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ESSA Does Provide an Opportunity to Expand Mastery Learning… Will States Seize the Chance?

August 12, 2017 Leave a comment

25 years ago when I was beginning my second term was Superintendent in MD, my staff members and I decided we would make an earnest effort to introduce the concept of mastery learning to our district. Our plan was to develop an “Essential Curriculum” that would identify the sequence of skills every student needed to master in subject areas and then develop performance assessments to determine if students had mastered the plan. Students would progress through the sequence at their own pace, based on our credo that performance would be constant and time would be variable. Letter grades would be abandoned in favor of periodic progress reports and “grade levels” might ultimately be abandoned in favor of “families” or “pods”. It was an ambitious plan that was ultimately set aside because the State began launching what would ultimately become the Maryland State Performance Program, a precursor to the the kinds of state level tests that NCLB mandated. As the State Department began developing its guidelines for testing, it became evident that time would remain constant and performance wold be variable. That is, all tests would be administered during one time period to grade level cohorts defined by the age of students. While this state initiative did not derail our efforts to develop an Essential Curriculum, it DID undermine the direction we hoped to head in terms of assessing and grouping students. In effect, the decision to administer state-wide standardized tests flew in the face of mastery learning…. and not just in Maryland, but across the nation once NCLB was put in place.

NCLB testing did not extend to high schools, and some states, most notably Vermont and New Hampshire, passed regulations that enabled high schools to award credit for something other than “seat time”, opening the door for mastery learning to be introduced at the high school level. This open door led to partnerships with post secondary institutions, the introduction of on-line non-profit and public school sponsored on-line courses, and opportunities for students to gain credit for experiential learning.

My misgivings about ESSA are well documented in this blog, especially given the GOP dominated statehouses across the nation who might use the state level flexibility to re-impose failed ideas like VAM and using tests as the sole or primary metric for “grading” schools. But, as Kyle Spencer reported in yesterday’s NYTimes, ESSA DOES provide an opportunity for schools and school districts to achieve the concepts our district in MD set out to implement 25 years ago. In “A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry”, Mr Spencer describes precisely the kind of program we hoped to implement… and it describes the kinds of resistance we ran into apart from the state standardized test program. The exemplary program Mr. Spencer profiled in NYC’s MS 442 allows students to progress at their own rate, gives them and their parents timely feedback as the progress through the course sequences, and makes performance constant and time the variable.

But programs like the one Mr. Spencer describes, as he notes, does engender resistance from several sources. Parents who want to know the child’s “grade” are befuddled by the system that tracks progress through a sequence of skills. The high schools, who seek a percentage score as an admissions criteria, are flummoxed by the skill reporting as well, forcing the cadre of NYC schools using the mastery approach to develop an algorithm to assign such “grades” to its students. Teachers who find the change of approach mind-boggling have left the schools where mastery learning has been introduced.

Mr. Spencer’s article captures the ways that mastery learning is a radical departure from the dominant “factory” paradigm and how it plays out from the student’s perspective and emphasizes how the emerging grassroots mastery schools movement is necessarily different from school-to-school. He also describes the two factors that are making mastery learning possible now more than ever: ESSA… and technology:

…The rise of online learning has accelerated the shift, and school technology providers have been fierce advocates. It’s no surprise that schools adopting the method are often the same to have invested heavily in education software; computers are often ubiquitous inside their classrooms.

He also describes the reasons that mastery learning might be compromised: by focussing on cost-cutting; by devolving into a checklist mentality for all courses; by assuming that the metrics used to measure “mastery” are perfect;

Mastery-based learning, of course, has its critics. Amy Slaton, a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia who studies the history of science and engineering in education, worries that the method is frequently adopted to save costs. (When paired with computers, it can lead to larger classrooms and fewer teachers.)

Jane Robbins, a lawyer and senior fellow at the American Principles Project who has written critically about mastery-based education, said she finds the checklist nature of the system anti-intellectual. While it may work to improve math skills, it is unlikely to help students advance in the humanities, she said.

Others question the method’s efficacy. Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Education, contends that students learn by slowly building on knowledge and frequently returning to it. He rejects the notion that students have learned something simply because they can pass a series of assessments. He suspects that shortly after passing those tests, students forget the material.

