There’s a war going on.

I gave a talk at our Education Forum this morning. It’s a different slant than I sometimes take. I talk about cheerios and TV channels. We have more of each than we need, but we continue to pay for them. What does this have to do with school policy? A lot actually. See what you think.

There’s a war going on, and the ammunition is fake news. Take for example, the charge that educators resist change. Recent history tells a different story. After WWII, everyone was expected to go to high school; most did not before. When I was in high school, the space race put pressure on schools to teach more mathematics. My grandchildren are now taking math courses in middle school that I took in high school. Consider also the upheaval in the 70s, when schools were desegregated. Now globalization and the loss of jobs due to technology require schools to educate children to create their own jobs.

In Florida, most people believe that public schools do the best job of preparing students for the diverse and complicated world in which they will live. School reform policy, however, assumes that consumer based competition with charter and private schools will make schools even better. In fact, competition in the private consumer sector does make many choices e.g. there are 13 types of cheerios and 189 TV channels most of which none of us has eaten or watched.

Educational choice has been around for nearly twenty years. There are 4,000 public schools, nearly 2,000 private schools, and 652 charters all drawing on the same pot of money. In Florida, we have more choices and less money than most states. Florida is in the bottom tier, 44th in state funding for education, and the State continues to cut funding. Competition is creating a crisis.
Businesses find ways to cut corners and shift costs. Sometimes a pound of coffee has only 12 ounces. While some charters find innovative ways to help kids, most replicate what already exists; it is less expensive. District schools are asked to do more with less, and they have reached a tipping point.

At least fourteen districts have joined together to sue the State over HB 7069, the education bill passed in last legislative session. The conflict, however, is about more than money. It’s also about local control, equity and quality. These are the issues:

Local Control. Who decides how our local taxes are spent?
Florida’s constitution gives the authority to levy taxes for schools to the elected school boards. A majority in the legislature, however, wants to control all funding even though it only supplies half of what is needed. Local property taxes provide the rest. The legislature now requires districts to share their property tax revenue with privately owned charter school buildings. It makes it impossible for districts to maintain their own facilities, and charters must cut corners as well. No sector, public, charter or private, can provide quality facilities.

HB 7069 also removes the federal authority given to local districts to determine how best to allocate money to help low income students. The State, not the district, now determines how federal money is allocated. This restricts districts’ ability to concentrate support where it is most needed, and it appears to violate federal law.

Equity: Is separate equal?

  1. Charter that screen and dismiss students increase economic and racial segregation even within low income areas. It becomes a have and have not system.
  2. Struggling district schools now can be closed after a year below a ‘C’ grade, but charters that take them over can stay open for five even though the school grade does not improve.
  3. Most of the state funding to help struggling schools goes to charters, not district schools. Yet, charters tend to have less experienced teachers and higher teacher turnover.

Quality: More is not better. For example,

  1. The failure to curb self-dealing corporate charter school business practices allows an excessive amount of money to go to charter real estate firms. Yes, they have their own real estate companies. To pay these leases, money is taken from teacher salaries and benefits and charged to parents for supplies.
  2. More teachers are leaving and fewer are entering the profession. The response by the legislature in HB 7069 is to reduce teacher certification requirements.
  3. There is a loss of instructional time and subject matter in order to support test prep strategies. Civics, for example is now taught one half hour per week.
  4. Choice alone does not raise achievement levels, and one-third of charters close. The money invested in is lost. Private schools do not even have to meet the public curriculum, testing or teaching standards.

    BOTTOM LINE: School choice that offers nothing new just repackages but does not improve our schools. It is not cost efficient or effective. In a system in which all choices become mediocre, everyone loses. It is time to rethink. How much choice of which types do we need? How can we redirect the conversation about school quality?

