Friday, November 1, 2013
Finally, school voucher news that is not about Louisiana's fight with DOJ surfaces. This time it is a new development in the Southern Poverty Law Center's suit against Alabama. Late this summer, SPLC alleged that the Alabama Accountability Act, which allowed students to transfer out of failing districts and enroll in private schools and receive tax credits, created two classes of students: "those who can escape [failing schools] because of their parents’ income or where they live and those who cannot." According to SPLC, the Act violated equal protection.
Since then, in a move parallel to a parent group in Louisiana, three parents sought to intervene in the lawsuit against Alabama. The state trial court has now granted their intervention. Their primary role seems to be to emphasize the benefits of the program, notwithstanding SPLC's charges of discrimination. It seems to me that this intervention is distinct from that in Louisiana, which I argued earlier this week was probably inappropriate. The Alabama intervention makes more sense because it is not the adjudication of a violation of prior desegregation order but a challenge to the constitutionality of Alabama's current law as it stands. Regardless, this case remains one to watch. Although not as politically hot, this Alabama case may prove more doctrinally important, as SPLC raises novel claims that, if sustained, may have ripple effects elsewhere.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Just when you thought the battle over Lousiana's voucher program was fading into the background, Governor Jindal has something new to lash out about. A group of parents, or rather the Conservative Goldwater Institute on behalf of parents, sought to intervene in the desegregation case. DOJ opposes their motion to intervene, primarily arguing that they have no interest at stake in the case because DOJ is not seeking to take their vouchers away but to monitor the program as it moves forward. DOJ also notes that it represents the public at large and, thus, it can adequately represent the interests of these parents. Govenor Jindal reacted vehemently to the motion, saying “The Obama Administration is attempting to tell parents to sit down and shut up. It’s never going to happen. Despite whatever evolving legal argument the Obama Administration comes up with, the voices of thousands of parents will not be silenced.”
My suspicion is that Jindal helped orchestrate this intervention in the first instance because it would give him another wedge to drive in this case. To his defense, orchestrated interventions by the underdog are not that uncommon (query whether governors fit the role of underdog). But the obvious danger with interventions in this type of case is their likelihood of muddying the water. The legal issues in this case do not turn on what voucher families want or need, nor do they have legally vested rights in the vouchers. Rather, the issues in this case turn solely on desegregation law. Thus, whether Jindal likes it or not, these families do not have a clear role in this case; they simply care about its outcome more than most. But, of course, that is par for the course in desegregation cases, as they directly and indirectly affect so many students. In fact, scholars have analyzed the likely role that third parties' interests have played in shaping major desegregation cases like Milliken v. Bradley. Per this reasoning, even if these intervenors do not make it into the case, their interest will likely weigh heavily on its outcome, which is why I noted in my first post weeks ago that the longer Jindal could delay this case the better for him. More parents would have applied for vouchers and the pressure to not impede their expectations would mount.
Friday, October 25, 2013
• Encouraging innovation, such as giving priority to multi-district charters that seek to serve a socio-economically and racially diverse student body, or that address the needs English language learners or students at-risk of dropping out
• Ensuring that charter schools are not impeding access, through means explicit or subtle, to any and all students who are eligible to enroll, including very low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
• Requiring public transparency in the lottery process; in maintaining waiting lists and documenting transfers and attrition; in adhering to state and federal due process in student discipline matters; and by disclosure of annual budgets, including funds and other support received from private sources.
Their full statement is available after the jump.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Below is a picture taken of a Standord CREDO presentation. I have tried to find the underlying report on CREDO's website, but maybe it is still in the works. (If anyone knows better, please contact me). My interpretation of the slide is that, contrary to common beliefs, legal restrictions on charter schools are not necessarily a cause of slowed growth. For instance, the first row indicates that charter school growth is the slowest in states that never had a cap on them to begin with. And the greatest growth is in places where there has always been a cap. Similar patterns pop up in the other rows. One might surmise then that restrictions on charter schools serve as political lightening rods, against which charter advocates react and which potentially causes greater growth. Let's hope a report is forthcoming that provides more clarity.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Christopher and Sarah Lubienski's newest book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private School, reaches some counter-intuitive and significant conclusions. First, contrary to the assumptions of many and some older research, private schools are not outperforming public schools. To the contrary, public schools are outperforming. There seems to be some nuance not fully explored in this global finding, such as whether some subsets like secular academic private schools are outperforming public schools. Those questions were not answered because the data insufficient to draw firm conclusions comparing private schools amongst themselves. But the overall finding regarding private versus public public schools is clear: while the raw achievement scores in some private schools may be higher than those in public schools, it is only because they disproportionately enroll wealthier and other demographically privileged groups of students. When those demographic factors are controlled, there is no "value-added" benefit of private school. In fact, there is value lost.
