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Daily Howler: Gootman gives us tales of heartbreak--the tears of a charter school down
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CHARTER SCHOOL DOWN! Gootman gives us tales of heartbreak—the tears of a charter school down: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2006

ONLY TWELVE YEARS LATE: The times, they really are a-changin’! First, Ezra Klein (“The Answer”) breaks all the rules, stating obvious but verboten facts about press coverage of Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/06). And then, omigod! On Monday night’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan discussed John McCain’s new approach to Jerry Falwell—and at long last, they disowned a nasty old business:
MATTHEWS (4/3/06): Do you remember “The Clinton Chronicles?” Remember “The Clinton Chronicles,” Pat, that said that Clinton was a killer?

BUCHANAN: I`m having a memory lapse on this one, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s too hard. If you were Bill Clinton, you would remember them.

BUCHANAN: I know what they are. I used to get tapes of them.

MATTHEWS: So what do you think? Do you think John McCain should be concerned with a guy who said Clinton was a murderer?

BUCHANAN: I think “The Chronicles” were around the bend.

STEVE MCMAHON: OK. Primary politics. For some reason, calling Bill Clinton a murderer doesn’t hurt you in the Republican Party, and frankly I think it should. Pat, you would not subscribe to that, would you?

BUCHANAN: I do not subscribe to that. I think that whole thing, the idea that Clinton deliberately killed somebody was around the bend. I always did. I always did. I think it was beyond the pale in politics and it should have been rejected.

Twelve years later, Chris and Pat were disturbed by the Clinton Chronicles tape. “If you were Bill Clinton, you’d remember them,” Chris indignantly said. “I think it was beyond the pale in politics and it should have been rejected,” Pat echoed. (The tape appeared in 1994 and was peddled on Falwell’s TV program.)

Sadly, though, this nasty tape wasn’t rejected back when it actually mattered. According to Nexis, the Chronicles was first mentioned on Hardball in August 1998, just after Clinton admitted the Lewinsky affair. Here’s how Matthews dealt with the topic at that time, when it mattered:

MATTHEWS (8/24/98): What do you make of your own thinking about the president? I mean, I know that, that—you've been identified with, of course, the "The Clinton Chronicles," which are very negative. You disassociated yourself from them. But isn't there a sentiment in the country among certain very culturally conservative people like yourself that this just proves what you always thought about the guy, that this isn't new information about Bill Clinton, this Lewinsky affair, that you just said, “Yeah, finally we're seeing the real Clinton?” What's your—isn't that sort of catching that point of view?

FALWELL: Chris, I first met Mr. Clinton when he was governor of—of Arkansas in 1980, just a young governor. His wife hadn't taken his name yet. She was Hillary Rodham, working in a law firm there. And he participated in a rally that I conducted on the state Capitol steps with a couple thousand people there. He—even then, the rumors from people on the inside were not good. And then, of—the reports began to come out from many reliable sources that his life has just been 20 years of continuous scandal. And that is the reason why I—I said over the weekend that I don't believe for a moment that Mrs. Clinton—and God bless her and help her—could have been caught blind-sided by this thing.

I had to—I, I have to think that when she spoke to NBC in January, she knew exactly where things were, and I believe that she was a quarterback of this survival team from day one. She has my, certainly, prayers and my deep concern, but I—I can't believe that she was caught blind again, when he gave the speech last Monday. I think she knew all the facts.

Let’s play softball! Back then, Matthews only said that The Chronicles was “very negative,” and that Falwell had disassociated himself from it. He seemed to suggest that the Lewinsky affair had validated the tape. But then, Falwell played Hardball again in March 2000, and Matthews played more softball:
MATTHEWS (3/6/00): Joining us right now for the first time [sic] is Reverend Jerry Falwell. Reverend Falwell, the charge has been made that you have implicated President Clinton in murders through the release of those Clinton Chronicles. This was pointed out again by John McCain on the talk shows in recent dates. What do you say?

FALWELL: Well, I say it's ridiculous and I think you know it is. I've been on television 44 years, almost every day and certainly every week continuously uninterrupted. I have never—we've offered thousands of videotapes and audiotapes. In 1992 [sic] we offered for a couple of weeks on one of our programs, among other tapes, The Clinton Chronicles. We clearly said that these are for your information and we do not support or we have no information as to the accuracy of what is said here.

And then for the governor or the senator to go back seven years, I'm sure with the advice of some aides, and say that Jerry Falwell said thus and so, absolutely ridiculous. I don't think the president ever killed anybody. I—he's a lover. He's not a killer. And I don't—that's the last thing I would accuse the president of. I do think he's, he needs to leave office in January and I think the country will be better off.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the people who released that videotape and advertised it on your program? What do you think of people who spread the word without apparent evidence that—I don't know what Clinton's done. I doubt if he's done anything that awful. I agree with you. But what do you think of people who release videos on your air time with your credibility at least of your program behind it that say the president of the United States is a murderer?

