2012-06-15 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Education With Profit? ...Bupkis
Commentary By Howard Schwach

A few weeks ago, the highly-respected “60 Minutes” news magazine show did a segment on a Turkish cleric who was pumping lots of money into American charter schools, primarily in the southern portion of the United States.

The interview was a paean to the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, and his ideas that were transforming education. The implication was that everybody should take his message to heart and all of our educational problems would disappear.

He runs more than 120 charter schools nationwide.

Last week, however, three of those charter schools defaulted on their bonds after improperly granting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses and groups associated with the Gulen movement.

According to published reports in the New York Times, an audit released last week by the Fulton County Schools, near Atlanta, found that the schools purchased T-shirts, teacher training programs and hired video production organizations from vendors with connections to Gulen.

The report said that the purchases often skirted school regulations.

Last year, an investigation in Texas found that the movement’s 36 charter schools had granted millions of dollars in public money to construction and renovation firms run by Turkish- Americans with known ties to the movement, in some cases bypassing bidders with much lower bids and better qualifications.

Show us the money, honey.

In New York City, much closer to home, reports say that charter school CEO Eva Moskowitz, a woman who became friendly with Mayor Michael Bloomberg when she was the chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, urged the mayor’s hand-picked chancellor, Joel Klein (who now works for Rupert Murdoch and has used his former position to get Murdoch a million dollar contract with the city), to be “super-aggressive” in his push to close schools and turn the buildings over to her charter schools.

Klein did her bidding, closing some schools and moving others aside in order to give the public space to the privatized schools at no charge.

In emails obtained by the New York Daily News, Moskowitz, who runs the Success Charter Network (a misnomer if I ever heard one), urged Klein to close double the number of schools he had previously announced.

“Whatever number you think reasonable, double it,” she wrote. “The bottom 10 or 15 percent is nowhere near enough. It will take another century if we do not name the standard.”

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, who helped the News get the emails through a Freedom of Information Law request, said, “Now we know that a woman earning more than $400,000 a year to run a couple of charter schools was basically directing the chancellor of the City of New York on what to do.”

Show us the money, honey.

Want something closer to home?

The Peninsula Preparatory Academy that now uses the old Stella Maris High School building (although I understand they have lost their lease with the Sisters of St. Joseph), is in the process of being closed by the Department of Education for not meeting its stated educational goals a few years in a row.

Unlike all the public schools that were closed, however, PPA decided to sue the DOE – and they did it using your money.

That’s right, officials at the school hired a high-priced attorney to fight the closing using the money it is allotted by the city to educate kids.

When questioned, officials told me that they “have a right to defend themselves.”

Sure, but do they have the right to use my money to do it – money that was supposed to be used for educational purposes?

Show us the money, honey?

You have heard lots about Pearson, a testing firm that also has a foundation attached to the business.

Pearson took the city’s testing contract away from the Educational Testing Service, which arguably did not do a good job and should have been replaced.

There is, however, a lot of proof that Pearson Foundation officials wined and dined state education officials, especially those who were in charge of deciding on who got the billion dollar contract.

That included funding four trips to educational conferences in such unlikely places as London, Helsinki, Singapore and Rio de Janeiro.

Sounds like good work but only if you can get it.

At issue is whether the activities of the tax-exempt foundation, which is prohibited by state law from engaging in undisclosed lobbying, were used to benefit Pearson Education, a for-profit corporation that then got the multi-million dollar state contract.

If you don’t believe those trips and other gifts given by the foundation benefited the educational sales side of the business, I have two bridges you might be willing to buy.

Show us the money, honey.

Then we have the fact that the DOE made more than $830,000 worth of questionable payments to a tutoring agency and failed to put adequate safeguards in place to prevent the bogus payments in the first place.

The company, Champion Learning Center, got the money to tutor students at underachieving schools. Records show that the DOE paid more than $830,000 for tutoring during school hours, a violation of the No Child Left Behind rules. Some of the tutoring was recorded as being done between midnight and 5 a.m. and yet the DOE paid the freight.

Show me the money, honey.

When you mix education and profit, the record shows across the board that education takes a back seat to profit.

We have seen only the tip of the iceberg. Bloomberg and his educational minions have kept the lid on the worst of the wrongdoing because he is trying to destroy the teacher’s union and turn the schools over to his business cronies.

When it comes to education, the worst is yet to come.

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