This is worth more than a glance. You can see the impact or lack thereof, of a Gates Foundation program to improve collaboration between districts and charters. The evaluation of this effort gives specific examples based on 23 District charter collaborations formed across the nation since 2011. The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report cited what was and was not accomplished and why.
The latest article in the Atlantic depicts the ruthless character of the Success Academy charter founder, Eva Moskowitz and the Chair of the Success Academy board, billionaire Daniel Loeb. It is, however, more than a diatribe. Elizabeth Green, of Chalkbeat, describes the frustration with unions and bureaucratic tangles that led to Moskowitz’s charter chain. Green also outlines the future, perhaps not too distant, of the charter movement. Must give us pause.
Moskowitz decried union bonus rules that encouraged custodians to cut maintenance costs in order to save money for bonuses. The result, she alleges, was unhealthy, non private bathrooms. Teachers, Moskowitz claims, are hamstrung by conflicting regulations from the federal, state and local levels. Charters, free from all of these regulations, are free to concentrate on instruction.
Instruction, as Green documents, is not free from regulation in Moskowitz’s charters. Instead it is scripted and rigidly enforced by the charter chain. It is a sort of mind control for students and teachers. As a result, student and teacher attrition is very high. There is no apology. Success charters, in general, target lower income students. Then they sift out the students and teachers who cannot manage the ‘no excuses’ discipline. By the time students graduate, most have left long before. Those who survive do well on test scores. Publicity from those successes keep parents coming. Winning the lottery is compelling but by winning, most students have a hollow victory.
The future direction of the charter movement is toward charter networks like the 46 charters Moskowitz runs. Parents would choose between one or more charter chains and what remains of traditional public schools. Each chain would have its own philosophy and management style. Parents won’t really choose, they will enter into a lottery and take what they can get. Given that the private sector sets its own rules; parents either like the option or leave. Then what?
The best situation would be a weighted lottery that would attempt to balance racial/ethnic and economic groups within a school. The worst might result in schools that totally isolate all demographic and ability groups.
Green does not just imagine the spread of charter chains and districts. Florida has two of the largest for-profit charter chains in the U.S., Academica and CSUSA. Proposals to amend the Florida constitution to facilitate charter districts have been filed by CRC members Donalds and Martinez.
It will be up to Florida’s voters to decide how scary Florida’s educational system will be.
At the Florida House Innovation hearing a couple of weeks ago, Commissioner Stewart said that Florida ranked in the top ten in achievement scores. This is a stretch. Try 11th in fourth grade reading and 33nd in eighth grade reading. It is worse in mathematics.
The comparisons of Florida on the National Achievement of Education Progress (NAEP) average scores are reported below along with the achievement gains in scores from 2003-2015.
- Nationally Florida is 11th in grade four reading and 19th in math on NAEP, but it is one of the relatively few states that has mandatory third grade retention based on state assessment scores. Retention of third graders creates a temporary inflation in scores for fourth graders. Fourth grade NAEP scores diminish by eighth grade.
- Florida’s ranking in 8th grade reading drops to 33nd. Math is 43rd. nationwide.
Compare: Florida Nation Rank
Math……. 243… 200… 19
Reading.. 227… 221… 11
Math……. 275… 281… 43
Reading.. 263… 264… 33
COMPARISONS WITH LARGE ‘MEGA’ STATES
The Florida DOE does compare Florida’s NAEP scores to the nation and to other large states like California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. Of these so-called mega states, only California, Ohio and Florida have mandatory third grade retention. Note the drop in Florida’s percentage of students scoring at or above proficient in achievement rankings between fourth and eighth grade. The gain in the percentages of students scoring at or above proficient between 2003-15 is included in the report.
- All of the mega states except California out perform Florida in 8th grade mathematics. In reading, California and Texas have lower scores than Florida, but Florida also has a below average percentage of students scoring at or above the proficiency level.
- Florida’s 8th grade achievement gains in reading were less than all other large states except New York. California and Pennsylvania had large reading gains. The only large state to have large achievement gains in mathematics was Texas. Florida had significantly lower gains than most large states.
Education Week reports Quality Indicators that combine a number of ratings. If the National Assessment score rankings in grade 4 and 8 are used, Florida’s quality indicator is a C-, according to the latest Education Week report.
The bottom line is:
- Large states with large minority and low income populations do not perform as well as other states.
- Eighth grade scores are better indicators of achievement than are fourth grade scores due to differences in states’ retention policies.