But the advocates for mastery learning, which include your humble blogger, see it as an imperfect but potentially better way to reach all students more effectively. This quote reflects my thinking:

In any event, advocates argue, the current education system is not working. Too many students leave high school ill prepared for college and careers, even though traditional grading systems label many top performers. Last year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school achievement test were deemed college-ready in English. In math, only 41 percent were deemed college-ready.

Mr. Spencer’s article is a balanced presentation on mastery learning and it implicitly emphasizes the complications schools will face in implementing such a program. But the traditional factory paradigm is clearly failing large numbers of children in our country and, Mr. Soleway’s rejoinders notwithstanding, does not afford opportunities for students to “… learn by slowly building on knowledge and frequently returning to it”. Indeed, if time is constant and performance is variable, the relentless march to “cover” the curriculum precludes any chance for “…slowly building on knowledge and frequently returning to it”! 

I am heartened to see the NYTimes reporting on this movement… and hope that as other schools and districts read this they, too, will consider moving in this direction.

 

 

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“Grade Levels” are an Administrative Convenience…Standardized Test “Grade Levels” are a Statistical Artifact… and BOTH Block Mastery Learning

July 21, 2017 Leave a comment

I am bewildered by the fact that most of the general public and most people associated with public education believe that “grade levels” linked to age cohorts are a natural, biological and developmentally appropriate means of grouping children and, because of that fact,”grade levels” linked to age cohorts are a fair, equitable and valid means of categorizing students for the purpose of measuring their performance.

But here’s are two facts: the grouping of students into “grade levels” based on their age cohorts was a practice instituted in the early 1900s for administrative convenience. Once it became THE “standard” means of grouping students, it also became the basis for scoring “standardized tests” that became the basis for creating homogeneous “ability” groups within those grade levels, norm-referenced tests that used scale scores to determine if students were performing “at grade level”.

In the late 1900s it appeared there might be an opportunity to replace norm-referenced standardized tests that sort and select students with criterion referenced tests that help determine if students have mastered the material presented in class or learned outside of the classroom .The technology was emerging that would make the use of such tests feasible, and, had the hoped for conversion to mastery learning taken place it was possible that student directed learning would have replaced test-driven learning.

Since NCLB, the administratively convenient standardized tests have moved to the forefront. Predictably, their results, which would necessarily yield a bell curve, demonstrated a large number of “failing students” and, just as predictably, those “failing students” were housed in schools serving children raised in poverty whose test results correlated strongly with the income of their parents.

Now that these “failing schools” require “take overs” by the State, and given that the State Departments of Education do not have the wherewithal to oversee all of the schools identified as “failing” based on standardized test scores, the “failing schools” are turned over to private contractors who promise to get better results on tests in exchange for a waiver of regulations and relief from the “administrative burdens” imposed by teacher unions.

When Congress repealed NCLB by passing ESSA, the misnamed “Every Student Succeeds Act”, and President Obama signed it into law, there was SOME hope in my part of New England that given the flexibility built into ESSA that they might be able to institute some mastery-learning and/or student-directed learning into their state plans. When the bill passed, I was hopeful of that outcome for Vermont and New Hampshire, the two states I worked in before I retired… but also dreading how other states might use their flexibility to impose things like “value-added” measures and school choice. I was also fearful that those states who rejected the Common Core might feel liberated and impose Creation Science requirements or limit the teaching of climate change

Now… several months later, it is clear my hopes will not be realized in either Vermont or– especially in New Hampshire… and my fears about the direction other states would take were well founded. Worse, as reported in yesterday’s Politico Morning Edition for education it appears that after declaring that the USDOE would give states flexibility in determining their accountability measures— which MIGHT have given them some flexibility— the USDOE is rejecting any metrics that move away from standardized tests based on grade levels. Here’s Politico reporter Benjamin Wermund’s analysis of on state’s experience at trying to move away from the “traditional” model of accountability by using scale scores instead of “grade levels”:

Connecticut, in its updated plan, stands by the use of scale scores to measure academic achievement, rather than grade-level proficiency. Scale scores convert a student’s grades to a common scale – for example, 300 to 900 – enabling educators to distinguish the relative performance of students at the high and low ends of the same proficiency level. The Education Department told Connecticut in June that the law requires a greater focus on whether students are performing at grade-level. And a team of federal reviewers, who separately provided notes on the plan, said the state’s approach to grading schools “lacks transparency.”

