Little Things Mean A LOT

For years now, small and medium sized mostly rural counties have received a little less per pupil funding than large counties.  It adds up.  Senator Hukill, Chair of the Senate Education Committee wants to fix it.  See SB 1394.

Her county, Volusia, receives .9739 for every dollar allocated for public school students.  Marion County receives even less, .9735.  Very rural counties like Calhoun and Franklin are much lower at about .93 cents on the dollar.  Across all students in the county, the funding loss can run into millions of dollars.

 

 

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Will Kentucky give up integration and go charter?

Kentucky:  United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Seven states have resisted the urge to go to charter schools.  Kentucky is one of them.  They kept bussing plans from the 1970s integration in place between the city of Louisville and its surrounding suburbs.  Yes, there was some complaining, but forty years later children are in classes with diverse socio economic and racial groups.  The latest opinion poll shows an 89% approval rating.  The Atlantic article contrasts Louisville with Detroit where charters abound.  Louisville comes out ahead, hands down.

Desegregation helped the city thrive.  Unlike Detroit, where affluent citizens fled to suburbs and bankrupted the inner city, all sorts of people and businesses flourish in Louisville.  Now their city cohesion is threatened with the introduction of three charter school bills in the state legislature.

Rep. Moffett’s bill 103 allow charters statewide but includes multiple authorizers.  This means that not just local school districts but mayors and universities or others could start a charter school.  Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate with public funds.  How is the public to know the effectiveness of charters?  If there are multiple authorizers, there will be different standards of oversight.  Some states have had charter school operators shop their ideas from one authorizer to another to find the one that will let them in.  The charter industry likes multiple chances to get started, but there are many reasons to keep the oversight and regulation of charters local and systematic.  Here is the take of one charter school proponent on why single authorizers work better.

Rep. John Carney, Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced his version of a charter bill 520 that allows only local school districts to authorize charters.  Disputes would be moderated by the State Board of Education in much the way that Florida operates.  The charters would take the same state accountability tests, follow the same health, safety, financial and transparency laws, and give priority to low income students attending low achieving schools. The staff analysis of this bill points out important concerns about sectarian and online schools, financial impact on public schools, provision for school closure as well as a major constitutional concern.

Targeting charters for low income students in struggling schools can be a trap.  Charters typically siphon off students in these areas who are more likely to succeed thus creating a downward spiral in those neighborhood schools.  It can make a bad situation worse.  The attrition rates of charters is typically high for both students and teachers.  The charter schools themselves fail at a high rate.  After all, the only ‘advantage’ of charters in those areas is that they can require teachers to work longer hours with less pay and no retirement benefits.  This is how the charters fund the extended time needed to improve student learning.  It’s all about money that is in short supply.

Bill 70 introduced by Senator Neal, would limit charters to a pilot project in Jefferson County.  The results of any pilot are clear.  They increase segregation both economically and racially, and they do not improve academic achievement.

If the educational goal is to close the achievement gap, then it will take something more disruptive than charter schools.  It will take a commitment to equity and that costs money.  Equity means that the needs of all children are addressed.

  • It likely will require more time time–a longer school day and school year.
  • It will help families and students to get access at schools to physical, mental and social support services; in other words, a community school concept where existing community services parents use are delivered in schools, not all over town.
  • School populations will be diverse in order to create a climate of possibilities.
  • Instructional strategies will have to be engaging to students with different abilities and interests.  This means that test driven curriculum and teaching strategy must yield to a more hands on, group based approach.
  • School cultures must be supportive and welcoming, not solely competitive for the next advanced class, targeted magnet, or gifted program.  Finding communalities must be as important as identifying exceptionalities.

There may be instances in which local district may benefit from the flexibility to try new instructional programs in a limited setting with a particular group of students.  Often state laws, district and teacher union regulations make these innovation programs difficult to implement.   Here in Gainesville, we have a charter that is affiliated with a psychologist’s clinic to help dyslexic children.  It is a unique approach that would not fit well in the district school, but the charter works with the district staff.  These collaborations can work but they are targeted to specific needs the district recognizes.

What does not work for schools is a whole sale ideology that private enterprise operates better than public responsibility.  In Florida, over a third of the charters operate for-profit, skim millions in self interested real estate and management scams, and compete directly with competent public schools thus weakening both the charter and public sectors.  The educational funding pie gets divided three ways, public, charter, and private tax vouchers which ensures no sector is adequately supported.

One of our mottos comes to mind:  School Choice is a Distraction, not a Solution.

Louisville’s Choice was Bussing. How did it work out?

