a century. Metaphorically speaking we are creating kids who can draw the dots but not connect them. We were taught to regurgitate information rather than conceive ideas.

  17. DEvoter302 says:

    And it’s interesting how the same data is used to support conflicting claims.

  18. DSEA case in point: neither DSEA ED Jeff Taschner (whose wife is a Markell appointee to Vo Tech Board and much feted by the DEM Party during her NCC Council Pres. Primary bid) nor DSEA Pres. Frederika Jenner were ‘able to attend’ the House Education Committee hearing on Tuesday but they sent the recently-hired former NCC exec. Coons-Clark staffer Kristen Dwyer, to voice platitudes about the odious HB 165.

    “Is this bill perfect? No. If you ask different stakeholders, nobody got everything they want,” said Kristin Dwyer, director of legislation and political organizing for the Delaware State Education Association. “What the bill is is a compromise, where everybody gets something they want, but everybody is willing to give a little to get a little.”

    Bull shit. The DE Charter Network got everything it wanted in this bill. What little concession that was made was watered down as to make it useless – the District impact assessment with no public hearing for instance and one of more than a dozen criteria that “may” be considered by DDOE, SBE – EXECUTIVE CONTROLLED entities.

    This is the only chance the legislative branch has to make this right and they had best work like hell on agreements to amend the bill before it goes to the floor.

  19. Citizen says:

    Pandora, thanks for this post.
    Anyone who cares about HB 165 needs to read it (it’s too bad our elected reps. mostly haven’t) and should be very skeptical about what its promoters say, and what gets into the NJrnl. Two key cases in point:

    1. while the bill requires an impact study on existing public schools as part of the charter proposal process (amazingly NOT required already), it immediately eviscerates this by stipulating that the impact study is not sufficient grounds for denying a charter application (for establishment or expansion). There have to be other compliance issues as well for impact on existing public schools to matter.

    2. on meals for low-income kids (“low-income” by definition refers to children who qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast & lunch at nearly every public school in the country), the bill in NO way requires charter schools to provide this. It says the following, in pricelessly convoluted language (lines 24-27): “If a child is unable to attend a charter school because the charter school does not provide lunch, and the child would otherwise qualify for a free or low-cost lunch under the federal National School Lunch Program, the charter school shall provide lunch to the child at no cost to the child’s family. Charter schools may not consider whether a child would qualify for no-cost lunches pursuant to this subsection when making enrollment decisions.”

    How about, instead (and as several taxpayers proposed to Jaques multiple times prior to Wednesday’s sham of a “hearing”): ““All public charter schools must participate fully in the National School Lunch Program and National Breakfast Program, under the terms established for these programs by the federal government and consistent with the provision of daily nutritional assistance in surrounding district schools.” Or similarly clear and precise language.

    With apologies for cross-posting this on another DL thread: readers unclear on how charter school refusal to fully serve low-income and special needs kids impacts their demographics will be interested in this detailed analysis of one such school, in Newark:

  20. pandora says:

    Thanks for commenting, Citizen! Welcome to DL!

  21. Mike O. says:


    while the bill requires an impact study on existing public schools as part of the charter proposal process (amazingly NOT required already), it immediately eviscerates this by stipulating that the impact study is not sufficient grounds for denying a charter application

    Consideration of impact has been one of the chief demands of the TPS advocates. But this dodge is clearly a ruse by the Charter Network to give the appearance of taking impact into account without teeth. This is one of the biggest things that gives this bill its stench of truthiness.

    It also appears that impact may be considered only for new applications but not renewals or modifications, but I’ll have to read it again.

    Accountability needs to include impact, diversity, transparency, and local control.

    The bill also extends ten-year renewal to favored “top-performing” charters (currently five-year), which is nothing other than a REDUCTION of accountability.

  22. Also, during the Committee hearing when put on the spot – Rebecca Taber adamantly asserted that if you are asking her why the slush fund can be used for both proven high performance charters AND by unproven start-ups – this was a question by Ed Osienski – the answer was that OF COURSE WHAT THEY MEAN is that the money is only going to be used for proven charter’s expansions or start-ups seeded by such already proven charters.

