Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Camelot charters and the politics of 'disruption' at CPS

Camelot Education takes the students public schools have given up on. But the for-profit company’s approach to discipline has led to allegations of aggression and abuse. (Slate)
Disruption has become a centerpiece in the lexicon of school reformers. It starts from the faulty assumption, held by both liberals and conservatives, that public schools, public space in general, and public (democratic) decision-making are all broken remnants of a bygone era, and that the crisis of stability ("status quo") created mainly by unions, must be shattered by "radical" intervention from the top.

This is a far cry from democratic or revolutionary "disruption" by progressive, grassroots social movements or the breaking with old ideas (mental slavery) through critical thinking and building habits of the mind.

Corporate-style reformers use the term disruption in various ways as it suits them. Some use it to talk about modern technology interventions such as Uber. Or as a way of replacing traditional teaching models with computers or with computers replacing schools entirely. Others call for value-added teacher evaluation, merit pay, mass school closings, teacher firings, union-busting and wholesale privatization.

A case in point: The latest charter school corruption scandal in Chicago has the IG reporting that for-profit charter school operator Camelot Education colluded with former schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a pay-for-play scheme that put $67M in public school dollars into Camelot's pockets.

This brand of disruptive corruption is nothing new in a school system run autocratically by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked school board. It was precisely this style of "reform" that landed BBB and her partner in crime, Gary Solomon (Paul Vallas' former partner) in prison.

Speaking of Vallas, it was he who brought Camelot into Philly and New Orleans when he was schools chief there. But that's a whole other pay-for-play story. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago.

The Tribune reports:
Schuler’s examination of Camelot centers on behavior that largely occurred between 2012 and 2013. Authorities also investigated Byrd-Bennett, Solomon and Vranas for steering multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts to the SUPES Academy education consulting firm in exchange for the promise of lucrative kickbacks during the same time period.
The trio were eventually indicted for their roles in that scheme, pleaded guilty and are now serving federal prison sentences. Schuler said the completed criminal cases against Byrd-Bennett and her co-conspirators allowed his office to finish the Camelot probe.
According to the Sun-Times:
Camelot paid nearly $700,000 to get “access and favor” to Byrd-Bennett, including $294,000 to Solomon and Vranas. Byrd-Bennett allegedly was in line for a job with Camelot when she left CPS — except she left instead for a cushy federal prison in West Virginia.
But what especially caught my eye was not the crime itself, but the reaction to it by the mayor and the press. As expected, once the story broke, the conversation turned to what kind of punishment should be meted out to Camelot. Some favored debarment from CPS and revoking their charter, while others called for an outside monitor to take over operations. Then there were Rahm and the Sun-Times editorial board calling for a slap-on-the-wrist fine and for keeping Camelot's Chicago charters up and running.

Rahm didn't mention "disruption" when he closed NTA.
And here's where disruption comes in. Rahm claimed that the debarment of Camelot would cause "disruption" in the education of the Texas-based company's 800 Chicago students spread across 6 schools. Of those 800 zero were white.

Of course, he's right. (Incidentally, that comes out to 133 students per school if you're counting.) That's quite an intervention at a time when the system is "broke" and when dozens of CPS schools were closed for being too small ("under-utilization").

The S-T editorial calls for a "negotiated settlement" rather than giving Camelot the boot.
CPS says it plans to negotiate fines — hefty fines, we hope — against Camelot, and that would be a start in making this right. The district also has begun debarment proceedings, meaning Camelot eventually could be prohibited from doing business with CPS.
As we see it, what matters most is what’s best for the students, and the sudden closing of the four schools could disrupt the last chance at a decent education for hundreds of young people who sorely need it.
A better solution would be to hire an independent monitor to oversee Camelot’s contract, and then re-bid that contract once it’s up, as the inspector general recommends. 
A do-over or Mulligan, if you will, which would keep this corrupt company in business.

The S-T editors claim "Camelot has a reputation for doing good work in a tough field: educating former dropouts." BTW, the link in that quote offers no evidence of Camelot doing "good work". (Shameful reporting, editors.) Actually, Camelot has a terrible reputation, including charges that they operate "like a prison".
The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. Jandy Rivera, for instance, a former teacher at Camelot-run Phoenix Academy in Lancaster, says that on multiple occasions staff members, including administrators, “baited kids so they could hit kids.” For the most part, staffers who allegedly assaulted students have faced no criminal charges or internal discipline; some have even been promoted.
Three points here...One is that Rahm, who closed 50 schools, mainly in the black community, has a lot of chutzpah to talk about the "disruption" caused by school closings, especially after closing every high school in Englewood and about to close the National Teachers Academy.

Two, even though CPS claims state law prohibits them from closing Camelot schools at least until August 2019, crooked and abusive Camelot can certainly be immediately removed from management without closing their (our) schools. The schools could then be returned to CPS where their abusive approach to discipline can be hopefully ended. Those responsible for their pay-for-play scheme could then be forced to pay back their illegally gotten gains and/or be prosecuted.

Third, Rahm's appointed school board and the mayor himself should be held accountable for the lack of oversight on outside contracting and investigated for their role in contracting with Camelot. One place to start is the upcoming mayoral race. Both Rahm and Vallas are running.

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