Can we just please retire the word “reform”? It doesn’t mean anything.

Lawmakers discover that it is very, very difficult to re-regulate publicly-funded schools after they deregulated and privatized publicly-funded schools:

Ohio’s charter-closure law, which became effective in 2008 and was revised in 2011, calls for automatic closure of schools rated in Academic Emergency for at least two of the three most recent school years.
Oversight of these criteria primarily falls on authorized sponsors, which are responsible for evaluating and reporting on the academic and financial performance of their sponsored schools, and on ODE.
While Ohio law sets up charter school boards as the entity to be held legally responsible for a school’s academic and financial performance, it does not do the same for management companies, many of them for-profit that are contracted by schools to manage their daily operations. These companies are often in charge of making major decisions for a school, including hiring and firing teachers, assessing academic performance, contracting with vendors, budgeting, developing curriculum, and providing basic classroom materials. Yet the closure law places no penalty on CMOs when their schools meet academic closure criteria. This omission creates a loophole for managers to keep “closed” schools open and continue to receive public funds for failing schools.

Policy Matters has documented that of the 20 charter schools ODE has required to close for academic reasons, seven have essentially remained intact, skirting the automatic closure law. In other cases CMO-operated schools facing automatic closure were replaced by nearly identical schools, managed by the same company with much of the same staff. An eighth school, Hope Academy Canton, was ordered closed by its sponsor a year before it would have been shut down by the state. In this case, our investigation showed that by closing early and opening a new school in the same location with much of the same staff, the schools’ for-profit operator, White Hat Management, bought five additional years of life – and revenue – for a low-performing school.
In more than half the cases we examined, the new schools’ academic performance remained the same as the old schools’; five of the eight “new” schools are still ranked in Academic Watch or Emergency, while their management companies and sponsors continue to take in millions of dollars in public funding. For-profit CMOs – the Leona Group, Mosaica Education, and White Hat Management – run six of the eight schools we investigated.

Some background on the national privatization scene (pdf):

Education management organizations, or EMOs, emerged in the early 1990s in the context of widespread interest in so-called market-based school reform proposals. Wall Street analysts coined the term EMO as an analogue to health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Proponents of EMOs claim that they bring a much needed dose of entrepreneurial spirit and a competitive ethos to public education. Opponents argue that outsourcing to EMOs results in already limited school resources being redirected for service fees, profits, or both while creating another layer of administration. Opponents also have expressed concerns about transparency and the implications of public bodies relinquishing control or ownership of schools.

Comparisons could be made to our shambling, patched-together, fragmented wreck of a “health care system” which we’re now desperately trying to “reform” and make universal, except it’s worse in education, because we never had a universal public health care system. We DO have a public education system. Health care is going so well we decided to apply our health care system “principles” to an existing universal public system? Why would we do that?

The number of states in which for-profit EMOs operated was 33 in 2010-2011. The for-profit education management industry expanded into Alaska and Hawaii this past year for the first time. In 2010-2011, 35% of all public charter schools in the U.S. were operated by private EMOs, and these schools accounted for almost 42% of all students enrolled in charter schools.

For-profits operating in 33 states under the guise of “school reform”. Wow. You won’t hear about that innovative and exciting development during School Choice Week. I would think privatization of public schools would be a fundamental policy choice, a decision we make, not something we just belatedly discover has happened while we were busy hating on teachers.

I would think privatization of our universal, public K-12 education system would be raised and debated every single time an unelected or elected school reformer like Michelle Rhee or Jeb Bush or Bill Gates or the Wal-Mart heirs (or Arne Duncan and Corey Booker) appear on television, yet we never talk about the for-profits or maybe more importantly, their lobbyists. God knows we discuss public school teacher salaries often enough, so it isn’t that we don’t “follow the money” in education. Where are the discussions on the CEO salaries of these for-profit outfits? How much money is flowing out of public education and into the pockets of shareholders under “school reform”? Why aren’t school reformers, all of them, forced to address this publicly? Did they not anticipate that deregulation and the introduction of for-profits would lead to capture of lawmakers by those same for-profits? Why not? What do they plan to do about it?

24 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    Opponents argue that outsourcing to EMOs results in already limited school resources being redirected for service fees, profits, or both while creating another layer of administration.

    Strangely, it’s almost like that was the originalist idea.

  2. 2
    Davis X. Machina says:

    It doesn’t get a debate, because fundamental, revealed, truths aren’t subject to debate. And you can’t refute a theology with data.

    All that is, is, because it can be bought and sold.
    All that cannot be bought or sold, is not.
    All that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold.

    Everything private is better than anything public, because it is private.

    And so long as one of us, somewhere, is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, none of us, anywhere, is truly free.

    That’s your state religion, right there.

  3. 3
    Yutsano says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Sigh. This. We’re just not a sane country.

  4. 4
    General Stuck says:

    Can we just please retire the word “reform”? It doesn’t mean anything.

