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.

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.

Poll: Most Americans Feel Fine about Choice? Not True

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says that 58% of people don’t know much about charter schools.  Even more, 66%, know little or nothing about private school vouchers.  Nevertheless, 47% favor expanding charters and 43% would expand vouchers.  Media headlines say most Americans support choice, but this is misleading.  Most Americans either are opposed or have no opinion.  The report found that four in ten believed that the country in general would benefit from more choice.

The poll has value. It made me think.  See what you think!

 

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Are you more than a test score?


by Duane Swacker

I support the evaluation of the 8th grade N.A.E.P. reading scores for Florida.  It is likely that the Florida ‘miracle’ of sudden large increases in fourth grade reading scores in the early days of school choice has nothing to do with teaching and learning.  It has to do with retention policies and the exodus of low achieving students to voucher supported private schools.  Half of these students then return to public schools in middle school

The scores for public schools go up in fourth grade when poor readers leave or are retained, and come down in eighth grade when they return.  It is the age old problem of the failure to recognize that studies must compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

It is important to know whether Florida’s assessment scores are artificial high in fourth grade.  If so, the testing system itself is giving false reports of student progress.  There is a deeper problem, however.  Should we be relying on assessment scores in the first place?  It is past time to be asking this question.

A reader, Duane Swacker, questions the need for more studies.  The invalidity of accountability studies has already been determined, he asserts.  He cites the evidence and questions my statement:  “I welcome an evaluation of Florida’s school accountability approach to improving student learning.”

Actually, that “evaluation” has already been performed, back in 1997 by Noel Wilson.  Any “reforms” (sic) that uses standardized testing as its basis is COMPLETELY INVALID as proven by Wilson.  So that from the start the “reform”, actually educational malpractice, using student standardized test scores suffers all the foundational conceptual (onto-epistemological) errors and falsehoods that render any usage of the results, as Wilson puts it, “vain and illusory” (not to mention the unethical usage of using the results of a test for something other than what the test was designed.
For 15 years I’ve searched, begged and pleaded with testing supporters to show me where Wilson might have gone wrong with his analysis.  Nothing, zilch, zero, more crickets than I hear from my nerve damage hearing loss and tinnitus.  To understand his analysis please read is never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700
Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine.
1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.
2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).
3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.
4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”
In other words all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.
5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.
6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.
7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”
In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?
My answer is NO!!!!!
One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:
“So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

N. Y. Times: Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like This!

Ask children, teachers, and parents about time.  They will likely say:  “There’s not enough time in a day to do what needs to be done”.    There are ways to do something about it.  We in Alachua County have been talking about how to reorganize the day to fit in pre school, hands on academic programs, school activities, and after school activities in a semi rational way.  We are asking if it is possible, without large influxes of money, to make an 8-5 school day.  Could all of these activities happen in one place without driving teachers to distraction??  Our local league will study examples of how this could be done.

Professor David Kirp, University of California, Berkeley, already has some successful examples.  In Tulsa, Oklahoma the  Union school district has implemented a community-based school program that has defied the demographic odds. School attendance has soared, achievement has risen, and suspensions have plummeted.  We need schools like that here.

We have one school, Howard Bishop, that has been identified as a community school.  It is just starting in that direction this year, and has not expanded to the full eight hour day.  The community social services support, however,  are centered not in various offices in town, but in the school.  They have a ways to go to catch up with the Union school district, but the Children’s Home Society is helping them.

We all need to help community schools make progress.  If nothing else, you can help financially.  It is not all about money, though.  Oklahoma has lower per student funding than Florida, and this district has found a way to expand the day and still make ends meet.  Let’s find out how.

With community support we can begin to dream of a world where the lack of time does not manage us; we manage time!  Let’s see if we can make our public schools the envy of the world of choice.

 

It is Time to Talk about ESSA

child speakingThere is the law, and then there are the regulations to implement the law.  Some say the new federal Department of Education proposed regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) overstep the intention of the law.  They create more stringent rules about testing and accountability than the ESSA intended.  The Florida Department of Education has put out a call for your input about the regulations. You have until July 22, 2016 to respond.  Responding in a meaningful way takes some thought.

 

 

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New Vision for Common Core Assessments?

business-15822_1280A manifesto appeared in support of a “new” approach to testing signed by a seemingly random list of educators and instructional materials developers.  It is frankly a little bizarre.  So, I looked up the federal grants they mention which support assessment.  Now, I understand why this collection of people is trying to build support. It is the federal department of education’s response to the Common Core testing fiasco.

I am not really opposed to at least some testing, especially if it is used to help students and teachers improve instruction.  When I used to be involved in testing, I was intrigued by the possibility of using technology for innovative learning–especially simulations and critical thinking.   These end of year marathons for which our district began to prepare 4o days in advance are, however, something else.

This new vision puts an emphasis on individualized learning.  Every student moves at his/her own pace.  Computerized testing periodically provides feedback.  This means cumulative data records must be kept on each child.

It troubles me. Children learn from each other.  Teachers facilitate that learning.  Computers are machines, not teachers.  Yet, I want computers in the classrooms.  I want children to have easy access to information, simulations, complex problems and alternative solutions.

We can’t be afraid of the unknown.  We have to experiment–yes, even with our children.  We cannot move blindly forward either.  Technology is creating change all around us that we all recognize.  Our phones are attached to us and too often control us.  Their convenience is addictive but not necessarily productive.  I am sitting here at 7:30 in the morning with my computer on my lap.  I should be outside!  Who is in control, me or the machine?

So here is the manifesto.  We will be OK as long as we are watching, thinking and in control.

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Charters in Perspective: A Quick Quiz and Answers

compare-643305_1280Are you aware of the Spencer Foundation’s Charter in Perspective Project?  Issues are presented from different perspectives e.g. parental choice, preservation of public schools, and test beds for innovation.

Just for fun, here are some quick questions drawn from information on the site.

 

 

 

  • What percentage of students are enrolled in charter schools in the U.S.?  What is the percentage in New Orleans?
  • Is public opinion about charter schools well informed?
  • On average, how do traditional and charter students compare on achievement gains?

If you prefer a Common Core critical thinking question, you might ask:

  • How would you account for the difference between the reasons parents give for sending children to charters and the charters parents actually select?

The answers and much more follow.

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