Massachusetts Recent History Illustrates All That is Wrong With Deregulated Charters

March 17, 2018 Leave a comment

The title of a recent Boston Globe article by James Vaznis describing the “choice” movement in Massachusetts, “For Charter Schools, Recently Its Been Bad News Galore“, could apply to charter schools across the country. The bad news in Massachusetts is summarized in Mr. Vaznis’ first paragraph:

For charter schools across the state, the news has been relentlessly bad in recent months: A Western Massachusetts principal fired after a drug arrest. A Dorchester school placed on probation amid allegations of financial mismanagement. Multiple unionization efforts. A record-breaking campaign finance penalty. Black students in Malden punished simply for wearing braided-hair extensions.

In subsequent paragraphs, Mr. Vaznis characterizes “any proposal tied to charter schools appears… radioactive”, DC noting that both Boston’s Mayor and Governor Baker have experienced losing battles in attempting to expand the availability of charters… and the bad news in the opening paragraph is probably the reason why. And if that’s not enough to squash expansion, there’s the recent spate of bad news about charters out of Washington DC and across the nation. In , the Superintendent was effectively forced to step down when it became clear that he used his position to place his daughter in a desirable school and it was determined that 1/3 of the graduates the prior year failed to meet attendance standards due to intentional misreporting of by several principals in the district. And, as the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) periodic catalogue of charter scandals indicates, one occurs nearly every day and occurs in nearly every state of the union where charter schools are allowed.

At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Vaznis identifies one area where charter advocates, the Boston mayor (a charter advocate), and charter opponents agree: state funding is inadequate!

Charter advocates say there is one issue on which they would like to join their critics: persuading the state to fully fund public education. A legislative committee two years ago found the state was underfunding public schools by hundreds of millions of dollars, but state lawmakers have been slow to respond.

Walsh said he would welcome the help of charter schools in that effort. He said his criticism about the city losing $195 million to charter schools next year is not about dissatisfaction with those (public) schools but with the state not living up to its funding commitments.

Just 4 percent of the Boston Public Schools’ $1.1 billion budget next fall will be covered by state aid.

Despite the black eyes charter schools received in recent months, the Boston Mayor remains a staunch proponent of charters:

“There is a place for charter schools — there is no question in my mind — just like there is a place for parochial and private schools and public schools,” Walsh said. “I think we can all coexist together to bring a top-notch education to all kids.”

There MAY be a place for regulated charters overseen by locally elected school boards using the kind of randomized selection process in place now in Boston… but unfortunately too many charter advocates are also advocates of deregulated for profit charter schools… and when deregulation and the profit motive are combined, bad outcomes inevitably result.



NC District Adds Armed Deputies to EVERY School. Why? Because it is a Fast and Cheap Solution

March 16, 2018 Leave a comment

I was stunned to read a report by Alexandria Bordas in the Citizen-Times, a local newspaper that covers Henderson County NC, indicating that the Henderson County School Board planned to add armed guards to each of the 23 schools in their district… but even more stunned to read the reason why:

Sheriff Charles McDonald said his office is under talks to determine the protocols for adding an armed force at the schools and what the training process will look like.

Thorough psychological exams would be required, he said, as would a vetting process to ensure the schools had no one except the best protecting them.

“We are looking for someone who doesn’t lack on training skills who can deliver an end product that we think will be a lot cheaper for community,” McDonald said.

The local newspaper noted that Henderson County schools have been plagued with threats of school shootings the calendar year: 16 to date. And in each instance the schools have responded by having lockdowns. As Ms. Bordas wrote, the support for increased security is widespread:

In response to the high number of lockdowns in the school district this year, the sheriff’s office held a joint news conference Thursday with school board members, parents, county representatives and others to address school security.

Speakers from different county positions focused their attention on stationing more trained security guards at the schools in hopes that will deter threats and violence on campuses.

“We have to start acting like we are threatened, because we are threatened,” said Amy Lynn Holt, chairwoman of the Henderson County Public Schools Board of Education.

But later in the article, the Board chair also noted the need for a more comprehensive approach to the problem:

Holt, of the school board, emphasized the need for more school counselors and therapists to work with students dealing with trauma or stress, like students in foster care or living in homes where drug abuse is present.

“We as a county have to get a hold of this if we are gong to improve things in Henderson,” Holt said…

Holt implored that parents need to be more involved and start actively parenting.

“If we do not have parents, students and community members saying something about things they see and reporting that, it doesn’t matter what we do,” Holt said. “So far, none of the parents of students who were found to be making threats thought their kids would be posting on social about bringing a gun to school.

“These children think it’s funny, but now those children have been arrested and have felonies on their record.”

