Friday, March 11, 2016

Louisiana to Take a Step in the Right Direction by Limiting Charter Schools in Districts Where They Are Not Needed?

The chair of Louisiana's Senate Education Committee has introduced a pretty common sense bill to limit the creation of new charters in the state.  Existing law in Louisiana provides that charter school applications shall be made to the local school district, but if the district denies the application or places conditions on the charter school that the applicant does not like, the applicant can appeal to the state board of education.   The state board can then freely grant the charter, notwithstanding the concerns of the local district.  The new proposed legislation would significantly limit that appeal process.  It indicates that in school districts that receive an "A" or "B" rating on their most recent state report card, there would be no right of appeal for charter applicants. Thus, those districts would be the final decision maker on charter school applications.   

Because charters are most likely to pop up in struggling districts and inner cities, one might assume this bill would have little practical impact.  But given the nature of southern school districts, this law covers a broad spectrum of school.  First, the state has less than 80 districts and over half of them received an A or B last year, so its general application is broad. Second, districts receiving an A or B are not a monolithic or demographic homogeneous group.  Many of these districts include schools that are seriously struggling, such as Jefferson Parish.  Jefferson Parish District is rated as a B, but includes 22 schools that received individual ratings of D or F.  Those schools are in communities where charters might otherwise believe they can find a market.  Third, given the foregoing and what I know of a few Louisiana districts, some of these districts likely have some level of integration in their schools.  This bill can help protect that integration.  As a study of North Carolina schools revealed last year, charters in that state where becoming "whiter" while the traditional public schools were becoming "browner."  As I argued here, charters schools can be dangerous in integrated school districts because they offer dissenters from integration an easy exit option.  In North Carolina--traditionally the most integrated school system in the country--new charter schools appear to have created a hot-bed for those looking to exercise this exit option on the public dime.  This Louisiana bill would limit that option there.

Peter Cook's summary of the bill follows the jump:

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March 11, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tennessee's State-run School Districts Struggle to Respond to Local Communities by Daniel Kiel

The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development recently issued a report evaluating the Race to the Top-enabled state Achievement School District (ASD).  The ASD has the power to take over any school scoring in the bottom 5% through Tennessee's accountability system; thus far, it has taken over a number of schools, most of which are in Memphis and most of which are now operated as charter schools with the ASD as authorizer.  The report's specific focus is on the way in which the ASD has struggled to build community buy-in for its reform agenda, particularly among those in the neighborhoods most directly impacted.  The report points out that the political sustainability of these state takeover districts may be dependent on an ability to engage with and be responsive to local constituents.  While that point may be somewhat apparent, the report does a pretty good job of documenting the specific dynamics in Memphis and could be useful as traditional school districts continue to cede power (often involuntarily) to non-local school operators.

Get the full report here.

February 25, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Report on Academic and Social Effects of Louisiana Voucher Program

On the heels of news that one-third of Louisiana's voucher students are enrolled at schools that are under sanction by the state education department,Tulane's Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released four new studies yesterday on Louisiana's private school voucher program, formerly the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP).The four studies were co-authored by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas and studied students in grades 3-6. The report compared the reading and math scores of LSP voucher students with their public school counterparts, and reported on the effects of vouchers on students' non-cognitive skills, racial segregation effects, and the competitive effects on students in public schools. The report found that LSP voucher students' math and reading scores were initially lower than their public school counterparts, but that the LSP students' reading scores improved somewhat in the second year of study. The study found that had no effect on students' "non-cognitive" skills, including character-building and civic values. Those findings, however, were based on a small sample. Regarding LSP's impact on racial segregation, researchers found a reduction in traditional public schools’ racial segregation levels" with "no discernible impact on private schools." Finally, the researchers found that public schools either showed no or modest competitive effects in response to competition from the LSP, "particularly in those schools that experienced the strongest competitive threat." The studies can be viewed here.

