District-Charter Compacts

This is worth more than a glance.  You can see the impact or lack thereof, of a Gates Foundation program to improve collaboration between districts and charters.  The evaluation of this effort gives specific examples based on 23 District charter collaborations  formed across the nation since 2011.  The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report cited what was and was not accomplished and why.

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, shares an article outlining the history of school privatization….and why it matters.

The history, written by Joanne Barkan, is well documented. It centers on the backlash from desegregation, and ties it to the increasing role of the federal government in education. For example, the first federal charter school legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet nearly twenty-five years later, support for charters and vouchers is waning. The reasons are spelled out in the discussion of the following topics:

*Sowing the seeds of market based reform
*Building a movement from the top down
*Anatomy of vouchers and charter schools
*Charter school performance
*A closer look at vouchers
*Corruption and segregation
*Shifting landscape

Even in a world where facts matter less, it is possible to help people become aware of what they can lose in the ‘world of choice’.

Test Policy to Lower Graduation Rates

The State Board of Education voted to raise alternative SAT and ACT English and Algebra I test scores for high school graduation. It also eliminated the option of using the P.E.R.T. scores to meet high school FSA graduation requirements.

The argument for raising the SAT and ACT scores was that current levels are easier than the FSA levels for the same subjects. New data collected since 2016 indicate that the increase is necessary to make the difficulty levels for the FSA Algebra I and ELA Math and the SAT/ACT comparable.

The concerns are that many students who use the alternatives to the FSA are minorities, and the state graduation rates are expected to decline as a result. They are already below the 2017 national average of 84%. When the new cutoff scores are implemented in 2020, graduation rates are likely to drop approximately ten percent. No currently enrolled high school students will be affected.

Making valid comparisons of scores on different tests is always a challenge. Nevertheless, given that the FSA end of course exams are administered on a fixed schedule, it is not always possible for students who take six week credit retrieval courses or other classes with variable time lengths to sit the FSA tests. Thus, having national tests as an option for these students is helpful.

The more important concern is judging student competence. Any test is only a partial measure of students’ skills and abilities. Determining competence is a judgment. Competence is what a panel of educators and policy makers say it is. As expectations rise for what students must know and be able to do, the cut off scores on tests rise. Students deemed ‘competent’ five years ago may not make the cut now.

Florida policy makers are driving up expectations that not all students can meet and many schools do not have the resources to help students try. Policy makers and educators manipulate the numbers to meet their goals. The result is that state mandated tests weed students out; they do not bring students up.

Yet, all students and parents have the right to know how well students and schools perform and why. This ‘why’ is the elephant in the room.

Funding levels are down and expectations are up. What’s the old adage? You can’t get something from nothing? Or is it, You get what you pay for?

You can see the DOE cut scores here.

VPK Standards Up; Scores Drop

Four year old children in Voluntary Prekindergarten have to meet higher standards, particularly in math. As a result, 43% of the providers failed to meet the new standards compared to 22% in 2013. These standards have not been taught, so lower scores are no surprise. The increase in math standards requires students to count to 31; determine which is more, equal or less in sets of ten objects, and recognize circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles.

Results of the fall 2017 by county can be found here. Scroll down to the RESULTS section.

For more information about Florida’s Early Learning Program see here.

Supreme Court to hear Citizens for Strong Schools case

Today the Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the inadequate funding case for education. The plaintiffs argued that Florida’s children suffer from the failure of the State to adequately implement Article IX of the Florida Constitution. The underlying issue is whether the judicial branch can determine whether or not the quality of education in the state is justiciable. If it is not, then Article IX becomes meaningless. The quality of education would be a political determination by the legislature.

You can read a summary of the closing arguments in the case from 2016 here.

Too Funny! Charters Sue State Over School Grades

HB 7069 took PECO facility funding away from charters with two school grades below a ‘C’ in a row. Their argument? School grades are not a measure of quality! Districts have made a similar argument regarding the requirement to turn over low performing schools to charters.

An administrative judge upheld the facility funding regulation last year, and on June 5th, the appeal will be heard before a panel of three judges. There are some other concerns as well. Chief among them is the argument that the regulation should not count grades earned before the law was enacted. A lot of public money is at stake, and the DOE is scrambling to amend its regulation.