    Like so much of the bill what they may actually ‘mean’ is totally not what is being purported in the text.

    Osienski was also not at all interested in funding capital improvements for buildings not owned by the state as are the District and Vo Tech buildings. A few of the Reps. expressed concern that that was irresponsible use of public tax payer money.

    I was a tad surprised that none of the Republicans in the Committee had anything to say about spending public money on the private corporate assets.

    If a charter school fails, all of the schools’ buildings and all of the renovation to the building stay with the private corporation. If a public school fails, the asset is returned to the tax payer.

    Why is Jaques not interested in this fact?

  23. mediawatch says:

    The Republicans likely had nothing to say about the capital spending issue because so many of them are linked to Charlie Copeland/Bill Manning and There and Pete du Pont — charter advocates all — with ties to the Longwood Foundation and the Bank of America Charter School Palace on Rodney Square.

  24. Mike O. says:

    Republicans love capital funding for charter schools, because in their minds it weakens unions. And what Republican doesn’t like handing gobs of taxpayer money to their friends?

  25. Citizen says:

    Word is that the Bnk of Am charter palace is why this bill is being rushed thru now. Longwood fndn. wants guarantee of minor cap funds from public b4 they start that major renovation.

  26. Mike O. says:

    In a December post on CEB:

    And in an interesting FAQ item:

    Is there a possibility that the opening be delayed beyond 2014?

    Only a major issue (i.e. the lack of financing) could further postpone the initiative.

    Is this a hint at obtaining capital funding via changes to the charter law?

  27. pandora says:

    “Word is that the Bnk of Am charter palace is why this bill is being rushed thru now. Longwood fndn. wants guarantee of minor cap funds from public b4 they start that major renovation.”

    I heard that whispered as well.

    Mike, was it you that said the BofA mega-charter had grown in projected number of students?

  28. Mike O. says:

    Yes, CEB capacity has been bumped up at least 3 times and is now at 2800.

  29. I used the word tad to be sarcastic. I wasn’t all too surprised knowing where the bread is buttered for DE GOP – where the charter schools are championed – in Greenville/Centreville.

    Actually, Sussex Rep. Tim Dukes testified that he conferred with the school leader for the Sussex Charter in Georgetown and found out how wonderful it was that they are switching school campuses and are going to be building up the charter on the new site for a LOT LESS MONEY not having to hold to the expensive prevailing wage since this will not be a public school building.

    He forgot to mention that the Sussex Charter got what, $7 million out of Alan Levin in state bond guarantees?

  30. Steve Newton says:

    Does anybody know for sure if what Nancy just said is for sure accurate: would charters using capital funds not be required to pay prevailing wage?

    If so, it would shoot one hell of a hole in the old “charter schools are public schools” mantra.

  31. SussexCitizen says:

    Don’t know about the quote but at least some of the funds will be used to purchase the current Delmarva Christian High School building. Apparently they are switching buildings, due to the high school’s decline in students and the Charter School’s desire to expand.

  32. Citizen says:

    Steve, is there a verbatim transcript or audio recording of House hearings. I could swear that Dukes, in his brief stmt supporting the bill, said this. But I’ve read too many blog threads this week to be sure I’m remembering that accurately.

    Rep. Baumbach would probably remember this, if Dukes said it.

    Charter schls are legally corporations–not public schls! They get public funds to educate kids, so this confuses people 😉

  33. Steve Newton says:

    Charter schls are legally corporations–not public schls!

    Yes, but they have successfully planted this meme in the public dialogue:

    “Charter Schools are public schools!”

    So it does need to be countered.

  34. openaccess says:

    Here’s an example of what Delaware could be doing with charter schools

    and here’s a link to the details

    Such targets, when met or exceeded by a charter school, would go a long way towards eliminating skimming and resegregation by charter schools. What NY is doing is a well-specified version of the “Lowery Doctrine.”

