How Choice Works: A True Story

I am creating a ppt. presentation for Leagues to use all over the state.  This is the suggestion I just now received for an ending slide: It is a true story based on an interview a couple of months ago with a charter principal in another county. My friend comments:

“I usually explain choice by how a charter school principal demonstrated it to me.  She said in a series of comments over the course of a visit”. 

  1. She gets to choose her teachers.  They serve at will. 
  2. She gets to choose her parents.  If they have difficulty with any of her decisions, she invites them to “choose” another school for their children.  
  3. Lastly, she gets to choose her students.  If a student is “not a good fit” she chooses to ask them to leave and choose another school.  

She does not choose to deliver ESE services except of the most basic type.  Parents of this school “choose” to volunteer a set number of hours a month.  Only students whose parents can “choose” to transport them can get to the school.  You see how easily “Choice” works?

Racist Rant or Reality Speak?

What are the driving forces behind school choice and privatizing education? In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers points to Betsy DeVos. Gartner says school choice is about “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia”. Harsh words flying about.

For those of us who lived first hand through the integration of schools in the early 70’s, it’s impossible not to recognize all of those ‘isms’ that Gartner uses. We heard them and felt them. There’s no doubt that some groups now capitalize on somewhat ‘buried’ feelings of those who use choice to escape integration. There’s simply more to it.

Money comes to mind. Choice was supposed to save money. The private sector, according to some, could drive down costs. How? Breaking the teachers unions, for one. Unions have helped keep teacher retirement and health benefits. Charters and voucher progrBams don’t have to provide benefits, and most do not. School facilities are expensive, and the private sector can build them without directly going to taxpayers. The cost for facilities is hidden from the public unless people look at the financial audits. The money going into charter facilities comes out of teacher salaries and benefits and, of course, fewer services to students.

I go back to my professional life when I worked on critical thinking and problem solving skills. Sometimes there is no single correct answer to a question. Racism and all those other ‘isms’ are real for some people. Profiteering using fear tactics is also real. Simple greed is real. The answer to some of those critical thinking questions was often ‘All of the above”. Didn’t you really dislike those types of choices? Nevertheless, in real life, sometimes they are the correct answer. And then you ask, ‘Now what’? I have some possible answers, and I would like your suggestions.

Washington Post Blasts Florida’s Chaotic Educational System

Valerie Strauss tells it like it is. She lists the educational mess caused by Florida’s reform policies culminating in the passage of HB 7069:

  • loss of district facility funds to charter schools
  • ‘Schools of Hope’ that are required to fire teachers and administrators
  • State seizure of local school board authority
  • High charter closure rates and incidences of scandal
  • Private school tuition from tax credits for corporations with no consequences for lack of student achievement

The article by Valerie Strauss goes on to cover testing and accountability policies, teacher bonus programs, and perhaps even more strange, the request to the federal government to stop reporting achievement gaps.

Here’s the link to the article in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/22/floridas-education-system-the-one-betsy-devos-cites-as-a-model-is-in-chaos/?utm_term=.0cb978c6651f

Governor Scott Won’t Like This Report

Florida ranks 12th overall in a CNBC report on America’s Top States for Business. Twelfth doesn’t sound too bad. Yet, we are second in our economy and fourth in our access to capital. So where do we fall short? You guessed it–EDUCATION. We are 40th. Granted I am skeptical of most rankings. I think of them as guesstimates. Yet, the indicators used in the rankings have a familiar ring:

  1. Number and funding level for higher education.
  2. K12 test scores, class size, spending, technology infrastructure and life long learning programs.

Well, I suppose it’s good we aren’t the worst. Nevada has that spot.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/11/americas-top-states-for-business-2017-overall-ranking.html

“Schools of Hope” candidates announced

Who are candidates for Schools of Hope–93 schools that have received school grades below a ‘C’ for the past three years. What are the options: close the school, turn it into a privately operated charter or turn it into a district managed charter with all new teachers and administrators.

So where is the ‘Hope’? The legislature allocated funding for 25 of the 93 schools to help them turn around their low academic achievement. The money is to be used for after school programs, and community partnerships based on criteria that the Florida DOE has yet to identify. Unfortunately, the applications for the ‘Hope’ grants are due August 15. At stake is about $2,000 per student in additional funding.

So what happens to the other low performing schools? One in Alachua County just had its turn around plan denied. It’s principal has been dismissed. Does it now close? It’s in a rural area and has low enrollment. Part of its enrollment comes from another rural town whose school was closed a year ago. The district just gave that town the old school building. Will both rural cities try for charters to keep a local school? Think about the low finances and skimpy academic offerings these charters will have. Think about the impact of shifting these children to the closest nearby public school. We may end up with parents, who are able, shifting children all over town trying to get the ‘best’ for their children and to ‘get away’ from the influx of newly displaced children.

