Mom Guilt: Are charters a good choice?

A quote from the Tampa Bay Times article on the movement toward charters: “You don’t want to be the mom who made the wrong decision”. What is behind this concern:

  1. Children are leaving Lutz elementary, a well thought of district school, because they want to be first in line for a charter middle school.

  2. Why a charter middle school? Middle schools draw from a larger areas and parents are concerned that discipline problems increase during those years. The big take away is that some parents worry that district schools are less ‘safe’. Charters can dismiss students which parents can use as a warning to their own children.

Other parents and educators see the impact of choice on their communities. As one parent said, “I know we are not going to be a great city without great public schools.”

The choice system extends divides by class, race, opportunity and ideology. The public district choice options are to offer magnet programs and magnet schools. The advantage is that there is district planning and oversight which reduces fraud, abuse, and other mismanagement problems. It makes district planning more cost effective. It does not, in its current form, solve the equity problems for less affluent families. It’s only a step in the direction of equal access to high quality education.

I just read a column in the New York Times where David Leonhardt came down on the side of charter schools based in part on his reading about the positive impact in Florida for students who graduate from charter schools. I posted three summaries of studies re Florida charters:

  1. Charter High School Long Term Effects. Interesting that in Florida, the data from the study were from charter students entering high school back in 2002.  Those charter school 8th graders who went on to a charter high school were more affluent, less likely to be black, more likely to be Hispanic and not have an ESE designation (p.16).  Soooo, the conclusion is that charter school students who graduate from a charter high school do better on most out come measures e.g. college attendance, income etc. than 8th graders from charters who did not graduate from a charter high school.   To put it another way, in South Florida which has a high proportion of Hispanic students in charter schools, these students do better in the long run than lower income black students who return to district high schools.  Should this surprise anyone?

I also posted these additional studies:

  1. CREDO Urban Study shows in 5/7 Florida cities, charters did less well than comparable public district schools. Charters performed better in only one city.

  2. National Alliance of Public Charter Schools reports that, “despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation.” 2016.

Academic achievement aside, many decisions are about feelings. What do we do about the uncertainties we all face? I remember the famous saying from President Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. At the time, there were riots, food lines, and the looming prospect of war. Plenty to worry about. We made it then; we will make it through this time.

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?

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.

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

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.

McKay kids lose their rights

Parents of children with disabilities learn some lessons the hard way.  When children leave public school with the McKay Scholarships, children lose their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  Parents may have from $5,000 to $23,000 in tuition vouchers, but private schools are not accountable for the money provided.  In today’s New York Times, Dana Goldstein explains.

IDEA rights lost for students in private schools include:

 

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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.

 

 

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.

League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

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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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