February 23, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Claim That State's Voucher Program Inappropriately Supports Religious Schools

Plaintiffs in Oklahoma challenged the state’s voucher program for students with disabilities.  Their primary claim seemed to be that the program was unconstitutional because such a large percentage of those students used those vouchers at private religious schools.  Of course, the U.S. Supreme court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), previoulsy held that this bare fact alone did not rise to the level of a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The Court emphasized that student choice, not public policy, drove state funds to religious schools and the state policy itself was facially neutral.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court took a similar approach in upholding the voucher program against challenges based on the Oklahoma Constitution.

In Oklahoma, the Department funds the scholarship by issuing an individual warrant payable to the parent or legal guardian; it is not payable directly to the private school. The parent or legal guardian then endorses the payment warrant to the independently chosen private school providing the contracted educational services. Scholarship funds deposited to a private sectarian school occur only as the result of the private independent choice by the parent or legal guardian. The Department has no influence on which private school the parent chooses, or the subsequent endorsement of the payment warrant. The Department never directs whether the scholarship payment is made to a private sectarian or non-sectarian school.

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February 19, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Charter Schools, Raising Other Concerns Regarding Consistency

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set aside conditions and enrollment caps on the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School, reasoning that  the Philadelphia School Reform Commission lacked the power to impose those conditions.  The decision has a complicated procedural history and the Court's decision is equally complex and technical.  It suffices to say that a state statute granted school reform commissions the authority to assume control of distressed school districts.  Philadelphia was deemed one of those districts a few years ago.  When the school reform commission took over, it also took over the role of granting and renewing charters.  When West Philadelphia Achievement Charter came up for renewal, the school reform commission exercised its statutory power to impose conditions on the renewal.

The charter school, however, refused to consent and challenged the commission's authority in court.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the charter school and relied on the non-delegation doctrine to reach its conclusion.  Non-delegation doctrines, in effect, provide that legislatures cannot delegate legislative powers to the executive branch.  In the current case, the Court reasoned that this was exactly what the legislature had done because it did not set out the standards by which school reform commissions should act.  Thus, the school reform commission had unbridled discretion and power, which is a hallmark of an impermissible delegation.

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February 18, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vouchers Won't Solve Nevada's Severely Underfunded Schools, Nor Its Teacher Shortage Crisis

The national shortage of teachers reported by the New York Times last fall has only gotten worse.  Based on recent news reports, Clark County, Nevada--the nation's fifth largest district--may be suffering the worst.  Ironically, at the same time that the schools are suffering for money and teachers, the state is dumping money into vouchers. David Sciarra offers this critique in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Aggressive [teacher] recruitment has had some success. Yet low pay, poor working conditions and rising enrollments make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers. Thousands of students are in classrooms lacking a properly licensed teacher.

The teacher shortage is just one of the challenges the district faces as it struggles to provide quality education to 320,000 students.

It's no secret that many Clark County schools are over-capacity. Buildings need repair and system upgrades. Bilingual and special education services are lacking. Quality preschool, extended learning time and help for at-risk students are in short supply.

It's also no secret that the way Nevada funds public education is outmoded and inadequate. In the Education Law Center's "National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?" Nevada consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states on funding level and receives an F for failing to fund the needs of poor children. Nevada also gets an F on investing in education, despite an improving economy.

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February 17, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Charters Suffer Surprise Loss on a Constitutional Amendment in Virginia

Virginia currently has very few charter schools, due in large part to the fact that local school districts, rather than the state board of education or third parties, must authorize them.  The Virginia Senate has been working on a plan to "fix" the "problem."  Their solution was to amend the constitution.  Apparently, all was going well from the reformers' perspective, but on Monday the measure suffered a surprising defeat. According to the Washington Post, conservatives had gotten "the Republican-led House and Senate to pass an identical resolution last year. But this time, two Senate Republicans voted against it. Neither one spoke against it during the floor. However, Democrats who led the charge against the bill said it would undermine the authority of local school boards."

