Popping the Balloon: D.C. Reform Fiasco

There is a lot of hot air about the impact of school choice on student achievement. Washington D.C. is often the example touted by unwitting journalists. John Merrow, retired PBS education reports on the ten year reign of Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. The achievement gap has widened under their ‘test and punish’ administration. Merrow states: “The education establishment wants everyone to believe that D.C. is a success story. It is not. To the contrary, it is a story of wide spread failure and untold damage to human potential.”

NAEP eighth grade reading scores improved by one point, 232 to 233. Non low-income student scores climbed 31 points from 250 to 281. Similar small gains were observed for fourth grade low income students. The achievement gap widened from 26 to 62 percentage points.

A National Research Council report in 2015 said that most of the achievement gain in D.C. was most likely due to the influx of white affluent families moving into D.C. and sending their children to public schools.

How do D.C.’s charter schools fare in this report? They include 40% of the city’s schools. D.C. schools are intensely segregated by race and class in both the district and charter run schools. In 2012, over two-thirds of charters were classified as ‘apartheid’ schools (less than 1% white). Voucher schools heightened the segregation.

So what are the recommended solutions? Orfield, one of the authors of the NRC report indicated that magnet schools learned something charters had not. You need recruitment across racial and ethnic lines, free transportation, strongly appealing and distinctive curriculum, admission to all groups of students, integrated faculties etc.

Federal housing policies have exacerbated residential segregation. Neighborhoods that are already diverse or all white support their local schools. Offering choice to everyone else has created a propaganda campaign but no significant improvement in schools. The challenge is to create a sense of opportunity for all students. To do this, housing patterns must become more diverse. Economic opportunity must be real for all racial/ethnic and income groups. Schools must symbolize this opportunity.

Federal Tax Bills Allow Vouchers

The tax bills in the U.S. House and Senate have curious twists. According to the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, 529 college savings accounts could be used for K12 private school tuition. Send your child to private school and get a tax break.

The U.S. Senate’s tax plan allows a tax deduction as a charitable contribution for private school tuition. A second provision creates tax credits for corporate and individual contributions to state non profits that offer tuition payments for low and middle income families.

The drive to get something passed in Congress, anything really, has resulted in a hodge podge of special interests that are certainly not in the public interest.

FTC Scholarship Program Under Review?

Today’s Sun Sentinel ran an article outlining needed improvements in the FTC program that provides tuition scholarships to private schools. There are about a billion dollars of corporate tax credits that the State of Florida diverts to this program. According the Sun Sentinel, a legislative committee is holding a hearing. Here’s why:

  1. Some school operators continue to receive scholarship money even though they have filed for bankruptcy.
  2. Eight schools hired staff with criminal records, and some people with criminal records start schools.
  3. Some schools falsify fire and health inspection records.
  4. Teachers without college degrees are employed.
  5. Students with disabilities are promised services that do not exist.
  6. Schools receive funding for students who are not enrolled.
  7. School facilities can be so substandard that they may be unsafe and in strip malls with unsavory neighbors.

The point of school choice is to limit regulation. Parents are supposed to ‘vote with their feet’ if a school is not what it seems. Unfortunately, these parents are in a ‘buyers beware’ market. Are there responsible, well-run private schools? Of course there are. Do parents know which are which?

Are rules and regulations only for schools with elected school boards and other charter and private schools are free to mismanage with few or no consequences? Who benefits in this system…children do not seem to. Districts are called bureaucratic as if standards and fairness in how they are implemented are the enemy. At the same time, however, the legislature heaps on more controls for public schools while they give more money and autonomy to private schools they support with public money.

There is just something fundamentally wrong with this divided educational system. There is a need to free our schools from so much top down management by the state while holding districts responsible for running schools well. What we don’t need is a system of extremes…no regulation vs. too much. There is one member of the Constitutional Revision Commission who is thinking along these lines. Watch for tomorrow’s post on district-run charter systems. It is the start of a better conversation.

Schools Without Rules: Winners and Losers

Do children learn in unregulated private schools? If so, why have rules for any schools? These are billion dollar questions. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program now garners about a billion dollars in redirected corporate tax rebates and other beverage license fees to educate children in private schools. Bottom line response to the ‘Who learns?’ question is that eleven percent of the FTC students gain twenty percentage points on a nationally standardized test, and eleven percent lose twenty percentage points. Most FTC children do about the same as others.

Who are the winners and losers?

Stories like ‘Schools without Rules’ that focus on children who are being short changed are heart breaking. Supporters for the FTC program, however, push back with counter charges and citizens are faced with yet another obfuscated argument to unravel. The important questions are about the best way to help children learn. These are the questions that remain unanswered in the school choice debate.

What do we really know about the FTC program?

WHO ARE FTC SCHOLARSHIP CHILDREN? Most FTC children are Hispanic (38%) and (83%) attend religious schools. While the FTC scholarships were originally designed to offer low-income families a better alternative, the reality is quite different. They tend to come from high performing public schools. Only twenty-five percent were previously enrolled in a public school with ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade. The income level requirement continues to be raised thus redirecting the FTC scholarships to less needy families.

FTC participation drops off after third grade.

HOW ARE FTC SCHOOLS EVALUATED? The FTC children are not required to take state tests or follow state curriculum. They take a nationally normed test that cannot be compared to the Florida Standards Assessments.

HOW DO REQUIREMENTS DIFFER? Teachers and principals are not required to be certified. Required background checks are not adequately supervised. Facilities are not required to meet public school standards.

