Charter Schools

Here's What's Wrong With the Nation's "Investigation" of New York's Evil Charter School Plot and the Greedy Hedge Fund Moguls Who Fund It

A useful compendium of all the head-scratching arguments commonly voiced by school choice opponents.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) |||

George Joseph's "investigation" of the charter school movement in the Nation, "9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story," is a useful compendium of all the head-scratching arguments commonly voiced by charter school critics. And Joseph articulates them in a spectacularly ludicrous fashion. (The article is also strangely riddled with spelling errors.) 

Here are some of the biggest howlers:

  • Joseph's main contention is that New York isn't spending enough on public education, but the article never actually looks at how much New York is spending! According to census data compiled by the Citizens Budget Commission, in 2012 New York schools led the nation in spending, doling out $19,553 per student as compared to the U.S. average of $10,608. And all of New York's 682 school districts spent more per pupil than the national average. From 2000 to 2010, New York's education spending exploded, as enrollment numbers stayed relatively flat. When facts don't fit the argument, leave them out!
  • Struggling to show that New York is "underfunding" education, Joseph tells us that in 2010 and 2011 Albany "actually cut school funding, including $2.1 billion in classroom cuts." He provides no explanation for how he came up with the $2.1 billion number, but there were in fact proposed cuts to New York State's education budget during the financial crisis—and then a windfall of stimulus money from the federal government mostly erased those cuts. Since then, spending has grown to far exceed what it was pre-recession.
  • Why can't charter school adversaries grant that these rich benefactors might genuinely want to help poor kids, and then explain why their efforts are misguided? Joseph feels the need to uncover the secret malevolent intentions of these ruthless billionaires. So what does he reveal? The whole thing is an effort to avoid having to pay higher taxes by staving off overall education spending increases. Joseph doesn't grapple with why these Scrooge McDucks also donate millions to charter schools every year.
  • The charter school network Success Academy may be outperforming traditional public schools by a wide margin, but they're really all about "envelop[ing] students in hyper-disciplined and surveilled [SIC] school environments." How do we know? Because one anonymous parent quoted in the piece feels that her six-year-old daughter "can't be a kid there" because "there's too much discipline, too much grooming." Just a few months ago, anti-charter folks were claiming Success Academy routinely pushed out failing students. Then a report from the Independent Budget Office showed the opposite to be true. I guess this is what they're left with.
  • I bet you didn't know that "billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers." If you're incredulous, just follow Joseph's hyperlink to a table that doesn't say anything about tax rates.
  • Joseph cloyingly cites anonymous sources and "leaked" information that lead him only to banal revelations. For example, we learn from "e-mails leaked to the Nation" that two nonprofits have been "laying the groundword [SIC]" for the charter school movement "since at least 2010." All the way back to 2010? Or the same year The New York Times published this article about how hedge fund executives were laying the groundwork for a charter school movement? Killer leak! 

I could go on. There are also some accurate details in Joseph's piece, most already reported to death, which tell the story of how New York's education reform movement has figured out in recent years how to counter the outsized political influence of organized labor in Albany. Buried in Joseph's purported horror story is a hopeful one.

There are a lot of things not to like about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D-N.Y.) education agenda—Joseph doesn't get at them—but the governor is correct about one thing: Wild spending increases in education over the last few decades have demonstrated that money can't fix failing schools. And the tragedy isn't the wasted money; it's the wasted lives.

For more on that point, watch my recent video series on education reform in America's poorest city:

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  1. The charter school network Success Academy may be outperforming traditional public schools by a wide margin, but they’re really all about “envelop[ing] students in hyper-disciplined and surveilled [SIC] school environments.” How do we know? Because one anonymous parent quoted in the piece feels that her six-year-old daughter “can’t be a kid there” because “there’s too much discipline, too much grooming.”

    Grooming for what? To be intelligent successful adults? To me this paragraph gives away the game. People like Joseph don’t want kids getting an education. He wants schools to serve as combination jobs programs and progressive political indoctrination centers.

    1. So we should be “more like China”, but without the stricter discipline and structure. Got it.

      1. Yes. Think Zimbabwe.

    2. Or he’s just one of those people that utterly mindlessly supports unions no matter what, no matter how absurd the situation. There are a lot of those people out there. And it’s clear when you look at something like this article that they care nothing for the welfare of the children involved.

      1. No they don’t care. To him the schools are a jobs program for a prog voting block. People like Joseph look at everything as an instrument of politics. Giving kids an education doesn’t futher his politics, hiring more unionized teachers does that. So the fact that charter schools give kids a better education means nothing to him.

