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Stanford Report Finds that Privatized Charters Do Worse Than ANY Type of School.. Why Isn’t THIS a Big Story?

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, both Diane Ravitch and the Atlantic magazine reported on the release of a report from Stanford University that studied the effectiveness of various kinds of charter schools, and the results show that so-called “government schools” with their “regulations that strangle innovation” do far better than privatized de-regulated charter schools. Here’s the understated finding from the of the Executive Summary of the report on “For Profit” charter school results:

Results also vary by the for-profit/non-profit status of the charter organization. Charter schools which are non- profit have an average effect size of 0.02, equivalent to an additional 11 days, in both math and reading. Charter school students attending a school run by a for-profit company have math growth which is 0.02 weaker than their VCRs and reading growth which is not significantly different from the VCRs. The difference in growth between for- profit and non-profit charter schools is equivalent to 23 additional days of learning in math for students attending a non-profit charter school and 6 days additional learning in reading for non-profit charter students.

And later in the report, the for-profit charters (or Vendor Operated Schools— VOS) are singled out for the mediocre performance:

…Schools that contract with external vendors for much or all of the school operations post lower results than network operators that maintain direct control over their operations.

…For-profit operators have results that are at best equal to the comparison traditional public school students (reading) or worse (math).

I have grave misgivings about the expansion of charter schools, mainly because as they function today they primarily draw from a pool of engaged parents who have the wherewithal to complete applications for their children that are time consuming and require an understanding of process that many parents might find daunting. Drawing from this pool of parents, it is not surprising to find that charters in general do better than their so called “local market”, a term that implies that schools should be engaged in a completion with each other for students. And when a for-profit entity draws from this group of select parents and does the same or worse, there is only one group who benefits: the shareholders of the for profit enterprise. That is NOT what our economy or our country wants from its public schools.

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As School Opens Across America, So Do the Pocketbooks of Parents and Teachers… The Taxpayers? Not so much

September 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Early last month an Alternet post by Jeff Bryant described the horrific downshifting of costs from taxpayers to parents and teachers. Mr. Bryant offered several anecdotes from teachers and parents describing how deeply they need to dig into their pockets for school-related expenses and drew on data gathered by Communities in Schools, which he described as follows:

The annually compiled Backpack Index, which calculates the average cost of school supplies and school fees, reports parents face steep costs during back-to-school season: $662 for elementary school children, $1,001 for middle school children, and $1,489 for high school students.

These costs go beyond money for expendables like markers, notebooks, and graphing paper, and include valuable learning opportunities such as field trips, art and music programs, and athletics.

Middle-school parents face average costs of $195 for athletics, $75 for field trips, and $42 for other school activity fees. In high school, the fees spike much higher to $375 for athletics, $285 for musical instrumentals, $80 to participate in band, and $60 in other school activity fees. High school fees may also include academic courses such as Advanced Placement classes, which more schools are emphasizing. The average fee for tests related to these courses is $92. The costs of materials to prepare for these tests and the SAT average more than $52.

When I started my career as a school administrator in 1975, NONE of these fees were charged to ANY students in ANY school district in the Northeast. By 1981, when MA passed a property tax cap modeled on the one imposed on CA schools, athletic fees were emerging for HS students and we decided to replace our taxpayer-funded Drivers Ed program in our rural ME district with a fee-for-service model on the premise that parents would receive a direct financial benefit if their child passed a course. I recall the discussions on both of these issues as “a slippery slope”, with some parents and teachers foreseeing a day when more and more fees would be transferred from taxpayers with no children in school to parents… a day that is getting closer as we consider vouchers and further limitations on property taxes.

Despite the loss of school funding since the recession and the added costs and burdens to parents, there is no sign that cuts will stop any time soon. And, as Mr. Bryant explains, it is ultimately the children who suffer when these cuts are made… especially the children raised in poverty:

Who benefits when we cut school funding?

Slashing education budgets at the federal, state, or local level doesn’t save money; it just shifts costs somewhere else.

There’s no bold new paradigm in which little kids don’t need tissues to blow their noses or crayons to draw their first stick figures. Nor is there some bright new technology that eliminates the need for students to experience music or athletics by actually playing an instrument or having real sports equipment.

Someone has to pay for these things, or kids go without.

And the kids raised in poverty go without while the children raised in affluence get more and more. And after nearly a decade of this, we wonder why there is an economic divide and why many children give up altogether.

 

A Poll that Will Make Reformers, GOP Cringe Shows Americans LIKE Their Public Schools but Want More Social Services, Less Academics in Schools

August 30, 2017 Leave a comment

In a story that warmed my heart, Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss summarized the results of the annual Phi Delta Kappa poll in hr opening paragraphs as follows:

Most American adults are weary of the intense focus on academics in public schools today, according to a new national survey, and want students to get more vocational and career training as well as mental, physical and dental services on campus. Even so, a majority of public school parents give higher grades — A’s and B’s — to the traditional public schools in their neighborhoods than they have in years.