Bravely, Matthews said he “doubted” that Clinton was a murderer. Meanwhile, Nexis archives provide no record of Buchanan denouncing The Clinton Chronicles. Twice, the subject was raised by other parties during Falwell’s Crossfire outings. Pat took a powder each time.

Slowly they turn! Last month, we finally saw an accurate statement about press coverage of Campaign 2000. This week, Matthews and Buchanan denounce and decry The Clinton Chronicles! By the way: On that very same 3/6/00 Hardball, Matthews went on to make astounding misstatements about Gore’s role in the Buddhist Temple fund-raising. In those days, Matthews was an unalloyed disaster for Dems—and you couldn’t get a liberal to say so. Six years later, the liberal web has decided to bash him (and cherry-pick his statements)—after he has spent several years attacking Bush’s war in Iraq.

Old saying, in New England: If you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. Our saying, about the American discourse: If you want to hear the truth, just wait roughly six to twelve years.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Matthews’ slanders of Candidate Gore were extreme and unending—as you read here, and virtually nowhere else. His misstatements were especially egregious about the Buddhist temple matter. To revisit his work on March 6, 2000 (and on other dates), see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/00. How did Bush ever get to the White House? In these remarkable Hardball transcripts, you get the answer to that question—as “Dr. K” finally suggested last month. Readers, if you want to know what’s going on in your country, just wait—in this case, six years!

VISIT OUR ARCHIVES ONCE AGAIN: Matthews was somewhat tougher on murder claims when the endlessly clownish Gennifer Flowers played some Hardball on August 2, 1999. Flowers turned in a nasty half-hour, then was rewarded for her clowning with a full hour on Hannity & Colmes. No “press critic” complained about her ugly slanders—or about the cable networks’ inexcusable role in helping to spread them. Indeed, Howard Kurtz mentioned the Hardball session in the Post, but failed to mention Flowers’ murder accusations. To recall how crazy the discourse had become as Gore began his run for the White House, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03. (For real-time treatment of these astonishing sessions, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/99.) But who knows? Given the way the weather is changing, Kurtz may soon denounce these sessions—only seven years late!

Special report—Charter school down!

PART 2—THE TEARS OF A CHARTER SCHOOL DOWN: Why is ReadNet Bronx Charter School closing? ReadNet opened its doors in September 2003—and according to the New York Times’ Elissa Gootman, its doors will slam shut at the end of this year. On Monday, Gootman penned an 1800-word, front-page report about the miseries involved in this shutdown. Indeed, Gootman begins with a second-grader, Warren Robinson, who had a nightmare when he heard that his school would close:

GOOTMAN (4/3/06): ''I had a dream that all the schools were closing down,'' the precocious second-grader recalled after school one day, eyes widening behind his glasses. Charter schools, which are privately run but receive significant amounts of public financing, are freed from many bureaucratic constraints, and in return are held accountable by being forced to shut down if they fail to perform. Supporters say they bring innovators and new ideas into public education.
Luckily, all other schools are not shutting down; Warren will have other schools to attend when he becomes a precocious third-grader. But “when a charter school closes, as more than 400 have nationally, it leaves a messy wake of heartbreak, anger and dislocation,” Gootman says in her nugget statement. It causes heartbreak for teaching aides who lose their jobs, for example:
GOOTMAN: Thirty-two of the 143 students who enrolled in September have transferred out. With fewer students, the school has been eligible for less taxpayer money, and at several points it has come close to not making payroll. In March, six employees, including two teachers and the part-time guidance counselor, were let go.

''We didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to the children,'' said JoAnne Faruolo, 45, a teacher's assistant who was among the six.

Indeed, Gootman ends her lengthy piece with another example of ReadNet heartbreak. In her penultimate paragraph, an assistant state education commissioner is boo-hooing with ReadNet’s founder:
GOOTMAN: Shelia Evans-Tranumn, the associate state education commissioner, praised Ms. [Robin] Hubbard's passion, saying that Ms. Hubbard cared so much about ReadNet's children that some conversations ended with both women in tears.
Everyone hurts when a charter school dies! But if Gootman diects a lot of attention on the heartbreak of charter school failure, she also provides a lot of interesting information about the ReadNet project. Gootman offers us an intriguing look at some of ReadNet’s basic problems. But she only lets us see through a glass darkly—and the most important questions about ReadNet again go largely unasked.

