The BASD Proud Parents program on charter schools (18)

(18th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

“Our children have a backpack full of cash, and the schools should vie for the privilege of having that backpack turned over to them.”

Last week the BASD Proud Parents (sorry, I used the wrong name in the past few posts) showed the documentary Backpack Full of Cash at Nitschmann, a film focused on the Philadelphia school system, “ground zero” of the school choice movement. The film is highly critical of charter schools, and, though Bethlehem is quite different than Philadelphia, the film was timely for us and valuable.

But, first, Gadfly wants to say something about BASD Proud Parents. The Gadfly project is allll about citizen engagement, and BASD Proud Parents is allll about that as well! Take at look at their great web site (now linked on the Gadfly sidebar as well), and be sure to listen to their thoughtful representatives on the audio linked below.

So, again, this film is highly critical of charter schools and other forms of school choice that are draining students and dollars from the public school system.

A reminder of some facts presented earlier in this series of posts: approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools (12 different ones but 50% at one particular charter school), about 13% of the total student population, at a cost of 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.

The film trailer will provide you with some good soundbites that illustrate the core issue, such as “reformers say all that money [$600 billion] can be managed more efficiently if the system is run like a business” v. “It’s about privatizing, not improving public education.” Take two minutes and listen to the trailer for a good introduction to the issues.

After the film, Julie Gallagher (no relation) and Emily Schenkel gave a brief presentation that Gadfly recorded and linked for you here, with their slides.

Listen to Julie explain the slides:


Basd 2

Emily presented a series of “asks”:

  • sign a petition thanking Sen. Boscola for co-sponsoring legislation limiting cyber-charter schools
  • sign a petition for limiting the activity of the Charter School Appeal Board (until funding is equitable, stop the CAB activity (you can sign that petition here)
  • contact your legislator (contact info on the BASD Proud Parents web site)
  • sign up on the BASD Proud Parents web site to continue to receive relevant information
  • send BASD Proud Parents success stories of public school education

Interesting: Julie was careful to say “no aspersions” on the three charter schools located in Bethlehem.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to Gadfly that for us here in Bethlehem the problem is not so much poor quality charter schools but the funding system and the solution for that is with the legislature.

Parting words: “We have to educate ourselves, so that we can empower our children.”

Well done.

Gadfly has an appointment with Dr. Roy tomorrow and is especially interested in what we know about why those 13% of our students are going to charter schools, and especially why so many are choosing Lehigh Valley Academy. Do we have surveys? Data? Interviews?

Charter schools: need to explore what school choice really means (17)

(17th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Anna Smith is a life-long Southside resident and Director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.


When discussing the concept of school choice, I think it’s important to ask “what is the role of public education in our society?” Scholars typically cite three primary goals of public education in a democratic society—1. Prepare individual students with skills necessary to succeed in our society (individual economic opportunity); 2. Prepare students to fill positions in the US job market (vocational training); and 3. Prepare students to be full participants in our democracy (education for active citizenship). Most schools try to balance these three aims as they design policies and curriculum, and throughout US history, there has been tension among the proponents of each approach. However, I doubt many would propose wholly eliminating any of these aims.

The concept of school choice allows individuals to privilege the first goal—individual pursuit of human capital for future personal gain—at the expense of the third goal (and potentially the second). Universal public education that integrates children of ALL races, ethnicities, incomes, abilities, religions, etc., in preparation for participation in a diverse society is antithetical to the concept of school choice in a society where major inequities exist in funding and resources across these demographic lines. If we allow individuals to act solely in their self-interest, many (if not most) students who already have access to more resources are going choose other options (private schools, charters) as a way to escape from underfunded public schools, creating both a vicious cycle of underfunding and a segregated system where marginalized students become further marginalized and isolated. When we center the question on the societal goals of free, universal public education, school choice just doesn’t make sense. Are we willing to give up the lofty goals of a society in which equal opportunity for success and civic participation is guaranteed to all? While we’re far from that reality, the more we expand opportunities for school choice, the more we concede that our society was set up to be unequal, and we abandon all aspirations toward meritocracy.

Many people like the idea of school choice, but I think it is worth exploring what that really means, and if it actually allows us to sustain a diverse democracy. Is making it easier to acting solely in one’s own interest good for our society as a whole?


More info on Lehigh Valley Academy (16)

(16th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

This info from Sara Satullo and Karen Beck Pooley much appreciated:


IB is integrated into the curriculum, but not all students earn an IB degree. To do so, students must take exams akin to Advanced Placement tests. Not all do so. This is from the 2016 charter school renewal hearing for the school: “The school’s Class of 2016 included 50 graduates and 11 of the students were awarded a full IB-diploma, while a number earned some certificates but did not take all of the exams, Mauser [Susan Mauser, LVA CEO] said.”


“Why Bethlehem school board approved charter school agreement.” Morning Call, November 29, 2016.

in 2016, when the LVA charter was up for renewal, Karen writes that the Bethlehem School Board generated “a long list of concerns and several reasons for denying the charter outright” and sought to negotiate an amended charter, but LVA “rejected all of [their] requests and offered no realistic counterproposals.”

