Washington's capitol in Olympia by Washington DOT

Washington State has been ground zero in the fight over charter schools this past year, and misinformation abounds.

Over the last several years Bill Gates and the Waltons of Walmart poured millions of dollars into Washington to establish charter schools in the state.

Last fall the Washington State Supreme Court decided that those charter schools are unconstitutional, due to a lack of public oversight while using taxpayer dollars. The same organizations backed by Bill Gates including the League of Education Voters (LEV), Stand for Children (SFC) and the Washington State Charter Schools Association along with Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) founded by hedge fund managers, began funneling money to state legislators to bring bills to the floor that will circumvent public oversight of these charter schools.

Why all the flurry of activity over charter schools in our state? It's the money, of course.

Charter school operators, owners and CEO's stand to gain millions by taking Federal, state and district money to run their schools, whether they meet standards set by school district guidelines or not.

Many of these charter schools will take state money allocated for each student and then, particularly if they are special education students or students with behavioral issues, or others who require more resources, will push them back into the public schools while keeping the taxpayer dollars.

Charter schools also make large profits by offering “blended learning” alternatives, which means placing students in front of computers for classes and testing. Some charter schools will place more than 40 students in a classroom in front of computers and have one “teacher” oversee the process. The teacher is not required to be certified, and many times is a Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruit who is paid far less than a certified teacher in the district, thus allowing the charter school to pocket money that should be spent teaching and supporting students.

There are charter school consultants who are openly fraudulent, charter school operators who bilk millions from states, and charter franchises that receive millions from the Department of Education, which is highly influenced by Eli Broad, a millionaire who champions charter schools. Some of our elected representatives will go to great lengths to set up profitable online charter schools in their districts,

Although charter schools tout themselves as being a better option to public schools, study after study has shown that is not the case. Skewed media coverage of the battle over charter schools, especially from the slick operation “The Seventy Four,”  has created an echo chamber of misinformation about charter schools.

I want to set the record straight.

Let’s start with "the children". At this time approximately 840 students are enrolled in charter schools in Washington State—illegally according to the state supreme court. The state’s total public student population is 1.5 million. So a great deal of money and time are being spent on less than .001% of the total student population.

State legislators are spending more time and effort keeping these charter schools open than coming up with solutions to adequately fund public schools. The state legislators have been found in contempt of court by the Washington State Supreme Court for not meeting their paramount duty to adequately fund education and are being fined $100,000 per day for their lack of action or resolve.

These same legislators are getting money from charter school lobbyists. Representatives Chad Magendanz, Eric Pettigrew, Dave Sawyer and Senator Steve Litzow, all big proponents of charter schools, have received contributions from the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, all backed by money from Bill Gates and DFER.

Representative Chad Magendanz started his political career as a school board director who pushed for a charter school plank in the PTSA state platform. As a state legislator he is now pushing a bill attempting to skirt the issue of illegal charter school funding by taxpayers. His idea is to use the state lottery money to fund charter schools.

In 2012 Representative Eric Pettigrew, along with Representative Steve Litzow and backed by the League of Education Voters, introduced a bill to allow charter schools in our state. Pettigrew was the target of  a tremendous backlash from his constituents, and the bill failed. But this year Pettigrew and Litzow are back trying to save charter schools with two more bills.

Washington State Representative David Sawyer came out in support of charter schools in December of last year. At the same time a charter school  PAC announced it would provide campaign donations to several state representatives, including Sawyer, in the run-up to the legislative session beginning in January of this year.

For information on other elected representatives in the state of Washington who are receiving money to push the charter school agenda, see Does the Education Platform of the Washington State Democrats Mean Anything to Our Legislators? 

Charter schools were rejected three times in Washington State before Initiative 1240 which called for allowing charter schools in the state. This campaign was funded by none other than Bill Gates and Alice Walton of the Walmart family. $2.5M worth of campaign ads flooded the radio, local TV channels on online media during the campaign. The measure passed with 50.69% voting yes to 49.31% opposed to the initiative. This was hardly a mandate of the people.