    Sure it means something. It means we want to do it our way, without actually saying that. And for republicans, more often than not, it also means doing nothing so as the law of the jungle is observed, Under the banner of freedom that comes from “I got mine, and you can’t have any, commie”

    It is not that democrats and republicans disagree on solutions, it is that they can’t agree on the problems.

  5. 5
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    I think it’s a political miscalculation, because it’s covered locally. The coverage of this stuff is almost exploding at the state level.

    Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Arizona, even your state. Maine, with on-line K-12 education. Pennsylvania newspapers have an expose a week, it seems.

    It’s just a matter of time before national media follow, and the fact that it was never mentioned when we had such elaborate OUTRAGE over public school salaries will discredit school reformers. Come on. They had a duty to bring this up. It’s public money.

  6. 6
    Anoniminous says:


    The coverage of this stuff is almost exploding at the state level.

    So what?

    Are the outraged going to get off their lazy asses, find decent candidates, organize and work to get them the nomination, get them nominated, work to get them elected, and get them elected? If not, and recent history says they won’t, it don’t mean diddly.

  7. 7
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Kay: We’re approving meatspace charter schools left and right. The rejected proposals so far have come from virtual, on-line, for-profit schools.

    Badly spent public money isn’t as badly spent somehow, when it’s badly spent on private firms, compared to how badly public money is badly spent, when it’s spent on public services.

  8. 8
    Kay says:


    I don’t think that’s fair, in this case. No one understands this. No one understands that there are “authorizers” and “boards” and then “EMO’s” and how each serve on the other’s boards. No one understands these complex deals where the EMO’s operate inside a non-profit, and do these elaborate lease and buy-back arrangements where the for-profit is in complete control and the non-profit is essentially a hollow shell designed to get around state law. I had to rely on a information compiled and analyzed by a public university (ironic!) to nail down the names of three big for-profits that operate in Ohio.
    I just think at some point people have to go about their private lives and can’t be expected to untangle whatever-the-fuck grift is fashionable at any given time.
    They were told these were public schools. “Public”, to most people, excludes “profit”.

  9. 9
    JoyfulA says:

    Encouragingly, our GOP state rep had a phone town hall last week during which, in answer to a teacher’s question, he came out rather full-throatedly for public education. And our GOP state senator wrecked Corbett’s plan for privatizing education the last time around.

    As you said, PA privatized schools are full of scandals, mostly of making huge piles of money while showing poor test scores. And those are just the examples that come to light with a little journalism.

    (Conversely, lest anyone move here for “good government,” the governor single-handedly outsourced our highly profitable lottery and is now trying, again, to sell off our state liquor stores to his campaign contributors. Etc.)

  10. 10
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    I’m baffled by how weirdly naive media are in this one area. They’re like savvy cynics on the all-important issue of Obama’s skeet shooting, but “school reform” gets a complete pass. You can say anything as long as long as you call it “reform”.
    “WHERE is this crazy proliferation of standardized testing COMING FROM?”
    Well, mercy! I can’t imagine! I wonder if it’s coming from for-profit testing companies? Might look there.

  11. 11
    Anoniminous says:


    At the time “reform” (sic) was being enacted there were plenty of people almost screaming it would turn Public Schools into for-profit centers by private companies.

    Voters didn’t pay attention.

    Now, when it is too late to stop it, they are outraged Public Schools have been turned into for-profit centers by private companies?

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    @Kay: Hate to rain harder on your already gloomy post, but I don’t think the media is naive on this. Some individual reporters may be insufficiently cynical, but I’m quite confident publishers know all those privatized schools are potential advertisers. So are the test prep companies.

  13. 13
    Kay says:


    Yeah, I just think at some point people have to off-load some small piece to their elected leaders. I was reading about ONE Pennsylvania district and it’s incredibly complex. It’s a for-profit inside a non-profit with a whole sort of leasing layer that handles “facilities” that is further complicated by the fact that the state was guaranteeing construction loans. I have a traditional public school system. We have public funds in, an elected school board and then public employees who handle the money OUT. It’s EASY.

    A person in Pennsylvania with a full time job and a personal life could very easily wake up one day and realize their entire public school district has been purchased :)

    I’m to the point where the moment I hear “developed on Wall Street” I run for cover. That seems to be a safe bet.

  14. 14
    TriassicSands says:

    Why would we do that?

    Because we’re stupid? Because we have to try to “compromise” with a bunch of insane ideologues who are doing everything they can to totally wreck this country? Or is just because we’re the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    Take your pick.

    Note: the education situation is a little more complicated that most everything else, because there are fans of “privatization” on both sides of the aisle. I wish to hell Obama would fire Arne Duncan and hire Diane Ravitch — or at least have a long conversation with her, because he’s been part of the problem — not the biggest, by any stretch, but certainly not much help either.

