A Serious Look at Testing or at School Culture?

Rep. David Simmons, the chair of the Florida Senate Appropriations sub committee on Education wants a serious look at way to reduce over testing.  What is over testing?  Is it all the prep testing that goes on prior to the state tests?  On the other hand, is it too many redundant state or national tests e.g. requiring students to sit the FSA and the SAT if they are going to college?  Or, is it requiring students to take a state test like the FSA every year?  There is another way to look at over testing.  Perhaps it is a way to avoid looking for solutions.

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Is a war brewing over education? Be there!!

The Tampa Bay Times reported that a bi-partisan panel of legislators voiced support for teacher pay raises and less testing in schools.  Even  more surprising was the opinion that all there should be more equity in school accountability for public schools, charter schools and private schools.  This has been a major issue in the League of Women Voters  arguments that all schools that receive state funding directly or indirectly through tax credit vouchers should meet the same testing and accountability standards.

Who is supporting public schools?  Is there a war brewing?

 

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Time is Money or Maybe Not!

wrist-watch-941249_640Suppose you are a really good teacher and can prove it.  You notice that a neighboring district has a pay for performance plan where high quality teachers with less experience earn more money than average teachers with more experience.  Would you change districts?  In today‘s Gainesville Sun, a local economist, Dave Denslow, summarized a study by Barbara Biasi, a Stanford graduate student, who compared school districts in Wisconsin that used a ‘pay for performance plan‘ with districts that did not.   The result?

 

 

 

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Pay For Charters that Do Not Succeed?

priority-1714375_640The 2015 Florida legislature tied charter capital outlay funds to their academic success.  Charters have privately owned school facilities paid for from public funds.  The new rules would disallow facility funding not only for charters that have consecutive failing grades but also for those with consecutive ‘D’ school grades.  The rule affects thirteen charters with consecutive ‘D’ grades.  Charter owners are protesting. An administrative judge has agreed with them, and they will get their money.  How much?  $408,500 since school began this fall.  Multiply it out and it would be over a million and a half dollars per year for 13 schools.

Let’s think about this.  Charters located in low income areas are given more facility money.  Public schools facility funding located in the same areas has steadily declined for years.   If the State shifts money from publically owned schools to privately owned failing charters, who wins?  Not the children.

Suppose a charter operating in the same neighborhood has a higher school grade than the local public school.  Is the charter doing a better job?  Or, do they enroll fewer children with learning disabilities?  Do they dismiss children who do not ‘fit their school norms’.  Do they draw the children from families at a higher income level?  It is no secret that if you want a higher performing school, select higher performing students to begin with.  This is a process called ‘creaming’.  These schools do not make students better, the students make the schools better.

What does make students better?  more time in school, tutors, support services, and good teachers and principals

Giving charters rent money is a much cheaper way to go.  The problem is that nothing changes for most kids who need a place to go.  School choice just moves children around; they go in circles leading nowhere.  We could fix this.

 

 

 

 

It is Time to PUNCH

child speakingWe can continue to feed information to the public about the destructive impact of ill thought out school choice policies.  There is a danger, however, that we are simply preaching to the choir.   Those who should be aware may not be tuned in.

Our strategies to increase awareness must be more diverse.  What would prompt your neighbor, colleague, fellow parent to tune in?

It is logical that busy people preoccupied with families and jobs will respond to calls for action if they recognize the urgency and the possibility for a positive impact. 

I am working on a set of ‘headlines’ and slogans that communicate the immediacy of the need to preserve our public schools.   What do we value about our public schools?  What are the threats to public education?  Which solutions do we propose?

Can we come up with short, single sentences that encapsulate a need or something you value.   Then we can refer people to more in depth analyses and ways to respond.

Let’s see:

  • Vouchers segregate, not integrate schools.
  • Vouches for the poor pay for poor quality schools.
  • Vouchers help the rich get richer.
  • Private schools get public money with no strings attached.

OR

  • Public schools innovate, charters stagnate.
  • Public schools invite students in; charters counsel them out.
  • Charters profit from students; public schools invest in them.
  • When housing patterns limit access to quality education, fix it!

OR

  • School choice means all schools are under funded.
  • Teaching, not testing helps students learn.
  • We need more time, not more testing.
  • School choice is a distraction not an option to improve learning.

You get the idea.  Send me your captions and communication strategies.  We will hone them and use them to target issues.  We will discuss these at the League’s Orlando leadership conference in January.

 

 

 

 

 

North Carolina Gutting Public Education

cash-burningNorth Carolina has just elected a new governor; will it mean a better direction for public schools?  In this article,    Jeff Bryant from Alter Net takes on the scramble for cash to fund public schools.  A shortage of funding is only part of the puzzle.  The impact of charters on the efficiency of funding for schools is looming large.  The open enrollment policies states are enacting cause a financial planning crisis for public schools.  Not only is it difficult to estimate how many students may shift from one school to another within a district, students now are moving across district lines to charters.  Districts have to send tax dollars to charters whose students may come from somewhere else.

The issue gets more complicated as charters managed by out of state private companies grows.  Many of these are for-profit companies seeking to expand into lucrative markets.  Making money is important to these folks.  Bryant cites work done by Pat Hall and Sue Legg of the Florida League of Women Voters to explain were the profits come from.  Think real estate.  Then Bryant goes on to summarize work by University of North Carolina law professor Tom Kelley who questions the legal and tax implications of these practices.

It is time that we the people take notice.  As my colleague Pat Drago says, ‘School Choice is a diversion, not a solution.’

 

Monroe County: Secret Roadmap to Resegregation

key-west-205599_640Is it a plot or just unintended consequences of an ill thought out education system?  In this article, the ways in which Monroe County–Key West — schools are segregated are spelled out.