Given the national political and economic organization that has successfully pushed similar changes in other states, the issue is sure to return to Virginia. Massachusetts, for instance, is under enormous pressure and it is not letting up.  Advocates there are challenging the state's cap on charters as a violation of the state constitution's education clause.  The merits of that claim are highly questionable, but it is nonetheless creating significant political pressure for new legislation, which some predict is coming soon.  With this defeat in the Virginia Senate, Virginia will solidly remain one of the nation's rare hold-outs on the issue of rapid expansion of charters for, at least, a few years.  



February 16, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Every Student Succeeds Act's Random Additions: Charter Schools, Data Collection, Testing Limits, and Discipline

My prior post detailed the Act’s new approaches toward academic standards and accountability, teachers, funding, and the federal role in education.  The Act also included some other important changes and additions that do not fit into those categories.  These changes are one-offs that look like bones thrown to various different and competing constituencies (which is probably true of a few of the progressive changes I noted last time).  In other words, they are pet projects that helped the bill get passed.  These changes include for charter schools, data, test validity, test opt outs, and school discipline

Charter Schools

The act includes new competitive priorities for charter school grants.  For those unfamiliar with the term competitive priority, it means that states or districts that include certain policies in their competitive charter school grant application will receive extra points in the assessment of their plan.  As a practical matter, it makes it far more likely that they will receive a grant.  It also makes it highly unlikely that states and districts that do not include those policies will receive a grant.  In short, they are implicit mandates for those who want money.

So what are these special charter school policies?  They are exactly what charter advocates have been lobbying states to do, often with little success.  The priorities are for states that increase the number of entities in the state that can authorize new charters, states that give charters per pupil funding equivalent to that in traditional public schools, and states that give more robust support for charters in need of facilities.

Magnet Schools

Nothing really changed for magnet schools, and that is the point.  Magnet school financial support and policy has been stuck in neutral for nearly two decades.  By comparison, this means magnet schools are moving backward while charters rush forward.  There is, however, one potentially explicit retrogressive addition for magnets.  The Act seemingly requires or strongly prefers socio-economic integration over any other form of integration.  Socio-economic integration is, of course, immensely important.  The point here is the attempt to take race off the board—a position that the Bush Administration took, that the Obama Administration eventually retracted, and that has now resurfaced.

Important Data

The Act requires states to collect and submit far more detailed data, and the new data it seeks is important: funding and teachers.  This will be a boon to researchers attempting to drill deeper into problems of resource inequity.

Valid Tests (Potential Bombshell)

A provision of Title I indicates that states can only use the mandated tests for purposes for which they are valid.  To most, this may read as no more than technical jargon, but it is potentially the single most powerful provision in the bill for those who would seek to block the misuse of tests.  As I detail here, the tests on which states rely to run their teacher evaluation systems (value added models and student growth percentiles) are not valid for those purposes.  Others have also long raised validity problems with certain states use of high stakes tests for student graduation and promotion as well.  Who knows whether this was Congress’s intent, but the Act certainly would appear to have the effect of preventing states from using standardized tests for illegitimate purposes.  The question that remains is whether individual teachers or students could rely on this provision in litigation or whether it is up to the Secretary to enforce this provision through the administrative process.

Test Opt-Outs

The Act gives parents the right to opt their children out of standardized tests.  Opt-outs were big news last year, as large percentages of students refused to take tests in New York and New Jersey and the states scrambled not knowing whether the Department would hold this against the states.  The Act now specifically indicates that these opt-outs will not count against the state in determining the percentage of students who took the tests.

Discipline: Bullying and Suspensions

Finally, the Act gives a big boost to progressive discipline policy.  Previously, there was no such thing as general federal authority in regard to discipline.  The only foothold had been in regard to racial disparities in discipline (pursuant to Title VI).  The Act now specifies that states’ plans should include policies to reduce bullying, suspensions, and averse responses to student misbehavior.  The bullying provision is, likewise, significant because it is not limited gender or race based bullying--a big stumbling blocking in past enforcement efforts.  To be clear, however, this discipline provision operates within the larger structure that offers states’ enormous autonomy in their plans and severely limits the Secretary’s ability to reject a state plan.