      2. When I read this article, I thought way back to when I first found Reason. I saw a video of Nick explaining how politics is a bad thing, and the areas in our lives in which we are most happy do not have politics involved. If you really, truly wanted to improve education for kids in the US, you would look at the problem objectively and take politics out of it. Unfortunately education is about the most politicized area in the US. You have teachers unions and people fighting for funding. And you have people fighting over content such as evolution, sex ed, etc. It’s a huge mess. As long as public education is so politicized, I see no hope for it.

        1. You are never going to get politics out of it as long as it involves spending other people’s money to teach kids information other people decide they should know. Education is along with health care probably the most individualized issue there is. What works for one kid is a disaster for another. So the more centralized the decision making, the more monsterous the results.

          This is why home schooled kids always do so much better than kids who attend even the best private schools. It is not that their parents are these brilliant teachers. It is that no one knows a kid better than their parent and nothing works better than a properly individualized approach to a kid’s education. The more centralized we have made education, the more horrible it has become.

          1. “This is why home schooled kids always do so much better than kids who attend even the best private schools.”

            Show your work please.

            1. I’m not going to speak for the “always” (likely a bit of Johnperbole), but there is evidence of the assertion:

              http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1005657.pdf

              In a landmark U.S. national study, Rudner (1999) administered academic achievement tests to 20,760 primary and secondary homeschooled students. Results showed that homeschooled students’ achievement-test scores were significantly higher than those of their public- and private-school counterparts.

              Furthermore, Clemente (2006) conducted a study to determine if there was a statistically significant difference in the college aptitude of homeschooled high school seniors compared to traditionally schooled students who subsequently attended Christian colleges. Clemente’s results indicated that the homeschooled students’ mean test score on the SAT (including verbal and mathematics sections) was 1123, whereas private- and public-school students averaged 1054 and 1039, respectively. Tests used for analyzing the data revealed a significant difference in homeschooled students’ SAT test scores when compared to their conventional school counterparts.

    3. The hilarious part is that charters are voluntary. If you’re a parent and believe the charter sucks you’re welcome to switch to a district schools. The same isn’t true if your kid’s stuck in a district school and loses the charter lottery.

      1. That is a good point. The school was apparently so horrible, the woman kept sending her kid there.

      2. Right, but if you have a mechanism whereby your kid can escape mine, you won’t be around to fix the situation for me when me and my retard thug kid fuck the school up.

    4. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……
      http://www.jobs-check.com

    5. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing
      http://www.jobs-check.com

  2. The article is also strangely riddled with spelling errors.

    Ironically if he’d gone to a charter school he might have learned how to spell…

    1. The irony is just crushing. You can’t make these people up. How hard is it to proof read something? Too hard for me to bother with on here for sure. If I was getting paid to write something for The Nation, however, not very hard at all.

      1. I think you do proofread what you write here. Your spelling used to be the worst, as if you were writing too fast and not caring about it. But you don’t misspell half the words in your comments anymore and I think it’s because of the constant abuse you took for it. In fact, you rarely have misspellings at all now. It’s night and day.

        Shaming works! 😉

        1. Yeah pretty much. I write letter perfect documents for my job all of the time. It is not hard. You just have to bother to do it.

        2. I think his spell-checker works better. The best Johnisms involve a correctly spelled but completely inappropriate (or ironically super appropriate) word that often stops you in your tracks.

          1. To some degree bobarian. And they usually happen if I am working on something else while goofing off on here or someone has said something to piss me off such that I don’t pay proper attention to what I am typing. When I am paying attention, such as now, my famous Johnisms are much rarer. Even then, I never preview and thus miss them occasionally. I simple second reading would eliminate nearly all of them.

            1. To whit: I SIMPLE TOO, PREVIEW BUTTON NO WORK.

              1. It doesn’t do any good for it to work, if you don’t care.

          2. John’s Freudian slips are legendary. The man is still the king of accidental multilayered homophonia.

    2. I heard on the Chicago news today that a campaign sign announcing teacher union support for Chuy had a misspelling on it.

    3. He was too busy “being a kid” during English class.

    4. Spelling is classist and racist

  3. I love how they immediately closed the comments section of the original article. Afraid of scrutiny? I think so.

  4. It’s very simple, charter schools represent a threat to state power. So there’s a default position for The Nation and its readers.

