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.
Monday, May 4, 2015
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.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
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.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
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.
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:
Monday, April 6, 2015
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.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
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.
Friday, March 20, 2015
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.
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.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
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.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Alabama has been one of the few hold-outs on charter schools in the nation. Last week, the Alabama Senate took its first major step to reverse that, passing a bill to permit charters, which Republican leadership in the state says is a top priority. The bill passed by a vote of 22-12. Opponents stressed that the bill would just drive more funds away from already underfunded traditional public schools, and further undermine teaching quality in the state because teachers in charters would not have to be certified. More on details of the legislation and its effects here.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Yesterday, Advocates for Children of New York released, Civil Rights Suspended: An Analysis of New York City Charter School Discipline Policies. Based on a review of 164 New York City charter school discipline policies obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests, the report finds that "[a] significant number of City charter schools have discipline policies that fail to meet the legal requirements, leading to violations of students’ and parents’ civil rights. The report includes recommendations for state legislators to consider as they discuss raising the cap on charter schools and ensuring that charter schools serve high-needs students."
“We hear from parents who celebrated winning the charter school lottery only to have their students face repeated suspension or expulsion from school with no opportunity to challenge it,” said Paulina Davis, AFC Staff Attorney. “Students do not give up their civil rights when they enter charter schools. We urge the State to ensure that all charter schools have discipline policies that meet legal requirements.”
Recognizing this problem two years ago, Advocates for Children also released a practical how-to guide for families how are experiencing or have experienced suspension at a charter school.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Fortuitously, just hours after drafting a post on Senator Alexander's comments positing that some charters are private, Preston Green, Bruce Baker, and Joseph Oluwole's new article, The Legal Status of Charters Schools in State Statutory Law, Univ. Mass. L. Rev. (forthcoming), came to my attention. Their abstract offers the following summary:
Since 1991, forty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation for charter schools. While charter schools are generally characterized as “public schools,” courts have had a difficult time determining their legal status because charter schools contain both public and private characteristics. This article examines how courts have treated the hybrid nature of charter schools in a variety of state statutory contexts. The first part examines whether charter schools, charter school officials, and the educational management organizations (EMOs) that provide services to charter schools are entitled to governmental immunity. The second part examines how courts have applied public accountability laws to charter schools, charter school officials, and EMOs. The third part examines whether charter schools are public entities subject to prevailing wage statutes. The fourth part analyzes whether charter schools are public schools that must follow student expulsion requirements. The fifth part provides a tally of these cases in terms of whether: (1) charter schools and EMOs are subject to the same rules as public schools; and (2) charter school officials are governmental agents subject to the same rules as other public officials. The final part identifies cases that raise concerns that legislatures should address through statutory amendments.
Download it here.
Like or dislike him, Lamar Alexander is one of the more informed politicians in Washington, D.C. on questions of education. He has served as the U.S. Secretary of Education and as president of the University of Tennessee. Thus, it is hard to write his education comments off as ignorant. Speaking at a school choice event at the Brookings Institute last week, he said “There are some private charter schools, are there not?” The Washington Post reported on some other awkward exchanges occurred along the way.
“Charter schools are subject to the same tests as regular public schools,” Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, said. “Public charter schools,” Alexander interrupted. “Well they’re all — charter schools are public schools,” Whitehurst said. “Charter schools, I guess as we define it, are public schools that operate under charters from the state rather than private, so they’re subject to the same tests.”
After the event, Senator Alexander indicated that he had misspoken and that all charter schools are public. His initial comments, nonetheless, suggest a perception that some charter schools, particularly privately run for-profit ones, do not operate like public schools. Of course, such a perception is problematic for the party line of both Democrats and Republicans, but consistent with the framework I suggested here. Broader politics will almost certainly dictate that Alexander keep his perceptions to himself as he works through the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but it would be nice if he were brave enough to do otherwise.
Friday, February 6, 2015
New York City's Independent Budget Office has released an update on student retention in charter schools versus traditional public schools. The new report finds that "charter school students stay in charter schools at higher rates than students in nearby traditional public schools." This finding held true across other important subgroups. Students with disabilities "remained at their charter schools through the 2012-2013 school year at a higher rate than similar students at nearby traditional public schools." More specifically:
- 64% of kindergarten students that start in a charter school will remain at that school by 4th grade, compared to 56% that started in a nearby TPS.
- The attrition gap between charters and nearby TPS is due to students transferring from one NYC public school to another. About 23% of charter students transferred to a different NYC public school compared to nearly 32% from the district school.
