Sunday, February 28, 2016

Are publicly funded charter schools accountable to parents and taxpayer? Apparently not.

Several weeks ago the New York Times published a surreptitiously recorded video of a charter school teacher berating a first grade student and ripping up her work in front of the class for being unable to explain how she solved a math problem. The publicly-funded school, the Success Academy founded by Eva Moskowitz, circled the wagons and launched a public relations blitz.

According to the Times, the girl's parent tried to raise questions at a meeting organized by the school to get parent support for the teacher in the press. She was concerned that the parents were being asked to help without even being shown the video. "She's like 'You've had enough to say' and [Ms. Moskowitz] tried to talk over me," the mother told the Times. Frustrated, she gave up and walked out of the meeting.

The student's parent went to the NY Department of Education to file a complaint. She was told that Success was independent from the school district and that she needed to contact the school's board of trustees. But the board, chaired by hedge fund CEO Dan Loeb, that gets to spend taxpayer dollars aren't elected by nor accountable to New York voters. They have no obligation to neither listen to her nor take action. They are a group of hedge fund and private equity investors, lawyers, public relationships professionals, philanthropists and one full-time educator.

Here's a few of the Wall Street investors on the school's board of trustees who the girl's mother was told to petition:
  • Joel Greenblatt is a Managing Partner at the hedge fund Gotham Capital and former Chairman of the Board of Alliant Techsystems, a NYSE-listed aerospace and defense company.

  • Steven M. Galbraith is a former Chief Investment Officer at Morgan Stanley who now runs Herring Creek Capital, a Connecticut based Hedge Fund.

  • John Petry is the founder and managing principle at the hedge fund, Sessa Capital.

  • Richard S. Pzena is the founder of Pzena Investment Manager, a global investment firm.

  • David Roberts has been for the last 21 years with the investment firm, Angelo, Gordon David, responsible for helping to start and grow a number of the firm's businesses including opportunistic real estate, private equity, and net lease real estate.

  • John Scully is a founding partner of SPO Partners & Co., a private investment firm and a director at the Plum Creek Timber Company and chairman of Advent Software.

  • Paul Pastorek, the co-executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation founded by billionaire Eli Broad, who is leading an effort to turn half of Los Angeles schools into charter schools. Pastorek led the post-Hurricane Katrina effort in New Orleans that converted all elementary and secondary schools into charter schools. Recent research has shown that the New Orleans school system is now a multi-tier system that works for some, but leaves many behind.


They are private citizens who get to spend taxpayer dollars to educate children. They argue that the market will determine success. Unfortunately, they get to define what success looks like - not the public whose taxes fund the school, nor voters who are the ultimate policy makers in a democratic society. The problem is that the market doesn't need to pay attention to the whims of democracy that demands public accountability, high quality and inclusive education for every child - even the ones that struggle with math problems.

The mother ultimately removed her daughter from the school. It's the Donald Trump "you're fired" brand of education. There's no room for those that can't take the heat - even if they are a 6-year old first grader struggling with math. That's not America and it's certainly not how a democracy should function.

The biggest problem with charter schools should be obvious. Charter schools are publicly funded, public schools run by private groups unaccountable to neither the public who pay the bills nor the parents of children who deserve to have their voices heard.

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