  5. I bet you didn’t know that “billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers?” If you’re incredulous, just follow Joseph’s hyper-link to a table that doesn’t say anything about tax rates.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve again failed to reach that crucial stage of enlightenment, but how is it that a page full of information on tax rates not say anything about tax rates?

    1. Yeah, I was confused by that too.

      I think the better points are that a) the reason for this issue is New York’s very high sales and consumption taxes, which progressives support and sometimes actually want to raise and b) it ignores the fact that the rich pay vastly higher tax rates at the federal level, so you can’t just look at state and local taxation.

      1. Maybe that’s what he meant.

    2. It was a poorly-worded sentence. Maybe he mean that it doesn’t say anything useful about tax rates?

    3. Read it again.

      There is nothing on that page about individual tax rates, which is what Joseph’s quoted statement implies. It talks about how much of household income ends up in state/city coffers, and completely ignores any federal taxes. It’s disingenous cherry picked data.

      It’s a great argument for why you should move out of NY, but has little to do with how schools are funded.

  6. “I bet you didn’t know that “billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers?” If you’re incredulous, just follow Joseph’s hyper-link to a table that doesn’t say anything about tax rates.”

    I’m laughing really hard at that table. The reason the poor pay high tax rates in New York (according to his own tables!) is because sales taxes and cigarette taxes are hugely regressive. From his own chart:

    “Regressive Features

    ? Comparatively high combined state and local sales tax rates

    ? Comparatively high cigarette tax rate”

    You’ll notice that both of these policies ARE SUPPORTED BY THE LEFT. In fact, I’ve heard leftists arguing in favor of implementing a VAT, which is even more regressive than a normal sales tax. The chart also mentions that the lowest 20% pay 7.6% of their income in sales taxes, whereas the top 1% only pay 0.9% in sales taxes.

    The way to help the poor therefore seems to be to sales income and cigarette tax rates. I eagerly await the day progressives argue in favor of this.

    1. Why/how is a VAT more regressive than a regular sales tax?

      I figured it’d be basically the same.

      1. Because the tax is added in at every step of the process. If poor people pay a dispraportionate amount of their income in sales taxes, it stands to reason they’ll do the same with a VAT.

    2. I eagerly await the day progressives argue in favor of this.

      You’ll be waiting a long, long time. You see, cigarettes are EVUL and therefor must be subject to high taxes. Likewise, conspicuous consumption is also EVUL and must also be discouraged through high sales taxes.

      Nevermind that if you’re rich enough to conspicuously consume, then you probably aren’t impacted by the high sales taxes. Or that rich people don’t smoke as much as poor people, so the impact of both of those tax policies will be felt much more by the poor. It’s the intentions and the FEELZ that really matter, not the end results.

      1. It’s the intentions and the FEELZ that really matter, not the end results.

        Yep. Cigarette taxes and carbon taxes are intended to incentivize people, especially poor people, to use less or find substitutes.

        However minimum wage is not intended to incentivize businesses to hire fewer unskilled workers or find substitutes like automation, so that could never possibly happen.

        When incentives are everything, reason and logic are left behind.

  7. I just realized something. Bastiat’s famous refrain of “we say we do not want state-sponsored X, and they say we do not want X at all” has a corollary: they believe that if the state can’t do something, it cannot be done.

    The state can’t educate children. So nobody can, and evidence to the contrary will be dismissed. And since it is impossible to educate children (otherwise, the state would be able to do it), schools have a different purpose than education. And that actual purpose is neatly aligned with the goals of the state.

    1. The state can’t educate children. So nobody can, and evidence to the contrary will be dismissed. And since it is impossible to educate children (otherwise, the state would be able to do it), schools have a different purpose than education. And that actual purpose is neatly aligned with the goals of the state.

      This is really true and accurate in my estimation. I’ve got public school teachers in my family and at every gathering they spend a huge chunk of time bitching about how awful and stupid the kids are. One family member never fails to rant about the special needs kids.

      Of course they retire early with full pension and health benefits and they’re not fireable, but, hey, fuck you.

      1. She my point above about the individual nature of education. You can’t centralize it and expect it to work.

        1. Now stop that! You did that on purpose just to show you still can. I know it!

  8. And the tragedy isn’t the wasted money; it’s the wasted lives.

    Won’t somebody please think of the wasted money??

  9. Here’s What’s Wrong With the Nation’s “Investigation” of New York’s Evil Charter School Plot and the Greedy Hedge Fund Moguls Who Fund It”

    Prog Editor Sez = B+

    Needs “Vile” instead of “Evil” = “Evil” presumes a fixed moral calculus which provides none of the flexibility of moral relativism we on the left rely upon. Once you start with this “evil” stuff, people are going to start suggesting that value-judgements be applied the same way to *everyone* on the Progressive Stack, and that Black ‘hate crimes’ are equivalent to White ones, etc. It would be a nightmare…so like totally don’t even….

