How Choice Works: A True Story

I am creating a ppt. presentation for Leagues to use all over the state.  This is the suggestion I just now received for an ending slide: It is a true story based on an interview a couple of months ago with a charter principal in another county. My friend comments:

“I usually explain choice by how a charter school principal demonstrated it to me.  She said in a series of comments over the course of a visit”. 

  1. She gets to choose her teachers.  They serve at will. 
  2. She gets to choose her parents.  If they have difficulty with any of her decisions, she invites them to “choose” another school for their children.  
  3. Lastly, she gets to choose her students.  If a student is “not a good fit” she chooses to ask them to leave and choose another school.  

She does not choose to deliver ESE services except of the most basic type.  Parents of this school “choose” to volunteer a set number of hours a month.  Only students whose parents can “choose” to transport them can get to the school.  You see how easily “Choice” works?

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.

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.

Don’t be fooled by the DOE: Charters bomb in Florida cities

Every year the Florida DOE compares charter vs. traditional public school performance.  The report shows percentages of proficient students in each sector.  Charters win, hands down in this report but not on reports from national research studies.  Why is that?

  • Charters enroll a lower percentage of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch, disabilities and English Language Learners.   Thus, given the correlation between income and achievement, charters should look better.  In general they represent higher income families.  See the Florida DOE chart below.

 

The achievement for Florida charters is dismal when compared to similar traditional public school (TPS) students.  The DOE comparisons do not match students based on their test scores.  The CREDO  urban area study did.    Look at the evidence for achievement gains, in 42 cities, between charters and traditional public school students when matched on their initial achievement levels and the amount gained three years later.

CREDO STUDY RESULTS:  The picture for urban charters in Florida is not pretty.  Based on results from Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa and West Palm Beach:

  • Charters in five of seven cities did worse than the TPS in reading. Miami and Tampa had small charter gains.
  • Charters in three of seven cities did worse in math.  One showed no difference; three (Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa) did slightly better than the TPS students.

Only in Jacksonville and Miami are student demographics similar between charters and TPS.  In other cities, Florida charters generally enroll a lower percentage of students in poverty and with learning disabilities.    It should be noted that in Miami, while there are similar numbers of students in poverty, the charter sector is largely Hispanic.   This is generally not the case in most of the urban areas studied.  No matter how you look at the comparisons, something is lacking in Florida’s charter sector.

Some U.S. city charters do remarkably better than the TPS e.g. Bay Area, Boston, Memphis, Newark, New Orleans, and New York City.  Most cities do not.  These gains are largest for low-income black students and Hispanic English language learners.

While the data from these cities are disputed by reliable sources, it is important to look at the charter sectors in these areas to see if and how they differ from those in other cities.  For example, Boston has a limited and tightly controlled charter group.  New York City charters are known to have high dismissal rates.  What is happening in these charter successful cities?  Who do they really serve?

Is the formula for successful charters to weed out students whom they cannot help?  Should traditional public schools do the same?  Where does this road lead?  Want to find out?  Read the blog tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Supports Standards for Students with Disabilities

Are schools expected to do more than provide minimum educational standards for students with special needs.  According to this report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students with disabilities must be given the opportunity to make ‘appropriately ambitious progress’ consistent with federal law.

Approximately thirteen percent of all children between 3-21 have some type of disability.  Complaints that students are given minimal academic standards triggered the lawsuit.  In this case, Endrew v. Douglas, Endrew was a fifth grade autistic boy whose IEP plan had not changed from one year to the next.  The family withdrew him from public school and enrolled him in a private school where he did make progress.  The family then sued for tuition reimbursement.

Rotten to the Core: Cheating Children

In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities.  The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘.  It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“.  In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations.  Not so.

 

 

 

 

 

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Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

Possible Compromise on Corporate Charter and Public School Facility Funding?

David Simmons has an idea that may take wings.  To ease the facility backlog for renovations and maintenance, Simmons proposes SB 604 to increase the 1.5 mills that districts can assess from l.5 to 1.7 mills.  This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units.  There is a catch.  In a companion bill, SB 376, Simmons would allocate some of this money to charter schools. Districts do not have to share this funding now.

 

 

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DeVos: Single Issue Candidate?

By now most people who care realize that Betsy DeVos has one issue:  parental choice.  To achieve that end, she supports state control over education policy.  In the New York Times analysis of her confirmation hearing, her knowledge of the law and education policy was non existent.  This is not surprising.  She has been a one horse pony in the private sector for vouchers and charter expansion.

The NY Times piece cites DeVos’ ignorance about special education law, regulation of for-profit universities, or even the difference between achievement gains and proficiency levels.  The answer to every question was:  leave it to the states.  Will Congress bow out?

Suppose the federal government did close down the Department of Education.  The federal government was not always involved in K12 education.  Its history is interesting.  Where would that lead?  State after state is cutting funding.  School districts and the private sector are supposed to find the money locally to manage the schools.

My grandmother taught in a country school.  So did my husband’s mother.  A few people got together, built a one room school and hired a teacher.  Will this approach raise our PISA scores?  It reminds me of an old time saying:  Watch out what you wish for.