Paramount Charter In Miami Closed: Obscene

How do you get the message out to parents about the lack of charter school regulation? Some charters are run well. Others have obscenities on the walls that no one washes off. When the district froze funding as an investigation by the DOE was launched at Paramount Charter, the principal took the money. The district can only do so much. Charters are privately owned and managed. It could be different. Districts could grant charter contracts and allow flexibility. They would oversee the management if the state legislature would allow it.

Read the story here:

https://www.local10.com/news/local-10-investigates/first-look-inside-nightmare-charter-school

Listen to the Voice from Our Schools

We went to visit some of our ‘low performing’ schools in Gainesville that aren’t low performing this year. We asked: What made the difference? We wrote up what our principals told us. The Gainesville Sun published our article today. The principals know what is needed. We don’t need the State to takeover our schools; we need the State to support our schools! We ask everyone to listen!

Read the article here: http://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20170707/carole-fernandez-listen-to-voices-from-our-schools

From whence we came: 1776 til now

Being in a celebratory mood, I looked up a Wikipedia article on U.S. public education in 1776. The first public and oldest existing school, Boston Latin School was opened in 1635. The first tax supported free public school was opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1639, and all northern states had tax supported elementary public schools by 1870. Tax supported schooling for girls began about 1767 in New England, but it was not universal. It’s curious that girls were often taught to read the scriptures but not taught to write!

Horace Mann became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts in 1837 and promoted the concept of ‘common’ schools. He argued that “universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into judicious, disciplined, republican citizens. One room schools became age-related grade level schools. By 1918, an elementary school education was required in all states. Just think, my dad was a little boy then.

In the southern colonies it was more common to have private tutors than schools. Some churches provided basic instruction, but the first public education systems were not started until the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. By 1900, only four southern states had compulsory education laws. My grandparents were alive then.

High schools in all states were mostly for the college bound. Even as late as 1940, only fifty percent of Americans had a high school diploma. Yet, the availability of high school and post secondary education for ordinary Americans, not just the wealthy, set the U.S. apart from the world.

The pressure for expanded educational opportunities due to changes in the American economy in 1900 are echoed in the drive for school reform today. It is reassuring in a way. The struggles are the same. The need is equally strong. The public interest will survive if our nation is to survive.

Maybe all the current dissension is just growing pains. We are, after all, a young nation. When I was born, only half of Americans went to high school. Now we are arguing about who should go to college. As the nation changes, schools change. It just is not easy dealing with adolescence.

Charter Media Hype Analysis: Inspire or Require?

This is an unusual study. It does not analyze charter schools but rather the hype in the media about charter schools. How are charters and their programs depicted in reputable newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times over a ten year period? Published in the Teachers College Record ‘Brilliant, Bored or Badly Behaved’ is illuminating.

The researchers found that media reports indicate that charter and traditional public schools serving middle income students are very similar in their pedagogical approaches. Yet, charters are depicted in a more positive way. The same media hype for charters serving low-income students exists but is more troubling. The charter hype is there, but the instruction is different and perhaps troubling.

The researchers report:

“This is not the first time that researchers have suggested that schools either treat their low- and middle-income students differently, or treat their white students and their students of color differently. As Anyon (1980, p. 90) and many others have explained, schools frequently “emphasize different cognitive and behavioral skills” and facilitate the “development in the children of certain potential relationships to . . . authority” based on students’ class and/or race. However, our study offers two new, and potentially troubling, insights about charter schools.”

  1. First, our findings suggest that charter and alternative schools’ approaches to educating low-income students and/or students of color are neither new nor progressive. Our study suggests that charter schools might very well be operating on outdated assumptions about low-income students and students of color, assumptions that were disproven long ago.

  2. Second, our study suggests that charter schools might be actively “reproduce[ing] racial categories” and class categories “while ostensibly repudiating them” (Winant, 1998, p. 762). This is especially troubling given advocates’ insistence that charter schools have the potential to close the educational achievement gap in the United States.

The study indicate that schools for middle income students emphasize abstract reasoning, critical thinking and writing skills necessary for success in college. In charters, it appears from media reports that rote learning and test prep is prevalent for low-income students. Moreover, these children are taught to defer to authority which promotes feelings of distance, distrust, and constraint.

The alternatives are teaching strategies directed toward intrinsic motivation. In other words, how do you structure activities that make children want to be involved rather than top down strategies that force compliance. The end result, the study posits could be very different.

The study is based on media reports by reliable newspapers. The conclusions raise questions, but cannot be generalized. They can, however, be examined. The issues are legitimate and important to pursue.