A majority of Americans polled also said they oppose programs that use public money for private and religious school education, policies that are supported by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And a majority said they do not think that standardized test scores  — which have been used for more than a dozen years as the most important factor in evaluating schools — are a valid reflection of school quality.

The Phi Delta Kappa poll is seen as the gold standard among administrators and school board members, and these findings should unsettle “Reformers” in both political parties who want schools to run like a business and have their “bottom line” determined by standardized test scores. And President Trump’s notion that the public wants vouchers is also now open to question. Not only does the American public support public education in general, they have the strongest support ever for their local public school!

The new poll finds that the proportion of Americans who give their community’s public schools an A grade is at its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling. In the newest survey, 62 percent of public school parents gave public schools in their own communities an A or B grade, compared with 45 percent of nonparents. Grades go higher when parents are grading their own school — 71 percent gave them A’s or B’s.

These findings are consistent with surveys where many people give low grades to “Congress” but high grades to their local legislator. But in the recent survey, even generic public schools are rated better than ever:

The report said that 24 percent of Americans give public schools na­tionally an A or B (with no difference between parents and all adults), and it noted:

There’s no contradiction in the gap. Awareness of a few poor schools can diminish the ratings of all schools together, driving down scores nationally while leaving local scores far better.

All of this relatively good news notwithstanding, there are some results of this survey that could be cherry-picked by “reformers” and voucher advocates.

Still there was this: If cost and location were not issues, just one-third of parents say they’d pick a traditional public school over a private school (31 percent), public charter school (17 percent), or a religious school (14 percent). Fifty-four percent said they would stick with a public school if they were offered public funds to send their child to a private or religious school — but only if they received full tuition. If they received only half of tuition for private or religious school, 72 percent of parents said they would stick with a traditional public school.

Even though cost and location are clearly issues in the minds of parents, I hereby predict that some voucher advocates will use the finding that only one third of the parents would choose “…a traditional public school over a private school” as proof that the public wants vouchers, overlooking the fact that such a switch would only be supported  if they received full tuition… and NO legislation I’ve read of comes close to providing full tuition for the kind of leafy private schools parent might be envisioning as an alternative let alone a public charter or parochial school.

The article provides a list of other findings that contradict the “conventional wisdom” of reformers, such as:

  • Strong support for wraparound services such as  after-school activities (92%); mental health services (87%); general health services (79%); and dental services (65%).
  • Job or career skills classes even if that means… less time in academic classes (82%)
  • Certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment in a given field (86%)
  • The need for “…schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others and persistent at solving problems.” (82%)

And as for accountability measures, the public is developing a deep antipathy for standardized tests. The survey indicated that “…only 42 percent said performance on standardized tests is a highly important indicator of school quality; 13 percent said test scores are extremely important.” What was important? 39% felt that “…developing students’ interpersonal skills” was very important and 37% felt that “…offering technology and engineering instruction” was crucial.

One contentious area, integration, had mixed results. The survey found that 55% said “having a mix of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds in public schools is extremely or very important”. The demographic breakdown: blacks, 72 percent; Hispanics, 57 percent; whites, 48 percent. Democrats cited this as important nearly twice as often as Republicans.

Looking at these findings is heartening. Despite 30+ years of hearing that public education is failing and having a President and Secretary of Education who repeatedly describe public schools as a “dead end”, the public— especially parents— have a different experience. Here’s hoping these facts will find their way into the consciousness of the electorate!

Gallup Poll Results Offer a Mixed Blessing for Public Education

August 27, 2017 Leave a comment

The headline for the findings of the recent Gallup poll on the public’s perception of public education appears to be bad news for public education. It reads:

Private Schools First, Public Schools Last in K-12 Ratings

Further down in the article, though, one finds this information, with my emphasis added in bold red italics:

Private School Image Slips Slightly, Public Up Slightly

This year’s overall rank order is the same as what Gallup found in its only prior measurement, in August 2012. However, since then, the percentage of U.S. adults who consider public school education as excellent or good increased by seven percentage points, while positive perceptions of private school education fell by the same amount.

Positive ratings of parochial education are also down slightly, by six points, while the ratings for charter schools and home schooling are statistically unchanged.

In other good news for those who believe universal public education is crucial for the well-being of our country and charter schools have a corrosive impact on that universal requirement, the Gallup poll found that the public’s perception of charter schools has also declined in the past five years:

The parties diverge on charter schools. While the percentage of Republicans considering these types of schools as excellent or good has held steady at 62%, Democrats’ reviews have fallen from 61% positive in 2012 to 48% today, perhaps as charter schooling is becoming more closely tied to Donald Trump’s administration. His secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a longtime proponent of charter schools as a way to give parents alternatives to public schools.