But Connecticut officials disagree. “Webster’s dictionary defines proficiency not only as a state of being proficient, but also as an advancement in knowledge or skill,” they write in their revised plan, which calls scale scores “the most accurate measure of a student’s proficiency.” Connecticut’s new plan says that “characterizing a student’s achievement solely as falling into an achievement level is an extreme oversimplification,” and “solely relying on a binary proficient/not proficient approach encourages unsound educational practices.” Colorado and Massachusetts also want to use scale scores. Massachusetts received similarly discouraging feedback from the Education Department, while Colorado is still waiting. Read Connecticut’s revised plan.

If ESSA does require “a greater focus on whether students are performing at grade-level” then there is yet another reason to lament it’s passage. Scale scores are not a perfect means of determining mastery, but they DO move the thinking of educators, parents, and decision-makers away from the statistical artifact of “grade level scores” and compel them to be more open-minded to different forms of accountability and instruction. If ESSA does NOT explicitly require “a greater focus on whether students are performing at grade-level”, then I hope that Lamar Alexander and other Senators will speak out against this interpretation by USDOE. If ESSA’s intent is to fulfill Betsy DeVos’ stated ideal of pushing for  “…reforms locally that will help to ensure all children, no matter their zip code, have access to an education environment that works for them”, allowing states to set their own accountability standards is a step in the right direction.

Differentiated Accountability Sensible for Doctors… and Schools

July 17, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes called to mind a conversation I had several years ago with a Dartmouth Hitchcock doctor regarding metrics used in the medical field. Titled “New York Schools for Off-Track Students May Face Stricter Rules”, the article describes a proposal to be reviewed by the NY Regents that recommends holding “transfer schools” to the same standards for graduation rates as regular high schools. The problem is that the transfer schools are designed to address the problems failing students encountered in regular high schools and, consequently, the students enter well behind their age cohorts when they enroll. Here’s an overview of the problem these districts face under the proposed regulations:

Under the (proposed) regulations, schools that fall short of a six-year graduation rate of 67 percent would be put on a list to receive “comprehensive support and improvement.” Only four of the city’s 51 transfer schools currently meet, or are on track to meet, that benchmark.

The transfer schools do poorly on this benchmark because by the time a student enrolls in a transfer school they are often three years behind their peers making it mathematically impossible to succeed.

How does this relate to medical metrics? My doctor friend noted that one of the clearly and unarguably objective metrics proposed for measuring the effectiveness of doctors was the death rate of patients… a metric that was quickly rejected since oncologists ended up having a horrific death rate as compared to, say, dermatologists. This kind of inherent disparity led each field of medicine to develop their own metrics that had nuances within them… in effect a form of differentiated accountability.

And in the end, that is what the city schools are seeking, as noted in the closing paragraph of Ms. Taylor’s article:

New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit group that oversees and supports 69 high schools in the city, including 10 transfer schools, has urged the State Education Department to convene a panel of experts to come up with a customized accountability system for transfer schools.

Ms. Ramirez, from the city’s Education Department, said it was not that the city did not want the schools’ performance to be scrutinized. “It’s all about differentiated accountability,” she said.

Will the Regents “…convene a panel of experts to come up with a customized accountability system for transfer schools”? I hope they will… and in doing so I hope they might examine ALL of their accountability systems to determine if they might tailor them to address the unique needs of students each school serves.

 

Florida Legislature Opens Door to Corrupt Charters, Endless Content Challenges, Lawsuits in Public Schools

July 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The Tampa Bay Times editors’ assessment of two bills passed by the Florida legislature has it right: the governance of public education is in peril. The fiscal conservatives in the state undercut the school districts’ ability to serve children over the past several years by passing stingy budgets. This year the legislature passed HB 7069, which diverts more funds from public schools and makes it easier for parents to opt into private charter schools– many of them private for-profit entities and religiously affiliated, and far too many of those privatized for-profit entities have turned out to be corrupt. Moving children out of schools governed by elected boards into schools governed by shareholders or religious leaders is anti-democratic and will continue to open the door for mismanagement and corruption.