This leads to the second question: why are private schools underperforming? The Lubienski's conclusion is that:
It appears that there is a danger in the autonomy that private schools have. The teachers aren’t required to be certified, there is less professional development happening, they’re not held accountable to the same kinds of state curriculum standards and tests. And so when we look at scores on those things it just makes sense that the schools who are hiring teachers who are certified and have been educated in a way that helps them understand all the current educational reforms and the research on learning—that those teachers would be more effective. Particularly more effective at educating students on the state standards...So, yeah, the autonomy of private schools may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
These findings are obviously of crucial importance in the debate over vouchers, as the premises behind vouchers are at odds with these new findings. Moreover, if one drops the assumed academic advantage of going to private school through vouchers, the remaining basis/justification seems more aligned with supporting parents religious motivations. The Court was able to dodge this problem in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, but studies like this would suggest we revisit that question.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Two weeks after revelations that operators at Options Charter School were misappropriating funds for themselves, the D.C. Public Charter School Board is considering instituting more oversight of the city's charters. The new oversight would center around accurate and timely disclosure of charter school contracts, conflicts of interest and salaries of top-paid officials. Apparently, charters are already required to submit contracts worth more than $25,000 to the board, as well as disclose any conflicts. The board says, however, that those submissions have not been timely in the past.
While I credit the board for trying to do something, timeliness does not seem to be the problem here. Rather, the perverse incentives that come with handing public money over to private operators with little or no strings attached seem to be the problem. It is not clear how timeliness will change that. I would also note that these perverse incentives reach well beyond just money, but, of course, we rarely talk about that.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The article, “Public School Money Should Only Go to Public Schools,” raises policy concerns regarding the use of school vouchers to supplement tuition for private schools that the authors suggest may lead to a challenge under the Oklahoma state constitution that are relevant. This article describes the differences in accountability that private schools in Oklahoma enjoy (not having to be graded A-F as public schools) as well as concerns regarding access to private school for students who cannot afford to go there.
In Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I raised the problem of some districts' continuing financial viability with the growth of charter schools (along with several other issues). I don't suggest that charters are a per se threat to public schools, but focus on the paradigm cases of a small rural district that operates one middle school and one high school. Opening one charter school can jeopardize the fiscal stability of the district and create dilemmas of conscious for families. The same type of problem can occur in large school districts, but the growth of charters has to been rather significant.
A new report by Moody's indicates that some districts have already reached this point and others may do so in the future:
The dramatic rise in charter school enrollments over the past decade is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas. . . . Charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already show a degree of underlying economic and demographic stress. . . .
"While the vast majority of traditional public districts are managing through the rise of charter schools without a negative credit impact, a small but growing number face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.". . .
Charter schools can pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs, says Moody's. As some of these districts trim costs to balance out declining revenues, cuts in programs and services will further drive students to seek alternative institutions including charter schools.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
In the early years of the charter school movement, opponents routinely charged that they were not really public schools, but rather private. Over the past decade, charter advocates, in the effort to gain public support, have insisted they are public and have seem to have won the war of public opinion and conceptual framing. As a testament to their success on that front, scholars, in comparing of public schools to charter schools, have stopped discussing public schools versus charters and, instead, have begun referring to public schools as “traditional public schools,” charters as “public charter schools,” and charters and traditional public schools collectively as “public schools.” But a few recent lawsuits have shown some charter school operators straying from the party line and potentially threatening this "victory."
Last spring, in an effort to avoid misappropriation of public fund charges, the founders of a charter school in California attempted to avoid conviction by arguing that the school was a private corporation and, thus, not subject to the laws governing public schools and the use of public money. In fact, the California Charter Schools Association supported them with this argument. The court did not buy the argument. But in another suit by alleging violations of a teachers’ liberty and free speech, the court bought a charter school's defense that it was not a state actor and, thus, not subject to the constitution. A few other analogous instances, such as labor union disputes, have occurred recently, in which charters have tried to minimize their public standing and courts have sided with them.