If, in fact, the children making threats on social media have no means of following through, I wonder how adding police will help this problem. And if the children DO have access to weapons but those weapons cannot be confiscated I do not see how adding police will help the situation. Indeed, as Luke Darby of GQ notes, adding police to schools can only increase the incarceration rate of schoolchildren:

On its face, this sounds like common sense. Police stop criminals, so more police means less crime.But to people who study the issue, and students who attend heavily policed schools, the common sense doesn’t match the reality. There’s little evidence to support the claim that police make schools safer. In fact, as police presence increases, students are more likely to be seen as potential criminals rather than children

Typically, police assigned to schools are referred to as school resource officers, or SROs. The practice has been in place since the ’90s, but took off after Columbine. The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that there are between 14,000 and 20,000 SROs in schools across the country, but there’s no body or federal agency that requires school or police districts to report an accurate count. The reason it’s so difficult to talk about the impact of increased police presence in schools is the same reason it’s hard to talk definitively about gun violence in the U.S.: There have been a handful of studies, but no one is really collecting data…

…in schools with SROs, students are far more likely to be treated like criminals over things that would have landed them in detention just a generation ago.

The parents and politicians in Henderson County might want to read Mr. Darby’s column to see that their decision to add more law enforcement officers to schools might have some predictable unintended consequences: a higher rate of incarcerated youths and no increase in the level of safety in schools.

But at least the addition of armed guards will give the illusion of safety and will be, in the words of the sheriff, “…an end product that we think will be a lot cheaper for community”.

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Studies Show No Connection Between Test Scores and Life Outcomes… But, Nevertheless, Testing Persists!

March 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch exhumed a blog post by Jay P. Greene, a charter school advocate, who begrudgingly acknowledged that there was no demonstrable link between standardized test scores and “later outcomes in life“. He writes:

If increasing test scores is a good indicator of improving later life outcomes, we should see roughly the same direction and magnitude in changes of scores and later outcomes in most rigorously identified studies.  We do not.  I’m not saying we never see a connection between changing test scores and changing later life outcomes (e.g. Chetty, et al); I’m just saying that we do not regularly see that relationship.  For an indicator to be reliable, it should yield accurate predictions nearly all, or at least most, of the time.

This is unsurprising. As Ms. Ravitch has noted in her books and blog posts the US has lagged in international test scores from the time they were initially issued and yet our economy has thrived and the general well-being of our population has improved. As many researchers have noted there is no correlation between SAT scores and success in college and yet post-secondary schools continue to use those test scores as a primary metric for accepting students.

And Mr. Greene, a proponent of charters and choice and heretofore a proponent of using standardized tests as a metric for measuring school effectiveness, was compelled to re-think his position on tests after examining rigorous research on their effectiveness as a predictor:

If we explored the most common use of test scores — examining the level of proficiency — there are no credible researchers who believe that is a reliable indicator of school or program quality.

It would be helpful if other advocates of charters and choice looked beyond test scores as well.

Good Guys With Guns Have Accidents… underscoring the reality that an Arms Race is NOT the Answer

March 15, 2018 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes described how the accidental discharge of a gun in a “advanced public safety class” in CA resulted in three students being injured. Oh… and it also described an accidental discharge in a VA school district by an SRO. Parents should be comforted to know that in both cases the “good guys with guns” were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. They should also be happy to read the President’s latest tweet: “Cowards will only go where there is no deterrent!” The fact that the FL school had three trained armed guards was not mentioned in the article… a tagline that should appear in any article citing the need for more “good guys with guns”.

But those who place a higher value on the 2nd amendment than they place on logic would see this differently. I read a story of a Vermont student who was arrested for planning a school shooting. The student had meticulously planned the shooting, noting that the first person he would take out was the armed guard at the door. A gun rights advocate responded to this by insisting that MORE armed guards would be worthwhile as would the presence of armed teachers. The arms race comes to Vermont.

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Jeff Bryant’s Assessment of Betsy DeVos’ 60 Minutes Interview Underscores Her True Agenda: Politics Trumps Education

March 15, 2018 Leave a comment

In Jeff Bryant’s op ed column that appeared in yesterday’s Common Dreams, he captures Betsy DeVos’ world view in one sentence:

Many critics of DeVos understand her animosity toward public education, and accordingly challenge her grasp of facts, question her leadership abilities, lampoon her gaffes, and take issue with her education agenda.

The problem is, DeVos does not have an education agenda. She has a political agenda.

After observing Ms. DeVos in action over the past year, I fear that her lack of depth in public education leads many to underestimate Ms. DeVos’ political instincts. Like many politicians, it appears that Ms. DeVos knows how to carefully frame the answer to questions posed by interviewers. Mr. Bryant for example, calls her on her oft quoted “gaffe” in the 60 Minutes interview:

In the much-written-about 60 Minutes interview of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by CBS reporter Lesley Stahl there was a telling exchange when Stahl queried DeVos on whether she had visited any “bad schools.” DeVos replied, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” But DeVos has visited an underperforming school—only she called it a “a shining example.”

The school, which will be closed at the end of the school year due to poor academic performance, was the Excel Academy Public Charter School, an all-girls charter in Washington, D.C. First Lady Melania Trump and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan accompanied DeVos on the visit in 2016. Trump called the charter school “an exceptional example.”

Unlike most pundits who overlooked this un-intentional visit to a failing school, Mr. Bryant flags it and uses it as evidence that Ms. DeVos doesn’t care about failing schools at all:

D.C. is chock full of charter schools, and DeVos, a big advocate for charters, could have cherry picked a better performing one. Obviously, she didn’t know about the school’s academic performance then, and doesn’t know about it now. I would also contend she doesn’t care.