Then came the buyer’s remorse as students in charter schools faced expulsion without due process. There are no protections such as appealing to an elected school board or a school- district official. 

Then there is the matter of race. Charter school operators target minority communities and rarely venture outside of urban areas. Many of these charters are populated with un-certified and poorly paid Teach for America, Inc. recruits who receive only five weeks of training before they stand in front of a classroom. This would not go over well in the suburbs. There is an undertone of racism in the assumption that minority children deserve less.

What is not addressed when charter school proponents talk about closing the  "achievement gap" is that most of the children who fall into the gap live in low income areas and have pressing, basic needs that are not being met, including adequate food and clothing, necessary health care and even safe shelter. A bootstraps approach to schooling is not enough to close the gap.

The battle over charters in our state has more to do with money and ego than it does a genuine concern for children.

The question comes down to who should be determining the best way to teach our children. Might it not be parents, families, caregivers and educators who know the children better than anyone else? Or should it be a few wealthy individuals not educated in child development or any related field, who never went to public school, have never taught, and whose children will never step into a public school?

For additional information on some of the topics described in this article, see:

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

BOOT CAMP for Education CEOs: The Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy

Eli Broad and the End of Public Education as We Know It

How to tell if your School District is infected by the Broad Virus

League of Education Voters (LEV) recent Gates’ grants



Wow! What a distortion of the issue and the facts. As someone who works in education policy, I certainly understand the anti-charter sentiment. But you do a great disservice to the debate and your cause by distorting the issue to such an extent.

Charters do open up the public education sector to non-profit and private sector players - including, yes, the occasional huckster or corrupt player. But this by no means represents the entire industry - which is mostly driven by former public school educators and administrators frustrated by the gridlock within the public education system.

It is extremely disingenuous to assert that charters take advantage of economically disadvantaged or minority populations. Charters do 'target' these folks because, quite simply, those are the groups that are left behind in the public school system.

There are also many charters dedicated exclusively to special education.

There are many, many, MANY reasons to advocate for a better functioning, better funded public school system. NONE of those reasons are on display in this completely biased article. Propaganda like this will only alienate people who know enough to know how greatly you distort the issue.

Anyone can see that there are incredible problems in American education, but we will not be able to solve these problems, much less agree on what the problems are, if interested parties choose to discuss these issues so disingenuously.


The "incredible problems" that you refer to will not be addressed by privatizing public schools.

And actually, the drum beat has been, by those who want to privatize schools, that schools are "failing" but they are not.

Ask most parents and they will tell you they like their student's teachers and the school is great so it must be the other schools that are "failing".

If you are referring to a city like Detroit, it's not the schools that are "failing" but it is the politicians and those who could help who are failing the people of the city and their children.

The majority of charter schools are populated by Teach for America (TFA) recruits who receive 5 weeks of training and then are sent to the urban schools. They are not certified or qualified to teach children.

In Washington State, TFA is recruiting heavily in anticipation of charter schools springing up around the state.

Many of these schools, like Summit charter school and the K12 charter chain, offer what they term "blended learning" which means seating a child in front of a computer for their lessons and testing. This is not education.

What is good for the goose is not good for the gander in this case.

I consider it racist.

Some people refer to it as the re-colonization of our society, and I do see it as a trend in that direction.

Some charter schools are established by educators but the majority of charter schools, are charter chains who do a great disservice to the community.

For instance, in Washington State, Greendot and Summit are charter chains. In California, Summit required parents to either donate $500 to the school or provide an equal amount in school service. The parents of these targeted students can hardly put food on the table, let alone provide those kinds of resources to what is self-proclaimed a "public school".

Greendot has a history of disrupting schools and communities with its "parent trigger" approach to getting students into their schools.

In Washington State, there is a precedence to establish what are termed "option schools" which are public schools, within a school district. They are established by teachers and students, have public oversight, like all of the other public schools and are part of the school system. They are very successful. My daughter attended such a school. They are project based and student centered.

They are public schools, not charter schools.

There is no need for charter schools in Washington State. It opens the door for predators who want nothing more than to cash in on our students.