These trends notwithstanding, the Gallup poll pundits draw this bewildering conclusion:

Americans as a whole believe private and parochial schools do a better job of educating students than public schools do, something that might be remedied with the right federal or state public school education policies. Another remedy may be expanding charter schools so that parents of children in failing public schools who can’t afford private school have other options for their children.

I may be prejudiced in my thinking, but my interpretation of the poll findings would emphasize the trend toward support for public education and the trend toward a decline in support for charter schools as evidence that the best way to address “failing public schools” would be to provide more funding for them. But, as noted in the next paragraph in the Gallup poll’s “implications” section it appears that is NOT the direction Betsy DeVos wants to go:

DeVos recently told a charter schools conference, “No one has a monopoly on innovation. No one has a monopoly on creativity. No one has a monopoly on knowing how every child learns.” That reflects a very different philosophy of education than the philosophy that government money should be focused on lifting public schools to their maximum potential.

Even though the Democratic party has effectively endorsed the “failing public schools” meme, Democratic party voters have a different perspective. They are jumping off the charter school bandwagon in large numbers!

Bottom line: the headline notwithstanding, the Gallup poll findings are a mixed bag for public school advocates. That said, I would have been happier had I read this headline, which, by the way, is equally accurate:

Private School and Charter School K-12 Approval Ratings Decline, Public School Ratings Jump Since 2012

No Surprise: ALEC’s Report Card Aligns With Betsy DeVos’ Agenda… Big Surprise: Too Few People are Aware of ALEC’s Force

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Nearly two years ago I heard Bernie Sanders speak to a small gathering at Dartmouth College. At the conclusion of the talk, I remember commenting to my wife that I thought he spent too much time explaining the power of the Koch brothers to his audience, to the point where I sensed a degree of restlessness in the audience. But when i shared that idea with others I knew I was surprised to find that few of the otherwise well-read people I know were aware of the Koch brothers… and a politically savvy individual I knew expressed dismay that the general public was unaware of their impact.

I trust that after two years of Bernie Sanders’ speeches and appearances on national television all but the Trump loyalists (and perhaps hardcore Fox News fans) are aware of the billions the Koch brothers and their allies spend. But I am not certain that the public is as aware of one of the Koch brothers’ biggest beneficiaries and most insidious lobbying groups in our country, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). While I know I have written often about this group, I am also painfully aware that most people in this country are unaware of the group and, after hearing of them, might dismiss any alarm about them as conspiratorial.

Washington Post education writer, Valerie Strauss, did a good job of shedding light on ALEC earlier this month and makes a compelling case that they are having a powerful effect on public education policy. ALEC, like many lobbying groups, issues an annual “Report Card” ranking various national and state legislators. And like many lobbying groups, ALEC also offers legislators sample bills to submit. But unlike most lobbying groups, ALEC’s legislative agenda is broader in scope and supported with billions of dollars in potential campaign donations. As Ms. Strauss writes to those unfamiliar with ALEC:

If you don’t know about ALEC, you should. It is a member organization of corporate lobbyists and conservative state legislators who craft “model legislation” on issues important to them and then help shepherd it through legislatures. It describes itself as being dedicated to promoting “limited government, free markets and federalism,” though the New York Times called it essentially a “stealth business lobbyist.”

And with 35 Statehouses and a majority of State legislatures under the control of the GOP, and with most of the legislatures led by citizens as opposed to “professional politicians”, what could be a better use of political action funds than “helping” pro-business GOP legislators craft bills that free businesses from regulations?

As noted above, ALEC issues Report Cards on many issues, public education being one of them. A review of what ALEC includes on it’s education Report Card is chilling for anyone who wants to see education funding equitable and overseen by locally elected school boards. Ms Strauss writes:

The latest report card was issued seven months ago, and it is highly revealing. The introduction says that the states were graded in six categories — “academic standards, charter schools, homeschool regulation burden, private school choice, teacher quality, and digital learning,” but it concedes that the most weight went to charters and vouchers “because they represent the parent-centered, choice-driven future of education in the 21st century.”

Once a year the ALEC legislators gather for a conference and it was no surprise to me to read that one of their guest speakers was Betsy DeVos, whose education agenda aligns perfectly with the direction ALEC’s “investors” want our country to follow.

In the concluding paragraphs of her article, Ms. Strauss illustrates the preposterousness of ALEC’s Report Card’s emphasis on charters by showing the deficiencies of ALEC’s highest rated states and the qualities of it’s lowest rated states. In effect, ALEC doesn’t care if a state turns out high percentages of graduates who attend college, has high graduation rates, or good results based on test scores. All that matters is whether the State has a “free market” for public education.

