Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Speaking Of Conservative Screechings

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 12, 2009

Just as national conservatives screeched against the release of the DHS terrorism report because it dared mention right-wing domestic terror, local conservatives are screeching against a report by MN2020 showing, among other things, that 83% of 145 local charter schools have at least one financial irregularity and that while charter schools take in tax dollars, they are not subject to the same accountability rules as regular public schools:

The conservatives swarmed like angry bees. Chief among the angry bees has been the Charter School Partners of Minnesota, a low-key but apparently well-funded nonprofit organization. CSP advocates for high-quality charter schools and, in their mission statement, declare that “[we] believe there are no excuses for poor performance.”

So, how did CSP Executive Director Al Fan react to our report? He declared that our founder is “a playground bully.” I addressed this issue last week and, given their reaction’s stridency, thought that CSP had said its piece and returned to not excusing charter schools for poor performance. Fan’s aspirational Twin op-ed certainly suggested his organization’s desire to lift all flagging charter school boats. Then, I read his Winona Daily News op-ed.

It is, if anything, uglier and more mean-spirited than his June 2 press conference performance. Minnesota 2020’s report may be many things but it is not “specious” nor is it “fabricated from whole cloth.” Four of five Minnesota charter schools have at least one financial red flag raised by their own auditors; we just added up the number of red flags and reported those numbers to the public. It’s a matter of public record, albeit a not-entirely-conveniently-accessible public record stored in the Minnesota Department of Education’s basement.

By attacking Minnesota 2020 in this fashion, Charter School Partners is making excuses for poor performance. That’s unfortunate because Minnesota’s students need every opportunity to succeed in school. In the future, let’s hope that conservative educational policy groups develop more than two stock responses to any situation. Choosing between fairy dust and vitriol is no real choice at all.

Ah, but you’re threatening the livelihoods of these folks. They’re afraid you’re going to take away their limited-accountability sugar teat! They want to keep getting our tax dollars.

This follows hard on the heels of the StarTribune‘s reporting on financial hanky-panky (to the tune of over a million bucks) committed at one local charter school.

6 Responses to “Speaking Of Conservative Screechings”

  1. Charles II said

    Because nothing says to our children “Excel!” than keeping sloppy books.

    Some of the schools don’t look, from their titles, to be conservative-run. I’m curious about that. I’m also curious about how serious the accounting “red flags” are… the fact that they weren’t remedied does suggest problems, but without knowing the details, it’s hard to know. I though Al Fan did make at least one point that required response, namely how many traditional schools had unclear lines on financial oversight. It seems as though there are maybe half a dozen charter schools that have potential serious problems (employee advances, multiple errors on payroll transactions, inadequate accounting), with Aurora, Echo, Duluth, and Recovery at the top of the list (Heart of the Earth closed after serious, serious problems came to light).

    • The problem in Minnesota is that a lot of folks got bamboozled, especially in the Native American community, early on about charter schools. That’s why we have so many of the danged things. (It was a school targeting Native American kids whose director just got caught taking $1.4 million from the till.) If there’s a pedagogical equivalent of “greenwashing”, the buying off of the local Native American and African-American communities WRT charter schools is definitely it.

      • So you are saying that First Nations parents who look at their kids’ graduation rates (which are VERY low in private schools) and decide to go to charter schools, especially culture-sensitive ones (where the graduation rates and achievement for Native Americans are VASTLY higher) got “bamboozled”?

        All of them? Because there are a LOT of First Nations schools out there, and they’re there because First Nations parents saw a need. ALL those First Nations parents, facing all the problems they face, are dummies who got conned?

        I’m sorry, Phoenix Woman, but you sound like the sort of patriarchal white-guilt-ridden stereotype that the ReTHUGliCons try to paint us as.

        You might want to re-think this.

    • Al Fan, conservative fuckwit that he is, made a couple of points. Not only do many public schools have the same financial accountability problems that the charters do (largely because of the rules the patriarchial administrations place on them), but in fact MOST SMALL NON-PROFITS would flunk by the same standards. So would most rural minnesota counties and towns. Of course, since most of rural Minnesota is conservative, they are obviously on the sugar teat, so screw them.

      Also, the report calls complaints “conservative”, but in fact most kids at inner citie charters are from DFL constituencies – people of color, and parents who are motivated, unlike the ReTHUGliCons who all send their kids to private schools in the suburbs.

      • Charles II said

        LW, there’s no need for ad hominem.

        There are plenty of questions about charter schools, not just in MN, but nationwide. Some charters are excellent, but there are also enough problems of the kind seen at Heart of Earth to wonder whether adequate accounting controls are in place.

        As a practical matter, the financial standards for schools, which use tax money, are higher than they are for non-profits. The proper comparison for charter schools is traditional schools. Al Fan did make the proper comparison, but we don’t know the answer– would traditional schools fail audits? Probably none as spectacularly as Heart of Earth.

        I am more concerned about the variability of academic standards. This is an area where it is not difficult to trick parents. And the 2004 education report was not encouraging:

        In five case study states, charter schools
        are less likely to meet state performance standards than traditional public schools. It is impossible to know from this study whether that is because of the performance of the schools, the prior achievement of the students, or some
        other factor.

        This is a matter of special concern because

        Charter schools are more likely to serve
        minority and low-income students than traditional public schools but less likely to serve students in special education.

        Special ed kids are expensive. This says that the charter schools are cherrypicking. Special ed kids alsomay have very, very low scores, with little chance for improving them. Sometimes that’s an artifact of testing rather than actual learning. But as a matter of making comparisons, that could tilt any conclusions.

        The Department of Education has apparently failed to produce anything resembling genuine performance reports for subsequent years. Even the charter school association does not really have data on its side. Its report claims that students are demographically similar… but when one looks at eligibility for free lunch, it’s clear that traditional public schools are serving A LOT MORE kids from very, very poor families. So what do their results mean?

        Well-supervised, well-resourced charter schools will perform well. So will well-supervised, well-resourced public schools. Why aren’t we focusing on giving schools the tools and the oversight?

  2. […] anyone knowing where they’re stored; Civil War trivia; 83% of charter schools have “accounting irregularities“; and family arrested for keeping their kids in “squalor.” Now, as a parent, […]

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