The editors had already bemoaned this development, and in yesterday’s editorial they flagged two other bills that religious conservatives enacted this session, laws that are likely to result in a spate of needless lawsuits and public appeals that will likely fill Board agendas for years to come.

SB 438, a “a religious liberties bill”, provides superfluous “rights” to students and opens the door to promoting religion in classrooms. Here’s the analysis of the bill in the editorial:

The bill reaffirms that students and teachers are allowed to pray privately during non-curriculum moments at school, but that was a right that already existed under the First Amendment. It then goes a step further with language that would allow teachers or students to openly express religious beliefs in class or at other public school functions, which is seemingly in conflict with previous Supreme Court decisions. The potential of proselytizing along with the ostracizing of students are just two possible pitfalls among the many unintended consequences this ill-considered law could wrought.

The fact that this bill is “seemingly in conflict with previous Supreme Court decisions” means that one or more school boards will be faced with litigation from one or more parents and/or libertarian groups who do not want their children exposed to proselytization or ostracized from classes. It also means that principals and teachers will likely have to deal with religious zealots who want to ensure that the law is being followed in each and every school.

The worst bill, though, is HB 989, a law that “…gives almost anyone — from parents to strangers off the street — the ability to challenge the appropriateness of a classroom lesson. Supporters say it empowers parents, but it more accurately promotes censorship.”  The editors assessment is rightfully scathing:

Think of the mayhem this could create. Don’t believe in evolution? Challenge the science teacher. Don’t believe high schoolers should learn about sex education? Challenge the health teacher. Don’t believe the Holocaust actually happened? Challenge the history teacher. Don’t like the language in The Catcher in the Rye? Challenge the American lit teacher.

Legislators used straw man arguments to insist this bill was necessary, citing unnamed instances of parents who were unhappy with the age-appropriateness of books on reading lists. To be blunt, this sounds like bunk. Schools routinely have alternative selections available if a parent feels a particular book contains objectionable material. To waste precious time and resources on reviews of mainstream books and lessons is foolishness. Even more absurd is the possibility of denying a particular lesson to a large majority of students because one parent, or any other resident of the school district, disagrees with it.

This law will open the door to crackpots of all varieties to appeal curriculum decisions made by individual teachers as well as school districts. Having dealt with appeals dealing with controversial books, I know that it also has the potential to eat into the time of school districts who may ultimately have to hear every appeal brought by every member of the public who believes that the content in history, science, and literature lessons is “inappropriate”. In the meantime, the privately governed schools can offer the curriculum of their choice and tell their constituents to go elsewhere if they don’t like what is being taught.

The editorial concludes with this paragraph:

The common thread in all of these bills, from HB 7069 on down, is state legislators usurping control of local school boards and school districts. These same lawmakers who shout and stomp their feet at any sign of interference from the federal government are interfering even more in local schools. (See: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.) It is hypocrisy. It is bad governance. Sadly, it is business as usual in Florida.

With Betsy DeVos at the helm in Washington and ESSA giving states more leeway, expect to see copycat laws introduced into legislatures across the country in the years ahead.

ESSA Creates Opportunity for ESAs and Koch Brothers Network is Ready to Seize the Opportunity

July 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past eight years, Congress reached a bi-partisan agreement that NCLB and its progeny, RTTT were unmitigated disasters. While the basis for this agreement differed from State-to-State, there was an underlying consensus that both RTTT and NCLB took power away from the states and placed too much power at the federal level. The solution to this was ESSA, which returned decision making authority for accountability to the states. As noted in several earlier blog posts, since the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Betsy DeVos to head USDOE, the federal influence on education has declined markedly thanks to Ms. DeVos’ efforts to repeal regulations on an array of fronts including civil rights, gender equity, and desegregation.