Underlying principle in these cases is that some charter schools are only public when its suits them and some courts are willing to go along with charters' self-characterization. Thus far, it is only in the context of criminal prosecution—the most serious of legal issues—that courts seem to be getting gotten hard-nosed with charters that now want to claim they are private. Stay tuned to the developments in the new prosecution against the operators of Options Public Charter School in DC for diversion of public funds. I suspect the issue will come up there as well.
Friday, October 11, 2013
The District of Columbia's charter schools will soon be added to the list of serious personal interest stories that demand that the federal government pass a continuing resolution to fund the government. The charters are expecting a quarterly payment on October 15th, which will not come if the federal government is still shut down. DC's mayor indicates that the schools can run on contingency funds, but those will run out in about two weeks, at best. Some charter schools have no reserves and will be forced to shut down even sooner. That means that the 35,000 students in the city that attend charters will have no school to go to. It also means that low-income students will miss free lunch, which is the only meal some eat all day. More here.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
As a matter of procedure, the data in Louisiana does not matter. Districts that have maintained de jure segregated schools and are still under court order to remedy the effects forfeit the right to assign students any way they want, even if their means are race nuetral. This has been the law for forty years. This legal principle is irrelevant in most post places because the vast majority of districts have been released from court order. But in other districts, courts are still there to look over their shoulders because these districts have not fixed the problem, nor proved that they can be trusted. Thus, as a matter of procedure, I still maintain no sympathy for Louisiana and its claims that it ought be free of second guessing.
Beyond the procedure, however, the facts are the facts, and new ones are coming out. When complying with court oversight, these desegregating districts should be free to move forward with any legitimate plans that do not negatively effect desegregation. According to DOJ, Louisiana had previously been less than forthcoming with the data necessary to make this determination. Now that the data is becoming available, it looks like some of the facts are favorable to Louisiana. According to a study published by Education Next, the voucher program improves racial balance in the vast majority of schools that students are leaving. (See their data to the left). Rick Hess, a national education commentator, uses these facts to say, in effect, I told you so, and jump on the bandwagon in criticizing and questioning DOJ's motions in this case.
But not so fast. Taking Ed Next and Hess's facts as true, it does not mean that the program is constitutional in its entirety. Desegregation orders are against individual school districts, so in those districts where vouchers increase segregation, they would be presumptively unconstitutional if the effect is more than minimal. In the other districts where racial balance improves racial balance, which is the vast majority, there is no problem and the programs can remain in place. In other words, how the program performs on the state level is largely irrelevant in terms of individual districts. Thus, the fallacy of Hess and others' reasoning is to only look at this program, on the averages, at the state level, instead of at the school and district level which is where segregation actually occurs. But to be clear, I do not have all the facts. The negative effects could be minimal in all of the school districts or overshadowed by other good things the state and district might be doing in within districts. Yet we do not know the answers to these things, hence my contention from the start that we should honor the judicial process and keep national politics over vouchers out of it.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
DC now adds itself to the growing list of cities that have experienced a charter school scandal over the past few months. Tuesday, the DC attorney general filed suit against three managers at Options Public Charter School, alleging they had diverted $3 million in charter school funding to enrich themselves. Also implicated is the chairman of the school's board of trustees. The diversion of funds allegedly comes from the awarding of bus transportation and school management contracts, along with the huge bonuses the school's managers received at the end of their terms for a job purportedly well done.
Putting this lawsuit in national perspective without just lumping on charters is difficult. There has been no shortage of large scale scandals with charters over the past few months. But traditional public schools have had their own scandals over the past year or so too, particularly in regard to cheating on standardized tests. Yet, given the number of traditional public schools in operation, these scandals would not appear reflective of a systemic trend in public education. They do, however, reveal the mounting pressures being placed on all teachers and the predictable results that can follow in some places.