The consequences may be a downward spiral as families leave. What happens when there is nowhere else to go? Gainesville now has several under enrolled schools in one section of town. Who serves the families that are ‘left behind’?

If the answer is ‘charters’, what do charters do that districts can’t? Fire teachers easily. But, whom do charters hire–newly minted, unexperienced teachers who tend to leave the profession at an alarming rate.

What else can be done? Read the blog post on the Palm Beach problem. No easy answers, but we can ask better questions than the current legislature is asking.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article162592568.html

Why schools close: Palm Beach Example

The School Board in Palm Beach will close Odyssey Middle School. It is a ‘B’ school, but the ‘word is out’ it is not a good school. The enrollment has dropped in half. The building will become a charter, and the district will build a new school in a more popular area of the district.

Some blame the district. The school is in a mixed income area. Some sections are high poverty; others are middle class. The district did not do enough to satisfy requests for more advanced courses, and parents left. It would be good to know more about that side of the story.

The school opened in 2001 with a high percentage of children from low-income families. It took some time to get the discipline problems and school culture turned around, but it did. Nevertheless, it was not enough. So, Palm Beach will close a school, give the facility to a charter, and build a new school somewhere else? This is an expensive solution to a social problem. How could it have been done differently?

Hopefully, parents and communities will begin to be aware of the social and economic costs of a lack of attention to equity issues and the need for a community approach to solving them. What does this mean? It means thoughtful planning for zoning areas and program offering. It means tackling problems in areas rather than ignoring them and allowing them to get worse. It means understanding that charters don’t solve these problems. People do.

I remember when Gainesville schools were integrated. Schools located in between black and white areas tended to be closed. Some said the district did not want to have these schools integrated. Only one elementary school, located in a black neighborhood, had a zone to include students in a white area. Those white families joined together to support that school. White families are still there because the district turned the school into a magnet. Gainesville still has problems with concentrated poverty in some areas. There are glimmers of hope that the community is willing to work together to solve them.

How do you balance schools and maintain high quality programs to which all children have access? How do these more balanced schools create a school culture that is respectful, safe, and welcoming? If students are segregated by race and income, equity is lost. No easy answers to these issues, but if we don’t ask the questions, we will just see a bad situation become worse. I worry that school choice is like the ostrich who puts its head in the sand.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/palm-beach/fl-schools-odyssey-middle-closing-20170718-story.html

Superintendents Argue Before State Board of Education

Florida’s superintendents’ association argued before the State Board of Education that the Schools of Hope take hope away from districts. These ‘takeover’ schools become charters and further drain funding from existing schools. They take capital outlay funds for school maintenance and give it to privately owned charters. Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvalho estimates the cost to his district is $23 million. Even conservative rural area districts are alarmed at the impact of current State policy on their districts.

It is time the public weighs in to support our public schools. Florida’s approach to school reform is moving toward privatizing our system. In countries like Chile, where privatization was pushed by the government, there is a three tiered system. The wealthy send their children to fully private schools. The upper middle class attend voucher supported private schools. Everyone else sends children to schools with a minimum level of funding. In other words, the privatization movement simply takes the inequities we now have and makes them much worse. For most families, privatization is a disaster. There is no pretense that families should have equal access to a free high quality education.

It may seem that it is not possible to correct our course. In fact, the only way to make changes is to insist our elected officials hear what we want. It’s up to us. Make your voices heard. Don’t take our public schools for granted.

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WE FACE IS TAKING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM FOR GRANTED.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2017/7/17/superintendents_to_f.html

Gadsden Turn around

http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2017/07/17/gadsden-turnaround-plan-approved-condition-bring-charter-operator-2018/486291001/
http://www.wftv.com/news/9-investigates/9-investigates-charter-school-defends-spending-tax-money-on-commercials/548769581

A Charter Military Academy Cries Foul, You Decide

Just down the road from here, Francis Marion Military Academy received a surprise visit from Marion County school officials. What they found was alarming. The Office of the Inspector General in the Florida DOE has gotten involved. What the visit revealed was appalling. A charter school board member called the visit illegal. Is it wrong to go into a school with a history of problems? Is it wrong to discover fake classes and credits; is it wrong for students to be left alone in a locked room?

Some would think that the school was concerned that the district found out what was wrong. You can read the story in the Ocala Star Banner and find out for yourself. When is it illegal for the district to investigate a charter school?

http://www.ocala.com/news/20170713/district-report-slams-francis-marion-military-academy