- Florida ranks near the bottom in achievement gains. Wish it were different. Florida cannot improve achievement if it does not even recognize the problem it has.
Who succeeds at New York’s Success Academy charter schools? The New Yorker provides some clues. The first high school graduating class at New York City’s Success Academies has made it through years of strict discipline and mind control. There is even a correct placement for your pencil when it sits on your desk. Suspension is ‘one tool in the toolkit’ and is used often, not to punish but to increase awareness of expectations. Only seventeen students made it to graduation, but their accomplishments are notable. Even the teachers tend not to last; an average of twenty-five percent leave every year.
The environment for learning attracts parents. Success charters receive large donations from the business community. There are well equipped classrooms and field trips. Instruction is both very directed toward skill mastery and somewhat more progressive. Teachers, however, do not develop their own lesson plans. They teach what the ‘network’ demands. Teachers and students alike operate within tightly controlled boundaries and frequent assessment, according to the authors.
The recipe for Success Academy is high expectations, strict and intense behavioral control, and formulaic teaching strategies. Test scores for those who last are excellent. Most do not last, and after second grade, new students are not added. By high school, enrollments are small.
College enrollment for graduates is high, but then something happens. Students do not complete college.
John Dewey’s educational philosophy gives a hint to what could be happening at Success Academy schools i.e. “The society for which a child is being prepared…should be replicated in a simplified form within the structure and culture of the school itself’. In other words, if a school prepares students in an authoritarian manner, then the students will expect to function in an authoritarian world as adults. They may well have problems, as students at a Success Academy high school experienced, when they were given the opportunity to structure their own time and academic activities. They simply did not know how.
We all have to ask ourselves what is important about education. Is it measured by test scores or is there something more fundamental? These are not simply philosophical questions. There is a constitutional amendment proposed in Florida to define the purpose of education the development of the intellect and preparation for the workforce. What’s missing in this definition?
Some things make my eyes light up. Tighter controls or the elimination of for-profit charters is one. Another is a moratorium on the expansion of school choice. New York is ahead of Florida on these issues. The state eliminated the expansion of for-profit charter management several years ago. Now, three elected members of the Buffalo school district have asked for a moratorium on charter growth. It is the usual problem, as charters grow in number, resources dwindle for everyone.
The Buffalo charter sector wants to expand. Its response to the school board decision for a moratorium, however, might not be what you would expect. The spokesperson for the Northeast Charter Schools Network said: “We understand that charter schools are not perfect; they’re not the magic answer”. He went on to say that if parents want them, they should not be denied the choice.
There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that choice is more important than the common good. We all have to ask, How much is enough? I keep going back to the private sector competition model that creates 13 kinds of Cheerios and nearly 200 TV stations. We pay for those, but we don’t use them. Soon the private sector starts to cut corners to cut costs. If you are sensitive to consumer market surveys, you might have recognized that some brands of coffee are sold in 12 ounce packages, not the one pound packages we expect. The price is the same. There is some truth to the old adage that there can be too much of a good thing.
The U.S. Inspector General has recognized the serious nature of the charter management problems. The League of Women Voters has been calling for better transparency and management oversight for several years. Now, the federal government has joined us—-well, a part of the federal government.
It is one step toward better accountability for our tax dollars.
Charter schools represent 7% of New York City’s school population but 42% of all student suspensions. Of the top 50 schools with high suspension rates, 48 were charters. These schools are clustered in the heart of black communities in Harlem, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Brooklyn. The problem extends far beyond New York. Parents are pushing back.
In Valerie Strauss’ latest Washington Post article, she reports on former New York principal, Carol Burris’ study of the sort and select enrollment practices in New York charter schools.
These are charters that are so often held up as success stories, so to speak. Are they?
Performance evaluation are a tricky business. Arbitrary data systems based on student test scores turn excellent teachers into mediocre ones and vice versa. Individual judgments can also be wrong, but systems that have multiple components can be reasonably fair.
Some states are dropping student achievement gain scores and are returning to human judgment systems for teacher evaluations. Which are these forward thinking states?
What are these anti tenure cases really about? Are reformers convinced the workforce has more than its share of ineffective teachers? Or, are they concerned many teachers prefer to work in traditional schools where they can earn higher salaries and benefits? Thus, charters and private schools struggle to compete for high quality teachers.
There is a general anti union undercurrent, but I am continually surprised how few Floridians seem to know that tenure in Florida is a thing of the past. Why are other states filing law suits?