Reward and Punish Gone Amok?

Where you and with whom you eat is one school’s answer to improving its graduation rate. Florida’s top down, test driven education policy rewards those who succeed and punishes those who fail. Bonuses go to schools with high grades and teachers whose students have high test scores. If you are stuck in a low income neighborhood, the state provides a charter school so you can get away from ‘those’ kids who are struggling. Or, parents can send their children to a magnet school so they be in a program with kids ‘like’ them. It all sounds so logical. Children most definitely need to be challenged and have positive feedback for their accomplishments.

Hudson High School in Pasco County has taken this policy to extremes. Children who are not on track to graduate must eat in the school cafeteria. Children who are successful get wrist bands that allow them to leave campus during lunch. Take a picture in your mind of the two groups..one mostly poor and minority, with many children with disabilities, and the other the opposite.

Policies at the extremes have extreme consequences. We need a better balance.

Buy a Car–Send a child to private school??

If a child is unhappy at school, should the state pay tuition to a private school? HB 1 filed by Representative Donalds would do just that. The bill would support the transfer to another school, public or private, for students claiming harassment or other threats or intimidations. Tuition payments would be paid for by sales taxes collected on motor vehicles!

Interesting that Representative Donalds is the spouse of Erika Donalds, the Collier County School Board member is sits on the Constitutional Revision Commission. She has filed several amendments to restrict local school board control and to support school choice.

CRC Education Amendments ATTACK K12 Public Schools

The Constitutional Revision Commission members are filing amendments to the Florida Constitution. Four general categories include:

Remove local control of school boards CRC Member Erika Donalds, a pro choice Collier County School Board member, would remove these local options that districts now have by:
1. P43: Requiring term limits for school board members
2. P33: Requiring appointed superintendents
3. P32: Preventing salaries for local and state school board members

Privatization of Public Schools
1. P45 Donalds: Cannot limit the legislature from providing other educational services in addition to the system of free public schools

Remove restriction on Separation of Church and State
1. P59 Johnson: Article IX Section I that prohibits state funds for religious schools would be amended to eliminate restrictions on public funding for educational services at religious entities.
2. P4 Martinez: This ‘Declaration of Rights’ amendment removes prohibition in Article I Section 3 on funding for church, sect, religious denomination or sectarian institution

Expand Charter Schools
P.71 Donalds: Charter Schools Authorization. The amendment gives the legislature free rein to increase or otherwise change current authorization of charter schools to other entities than school districts, municipalities, businesses, colleges/universities

School Operation
P. 10 Gaetz: Require Civics literacy
P. 82 Heuchan: Require schools cannot open before seven days before Labor Day.

State University System
P. 25 Plymale: Establish Community College System
P. 44 Washington: Require minimum vote threshold for tuition and fee increases.
P. 70 Keiser: Tuition and fee waivers for certain members of the military and/or spouse and children
P. 60 Johnson: Bright Futures scholarship and Public Student Assistance Grant funding mandates and qualifications
P. 57 and P. 49, P. 16 Kruppenbacher and Gainey: Death benefits for survivors of first responders etc. that equal tuition and fee costs for post secondary education.

I will provide an analysis of the implications of the PK12 amendments in the weeks ahead.

Beware of Koch Messengers Bearing Gifts in Florida

The Koch brothers latest strategy is to target Hispanic families, according to Politico. They call it the Libre Initiative, and they were recently in Collier County. Hispanic families in south Florida have the largest percentage of students in charters and tax credit scholarship programs.

The billionaire Koch brothers have a long and intensive interest in promoting school choice through their Americans for Prosperity. They are concentrating on Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Their presence takes many forms. Watch for everything from donations to school board races, charter and voucher expansion efforts and state election campaigns. In Florida, the November 2018 constitutional amendments already filed to attack school boards and eliminate the Article IX provision for a unified school system have already been filed by Erika Donalds, a CRC member from Collier County. She openly supports choice while serving on the Collier County school board.

Americans for Prosperity hosted House Speaker Richard Corcoran in Collier County as part of Corcoran’s Blueprint for Freedom tour of Florida. This is a well organized effort, both the targeting to families and the showcase events are slick.

There is something about billionaires trying to control public schools that just does not compute. Yet, the influence of money can suffocate reason if we are not alert. Are you holding local events to send a more constructive message to support the public interest?

NPR: Grading Charter Schools…Did NPR make the grade?

I love NPR, most days. When it comes to charter schools, however, I wonder where their objectivity is. On Innovation Hub this morning, Kara Miller’s guests were David Osborne and Chester Finn. Both have written books advocating for school reform. Miller did ask questions that reflected criticisms about charters, but accepted their responses with no follow up. Where were the knowledgeable experts on the negative impact of charters on communities? Where was the discussion about the profiteering? Where was the admission that few charters are innovative and most duplicate what already exists?