What is intriguing in Gootman’s report? For one thing, she shows us that a charter school can have big problems just finding a building. ReadNet’s application was approved by the state in 2001. Then, the trouble started:

GOOTMAN: Soon after the school's plan was approved, things started to go wrong. The state frowned on the proposed school facility, at Audrey Cohen [College], now known as Metropolitan College of New York, saying that ReadNet's young pupils would be in too close quarters with college students.

The school had to cast about for space, and ended up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to lease and refurbish a building. Children who had signed up to attend ReadNet in September 2002 were told that it would not open until the following school year.

Frankly, we don’t get it. What would have been wrong with having ReadNet’s kids “in too close quarters with college students?” Gootman doesn’t answer that question, but she does describe ReadNet’s continuing problem finding an adequate facility. In September 2003, the school’s new building still wasn’t ready, and ReadNet “opened temporarily on the fifth floor of Public School 277, down the street.” But this wasn’t a good fit, either. “There was so much huffing, puffing and prodding involved in getting the school's 79 kindergartners and first-graders up the stairs...that they did not come down for recess or lunch,” Gootman says, quoting a former ReadNet official. At this point, a sensible person might ask a fairly obvious question: Why ReadNet was allowed to sign up kids before it had a viable building? Gootman skips this question too, along with a good many others.

That said, Gootman also provides a taste of the problems a charter can have with money. As noted, ReadNet blew a wad of cash when its site at Cohen College was nixed. And by the fall of 2004, its finances were very grody. Indeed, Gootman’s report even seems to suggest the possibility that some ReadNet money may have simply disappeared. She quotes Neil Frank, a former ReadNet lawyer:

GOOTMAN: In the fall of 2004, Mr. Frank said, the school's finances were so grim that Ms. Hubbard asked him to join the board, to try to turn things around. He said his cost-cutting suggestions were roundly rejected.

Mr. Frank said he was never able to get to the bottom of where the school's money had gone. He said that consultants, including ones affiliated with ReadNet Systems, a business founded by Ms. Hubbard, were hired without contracts or board approval. Clear lines were not drawn, he said, between the school, Ms. Hubbard's ReadNet Foundation, and ReadNet Systems (now called Smart Learning Systems). He described the relationship among the three as ''a bowl of spaghetti.''

“Mr. Frank said he did not suspect that anyone had personally profited,” Gootman writes. “But he insisted that a ‘forensic audit’ be conducted, and ultimately resigned from the board.” A ReadNet spokesman told Gootman that the audit will vindicate the school. But: “Was everything neat and tidy all the time? No,” the spokesman said. And oh yes—lawyer Frank is now suing ReadNet to obtain his own back wages. By the way, since ReadNet “has received close to $3 million in public financing,” taxpayers have a right to groan at the story Gootman tells.

So Gootman’s report is intriguing—and disturbing—when it reviews these two issues. Frankly, a sensible person who reads this piece will wonder at the state’s lax supervision of this project—will ask himself if the state (or city) of New York is providing adequate oversight for its charter school projects. But Gootman herself never asks this question—though she does provide an intriguing look at a charter school project in relative chaos. “The brief life of the ReadNet school offers a stark lesson in the ways in which charter schools can go wrong,” she writes. And she quotes a (city?) official stating the merely obvious:

GOOTMAN: ''I think the experience of ReadNet will certainly be a cautionary tale for all charter schools around their financial operations and their organizational sustainability,'' said Garth Harries, chief executive of the Department of Education's Office of New Schools. (Mr. Harries's office did not oversee ReadNet, which was approved, and monitored directly by the state.)
But Gootman focuses on the heartbreak, not on the troubling lack of oversight. Here at THE HOWLER, we left this story marveling at the incompetent way the state of New York seems to conduct such critical business. But Gootman leaves the story boo-hoo-hooing with Hubbard and that heartbroken New York state official. “[S]ome conversations ended with both women in tears,” we’re told. There’s no sign that Gootman interrupted the weeping to ask that official why ReadNet Bronx Charter was so poorly supervised.

And oh yeah! Gootman almost completely ignores the most basic questions involved in this project. What was happening inside ReadNet’s classrooms? What kind of educational program was ReadNet Charter providing? Did ReadNet ever have a worthwhile program? Did the school ever have a real reason to exist? And omigod, readers, how about this: Have ReadNet's “79 kindergartners and first-graders” actually been learning to read in the process? These seem like this story’s most basic questions. As usual, they’re barely addressed.

Those would be the most obvious questions a person might ask about ReadNet Bronx Charter. But Gootman—like many others before her—doesn’t seem especially concerned about such essential matters. At the end of Gootman’s piece, we get to weep and boo-hoo-hoo about the founder’s good intentions. But did this founder ever have a worthwhile educational plan? Like others before her, Gootman barely asks. We’ll start to do so tomorrow.

TOMORROW—PART 3: There’s a third way such schools can go wrong.