ALEC on Failing Charters: Make it Harder to Close Them

FAILED1What kind of organization would want to keep failing charter schools afloat?  It seems it is the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC.  It is a group of state legislators who favor limited government, free markets and federalism.  The organization drives an agenda that formulates legislation for states across the country.

ALEC has posted its latest priorities.   The first is the Student and Family Fair Notice and Impact Statement Act.

 

 

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Management Priorities for Charters

communication-73331_640What should our legislative priorities be?

 

 

 

 

 

Two years ago, the League made a statewide call for better oversight of charter schools.  Major reports on charter fraud, waste and abuse made national headlines.  The FBI raided charter schools across the country.  Just this year, a new scandal erupted in several Florida cities.  The U.S. district attorney has brought charges.

The problems extend beyond corruption and enter the realm of civil rights.  The U.S. Department of Education and the President cautioned the charter movement about its tendency to increase racial and economic segregation in its schools. Charters, moreover, under represent children with disabilities.  Critics claim that these enrollment policies reflect charter school management companies’ profit seeking priorities.

Lack of charter oversight is a design feature, not a bug says PR Watch.  Charters were to be given free rein to ‘change the system’.  Accountability was to be based on student academic achievement. The appWearance of academic achievement, however, is easy to manipulate.  If charters attract strong students to begin with, their schools will be successful.  Under the school grade system, good students, not good teachers, make good schools.  Concerns about screening out students abound.

Charters have been operating long enough for the consequences to become apparent.  Federal and state authorities have begun to officially recognize the abuse in the system and make marginal efforts to correct it.

FEDERAL ACTIONS

  • The Federal Office of Inspector General reported  many incidences of conflicts of interest between charters and their management companies as well as problematic fiscal and management practices.
  • In September 2015, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all state education leaders calling for better charter oversight to correct conflicts of interest, related party transactions, and improved transparency between charter and management company practices, stronger authorization practices to ensure operational and academic quality.  States were charged with investigating civil rights violations by charter schools.

STATE OF FLORIDA ACTIONS

  • During the 2016 legislative session, former Senate President Gaetz said it was ‘time to end charter school self enrichment policies’.  He followed up with strong corrective measures; some passed:
    • weighted additional 25% in facility capital outlay (PECO) funding for charters who enroll 75% Free and Reduced Lunch qualifiers and 25% students with disabilities
    • required charter applicants to provide a financial and academic history
    • required automatic closure of charters receiving two consecutive ‘F’ grades
    • required that students not be dismissed for low academic achievement.
  • Florida Department of Education set up a data base to track the history of charter school applicants.

UPDATED LEAGUE STUDY

  • The Hillsborough County League reopened its study of for profit charter management company business models.  Its interim report was the basis for an article in the Tampa Bay Times which received inquiries from ABC and CBS News interview.
  • The  League is reviewing charter  ‘student push out incidences’  that may have civil rights implications.

SCHOOL DISTRICT ACTIONS

  • Palm Beach County Schools Lawsuit against CSUSA over the right for districts to require charters fulfill an unmet need in the district.
  • Escambia County Schools investigation of Newpoint Charter Schools that resulted in criminal indictments.

Florida officials have taken small steps to improve charter school laws, but the lack of oversight over how these laws are implemented remains.  School districts authorize charters but have limited access to information about how they are run.

What more needs to be done to improve the system?

  • create guidelines for charter school facility lease and bond costs
  • improve transparency of charter management company practices to inhibit self dealing
  • improve measures to guarantee independence of charter board member from charter management companies
  • report charter school student dismissals and resignations and review civil rights violations
  • document need for new charter schools to improve financial efficiency and innovative programs
  • revise data reporting for free and reduced lunch program due to new federal guidelines that obscure the definition of economically disadvantaged students.

The next legislative session may, once again, tackle the charter school management and oversight problems.  In the past, legislators have proposed everything from creating a charter school institute to be housed at Florida State University to forming charter school districts.  There are sporadic efforts to improve collaboration between charters and local public schools, but they are often stymied by the inherent competition between the two systems.

