Superintendents Argue Before State Board of Education

Florida’s superintendents’ association argued before the State Board of Education that the Schools of Hope take hope away from districts. These ‘takeover’ schools become charters and further drain funding from existing schools. They take capital outlay funds for school maintenance and give it to privately owned charters. Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvalho estimates the cost to his district is $23 million. Even conservative rural area districts are alarmed at the impact of current State policy on their districts.

It is time the public weighs in to support our public schools. Florida’s approach to school reform is moving toward privatizing our system. In countries like Chile, where privatization was pushed by the government, there is a three tiered system. The wealthy send their children to fully private schools. The upper middle class attend voucher supported private schools. Everyone else sends children to schools with a minimum level of funding. In other words, the privatization movement simply takes the inequities we now have and makes them much worse. For most families, privatization is a disaster. There is no pretense that families should have equal access to a free high quality education.

It may seem that it is not possible to correct our course. In fact, the only way to make changes is to insist our elected officials hear what we want. It’s up to us. Make your voices heard. Don’t take our public schools for granted.

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WE FACE IS TAKING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM FOR GRANTED.

http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2017/7/17/superintendents_to_f.html

Why are school districts suing the State?

Most things come down to money, but not everything does. HB 7069 hurts districts in a serious way financially. It hurts the entire school system of Florida in a fundamental way. The Florida constitution requires that Florida provide a ‘safe, efficient and uniform, and high quality’ free system of education to all students. Local school boards are responsible for running it. With this new legislation just signed by Governor Scott this summer, nothing will stay the same.

Read the Sun Sentinel article that explains how we have parallel systems of education. Districts have no oversight over charters; they are on their own. Yet, it is public money.

This is the link or just google ‘Sun Sentinel public education assault.’

(Having a technical issue with the blog, so can’t embed links until it is fixed.)

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/fl-op-editorial-public-education-assault-20170713-story.html

Listen to the Voice from Our Schools

We went to visit some of our ‘low performing’ schools in Gainesville that aren’t low performing this year. We asked: What made the difference? We wrote up what our principals told us. The Gainesville Sun published our article today. The principals know what is needed. We don’t need the State to takeover our schools; we need the State to support our schools! We ask everyone to listen!

Read the article here: http://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20170707/carole-fernandez-listen-to-voices-from-our-schools

Charter Advocates Attack Trump Education Budget

According to Ed Source, even with big increases for charter schools, leaders of the National Alliance for Charter Schools and major charter chains strongly opposed President Trumps’ education budget. The $168 million increase raises the federal charter support to about one-half billion dollars. Most of this money goes, however, to support new charter start ups.

The problem is that once started, most charters have to survive on existing funding. The proposed budget for all schools would increase Title I funding for low income student support, but it decreases federal education funding by over nine billion dollars. Starting charters that can’t be supported makes no sense.

To compound the problem, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attacked charter schools at a National Alliance for Charter Schools conference. She was quoted as saying charters were ‘playing it safe’ and had become bureaucratic. They had lost some of the creativity and innovative spirit of its founders. She went on to say charters were blocking our choice alternatives to fund private schools. Ms. DeVos’ priorities are clear.

All of this goes to show that the pot of money to support our schools is limited. Some politicians argue that it should get smaller yet. As less money is divided among public, charter, and private schools, the greater the dissension. This is not a winning strategy for children.

Trump’s proposed cuts to education funding create friction in charter school community

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.

From whence we came: 1776 til now

Being in a celebratory mood, I looked up a Wikipedia article on U.S. public education in 1776. The first public and oldest existing school, Boston Latin School was opened in 1635. The first tax supported free public school was opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1639, and all northern states had tax supported elementary public schools by 1870. Tax supported schooling for girls began about 1767 in New England, but it was not universal. It’s curious that girls were often taught to read the scriptures but not taught to write!

Horace Mann became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts in 1837 and promoted the concept of ‘common’ schools. He argued that “universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into judicious, disciplined, republican citizens. One room schools became age-related grade level schools. By 1918, an elementary school education was required in all states. Just think, my dad was a little boy then.

In the southern colonies it was more common to have private tutors than schools. Some churches provided basic instruction, but the first public education systems were not started until the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. By 1900, only four southern states had compulsory education laws. My grandparents were alive then.

High schools in all states were mostly for the college bound. Even as late as 1940, only fifty percent of Americans had a high school diploma. Yet, the availability of high school and post secondary education for ordinary Americans, not just the wealthy, set the U.S. apart from the world.

The pressure for expanded educational opportunities due to changes in the American economy in 1900 are echoed in the drive for school reform today. It is reassuring in a way. The struggles are the same. The need is equally strong. The public interest will survive if our nation is to survive.

Maybe all the current dissension is just growing pains. We are, after all, a young nation. When I was born, only half of Americans went to high school. Now we are arguing about who should go to college. As the nation changes, schools change. It just is not easy dealing with adolescence.

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.

Indian River Schools Lawsuit Over Shared Local Funding With Charters

Sometimes political maneuvering can come to haunt you. Indian River’s school district decided back in 2012 to share a portion of the revenue from a local sales tax initiative with their charter schools. They did not have to, but charters were only 5% of the total enrollment, and most were locally owned and operated charters. Then the world changed.