FLA. School Grades Out. Some wry smiles

This year everyone got smarter. I have to smile because I think of Garrison Keeler’s quip, “Everybody is above average”. Well maybe not everybody, but 57% of Florida’s schools earned an A or B grade (up from 46 percent). More than two-thirds of the schools that were being monitored through the school improvement program improved to a C or better, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The Florida DOE calculates school grades annually based on up to 11 components, including student achievement and learning gains on statewide, standardized assessments and high school graduation rate. To earn an ‘A’ schools need 62% of possible points.
 
Statewide Highlights
 
1. Elementary schools saw the largest percentage point increase in “A” schools, with 30 percent (542 schools) of elementary schools earning an “A” in 2016-17, up from 21 percent (386 schools) in 2015-16.

  1. The number of “F” schools decreased by 61 percent, dropping from 111 schools in 2015-16 to 43 schools in 2016-17.
  2. 79 percent of schools that earned an “F” in 2015-16 improved by at least one letter grade in 2016-17.
  3. 71 percent of the low-performing schools for which turnaround plans were presented before the State Board of Education in July 2016 improved to a C or greater.  
  4. Forty-eight of Florida’s 67 school districts are now graded “A” or “B,” up from 38 in 2015-16. Additionally, 50 of Florida’s school districts have no “F” graded schools in 2016-17.
     
    In the years I used to do the scoring and reporting for statewide testing programs, we always saw a drop after a new test, like the FSA, was introduced and then scores rebounded. Kids are not necessarily smarter, but they are more test savvy. So are teachers. Nevertheless, some of our low performing schools in Alachua made big gains, and I am pleased. Those schools get hit with a failing school stigma that does nothing to improve morale or the school culture for academic achievement. On the other hand, the districts can’t ignore problems that seem too hard to solve. Our schools and others like them worked hard.

Have to smile folks. Schools of Hope have just lost a lot of candidates for charter school takeover. Now, if only the legislature does not turn around and raise standards again. Give the schools and the children a chance to breathe. Maybe they could even do some project based learning that would build those critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to survive in our new economy.

Indian River Schools Lawsuit Over Shared Local Funding With Charters

Sometimes political maneuvering can come to haunt you. Indian River’s school district decided back in 2012 to share a portion of the revenue from a local sales tax initiative with their charter schools. They did not have to, but charters were only 5% of the total enrollment, and most were locally owned and operated charters. Then the world changed.

For the past two years, the Indian River School District has been in court. Local charter schools claim that money for school operations, teachers etc., that the district voluntarily provided to them is no longer adequate. Why? The charter schools’ enrollment has increased from 5% to 12%. The amount of money involved is $2 million dollars out of a total of $9 million in revenue.

The legal questions are not straight forward. By law, districts are not required to share revenue that local communities vote to provide through a sales tax or local referendum. The district agreed to share with charters when there were fewer students. Now the money involved is large enough to hurt the district schools.

The charters went to court in 2015 and won in the circuit court this year. The district is considering an appeal. At issue is at what point are there too many schools to support in an area? Should communities be forced to accept more charters even if they bring nothing new or better? Is expansion of charters for the sake of expansion a good thing?

Take a look at the Indian River charters and who they serve:

  1. Indian River Charter High School: This is a 656 student school serving about 80% upper income white students and 4% black students. It was founded in 1998.
  2. Imagine Schools at South Vero: The enrollment is about 890 students serving about 80% white, upper income students since about 2008. It was opened by what was then a for-profit management firm.
  3. North County Charter: About 321 elementary school children attend this school. They represent the county’s distribution of race and ethnicity. It is a family managed school.
  4. Sebastian Charter had 287 junior high school students who are two-thirds white and one-third Hispanic. The proportion of students on FRL is slightly higher than the district’s. They took a new school construction loan in 2012.
  5. St. Peter’s Academy is a small elementary school with about 129 black and Hispanic, mostly lower income students. It opened in 1996.

What has happened in Indian River is common in other communities. Most charters are either mostly white, mostly black or mostly Hispanic. A few are more balanced. As these schools grow, they need more money. It has to come from the same pot of money the district has. Soon, funds get tight and relationships get tense.

At some point, the State of Florida has to decide whether to curb unregulated charter growth that does not result in improving education for everyone. It makes me think of the old adage of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Clearing the Cobwebs: What’s Wrong and What’s Right?

