Charter School Bubble to Burst?

hands-982121_1280Are charter schools an emotional response by inner city low income families to long standing state funding inequities?  A University of Virginia Law Review article  addresses concerns that school funding inequities in Black urban areas lead to a tolerance of unfettered growth in charter schools. 

The federal government support for charters also feeds the expansion without sufficient regulation.  The net result may be a bubble and crash much like the recent financial crisis.  What should be done to avoid a cataclysmic fall that could destroy communities?

Mother Jones summarizes the three practices that lead to serious mismanagement.  I add a summary of the status Florida’s legislation to address these concerns.

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US DOE Spells Out ‘OPT OUT’ Consequences to States

dmbtestAssistant Secretary Whalen, U.S. Department of Education, sent a letter on December 2nd, 2015 to Chief State School Officers that outlines the consequences to states for failure to administer state assessments to at least 95% of eligible students.  The letter lists possible federal actions to restrict funding for federal programs.  If fewer than 95% of students sit the state assessments for two years in a row 2014-2016, then the state may incur penalties e.g.

  • Place Title I Part A grants on high risk status.
  • Withhold Title I Part A administrative funds
  • Withhold or redirect Title VI test administrative funds

The letter provides a list of actions that states may consider to pressure districts and schools to comply with federal testing mandates for 2016.  These could include lowering school grades, counting non participants in testing as not proficient in accountability reports, withholding state aid and/or funding flexibility and labeling schools as ‘high risk’.  High risk schools may be subject to state take over.

The letter does not specify what actions schools may take to pressure parents to comply with the testing requirement.

Congress Passes New Federal ESEA Bill

legislation1We posted several analyses of the updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Current legislation, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is on its way to the President’s desk.   No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top are gone.  What remains are annual testing requirements and support for charter schools.  Responsibility for most education accountability reverts to the states.  Thus, each state can determine how test scores are used for teacher evaluation, school grades and the Common Core.

States are required to identify schools with under performing students and help fix them.  What this means is unclear.  For a good analysis, see Education Week.  Many provisions are subject to different interpretations.  One thing is clear, citizens need to turn to their state legislatures  to make reasonable, valid decisions about how test scores are used.  Continued policies that force districts and teachers to focus instruction on ‘passing the test’ can be changed, if the voters insist.

 

Best and Brightest Teachers Bonus Needs Study

teacher-590109_1280Efforts to reward highly effective teachers are understandable.  An expression comes to mind, however, about a road to….being  paved with good intentions.  We need to know where the road leads.  The Tampa Bay Times published an article this morning that delineates flaws with the teacher bonus selection process.  Of the state’s 172,000 teachers, Forty-two percent of Florida’s teachers earned ‘highly effective’ ratings in 2014; of these 5,200 qualified for bonuses of $8,500 each.  Some who appeared to be qualified were left out.  No one received the $10,000 initially promised.  The amount of money the legislature allocated did not cover the cost.  We should know where the money went.  There may be unintended consequences.  This program needs fixing.Continue reading

Congress Conference Committee Resolving Differences on Education Bill

dmbtestYou can watch the conference committee in action yesterday and today.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) looks  to be headed for passage.  The bill is now called: S. 1177  Every Child Achieves Act.  Basically, the bill will strip the punitive aspects of Race to the  Top such as teacher evaluations based on test scores and take overs of struggling schools.  Annual testing, however, remains.

While Common Core may not be mandated, most states already have developed tests to measure the standards or are using the two national tests.

The brief discussion of testing acknowledged concern about over the impact of testing and will encourage states to enact limits.  The committee members, however, stated that federal testing requirements were not the problem.  The problem was the use of test scores for accountability.  The authority for how test scores will be used is returned to the states.  This does not mean that currently mandated accountability systems for grading teachers, schools, and districts are gone.  They just are not federally mandated.

Remember that the Florida legislature stated that its tests were not the problem, the problem was over testing in the districts.  Districts state that the amount of testing is due to the requirements to use scores for teacher evaluations.  Florida’s 2016 legislative session could be interesting.  Annual testing will not disappear.  How scores are used could change.

I watched today.   Some amendments were approved by both the House and Senate committee members that are of particular interest were approved:

Rep. Thompson:  Study Title I funding formulas

Sen. Enzi: Study early childhood program overlap

Rep. Bonamici: Include arts and interdisciplinary course content in Title IV STEM programs

Sen. Bennett:  Place caps on the amount of testing time required

There were a few other amendments related to teacher training for the appropriate use of student data and extending dual enrollment for ELL students.

 

 

 

U.S. DOE: Testing Action Plan

hat-157980_1280The Fact Sheet on federal plans to reform the over emphasis on testing was released yesterday.  The approach to school and teacher accountability has shifted from a strong emphasis on annual state assessments to one that uses multiple measures in ‘innovative’ ways.  The principles for testing are those one would expect:  tests should be worth taking, high quality, time limited, fair, transparent, one of multiple measures, and tied to improvement of learning.