It is worth reading to see how an insidious resegregation of schools has evolved.  Of course, charter schools are part of the problem.  Things came to a head when a proposal for a new charter was presented to the school board.  Board member Andy Griffith erupted and asked:  How do we know this is not just another white flight school?

Charters are not the only way to resegregate schools.  Read about the:

  • School bus route trick
  • Charter school trick
  • Student tracking trick
  • No black teachers trick

The journalists ask if there is not a better way.  What is happening to schools in this community is not good.

Florida Senate Education Leaders Provide a Balance?

legislation1Senate President Joe Negron has announced his Education Committee members.  They appear to share a broader spectrum of interests than those in the Florida House.  The Senate Education Committee Chair will be Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Volusia County.  Volusia supports public schools and has relatively few charter schools.

 

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Education Law Center Tells What to Expect and What to Do

child speakingIf the Trump administration follows through on its pledge to gut public education, and the appointment of DeVos indicates it might, then it is time to circle the wagons.  Read the Education Law Center proposals on how to fight back.  In a state like Florida, we must take the case to the people; too many legislators may not listen.

 

 

 

 

What’s at stake?

  1. Civil rights enforcement; accelerated segregation

  2. Less funding for already underfunded public schools.

3. Ignoring needed charter management reform to control self dealing.

4. Shift of $20 billion in federal Title I funding from low income public schools to private sector charter and religious schools.

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November 29, 2016
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BUILDING FIREWALLS: PROTECTING PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE TRUMP ERA

By David G. Sciarra

With the selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Donald Trump has made good on his promise to do everything possible to undermine and weaken America’s public education system. President-Elect Trump made few promises about his education agenda during the campaign, but what he did promise – $20 billion in federal funding taken from public schools to be used for private and religious school vouchers – foreshadowed his pick of a conservative billionaire who has donated considerable sums to promote charters and vouchers at the expense of the public schools and the children they serve.

Ms. DeVos’s track record in Michigan provides a clear picture of her priorities as Education Secretary. She and her husband have funded campaigns to increase the number of charter schools, including for-profit charters, especially in high poverty communities such as Detroit and Flint. They have funded this effort despite the fact that Michigan’s expansive charter sector is among the least accountable and worst performing in the nation. Ms. DeVos also bankrolled an attempt to bring vouchers to Michigan, but those efforts were stymied due to a constitutional amendment passed in 1971 prohibiting public funding for private schools.

The bottom line is this: the Trump Administration will do nothing to support public education across the country. Instead, federal funding will be used as a carrot, or perhaps a stick, to force states to accelerate the unregulated growth of charters and expand existing voucher programs or enact new ones to facilitate the flow of tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools and other private providers.

What we can also expect is a wholesale retreat from federal enforcement of civil rights protections for vulnerable student populations, from LGBTQ to ELL students. In short, it is not an exaggeration to call the Trump-DeVos education agenda an all-out assault on our public schools, the centerpiece of which is the diversion of billions of dollars from public education to private spending.

What can the vast majority of Americans who care about public education do?

This is a good time to remind ourselves that public education has always been – and will continue to be – the obligation of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This obligation is embedded in the guarantee of a public education in state constitutions. It is the states, not the federal government, that control access, quality, governance, student rights and the bulk of funding for their public education systems.

A storm of policy and public relations to promote educational inequity and disparity across the nation will emanate from Washington under the new administration. But if we turn our full attention to the states, we can – and must – energize existing coalitions and campaigns of parents, educators, students and community organizations to protect and defend the public schools. Let’s start now to erect state and local firewalls to safeguard our schools.

Here are a few ways we can begin:

1) We must press our congressional delegations to oppose the Trump anti-public education agenda, starting with the DeVos appointment but continuing to block other proposals, from dismantling the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to diverting Title I funding for vouchers under the guise of “portability.”

2) If a state constitution prohibits the use of public funding for other purposes, it’s time for advocates and activists to get ready to stand behind it. Some state constitutions contain such prohibitions or have been interpreted by courts to do so. If state law is unclear, it’s time to propose a law to “lockbox” and protect public school funding. Most states already underfund their public schools, and what our children don’t need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools.

3) This is the right time to start state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students, especially low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and students of color.

4) Legislative campaigns for charter school reform must be reinvigorated. In many states, an overhaul of charter school laws is long overdue to ensure full accountability with regard to student access and school performance, as well as the use of public funds. Segregation of students based on disability, the need to learn English, academic risk or other factors must be fought in statehouses, including moratoriums to prevent funding loss and student segregation resulting from uncontrolled charter growth.

5) We must review state-level student and civil rights protections and develop an agenda to strengthen that critical framework. This must include enhancing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws; school discipline reform; open admissions for homeless children, youth in foster care, and un-documented students; and other measures to safeguard the rights of students.

On the one hand, a Trump Administration offers the opportunity to join the many advocates laboring to ensure equal and quality education for all children in their states, often in extremely challenging political environments. On the other hand, Trump’s election is a wake-up call about a fundamental, enduring lesson: education equity advances or regresses primarily through state action on funding, essential resources and programs, and students rights. Actions taken by the federal government, even those intended to promote equity in the states, can only go so far. And sometimes those actions impede progress.

Let’s not get distracted by “inside the beltway” prognostications or rarefied debates over how bad things may be. Those of us working in the states know what’s coming. It’s time to renew and redouble efforts to protect public education in our states and communities. Millions of children are depending on us.

David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center, where he serves as lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation and directs ELC’s advocacy on behalf of the nation’s public school children.

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel

Policy and Outreach Director

skrengel@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 24

 

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