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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Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

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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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Schools Reflect Our Values

directory-281476_1280Poverty, race, and educational opportunity are intertwined. In a report by the National Educational Policy Center, housing is added to the mix.  The authors explain the interaction between where we live and the opportunities available to us.

Divided communities have greater inequities in access to quality education and employment.  Perceptions of the quality of schools based on the neighborhood income level become the reality.  The more divided our communities, the greater the problems become.  What can be done to reduce the inequities?

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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.


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?

FSA Score Results: What Parent’s Should Know

dmbtestI have reviewed the FSA validity study and the response by the Florida Department of Education.  It boils down to a few key issues:

  1. 1.  Students should be held harmless from promotion, graduation and placement in remediation courses.
  2. 2.  Scores based on FSA standards should be delayed until independent reviews of the alignment of test questions with state standards is completed.
  3. 3.  If close alignment with standards is not meaningful (as with the Utah test questions), then less expensive, nationally normed tests should be considered.
  4.  4.  Performance standards should not be set until the alignment of item complexity with performance standards is resolved.  Questions that are too complex or too simple for a given performance level could skew passing standards and the interpretation of what students should know and be able to do at each level.  School grades and student growth measures used in teacher evaluations could be negatively impacted.  The interpretation of performance levels would change from year to year due to variations in questions in different test forms in the same year and across years.

Difference Between U. S. House and Senate Education Bills

congress-74032_1280The Senate version of the education bill (See: US Senator Lamar Alexandar Bill ) and the House version differ mostly on the requirements for achievement testing.

The House version is a reintroduction of last year’s Student Success Act.  Both version emphasize returning control to the states.

A summary of the House version follows.  We will track the bills.  Check Legislative Updates on the rotating banner for the blog.  It is the photo of the green chalkboard.

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Private School Regulations by State for School Choice

by Terry Gillam

This report is a summary  of private school choice program regulations by state.  The data were drawn from the U.S. Department of Education State Regulation of Private Schools report.  There is also an interactive map on the DOE site.  The checklist of descriptors range from how schools are licensed, funded, and managed to teacher certification and professional development.  The checklist was published by the Friedman Foundation, a strong advocate for school choice.  It is a comprehensive source for data needed to analyze private school voucher program characteristics.