Something is Happening in Chicago

Chicago’s children, all children, show dramatic gains in test scores, according to a Stanford University study.

Their achievement gain from third to eighth grade was six grade levels compared to five levels nationally. Third graders also had higher scores in recent years. Chicago test scores are still about 1 to 1 1/5 below the national average, and the achievement gaps remain even though Hispanic achievement grew faster than white students.

About 49% (415) of Chicago’s schools remain zoned neighborhood schools, and most of these are elementary schools in affluent areas. Three fourths of high school students do not attend neighborhood schools. There are 265 no zone elementary schools of which 130 are charter schools. A Chicago Tribune article described the impact on neighborhoods. Choice made public schools less bureaucratic but now it is overkill; we are just competing with one another. To improve enrollment, some district schools are becoming community schools like one that includes the IB program. It now stays open on Saturdays and evenings and holds classes of interest to parents.

Some schools develop new STEM or other specialized programs to attract parents, but the effect is that other schools have a high percentage of students who struggle academically and have disabilities. An administrator asks: What is the cost for the neighborhood and for the kids who stay behind? There is a loss of social networks because children in the same area go to so many different schools. The schools they attend may not be much different from the one they left, but parents do not know. They don’t connect with one another. What they do know is that those zoned schools in affluent areas have no room for them.

The expected explanations e.g. declining population and high student retention (14%) do not account for the achievement gains, at least on the surface. Improvement happens in all socio-economic groups. The Stanford researchers call for a deeper dive into the migration of students into and out of the city. The percentage of minority groups remains the same, but are they somehow different? Do the children who struggle the most leave Chicago, thus the children who stay have, on average, higher scores? Do school choice policies have an impact? The study calls for more studies.

A lot is happening in Chicago, but we cannot explain it. Let’s hope that there will be a deeper dive into the schools. Are the children who were pulling down the scores leaving at a higher rate than others? Does leaving behind the students who struggle the most actually improve the school climate? It does not seem like this is the explanation simply because schools in affluent areas have not been impacted by poverty, and their scores are also improving.

There’s a war going on.

I gave a talk at our Education Forum this morning. It’s a different slant than I sometimes take. I talk about cheerios and TV channels. We have more of each than we need, but we continue to pay for them. What does this have to do with school policy? A lot actually. See what you think.

There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Consider also the upheaval in the 70s, when schools were desegregated. Now globalization and the loss of jobs due to technology require schools to educate children to create their own jobs.

In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.

Educational choice has been around for nearly twenty years. There are 4,000 public schools, nearly 2,000 private schools, and 652 charters all drawing on the same pot of money. In Florida, we have more choices and less money than most states. Florida is in the bottom tier, 44th in state funding for education, and the State continues to cut funding. Competition is creating a crisis.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.

At least fourteen districts have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality. These are the issues:

Local Control. Who decides how our local taxes are spent?
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.

HB 7069 also removes the federal authority given to local districts to determine how best to allocate money to help low income students. The State, not the district, now determines how federal money is allocated. This restricts districts’ ability to concentrate support where it is most needed, and it appears to violate federal law.

Equity: Is separate equal?

  1. Charter that screen and dismiss students increase economic and racial segregation even within low income areas. It becomes a have and have not system.
  2. Struggling district schools now can be closed after a year below a ‘C’ grade, but charters that take them over can stay open for five even though the school grade does not improve.
  3. Most of the state funding to help struggling schools goes to charters, not district schools. Yet, charters tend to have less experienced teachers and higher teacher turnover.

Quality: More is not better. For example,

  1. The failure to curb self-dealing corporate charter school business practices allows an excessive amount of money to go to charter real estate firms. Yes, they have their own real estate companies. To pay these leases, money is taken from teacher salaries and benefits and charged to parents for supplies.
  2. More teachers are leaving and fewer are entering the profession. The response by the legislature in HB 7069 is to reduce teacher certification requirements.
  3. There is a loss of instructional time and subject matter in order to support test prep strategies. Civics, for example is now taught one half hour per week.
  4. Choice alone does not raise achievement levels, and one-third of charters close. The money invested in is lost. Private schools do not even have to meet the public curriculum, testing or teaching standards.

    BOTTOM LINE: School choice that offers nothing new just repackages but does not improve our schools. It is not cost efficient or effective. In a system in which all choices become mediocre, everyone loses. It is time to rethink. How much choice of which types do we need? How can we redirect the conversation about school quality?

  5. Demonstrate what education should be to engage students: Passion to Teach.

  6. Support collaborative efforts to help teachers not just improve but want to join the profession.
  7. Make schools and communities mutually supportive. Find ways to better integrate pre school, after school, extra instructional time, and community activities into the schools. This is the goal of community schools like the one we are implementing at Howard Bishop.
  8. Recognize that the quality of schools and communities are intertwined. Ask: How can the community improve the schools and how can the schools improve the community? It matters where new schools are built, where and how students learn, what opportunities students have to interact with the world outside their schools.
  9. Learn about the tradeoffs of choice policies. Choice has a nice ring, and some choices truly are better for some children. But remember, more choice does not always create better choices. Ask how much is enough?

We have an example of a choice we must make right now…a mega CSUSA for-profit charter school has drafted a proposal for an 1124 student school in Gainesville. It would pull another $600,000 out of our facility budget in addition to the approximately $600,00 that will go to our local charters. It will impact every school as students shift around and take funding with them. It brings nothing new or innovative. It can discourage any child who is in any ‘different’ from enrolling and can dismiss any they find expensive or difficult to educate. In their proposal, they state they cannot compete academically with similar schools for at least five years.

