School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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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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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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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.

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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.

The Racial Divide in Charters

directory-281476_1280Today’s New York Times delves into the divide within communities over charter schools.  The NAACP is calling for a moratorium on charters because they are increasing not only the racial divide but also the economic divide.   Charters in some cities, particularly cities with fewer charter schools as in Newark, Boston or Washington tend to do better than in cities with many charters, but as the number of charters increases, achievement decreases.  The reasons become clear:

Charters are viewed by some parents as an ‘escape’ from schools that must serve children with discipline and other emotional problems.  Charter educational programs may be no better than in traditional schools, but ‘problem’ students are either screened out or suspended.  Suspension rates are higher in charters and disproportionately impact minority students.  Achievement for those who remain may rise giving the appearance of being better.

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Take “Public” out of charter school language

shield-123080_640What makes a public school ‘public’?  It is more than how schools are governed and funded.  It is also a matter of the ethical and legal obligation to serve all students.

In Valerie Strauss’ latest Washington Post article, she reports on former New York principal, Carol Burris’ study of the sort and select enrollment practices in New York charter schools.

These are charters that are so often held up as success stories, so to speak.  Are they?

 

 

 

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Public Schools With Community Support Can Solve Problems

woman-1172721_1280Some problems that seem too big to solve, may get better when communities work together.

In 2012, the Gainesville Police Department uncovered some disturbing facts, black youth were four times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than white youth for similar offenses.  GPD developed:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • alternatives to arrests with the help of Meridian Behavioral Services and the Corner Drug Store.
  • options other than arrest for officers and supervisors to use.
  • demanded Civil Citations rather than arrests for first time misdemeanor offenses

In order to intervene early before bad behavior becomes chronic, GPD:

  • engaged in officer training
  • coordinated meetings to improve mental health services delivered to students and schools
  • developed a System of Care to provide resources to families (mental health, outreach, tutoring etc.)
  • tracked progress through data collection
The Center for Children’s Law and Policy gave GPD a grant (only one of two awarded in 2012); the initiative grew and arrests plummeted.  On campus arrests dropped 31%.  Total black juvenile arrests decreased 44%.  Teen courts were used for many offenses.
Dozens of agencies had stepped up.  Then the program had to be institutionalized to ensure it would continue.  Alachua County Schools stepped up.  The System of Care began in seven schools–4 elementary and 3 middle.  Ten percent of the students with serious disciplinary problems were identified.  Fifty-three parents agreed to participate.   Each school had a social worker to coordinate care.  After only eight months, some children are thriving.  Others are making progress.
Now the challenge is to scale up the program to serve more families.  The League held a Hot Topic last week to help spread the word.  We learned about ways communities can work together to help children with traumatic life events find ways to cope.  The school is the center of a community hub.  Bringing services in to the center may be a more efficient and effective way to help children.  Helping some children helps all children feel safe and secure.  In the long run, suspending children leads nowhere good.

 

Fla. High Impact Charter Network Bill Advances

Legislation

Legislation

The devil is often in the details, and this bill HB 830 Stargel has many provisions.   In a nutshell, it requires better background checks and more transparency for charter providers.  This is good, right?  It also gives the State Board of Education the ability to authorize High Impact Charter Networks.  Maybe this is not so good.

Charter providers in approved networks apply to districts, but if they are already authorized, is this simply smoke and mirrors?  In a way, this is a mini version of the bill to amend the constitution to create a separate charter system.  It takes away local control.  The constitutional amendment will not make it to the ballot, but the High Impact Charter Networks are likely to become law.  If I were a betting person, I would think this is another effort to attract and expand KIPP schools.

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