In terms of funding, in Washington State, our legislators are being held in contempt of court by the Supreme Court for not performing their "paramount duty" to adequately fund our schools. In previous posts on my blog Seattle Education, I go into detail about this travesty.

Charter schools will certainly not solve the problem by draining money away from the public schools as it has in New Orleans, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The article I wrote is in response to the echo chamber of erroneous information about charter schools. That why the title includes the phrase "Let's set the record straight".

Dora Taylor

I find it interesting that the author of distortion-claiming comment works in education policy, yet doesn't disclose his/her name. Why not stand behind your critique of Ms. Taylor's article, unless one could trace back and find funding that ties to the same corporate pushers of the reform being defended? I fully support Taylor's description here, having seen the same precise patterns of exploitation of communities in the Bay Area in California and having researched charter reform dynamics nationally over the past several years. Economically disadvantaged populations and communities of color are absolutely being targeted and exploited. Read up on the work of the Reclaim our Schools Alliance, Network for Public Education, and Journey for Justice Alliance organizations, the latter two of which have written statements co-signed by 38 Civil Rights groups calling for a halt to charter reform. Here is also a collection with 100+ articles documenting the harms to communities overrun by charter takeovers: http://bit.ly/chart_look. It appears the un-named author of the distortion comment is either blind to these critiques or purposefully throwing an unfair blow to Ms. Taylor. Keep shining the light on these important issues, Dora... you are revealing truths that need to be shared and you need not listen to anyone who doesn't stand by their message enough to put a name to it.

Where are the so-called "many charters dedicated exclusively to special education"? Produce an individual list with the names of individual schools right here right now. And no, a cross link to a charter schools association for special education doesn't count.

PES: You say it's disingenuous to assert charters take advantage of "disadvantaged or minority populations" and then, in the next sentence, state "Charters do 'target' these folks..." So, they don't, but they do? Are we splitting hairs between taking advantage and targeting? And let's not get into Propaganda. The Charter industry's propaganda is ubiquitous. Many Charters are profit-driven wolves in sheep clothing, which you concede, and they get that way for one simple reason: Lack of oversight. It matters little that some charters operate legitimately. The issue and the objection is the hundreds or thousands that don't due to the "trust us, we know best" attitude that eschews accountability and community oversight.

Thanks, Dora, for helping expose so clearly the conflicts of interest and financial motivation behind the charter school movement in Washington State and elsewhere. It's important to call people like the above commenter out on their misleading rhetoric - the myth that the charter movement is only and all about helping poor children. To suggest that those who oppose charter schools are the ones engaging in propaganda is to pretend that the Bill Gates and Waltons of the world aren't dumping millions (probably billions by now) into their disinformation machine, and that there's somehow a level playing field in this country when it comes to control of the media.

Thank you for this excellent piece. I've re-shared it on EduResearcher.com's "Charter Schools & Choice: A Closer Look" collection under the Current Issues in EdReform tab: http://bit.ly/chart_look

Why is there no date on this article? When was it posted? I'd like to repost it to a clearing house for articles on the issues raised, but can't find a date.

Ms. Gilbert-Snyder, this article was published on 2/9/16. 