January 14, 2016 in Bullying and Harassment, Charters and Vouchers, Discipline, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nevada Voucher Law Found Unconstitutional by Molly Hunter

Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada (Carson City) has ruled in Lopez v. Schwartz that the state's school voucher law (SB 302) enacted last summer by the Legislature violates two provisions of the Nevada Constitution. Judge Wilson issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the State from implementing the law.

The case challenging the voucher law was filed by parents of Nevada public school children from across the state. They argued that the program would divert scarce funding from public schools, triggering cuts to essential programs and services for their children and all other children attending Nevada's public schools.

The Court explained that the Nevada Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate funds for the operation of the public schools, which "must only be used to fund the operation of the public schools." [Nevada Constitution, Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2.] However, the Court continued, under the voucher law, if implemented, "some amount of general funds appropriated to fund ... the public schools will be diverted to fund" the vouchers for private school tuition and other uses.

Judge Wilson further found that the parents "have [proven] that SB 302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2, and that irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered. Therefore an injunction will issue to enjoin Treasurer Schwartz," who is charged with implementing the law, from doing so.

“Not only the plaintiffs won today,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director of Educate Nevada Now! (ENN), a campaign to strengthen Nevada public schools. “Judge Wilson’s ruling is a victory for all 460,000 public school children in Nevada, their parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. We are thrilled with the decision and look forward to continuing dialogue focused on improving our state’s education systems.”

"We're pleased that Judge Wilson found that the Legislature cannot take funding designated for the operation of the public schools and transfer that funding to private schools and other private education expenses," said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. ELC is a partner in the ENN campaign, along with the Las Vegas-based Rogers Foundation.

The Court will next schedule a trial on the merits.

The pro bono counsel team representing the parents in their lawsuit includes Education Law Center, Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP based in Nevada; and, Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles.

The Attorney General is representing the State of Nevada and defending State Treasurer Dan Schwartz.

January 13, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Charter School Study Offers New Findings on Student Achievement, Student Enrollment, and Teachers

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Differing Effects from Diverse Charter Schools: Uneven Student Selection and Achievement Growth in Los Angeles, offers interesting and complex new findings about how charter schools differ from traditional public schools, particularly in regard to the students and teachers they attract.  Their breakthrough appears to be a function of distinguishing start-up charter schools from conversion charter schools.  This allows them a new baseline against which to make comparisons:

Their major findings include:

  • [in elementary school], conversion charters attracted pupils with considerably higher ELA and math scores, 0.34 SD and 0.32 SD higher at baseline than the respective means for TPS peers. 
  • Conversion charters served a much lower share of Latino pupils, compared with the mean TPS (55% versus 77%), and a much lower percentage of children eligible for subsidized lunches (50% versus 84%). In short, conversion charter schools fill niches in economically better-off parts of LAUSD. Differences were similar when comparing students among charter and TPS middle schools.
  • The organizational niches filled by start-up and conversion charters emerge even more vividly when turning to high schools . . . . The 28 start-up charter high schools enrolled pupils with significantly higher test scores at baseline. The mean ELA score for these students was 0.40 SD higher than TPS peers on average.
  • These sectors also varied in terms of the kinds of teachers each attracted and retained. Many conversions essentially inherited their teaching staff after winning their independent status, while gaining discretion to attract the preferred mix of new teachers in the future. Table 3, beginning with elementary schools, shows that start-up charters employed much lower shares of tenured teachers or those with full credentials, although charter elementary schools tended to employ a higher share of teachers with masters degrees, compared with TPS peers. Just 19% of elementary teachers at start-up charters Charter schools in Los Angeles had tenure at baseline, compared with 63% employed by conversion charters and 86% at TPS campuses. These differences are reflected in the mean years of teaching experience: 4.8 years for start-up teachers, and 10.0 and 12.2 years in conversion charters and TPS, respectively. Conversion elementary schools employed a higher share of White teachers and few African American teachers, compared with start-ups and TPS campuses. Sector differences were similar at the high school level. Three-fifths of all teachers were White at conversion high schools, compared with 48% at TPS and 45% at start-up campuses. The start-up charters relied more on young, less experienced teachers with masters degrees, compared with TPS or conversion charters.
  • [With the major caveat that] pupil achievement levels are not yet adjusted for prior family background or matched propensities to enter a treatment[, the study found] students who switched from a TPS elementary school into a charter middle school outperformed peers who remained in a TPS middle school. These switchers displayed advantages of 0.15 SD in ELA and 0.27 SD in math on average. The latter difference can be interpreted as modest in magnitude. Elementary students who stayed in a charter school displayed small learning advantages relative to TPS peers: 0.14 SD higher test scores in ELA on average, and 0.07 SD higher in math. These magnitudes of difference are similar to estimates for Boston charters (Abdulkadiroğlu et al., 2011; Angrist et al., 2011), based on admission lotteries (ELA, 0.08 SD; math, 0.21 SD).

