Archive for June, 2017

Turnover Plagues Charters… But is it a Bug or a Feature?

June 30, 2017 Comments off

Earlier this week NYDaily News writer Alyssa Katz wrote an op ed article  explaining her decision to withdraw her daughter from an unnamed charter school. She offered the following rationale:

…the bottom line is that her elementary-school years were marked with a whirlwind of teachers that, if she and her classmates were lucky, would last the year and then move on.

The ritual became as certain as winter succeeded fall: Some parent would post on the school Facebook group that their child’s teacher was leaving mid-year. Moans and commiseration ensued.

Our child avoided that fate until last fall, when, two weeks in, her promising teacher — a veteran at three years served — suddenly vanished, and a substitute arrived much sooner than any explanation. Her class refound its footing, eventually, with a new teacher — but never quite recovered from those lost weeks.

With so many teachers coming and going, the school as a whole felt perpetually improvisational. I’ll always remember it as a flurry of photocopied handouts.

 And Ms. Katz has a theory to explain this turnover: the charter schools didn’t allow teachers to join unions and that, more than anything, led to the instability.

Among New York charter school teachers, 41% changed jobs last year — compared to just 18% of district school teachers. The retention gap between district and charter schools is not new, but it has been widening over time.

The big reason for charters’ turnover plague is plain as day: District school teachers are universally represented by teachers unions, and enjoy contracts whose ample benefits include generous pension plans, non-negotiable business hours and tenure.

So… teachers want better wages, hours, and working conditions… and some degree of job security. Unionized teachers have some assurances in those areas and when they find a good school district they stay on the job. But in a world where most employees– and voters– have none of the above, teachers are resented and budgets that fund teachers with decent wages, hours, and working conditions fail to pass…. and parents seek out charter schools that seemingly offer better opportunities for their children. In the meantime, the effective charter school teachers leave for affluent districts with decent hours, wages, and working conditions.

But, as a post yesterday indicates, most charters would sooner fire teachers seeking to unionize than consider offering decent wages and working conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy.

New York City: Charter School for “Social Justice” Fires 3/4 of Staff for Wanting to Join a Union

June 29, 2017 Comments off
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The Collateral Damage of Obamacare Repeal: Public Schools Lose Their 3rd Largest Federal Revenue Stream… and Stand to Lose Even More!

June 29, 2017 Comments off

One fact that has been lost in the reporting on Obamacare is the devastating impact it would have on public school budgets across the country. As reported by Emma Brown in yesterday’s Washington Post, the current bill repealing Obamacare would eliminate the Medicaid funding earmarked for public schools and include it in a block grant that would be given directly to States… a block grant that would be considerably smaller than the amount currently provided for ALL Medicare services. Unsurprisingly, school superintendents and school boards are alarmed at this prospect. Here’s the background on how Medicaid funds have helped public education:

For the past three decades, Medicaid has helped pay for services and equipment that schools provide to special-education students, as well as school-based health screening and treatment for children from low-income families. Now, educators from rural red states to the blue coasts are warning that the GOP push to shrink Medicaid spending will strip schools of what a national superintendents association estimates at up to $4 billion per year.

That money pays for nurses, social workers, physical, occupational and speech therapists and medical equipment like walkers and wheelchairs. It also pays for preventive and comprehensive health services for poor children, including immunizations, screening for hearing and vision problems and management of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes…

Schools have been able to register as Medicaid providers and seek reimbursement, as doctors and hospitals do, since 1988. Two-thirds of districts that bill Medicaid use the money to pay the salaries of employees who work directly with children, such as school nurses and therapists, according to a January survey by AASA, the superintendents’ association.

And here’s the problem that will face public schools: many of the personnel currently funded by Medicaid provide mandated services to special needs children who are raised in poverty. That is, the physical and occupational therapy services, screening services, and medical services funded by Medicaid are required by IEPs or required to ensure that children are screened for special education services. Those needs, along with the requirements for “…medical equipment like walkers and wheelchairs” will need to be funded first when school districts put their budgets together, budgets that are likely to be tighter than ever since public education funds will be competing against medical costs at the State level. An AASA policy director described the “trickle down” effect of the Obamacare repeal:

The Republican plan for Medicaid is likely to hurt schools in several ways, said Sasha Pudelski, who tracks healthcare policy for AASA. Most directly, states may decide to prohibit schools from receiving Medicaid dollars because of what is likely to be stiff competition against doctors and hospitals for limited resources, she said.

Less directly, states struggling to cover healthcare costs now covered by the federal government would have to seek cuts elsewhere in their budgets, including in education, which accounts for a large share of many states’ spending.

“The kids who will be hurt first and foremost are special ed kids and kids in poverty, but then everybody will be hurt, because we’ll have to shift dollars from the general education budget,” she said.

