Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Earlier this year, I posted on a lawsuit in Massachusetts that challenges the state's cap on charter schools as violating the state's education clause. I noted the connection between the charter theory and that in Vergara v. State (California challenge to tenure). Both cases pick out single education policies as impeding their access to a constitutional education. In that respect, they both ignore the larger education structures at play in their states. The charter claim, however, is an even bigger stretch, as it is not asking for a fix to the public education system itself but the right to exit it and gain access to an alternative system. In other words, since the state would give them what they are owed under the constitution, they want something else.
The state attorney general, Maura Healey, finally fired back this week in the state's responsive briefs. Here's the Boston Globe's summary:
She contends that the argument advanced by the five plaintiffs that there is a direct link between the charter school cap and the poor education they claim to be receiving is “illogical, highly speculative, and remote.”
“Numerous other factors” other than the charter cap could be responsible for the poor performance of some schools, Healey writes. And simply opening more charter schools won’t necessarily help because there is no guarantee that they would be high-quality charters, she contends.
“Not all charter schools in Massachusetts are high-performing,” Healey writes. “In fact, it is not unusual for the department or the board to impose conditions on existing charter schools, or close them because they do not perform as required.”
Healey also asserts that Boston has not, as the plaintiffs argue, reached its limit on the number of charter schools because it still has seats available in so-called Commonwealth and in-district charter schools, which are given more flexibility than traditional public schools, though not as much as full-fledged charter schools.
Healey also argues that the court should not step in to lift the cap because the state Constitution “leaves the details of education policy making to the governor and the Legislature.”
That sounds about right. For a similar critique of the constitutional challenge to tenure, see here.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Nationwide Study of On-line Charter Schools Reveals Inherent Flaws and Paltry Results: Is This the Beginning of the End
Three new studies came out last week, all raising red flags about the academic effectiveness of online charter schools. In the past year or so, a few states have already begun to put the breaks on authorizing on-line charters, primarily due to scandals. These new studies, with their focus on academic outcomes, may provide the hard systematic data to bring a complete end to them in some jurisdictions. The first study is by Mathematica. If finds:
- Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction
- Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day
- Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge
- Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56 , and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction
- These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the online charter school sector is likely to be effective in promoting the achievement of its student.
The second report is by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. It found that
- students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.
- online charter schools exist in a number of different policy environments due to variation in state charter law and administrative regulation. Most of the existing regulation is reactive to controversy (restrictions on growth and autonomy), rather than proactive policies to guide the unique opportunities and challenges of online charter schools.
- several drawbacks to forcing online schools into the charter context, including:
- Open admission requirements that prevent schools from screening for students who are most likely to be successful in an online school.
- Authorizing and accountability provisions that are not well suited to the unique challenges of regulating online schools.
- Funding mechanisms that preclude outcomes-based funding.
The last study was by CREDO at Stanford University. It found:
- Online charter students had weaker growth than their [controlled counterparts in the study].
- Pre-online mobility is the same for online charter students and their [counterparts].
- Positive growth across a sector is possible. Some online charter schools which were part of multischool networks had average impacts on academic growth which were stronger than the typical online charter. Online charter schools in Wisconsin and Georgia had academic growth in reading which on average was stronger than their VCRs. These findings show it is possible for online charter schools to produce stronger growth, but it is not the common outcome.
- Few school-level practices had a strong relationship with academic growth. A review of the relationship between school practices as reported in the Mathematica survey and student academic growth found mostly insignificant correlations between school practices and growth. Of practices in the survey which had strong positive correlations, attending schools which offered some self-paced classes was the most wide-spread and was found to be consistent across all school levels. The findings on the expected parental roles was also revealing in that placing more instructional responsibilities on parents was strongly correlated with weaker growth across most settings.
- Teasing out the impact of state-level policies is difficult. The role of state-level policies matters in online charter education. The state-level policy changes included in the study did have significant relationships with the academic growth of online charter students. With the data included in this analysis, it was not possible to tease out which aspects of the particular policy changes led to the changes in academic growth. This is a critical area for future study.
- Being an online school matters more than being a charter school. Finally, the major impacts of attending an online charter school appear to be primarily driven by the online aspect of the schools.
Monday, November 2, 2015
Civil rights activists and scholars have long speculated that some charter schools manufacture the student populations they would like to teach so as to produce better results. On the front end, they could achieve this by bending the rules and discouraging special education and English Language Learner students from applying. On the back end, they would weed out undesirables that made it in through the lottery system. Some data has confirmed the front end problem, but the later has been little more than speculation. Until last week.
[D]ocuments obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.
The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”
Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.
The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.
Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.
In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.
Read the full story here.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Right to an Education or the Right to Shop for Schooling: Examining Voucher Programs in Relation to State Constitutional Guarantees
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Scholar Finds That Some North Carolina Charters Are Likely Violating State and Federal Non-profit Law
Tom Kelley's new article, North Carolina Charter Schools' (Non-?) Compliance with State and Federal Nonprofit Laws, 93 N.C. L. REV. 1757 (2015), is now in print. The debate has long raged over whether charters are really non-profits. Too much of that debate is rhetoric that paints with a very broad brush. Kelley's article is deep on specifics and legal analysis, concluding that some charters in the state of North Carolina are no more than fronts for for-profit education management organizations (EMO) and that, as such, they are probably violating federal and state non-profit law. His article is a serious indictment that will surely generate some attention. He goes so far as to call for an investigation of a particular EMO--Roger Bacon Academy. His abstract offers this summary:
In North Carolina, as in most jurisdictions across the country, state law requires that charter schools be governed by nonprofit corporations. This Article examines the governance practices of a select group of North Carolina charter-holding nonprofits and asks whether they are complying with state and federal nonprofit law. It scrutinizes with particular care a group of North Carolina charter-holding nonprofit corporations that have entered into comprehensive management agreements with for-profit educational management organizations, also known as EMOs. Based on an exhaustive analysis of the nonprofit corporations’ board meeting minutes, contracts, financial reports, tax filings, and real estate records, this Article concludes that certain North Carolina charter-holding nonprofits have very likely violated nonprofit law by in essence handing the keys of the charter schools over to the for-profit EMOs, permitting them with minimal supervision or disclosure to convert public educational dollars into significant corporate profits. This Article calls for legal and regulatory reform to rein in abusive practices by for-profit EMOs and more effectively safeguard the public funds that North Carolina citizens have devoted to education.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
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.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
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.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
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.”
Thursday, September 3, 2015
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.
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.
Friday, July 31, 2015
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.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
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.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
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.
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.