These findings offer a tangled web: start-up charters, conversion charters, and traditional public schools are all distinct in the students and teachers they attract.  Conversion charters, however, seem to be best positioned to attract more advantaged students and more experienced teachers, which presumably have reciprocal effects on one another and thereby produce higher achievement in those schools.  In other words, of course some charters perform better; they draw higher performing teachers and students.


January 5, 2016 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Are We Heading Toward a Charter School 'Bubble'?

Preston Green, Bruce Baker, Joseph Oluwole, and Julie Mead have put the draft of their forthcoming article, Are We Heading Toward a Charter School 'Bubble'?: Lessons from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, on ssrn.  The article builds on Mark Naison’s earlier essay, which highlighted the growing number of scandals and policy problems in charter schools and described their resemblance to the subprime mortgage crisis.  Green and his colleague’s article explain “how Mark Naison may be correct in asserting that charter schools are developing conditions that are reminiscent of the subprime mortgage crisis.”  In particular, they argue that the adoption of multiple charter school authorizers creates incentives and conditions similar to those previously present with mortgages.  They then posit

what a “bubble” might look like in the charter school sector. Employing the policy bubble framework developed by Moshe Maor, we explain how the combination of multiple authorizers and EMOs might work together to create an abundance of poor performing schools in Black, urban communities. We also discuss the process by which such a bubble might actually burst in the process, creating disarray in these communities. The final section discusses the steps that federal and state governments should take to avoid the creation of policy bubbles in these vulnerable neighborhoods.

December 22, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wisconsin Governor Asks Supreme Court to Bring the Superintendent of Education Under His Control

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has taken up an interesting case that questions the powers of the state superintendent of education.  In dispute is a 2011 law that requires all administrative rules to be approved by the governor.  Under that law, the governor is asserting power over the state superintendent.  But a state supreme court case from two decades ago, Thompson v. Craney, 546 N.W.2d 123, 134 (1996), held that the state superintendent is an independent head of the Department of Public Instruction.  The relevant constitution text was amended in 1902 to read:

The supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the legislature shall direct; and their qualifications, powers, duties, and compensation shall be prescribed by law. The state superintendent shall be chosen by the qualified electors of the state at the same time and in the same manner as members of the supreme court, and shall hold his office for four years from the succeeding first Monday in July. The state superintendent chosen at the general election in November, 1902, shall hold and continue in his office until the first Monday in July, 1905, and his successor shall be chosen at the time of the judicial election in April, 1905. The term of office, time and manner of electing or appointing all other officers of supervision of public instruction shall be fixed by law.

The court concluded:

Our review of these sources demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the office of state Superintendent of Public Instruction was intended by the framers of the constitution to be a supervisory position, and that the “other officers” mentioned in the provision were intended to be subordinate to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Because the education provisions of 1995 Wis.Act 27 give the former powers of the elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction to appointed “other officers” at the state level who are not subordinate to the superintendent, they are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. If changes such as those proposed in 1995 Wis.Act 27 are to be made in the structure of educational administration—and we express no judgment on the possible merits of the changes—they would require a constitutional amendment.