The charter school scandals are, likewise, small in regard to the overall number of charters, but given the relatively small number of charters, the number and frequency of the scandals over the past few months is troubling. Just as the pressures on teachers in traditional public schools create certain incentives, the large sums of money and the lack of government oversight create another set of perverse incentives in charter schools. Unfortunately, these incentives are having a stronger effect, or the media (and bloggers) have turned on charters and are all too happy to have bad news on which to report.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Last week, I posted on the release of Diane Ravitch's new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. I am eagerly awaiting its arrival and will post a review once I read it. In the meantime, she offered us a fuller taste Friday in an interview with NPR. The interview indicates a no-holds-barred attack on charters, vouchers, and other reforms of the past decade, which she, of course, signed onto during the Bush administration, but now thinks better of. Speaking of school choice and charters, she threw several hard blows:
When people pay taxes for schools, they don't think they're paying off investors. They think they're paying for smaller class sizes and better teachers. . . . [Charters] have become part of the movement to turn education into a consumer product rather than a social and a public responsibility....What I mean is that you go shopping for a school. I don't believe in school choice. I believe that every neighborhood should have a good public school. And if the parents don't want the good local public school and they want to send their child to a private school, they should do so — but they should pay for it.
After this stinging critique, she emphasized that our schools are not in some new crisis. Rather, they are performing better than ever before. With that said, we do have significant pockets of dropouts and low performance. But these results are not a product of our schools somehow having sunk to new lows in terms of the education they offer. She cites the problem as the continuing presence of concentrated poverty. "Where there are low test scores, where there are higher dropout rates than the national average, is where there is concentrated poverty."
Much to my chagrin, she does not, however, seem to propose policies to deconcentrate poverty. Maybe she considers them unrealistic. Instead, she prescribes smaller classes, pre-k, and arts programs. I would agree that those are important programs that can provide significant help, particularly pre-k. I just hope she is not giving up on remedying the root cause of the problem.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Priscilla Wohlstetter, Joanna Smith, and Caitlin C. Farrell have published In Choices and Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective (Harvard Education Press, 2013). The book analyzes more than 400 journal articles and think-tank papers regarding charter school innovation, student performance, accountability outcomes, competition and more.
Cribbing from the press release:
On student achievement, which Wohlstetter calls the “lightning-rod issue,” she says “the-big finding that continues to hold up in state after state” is that “charter schools are over-represented at both the higher and lower ends of student achievement.” Which raises the policy question: “Why are we not replicating schools at the high end, and why are authorizers not closing down schools at the low end?”
On the question of how charter schools use their autonomy, the answer seems to be: not much and not terribly well.
Friday, September 27, 2013
In a recent post about the federal indictment of Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber school, Derek said that “the incentives for bad behavior, whether it be fraud or just low quality services, appear to run high in cyber schools.” Recently, the media, some school districts, and investors are seeing Derek’s point. The largely uncontrovered evidence is that children in full time virtual schools are more likely to fall behind in reading and math. Cyber student graduation rates are less than half of traditional schools. Industry leader K12 Inc., has been hit with a flurry of lawsuits in 2013 by investors for lying about its financial forecasts and about student outcomes. Apparently, the market is getting skittish about cyber charters. This week a hedge fund manager warned investors away from K12 Inc., telling Reuters that the school is overagressively recruiting students who are unsuited for online learing. But despite growing evidence that cyber charter schools are delivering abysmal academic outcomes, states continue to funnel billions of tax dollars to the nation’s 311 full time cyber schools. This week, Politico explores why the money is still flowing to virtual education as brick-and-mortar schools face austerity measures here and here.
There has never been much proof offered or required that virtual schools are as good as traditional schools, so cyber schools are now going direct to consumers. K12 Inc. is pushing its products to moms on radio and late-night commericals on women-centered cable TV stations such as Lifetime and Oxygen. This commercial in K12's fall campaign features a tearful mother who says that her son was "stressed out" in 5th grade and that his demeanor changed since starting K12. That ad also has an unidentified person saying, "That student has no way to fall through those cracks at all because the teacher and the parents are working together so hard together that they're going to succeed."