WOULD A NEW STUDY OF CHARTER MANAAGEMENT HELP?

Identifying successful collaborative efforts, if any, could be instructive.  A 2013 Center for Reinventing Public Schools report on a Gates Foundation initiative was not hopeful.   Some argue that the Washington D.C. model is effective, but it too has had large scale scandals. The seven member D.C. Public Charter School Board is appointed by the Mayor.  A 2015 Washington Post article reports on the need for more transparency in D.C. charter school management.  It appears D.C.  has the same mismanagement problems as those in other  cities.

There is a report on different oversight models in the country.  Minnesota and New York have ‘hands on’ oversight models.  Others states are much more passive.  The U.S. has a public school management and oversight system that has survived for about 100 years.  If we need some schools to do a few different things, one would think that some incentives could be provided without using a wrecking ball to destroy one system in order to replace it with a more imperfect system over which the public has no control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Democratic Education Platform: Too Good to be True?

ballot-32201_1280It is an election year.  Which way is the wind blowing?  Judging by the rift over the Democratic Party Platform, testing, accountability, and charter school management could see significant changes….or not.

The draft platform opposed for-profit charter schools.  The amended platform added even many more changes:

 

 

 

 

 

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Teacher Bonuses Challenge Under Review

justiceFlorida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program is under review by a federal agency.  The Florida Education Association filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last December.  In the complaint, the FEA argued that the program discriminated against teachers whose ACT or SAT tests, on which the bonuses are based, are unfairly excluded.  Teachers who sat the SAT or ACT before 1973 have no qualified scores.  These teachers are referred to DOE guidelines which seem to be strangely absent on the FDOE website.  According to the Naples News article today, a decision by the EEOC has not been reached, but the complaint is still under review.  If the EEOC finds reason to proceed with the complaint, the FEA will file a lawsuit.

 

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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Federal Accountability Rules for School Grades

hat-157980_1280Criteria for new school grades are drafted by the U.S. Department of Education.  Under this new plan, states can choose their own indicators of school quality or student success that move beyond the traditional accountability measures based on test scores or graduation rates.  School Report Cards must also be made in consultation with parents.  The draft document is now under review and open for comment  It includes:

 

 

 

 

 

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KIPP Keeps A Secret

top-secret-1076813_1280In this repost from Diane Ravitch, one of the most troubling aspects of privatizing our schools is underscored…we do not know what is going on.  The business practices on charter management companies have always been hidden in a cloak of secrecy.  Why this is so in many states raises alarms.  Incidences of charter fraud, waste and abuse have been documented across the country.

Now we learn that the federal government is complicit in hiding information that most public schools must disclose.  Ravitch cites a report from the Center for Media and Democracy about disclosure protection for KIPP schools.  Under an arrangement with the U.S. Department of Education, KIPP does not have to report its student attrition and graduation rates.  Why not?  Based on older reports, the data are too revealing.  KIPP lost 40% of its students between middle school and high school graduation.

You can read more on KIPP in this blog.  KIPP is one of the largest charter chains.  A member of the Florida State Board of Education has brought two KIPP charters to Duval County.

Are KIPP Charters the Answer?  Depends upon the question…

Toeing the Line at KIPP?

 

Will Pinellas Failure Factories Turn Around?

FAILED1Pinellas is taking on its failing schools.  This blog reported on the Tampa Bay Times series on south Pinellas schools that had essentially been abandoned when federal desegregation regulations were lifted in 2007.  I remember Judge Reynolds’ statement a week ago in the Citizens for Strong Schools case.  He said he could not believe that the Florida DOE had not intervened when schools received an ‘F’ grade four years in a row.

 

 

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Charter Fraud: Ohio Style

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Florida has charter fraud problems and so does Ohio–among other states.  Privatization of schools opens up opportunities for profiteering without oversight.  The federal government has finally gotten involved in the Ohio charter scandals.  It took awhile. They are holding up a $71 million grant to they had awarded to expand charters.   This is one of those scandals from which the Governor cannot hide.

 

 

 

 

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