That the current state law is in direct contradiction of this precedent.  The state attorney general is asking the court to reverse Thompson and, thereby, bring the state superintendent under the control of the governor.  I am guessing the the odds on this are long.  The lower court, in a straightforward decision, has already ruled against the state.  As it remarked in closing,

We reject th[e governor's] argument for reasons that should be obvious by now. The argument's premise, that the Governor's new power conferred by Act 21 gives the Governor “no power to fashion the text of a proposed rule,” is a premise Walker and Huebsch do not attempt to explain or defend. So far as we can tell, it is a premise that ignores reality. It seems beyond reasonable dispute that a Governor at loggerheads with an SPI over the content of a proposed rule, or proposed rule change, could use the threat to withhold approval as a means of affecting the rule content. Moreover, the analogy to the Governor's power to veto legislation is unpersuasive. As here, the threat of a Governor's veto can shape proposed legislation toward the Governor's preference. And, by constitutional design, a Governor's veto can be overridden by the legislature. Here, the Governor's approval authority is not similarly limited.

The case also has implications on a related phenomenon in other states:  charter legislation that divests the state superintendent of educational authority.  The Washington Supreme Court struck down that legislation earlier this year.  What Washington and Wisconsin's legislature and governor fail to appreciate is that in those states where the superintendent of education is a constitutional officer, the state is not free to pass any education legislation that suits its fancy.

December 9, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Can Plaintiffs' Educational Adequacy Challenge to the Growing Hypersegregation in Minneapolis Reinvigorate a National Movement?

Plaintiffs in Minneapolis and Saint Paul have filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that the racial and poverty segregation in the metropolitan area violates the state constitution's education clause, equal protection clause, and due process clause, as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act.  The state supreme court has previously recognized education as a fundamental rights.  On that basis, plaintiffs challenged segregation in Minneapolis in 1995.  The Supreme Court never reached the merits of whether the segregation violated the state constitution, but held that plaintiffs case could move forward to trial.  Plaintiffs presented a sufficiently compelling case that the state settled the case and agreed to an integration remedy.  

In recent years, however, segregation in the metropolitan area has dramatically increased, with little or no effort by the state to abate it.  To the contrary, charter school and other attendance policies are making matters worse. While children of color and low income students are respectively only 29 and 38 percent of the state's overall school population, "the public schools of the City of Minneapolis are approximately 66 percent children of color and 64 percent free or reduced lunch; and the public schools of the City of Saint Paul are 78 percent children of color and 72 percent free or reduced lunch."  The adjoining surrounding school districts, however, are "overwhelmingly white" and predominantly middle income. Moreover, within the city school districts themselves, the state has created predominantly white and middle income schools alongside hyper-segregated poor and minority schools. Plaintiffs allege that "[t]he segregation and hyper-segregation [in these schools] have been the result of boundary decisions by the Minneapolis and Saint Paul School Districts, made with the knowledge and consent of defendants, which have had both the purpose and effect of creating and increasing segregation of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools by race and socioeconomic status."

Charter schools, in particular, seem to have been the means to exacerbate segregation:

The Twin Cities metropolitan area now contains 131 charter schools, over 80 percent of which are segregated by race, socioeconomic status, or both. [Nearly seventy charter schools] are either more than 95 percent students of color or more than 80 percent white students. Nearly a third (42 of 131) of charters in the Twin Cities are more than 95
percent students of color. In addition, there is a growing pattern in the suburbs of predominantly white charter schools locating near more racially diverse traditional schools. In 2013, 67 percent of suburban charters (32 out of 48 schools) were predominantly white (defined as more than 80 percent white students) compared to just 44 percent of traditional schools in the suburbs. More than half of predominantly white suburban charters were located in the attendance areas of traditional schools that were significantly more racially diverse. This figure has nearly tripled in the previous five years.