For the past two years, the Indian River School District has been in court. Local charter schools claim that money for school operations, teachers etc., that the district voluntarily provided to them is no longer adequate. Why? The charter schools’ enrollment has increased from 5% to 12%. The amount of money involved is $2 million dollars out of a total of $9 million in revenue.

The legal questions are not straight forward. By law, districts are not required to share revenue that local communities vote to provide through a sales tax or local referendum. The district agreed to share with charters when there were fewer students. Now the money involved is large enough to hurt the district schools.

The charters went to court in 2015 and won in the circuit court this year. The district is considering an appeal. At issue is at what point are there too many schools to support in an area? Should communities be forced to accept more charters even if they bring nothing new or better? Is expansion of charters for the sake of expansion a good thing?

Take a look at the Indian River charters and who they serve:

  1. Indian River Charter High School: This is a 656 student school serving about 80% upper income white students and 4% black students. It was founded in 1998.
  2. Imagine Schools at South Vero: The enrollment is about 890 students serving about 80% white, upper income students since about 2008. It was opened by what was then a for-profit management firm.
  3. North County Charter: About 321 elementary school children attend this school. They represent the county’s distribution of race and ethnicity. It is a family managed school.
  4. Sebastian Charter had 287 junior high school students who are two-thirds white and one-third Hispanic. The proportion of students on FRL is slightly higher than the district’s. They took a new school construction loan in 2012.
  5. St. Peter’s Academy is a small elementary school with about 129 black and Hispanic, mostly lower income students. It opened in 1996.

What has happened in Indian River is common in other communities. Most charters are either mostly white, mostly black or mostly Hispanic. A few are more balanced. As these schools grow, they need more money. It has to come from the same pot of money the district has. Soon, funds get tight and relationships get tense.

At some point, the State of Florida has to decide whether to curb unregulated charter growth that does not result in improving education for everyone. It makes me think of the old adage of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Catching Up: Which bills are signed? Another look at the Court

Schoolhouse Consulting Group brings us up to date with federal and state education actions. Their take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is less certain than the NEA’s. No doubt there are members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission who will use this decision to attack the Blaine Amendment. Voters will have to decide if they want public money to cover vouchers to private schools. Of course it indirectly does now through the tax credit scholarships. At some point citizens have to decide if all those standards and tests required for public schools should be required for private schools. What’s the expression? Isn’t it ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’?

Here’s the summary from Schoolhouse:

Federal
 
The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a Missouri law that could have ramifications for Florida’s Constitutional prohibition of state or local funds being used directly or indirectly in the aid of any church, religious denomination or sectarian institution, the so-called “Blaine Amendment.”
 
The 7-2 ruling case involves denial of state funds to a church as a grant to use shredded scrap material from tires for its playground. The high court ruled the Missouri Blaine Amendment language violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling can be viewed here.
 
In Florida, efforts to create scholarships or vouchers for students to attend sectarian schools began in 1999 with passage of the A+ Plan. A 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled “opportunity scholarships” unconstitutional, but not based on Article 1, section 3. In 2012, voters defeated (44.5 “yes” vote with 60% needed to be adopted) Amendment 8 that read: (Article 1, Section 3) There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution. Underlined wording was new and strike-though language would have been removed.
 
Both U.S. Education Secretary Betsy deVos and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were quick to hail the ruling. For Florida, it will likely lend support to a renewed effort to put something similar to Amendment 8 on the 2018 ballot, either through the Legislature or Constitutional Revision Commission. It may also spur some in Congress to re-open Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and seek a scholarship/voucher-like program in the coming months. In addition to Florida and Missouri, 37 other states have similar constitutional language.
 
State
 
Governor Rick Scott has now signed nearly all education bills that passed the regular and special sessions. Today, of note, he signed HB3A which is the special session bill appropriating an additional $100/students in the Florida Education Finance program. He also signed:
 
HB 0015 Relating to Educational Options (Sullivan) – expanded Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit scholarships
HB 0781 Relating to Designation of School Grades (Porter) – defined how school centers having grades K-3 will be graded
HB 0899 Relating to Comprehensive Transitional Education Programs (Stevenson) – Authorizes Agency for Persons with Disabilities to petition for appointment of receiver for comprehensive transitional education program
HB 0989 Relating to Instructional Materials (Donalds) – clarifies right of parents and residents to provide input to district selection/adoption of instructional materials and sets appeals process to be conducted by a hearing officer
HB 1079 Relating to Pub. Rec. and Meetings/Campus Emergency Response for Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions (Rommel) – Provides exemption from public records requirements for specified portions of campus emergency response for public postsecondary educational institutions;
HB 1109 Relating to Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities (Antone) – allows students at non-FHSAA schools to be eligible to play for local FHSAA schools
HB 1239 Relating to School Bus Safety (Eagle) -Provides for mandatory noncriminal penalties, fine, driver license suspension, & driver license points for certain violations resulting in serious bodily injury to/death of another person.
 

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.