Bright Futures not so Bright

power-money-trap-5441169I knew that the qualifications for Bright Futures scholarships had gone up.  Now I understand the impact.  In order for the State to save money, the rich get richer.  The Florida lottery supports these scholarships.  While the revenue for the lottery is still increasing, the percentage allocated to education is decreasing.  It would be interesting to know why and how much.

 

Continue reading

3rd Grade Retention and Ability Grouping Tradeoffs

 

FAILED1The Florida School Board Association (FSBA) is shifting ground on third grade student retention criteria.    Such issues make me think about ability grouping in general.  Are we going overboard?

Are we putting huge pressure on kids not only to ‘get to grade level’ but also to be ‘gifted’ or ‘highly gifted’?  Do all children feel like they have a FSA proficiency level painted on their T-shirts?  This is an age old issue of grouping and tracking vs. diverse ability classrooms where children have different strengths and weaknesses regardless of “I.Q.” as measured by a test?

The FSBA wants more evidence than a single test score to determine student achievement.  Fair enough, but there is more to think about!  In a newly adopted platform, the FSBA calls for three revisions to current practice in retaining third graders:

 

Continue reading

Unequal Access to Charters: It is Illegal!

directory-466935_1280Subtle and direct violations of law have been documented in charter admissions policies.  Empty seats are supposed to be filled by lottery.  Yet, which student applications make it into the lottery is frequently questioned.  For example, some parents and/or students are required to submit essays.  Or, parents may be required to certify they will contribute a certain number of hours or donate money to cover school fees.  If all else fails, charters may counsel parents that their child may not fit ‘the mission of the school’ and practice constant suspension for trivial offenses to discourage unwanted children.

In this article released by the ACLU in California, and reported by Education Justice, an expose of wide spread civil rights violations is reported.

Continue reading

Charters are the Cheap Choice, not the Best Choice

power-money-trap-5441169Today’s New York Times urges the NAACP to oppose a moratorium on charter schools.  The NAACP does not want to settle for second best.  The Times argues that while some charters are mismanaged, well run charters are a better option for struggling students.  This is a weak argument and one wonders if it is really a political one.  Who benefits?

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Charter School Parents Have No Rights

justiceIn charter schools, parents may have choice but no rights.  What does this mean?  In this brief from the American Bar Association, the rights that parents assume they have are valid for public schools but not charters.  According to recent court decisions in a California Appeals Court and a U.S. District Court in Hawaii, charters have the right to dismiss students in a manner that would be unconstitutional in a regular public school.

As the number of charters grows, charter parents need to beware.

 

 

 

Continue reading

Suspension Happy Charter Schools

childrenCharter schools represent 7% of New York City’s school population  but 42% of all student suspensions.  Of the top 50 schools with high suspension rates, 48 were charters.  These schools are clustered in the heart of black communities in Harlem, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Brooklyn.  The problem extends far beyond New York.  Parents are pushing back.

Continue reading

Charters: ‘Summer of our Discontent’

curriculum plate-413157_1280I just read an exceptionally candid lament from the charter school industry.  In response to a summer of miserable news about the charter movement, Steve Zimmerman, Co-Director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools states:

The truth is that there have been a slew of scandals…..concentrated in states that, in their haste to provide market-based reforms,  did not provide strong charter oversight and failed to keep foxes out of the proximity of chickens.  

But my greater concern is

Continue reading

Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.