  5. Demonstrate what education should be to engage students: Passion to Teach.

  6. Support collaborative efforts to help teachers not just improve but want to join the profession.
  7. Make schools and communities mutually supportive. Find ways to better integrate pre school, after school, extra instructional time, and community activities into the schools. This is the goal of community schools like the one we are implementing at Howard Bishop.
  8. Recognize that the quality of schools and communities are intertwined. Ask: How can the community improve the schools and how can the schools improve the community? It matters where new schools are built, where and how students learn, what opportunities students have to interact with the world outside their schools.
  9. Learn about the tradeoffs of choice policies. Choice has a nice ring, and some choices truly are better for some children. But remember, more choice does not always create better choices. Ask how much is enough?

We have an example of a choice we must make right now…a mega CSUSA for-profit charter school has drafted a proposal for an 1124 student school in Gainesville. It would pull another $600,000 out of our facility budget in addition to the approximately $600,00 that will go to our local charters. It will impact every school as students shift around and take funding with them. It brings nothing new or innovative. It can discourage any child who is in any ‘different’ from enrolling and can dismiss any they find expensive or difficult to educate. In their proposal, they state they cannot compete academically with similar schools for at least five years.

Why should this ‘choice’ be imposed on our community? Wouldn’t we be better off to build our own schools and have a voice in how they are run?

Some of us have formed a PACT to help our community understand the choices that lie ahead. You can join the PACT; volunteer in schools, encourage less test prep and more activity based learning. Join the PTA and find ways to bring our schools into the community and our community into the schools.
Be aware; get involved.

School has started, but not this charter! Parents Ask: Now what?

The Hillsborough School District is bending over backwards to help the new Avant Garde Academy charter school open. It has gotten to the point that parents are wondering just when, if ever, their children can enroll.

There is also the question of why this charter schools should open. There is room in nearby public schools. Parents feel helpless; in these charter operations, they often are.

Read the letter some parents have written. They tell the story all parents need to hear. There is no rhyme nor reason to the expansion of charters and everyone gets hurt when there is no planning and no transparency. It does not have to be this way.

Positive Advocacy for Public Schools

There are many ways to support public schools. We are asking our county and city governments to support September: Public Schools Awareness Month. We hope to generate a public discussion about what is happening with our public schools. Here’s what we have planned. Let us know what you are doing.

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SEPTEMBER PUBLIC SCHOOLS AWARENESS MONTH

Our schools are hanging in the balance. The League is trying to tip the balance toward our public schools and away from privatization. Here’s how. We have formed a coalition with the Alachua County Council of PTAs, the Alachua County Education Association, the U.F. College of Education Council and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to promote: September: Public School Awareness Month.

Events include:

• A Proclamation submitted to the Gainesville City and County Commissions

• “From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television,” by Dr. Mary Dalton. UF’s “Schools on Screen”
Symposium—September 20 at 6pm in Pugh Hall

• Florida Premier of ‘Passion To Teach’ and discussion led by the film producer, Bart Nourse.
September 24, 3:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School
September 26, 6:00 pm at Buchholz High School

• “Bad Teacher” by Kevin Kumishiro a book to read on school reform. Watch the interview.

COME TO A COMMUNITY FORUM TO HEAR FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT ON: What is Happening with OUR Schools?
September 23rd, Wiles Elementary at 9:30 a.m.

• Karen Clarke, Superintendent of Schools: “Building New and Rennovating Old Schools”
• Sue Legg, Florida League of Women Voters Education Chair “Impact of Choice Legislation”
• Anne Wolfe, Education Specialist and Valerie Freeman, Director of Educational Equity and Outreach on “CulturallyResponsive Classrooms”

Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida

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

How many $ must Florida districts share next year?

Ouch! Can you believe that districts must give up $96.3 million in funding for school facilities next year. This is the amount they now must send to charter schools because of HB 7069. Not exactly chump change. It is over a seven percent cut in funding that goes to privately owned charter school buildings. Their real estate companies will cheer. The Auditor General should watch how the money is spent.

Miami Dade alone loses $23.2 million. The Miami Herald requested the data from the Florida House. Read the article to see the impact on other counties. In districts with aging schools, this is very wrong headed. Florida’s legislature is allowing uncontrolled growth in charters. It is spreading resources much to thin without any substantive increase in quality.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article158934284.html

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.