Jeff Bryant, in Educational Opportunity Network, reports on charters across the nation. Sure some do well. Some do not. I picked up on one of his examples…Oakland, California where I was born. It’s a community where high in the hills wealthy people live. It’s beautiful up there looking over San Francisco Bay. Down below I think of the mud flats of the bay. People used to make weirdly beautiful scrap wood sculptures. People in Oakland have a very different sense of place depending upon where they live. Yet, I remember a phrase that was oft heard: Out of the mud grows a lotus.

In Jeff’s article, I found references to two reports on Oakland charters that are among the best I have read. One is an Alameda Grand Jury report on charters. The other is cited in EdSource.

Oakland schools authorize 36 charters and one is authorized by Alameda County. This is at least one fourth of the county public schools. According to the 2015-16 Alameda Grand Jury report, charters were intended to be educational laboratories where new methods could be tested. The focus shifted when the State of California took over the school system in the 90s, and schools with sub par test results were identified. Charters proliferated, not as much as in Florida, but in a more concentrated way.

The Grand Jury report found that some charters have as many as 55 more days than the public schools. The other advantage was that skills not seniority were the basis of hiring teachers. Teachers earned the same salaries in district and in charters, but many in charters worked more days.

There are costs, however, for this flexibility. The lack of oversight is one. Charters there (as elsewhere) serve fewer students with disabilities, and those they do serve have less severe and less expensive problems. There is also no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of ‘less desirable’ students who are counseled out for misbehavior of low achievement. There is no mechanism for district oversight of charters, no planning for charter growth, no ensuring of safety standards.

In Oakland as elsewhere, charters have an impact on communities. They attract students which makes some public schools under enrolled. Charters are privately owned, and facilities cost money. So they want the space in public schools they created. In Oakland, they would pay $4.73 per square foot of space. It means very different schools in the same building with the district picking up most of the cost. How are these schools different?

About one half of charter students score below the district average on state assessments. But according to these reports, even these charters ‘cream’ their students which makes them look better but does not make them academically better. Moreover, higher performing students tend to transition from district run schools to charters and lower performing students transition from charters to district run schools.

In the other half of charter students, according to the EdSource, about 40% of charter students have higher achievement levels before they enter the charter school; thus higher test scores reflect not what was learned in the charter school but the achievement levels of the students who enrolled initially. Charters are also more segregated into silos than are district schools. Is choice just making a bad situation worse for struggling students?

There is one take away from all of this that is not addressed and should be. In Oakland, there is an independent committee that reports to the citizens of the city on the district and charter schools. They cover the issues and the consequences of the choices people are making in their own city. They have a Grand Jury investigation of equity. They are pointing out that charters just formalize what is occurring in communities when lower achieving children are segregated from those children who have ‘learned how to learn’. Segregation takes many forms, none of them are cost free.

We are all asking: What Do We Do? First of all, challenge the myth that choice has no bad consequences. It is about money and comes down to who owns the real estate; it does not improve academic achievement, and it does increase all forms of segregation. It tells us, however, to look at how much time our schools spend on instruction and what kind of instruction children receive. Are we as citizens asking the right questions about our schools? Therein always lies the rub.

Appeals Court to hear Citizens for Strong Schools Case

I just received the following announcement from the Southern Legal Counsel:

Please be advised that the oral argument in the appellate case is scheduled for 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Courtroom One at the First District Court of Appeal located at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida.

If you can go, do. The League strongly supports the plaintiffs in this case.

Want to brush up on the arguments? Basically it comes down to whether or not Florida’s system is following the constitutional requirement for a uniform, safe, efficient and high quality system for ALL students.

I reviewed the closing arguments in the initial case. You can read them on the blog here:

Citizens for Strong Schools Closing Arguments

csusa

Rod Jurado of CSUSA did not like my article in the Gainesville Sun: Consequences of School Choice.  I described what is happening to local schools and neighborhoods as choices proliferate and funding decreases.  I also mentioned that CSUSA, a for-profit charter management company has submitted a proposal to Alachua County Schools.

Mr. Jurado argued, ineffectively, that charters out perform public schools.  I disagreed.  Here’s the response I submitted as a Letter to the Editor.

 

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Charter Takeover of Jefferson County Schools: Why? 

Jefferson County schools in the Florida Panhandle, will become the State’s first charter district. The takeover by the Florida Department of Education was the result of a decade long struggle to improve the schools that simply made things worse.  This latest move is a disaster for the teachers and staff.  One half will lose their jobs for reasons that have little to do with their competence.

What happened in Jefferson County, Florida to cause the State to turn the district over to Somerset, a privately run school board that is part of the for-profit Academica charter school chain?

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