This case is, of course, Minnesota's version of the Sheff v. O'Neill litigation in Connecticut, which produced the first and only state supreme court decision holding that racial segregation--even if de facto--denied students equal educational opportunity under the state constitution.  The remedies in Sheff have garnered significant attention over the past year or so, with the New York Times criticizing the state of New York for its failure to replicate Connecticut's common sense remedies to address New York's hyper-segregation.  Were Minnesota's supreme to eventually become the second state supreme court to formally validate the theory in Sheff it would go a long way to speeding along a movement two decades in the making.  It is also worth noting that charter schools were not around in any real sense when Sheff was decided, but magnet schools were.  Those consciously pro-integration magnet schools of choice have been the central means of integrating schools in Connecticut, whereas Minnesota's integration-agnostic charters of choice have become a major tool of segregation.

Get the full complaint here: Download Minnesota Complaint

December 3, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Massachusetts Attorney General Debunks Plaintiffs' Constitutional Demand for More Charters

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.


November 18, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.


November 3, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Charter Schools With Lists of Students Who "Got to Go"

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.

November 2, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Julie Mead's new article, The Right to an Education or the Right to Shop for Schooling: Examining Voucher Programs in Relation to State Constitutional Guarantees, 42 Fordham Urb. L.J. 703 (2015), explores the question of "at what point, if any, does a state's funding of private education subvert its constitutional obligation to provide adequately for public education, thereby converting a child's right to an education to merely the right to shop for one?"  The key issues courts have addressed in answering this question are:
First, the cases draw attention to the distinction between a constitutional obligation and a discretionary benefit. Second, the reasoning makes clear the relationship between school funding and legislative fulfillment of constitutional obligations. Third, the cases demonstrate that the source of a school's funding does not define its public-ness or lack thereof. Finally, the cases raise the issue of uniformity in the public sector as one measure of a legislature's execution of its constitutional mandate.
Based on her review of the cases, Professor Mead concludes that
The state constitutional obligation of state legislatures to fund and nurture the common public school is paramount and may not be subordinated to a legislative desire to subsidize the private choices of individual parents. Legislatures may enact private school choice provisions, but state constitutions direct that legislaturesmust provide public schools. State constitutions have clearly established that children have a genuine right to a quality public education, not merely the privilege to shop for schooling in the educational marketplace.


October 29, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

October 28, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Searching for Equity Amid A System of Schools: The View from New Orleans

Robert Garda's newest article, Searching for Equity Amid A System of Schools: The View from New Orleans, 42 Fordham Urb. L.J. 613 (2015) is available on westlaw.  He abstract offers this summary:
Hurricane Katrina leveled both the buildings and governance structure of the New Orleans school system. The system was transformed from one elected school board controlling nearly all the schools to a system of schools with sixty-three school districts operating within the city's geographic boundaries that are run by forty-four independent school boards. There is not a more decentralized school governance structure in the United States. This Article discusses how this new system of schools is attempting to achieve equal educational opportunities for its most vulnerable and at-risk student populations: the poor, minorities, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.
For the first seven years after Katrina, the system of schools operated with virtually no centralized planning or unified services, instead pushing all decision-making and service provision down to the autonomous schools. With little oversight, the schools became balkanized by race, class, and ability because of unequal access, retention, and service provision, and because certain schools are specialized for discrete student populations. It became apparent that centralizing certain services and unifying policies was essential to creating equal opportunities for vulnerable students, which slowly began occurring in 2012.
Today, New Orleans education stands at a crossroads in deciding how to achieve equity for its vulnerable student populations. One route relies on centralizing services, planning, and oversight to ensure that every school provides an appropriate education to any type of student that walks through the schoolhouse door. This path embraces the version of inclusion equality set forth in Brown v. Board of Education: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The other route relies on the market driven reform underlying the charter movement to create specialized schools to fill the unmet demands of vulnerable populations. This route embraces an emerging view of equality--where separate can be equal, possibly even superior, if parents are empowered to maximize their child's academic outcomes in specialized settings. This Article argues that New Orleans is headed down this latter route and identifies the lessons that can be learned from its evolution to a system of schools.


October 26, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.  

Continue reading

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