By promoting “limited government, free markets and federalism” ALEC is neglecting graduation rates, college and workforce readiness, and the well being of students. It IS, however, providing opportunities for unfettered earnings and opportunities for “edu-preneurs” and lower taxes for all businesses. Hallelujah!

Temple University Study Finds Nearby Charter’s Boost Performance of Public Schools— But ALSO Prove Pro-Public Education Advocate’s Points

August 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Alex Zimmerman reports on the findings of a study by Sarah Cordes, a professor at Temple University, that concluded that proximity to a charter school boosted the performance of public schools as measured by standardized achievement tests. Why?

(Ms. Cordes) suspects that her findings are the result of the competition stoked by charters.

“I think having that close a proximity might really get administrators to get their act together,” she said. “Part of it is just that it’s really hard to ignore a charter school in your building.”

But as Mr. Zimmerman notes later in his article, two other factors might have an impact as well, factors that pro-pulic education advocates have argued for:

Cordes also points to the budgetary effects of charter schools. Somewhat paradoxically, given charter critics’ arguments, competition from charter schools led to more average spending per student at traditional schools—between 2 percent for schools that are further away to 9 percent for co-located schools.

Though she did not look at whether decreases in enrollment had adverse effects on programming that wouldn’t be measured by reading and math test scores or survey data, Cordes said future research should look at whether enrollment drops lead to smaller class sizes, which have been shown to boost learning.

So… as is often the case in research on charters vs. traditional schools… it is difficult to draw any clear cut solution because we are left with two questions:

  1. If spending had increased by 2 to 9 percent per student would the traditional schools’ scores have increased by the same amount?
  2. If class sizes had diminished by 2 students per classroom would the traditional schools’ scores have increased by the same amount?

It would be wonderful to find out the answer to these questions… but unless overall spending increases we will never know.

 

A Federalist Article on the “Trans Juggernaut” Unwittingly Flags a Conundrum of Public School Choice

August 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Google’s daily Public Schools feed provides me with an opportunity to read articles from publications I would ordinarily not seek out on my own. A recent Federalist article, “Trans Juggernaut Wants Your Kids. Public Schools Are Just the Beginning” by Joy Pullman is a case in point… and it provides an insight for me on how libertarian conservatives face a dilemma when they seek market based solutions to public schools and complete freedom to pursue whatever they wish with no government interference.

Ms. Pullman’s premise is that there is an organized movement of transgender individuals who are actively and aggressively promoting their “agenda”. Here’s the nub of her argument:

As theologian N.T. Wright pointed out to the Times of London last week, “Nature…tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.”

This is likely why the transgender movement is targeting the young: They are vulnerable and impressionable, prepuberty pose better as either sex and therefore look less terrifying than adult transgenders, and once locked into the trans body morph will never truly be able to escape. Devastated people are prime candidates for exploitation by their pretend advocates. Also, locking in trans-policies now is a way to preclude debate before more extensive data and personal experience can fuel the inevitable backlash.

But Ms. Pullman’s example how the transgender movement is imposing its agenda on public education unwittingly underscores one of the major dilemmas of the “choice” movement. A parent in a public charter school who was dismayed at the treatment their transgender child was receiving sued the school to… in Ms. Pullman’s words…”accommodate their five-year-old son, whom they claim is transgender.” The result?

Parents began transferring their kindergarteners out of the child’s class when they came home saying things like, “Mom, I think you can choose if you want to be a boy or a girl,” according to interviews with The Daily Signal.

To one who has deep misgivings about charters and choice and who does not believe that schools should be subjected to the rules of the marketplace, I find this to be a delicious irony… and a perfect example of how choice advocates want to have things both ways. If a parent chooses to enroll in the charter school that accepts public funds raised by taxpayers they have to accept the rules that govern all public schools…. including rules that require accommodations for transgender children. And it seems to me that libertarian leaning readers of the Federalist would wholeheartedly support a parent’s right to claim their child is transgender. Otherwise the government would be imposing a requirement that overrules the parent’s freedom of choice.

It strikes me that the only way out of the woods on this issue is to require parents who want their children to attend schools who base their policies on anything other than public secular law to pay for their child’s education. Public funds and religious policies and regulations do not mix… as Saudi Arabia’s funding of madrases illustrates.

Finally, those parents who transferred their child out of the class of their classmate whose parents “claimed is transgender” might use their child’s questioning of their gender as a teachable moment… an opportunity to explain the importance of tolerance and inclusivity and an opportunity to share their understandings of gender. Like it or not, in this day of free and open speech, YouTube access, and conversations on playgrounds, some news report some time during a child’s upbringing is going to compel a child to raise the question the kindergartners raised when their classmate announced he was transgender.