But the GOP’s desire to limit spending knows no boundaries and is predicated on magical thinking that “…controlling federal spending would force the healthcare system to become more efficient in providing services” and the punitive notion that bending “…the cost curve on federal entitlement programs (would) encourage states that tend to spend beyond their means to actually stay within their budget.” 

And making matters even worse for school districts is the fact that even though their share of the Medicaid budget is small, their needs for those funds are high and consequential:

Schools receive less than 1 percent of federal Medicaid spending, according to the National Alliance for Medicaid in Schools. But federal Medicaid reimbursements constitute the third-largest federal funding stream to public schools, behind $15 billion they receive each year for educating poor children and $13 billion they receive to educate students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

The federal government initially promised far more financial support for IDEA, the four-decade-old law that outlines schools’ obligations to educate students with disabilities. Congress pledged to pick up 40 percent of the cost of special-education services under the law, yet has never come close. It now pays only about 15 percent.

Medicaid payments have helped fill that gap. Without those dollars — and facing a recent Supreme Court decision that raised the bar for the services school districts owe students with disabilities — many districts wonder how they will pay for services they now provide.

And here’s the budget reality for school districts: by the time schools begin developing their 2018-19 budgets, most taxpayers will not realize how much Medicaid funding their districts received in previous years and many will buy into the notion that school districts can trim “fat” from their budgets to offset the lost funds… an example of magical thinking that permeates the electorate. And when they learn that such cuts are impossible due to teacher contracts, the punitive thinking will kick in and be fueled by the resentment stirred up by politicians of both parties who will rail against the “fat paychecks” and “Cadillac health plans” the “greedy” teachers receive. Meanwhile, the .1% who receive a tax break as part of this repeal will remain silent on the sidelines… or invest in for-profit charter schools who can operate much more “efficiently” by employing teachers who receive less compensation. Welcome to the plutocracy.


The Content of One’s Character Cannot be Measured by a Standardized Test or a Mathematical Algorithm

June 28, 2017 1 comment

NPR re-posted an article on the need for reform in admissions to “elite public schools” written for The Conversation by Faculty Director for Professional Education, BU School of Education, Boston University. The article defines “elite public schools” as those that use test scores as the predominant metric for admission, referencing schools like “New York’s StuyvesantBoston Latin or Walter Payton(in Chicago)”. Mr. Murray decries these admissions standards because they inevitably result in segregation by race due to the high correlation between race and test results. Instead of using test scores and other easily quantifiable data as the primary basis for entrance into these competitive schools, Mr. Murray suggests that “elite” public schools follow the example set by several elite colleges who are part of a Making Caring Common, described as “a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, these institutions are piloting new admissions policies that focus less on numbers and more on “ethical engagement.”” Mr. Murray elaborates:

In a report released in January 2016, Making Caring Common argued for elite colleges and universities to include opportunities for candidates to submit authentic demonstrations of empathy, service to others and commitment to the common good as part of their application. They contend that these important values are worth promoting to students and families. In fact, research suggests that strength of character and “grit” are key determinants of future academic and career success.

Importantly, these new metrics could weigh social and emotional attributes that students across all backgrounds could exemplify in some way.

To date, over 175 colleges and universities have signed on to this concept, seeking to diversify their classes and to offer an opportunity to attend college to a wider pool of students. Mr. Murray suggests that elite exam schools could adopt a similar method for admissions:

A school might give special consideration, for example, to candidates who worked to support their families at an early age, served as caregivers to younger siblings, organized efforts to support a needy classmate or led a food drive to help a local shelter.

Exam schools across the country could team with Making Caring Common and its growing list of higher education partners to determine how best to validly and reliably collect, evaluate and weight these types of student experiences.

Unsurprisingly, one commenter to the NPR article found this whole idea distasteful. Effectively speaking on behalf of many who value “merit-based” admissions, commenter “brian m” wrote:

Why would you want to place kids in the Advanced Placement courses that they do not test ready for and will probably fail to pass without a hand me grade. UGH. Why are we rerunning and rerunning race based numbers and using race as the determining factor! Martin Luther king said it wonderfully . Martin Luther King, Jr. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Why do we digress to 1963. The liberal mindset is to make the races equal by giving certain races things they dont earn. Take race out of theses decisions! What do you tell the kids that get passed over for placement into these schools and kept high grades that are the wrong race?

My rebuttal to this comment was:

“What do you tell the kids that get passed over for placement into these schools and kept high grades that are the wrong race?”
You tell them that the qualities needed to succeed in school and life depend on more than getting high test scores or good grades… You tell them that the content of one’s character cannot be measured by a neat and clean mathematical algorithm…

And finally, you tell them that they should be grateful they will not be profiled by police whenever they drive a nice car or shop in a good department store…

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Will These Studies Finally Make Betsy DeVos Admit School Vouchers Are a Total Scam?

