Monday, February 9, 2015
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.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Over the past year, numerous posts on this blog have analyzed the highest profile charter scandals. As one post emphasized, traditional public schools are not immune to scandal either. Thus, the point of this post is not beat up on charters. Rather, the relevant points and questions are whether the rate of scandal is any different in charter schools and whether the nature of the scandals in charters differs from public schools. My general observation is that there seems to be a higher rate in charters, but the scandals in charters tend to be different in character than those in traditional public schools. If this is so, the problem is potentially easier to fix, as there are aspects of charter school structure that may allow for or incentivize scandal, rather than the concept of a charter itself. Jeff Bryant, at Salon.com, offers a comprehensive rundown of charter school scandals and reports on them. He catches far more than you would have read on this blog.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
The Fordham Institute commissioned Stanford's CREDO center to do an in depth look at Ohio's charter schools. CREDO has produced two national studies of charters, which most consider to be the gold standard, so their findings in regard to a particular state were sure to carry weight. The Fordham Institute, a staunch supporter of charters, calls the results sobering. The report found:
Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a
traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows on average that students in Ohio
charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics. The impact is
statistically significant: thinking of a 180-day school year as "one year of learning",
an average Ohio charter student would have completed 14 fewer days of
learning in reading and 36 fewer days in math. There are positive notes found
in the analysis. For example, students in urban charter schools in Ohio post
superior yearly gains compared to the statewide average student
performance; this finding is unique among the numerous state studies that
CREDO has completed. Another positive result is the learning gain superiority
for students in poverty and especially for black charter students in
poverty: their progress over a year's time outpaces that of equivalent TPS
Friday, December 5, 2014
The Poverty and Race Research Action Council noted yesterday in its weekly update that
The Department of Education continues to take small but important steps toward embracing school diversity as a department-wide priority - most recently in its proposed priorities for charter school funding programs, which will add a school diversity priority to some of its future charter funding rounds, and which notes that "a critical component of serving all students, including educationally disadvantaged students, is consideration of student body diversity, including racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. This proposed regulatory action encourages broad consideration of student body composition, consistent with applicable law, as charter schools are authorized and funded and as best practices are disseminated." 79 Fed. Reg. 68821 (November 19, 2014)
Thursday, December 4, 2014
ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society File Segregation Complaint Against Delaware Charters, Call for Moratorium
Yesterday, the ACLU of Delaware, ACLU Racial Justice Project and Community Legal Aid Society filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights asserting that Delaware’s charter school policies discriminate against students of color and students with disabilities. They also perpetuate segregation. “We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the ‘high-achieving’ charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination,” says Dan Atkins, Legal Advocacy Director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
The complaint asserts that "over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing." They assert charter schools are also increasing segregation in traditional public schools.
They ask for the following solutions to the problem:
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education. The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product. So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.
Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple. Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable. The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
At the beginning of the charter school experiment, charter school advocates touted their ability to provide a superior education at a lower cost than traditional public schools. Now, we are seeing the charter lobby abandon that claim and turn to the courts to demand equal funding for charter schools. In Texas, charter school advocates recently lost their claim for equal funding. In New York, charter school advocates have sued for equal facilities funding. In a ruling that may have wide ramifications, last week an Arizona appellate court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the differential funding systems for public and charter schools do not violate Arizona's constitution.
In Craven v. Huppenthal, parents of children in Arizona charter schools sued the state, claiming that Arizona's school funding scheme was unconstitutional because it caused "gross disparities between charter public schools and other public schools." The lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and defendant-intervenors the Arizona School Boards Association and Creighton Elementary School District No. 14. The plaintiff-parents appealed.
Friday, November 21, 2014
New Report Ranks Massachusetts Among the Worst for Racial Disparities in Discipline, and Its Charters Schools the Worst of the Worst
The Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has released a new report on school discipline in the state, Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts. The report makes four major findings:
1. Massachusetts' students missed a minimum of 208,605 days in the classroom due to disciplinary removal. During the 2012-13 school year, Massachusetts’ public school students were suspended (in-school and out-of-school), expelled, and removed to an alternative setting a combined 128,599 times. These punishments resulted in at least 208,605 days - the equivalent of 1,160 students missing the entire school year - during which students were removed from their regular classrooms.
Angelica Jongco shared a new report from Public Advocates on forced parental work policies at charters yesterday. The report, Charging for Access: How California Charter Schools Exclude Vulnerable Students by Imposing Illegal Family Work Quotas,
researched 555 charter schools in California and found that almost one-third of them (30%) require parents to do work at the school for a set quota of hours. This practice is illegal under the California constitution and the Education Code. In our report, we expose the extent of the practice and explain why it is illegal. We have sent a demand letter to the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education urging them to take immediate steps to abolish the practice. At our online appendix, we provide a list of all the charter schools we found that have such a practice, with a link to their policy documents.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The on-going spectacle surrounding the closure of Philadelphia's Walter D. Palmer Charter School highlights the challenges that states and school districts face when charter schools abruptly close. For Palmer, among other claims of financial mismanagement, the school was forced to close immediately this October when it enrolled 1,300 in grades K-12 although the Philadelphia school district was only required to reimburse Palmer for 675 students in grades K-8. Stories like Palmer's emergency closure stranding students during the school year are echoed around the country, but in isolation, those stories seem insignifcant and anecdotal. But as states begin to realize that they are not getting better academic outcomes if they saddle local public school districts with hundreds of extra students when a charter school closes abruptly, the laws authorizing charters and allowing them operate without significant oversight are being questioned this week in Florida (and more Florida here) and North Carolina. Education Week also reported last on Arizona's efforts to limit the damage when charter schools fail here.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Michael Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, has offered his post-election prognostication for education reform. He points out that, following the gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, we saw increases in teacher evaluation systems, the lifting of charter school caps, the expansion of voucher programs, and limitations on "last-in-first-out" teacher retention policies. He labels these changes positive education reform and predicts that this week's election results will spell more good news on these issues.
