Archive for May, 2016

Union Consultant Foretells Grim Future, but AP Reinforces False Narrative of Charter Schools

May 31, 2016 Comments off

When I read AP writer Christine Amario’s report on a presentation given to the Los Angeles School Board by Susan Zoller, “…a consultant hired by the district’s union”, I imagined union leaders in Los Angeles smacking their foreheads in a mixture of disbelief and anger. I am confident that the Board members who arranged for the report intended it to be a wake-up call for their colleagues to reconsider the direction LA schools are taking and hoped the national coverage that accompanied the release of the report would focus on the way for-profit charters divert resources from public education. But Ms. Amario had a different slant:

Charter schools arrived in the 1990s and began attracting parents searching for an alternative to big-city districts that had strained for years to raise performance among minority and low-income students and those who are learning English.

More than two decades later, charter enrollment continues to climb. Nationwide, more than 2.6 million students attended charter schools in 2014, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Ms. Amario did not tell the story of how de-funding of public education, combined with profiteering charter operators who accepted only those children who behaved well and whose parents completed application processes that required time and energy, combined with gentrification that re-segregated neighborhoods economically and, in some cases, racially, combined with the migration to suburbs left public schools with economically and educationally disadvantaged children housed in increasingly dilapidated facilities. Instead, Ms. Amario hewed to the narrative that charter schools “…began attracting parents searching for an alternative” as if the movement was driven by parent demand and not by a combination of the profit motive and political expediency. Instead of quoting from the report Ms. Zoller gave to the LA Board, Ms. Amario sought out quotes like this from the charter industry itself:

“To the extent the district is not serving the needs of their students, this has been a trend line for some time,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public CharterSchools, a nonprofit advocacy group.

And instead of elaborating on the problems that are unique to Los Angeles, Ms. Amario used the report by Ms. Zoller as an opportunity to roll out the woes of dysfunctional urban districts like Detroit, Kansas City, and Philadelphia where State legislators have starved funding for public education for decades while encouraging the expansion of for profit charters.

And last but not least, instead of using the article to elaborate on LA Board member Steve Zimmer’s observation that “If Los Angeles schools are no longer able to function as a district, “there is going to be collateral damage… to those children and families who are the most vulnerable.” she concluded the article with this:

Los Angeles parent Lisette Duarte is debating where to enroll her 11-year-old daughter. Her 16-year-old son already attends a charter school with many benefits she doesn’t see at their neighborhood school: a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers. Her daughter, by contrast, is struggling in a low-performing schoolwith a large English learner population, she said.

“It makes me really sad when I hear about parents who are still struggling,” she said. “We were that family struggling” in Los Angeles public schools.

Instead of asking why the charter has a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers while the public school is populated with ELL students that presumably lacks a small learning environment, extra-curricular activities and close attention from teachers Ms. Amario reinforces the charter industry narrative that only charters can save the day… charters that are buttressed with external funds, charters that can exclude those pesky ELL and special education children, charters that can require elaborate application processes that effectively shut out parents working two jobs or single-parents or parents of limited means, charters that do not have to assume the legacy costs of longstanding public school systems. The story I am certain Ms. Zoller hoped for was the one Mr. Zimmer was trying to tell: charters leave behind “…. those children and families who are the most vulnerable”. The story Ms. Zoller got published by the AP and circulated across the country was one about how charters are growing because they offer a good alternative to public schools. The vicious circle is reinforced….

More Evidence of Charter Schools Slow Steady Strangulation…

May 30, 2016 Comments off

Education Opportunity Network blogger Jeff Bryant profiles two States recent experience with charter schools and how they have gained an extreme advantage over public schools in their respective states: Florida and— you guessed it— Pennsylvania!

In FL a charter management firm ““disappeared from the scene” after being told by the local school board to explain financial and operational problems.” When the local board was unable to determine what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars given to the charter operator, they did what any responsible board would do: they decided to close the schools that charter management firm operated. The parents and local legislators were upset… and because the State laws favor the charter operators over local taxpayers and the legislators have convinced parents that any public schools are inferior to any charter schools local school boards have their hands tied.

PA school boards encounter the same kinds of problems. When the school board in Allentown decided to issue a charter to a businessman who used a consulting firm who pled guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and tax evasion” they were cited by the auditor for failing to disclose the arrangements they made with the businessman to mitigate his opening of additional charters. Bryant describes the Catch 22 situation as follows:

So if Allentown had tried to block the new charters from opening, the state or the court would likely have overruled the district, and the community would be stuck with the two schools anyway, but without the benefit of the advertising money and the pledge to open no more new charters. If the district had given approval but then insisted on making its agreement with the developer public, the developer would have likely backed out.

Either way, the district loses.

In his closing paragraphs Bryant describes the grim future for students as a result of the way decisions about the expansion of charter schools in these– and far too many other states— are made:

Notice also that in both situations, the subject of education is by and large overlooked. Indeed, concerns for teaching and learning never came up because there was too much other flack in the air – the public perceptions of the schools, financial matters involving public money, political deals, and the needs of parents to have a guaranteed school seat for their children.

Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.

In the comment I left, I noted that this is as much a problem of governance at the State level as it is at the local level:

And don’t overlook the root cause of this: the politicization of governance at the State level. State-after-state has bought into the notion that the Governor should appoint either the State Board or the State Superintendent “because the state spends so much $$$ on schools”… once these appointments are controlled by the governor he or she can appoint people who will do their bidding… and their bidding is deregulated privatization in states led by pro-business Republican governors…

Repeat after me: schools are not a business… schools are not a business… schools are not a business…

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Mississippi Superintendent’s Loss of State Funding Complicated Story with Roots in Governance

May 30, 2016 Comments off

An AP story the was the basis for a post by Diane Ravitch about the Superintendents in that state losing their funding describes three actions by the Mississippi State legislature: an act of vengeance; an act that undercut an effort to require the state to provide adequate funds for public schools; and an act to change the states local governance arrangement. Two of the actions are unarguably bad for students; the change in governance, though, might lead to improvement in the quality of schools and will certainly expand the applicant pool for superintendents.

The act of vengeance was the passage of a bill that makes it illegal for school districts to spend any public money on the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. As a result superintendents will have to dig into their pockets for $1250 per year if they want to retain their membership to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Why was this retributive legislation passed by the House and Senate in that state? Because leaders of local school districts “personally attacked state officials” while they were seeking passage of a constitutional amendment that would require adequate funding for schools…. hardly a revolutionary concept. But the Mississippi legislature appears to be thin skinned and vengeful— a toxic combination:

“When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Friday.

The “attack” by the Superintendents group took place last year when the Association took a stand in favor of Initiative 42, which is described in the AP article as follows:

Initiative 42 would have amended the state Constitution to require the state to provide “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” Supporters said it would have blocked lawmakers from being able to spend less than the amount required by Mississippi’s school funding formula, and would have allowed people to sue the state to seek additional money for schools.

Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders opposed the measure because it could have limited legislative power and transferred some power to judges. They warned that it could have led to budget cuts to other state agencies. Lawmakers placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which made it harder to pass the measure. Voters ultimately rejected any change by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.

So… last year the legislature muddied the waters when the Superintendents group tried to amend the constitution, some of the Superintendents evidently made some untoward comments about some of the legislators, and, as a result, they are being paid back. One paragraph in the AP story on this development made two astonishing points (see bold):

The move creates an uncertain future for what has traditionally been Mississippi’s most powerful school lobbying group. The long-term power of the association was already in question after lawmakers voted this year to make all superintendents appointive. Traditionally, the elected members of the association, especially those in the state’s largest school districts, have wielded the most political power.

The SUPERINTENDENTS Association was a traditionally powerful lobby? As one who served on the legislative committee in three states and served as President and legislative chair of the Superintendents Association in Maryland in the 1990s, I was stunned to read this… Our Association’ like those in other states where I worked (ME, NY, NH and VT) had limited clout when it came to passing legislation, in large measure because we could only take political positions that matched those of our local boards.

But some quick web research explained the source of MS Superintendent’s political clout and shed some light on the legislatures intent to eviscerate that clout: of the 154 elected superintendents in the U.S., 69 are in Mississippi — the most of any state.

The blog site ReThink Mississippi that appears to be genuinely committed to improving Mississippi’s woeful performance in quality of life metrics explains the consequences of elected versus appointed Superintendents in a January 2015 post by noting that elected Superintendents tend to be homegrown and focussed on political issues which, in turn, diverts their attention from academics.

Opponents of elected superintendents argue that elections narrow the talent pool to choose a qualified superintendent from due to the residency restriction that requires candidates running for election to live within the district itself. Meanwhile, in school districts where superintendents are appointed, the school boards can recruit and select qualified candidates from different districts or even different states. Appointing superintendents may be especially practical in a state like Mississippi where small school districts may not have many qualified candidates, and those that are qualified may be uninterested in campaigning.

To make it worse, many of these school district leaders are given the job by default. Thirteen school districts had uncontested races for superintendent in the 2011 elections, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website. In 2007, 20 races were uncontested, and in one district, no one ran at all.

In the final analysis the legislators in Mississippi could have made a reasoned argument for changing from elected to appointed positions using some of the data included in the Re-Think Mississippi article on this topic, but instead they linked it to politics.

Based on this article and the Rethink Mississippi blog post, the governance question of elected versus appointed Superintendents is muddy. Presumably if the elected superintendents and elected legislators saw eye-to-eye on funding none of this would have happened. And if the appointed Superintendents worked for Boards who wanted to avoid rocking the boat in the Statehouse this wouldn’t have happened either. The real issue is the disconnect between those elected officials who advocate for the children— the school leadership whether elected or appointed— versus those who advocate for taxpayers. Now those who seek the status quo in Mississippi— low funding for schools, low funding for social services, an low taxes for the affluent, are prevailing. And they are prevailing in more and more states.