Here’s the latest story:

Charter school appeal of construction money rules set for June hearing
By Daniel Ducassi
04/23/2018 05:05 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE — A state appellate court on Monday set a June hearing date for an appeal challenging the state’s rules for determining whether charter schools are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in public construction funding.

Lawyers for Aspira Raul Arnaldo Martinez Charter School, Miami Community Charter Middle School and the Florida Association of Independent Charter Schools originally brought an administrative legal challenge to the Florida Department of Education’s changes to the eligibility rules soon after they were adopted in March 2017.
An administrative law judge last year upheld the validity of the rule, leading the charter schools to appeal.
Now the schools will get to make their case the morning of June 5 in front of a panel of three appellate judges: T. Kent Wetherell II, Lori S. Rowe and Thomas D. Winokur.
The crux of the schools’ arguments is that the new rule’s use of school grades to determine eligibility for the first time “changes the statutory definition of ‘satisfactory student achievement’ and bases it solely on the grade of the school.”

They argue that because the “satisfactory student achievement” requirement in the law should be based on individual student performance, rather than the 11 components used to determine school grades — a process they say is governed largely by the Florida Department of Education.
One of the schools received “D” grades for 2016 and 2017, while the other feared it may also earn consecutive “D” grades when it brought the challenge. Lawyers for the charter school litigants argue that the rule, which makes ineligible schools that have received an “F” grade or two consecutive “D” grades, unfairly excludes them from the funding.

But DOE lawyers argue that school grades are an aggregate measure of student achievement and “schools with consistent poor performance are in danger of closing, and it is logical for the state to restrict the use of taxpayer funds to these schools.” They also note that much of the process for how school grades are determined is laid out in state statute.

The interpretation of the rule that schools with consecutive “D” grades are ineligible is itself the subject of another administrative legal challenge. An unrelated central Florida charter school that DOE determined was ineligible for the construction money argues that a plain reading of the rule indicates education officials should be looking only at school grades going forward, and not counting previous-year performance. A hearing in that case is scheduled for next week by video teleconference in Tampa and Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, state education officials are looking to amend those very rule provisions at subject in both cases. The department is holding a workshop on Thursday about their proposed changes.

To view online:

What are Parents’ Real Choices with Schools?

Do Floridians want one school system that is equitable or several, each with its own rules? In today’s Gainesville Sun, the League asks three critical questions to help parents decide which choice to make for their schools: Who pays?, Who is in control?, and What does it matter? In an expanded system of choice, local voters are asked to pay more than the State to compensate for less funding and cost inefficiency due to expanded choices. Go to a charter and pay more in hidden fees and transportation. Go private and select a cheap school or pay the difference in tuition. Go public and worry the funding may not fix the air conditioning.

The State and private education management companies take control away from locally elected school boards. Parents lose their voices in how choice schools are owned and managed. “Don’t like it, then leave” is the response to complaints.

All of this matters. Schools are becoming more segregated by income and student ability while our nation is becoming more diverse. Student achievement stays flat in our choice system. The reason is clear; students learn better when they learn together. Isolate poor children, and they feel they have no stake in the system. Isolate high income children, they don’t learn the real world skills needed to be successful. The kids in the middle disappear; no one is thinking about them.

Students who learn only in like minded groups will be ill prepared for the diverse world in which they will work. Learning to live together starts in schools. The real choice is whether we value the diverse world in which we live or try to escape it by creating mini school clusters of like minded people. You can read the article here. It comes out under our local president’s name.

Choice IS On the Run!

When the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) agrees that choice does not improve test scores, will the legislature listen? Their report has discounted not only test scores, but also graduation rates and college entrance as valid measures of the success of the choice movement. The increase in graduation rates for all students, the authors posit, may be due to watered down standards. )The controversy over the trade off between helping students ‘pass’ vs. ensuring students have appropriate skills is not new. Credit retrieval is perhaps simply of another form.) College entrance of choice students does not correlate with college graduates. Students enter college and drop out as documented in other posts in this blog.