  35. Coolspringer says:

    Whoa – sorry I missed this in the first place…reading now!

  36. I believe that at Wednesday’s committee hearing Rep Dukes mentioned that the charter school in his area noted that they could put up the school building for a much lower price than a traditional public school. I don’t recall him providing details for the reason. I am pretty certain that he did not use the phrase ‘prevailing wage’ in his statement.

  37. Paul, I was sitting behind Dukes so I may have missed it but I took away the impression that he meant prevailing wages as a reason for the lower costs. I will take a look at my notes. Prevailing wages is a hot issue with the GOP – Sussex Rep. Briggs King ran a bill about it this year that I think got stuck in committee.

    NCC makes an audio file for all of their committee hearings. I think it is a GREAT idea for the state legislature to do the same. We deserve to hear the debate that is so directly involving and impacting our lives.

  38. heragain says:

    Great post, great thread. Thank you, pandora.

    It’s incredible to me that the rush to charters continues unabated…and too largely unexamined, in Dover and elsewhere.

    Originally, when charters were proposed, they made sense to me. If you want to produce students who are prepared for professional training in chemistry it is in the interest of chemical companies to oversee their curriculum, right? Conditions in business naturally change faster than the pace of educational institutions, and having small labs that reflected those could test ideas that were later applied more generally.

    But we’ve HAD charter schools now. We’ve SEEN what they do, and how they’re run, not by industries that care about the outcomes, but by a secondary industry of ‘education professionals” with ZERO accountability and no discernible ethics.

    And I’d like to refer again to Steve Newton’s point, June 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm. If, IRL, you want to bet your kid into the charter system, you have one shot. I know my kids pretty well, and one just graduated. She’s going to study STEM, (she says chemistry, I think maybe math). In middle school, when we considered her school possibilities, we’d have put her in Cab, no doubt. She was interested in drawing, dance and theatre.

    And she’d have gotten a pretty good education in those at Cab, too. But what gives me the shivers is that she WOULDN’T probably have discovered her passion for algebra. (I’d like to claim that was my genius, but mostly it was luck.) She might or might not have had that luck in a school setting… but most of us can remember a teacher (or teachers) who advocated for us and maybe pushed us to take a class outside our comfort zone.

    But if you’re a terrific teacher at Cab, or Charter, or DMA, and you discover that your dancer is a mathematician, and your chemist is a painter, and your soldier is a musician, you KNOW you can’t just send them off for tutoring in one of the other schools. You know their choice is made. And the same goes (and maybe more so) for the teachers in the other schools.

    THAT is your impact statement.

  39. Coolspringer says:

    In defense of Albert Shanker’s concept of charters, they were legitimately meant to be labs within traditional schools to find ways to reach the toughest educational cases, right? And this was pretty deliberately co-opted by various and increasing others as a means to disassemble funding and governance structures in a way that we all now see was primarily intent upon “opening up new markets” and being friendly to corporate interests. That’s how I’ve pieced it together anyway. The most frustrating thing about this whole thing is how well the path to privatization has been paved with gold-plated stones…it’s about choice, it’s about kids, special-ness, individual attention, the future, creativity, and breaking free of an outdated industrial/agrarian system. I find it difficult at times to chip away at the gold without sounding like a conspiracy theorist…

  40. pandora says:

    I’ve been trying to get back to this thread!

    Heragain, I agree! We ruled out specialized charters and magnets right away – mainly because we didn’t feel a child should choose their career path at 5th and 8th grade.

    Coolspringer, all this privatization of our schools sure looks like a conspiracy sometimes. Corporate interests concerned about corporate profits sells a bunch of anxious, uninformed parents on non-existent excellence of charter schools and fear of public schools. Exhibit A: Pencader

    Had the data concerning charter schools been readily available to parents my bet is that we’d have far fewer charter schools. Mike’s aggregated data is pretty stunning. So is that Charter review document. If parents had easy access to those numbers perception of charters would change rapidly… so would enrollment.