Tuesday, September 15, 2015

School Choice As a Proxy for Segregation and Inequality?

Controlled choice has been central to the ability of progressive school districts to voluntarily desegregate.  The title of this post is in no way meant to disparage school choice in general, but rather to highlight a recent study by Julia Burdick-Will.  Her study revealed an interesting pattern: "as a neighborhood’s income decreases, its range of educational experiences greatly expands."  In other words, the assumption that students in disadvantaged neighborhoods are trapped in their failing local school is not necessarily true.  Rather, children in wealthier neighborhoods are the ones most likely to stay in their neighborhood schools.  No one, of course, would claim these students are trapped.  Rebecca Klien points out that going to a strong neighborhood school is the privilege, not choice.  Wealthier students have this privilege.  Low-income students do not.  

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September 15, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Nevada Parents Sue to Stop State's Voucher Program, Arguing It Is the Most Expansive in Nation

Here is the Education Law Center's press release:

Several Nevada public school parents today filed a lawsuit opposing the state's new voucher program, which became law in June at the close of the legislative session. The lawsuit contends that the voucher law diverts funds earmarked for Nevada's public schools to private schooling and other education expenses, in direct conflict with the state constitution.

Nevada's new voucher law sets no household income limits, has no cap on the number of vouchers, and allows public school funding to pay for a wide range of private spending, including private and religious school tuition, home schooling, transportation, and other expenses, including those related to home-based education. The Nevada law creates the most expansive voucher program in the nation.

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September 10, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A State Supreme Court Finally Gets It Right and Finds Charters Are Not Regular Common Schools

Last week, the Washington Supreme Court in League of Women Voters v. State held that Washington’s charter school statute was unconstitutional.  Its reasoning was straightforward.  First, the state constitution mandates that the state create and fund “a general and uniform system of public schools.”  Second, the constitution further provides that “the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”  Third, charter schools are funded out of the common school fund.  Fourth, charter schools are not “common schools” because: a) they are not subject to the same rules and oversight as the other public or common schools in the state, b) they are governed instead by a charter school board; and c) that charter school boards are not elected by the people, but appointed or selected. As the Washington Supreme Court had established in a previous case, “a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”  Thus, in short, the charter school legislation is unconstitutional because it directs common school funds to schools that are not “common schools.”

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September 9, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Could School Funding In Pennsylvania Be Any More Problematic?

Pennsylvania had long been one of those states that somehow managed to distribute money to its public schools without an actual funding formula.  Rather than distributing money based on head counts, locality cost, special need students and the like, Pennsylvania funded schools through what I call the "Pittsburgh ought to get this and Philly that" method.  During Governor Rendell's administration, the state, for the first time, passed a formula, which seemingly improved things a little.  But during Governor Corbett's time in office, the state abandoned the formula.  This in, no small part, led to the horror stories in Philadelphia, including school nurses being told they could only work one or two days a week.  In 2013, on a day when the school nurse was told to stay home, a girl began exhibiting symptoms at school, which later that day would lead to her death.  This along with other atrocities led the civil rights community to uncharacteristically descend on the state.

Over the past half year or so, a commission on school funding has traveled the state to seek input from districts and stakeholders on what should be done.  This summer the commission submitted a proposal to the legislature, which has yet to act.  But whatever legislation might come out of the state house the legislature has proven unable to keep its word in the past.  The abandonment of the funding formula is case in point one.  Case in point two is the crisis in Chester right now.  A few years ago, teachers had to work for free because the district was so upside down in its payments to charter schools.  The district is right back in the same position.  

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September 3, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2015

North Carolina Voucher Program Survives Constitutional Challenge, Court Reasons the Special Funding for the Program Exempts It from Scrutiny

Earlier this summer in Hart v. State, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that pays tuition for eligible students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars.  Plaintiffs alleged that the Opportunity Scholarship Program violates the North Carolina Constitution by allocating taxpayer money to private schools; appropriating taxpayer money to private schools without the Board of Education supervising those funds; and creating a “non-uniform system of schools.”  Plaintiffs also alleged the program was unconstitutional because eliminating accountability and permitting schools receiving voucher students to discriminate based on religion served no public purpose.