But a more chilling development associated with ESSA was reported earlier this week in an article written by John Frank for the Denver Post: the Koch brothers intend to use Colorado as a testing ground for school choice and vouchers by diverting public funds to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), thereby de-funding public education. His report on an annual meeting of the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation described the strategy:

The effort in Colorado involves the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and the Libre Initiative, a group focused on Hispanic community outreach. Together the organizations are making calls and sending flyers to voters this summer, two of which promote ESAs as a way to “give families the freedom to select schools, classes and services that fit the unique needs of their kids.”

…The summertime effort in a nonelection year demonstrates the Koch network’s permanent apparatus in Colorado and how it can mobilize like-minded volunteers into action.

“When there’s not an election, there’s not a lot of noise and you can have a lot of impact,” said Michael Fields, the senior director for issue education at the national Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The ESA model is relatively novel in Colorado, and Fields sees his team’s work as a “race to who defines the issue first.”

If the persuasion effort is successful in Colorado, the Koch network’s political groups could push it forward as soon as the 2018 legislative session or possibly onto the ballot for voter approval.

Fields is optimistic: “I think we can get something across in the next few years.”

Stripped of its anti-Government libertarian philosophical basis, ESAs would be an easy sell for the “middle-of-the-road” voters in Colorado, a state the Koch Brothers began grooming a few years ago when they helped underwrite the bi-artisan effort in that state that resulted in legislation that provides equal state funding for charter schools. Framed as an opportunity for parents to “select the schools their children can attend”, using funds drawn from donations made in lieu of taxes to a state-wide savings account it is hard to elicit a negative response. If the Koch Brothers are making calls to elicit support from middle-of-the-road” voters, here’s the pitch they can make:

  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has children in school and is happy, tell the voter that ESA legislation would allow their child to remain in that school and they would pay lower State taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has children in school and is unhappy, ESA legislation would offer them a chance to send their child to a different school that meets their needs…. even if that school was affiliated with a church or was an on-line school.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter has no children in school, promote the notion that parent-consumers can “choose the school for their child”… and emphasize that ESA legislation will result in a reduction in their taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter sends their child to a religiously affiliated school note that ESA legislation will substantially defray their tuition costs and reduce their taxes.
  • If the “middle-of-the-road” voter either attends a church that offers schooling for children who desire religious training, note that ESA legislation will help support their church’s efforts.

The advocates for ESAs have an easy sell. Those who support public education, on the other hand, cannot assure more choices for parents or lower taxes. The need to appeal to more abstract notions like “fairness” and “equal opportunities” for all and need to counter the negative arguments that disaffected and resentful voters will voice, arguments like:

  • The only people who support public schools are the unions
  • The money for public education goes to teachers who have better wages and benefits than I do
  • We’ve spent millions of dollars for schools and they haven’t improved a bit
  • When my kids went to school we didn’t have all these fancy programs and social services. Why should I pay higher taxes for these frills?
  • I already pay tuition for my children to go to a private school that has Christian values, why should I pay higher taxes for a school that promotes secular humanism?

The list could go on and will be expanded and amplified as the pro-ESA messages from the Koch Brothers permeate the airwaves and phone lines in the months ahead.

The problem for those of us who support public education is journalists like Mr. Frank and news outlets like the Denver Post are framing the debate as one between unions (which are implicitly “self-serving”) and “reformers”, who are seeking the best solutions for parents and children. The astro-turf organizations funded by billionaires will issue white papers and organize and populate rallies in support of ESAs while those who oppose them will be left on the sidelines. And since school choice is now a bi-partisan issue, the lonely voices in the wilderness don’t even have a political party to advocate for economic justice. Someone who is not a union member needs to compete in the “race to who defines the issue first” in the words of Michael Fields, the senior director for issue education at the national Americans for Prosperity Foundation. In my way of thinking, we need to assert the high-minded purpose of public schooling. Here’s a 15 minute effort to define the over-arching purpose of public education, a purpose that ESAs undercuts:

  • Every child is entitled to a high quality education. Since ESAs only provide partial funding for schooling parents are expected to supplement the costs for their children who do not attend public schools. This means that parents with lower incomes will not have the same choices or same opportunities as more affluent parents.
  • In order for democracy to thrive, all students need to attend high quality schools where the values of the community, state, and nation are taught. ESAs fragment the community of learners and will reinforce the divisiveness that is poisoning discourse in our democracy today.
  • Locally elected school boards, not individual “consumers”, should set the priorities for how your school funds are spent and what values are inculcated in the schools. ESAs will undercut the power of local democracy.