Why should this ‘choice’ be imposed on our community? Wouldn’t we be better off to build our own schools and have a voice in how they are run?

Some of us have formed a PACT to help our community understand the choices that lie ahead. You can join the PACT; volunteer in schools, encourage less test prep and more activity based learning. Join the PTA and find ways to bring our schools into the community and our community into the schools.
Be aware; get involved.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

With Vouchers Parents Lose Right for Child’s Education

In this NPR interview, the plight of parents who take vouchers is exposed.  Parents explain their search and frustrating when choosing  private schools; they lose their right to have their children served.  If they are dissatisfied, their only recourse is to try a different school.  When their child has a disability, there may be no school within reach that will accept the child.  Attorney and League member Kimberley Spire-Oh provided the information leading to these interviews.

Some background on Florida public school support for students with exceptionalities provides perspective on the availability of support for these children whether in public or private schools.

Teachers certified to work with children with disabilities are scarce and tend to work for public, not private schools.  Supporting these children in private schools is expensive, and they have no obligation to accept children.  The State provides McKay Scholarships for students to attend a private school if they have an IEP or 504 program .  For students with a high level disability defined in law, Gardiner Scholarships are available.  Having the scholarship allows parents to shop in the private sector for a school.  It does not require private schools to accept those students.

Parents have the right to send their children to public schools, but not to private schools.  You can see the right for your child to be education on the Office of Civil Rights website.  An overview of the disability discrimination laws that protect children’s right to a public education are here.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the responsibilities that public schools have.

Support for educating students with disabilities is dependent upon funding.  This year funding for students in public schools from federal IDEA sources was reduced to $1,301 per student.

The Florida Department of Education website for Exceptional Student Education is located here.  State ESE funding is part of the FEFP per student funding formula and included $1,055,304,596.  Note that the funding is part of the weighted per student state allocation.  Weighting is the same for ESE students as for other students except for Levels four and five.  These students with higher level disabilities receive more intense, specialized services as defined here.

We need to do a study of the every day realities of providing support for students with exceptionalities.

The Worst of a Bad Budget

The League is adding its voice to calls for a veto of HB 7069.  Share with everyone.  We need a blitz.

The WORST of a BAD BUDGET

Florida revenue is up, but education funding has been cut.  The legislature sent a message that our schools, teachers, and students are not valued.  What’s the evidence?

House bill HB 7069:

 

 

 

 

  • Substitutes a teacher bonus system for a few rather than give all teachers a needed raise in spite of a looming teacher shortage. Teachers in most charters have lower salaries and no benefits which seems to be the attraction to many politicians even if quality is compromised.
  • Takes desperately needed local school facility funding and gives it to privately owned charters. Miami-Dade schools alone estimate an $81 million dollar loss.
  • Strips local control of low performing schools from districts and turns them over to charter chains. Then, it provides $140 million in State funds to these privately owned chains.
  • Creates High Impact Charter Systems that are independent of locally elected school boards. If things go wrong, parents must complain to Tallahassee.

The Florida House promotes school choice instead of supporting schools governed by elected school boards.  The consequences are becoming clear.  The U.S. Department of Civil Rights cited Florida for increasing segregation through its charter system.  Charters also select fewer students with disabilities and language learners.

It is time to recognize that, in the charter system, parents do not choose schools; schools choose students.  If the choice does not work, the students are ‘counseled out’.

Charters have high teacher turnover, real estate debt, and according to the national CREDO Urban Cities study, lower student achievement than comparable public school students.  After three years, Florida public school students, initially matched on test scores, clearly out performed charter students in five of seven of our cities.

Parents do have a choice to make.  Will they ask Governor Scott to veto this attempt to take over our schools?  Will they tell the legislature that our children deserve better?

Right These Wrongs, The League Says

Governor Scott is considering vetoing the entire budget as well as HB 7069, the massive education bill.  Encourage him!  (850) 488-7146.   The Miami Herald published the League call to action.

The budget:

 

 

 

  • reduces per student funding.
  • shares capital outlay with charters.  Charters already get a disproportionate amount of available state capital outlay money.  Many districts would be unable to maintain roofs and air conditioning.
  • creates Schools of Hope which are charter take overs of district schools.  The bill is acknowledged to be difficult to implement.  It gives money to struggling schools after charters take them over, not before when districts could do something to help.

Charters in Florida are not known to do as well as public schools, according to the latest CREDO Urban Cities report.  Over three years in four of six major Florida cities, public school students outperform students matched on initial achievement scores.

High performing charters in other states are known to have student high attrition.  Students who do not do well are ‘counseled out’.  Forty percent of black males leave KIPP schools between grades six and eight, according to a 2017 Ed Week report

What is the advantage of dismissing nearly half of your students?  This is the turn around Schools of Hope.  Give the funding to districts and help them succeed.  They are OUR schools.

No hope from Schools of Hope?

House Speaker Corcoran wants ‘Schools of Hope’, but those charters, like KIPP and SEED, have little interest in coming to Florida.  According to an article in Politico,  KIPP likes to recruit one grade at a time and keep those who survive their no nonsense program.  SEED is a boarding school.  Schools like these do not turn around struggling public schools, they select the more promising children and leave the rest.

 

 

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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.

 

 

The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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