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August 17, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Voucher Movement Finally Coming Clean? New Push Is All About Middle Income Students

Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its fifth annual conference in San Diego. At the conference ALEC announced that they would no longer promote private school vouchers as helping poor, minority, or disadvantaged children, but would now be pushing vouchers for middle-class suburbia. The voucher system had previously been endorsed as a means to boost racial diversity and was restricted to low income families. However, like ALEC, numerous states have transitioned to promoting the privatization of public education.

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July 31, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Senate Votes Down Vouchers, ESEA Process Presses Forward

A little over a month ago, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a member of the education subcommittee, had foregone his voucher amendment at the committee level so that the bill could move to the full Senate with a unanimous vote.  He revived that amendment before the full Senate.  The measure would have allowed low income students to opt out of public school and use $2100 in Title I dollars to pay for tuition at a private school.  The amendment was defeated on a 45-to-51 vote yesterday. Democrats were unified in their opposition and a few Republicans joined them, including Senators from Missouri, Kansas, and Alaska.  Senate rules required 60 votes for the amendment to pass.  

Still up this week are amendments to the funding formula (discussed here yesterday) and an anti-discrimination measure to protect against harassment based on sexual orientation.

July 15, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ohio's Plan to Regulate Charters Will Not Do the Job Says Charter School Advocate

The movement to allow charter schools to operate free from regulation by local school districts, and in some instances, by state education departments, was intended to encourage innovative approaches to education. But states are learning that when money is involved, allowing charters charters to operate without sufficient oversight also fosters fraud and waste. Ohio's charter school system has been criticized for poor results, no-show students, and not counting online students' Fs in courses. Those following the national scrutiny of Ohio's charter school system (examples here and here), have seen Ohio Gov. John Kasish try to fix the state's charter school regulation. But the current legislation before the Ohio Senate will not do the job, charter school advocate Chad Aldis wrote today. The problem is that the current bill still allows charters to shop for "sponsors," the organizations that oversee the charters' performance -- and to seek sponsors who will set the bar low. Further, Ohio pays sponsors up to 3 percent of the funding received by the schools that they sponsor with no statutory restrictions on how sponsors can spend those funds, a system that allows a symbiotic relationship incompatible with rigorous oversight. Read more on Ohio's bill here.

June 17, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New Study Says Education Reform in New Orleans May Have Served Whites' Interests, But Not African Americans'

Adrienne Dixson (University of Illinois), Kristen Buras (Georgia St.), and Elizabeth K. Jeffers (Georgia St.) have released their new paper, The Color of Reform: Race, Education Reform, and Charter Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 21 (3) Qualitative Inquiry (2015).  They argue that

By most media accounts, education reform in post-Katrina New Orleans is a success. Test scores and graduation rates are up, and students once trapped in failing schools have their choice of charter schools throughout the city. But that's only what education reform looks like from the perspective of New Orleans' white minority -- the policymakers, school administrators and venture philanthropists orchestrating and profiting from these changes. . . 

From the perspectives of black students, parents and educators -- who have had no voice in the decision-making, and who have lost beloved neighborhood schools and jobs -- education reform in New Orleans has exacerbated economic and cultural inequities.

Get a summary of their research here and the full article here.

May 5, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Equity in education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

OECD Suggests "Regulated School Choice" Reform for Sweden

Sweden has been an enthusiastic model for school voucher and choice programs around the world. This week, a new report reopens the debate about Sweden's school choice reforms that may contain lessons for similar efforts in the United States. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the report on Swedish education that in part faults school choice for Sweden's declining performance on international assessments. The OECD report was prompted when Sweden's student performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), dropped significantly from near the OECD average in 2000 to significantly below average in 2012-- the sharpest decline among the 65 participating countries and economies.  In Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective, the OECD found that Sweden's school choice reforms were too loosely regulated and that education quality may have suffered from the lack of oversight. The report also points to school choice as a contributor to almost half of Sweden's children from immigrant backgrounds (48%) failing to make a passing grade in mathematics on the PISA. The OECD suggests that Sweden regulate private voucher programs and charters more closely to maintain education quality and improve how disadvantaged families receive information about schools, because the OECD is concerned that disadvantaged families may be overlooking better-ranked schools to stay in more familiar (and at times, more ethnically and socio-economically segregated) environments. When this debate started years ago, economists argued that no one could tell what prompted the decline in Sweden's PISA scores because the country started so many different reforms at once. One economist faulted that the country's largely unregulated entry and oversight in implementing charters and private school voucher programs; another argued that Sweden's schools were hampered in designing their own curriculum and teaching methods. In a Slate article a few years ago, the New Orleans Recovery District Superintendent acknowledged that part of that district's success came from district administrators (rather than market pressures) deciding which charters could stay open and from recruiting top quality teachers and administrators from around the country to start a new district nearly from the ground up, situations unlikely to be replicated in most districts in the nation. Read more about the OECD report and Sweden's response here.