Reading closely, it is apparent that annual testing remains for reading, writing, science and math.  The use of test scores to evaluate the achievement of students in diverse groups and to determine which schools need additional support remains.  There are, however, cracks in the system.

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President Obama Calls for a Cap on Testing, or does he?

dmbtestIs there hope that the testing craze may have peaked?  Finally, a reputable study has reported that tests are overwhelming public schools.  Teachers, students and parents have been saying so for several years.  Their voices have reached the top.  Today, the Council on Great City Schools released its preliminary report of a survey of testing practices.  President Obama also says there is too much testing.  Read the fine print.  What is really being said?

Here are some findings from the Great City Schools report:

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Ohio Citizens Fight Back Against Charter Corruption

money-40603_1280The exploitation by charter school management companies in Ohio makes Florida  look not quite so bad.  Understanding the problems and the difficulty of correcting them is essential.  Ohio citizens got the message and acted.  Their legislature finally approved a strongly opposed measure to hold charter management companies more accountable.  For one thing, they now have to disclose how they spend all the money that is transferred to them from the charter schools.

Many of use do not realize that school boards transfer money to a charter school non-profit organization.  The non-profit is audited, but only on how they spend money.  The boards of the non-profit often subcontract (between 90 to 95% of their money) to a for-profit management company to run the school.  They run everything including hiring teachers, managing money, building or leasing facilities, and most often providing curriculum materials.   The management company is private, so they do not have to reveal where they spend the money or how much profit they earn.  For example, the for-profit company may charge the school twenty to thirty percent of its budget for facilities that actually cost much less.

How and why these management arrangements exist is complicated.  One of the better explanations I have read lately is one from Jan Resseger’s blog.  She explains the change in Ohio law to improve oversight  of charter management companies.  She also reports the latest school district take over by charters in Youngston, Ohio.  Granted Youngston has problems.  Equally true is that other take over efforts in inner cities have done little to improve achievement in poverty stricken areas.  There is much hype, big investments, and wrenching of control from local communities.  The federal government has a target list of these cities.  The intention may be good; the implementation is fraught with controversy and devoid of meaningful results.  There has to be a better way.

Read Jan’s account here.  Do a self test.  Can you fill in the names of the corresponding players in Florida?

 

Arne Duncan to Resign in December

John King Jr.

John King Jr.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will resign at the end of the year.  His replacement will be Deputy Secretary John King Jr.  Mr. King was Commissioner of Education in New York prior to going to D.C.  in January 2015.

A NY Times article about King’s departure from New York stated that King was the center of a contentious debate about testing, teacher evaluation and training and charter schools.  He oversaw the first administration of the Common Core tests in New York and was firm in his commitment to the test and evaluation system.  He was named in a lawsuit filed by a teacher’s union and parents over a property tax cap that they argued would further the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts.  The NY State United Teachers Union gave King a vote of no confidence last spring lobbied against his appointment.

False Promises Bring Big Profits?

money-40603_1280The numbers are ringing alarm bells.  I discovered something about charter failure rates and the number of years they were open.  The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch has compiled a state by state list of charter school failures.    Florida has the second largest number of failures (308) next to Arizona.

The cost of failure is high.  CMD reports that the federal government has spent 3.3 billion dollars on charter school development.  The funding is sent to the states to distribute.  Federal auditors estimate that $200 million has been lost due to fraud and waste in the past decade.   In 2011-12, Michigan had 25 charters that were awarded $3.7 million and never opened.  Florida’s case is more dramatic.

In Florida, charters may receive up to $350 thousand before they open.  In 2011, the Florida’s legislature created a new fund with an additional $30 million to expand charters.  The Department of Education used the money to create a partnership with a venture capital group headed by a former KIPP school executive.  There is a lot of money in starting charter schools.

What did the tally of the number of years charters were opened before they closed reveal?  First, a third of the closed charters appear to have never opened!  I knew this happened, but I did not realize how big the problem was.  An additional thirty four schools closed after one year.  Only one-third of these schools remained open for three or more years.  We do not know how much start up money these schools received.  The Florida Department of Education did not keep track.  In a recent post, we reported that in a four year period, over $67 million in federal start up costs in Florida could not be accounted for.  Strange business practice for a state that touts its strong accountability process.

A recent State Board of Education rule now allows districts to do background checks on groups who propose new charters.  It is easy to assume the independent operators are more likely to be inexperienced managers with inadequate financial resources.  They do account for many school failures.  The SBE rule, however, may not go far enough.  Two of the largest charter management firms, Academica and Imagine, had many schools that failed to open.  Given that these firms have substantial resources, one wonders why these schools closed before they opened.  Did these companies also receive large start up funds?  We do not know.  Will some agency in charge of charter accountability take notice?  Who is in charge?