HOW DO STUDENTS FARE ACADEMICALLY? Eleven percent of students gain more than 20 percentage points and eleven percent lost more than twenty percentage points compared to the results on the national tests. Those who leave tend to be students who struggle the most. They tend to be further behind academically than before they left their public schools.

Students who stay in the FTC school four or more years are slightly more likely to enroll in community college, but not graduate, than students who were eligible for FTC scholarships but did not attend. Successful students tend to be enrolled in Catholic schools and/or are foreign born. The more successful schools are those that were in existence prior to 2002. Private schools with a high percentage of FTC students tend not to be successful.

It is important not to overgeneralize results of studies. Based on the reports from the private school sector, however, it would appear that FTC students, in general, have little to gain and much to loose by attending these small, religious schools. The public, however, may have the most to lose. When funds are siphoned off in unproductive ways, everyone loses.

FTC Scholarships: Who Benefits? Who knows!

Yes, there is yet another study about Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for private schools. This one is funded in part by the Walton and Bush foundations. Don’t bother to read it you say? Not so fast. I found some useful tidbits.

The study looks for evidence that students who stay in the FTC program benefit by enrolling in college (community college) at a higher rate than similar students from public schools. Depending upon how you count, about five percent of the FTC program students are more likely to attend, but not graduate from, a community college. We can all celebrate students who succeed. We can also predict who they are likely to be.

What the report admits is that this study is not about student achievement. Florida private schools do not administer state tests, so comparisons cannot be made with public schools. In fact, Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio studies demonstrated that participating in their FTC programs reduced student achievement on state tests. So, the researchers asked different questions.

Who enrolls in Florida FTC private schools? What happens to them?
1. The study supposedly matched public school and FTC private school students by income and race. The match had problems. The public school group included 4% more children from families below the poverty level. Data on FTC students in the reduced lunch category, which is about a $10,00 higher income level, was even more starkly different. Only 11% of the FTC students were in the reduced lunch group compared to 31% of public school students. This fact alone may explain the difference in the rate of college enrollment between the two groups.
2. The Florida DOE data show that 83% of FTC students attend a religious private school. FTC students who enrolled in a Catholic or a non Christian religious school were more likely to enroll in college, but few FTC students enroll in these schools.

Who benefited from the FTC program?
1. FTC students who are most likely to attend college are Hispanic students who were born outside the U.S.
2. FTC students enrolled in private schools that were in existence before the program began in 2003 are more likely to go to college.
3. As more FTC students enrolled in a school, the less likely the students enrolled in community college.

No matter how the numbers are manipulated, private schools are no answer to improving student achievement. The students who succeed attend selective, well established private schools that will only enroll a few scholarship students. No doubt these children were carefully screened for admission.

The State can no longer even say that the tax credit scholarships save money. The legislature increased the stipend for tuition. The legislature must turn its attention to improving the quality of schools. Simply moving children around from place to place harms kids. Even this study mentions this disruption.

Bash Schools or Build Democracy

The October Atlantic reports on the war on public schools. We know this war. The strategy is changing, and this is a good thing. The reform mantra that school achievement has declined, teachers are inadequate, unions protect mediocrity and school choice (read privatization) solves all problems has become hackneyed, if not outright false. The Atlantic article raises a much different and more fundamental concern. The attack on public schools reflects the emphasis on individual rights as opposed to the collective good. This is an age-old theme in America. It waxes and wanes, but the stakes are high.

The author cites the political theorist Benjamin Barber’s warning: “America as a commercial society of individual consumers may survive the destruction of public schooling. America as a democratic republic cannot.” Why?

Our schools integrate diverse groups from widely ranging backgrounds into our civil society. They learn to be ‘American’. The public schools give all of our people a stake in the future of our democracy. School choice, however, is further segregating our society and creates more enclaves. The impact on our communities is being felt. We no longer teach civics, and fewer young people participate in voting.

In some countries, the population disengages in their political system. When this occurs, the whole process of negotiation among citizens to resolve problems disintegrates. A good analysis is offered by Harry Boyte, Co-Director of the Center for Democracy. He says “Politics is how diverse groups of people build a future together”. This is the message that will determine our future. We have a choice. We can build or divide our schools and our communities.

Terminated Clay Charter To Reopen as Private School

Clay County schools terminated the charter for Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. State law requires charters to close if they earn two ‘F’ school grades in a row. The charter school enrolls 170 students and receives $1.5 million from the State. Now, according to a school spokesperson, the charter will go private. They will no longer receive public school funds directly. The students who qualify will receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. The nice thing for the owners of the charter/private school is that students will no longer have to take the Florida State Assessments. They no longer will receive school grades.

Should this school be an eligible private FTC school? How many others are out there? We don’t know. The State does not have to tell us.

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

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.
 

Governor Scott Makes a Bad Choice

Governor Scott to sign HB 7069 today.  In a symbolic act, Governor Scott is set to sign HB 7069 at Morning Star Catholic Church in Orlando today.  Is private school what we want for our children?  We know that Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran wants to start a steam roller to privatize our schools.  He has said so publically.  The time has come for citizens to stand up for equal access for a high quality public education.

HB 7069 uses charter school expansion to fuel that initiative.  Charter schools are privately owned and managed but funded with our tax dollars.  Now, our local districts will have to give up some of their local facility funding to charters so they can pay whatever lease and bond payments private charter management firms require.

This is a serious blow to public schools whose facility funding has been sharply cut for thee past ten years.

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