Racist Rant or Reality Speak?

What are the driving forces behind school choice and privatizing education? In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers points to Betsy DeVos. Gartner says school choice is about “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and homophobia”. Harsh words flying about.

For those of us who lived first hand through the integration of schools in the early 70’s, it’s impossible not to recognize all of those ‘isms’ that Gartner uses. We heard them and felt them. There’s no doubt that some groups now capitalize on somewhat ‘buried’ feelings of those who use choice to escape integration. There’s simply more to it.

Money comes to mind. Choice was supposed to save money. The private sector, according to some, could drive down costs. How? Breaking the teachers unions, for one. Unions have helped keep teacher retirement and health benefits. Charters and voucher progrBams don’t have to provide benefits, and most do not. School facilities are expensive, and the private sector can build them without directly going to taxpayers. The cost for facilities is hidden from the public unless people look at the financial audits. The money going into charter facilities comes out of teacher salaries and benefits and, of course, fewer services to students.

I go back to my professional life when I worked on critical thinking and problem solving skills. Sometimes there is no single correct answer to a question. Racism and all those other ‘isms’ are real for some people. Profiteering using fear tactics is also real. Simple greed is real. The answer to some of those critical thinking questions was often ‘All of the above”. Didn’t you really dislike those types of choices? Nevertheless, in real life, sometimes they are the correct answer. And then you ask, ‘Now what’? I have some possible answers, and I would like your suggestions.

Washington Post Blasts Florida’s Chaotic Educational System

Valerie Strauss tells it like it is. She lists the educational mess caused by Florida’s reform policies culminating in the passage of HB 7069:

  • loss of district facility funds to charter schools
  • ‘Schools of Hope’ that are required to fire teachers and administrators
  • State seizure of local school board authority
  • High charter closure rates and incidences of scandal
  • Private school tuition from tax credits for corporations with no consequences for lack of student achievement

The article by Valerie Strauss goes on to cover testing and accountability policies, teacher bonus programs, and perhaps even more strange, the request to the federal government to stop reporting achievement gaps.

Here’s the link to the article in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/22/floridas-education-system-the-one-betsy-devos-cites-as-a-model-is-in-chaos/?utm_term=.0cb978c6651f

“Schools of Hope” candidates announced

Who are candidates for Schools of Hope–93 schools that have received school grades below a ‘C’ for the past three years. What are the options: close the school, turn it into a privately operated charter or turn it into a district managed charter with all new teachers and administrators.

So where is the ‘Hope’? The legislature allocated funding for 25 of the 93 schools to help them turn around their low academic achievement. The money is to be used for after school programs, and community partnerships based on criteria that the Florida DOE has yet to identify. Unfortunately, the applications for the ‘Hope’ grants are due August 15. At stake is about $2,000 per student in additional funding.

So what happens to the other low performing schools? One in Alachua County just had its turn around plan denied. It’s principal has been dismissed. Does it now close? It’s in a rural area and has low enrollment. Part of its enrollment comes from another rural town whose school was closed a year ago. The district just gave that town the old school building. Will both rural cities try for charters to keep a local school? Think about the low finances and skimpy academic offerings these charters will have. Think about the impact of shifting these children to the closest nearby public school. We may end up with parents, who are able, shifting children all over town trying to get the ‘best’ for their children and to ‘get away’ from the influx of newly displaced children.

The consequences may be a downward spiral as families leave. What happens when there is nowhere else to go? Gainesville now has several under enrolled schools in one section of town. Who serves the families that are ‘left behind’?

If the answer is ‘charters’, what do charters do that districts can’t? Fire teachers easily. But, whom do charters hire–newly minted, unexperienced teachers who tend to leave the profession at an alarming rate.

What else can be done? Read the blog post on the Palm Beach problem. No easy answers, but we can ask better questions than the current legislature is asking.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article162592568.html

Why schools close: Palm Beach Example

The School Board in Palm Beach will close Odyssey Middle School. It is a ‘B’ school, but the ‘word is out’ it is not a good school. The enrollment has dropped in half. The building will become a charter, and the district will build a new school in a more popular area of the district.

Some blame the district. The school is in a mixed income area. Some sections are high poverty; others are middle class. The district did not do enough to satisfy requests for more advanced courses, and parents left. It would be good to know more about that side of the story.

The school opened in 2001 with a high percentage of children from low-income families. It took some time to get the discipline problems and school culture turned around, but it did. Nevertheless, it was not enough. So, Palm Beach will close a school, give the facility to a charter, and build a new school somewhere else? This is an expensive solution to a social problem. How could it have been done differently?

Hopefully, parents and communities will begin to be aware of the social and economic costs of a lack of attention to equity issues and the need for a community approach to solving them. What does this mean? It means thoughtful planning for zoning areas and program offering. It means tackling problems in areas rather than ignoring them and allowing them to get worse. It means understanding that charters don’t solve these problems. People do.

I remember when Gainesville schools were integrated. Schools located in between black and white areas tended to be closed. Some said the district did not want to have these schools integrated. Only one elementary school, located in a black neighborhood, had a zone to include students in a white area. Those white families joined together to support that school. White families are still there because the district turned the school into a magnet. Gainesville still has problems with concentrated poverty in some areas. There are glimmers of hope that the community is willing to work together to solve them.

How do you balance schools and maintain high quality programs to which all children have access? How do these more balanced schools create a school culture that is respectful, safe, and welcoming? If students are segregated by race and income, equity is lost. No easy answers to these issues, but if we don’t ask the questions, we will just see a bad situation become worse. I worry that school choice is like the ostrich who puts its head in the sand.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/palm-beach/fl-schools-odyssey-middle-closing-20170718-story.html

NEA Has New Charter School Position

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed they could innovate unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles”, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes students success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

There are ways to provide flexibility to ensure charters have a positive role in meeting the needs of children. NEA lays out three criteria:

  1. Charter schools must be authorized by and held accountable to democratically elected local school boards. Locally elected school boards are the only way to ensure charters actually meet student needs in ways that the district cannot.

  2. A charter must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet student needs in the district and that it meets the needs in a manner that improves the local public school system.

  3. The charter must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations and profiteering, civil rights, labor, employment, health and safety laws, staff qualifications and certification requirements as other public schools.

There is a growing consensus that charters are overextended and inadequately supervised. This is a result of the reluctance of school reformers who are not willing to apply common sense policies to control the excesses that go along with the unbridled competition where no one wins.

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.

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

Poll: Most Americans Feel Fine about Choice? Not True

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says that 58% of people don’t know much about charter schools.  Even more, 66%, know little or nothing about private school vouchers.  Nevertheless, 47% favor expanding charters and 43% would expand vouchers.  Media headlines say most Americans support choice, but this is misleading.  Most Americans either are opposed or have no opinion.  The report found that four in ten believed that the country in general would benefit from more choice.

The poll has value. It made me think.  See what you think!

 

Continue reading