These arguments are harder to sell than “choice” and “lower taxes”. But if we cannot get agreement on these issue, it will be difficult to sustain our democratic form of government in the future.

 

ESSA’s Flaws Exposed as Betsy DeVos Assesses State Plans

July 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have long held misgivings about ESSA… and Erica Green’s article in yesterday’s NY Times flags some deficiencies that surprised advocates, deficiencies that I did not foresee in my earlier critiques.

Many conservatives believed that ESSA was going to provide more flexibility to States in terms of oversight by the federal government. But the early analyses by the USDOE under Betsy DeVos’ leadership indicates that will NOT be the case. Their response to Delaware’s state plan is exhibit one:

In one case, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Jason Botel, wrote to the State of Delaware that its long-term goals for student achievement were not “ambitious.”

It is mind-boggling that the department could decide that it’s going to challenge them on what’s ambitious,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who worked in the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He called the letter “directly in opposition to the rhetoric and the promises of DeVos.”

But USDOE’s assessment of Connecticut’s plan flags a concern of progressive educators, who hoped that State’s might be able to break away from the strait-jacket of standardized testing.

The state was also criticized for its use of an alternative system for measuring academic performance instead of more standard “proficiency” measurements on state tests, as the law requires.

Such feedback signaled that the department “appears to be resorting to very traditional and narrow ways of interpreting student and school performance,” said Laura Stefon, chief of staff for the Connecticut State Department of Education.

So after being hailed as a bi-partisan bill that satisfied both sides of the aisle, why has ESSA riled up those on both sides of the education debate? One chief state officer offers a cynical explanation:

Christopher Ruszkowski, the acting secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the idea that the new law would yield total state control was merely “rhetoric from the Beltway.”

I think a lot of the euphoria over return to local control was an overpromise,” he said. “What this signals is that U.S.D.E. will continue to play the role they’ve always played in the years ahead.”

In addition to alienating policy-makers in both the “reform” and progressive camps when it comes to testing, ESSA has riled us another group: the National Science Teachers Association. Why?

Connecticut was also among a handful of states faulted for including science as a subject for measuring achievement, even though the law allows the use only of reading and math. This feedback was widely criticized by academic groups, including the National Science Teachers Association, who said the department was interpreting the law too literally.

The science teachers, like the teachers of any content outside of reading and math, experienced staffing challenges as school districts were forced to teach-to-the-test in order to meet “ambitious” goals required under NCLB and RTTT. They, like the state and local leaders of schools and the state legislators, were led to believe that ESSA would enable their states to develop accountability systems that would incorporate their topics. In the end, as Mr. Green notes in her closing paragraphs, the consensus seems to be that ESSA DID over-promise and under-deliver:

State leaders said they believed they were all but promised their plans would be approved. Instead, Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said some aspects of the Education Department’s feedback were “overzealous” and could undermine community involvement.

“It’s going to be really hard for a state to go back and say, ‘I know I told you we were doing all of this, but we’re going to change it because the federal government told us not to,’” Mr. Minnich said.

There was bi-partisan support for this bill when it passed. I fear that there will NOT be a bi-partisan acceptance for the responsibility of the bill’s deficiencies… and know that in the end the children who will suffer the most are those being raised in poverty.

Still Think ESSA is a Good Idea? Three Stories Highlight Efforts to Erode Public Schools in Three Different States

July 7, 2017 Leave a comment

This morning’s in-box featured three stories describing how the erosion of public education is proceeding apace in three different states— MI, IN, and NY.