While I would contest the notion that these are all "good" reforms, I have little doubt that we will see more movement on these fronts. It, however, may not be as robust as 2010. Several important trends have developed since 2010 that may create more roadblocks or speed-bumps for these reforms. First, teachers have fired back with lawsuits in several states, challenging the constitutionality of certain teacher evaluation systems. In North Carolina, teachers won. In Florida, they stand a good chance of winning before the 11th Circuit. Teacher, of course, have lost in other places like Colorado. Overall, the results of the lawsuits will likely be mixed, but the represent an important concerted counter-force and demonstrate that some of these measures may be unconstitutional. Second, charter schools remain popular, but the increase in their number has also brought an increase in scandals and implosions. This has generated more conversation about the appropriate level of oversight state officials should exercise over charters. In some locations, it has led to moratoriums on the riskiest charters--online charters. Third, the aggressiveness with which the Department of Education has pushed these policies has eased considerably, particularly in regard to teacher evaluation systems, due to serious questions as to their validity. States like Utah and Florida have also pushed back and questioned the legal authority of the Department to compel reforms of this sort, absent new legislation at the federal level.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from funding for-profit charter schools. See Arizona State Board for Charter Schools v. United States, 464 F.3d 1003 (9th Cir. 2006). Various state laws provide for the same. Thus, the holder of the charter for our nation's charter schools are non-profit organizations. The devil--if there is one--is in the details.
Last week, a Pro Publica article broke down the funding stream in a group of four North Carolina charter schools. They are all owned or chartered by a non-profit organization created by Baker Mitchell, a North Carolina businessmen, political advocate, and free-market adherent. Innocent enough. Numerous businessmen and women engage in philanthropic efforts on a routine basis. Many social movements and services would fail without their help. The rub is that close to half of the $55.7 million dollars in federal, state, and local money that these four charters have received over the past six years has gone to for-profit entities that Baker Mitchell owns or controls. His for-profit company, Roger Bacon Academy, manages the charters and its administrative functions. His other companies own the buildings, desks, computers, and supplies that the charters rent or buy. Moreover, the contracts between the non-profit and these service providers were procured not through a competitive bid process, but through what? Mitchell's school managers talking to Mitchell's property managers? It is altogether possible that Mitchell's businesses are cutting the schools a deal, that there is very little profit in the $19.6 million his companies have taken in, and we should be applauding his efforts. But on its face, the arrangement looks like an indirect means of achieving exactly what the federal and state governments purport to object to.
Friday, October 17, 2014
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities does not frame it exactly the way I did in this post title, but its new report, Creating Opportunity for Children: How Housing Location Can Make a Difference, makes a strong case for housing vouchers as a method for increasing students' academic opportunities and outcomes. Housing vouchers change social and environmental factors, which are equally important in educational outcomes. Moreover, because taking advantage of them requires moving or, at least, has a geographic trigger, they more easily avoid one of the major charges against education vouchers, which is that they can become mechanisms for reducing educational costs for advantaged families that would have opted out of the local public school in any event.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Forthcoming testimony for the Education Law Center suggests the answer is "no" to the question in this post's title. If that is the case, New Jersey may have revealed itself to be the prime example of inadequate governmental oversight of charters. Forget monitoring the education program and outcomes of a charter, the state has to first know it exists. The Center issued the following statement today:
NJ COULD HAVE OVER 130 CHARTER SCHOOLS, NOT 87
ELC Calls on Legislature to Investigate
Following the revelation by the Attorney General in a court hearing last week that New Jersey has many more charter schools than the 87 in the Department of Education's (DOE) official count, a preliminary investigation by Education Law Center shows that the number of operating charter schools is well over 100 and could exceed 130.
ELC will present this information today to the Senate Education Committee, which is holding a hearing on the status of New Jersey's charter school program.
ELC will testify to the Committee that it is impossible to know "exactly how many charter schools are now open in New Jersey districts. The DOE does not make this information public. All we know is that the DOE lists 87 charters on its website, a number the Attorney General concedes is not accurate. We also don't know how the DOE approved these additional charter schools, and whether they were authorized in compliance with existing law."
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
New Legal Scholarship: The Business of Charter Schools, NCLB Waivers, Expanding Vouchers, and Transgendered Student Legislation
The new issue of BYU's Education and Law Journal is out and includes the following articles:
Patrick J. Gallo, Jr., Reforming the "Business" of Charter Schools in Pennsylvania, 2014 B.Y.U. Educ. & L.J. 207 (2014).
Gallo addresses the current state of the charter school system in Pennsylvania and the need for reform. Summarizing some of the serious issues facing the charter system in Pennsylvania, the author states:
There are now more than 175 charter schools in Pennsylvania with over 105,000 students and approximately 44,000 more students on waiting lists. In addition, roughly 25 percent of the student population in the Philadelphia School District attend public charter schools. Moreover, government financed charter schools present a significant opportunity for profiteers looking to cash in on this modern day "gold rush," and, with very little oversight, Pennsylvania public charter schools have become fraught with "chicanery and greed . . . [,] excessive executive salaries . . . [,] nepotism, and [dubious] financial and real-estate transactions.