I’m not so sure that Ms. DeVos doesn’t know about the school’s failure NOW, because when I read the of her use of the word “intentionally” it seemed like a studied phrase. Unlike many who criticize Ms. DeVos, I don’t doubt Ms. DeVos intellect any more than I doubt her blind faith in the power of the marketplace. Like many true believers, though, Ms. DeVos is unwilling to accept any information that contradicts the narrative she adheres to as part of her faith. She is not unintelligent, she is ignorant in the true sense of the word: she ignores any and all information that contradicts her political world view. In that respect, she is no different than any of the “reformers” who believe in the magic of the marketplace, the magic of technology, the magic of grit, and the magic of a meritocracy. Her agenda is driven by politics… but, even worse, it is driven by blind faith in the “invisible hand” of unregulated capitalism… and that blind faith requires that she not care about facts that contradict her belief.

My Letter to US Senators, House Member Opposing Bill That Imposes Vouchers on Local Schools Receiving Federal Impact Aid

March 15, 2018 Leave a comment

This morning’s bundle of Diane Ravitch’s posts from yesterday included one seeking unified opposition to two bills that would impose vouchers on scores of school districts who receive federal impact aid. I elaborated on the boilerplate letter Network for Public Education provided and used their link to write my two Senators and House member. With all of the turmoil in the White House and in the Statehouses across the nation, it becomes too easy for voucher advocates and privatizers to pass bills like these that appear to be innocuous and limited in scope but are actually game-changers. If you are reading this, please take advantage of NPE’s link and write immediately to your Senators and representative. Here’s my letter:

I am writing because I strongly oppose HR 5199 and S. 2517. These voucher bills would siphon off critical Impact Aid public school districts need and direct these funds to an Education Savings Account (ESA) program to allow some students to use a voucher to attend a private school.​​

Having worked in a district with a military base I can assure you that the impact aid is VITAL to the operation of public elementary schools proximate to the base and to the nearby secondary schools children on the military base attend. As should be self-evident from the size of the de facto voucher parents would receive, the impact aid allocation does not fully cover the costs of the public school the children of those assigned to the military base.

This implementation of de facto vouchers would hurt all of the public school students, including the children of military families, who choose public education. It would help only the wealthiest of military families who can already afford the tuition of private schools.

ESAs are without accountability and have been associated with fraud. Make sure that the public schools our military families’ children attend are well funded instead.

Public Schools Are NOT Commodities… they Are a Common Good

March 14, 2018 Leave a comment

I recently read a post by Diane Ravitch on dominionism, which she called “the greatest threat to religious liberty”.  Dominionism is the belief that man as dominion over everything on earth and it is embodied in the Heartland Institute, who views the world through a combination of libertarian economic thinking with fundamentalist Christian dogma. Dominionists, in addition to believing that our founding fathers viewed Christianity as the primary religion of our nation, also adhere to the belief that rugged individualism can overcome all forms of adversity and that all individuals should be free to make choices about everything… except maybe the church they want to attend, the God they want to worship, or whether they want to worship at all.

From time to time I get articles from the Heartland Institute’s Real Clear Education on-line publication that offer me some insights into the thinking of those who adhere to their belief system. This morning I got an article titled “The Public School Myth” by David S. D’Amato who is described as an “…attorney, expert policy advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation and The Heartland Institute, and a columnist at the Cato Institute’s Libertarianism.orgThe article is a lengthy argument for allowing parents to have the freedom to choose where their child attends school and against the public schools’ monopoly. His concluding paragraph provides a good summary of his thinking:

It is interesting what we can do with words. Call it “public” education and at once the opponents of parental choice get to align themselves with that numinous entity, “the public” — as if they don’t have their own private, special interest in precluding the entry of competitors. In reality, there is no “public” they could represent; we are all individuals with our own values and preferences. This is a reality education choice attempts to grapple with meaningfully, rather than piling up empty bromides in order to preserve an unearned privilege.

He is correct that “…there is no “public” (the schools) could represent; we are all individuals with our own values and preferences.” But taking that correct assertion to an extreme, there is no “public” any government entity can represent… and democracy cannot function unless voters accept the ideal (or “myth” as it were) that their votes matter, that those we elect will do their best to represent the views of the majority of individuals they serve, and if they fall short of that they will not serve for more than one election cycle. At this juncture, the majority of elected officials in our nation and in our states hold the belief that public schools  should serve ALL students in the districts that have been established and that parents who want to use their own private funds to enroll their children in non-public schools are free to do so, but they are not entitled to the funds earmarked for ALL students who attend PUBLIC schools governed by elected officials. But based on Mr. D’Amato’s analysis of  the governance of schools, he does not believe the myth of democracy. He believes that tax revenues should be meted out to individual parents who can then use those funds to enroll their child wherever they wish. Does he feel the same way about the tax revenues we use for police protection? For plowing of roads? For provision of electricity? “Government schools” provide a community service that assures the all students in their classrooms have an equal opportunity to succeed in life. That is a value and preference we all presumably share… and it is a value that requires us to share our resources.