June 27, 2017 Comments off

More evidence that vouchers DON’T work… but… some will look at these results and focus on the out years and use them to support vouchers…

Source: Will These Studies Finally Make Betsy DeVos Admit School Vouchers Are a Total Scam?

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Fatherless Children Contribute to Poverty, Challenges in Public Education

June 27, 2017 Comments off

On Fathers Day, NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez interviewed author Alan Blankstein on the impact of fatherless children on poverty rates and public education… and the results of fatherlessness are devastating. Among the findings cited in the interview:

  • 24.7 million kidsin the U.S. don’t live with a biological father.
  • Children are four-times more likely to be poor if the father is not around. And we know that poverty is heavily associated with academic success. [Fatherless kids] are also twice as likely to drop out…seven out of 10 high school dropouts are fatherless.
  • Girls are twice as likely to suffer from obesity without the father present. They’re four-times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers. Boys are more likely to act out, which is why we’re more aware [of how they’re affected], but if a young girl is imploding, we don’ t see it.
  • The overall trend [of fatherlessness] is up for all families. So we’re looking at a 20 percent rate among white fathers who are absent in their children’s lives, 31 percent for Hispanics, 57 percent for African-Americans.

There is clear evidence that the absence of a father contributes to the ill-being of children. But it is unclear what action schools can take when this is the case. At the end of the interview Mr. Sanchez asks Mr. Blankstein if he is aware of any effective interventions. Here is Mr. Blankstein’s response:

I don’t see a lot happening in schools. I think [successful] interventions are happening in a random way, at best. Like the case of John Marshall Elementary in Philadelphia. They’re working with a [city-wide] commission on families to include fathers in promoting the academic well-being of students. Most schools don’t recognize or engage fathers [who’ve been absent].

There’s a reason “most schools don’t recognize or engage fathers (who’ve been absent)”… it’s because schools do not have the resources to do so! Indeed, most schools serving children raised in poverty lack the resources to provide counseling to fatherless children let alone the resources to track down absent fathers. Complicating matters even further, schools are often caught in disputes between parents who are separated, needing to decline requests from fathers or mothers who are under court orders to remain out of the lives of their children and, as noted above, often incapable of providing the needed counseling the children need in situations like this.

As is true in so many cases involving societal ills, schools are expected to do more than they are capable of and then criticized for the consequences.

NY Times Editors Miss the Mark on Desegregation Editorial

June 26, 2017 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes editorial praises several cities for their efforts to desegregate within their boundaries. Singling out Dallas’ recent decision to address the issue of segregation head on, the Times editors describe the efforts to address re-segregation as follows:

A growing number of school districts are refusing to accept segregation. One hundred school districts and charter school networks in 32 states, particularly in California, Florida, Iowa, New York, Minnesota and North Carolina, are promoting integration by taking socioeconomic status into account as they assign children to schools, according to a 2016 analysis by The Century Foundation. Just two districts were doing that 20 years ago. These districts typically go about this by redrawing attendance boundaries or creating magnet schools.

But what good is done by “redrawing attendance boundaries” within a school district like Dallas where 90% of the children qualify for free and reduced lunch and are minority students? And how does the creation of magnet schools help when most of the white residents in a city like Dallas are choosing to attend charter schools and/or private schools that are mostly white? Neither the Times article on the Dallas schools nor the editorial offer evidence that choice is helping with resegregation.

Here’s the sad reality of resegregation: the only way to reverse the trend is to appeal to the white residents who reside in those communities to enroll their children in neighborhood schools instead of relying on magnet schools. Given the choice between putting their children on a bus to go to a public magnet school across town that is “mixed” racially and demographically or taking their children out of a private charter school that is “competitive” and, consequently, less “mixed” racially and demographically, most parents will stay in the school their children are currently enrolled in. But if parents thought the school closest to their home was as well equipped and staffed as the schools in the nearby suburbs, they might consider enrolling in that school no matter what its demographics. Bottom line: the best way to accomplish resegregation is to provide robust programs for ALL children in ALL schools.

The editors failed to acknowledge the disparity in funding between districts and failed to point out the reality that boundary lines need to be redrawn between districts as well as within districts… but the editors were quick to criticize the Mayor for his failure to “name” resegregation as the major problem facing NY city schools. In future editorials I hope the NYTimes will advocate more funding for neighborhood schools, a consideration of redrawing boundaries between school districts, and full throated support for the administration in NY city schools when they DO make an effort to integrate the schools in the city.