BATmobile in Seattle, PARCC faces challenges, and Detroit Free Press on charter schools

This is proving to be an interesting week in education across the U.S.

On Tuesday, the American Institutes for Research, a DC-based nonpartisan, non-profit organization, filed new material in its legal protest against the state of New Mexico’s purchasing division. The protest argues that the state’s request for proposals for on-line Common Core testing was written to favor one vendor.

Citing evidence from Florida and Arizona, the AIR argues that the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — one of the two large consortia given hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars to develop Common Core tests – and Pearson Education, the company awarded New Mexico’s test management contract, are, in effect, business partners, “promoting each other’s products and platforms,” to the exclusion of other vendors. The protest argues that the contracting process violated the law and will be costly to taxpayers. (Ed Week story here.)

Also this week, Tennessee’s legislature passed a law leading to the state’s withdrawal from the PARCC consortium and its governing council. This leaves PARCC with 14 states plus DC, down from 23 in 2010. (Tennessee PARCC story)

BATmobile Hits Seattle

Later today, the BATmobile, BadAss Teachers in action, arrives in downtown Seattle to draw attention to the role of philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates in buying influence on education policy across the country. The rush-hour protest is a collaboration between the Washington BadAss Teachers Association, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates, and Washington Save Our Schools. (Seattle Times story.)

The coalition calls for locally controlled, democratically run schools as well as teacher-created, meaningful diagnostic testing and an end to high-stakes testing used to “fail children, fire teachers, and close schools.” Another major concern of the rally is the resegregation of the nation’s schools. (“Educating Gates” — Teacher Letters to Gates)

A number of frequent Education Town Hall guests are participating, and we expect to have a report from them very soon. A link to the Seattle Times article and more can be found on our website.

Detroit Free Press Charter Series

Finally, this past Sunday, the Detroit Free Press launched an explosive series about charter schools in Michigan. One of the first stories – “Michigan spends $1B on charter schools but fails to hold them accountable” — appeared on June 22. The series features finances, management, teacher and student experiences, legislative issues and lobbying trends. The Free Press website offers additional materials, including audits of school finances, letters from teachers, and video interviews.

In one such interview, John Austin, president of the Michigan state Board of Education says: “There are too many examples here in Michigan of companies running schools, making lots of money and delivering very poor and mediocre education.”

Austin speaks of companies with influence on the legislature and other institutions, and explains: “Management companies find ways — legal but inappropriate — to rake in money…because the charter school management oversight regime in Michigan is very weak.”

In another interview, Tom Watkins, former Michigan state schools superintendent, says the state should be able to tie a string to any public dollar, to see where its going. But that has not been the case:

When children don’t have the basics, when teachers don’t have decent tools to do their jobs and they’re not being compensated fairly and someone is walking off with large sums of money – in my view that is morally wrong, whether it’s legally wrong is yet to be determined.

The Free Press was founded in 1831 and is the largest daily newspaper in Detroit. The on-line edition’s banner ads run tens of thousands of dollars each. And a for-profit charter school company has purchased such ads for every day of the series so far. Eclectablog, a progressive Michigan news source notes the irony here: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in Michigan tax dollars being used for advertising to sit atop stories about the lack of oversight into how charter school dollars are used.


Report and additional discussion on Track 2 —

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