The end result of the interview was the usual propaganda that if only there were more and better charters, education would improve. At least there was a reluctant admission that school choice had no substantive impact on school achievement. I took a few notes on the other questions asked.

Political support for charters was one of the most interesting and perhaps revealing questions asked. Conservative Republicans support charters for other people, not themselves. Their suburban district schools are good, and charters help their children the least of all. Liberal Democrats, many of whom are from urban districts are no longer so supportive of charters, even though charters are supposedly helping those children the most.

The switch in allegiance by Democrats was attributed to the fact that the teacher unions realized that charter teachers were not joining the union, so the charter movement lost union support. The fact that charter teachers sign ‘at will’ contracts and can be fired for no reason was not mentioned as a reason those charter teachers did not join unions.

Could it be that parents and educators in areas where charters have proliferated are best equipped to recognize their shortcomings? Parents want the best for their children, but resegregation and the destruction of whole communities may be tempering enthusiasm. Parents may be recognizing that pulling out a few children for special treatment may turn out not to be so special. Their political representatives are listening.

Charters have made no significant academic improvement based on test scores was acknowledged. Some cities are purported to have been successful e.g. Boston. Their success was attributed to the small number of charters that met stringent authorization qualifications. In too many other places, such as Dayton, Ohio, anyone can open a charter and the quality can be abysmal.

Improvements in district-run public schools is the rational for providing competition from the charter sector. Osborne did slip in a comment about more district operated charters are likely in the future. This option is worth exploring. This could result in better authorization standards and oversight.

Charters pull money away from district schools was denied. I loved this response. If districts are under enrolled, the district should get creative and lease out the building to charters. If that is the best example of creativity, charters have a long way to go to make their case.

The ‘creaming of students’ charge was given short shrift. Beware of slipping into worst case scenarios arguments was the response. To be fair, they did state that a good school is not enough. The example of the trauma that children experienced from the aftermath of Katrina was cited as a need for more support.

The conclusion was that achievement is not getting better fast enough. David Osborne admitted that test scores are not the sole indicator of good schools. What should be used? Graduation rates, parental opinion, and qualitative assessments by independent evaluators…..sounds expensive. This argument, I believe, may be the weakest of all. The premise that evaluation will drive instruction is wrong headed. It is not working….school grades don’t improve schools; they destroy them.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Send comments here: wgbh.org Innovation Hub

Segregation: Is the federal government to blame?

Did the federal government end segregation of schools while at the same time promote segregation? How could this be?

In this Education Votes article, Sabrina Holcomb presents Rothstein’s arguments that federal housing policy created the current educational policy crisis. In ‘The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America’, Richard Rothstein is provocative. It is worth a minute to read the Education Votes summary. It focuses our attention on what needs to change to reduce the inequities that our schools are supposed to overcome.

It is clear that attempts to overcome the housing segregation that occurred due to federal housing loan policies dominate our school systems. School choice is one of the most dramatic examples. Charters that siphon off and divide minority neighborhoods are a direct result of trying to find an inexpensive alternative for families to ‘escape’ the low income, educationally disadvantaged schools that federal policy created. They are also a way for some higher income parents in other neighborhoods to maintain their advantage. The emphasis on magnet programs to fill under enrolled schools is also related. Wholesale tracking of students into advanced and gifted programs is another unintended consequence. So, what can be done?

You can’t pick up and move homes. Moving children around is sometimes so time consuming and expensive that it creates as many problems as it solves. Some localities are experimenting with incentives to promote more economically diverse housing options. Others suggest that schools must solve the inequities that communities produce. Online education advocates promote packaged instruction that does not create the student engaged, project based interdisciplinary instruction that motivates students. We do need some sort of learning networks, however. What could these be like both within and across schools and community partners? How can entire communities pull together to support a positive learning environment for all kids? How can real estate developers, local governments, education and social service systems work toward common goals?

Isn’t this what we should be talking about? The first learning network that comes to my mind is one where those communities that are working toward a collaborative vision can learn from one another. Hmmmm, the Integrative Communities blog. Know of one? Surely some exist in the city planning world.

Facilities and Fresen: What a cozy arrangement

You know that former Florida Representative Erik Fresen is going to jail. In this Palm Beach Post article, some other facts about this champion of for-profit charter schools are revealed. Not only did he fail to file his income tax returns for his eight years in office, he:

  1. was a lobbyist for Academica, the for-profit charter chain that his sister and brother-in-law run.
  2. earned $150,000 a year as a consultant for Civica which is the land use company that builds charter schools for
    Academica.
  3. fast tracked the bill to force local districts to share the tax money they received with charters and then capped
    the amount of funding districts could raise.

The education crisis Florida faces that has resulted in a major lawsuit filed against State and is a direct result of the influence peddled by a man who now is going to jail. What remains to be seen is how the current legislature responds.