    It’s ironic that I would recommend talking to Ravitch who was, for decades, one of the real villains. Then, she took an intellectually honest look at the damage that has been and is being done and did an about face. If she could do it, then it isn’t too late for this administration, but she’s an academic, not a politician and admitting error is a matter of integrity and honor, rather than a political liability and sign of weakness.

  15. 15
    sherparick says:

    This is another chapter in the huge grift that the “financial” types have perpetrated on us the last 30 years. Pay the help peanuts and hoover up as much money to top management is the business model. And it is so fact free as about the alleged “failure” of public education. As Bob Somerby points out, NAEPA survey test scores have actually been rising the last 13 years, but in the data adverse, narrative driven, entertainment media culture, no one “knows” or acknowleges it.

  16. 16
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:


    Now, when it is too late to stop it,

    The hell it is. Given the right kind of public outcry, the shit could be stopped right now.

  17. 17
    gene108 says:

    Wal-Mart heirs (or Arne Duncan and Corey Booker)

    I’d throw President Obama in with the people, who want to privatize public schools.

    I think you have “businessmen” and lobbyists like Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee in one corner of the privatizing push.

    Then you have ultra competitive guys from upper middle-class backgrounds, who never went to public schools (Barack Obama, Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, etc.) and think everyone should be Type-A driven go-getters like they are. There really is a breed of successful person, who gets surprised when not everyone wants to be like them or at the least share their drive to win at everything.*

    I think, if you are trying to counter the push to privatize, you need to realize that there are distinct proponents.

    The Michelle Rhee, lobbyist types, will never acknowledge the failings of privatizing schools.

    There’s some hope (maybe slim) that alpha-male set, like Obama and Duncan and maybe Gates, will be persuadable by actual facts, if you can get their attention.

    *And thus not worth associating with, because who wants to hang around with someone, whose just smelling the roses and not trying to win a contest about who smelled the most roses.

  18. 18
    gene108 says:

    Voorhees Township Committee is unanimously against the placement of charter schools in the immediate area. They all spoke out against the proposed charter school, Regis Academy, at a recent committee meeting. Voorhees has followed suit with Cherry Hill in appealing the decision to allow another charter school to be located in the area. Regis Academy would be located in Cherry Hill and receive students from Somerdale, Lawnside, Cherry Hill, and Voorhees. If approved, it will cost Voorhees $727,000 a year. The $727,000 makes up 89 percent of the school district’s cap space. The budget can only be increased by no more than 2 percent every year.


    Cherry Hill and Voorhees are neighboring towns in Camden country, with high property taxes and very good schools.

    Residents don’t want chunk of change they pay for schools to line people’s pockets.

    Christie’s trying to push expanding charter schools in NJ, but at least in my neck of the woods, it’s meeting with resistance.

    I think like voting rights, charter schools/gutting public education, though fundamental to our way of life is too complex an issue for people to really get agitated about enough to want to throw politicians out, who support these initiatives.

    Blue Jersey on Voorhees/Cherry Hill charter school and Christie’s support of it for political backer.

    Despite this sort of thing, I don’t think Christie will have any trouble getting re-elected this year. The stuff just doesn’t stick to him.

  19. 19
    kay says:


    I have an unusual “kid” distribution because I have grown children and then one much younger child. I can compare. My older kids were tested, but not to the extent the poor youngest is tested. I wasn’t opposed to testing. A number measure is easy, so I found it helpful. But, enough already.

    He likes school. He accepts this near-monthly testing stoically. But, I swear, it sometimes seems they are TRYING to kill any enthusiasm he has with this endless test-prep followed by testing.

    That’s all “school reform” means to me at this point, whether it’s Bush, Kennedy or Obama. Money to testing that could be going elsewhere.

  20. 20

    Can we just please retire the word “reform”? It doesn’t mean anything

    Hey, people have been working on it. Jersey Jazzman, borrowing a trick from Colbert, says “reformy”. My favorite education commentator is EduShyster, who uses “rephorm”.

  21. 21


    There’s some hope (maybe slim) that alpha-male set, like Obama and Duncan and maybe Gates, will be persuadable by actual facts, if you can get their attention.

    Sadly, no. See TriassicSands @ 14. The alpha male that meets your criteria is the great and formerly Satanic Diane Ravitch. Wikipedia says she went to public elementary and secondary schools.

  22. 22
    rikyrah says:

    thank you once again, kay

    tell the truth

  23. 23
    kay says:


    I’m considering your “alpha male” theory but I have to say, to be fair, Arne Duncan’s kids go to public schools.

    In VA. I checked :)

    I keep looking to see if he comes to OH so I can yell at him in person, but he doesn’t seem to.

  24. 24
    JoyfulA says:

    @gene108: I read a few months ago about very poor Camden that wanted its public school and resisted a proposed gift of that school to a charter school, and the citizenry lost. It seems like everybody running NJ wants charter schools, and nobody else does.

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