- 53% of charter students classified as having a disability in kindergarten will remain at the charter compared to 49% that will remain in the TPS.
Charter school advocates immediately latched onto these findings, particularly the one in regard to students with disabilities. They offer it as a counter to scholars, including Rob Garda, who have pointed out the under-enrollment or under-recruitment of students with disabilities by charters. Unfortunately, the report is actually consistent with Garda and others' critique, finding that:
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
North Carolina Supreme Court Will Hear Oral Arguments on the Constitutionality of the State's School Voucher Program
The North Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on February 16 in Hart v. North Carolina, which may decide the fate of North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the state’s school voucher program. The OSP, which is currently on hold after a state superior court judge ruled last August that it was unconstitutional, would have provided up to $4,200 per year to qualifying students to attend a private school of their family's choice. The N.C. Association of Educators, the N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. School Boards Association, and local school boards challenged the program as an attempt to funnel public school funds to private schools without sufficient oversight and contested whether the vouchers would help low-income students as intended.
Last August, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood agreed with some of those concerns, finding that the N.C. legislature’s $10 million OSP allocation violated the state constitutional provision permitting taxation "for public purposes only." In a pointed ruling, Judge Hobgood concluded, “The General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into nonpublic schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools” as mandated by state law. Judge Hobgood also criticized the legislature for omitting any substantive instructional, training, or credentialing requirements for private schools to receive OSP funds, saying, “[t]he General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.” Yesterday, several civil rights organizations filed amici briefs in support of the lower court’s decision, including those of the National Education Association, the N.C. NAACP, the Duke Children’s Law Clinic and group of education scholars, and the ACLU with the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Read more about the case at N.C. Policy Watch here.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran Jay Mathews' commentary on changes in neighborhood schooling. As the National Center for Education Statistics' chart shows below, the percentage of students attending a public school of choice has risen significantly since the 1990s. Based on his personal experience, which he allows is biased, Mathews laments the decline in neighborhood schooling. However, he notes that technology and other modern innovations make neighborhood schools less important than in prior eras. He ultimately suggests the change may be a good thing.
|Percentage distribution of students in grades 1–12, by type of school: 1993, 2003, and 2007|
Type of school
|Private, not church-related||1.6||2.4||2.6|
Mathews' commentary, however, ignores the more important issues involved in neighborhood schools: racial and socio-economic politics and equality. Mathews largely equates "assigned" school with "neighborhood" school and "chosen" school with "non-neighborhood. Neither is necessarily true. Districts operating voluntary desegregation plans often incorporate some form of choice, but the school a parent chooses is not necessarily non-neighborhood. The student assignment plan in Louisville that went to the Supreme Court in Parents Involved v. Seattle, for instance, drew larger neighborhood attendance zones and allowed parents the opportunity to choose among neighborhood schools. Sometimes that was the school closest to a family, sometimes not. As a general principle, choice plans fall into two categories: those designed to foster integration and those designed to allow parents to escape integration.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
NPR ran an interesting story this morning about how parents choose schools. It was based on a new report on school choice in New Orleans, which is, of course, all charter now. This unique characteristic, along with various other local circumstances, may or may not make the findings of national significance, but they are certainly surprising, if not controversial. NPR offered this summary of the report's findings:
- Parents care about academics, but not as much as they say they do. "The role of academics seemed somewhat lower [than in other studies]," says Douglas Harris, lead author on the report. And because of the nature of the study, which shows where families actually enroll, "we're actually able to quantify that in ways that other studies couldn't."
- Distance matters. A lot. Schools in New Orleans are ranked by letter grades, depending mostly on their scores on state tests. What the researchers found was that three-quarters of a mile in distance was equal to a letter grade in terms of family preferences. In other words, a C-grade school across the street was slightly preferable to a B-grade school just a mile away.
- Extended hours matter. Parents of younger children preferred extended school hours and after-school programs.
- Extracurriculars matter. Especially for high school students. And perhaps, even more so in this city famous for its music and its love of the Saints. A C-grade school with a well-known football and band program could beat out a B-grade school without them. (Of note: In traditional public school systems, most high schools offer these extracurriculars; New Orleans has many smaller specialized schools that don't.)
- Poorer families care more about other factors — and less about academics. The study split families up into thirds based on the median income in their census tract. What they found was that the lowest-income New Orleans families were even more likely to pick schools that were close by, that offered extended days, and had football and band in high school — and conversely, they had a weaker preference for schools based on test scores.