Will Kentucky give up integration and go charter?

Kentucky:  United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Seven states have resisted the urge to go to charter schools.  Kentucky is one of them.  They kept bussing plans from the 1970s integration in place between the city of Louisville and its surrounding suburbs.  Yes, there was some complaining, but forty years later children are in classes with diverse socio economic and racial groups.  The latest opinion poll shows an 89% approval rating.  The Atlantic article contrasts Louisville with Detroit where charters abound.  Louisville comes out ahead, hands down.

Desegregation helped the city thrive.  Unlike Detroit, where affluent citizens fled to suburbs and bankrupted the inner city, all sorts of people and businesses flourish in Louisville.  Now their city cohesion is threatened with the introduction of three charter school bills in the state legislature.

Rep. Moffett’s bill 103 allow charters statewide but includes multiple authorizers.  This means that not just local school districts but mayors and universities or others could start a charter school.  Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate with public funds.  How is the public to know the effectiveness of charters?  If there are multiple authorizers, there will be different standards of oversight.  Some states have had charter school operators shop their ideas from one authorizer to another to find the one that will let them in.  The charter industry likes multiple chances to get started, but there are many reasons to keep the oversight and regulation of charters local and systematic.  Here is the take of one charter school proponent on why single authorizers work better.

Rep. John Carney, Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced his version of a charter bill 520 that allows only local school districts to authorize charters.  Disputes would be moderated by the State Board of Education in much the way that Florida operates.  The charters would take the same state accountability tests, follow the same health, safety, financial and transparency laws, and give priority to low income students attending low achieving schools. The staff analysis of this bill points out important concerns about sectarian and online schools, financial impact on public schools, provision for school closure as well as a major constitutional concern.

Targeting charters for low income students in struggling schools can be a trap.  Charters typically siphon off students in these areas who are more likely to succeed thus creating a downward spiral in those neighborhood schools.  It can make a bad situation worse.  The attrition rates of charters is typically high for both students and teachers.  The charter schools themselves fail at a high rate.  After all, the only ‘advantage’ of charters in those areas is that they can require teachers to work longer hours with less pay and no retirement benefits.  This is how the charters fund the extended time needed to improve student learning.  It’s all about money that is in short supply.

Bill 70 introduced by Senator Neal, would limit charters to a pilot project in Jefferson County.  The results of any pilot are clear.  They increase segregation both economically and racially, and they do not improve academic achievement.

If the educational goal is to close the achievement gap, then it will take something more disruptive than charter schools.  It will take a commitment to equity and that costs money.  Equity means that the needs of all children are addressed.

  • It likely will require more time time–a longer school day and school year.
  • It will help families and students to get access at schools to physical, mental and social support services; in other words, a community school concept where existing community services parents use are delivered in schools, not all over town.
  • School populations will be diverse in order to create a climate of possibilities.
  • Instructional strategies will have to be engaging to students with different abilities and interests.  This means that test driven curriculum and teaching strategy must yield to a more hands on, group based approach.
  • School cultures must be supportive and welcoming, not solely competitive for the next advanced class, targeted magnet, or gifted program.  Finding communalities must be as important as identifying exceptionalities.

There may be instances in which local district may benefit from the flexibility to try new instructional programs in a limited setting with a particular group of students.  Often state laws, district and teacher union regulations make these innovation programs difficult to implement.   Here in Gainesville, we have a charter that is affiliated with a psychologist’s clinic to help dyslexic children.  It is a unique approach that would not fit well in the district school, but the charter works with the district staff.  These collaborations can work but they are targeted to specific needs the district recognizes.

What does not work for schools is a whole sale ideology that private enterprise operates better than public responsibility.  In Florida, over a third of the charters operate for-profit, skim millions in self interested real estate and management scams, and compete directly with competent public schools thus weakening both the charter and public sectors.  The educational funding pie gets divided three ways, public, charter, and private tax vouchers which ensures no sector is adequately supported.

One of our mottos comes to mind:  School Choice is a Distraction, not a Solution.

