A Luddite’s Lament or a Really Scary Idea?

Some ideas have such a strong appeal until they get implemented! Online learning is one of them. It seems like a practical, efficient, and flexible way to approach learning. Give a student a laptop and a series of websites and let them explore. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame came up with Summit Learning. Kansas schools embraced it. Then the students and their parents rebelled. Read why. It is one of those things that brings to mind that there can be too much of a good thing.

IS FTC College Going Rate Really Better?

The Urban Institute published a report showing a six point higher rate of college attendance for students with tax credit scholarships than for ‘comparable’ traditional public school students. There is a serious flaw in the comparison groups. The FTC group included younger and older student groups. The younger group had fifteen percent more advantaged students and the older FTC group had 23 percent more advantaged students than the public school ‘matched’ groups. Given the correlation between achievement and income, it is not surprising that the FTC group entered college at a higher rate. The fact that most of the increase was associated with private and out-of-state colleges is another clue that these students were more advantaged.

NEPC published an evaluation of the Urban Institute study. In a nutshell, the answer to which group attends college at a higher rate is…’who knows?’ The issue, as always, is the validity of the comparison groups. Here are the three concerns raised in the NEPC study.

  1. Selection bias: There were two-three times more public school students than there were private school students in the groups compared. The groups were matched on free and reduced lunch status. There is a known selection bias that can result in advantages for private school students. (This is particularly true in the FTC program because such a relatively small percentage of students remained in the FTC program for four years. The Urban Institute study did acknowledge that students who had the highest college attendance rate were Hispanic and born out of the U.S. )
  2. Higher college attendance rates could be associated with better college matching rates for FTC students.
  3. The higher college entrance rate for FTC students does not indicate college graduation. The low college completion rate for FTC students may signify that the effect of FTC participation may be null or even negative.

It is discouraging to find studies of program results being used as pawns to justify programs instead of improving student achievement.

NPE Report: One billion dollars wasted on charter startups

Valerie Strauss, education writer for the Washington Post, published a big story today. Carol Burris, the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, tracked federal startup grants in several states. In ‘Asleep at the Wheel’, she found 1,000 charter schools receiving federal start up funds either never opened, opened and then closed due to mismanagement and other reasons. Even the U.S. Inspector General’s warning about charter mismanagement was ignored by the U.S. Department of Education. 

The complete NPE report is here.

We know that similar problems have been uncovered in Florida.  See the Black Holes: Where does federal charter money go?

Controlling charter mismanagement and abuse has to be tied to the federal government’s funding authorization.  Over four billion dollars in federal start-up grants have been given to the states to open charters, needed or not.  This is the time to let your congressmen and women that they need to be better stewards of your money.

 

 

Black Holes: Where does federal charter school money go?

Federal State Education Agency (SEA) grants awarded for charter development in Florida reached $67, 644, 267 over four years.  A federal Office of the Inspector General audit could not find the money. The report stated that there was not “a reliable universe of charter schools that received and spent funds”.  The Florida Charter School Division awarded the funds to the charter school startups but had no mechanism to track them.  It is no wonder that charter schools open and close so fast.  Operators can receive up to $300,000 just to open a charter, and there is no way to find the money if they suddenly close.

No doubt that making laws is easier than finding funds to implement them properly.  Reaffirming that the public interest is more important than the financial opportunities for legislators and their supporters cannot be ignored.  Districts need to be empowered to monitor and correct charter mismanagement.  The Commission on Ethics needs some teeth so that it will sting when violations occur in the legislature and other public entities.   The Miami Herald’s series on “Cashing in On Kids” outlines the problem.  It is time to curb for-profit management of schools. Other states have done so.

“Hopeless” School Expansion

Governor DeSantis announced he plans to expand charter schools into 247 federally designated Opportunity Zones. These charters would fall under a revision of the current Schools of Hope legislation. They can open within a five mile radius of a persistently low performing public school without district approval. There were 53 persistently low performing schools in 2018.

The change in the Schools of Hope legislation to Opportunity Zones would mean that a charter could open without district approval in any of 247 federally designated low income areas in Florida even if there was already a school that was not low performing. The financial incentive for opening these charters is a tax break on real estate. But then, real estate investments are the motive for a majority of charter school owners…nothing new there.

There are four ‘high performing’ charter companies qualified to open these schools:  Democracy Prep; KIPP New Jersey; IDEA, and Somerset.  Somerset is a subdivision of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company.  

These schools post high achievement for the students who survive.   Here are some articles about the reasons why:

Are IDEA Charter Schools a Good Idea for Austin?

IDEA is a no nonsense selective charter school that admits students with no discipline problems. It has a grade retention policy for students who struggle. Of those in Austin, Texas who started ninth grade, at best 65% graduated. They serve primarily Hispanic students. A report on IDEA is here.

Democracy Prep had its origins in Harlem, New York. This chain has a high student attrition rate, but it does add some new students as others drop out. It boasts high percentage of students entering college, but a low college completion rate. The percentage of ninth graders remaining until high school graduation is shown in the graph below.

KIPP charters are also ‘no nonsense’ charters. They have a relatively high fifth grade retention rate, and as students drop out, they are replaced by higher achieving students.

One of the founders of KIPP was discharged due to allegations of sexual misconduct against a student and a staff member. A study of KIPP attrition was done by EducationNext.

Somerset is a group of Academica charters based primarily in Miami. It was the only management company to bid on the takeover of Jefferson County schools in 2017-18. The latest school grade report shows an improvement from a ‘D’ to a ‘C’.

Paying for Someone Else’s Choice

by Sally Butzin

Family Empowerment Scholarships help parents make a choice you pay for. There is a logic disconnect in this idea when there is no guarantee that the choice parents’ make is even a good choice. Read Sally’s article in the Tallahassee Democrat. She is a League member who is taking an active role in monitoring the legislative bills coming from this session. This is a bill that is contrary to all who support public education believe.

Voucher Supporters and Opponents Coming Forward

Interesting to see how the religious communities view vouchers. The Catholic church supports them. The Florida Council of Churches is opposed. Reverend Russell Meyer was quoted in a Florida Phoenix article. He stated that there should be the same accountability standard for all schools. Teachers should be certified. He further said that there should be one standard of accountability for all schools supported by public money. I could not agree more. See the article here.

New Voucher Bully Bill Filed

Senator Diaz wants more victims of bullying to go to private schools. Last year, only 126 of 212 applications were approved. The new bill, SB 1410 allows parents to go to Step Up for Students and file a claim. No verification of the claim by the school district would be necessary.  The bill also provides for a transportation scholarship.

These are the 2018 Hope scholarships that sales taxes from new car sales fund. Of course the other voucher bill that Governor DeSantis proposed allows anyone to get a voucher whose family income is under 260% of the federal poverty level….let’s see, that’s any family of four earning less than about $63,000 dollars.  No pretense for serving the poor any longer.  The Florida constitution does not matter much either evidently.