May 4, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When Integration and Charter Schools Collide: North Carolina's Troubling Trend

Helen Ladd, Charles Clotfelter, and  John Holbein have released a new study on North Carolina's charter schools that will only intensify the debate between charter school and civil rights advocates. A few reports, most notably those by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, have charged that charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.  Those reports have been criticized as overstating the matter and unfairly framing the evidence (by comparing charters to dissimilar public school systems).

Ladd's study addresses the issue with more precision by focusing only on North Carolina and looking at the change in charters and public schools over time.  By measuring change over time, Ladd is able to compare charters to themselves and public schools to themselves, mooting claims of unfair comparisons.  This analysis reveals an extremely troubling dynamic.  As the chart below shows, charter schools are becoming "whiter" and traditional public schools more heavily populated by students of color.  

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April 28, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mississippi and Tennessee Pass Special Education Voucher Bills

Last week, Mississippi enacted a special education voucher law (the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act), and in Tennessee this week another special education voucher bill, the Individualized Education Act, is headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Both bills are roughly modeled on Florida’s McKay Scholarship special education voucher program, which started under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Mississippi’s pilot program provides $6,500 to parents for special needs services and private school tutoring and tuition when parents feel that the local public school cannot meet their child’s needs. In Tennessee, parents would receive $6,000 per student for special education expenses such as physical therapy, private schooling, home schooling, and textbooks. Tennessee’s state comptroller acknowledged that the special education voucher bill would be inaccessible for most special education students. The proposed voucher would not replace public school special education services unless students’ families were affluent enough to cover the additional cost of private school tuition or can homeschool their children. In both states, some legislators and special education advocates unsuccessfully opposed the bills, pointing out the financial limitations, the risk of segregating special education students from mainstream classrooms, and private schools’ lack of accountability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Public education funding is also at issue, considering that public schools will still  have to provide special educational services with less money after students leave the public school system. Because of fixed costs such as such as facilities and special education  personnel, public schools' special education costs do not balance out simply because some students leave public schools, Professor Ron Zimmer (Vanderbilt) told Chalkbeat Tennessee.

April 23, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, News, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

New Scholarship on School Funding, Segregation, Native American Culture, Formerly Religious Charter Schools, and Tenure

The Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal has released its new issue, which includes several interesting articles.  The titles and abstracts are as follows:

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April 7, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, English Language Learners, First Amendment, Racial Integration and Diversity, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Racial, Poverty, and School Funding Implications of Indiana's Growing Voucher Program

In the summer of 2013, Indiana passed a new voucher and tax credit bill that vastly expanded opportunities for students to attend private schools.  In just ten school districts alone, the program funded $45 million in vouchers in the 2013-14 school year.  In several individual school districts, the amount spent on vouchers doubled and tripled from the 2012-13 school year.  Local teacher unions complain that the program is too permissive, permitting students who have never even "tried" the public schools to opt for a privately funded private education.  They claim approximately half of the voucher students fall in this category.  

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April 6, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How Do School Leaders Respond to Competition for Students?

The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has released a new report on how the city's charter schools compete for students.  The abstract explains:

Understanding how schools respond to competition is vital to understanding the effects of the market-based school reforms implemented in New Orleans since 2005. Advocates of market-based reform suggest that, when parents and students can freely choose schools, schools will improve education in order to attract and retain students. But, for market-based school-choice policies to work, school leaders have to believe they are competing for students, and they have to choose to compete in ways that improve education.

The body of the report offers this more detailed discuss of how leaders have responded:

School-choice policies in New Orleans have resulted in perceived competition among school leaders. Only 1 leader of 30 reported having no competition. However, the responses to this competition, the strategies used to compete, are not necessarily those expected by policy-makers.

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April 1, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Are Charter Schools Finally Outperforming Traditional Public Schools?

Probably not, but the news stories surround the most recent charter school study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) would have the public believe so.  CREDO's studies have been a center point in the debate over the efficacy of charter schools since 2009. Charter school advocates used the 2009 study to demonstrate that some charters (17% to be precise) were outperforming traditional public schools.  Those advocates ignored the 37% that were under-performing in comparison to traditional public schools.  Charter school skeptics hammered that point and backed it up with subsequent studies.