Jeb Bush Supports Betsy DeVos

Many of you may know that the nominee for U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos serves as a board member on Jeb Bush’s pro choice Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Bush has written a letter in support of her nomination.

Bush argues that opposition to school choice is based on two false narratives.  The League has no formal position on this appointment.  So, you decide.  Let your Senators know what you think.

 

 

 

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FINALLY! U.S. OIG Issues Charter Management Problems Alert

cash-burningThe U.S. Inspector General has recognized the serious nature of the charter management problems.  The League of Women Voters has been calling for  better transparency and management oversight for several years.  Now, the federal government has joined us—-well, a part of the federal government.

It is one step toward better accountability for our tax dollars.

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Losing Control of Schools

classroomThere are many reasons to love charters and to loathe them.  One of the biggest conundrums is over local control.  Some parents think schools are too rigid in their regulations.  While trying to be efficient and fair to all, school systems can seem to be inflexible.  Enter charter schools.  Each can set up their own procedures more or less.  Their advisory boards and/or their management companies set the rules.  If parents are unhappy, they can leave. Of course finding a school to suit them might be a challenge.  Consider the situation in Detroit, Michigan.

 

 

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Detroit: Lots of choice, but no good choice

money-40603_1280The New York Times ran a story about Detroit.  The city is recovering from bankruptcy, but school choice has bankrupted its schools.  The story is told in human terms.  Your learn about a family trying to find a good fit for its four children.  They move from charter to charter, full of disappointment as hopes are dashed.  They are besieged by hype and gifts for recruiting, but the realities of too many schools from which to choose means that no school is very good.  This is a cautionary tale.  Detroit has the lowest achieving children in the nation.  Ten percent of its children graduate at ‘college ready’.

Michigan has less charter regulation than Florida.  Charters proliferate whether or not they succeed academically.  Eighty percent of its charters are run by for-profit companies. The fight with each other to get students.  By last winter, Detroit schools were bankrupt.  The legislature agreed to help, but it refused to support regulations to manage charter growth.

Spectacular Charter Fraud in Michigan

Diane Ravitch posted a story from Michigan.  It could have happened in Florida.  I am reposting it here.  When Senator Gaetz said it was time to end the private enrichment schemes in Florida’s charters, he was right.  Unfortunately, his version of the choice bill did not make it through the 2016 legislature.  It would have tied public money to public ownership of school facilities.

Michigan has a greater percentage of for-profit charters than does Florida.  They have little oversight.  The same is true here.  We really do not want to play the ‘who has the greatest scandal’ game.  We need to push our legislators to curb the exploitation of public funds.

Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

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Michigan: When the Bubble Bursts, Our Children Are At Risk

detroit-819696_1280The auto industry in Detroit was once the silicon valley of the U.S., but the influx of black workers lead to white flight.  The decentralization of automotive plants to other cities reduced jobs.  Population dropped by forty percent.

Policies to curb dissent rather than face needed changes brought bankruptcy.  The fall is city wide and may not be fixable.

Flint, Michigan suffered a similar fate.  Now, press reports from Michigan describe poor decisions to cut costs that have resulted in thousands of children suffering from lead poisoning.  Their brain damage is likely permanent.  In order to save money in the troubled city, the governor appointed a financial manager who decided to shift the source of the water supply to a river.  The pipes were lead, and the water did not contain chemicals to prevent their corrosion.

Clearly, city managers in the past had not been able to make decisions to stem the economic decline.  Now, state officials have done no better.  Anyone who could leave, left.  Those who remained suffer.  Schools are underfunded, and there is no local money to fix the problems.  The children will have even greater problems than before.

Michigan is just one of many states with similar problems.  Charter schools will not fix them.  They could make the problems worse by further dividing communities and resources.  What should be done instead?  We could begin by facing these economic problems instead of putting them off.  It will take a national will…local, state and federal energy must converge around viable strategies.  This is the lesson learned from Detroit and Flint.  Our children are at risk.