Signs of Stress: Is school policy hurting kids?

Are there connections between school policies and children’s stress symptoms or is it just peer relationships that cause anxiety? Anne Hartley posted an article about the expansion of Rocketship Charter Schools in California. A physician responded to the article by citing the medical problems the children he sees from another Rocketship school. What is it about this school that contributes to the problems these children are experiencing?

The test driven curriculum can create stress in any school. It may be, however, that no nonsense discipline problems may escalate the stress reactions. Some children simply leave these schools.

Edushyster posted some examples of how teachers are coached to maintain control of everything a child does in school. What is curious is that the teachers are controlled in the same way. In this article, a teacher describes the training. It is unreal. Trainers sat in the back of the class and told her what to say and how to respond to children. She had an earphone, and they used walkie talkies.

This is worth taking some time to read. Variations of this no nonsense approach are used by many charter schools e.g. KIPP and Success charters. This approach goes way beyond the ‘Do what I say or face punishment’ approach to teaching and learning. This teacher had to say to herself “I am not Tom Brady”. Read the article to find out why.

Teaching is more than a job!

Bart Nourse, film producer of Passion to Teach, shared his thoughts on the real solution to improving teaching and learning. He gives a goal to work toward i.e. steps toward making teaching a true profession.

Bart says:

I still believe the ‘upstream’ factors (professionalism in teaching and intrinsic motivation in learning) matter more than the ‘downstream’ stuff (testing and assessment regulations).  That having professional teachers, as members of a true profession, gets and keeps the right people on the bus (Jim Collins, Built to Last; From Good to Great).  Only then can the bus gather up and move students along the ways of intrinsic motivation to the destination of learning for life.

Nine elements of a true profession follow.  Rather than strengthening these, we are now weakening them (i.e. most of them; some do not exist.)  That will keep teaching in the U.S. “just a job.”  How different from Singapore, where “teacher” means “nation builder.”  How different from Finland, where teachers operate (for the most part) autonomously.  The nine:
1.     Specialized, prolonged education at training schools
2.     Apprenticeship
3.     Examinations
4.     Certification to practice
5.     Continuing professional development
6.     Full-time occupation
7.     Establishment of associations:  national, state, local
8.     Self-regulation of occupation:  powers to set the “rules”
9.     Code of professional ethics

Schools Without Rules: Winners and Losers

Do children learn in unregulated private schools? If so, why have rules for any schools? These are billion dollar questions. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program now garners about a billion dollars in redirected corporate tax rebates and other beverage license fees to educate children in private schools. Bottom line response to the ‘Who learns?’ question is that eleven percent of the FTC students gain twenty percentage points on a nationally standardized test, and eleven percent lose twenty percentage points. Most FTC children do about the same as others.

Who are the winners and losers?

Stories like ‘Schools without Rules’ that focus on children who are being short changed are heart breaking. Supporters for the FTC program, however, push back with counter charges and citizens are faced with yet another obfuscated argument to unravel. The important questions are about the best way to help children learn. These are the questions that remain unanswered in the school choice debate.

What do we really know about the FTC program?

WHO ARE FTC SCHOLARSHIP CHILDREN? Most FTC children are Hispanic (38%) and (83%) attend religious schools. While the FTC scholarships were originally designed to offer low-income families a better alternative, the reality is quite different. They tend to come from high performing public schools. Only twenty-five percent were previously enrolled in a public school with ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade. The income level requirement continues to be raised thus redirecting the FTC scholarships to less needy families.

FTC participation drops off after third grade.

HOW ARE FTC SCHOOLS EVALUATED? The FTC children are not required to take state tests or follow state curriculum. They take a nationally normed test that cannot be compared to the Florida Standards Assessments.

HOW DO REQUIREMENTS DIFFER? Teachers and principals are not required to be certified. Required background checks are not adequately supervised. Facilities are not required to meet public school standards.

HOW DO STUDENTS FARE ACADEMICALLY? Eleven percent of students gain more than 20 percentage points and eleven percent lost more than twenty percentage points compared to the results on the national tests. Those who leave tend to be students who struggle the most. They tend to be further behind academically than before they left their public schools.

Students who stay in the FTC school four or more years are slightly more likely to enroll in community college, but not graduate, than students who were eligible for FTC scholarships but did not attend. Successful students tend to be enrolled in Catholic schools and/or are foreign born. The more successful schools are those that were in existence prior to 2002. Private schools with a high percentage of FTC students tend not to be successful.

It is important not to overgeneralize results of studies. Based on the reports from the private school sector, however, it would appear that FTC students, in general, have little to gain and much to loose by attending these small, religious schools. The public, however, may have the most to lose. When funds are siphoned off in unproductive ways, everyone loses.