In full disclosure, I have been somewhat skeptical about the premise of full time online education for children. I wonder if most kids, especially kids with learning disabilities or behavior problems, can sit in front of a computer screen all day without social media, Candy Crush Saga, or Grand Theft Auto competing for their attention. I am willing to suspend my disbelief if there is proof that cyber schools work on a large scale, but that evidence has been scant. Evidence justifying skepticism, however, is abundant. Read more after the jump.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Monday DOJ filed a motion to amend its complaint in the ongoing saga over Louisiana's voucher program. Some interpret this as a softening of DOJ's position from an attempt to block the voucher program to a simple attempt to monitor and verify that the program is operating in compliance with desegregation orders. In addition, if this is a position shift, DOJ indicates it is only in response to Louisiana's new-found willingness to comply with information requests and be otherwise cooperative. These two events suggests a deescalation that will allow the parties and the courts to address the merits in the case and remove it from the daily news feed. Governor Jindal, however, is still displeased, calling DOJ's recent actions and statements a "PR stunt" and "disingenuous." I wonder whether it is Jindal who is enjoying the politics and media coverage of this dispute. Maybe, he doesn't want this case to fade into the legal process and an analysis of the merits. Regardless, this finally seems to be where this case is heading.
Even though Louisiana's fiscal effort levels rank at the bottom of the nation, its funding formula is slightly regressive (sending less money to the neediest districts), and many of its school facilities can only be described as deplorable, litigants have never been able to break through with a school funding victory. Courts have fallen back on the notion that the state constitution only requires a "minimum" education. See, e.g., Jones v. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, 927 So.2d 426 (La. App. 1 Cir. Nov. 4, 2005); Charlet v. Legislature of the State of Louisiana, 713 So.2d 1199 ((La. App. 1 Cir. 1998). Although not an attack on the state's funding practices as a whole, litigants did get a victory earlier this year in Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 2013 WL 1878913 (Supreme Court of Louisiana, 2013). See also LaJuana's post on the case from earlier this summer.
The case was brought by teachers, school boards and parents. The primary theory of the case was that the state's voucher program diverted funds away from public schools to non-public schools in violation of the state constitution. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that while the state constitution only mandates a minimum education program, once the state determines the cost of the minimum program, it cannot then take a portion of those minimum funds and give them to nonpublic schools. Doing so necessarily drops support of the public schools below "minimum."
I revisit this case for two reasons. First, it is an example of courts' willingness to intervene in school funding if they can identify a technical violation, even if they they have previously indicated an unwillingness to address substantive questions of school funding. Recognizing this technical versus substantive approach, we have seen a few other cases this summer attack charters and/or vouchers on technical constitutional grounds. Second, this victory early this summer adds further context to the current DOJ lawsuit to block the voucher program (although it is not softening on the notion of "blocking" the program). The DOJ suit is based on federal desegregation law, whereas Louisiana Federation of Teachers is based on state law, but the plaintiffs victory this summer shows how embattled the state's voucher program is. Right or wrong, the Governor is understandably testy over one of the state's signature programs. He is obviously unwilling to let it sink without a big fight.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD) is among the most hailed charter school experiments in the nation and is considered a template for national education reform. Newsweek tells the New Orleans RSD story this week in The Great Charter Tryout: Are New Orleans’ schools a model for the nation—or a cautionary tale? I summarize part of the article here: More than 75 percent of New Orleans kids are educated in the Recovery School District, which is dominated by charter schools. Hurricane Katrina swept away the public schools that ranked among the lowest-performing districts in the nation. Post-Katrina, New Orleans fired many of its unionized and veteran teachers and replaced them with Teach for America graduates (about 400 TFA grads teach in New Orleans; 42% of RSD teachers have been teaching less than three years). Today, 79% of RSD charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education, but that is not for lack of trying. The per-pupil funding post-Katrina was about double what it had been in the two years immediately preceding the hurricane and 50 to 100 percent greater than it was for the rest of Louisiana during the same period. Oprah Winfrey gave RSD’s flagship high school, Sci Academy, a $1 million check on-air. RSD's schools are also putting in lots of time. At Sci Academy this spring, classes were regularly suspended for added studying for the ACT, which included tutoring for seniors who scored below 20 on their ACT at a cost of $1,000 per student. Sci Academy’s teachers put in 16-hour workdays to try to prove that charter schools are the right choice for a solid education and a pathway to college for low-income students. And it is working, depending on what you measure. Sci Academy got a B in the state’s grading system. But its out-of-school suspension rate was 49 percent in 2012, the second highest in the city. Even with all of the money and teacher hours, achieving a district-wide turnaround is proving to be more complicated than originally thought. Large numbers of New Orleans’ students are still not graduating and are not likely to make it through college. Read The Great Charter Tryout here.