Two NPR stations offered brief print stories on the latest struggles for public education funding in Michigan, where it seems that the legislature is intent on funneling much needed money to parochial schools while simultaneously penalizing public schools who use funds to sue the state for the misuse of funding. At this juncture, the State’s efforts to fund parochial schools and shortchange public schools have been thwarted by the courts in response to a lawsuit filed by organizations funded by the local school districts. The legislature’s solution to this lawsuit? Use THEIR funds to appeal the lawsuit and pass a law that “…would penalize public schools that use state dollars for lawsuits against the state.”  Since one of the groups suing the legislature is the state-wide organization representing administrators, an organzation funded with dues paid by school districts, their head had a response:

Peter Spadafore is with the Michigan Association of School Administrators.  He said school districts have gone to court and won against the state on important issues.  This would put that ability in jeopardy.

Spadafore said, “You know I can see the spirit of this, but the idea here is really to tell school districts no they shouldn’t be suing the state.”

Or, more accurately, being told to sit down, shut up, and stop complaining. Hopefully elections in MI will turn the tide on this and both the US constitution that calls for a separation of church and state and the state constitution that calls for fair and equitable funding for schools will be honored.

Meanwhile in Indianapolis, Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy writes that the school board members, a majority of whom were supported and underwritten by “reformers” and StudentsFirst, is opening four new “innovative” charter high schools while simultaneously closing three traditional high schools due to low enrollment. If the charter schools were managed by the school district, there might be a way to make a straight faced argument for this shift, but the reality is that these innovation charters are not under the control of the local board… and the reason for this structure is explained in the article:

Advocates tout innovation schools as a tool for dramatically improving IPS. They are controversial, however, because they are a hybrid between charter and traditional public schools. IPS gets credit from the state for the test scores and other data from innovation schools, but they are managed by outside nonprofits or charter operators. Because teachers at the schools don’t work directly for the district, they are not part of the IPS union.

So while a greater number of Indianapolis high schoolers will presumably have more choices, it is clear that a greater number of Indianapolis teachers will work for less compensation and have less job security… and fewer “public” schools will be overseen by the elected school board.

And last but not least, StudentsFirst (recognize that name) NY’s Executive Director Jenny Sedlis is beaming in a picture in the NY Daily News with this caption: “Thanks to Albany leaders, productive conversations led to an agreement that’s good for all public school kids.” And why is she so happy? The headline for the story explains: “De Blasio’s extended control of Public Schools comes with a catch – expanding the charter sector and support for its students”. It seems that Governor Cuomo and the NY legislature are not happy with the mayor’s unwillingness to subsidize the charter schools by giving them free space and allowing them to expand into more venues in the city. Here’s the synopsis of the deal:

State charter authorizers will recycle and re-issue 22 licenses for city charter schools that had been revoked or awarded and never used, under the terms of the deal state lawmakers, Gov. Cuomo and education officials negotiated to extend de Blasio’s control of the city schools.

The deal also increases the city’s payments to charter operators for school facilities and provides MetroCards for charter school students whose classes begin before the start of the standard public school year.

So the STATE is diverting LOCAL funds to underwrite for-profit charters and requiring that LOCAL schools make space available FOR FREE to those same for-profit charters…. and both the State and the Mayor are characterizing this as giving the mayor “control” over the local schools. The concluding paragraphs of the story put this deal in context:

Some charter schools also receive significant financial support from billionaires in the hedge fund industry who have financed expensive lobbying and public relations campaigns against the mayor. Charter advocate and StudentsFirstNY executive director Jenny Sedlis called the deal a win for charter operators and their families.

“Charters have been battling with the de Blasio administration for the last four years, but thanks to Albany leaders, productive conversations led to an agreement that’s good for all public school kids,” Sedlis said. “Parents will have access to more school options and charter operators will get significant relief.”

If ALL parents had access to fully funded high quality schools staffed by fully qualified and experienced teachers this deal would be “good for all public school kids”… but when part of the deal is to siphon local funds to pay charter school operators those kids who are unable to make a choice suffer.

Taken together, these stories show what happens when control is devolved to the State and local level: there is a move toward privatization wrapped in the language of the marketplace and a move toward lower wages and less job security for teachers. Those who love the free-market gig economy are elated… but those of us who seek a fair and equitable level playing field for all children and parents are disappointed. Do you still think ESSA is a good idea?