HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

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.

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

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.

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.

HB 7069: It’s not over!! There’s movement afoot.

When HB 7069 was signed into law, many hoped for an outcry from the citizens of the State. It’s been eerily quiet, and makes me think of what we used to call ‘earthquake weather’ in California when I was a child. Just before an earthquake, everything was so quiet that even the leaves on the trees did not move.

Today’s Florida’s Politics reports a rumble starting. Senator Simmons who worked so hard with Senator Farmer and others to craft a reasonable educational policy said, “We’re not done yet with HB 7069”. Senator Farmer is considering a lawsuit because the conference committee members swept up so many provisions and, in secret and at the last minute, created a bill that violates the single subject provision for bills.

Governor Scott could have vetoed HB 7069 but did not. The most destructive provisions include:

  1. Automatic charter school take over of low-performing schools. High performing charters don’t want these schools. Other charters take only the students they want and leave the others to fend for themselves.
  2. House members deleted Senator Simmons’ provisions to control charter school self dealing and corruption.
  3. Sharing local capital outlay that public schools badly need for facility maintenance puts money in privately owned charter facilities. Big charter chains make their money through their real estate companies.
  4. Teacher bonuses based on test scores do not address teacher shortages.
  5. Proposed reduction in testing is meaningless.

Thousands of people urged Governor Scott to veto this bill. He did not. Many more thousands need to be heard. Make a noise; turn the rumble into a roar to end the move to privatize our schools. It does not work; they make false promises. We can solve our own problems. Say so! Don’t let corporations take over our schools; they belong to us.

Trump Budget: Deep Cuts in Public Education

We knew this was coming, and next week it will be here.  According to the Washington Post, the education budget for public schools will be cut by $10.6 billion dollars.  The cuts include:

  • Work study cut in half; student loan programs revised
  • End of public service loan forgiveness
  • Mental health, advanced course work and other services cut
  • After school programs gone
  • Teacher training and class size reduction gone
  • Childcare for low income college students gone
  • Arts education gone
  • Gifted students gone
  • Career and technical education cut
  • and on and on

A significant change in Title I funding will impact low income public schools.  The new Title I program would allow $1 billion to go to choice schools.  Thus, low income public schools would receive even less support than they now have.   Money saved goes into charter schools and vouchers for private, religious schools.  Some funds go to increased choice for public schools.  Is this a recipe for quality schools or a disaster?

As Senator Lamar Alexander’s spokesperson said, ‘The Congress passes budgets”.  We elect congressmen and women.  Let them know what you think.