An issue related to privatization in K-12 is the Pearson GED test that rolled out in 2014. It is a test based on the Common Core which is in doubt in many states at this time. The pedagogy of this test and the test prep curriculum is fatally flawed. Since these have such a strong connection to business with not much connection to actual educators in the classroom, it is almost to be expected. When the 3 VENDERS, (is that a new term in education? using business- like language to describe educational procedures?) presented before the WA state SBCTC , State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, it was rumored that the TASC and the HiSET presented, advocating for their test, in transparency before an audience and that the Pearson GED people presented behind closed doors. WA state chose the Pearson even though it was obvious that it was more expensive and written in such a way that in the beginning there was only a 10% pass rate though the SBCTC claimed the pass rate had never been higher with a pass rate around 70%. (At a state conference for ABE, GED and ESL education, Rendezvous, held the following summer after this bill failed, teachers were aghast at hearing the pass rate as 70% because they were seeing in their classrooms the 10% reported by investigative reporter Daniel McGraw, formerly of the US News and World Reports.) So a bill was created and presented to the WA state congress in the winter of 2015 asking for WA state to allow for another GED like test, the HiSET. It is called a high school equivalency test because Pearson has bought the trademark GED. The HiSET test was created by the nonprofit ETS, Educational Testing Service. The HiSET exam is a more affordable, more accessible high school equivalency test alternative. The bill only asked that it be offered as another choice for achieving a high school equivalency cerificate which would allow students to then get financial aid to go on in higher education and to apply for jobs that require a high school diploma or GED. California allows for the GED (Pearson) along with the HISET and the TASC. Here's a rub: if a student gets a certificate by successfully completing the HiSET , then they can come to WA state and reap all the benefits of having achieved a Pearson GED certificate only they can't take the HiSET tests in WA state. A student in WA could conceivably go to a state that offers the HiSET, establish some kind of residency and then take the HiSET tests there and if they achieve the certificate, come back to WA to apply for financial aid and enter a higher ed establishment in Washington state.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges seems to have influenced the decision by the House and the Senate to let it die in committee. Again, it is rumored that at about that same time, Bill Gates gave a lot of money to WA state for education and Bill and Pearson are closely aligned. Some think this connection has influenced the way the SBCTC makes decisions. (Marty Brown is the head of the WA SBCTC with Jon Kerr head of Basic Skills in WA state. Jon Kerr and Lou Sager (oversees GED) presented next to me in the House and the Senate stating 70% of WA state population who attempted the GED tests successfully achieved their GED while I reported the 10% and the flaws in the test. And the cost and the ridiculous fees attached to the study of this test: a charge of $6 for every practice test paid by credit care. Outrageous when I used to have a drawer full of practice tests for the old GED test that I could then review with the student afterwards. Pearson is the most punishing and secretive organization in education that I have ever come across or could ever imagine.

If WA state truly believes in Public Education, I can't understand why they would be so adamant on only offering the Pearson which is common core aligned. Another Fed policy that has become sacrosanct is the College and Career Ready mandates for public education, K-12 and for Basic Education in community and technical colleges, overseen by the SBCTC. Again, it is corporate America that is creating the 'rigorous' reforms. A group called Achieve Inc. seems to have connections to the writing of the College and Career Readiness helping to make it a national mandate and also has connections to the writing and promotion of the Common Core. Achieve is made up of such people as governors, business leaders, and influential national leaders committed to improving K-12 educational outcomes for all students. Where are the teachers in all of this? Why aren't teachers on the ground involved in creating educational policy. Created in 1996 by a bipartisan group of governors and business leaders, Achieve is leading the effort to make college and career readiness a priority across the country so that students graduating from high school are academically prepared for postsecondary success. The make up of Achieve Inc: Chair Mark B. Grier Vice Chairman
Prudential Financial, Inc., Watch Mark B. Grier's Views on American Education and Achieve
Board Members Craig R. Barrett Former CEO/Chairman of the Board Intel Corporation Watch Craig R. Barrett's Views on American Education and Achieve Chris Gabrieli Partner Emeritus, Bessemer Venture Partners Chair, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, CEO, Empower Schools, Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. University of Maryland Distinguished University Professor, Regents Professor, and John S. Toll Professor of Physics, Governor Bill Haslam, State of Tennessee, Watch Governor Haslam's Views on American Education and Achieve,Governor Jay Dixon State of Missouri ,Governor Margaret "Maggie" Hassan State of New Hampshire, the Honorable John R. "Jock" McKernan, Jr. State of Maine Former Maine Governor and Senior Advisor to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Janet Murguía,President and CEO of NCLR (National Council of La Raza), Chairman Emeritus Louis V. erstner, Jr. ,Former Chairman & Chief Executive Officer IBM Corporation President , Michael Cohen President Achieve. Is there a connection to privatization in K-12 with the charter school movement and the privatization of the GED??
More to come!!

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

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