CREDO's second report in 2013 was more equivocal than the first and moved in a direction to the liking of charter schools.  Rather than focusing on raw performance, it sought to identify educational improvement, finding that charter schools in general were showing more growth than traditional public schools. Some argued that larger growth was potentially easier because charters were starting from a lower baseline. The changed frame of analysis also elicited criticism from both sides regarding the methodology of the study.

CREDO is now out with its 2015 report, and it equivocation is all but gone.  The study finds that "urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers. Specifically, students enrolled in urban charter schools experience 0.055 standard deviations (s.d.’s) greater growth in math and 0.039 s.d.’s greater growth in reading per year than their matched peers in TPS. These results translate to urban charter students receiving the equivalent of roughly 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading."

This finding was met with applause by education reformers, charter school advocates, and the business community.  It was met with keen interest by the media.  It has been met largely with silence from those formerly critiquing charters (or they have been unable to capture headlines). Does this study and the silent reaction to it mean that charter schools have finally matured and are demonstrating superiority over traditional public schools?  Is the debate, in effect, nearing resolution?  Not so fast, says Bruce Baker.  We still must compare apples to apples, and it is not clear that CREDO has done that.

Those seeking to demonstrate charter superiority have almost always compared apples to oranges.  If the student demographics of charters differ from traditional public schools, raw achievement scores between the two cannot be accurately compared.  Responding to this problem, newer studies, including CREDO's, have attempted to account for differing student demographics.

But CREDO's new study may have done both too much and too little in this regard.  CREDO's  new study narrows the field further than every before, largely in the attempt to triangulate some area of advantage for charters.  The new study does not compare charters and traditional public schools on the whole, but only urban charters to urban traditional public schools. That comparison is probably correct, but, of course, those are not the only charter schools in operation.  Thus, at best, the study suggests that under certain circumstances, charters outperform traditional public schools.

Bruce Baker, however, says the new study still presents a distorted picture in regard to student demographics, even when narrowed to urban schools.  The variables the study uses to "match" an urban public school to a charter for comparison "are especially problematic."  It is inaccurate to treat charters' "poor kids" as equivalent to traditional public schools' "poor kids."  And it is, likewise, inaccurate to assume that charters' special education kids are the same as traditional public schools' kids.  In fact, there is a lot of variation within those two categories, and charters may very well have the most advantaged students within those otherwise narrow groups.  Baker further explains: 

Newark data are particularly revealing of these problems.  Charters undersubscribe the poorest students and oversubscribe the less poor, but CREDO treats those kids as matched anyway...

Charters undersubscribe high need special education kids and oversubscribe mild learning disabled (as a share) but CREDO treats those kids as matched.

This creates a severe bias in favor of charters in Newark and in many other cities with similar sorting patters and high average poverty rates.

This perhaps provides partial explanation for why CREDO tends to find stronger charter effects in poor urban centers than, say in suburbs, where their matching measures - at least for income status - would potentially be more useful.

The point is that the virtual record comparison asserts that these kids are otherwise similar, and thus the gains are somehow attributable to "charter" schooling as a treatment. This assertion is deeply flawed at two levels. First, the as noted above the variables they are choosing for matching are nearly useless. They don't necessarily identify similar kids at all. Nearly all kids fall below the income threshold they are using and thus they might label as "matched" (likely do in fact) a kid in deep poverty/homelessness, etc. in a district school with a kid marginally below the reduced lunch cut point in a charter. They might also label as "matched" a mild specific learning disability kid in a charter (since that's all they have for disability) with a far more severely disabled kid in a district school (where district schools have disproportionate shares of those kids now because charters have siphoned some of the less needy spec ed kids).

The second level problem here is that the CREDO study doesn't then account separately for who these kids attend school with - the peer effect. It conflates that effect with "school" effect, by omission. 

Deep stuff.  It is probably deeper than the average reporter cares to consider, which might explain some of the silence.  But these distinctions are crucial in understanding the new CREDO report and suggest the charter school debate is far settled.  The National Education Policy Center has commissioned a review of the CREDO study that will add further clarity to the debate.  That review should be available later this spring.

March 25, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Charter Schools Come to Alabama

On Monday, I posted on the Alabama Senate passing a bill to allow charter schools in the state.  That bill blew through state house and the governor signed it into law yesterday.  More details here.