    “Greedy”? = Doesn’t “Right-Wing” say the same exact thing, just more *subtly*…. it being our common-code term for the same? and not giving up the ghost of the presumptive judgement we all know is coming in the subsequent article quite so easily?

    also = ‘Moguls’ is both redundant (you *said* hedge fund already, we get it) and also potentially and unhelpfully Islamophobic.

    Needs a number = how are we supposed to replicate this article across the progosphere-clickbait-network without some kind of Numeric-appeal-to-comprehensiveness? i think “17 Ways Right Wing Billionaires Are Corrupting Education” works pretty good. I’ll leave the “…and Here’s Why =“, ‘Vox-strapon’ to your creative impulses.

  10. in 2012 New York schools led the nation in spending, doling out $19,553 per student as compared to the U.S. average of $10,608.

    It boggles my mind that the public education system is able to spend this much money per student. That’s like the income of an family of four at the poverty line.

    I am curious to know how many people are on the payroll per student? It’s got to be around 2 students per salaried employee, which is fucking insane.

    1. I am friends on facebook with an old high school teacher of mine. She is in most respects a very smart, reasonable woman. When it comes to education, however, she is nothing short of insane. No amount of money for schools is ever enough. And it is not out of raw self interest. She really sees herself as a selfless servant and honestly doesn’t think that way out of greed.

      It just boggles my mind. She works in education. She of all people should know how much money is wasted. Even the biggest military hawks I know who have actually been in the military will tell you what a giant money wasting machine the Pentagon is. Yet, teachers can’t seem to do that.

    2. Those zero-tolerance policies don’t write or enforce themselves you know.

    3. If you care to be really outraged look into the Abbott school districts in Jersey. They receive nearly double the funding as non-Abbott schools and are complete shit. Their funding is something like 20k per pupil – Abbott districts are low income (Newark, Camden) and their funding comes from the state.

      1. You could send a kid to Sidwell Friends for the per pupil spending average in the Washington DC school district.

    4. Here’s one thing I’ll say in their defense…

      …and everybody make a note of it, because it’s the last thing I’ll ever say in their defense.

      The per-pupil spending includes kids who cost $500k to $1 million a piece, because we’ve obligated school districts to pay for “appropriate alternatives” for people who can’t actually be educated, because they’re either criminals or emotionally disturbed or helplessly disabled.

      It’s one of those instances where we have sacrificed the welfare of 95% of the kids for the sake of 5% of the kids – and it’s the 5% nobody can help no matter what they spend.

      1. But they are the very people who supported mandating that. So, I still don’t see how that gets them off the hook.

        1. Yes. That is true.

  11. It’s all about intentions.

    Public schools are run by the government, so their intentions are pure.

    Charter schools are run by capitalists, so their intentions are evil.

    It’s that simple.

  12. The fact you think that the people this article is catered towards will care is just adorable.

    Take that table regarding the tax rates. Joseph could have just linked to a cute cat video, because his readers were never going to check it. Why? They know in their souls that the rich don’t pay their fair share, unlike the noble poor.

    1. They know in their souls that the rich don’t pay their fair share

      Well, yeah. They’re rich. How can they have paid their fair share and still be rich?

  13. The fact you think that the people this article is catered towards will care is just adorable.

    Take that table regarding the tax rates. Joseph could have just linked to a cute cat video, because his readers were never going to check it. Why? They know in their souls that the rich don’t pay their fair share, unlike the noble poor.

  14. Also worth noting =

    The ‘reporter’ who wrote the original “Upworthy”-style piece?

    Is an undergraduate student.

    Which does sort of explain the logic-fail, fact-problems, spelling errors, etc.

  15. George Joseph is a college student.

    When I was in college, I thought I knew all about how the world worked. Everything was simple, black and white. This is why progressives often are groomed in college, the binary is appealing and lets binary-drawn “right view” people feel like they are wiser than the “wrong view” people. All of progressive politics in 2015 derives from this mushminded, arrogant and juvenile binary perspective chosen to elevate self and tribe.

    It’s even more embarrassing that The Nation is using a mushmind juvenile to “critically analyze” a program like charter schooling. It shows how pathetic The Nation is, letting a polemically inclined binary thinker “analyze” by disparagement and distortion.

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