Karen indicates that our Board was hamstrung by experience with the state Charter Appeals Board. Gadfly has read elsewhere that the Charter School lobby is among the most powerful in the state.

Provisions rejected by LVA included ceasing to cover school lunches, aligning LVA and BASD calendars to reduce transportation costs, and holding monthly public Trustee meetings.

Gadfly has an appointment with Dr. Roy next week on the questions Gadfly posed at the end of his last post.

Charter schools: What makes Lehigh Valley Academy so special for BASD students? (15)

(15th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Half of BASD’s total charter school enrollment is in LVA, for whom BASD pays $12m/yr.

LVA is seeking $45m for a new building and may be increasing its enrollment.

“30 percent of [LVA’s] students are Hispanic, 36 percent are white and 12 percent are black. Almost 50 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The charter school has a 95 percent graduation rate, almost 10 percentage points above the state average.” (from Morning Call)

What makes Lehigh Valley Academy charter school so special? What’s the draw?

Please bear with a long description. Remember that as taxpayers we are paying $12m/yr. for LVA.

LVA’s distinctive feature seems to be the International Baccalaureate program (IB).

IB’s distinctive feature seems to be “International Mindedness.”

“LVA is the only fully authorized International Baccalaureate World School in Pennsylvania that offers an IB continuum to all students in grades K-12. Beginning with full-day kindergarten and continuing through a student’s senior year, LVA emphasizes inquiry-based learning and critical thinking to prepare a student for higher education and the 21st century globalized environment.”

“The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who recognize their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet. Central to this aim is international-mindedness. International-mindedness is a multi-faceted and complex concept that captures a way of thinking, being and acting that is characterized by an openness to the world and a recognition of our deep interconnectedness to others.”

“To be open to the world, we need to understand it. IB programmes therefore provide students with opportunities for sustained inquiry into a range of local and global issues and ideas. This willingness to see beyond immediate situations and boundaries is essential as globalization and emerging technologies continue to blur traditional distinctions between the local, national and international.”

“An IB education fosters international-mindedness by helping students reflect on their own perspective, culture and identities, and then on those of others. By learning to appreciate different beliefs, values and experiences, and to think and collaborate across cultures and disciplines, IB learners gain the understanding necessary to make progress toward a more peaceful and sustainable world.”

“An IB education further enhances the development of international-mindedness through multilingualism. All IB programmes require the students to study, or study in, more than one language because we believe that communicating in more than one language provides excellent opportunities to develop intercultural understanding and respect. It helps the students to appreciate that his or her own language, culture and worldview is just one of many.”

“International-mindedness is also encouraged through a focus on global engagement and meaningful service with the community. These elements challenge the student to critically consider power and privilege, and to recognize that he or she holds this planet and its resources in trust for future generations. They also highlight the focus on action in all IB programmes: a focus on moving beyond awareness and understanding to engagement, action and bringing about meaningful change.”

IB learner profile
In grades 11-12, IB offers 2 tracks:

Diploma Programme: Prepares students for effective participation in a rapidly evolving world. This is a demanding two-year curriculum that meets the needs of highly motivated students,and leads to a qualification that is recognized by leading universities around the world.

Career-related Programme  is a framework of international education that incorporates the values of the IB into a unique programme addressing the needs of students engaged in career-related education. The programme leads to further/higher education, apprenticeships or employment.
The Diploma Programme curriculum

The Diploma Programme (DP) curriculum is made up of six subject groups and the DP core, comprising theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay. Through the Diploma Programme (DP) core, students reflect on the nature of knowledge, complete independent research and undertake a project that often involves community service.

The three core elements are:

  • Theory of knowledge (TOK), in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know.
  • The extended essay, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.
  • Creativity, activity, service, in which students complete a project related to those three concepts.

How is TOK structured?

As a thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, TOK is composed almost entirely of questions.

The most central of these is “How do we know?”, while other questions include:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Y?
  • What does theory Z mean in the real world?

Through discussions of these and other questions, students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.

As part of theory of knowledge (TOK), each student chooses one essay title from six issued by International Baccalaureate (IB).

The titles change in each examination session. Upcoming and past TOK questions include:

  • “To what extent are areas of knowledge shaped by their past? Consider with reference to two areas of knowledge.”
  •  “’There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?”
  • “There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.”
  • “’The task of history is the discovering of the constant and universal principles of human nature.’ To what extent are history and one other area of knowledge successful in this task?”

Some examples of the 4,000 word extended essay are:

  • “An analysis of costume as a source for understanding the inner life of the character”
  • “A study of malnourished children in Indonesia and the extent of their recovery after a period of supervised improved nutrition.”
  • “Doing versus being: language and reality in the Mimamsa school of Indian philosophy.”
  • “The effects of sugar-free chewing gum on the pH of saliva in the mouth after a meal.”
  • “To what extent has the fall in the exchange rate of the US dollar affected the tourist industry in Carmel, California?”
  •  “What level of data compression in music files is acceptable to the human ear?”