For over forty years, Louisville Kentucky has done more than talk; it has walked the walked.  Or, maybe we should say they got on the bus.  Like many cities, Louisville faced court ordered integration back in the 1970s.  Unlike others, Louisville embraced it–after they got used to the idea.  Some opponents went to court to fight the bussing that combined inner city and suburban schools into one large district integration plan.  The district lost its case (Meredith vs. Jefferson County Board of Education) in 2006 when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of a parent opposed to bussing. But the district was not to be denied.

 

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Student Discipline: How much is too much?

Are discipline problems in schools getting worse?  If so, are they due to school discipline policies, increasing poverty, or something more subtle?  We need to think about this issue and understand the different perspectives.

Derek Thomas, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, wrote a book called:  Ending Zero Tolerance.  He makes the case that harsh discipline strategies hurt all students, not just those who are pulled out for behavioral problems.   He also points to the progress in moving away from overly harsh discipline because of federal policies that the court system helps to enforce.  Yet, the change of policies in the new federal administration, he argues, threatens that progress.

It is important to understand the differences in approach and the consequences they engender.

Jennifer Berkshire interviewed Professor Thomas, and his perspective gives voice to those that argue that how schools and communities see discipline policies is not only a racial issue, it is a community problem of long standing.   Even well intentioned communities that promote school integration may assume that schools need to maintain order for ‘good kids’ because ‘bad kids (mostly black??) are disruptive.  Such assumptions may well trigger a culture of ‘us and them’ that creates problems.

The school choice movement exploits these tendencies to label children through their zero tolerance policies implemented in many charter and private schools.  Children who have trouble conforming to any set of arbitrary rules are simply dismissed.  It is a process that instills not only fear but also results in a punitive environment that sends children back to public schools rather than helping children learn the social skills they need to acquire.  Dismissal rates are not publically reported, but public schools feel the impact. They too need to devise better strategies to help students manage their disruptive behavior.

Read the interview here.

 

 

Stop Humiliating Teachers, Help Kids Discover A Future

The New Yorker tells it like it is.  If there is a societal problem, blame teachers.  After all, if people do not behave properly, achieve well enough, shift easily from one set of societal expectations to another, then teachers did not prepare students well enough for the future.  Not so!

The solution to societal ills for so many educational reformers, Denby reports, is to bash teachers and their unions.  The reality is that no one knows how to solve the problems of persistent poverty that create some schools in which all children struggle to learn.  Attacking these schools and their teachers, instead of the poverty that creates them, makes things worse.

If teachers are given no respect, and their schools are labeled as failing, then how are students and their families to value schools and the education they offer?  Yet, children who see nothing different than the hopelessness people feel, create a survival culture for the world in which they live.  Instead, children need to see opportunities for a different life and realize what schools can offer them.

I remember my own children talking about ‘skill sets’ that they needed to carry with them to an uncertain future.  They recognized skills in other people and made them their own.  The real dilemma is how to help children know what skills they need when no one around them sees a future.

Our schools should mirror a society that offers a future that touches each child.  Then teachers can help students achieve what children  see is possible because they live in a world where these possibilities exist.  Teachers cannot create those schools; communities must.  Read Denby’s article.

Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.

 

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Rotten to the Core: Cheating Children

In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities.  The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘.  It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“.  In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations.  Not so.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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What is ‘Public’ in Public Education?

School reformers want to privatize public education ‘in the name of choice’.  Literally, it means parents should expect to find a ’boutique’ school to match their children’s needs or aspirations all for free.  If one cannot find just the right school, parents can get together and create their own using public tax dollars.  There is something lurking underneath such an idea.  It is an expectation that the individual is more important than the common good.  The ‘right’ to exclude dominates a need to include.

This line of reasoning has societal consequences.  The stronger the pull toward privatization and profit, the greater the strain on a sense of equality and justice.  This is one of those perpetual tug of wars that our democracy experiences.  The history of this power struggle is summarized in a New York Times article entitled:  Have we lost sight of the Promise of Public Schools?

This theme is central in the debate over school choice.  A collection of individual choices does not lead to an equitable system.  As our recent history has shown, our schools and neighborhoods are segregated in complex ways.  Even within a school, students are grouped into academies and academic levels more intensively than those of our youth.  Magnet schools, charters and tax supported private schools accentuate the racial, economic and achievement segregation process.  Are we simply running away from one another and/or competing for some elusive advantage we are afraid to share?

Communities are beginning to look at how they are structured. Have they become a collection of silos that have no common core?  Or, is there a sense of the ‘common good’ that actually reflects the structure of neighborhoods and the student bodies of schools?  How far along the continuum of the individual right vs. the public good have our communities moved?  It is a worthwhile conversation.  Read the NY Times article and ponder.