March 20, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Are Charter Schools and Unequal Funding Formulas the Conspiracy of the Rich?

George Joseph's new story in the Nation, 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story, suggests the answer to this post's question is yes.  The story details the role that hedge fund managers and other wealthy individuals have played in theorizing and financing changes in public policy in New York state.  The two major changes on which he focuses are more charter schools and less money for traditional public schools.  The story, if its inferences, are true is rather scandalous.  It might also put a different spin on the story I commented on two years ago regarding Goldman Sach's investment in Salt Lake City's pre-k program.  

Believing that pre-k would save the district money in the long run, Goldman promised to front the cost of expanding the city's pre-k program.  The catch was that the district had to promise Goldman a 40% cut of any subsequent savings in special education that the district accrued.  To me, this private investment was persuasive evidence of why the public should invest its own money in pre-k education, and need not let private financiers "get in on the deal."

Does either the New York or Utah story indicate a conspiracy?  Not necessarily.  But it does indicate that there is money to be made in education and we cannot underestimate the influence of this reality.  The public should be hypersensitive in evaluating education policies that directly benefit private industry or individuals.  Those policies might very well be good or excellent, but they might also be ruses.  Education experts and the research they produce, not the self-serving rhetoric of financial elites, must serve as the arbiters.

March 20, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Pre-K Education, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Evidence Grows on the Efficacy of Ending Zero Tolerance

The Atlantic ran a story this week titled "Zeroing out Zero Tolerance."  Much of the article mediates the debate between "no-excuses" charter schools that believe a rigid approach to discipline has been the key to their academic success and large urban school districts that have recently abandoned zero tolerance policies.  Her story emphasizes the large gains in achievement and graduation that the nation's two largest school districts--New York City and Los Angeles--have achieved since ending zero tolerance for minor misbehavior.  The same is true of Denver, which was a front-runner in this change.  There is not much new in the story, but it does a better job than most in highlighting the issues and juxtaposing the relevant school systems.

March 20, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Lawsuit Claims Cap on Charter Schools Is Unconstitutional

Partners in some of Boston's largest law firms plan to file suit against Massachusetts, arguing that its cap on charter schools violates the state constitution's education clause.  Their theory, at this point, is not clear.  They say the suit will be brought on behalf of children who wanted to attend charter schools, but were not afforded a seat through the lottery procedures.  Instead, the students enrolled in underperforming traditional public schools.  “We don’t think they should be denied that opportunity, and we don’t think the Constitution allows them to be denied that opportunity,” Lee said. “We’d like to see the cap removed so that supply meets demand.”  Their impetus appears to be a belief in studies claiming the academic superiority of charter schools.

The lawsuit is significant on several fronts beyond just the particular claims it might raise.   First, it would appear to attempt to expand the scope of school finance precedent.  This same type of strategy is at play in the constitutional challenges to tenure in  Vergara v. California and similar litigation in New York.  As analyzed here, the tenure theory can find some support in school finance precedent (although the plaintiffs' facts are lacking on causal questions), but how charter caps would fit into school finance precedent is far from obvious.  To the contrary, the better constitutional arguments have been that charter schools violate the education clause (although courts have been reluctant to hold as much).  Absent some revolutionary theory, the challenge to charter school caps is unlikely to go far.  Nonetheless, it is an important example of how malleable school finance precedent could expand or, at least, how many different types of lawsuits might be brought in the attempt to expand it.

Second, this lawsuit also represents another instance of what David Sciarra has called grandstanding in education cases by certain big law firms.  Education reformers' political theories are being transformed into constitutional claims by big law firms looking for pro bono work.  It is unclear as to whether the firms are being duped by education reformers self-righteousness and their civil rights rhetoric or the firms are just looking to grab headlines through controversial litigation. Either way, the litigation is potential dangerous to long term education rights.  The constitutional right to education is not political and never should be treated as such, but educational constitutional claims push separation of powers concerns to the brink in school quality and quality cases. Voyeurism into this area with these new claims looks like politics rather than vindication of constitutional rights.  In this respect, litigation of this nature has the potential to undermine current rights .

Third is the question of litigation resources.  With all the fundamental funding, quality, and racial inequalities in public education systems, the notion that a major law firm would skip past those issues to litigate on behalf of charter school interests is ironic to say the least.

March 17, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)