So the above should give us some idea of what the distinctive feature of LVA is.

Gadfly is not sure if the IB is required of all students or it is an option, a track. Need to find that out.

Gadfly also needs to know more about 1) how LVA is promoted, publicized (if at all) among BASD students, and 2) whether both BASD and LVA have done surveys on why these students are choosing to attend LVA.

So, with luck, more info later.

How are you feeling about the $12m?

Remember: timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Charter schools: a Catch 22 for public schools (15)

(15th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)


I like school choice, too. I don’t like school choice that can be made at the expense of our public schools, which is what our current system amounts to. The system we have now essentially amounts to a Catch 22 for public schools. People pull their kids and put them in charters because they are unhappy about the quality of their education, which diverts more funding from public schools, which lowers the quality of education further, which results in the loss of more students to charters. This cycle goes round and round, with educational quality in public schools going down as it does. If something is broken we should fix it instead of continuing to divert resources to alternatives. The current system does just that.

Josh Popichak

Now where was I? Oh, yes, charter schools (14)

(14th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Gadfly went to sleep on charter schools. We were beginning to think about how they affect the Bethlehem Area School District. Through cost. Taking resources from other needs. They are funded through our tax dollars. And thus they affect us all through our wallets.

It’s been a month since Gadfly posted on charter schools. Let’s pick up the ball again.

In post 11 Where do all the students go and why? (11) we saw that approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools, about 13% of the total student population, at a cost of 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.

And we saw that BASD-area students go to 12 charter schools, but about half to the Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School.

Gadfly suggested that we take a closer look to try to figure out why so many are going to charter schools and especially to LVA.

Gadfly has to admit he kinda likes the idea of choice.

We can see some differences in the schools that would account for their attraction.

Two follow structured national and international programs. LVA is “an IB World School.” International Baccalaureate. Circle of Seasons is based on the Core Principles of Public Waldorf Education.

Several have a special focus. Like the Arts. For instance, our Charter Arts on 3rd St. is “a place where being an artist is celebrated.” Admission is “academically blind.” Students are accepted based only upon their artistic talent and potential. They audition for acceptance into one of seven arts majors: dance, instrumental music, literary arts, production design, theatre, visual art, and vocal music

Interesting. If you have a special talent you want to develop, or if you simply believe that such training has a general beneficial and perhaps utilitarian value, you can choose a school with a specific focus.

One looks very career/job oriented. Executive Education says “Our unique business education program is designed to meet the needs of the Lehigh Valley.  With the growth of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, we want to be able to provide quality employees for new jobs that are made available by this growth.”

Several have a multicultural or dual language emphasis. Appealing, perhaps, to immigrant populations.

The Lincoln founder “dreamed” of opening a public school where “at-promise” children and youth, who live in “at-risk” environments, and who are deemed “at risk” by our society, would receive a free, high-quality public education. As one of their students said, it was created “for students who want or need a second chance to have a better future.”

One has a mission statement quoting the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy. Wow!

Interesting range.

And like I said, I kinda like the idea of choice.

So Gadfly is getting more and more the idea that the “problem” with charter schools is not so much the curricular aims but how the schools are funded and how they are accountable.

Let’s come back next time and look in a bit more detail at LVA, the choice of about half of our BASD charter school students.

Sinkhole risk for LVA – why not Southside? (13)

(13th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 


Putting aside the merits of charter schools for a moment, I’m concerned about the proposed Jaindl Boulevard location for Lehigh Valley Academy. It’s not a question of neighborhoods, it’s one of geology. More specifically, it’s about the risk of sinkholes on the 31 acres under consideration.

Pick any excavating contractor out of the phone directory or Google and ask how often they are called to either of the Hanovers, Bethlehem, Palmer, or Forks townships to remediate sinkholes. The geological formation under the rich topsoil is karst — porous limestone. When disturbed, and more importantly, saturated with water, it dissolves and collapses. Buildings built atop them or near them follow. A property I’m associated with on Bath Pike (less than a mile from the school’s site) just spent nearly $15,000 to obtain a site study and fill in a hole. *

Former farmlands and meadows in the Lehigh Valley are at their highest and best use when left more or less alone. Developing them poses risks of creating sinkholes, and the risks for the charter school end up being borne by the taxpayers in the Bethlehem Area School District, either for sinkhole insurance or for remediation of new holes.

The Morning Call covered Parkland’s problems with a sinkhole at a middle school right before the beginning of this academic year. It is costly. We have brownfield properties available on the South Side ready for a school, if the new owners cooperate. Why not ask them?

The state has a great interactive map of sinkhole locations on its Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website (


* I can show you the paperwork from the excavators with our estimates. The geology is very well known. Somebody is going to make a lot of money on the land deal, and you and I apparently will be footing the bill.