What metrics can be used to assess the value of school choice? Short term measures of parent satisfaction are of little use. The authors state: “The most obvious implication is that policy makers must be much more humble in what they believe test scores tell them about the performance of schools of choice”. Let’s hope that such warnings are not simply an excuse to let low performing charters and private schools continue to serve students.

Ed Week summarizes the evidence from the Brookings Institute that education and income are highly correlated, but college graduation rates in the U.S. have stagnated. There is another insight that most, in their hearts, already know. Here’s something to ponder:

“And focusing on the basics, there is clear evidence that great teachers have a impact on students. In fact, being taught by a better teacher for just one year can increase a student’s life time earnings and probability of attending college.”

It comes down to the familiar adage, you get what you pay for! As more and more students opt out of becoming teachers, a new choice will emerge. Put students in front of computers or pay for highly qualified teachers. If the legislature chooses screen time, we already know what the complaints of too much screen time are outside of school. Hmmm, excessive exposure to noise makes people deaf. Will excessive exposure to electronics make them blind??

What a Day!

A group of us from Alachua County went to Sarasota today to see student engaged learning in action. Picture middle schoolers in groups of four sitting around small tables. Each table had a computer. There was a quiet hum as the kids looked at the science or math concept of the day. They had a question to answer, related vocabulary to learn, an experiment or simulation to do, and a process to follow to arrive at an answer. They worked through the process together or individually depending on the task. Then they talked about how they solved the problem presented.

In one room they took their resting temperature and then did twenty jumping jacks, remeasured their temperatures and calculated changes to answer questions about heat and energy. In another room, they learned about probability by doing repeated ‘rock, paper, scissors’ in pairs and logged results to find patterns. A third room was studying physical and chemical changes in mass by shaking small containers with rocks and a chemical and observing, smelling and drawing changes. They weighed the changes in the rocks.

My favorite question of the day was when, in one group, a student said, “I got the answer, but I do not understand why.” The other group members explained their reasoning. The teacher summarized the different approaches the children had used to solve the problem and explained how she had approached the same problem.

The kids are not only solving some real world problems tied to the state standards, they are both physically and mentally engaged. They have been taught how to ask each other questions. They are totally engaged. The teacher goes around to each group to give a hint if needed. No one was wise cracking etc., they were too busy and interested.

All the worked is logged and tracked using hand held smart calculators synced with a computer, but only somethings are graded. The groups include different ability levels and are strategically formed to be sure they have compatible personalities. At the end of the class, every child and the teacher knew how well he/she had achieved the specific task of the day and where they needed help.

It made you want to go back to school. Public school.

Did Miami-Dade Suggest a Better Choice?

Suppose high performing districts could turn themselves into charter districts. They would be governed by the elected school board and freed from most state regulation for curriculum, facilities, and staffing. The State Curriculum Standards and assessments would be in place, teachers would be certified and be part of the State system, and school facilities would vary according to need.

The suggestion from Superintendent Carvalho is part of the draft Florida Senate bill 2508 now circulating, and an amendment P93 by the Constitutional Revision Commission member, R. Martinez. A different version of the concept was filed in the House: PCB 18-01 Will there be unintended consequences? No doubt! Is it a better direction than privatizing our schools and taking away local control from elected school boards? Yes. Is it better than what we have now with a one size fits all set of regulations? Maybe.

None of this well correct the test driven instruction due to the school grading accountability system. It will not solve the funding problem for school operations, but it might reduce facility cost. Of course, less expensive facilities may also mean less space, quality, and a proliferation of small, inefficient and therefore costly schools. The problems associated with inequity due to housing patterns remain. Problems associated with teacher recruitment are not easily solved if salaries are not competitive and teachers’ expertise is not valued. Districts will have to have the expertise and ability to make good decisions. Nevertheless, it might be a step in the right direction.

There is a difference between the House and Senate versions of this concept. The Senate keeps these charter districts under school board control. The CRC proposal P93 is more like the one in the Senate version. Both bills include many other provisions that deserve careful scrutiny.

At least this year, the legislature is airing these proposals early and getting feedback. They are, however, still tying concepts worth considering to those more controversial and destructive all in the same bill.