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Published: Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:41:55 -0500


If Charter Schools Are ‘Unregulated,’ Why Is This Successful California School Facing a Shutdown?

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 16:15:00 -0500

What exactly is to be done when a charter school appears to be extremely successful at teaching students, but also appears to be funneling spending toward friends and family of its founder? For Chino Valley Unified School District in California, the decision was apparently to shut the school down, despite a crowd of parents begging them to keep the school open. On Monday the district's school board voted unanimously to reject the bid to renew the charter for Oxford Preparatory Academy. Oxford Preparatory ranked as the top K-8th grade school in San Bernardino County according to state testing and was the highest-scoring charter school in the county. But it had been plagued by accusations that founder Sue Roche had set up a series of companies with friends and relatives to "launder" money to them in exchange for services so that she could profit from her school. The school has since cut ties with Roche, but the superintendent declared that the school "cannot be saved, and should not be saved. It is forever tainted," according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Without downplaying whatever sort of financial improprieties might have happened (Roche's lawyer denies misconduct), could anybody out there imagine that a school board would ever declare a public school "forever tainted" due to bad behavior by a principal and simply vote to shut it down—despite excellent test scores and despite parents begging for it to remain open? It would never happen. It's both a strength and a weakness of charter schools: They're easier to close when they perform poorly, but the system is susceptible to manipulation by public school system administrators with an agenda. Charter schools often have to fight the local school district to open in the first place, and then they will have to fight the system every step of the way as powerful public school interests will keep trying to find reasons to shut them down. By the media accounts, the rest of the administration of Oxford did not what know what Roche was doing, so the idea that it's "forever tainted" now makes no sense. And that's particularly true given that whatever financial corruption might have been happening obviously did not interfere with the school's performance. It's going to be more and more important to pay attention to stories like this given President-Elect Donald Trump's selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. DeVos is a supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, so there's going to be a significant effort to paint school choice in the worst possible light, as though families and poor people are being preyed upon. Take a look at this Washington Post "worst-case scenario" analysis of what DeVos might do as education secretary that simply asserts that charter and private schools are "unregulated" in several spots. No doubt the upset parents at Oxford Preparatory wish that were the case. Charter schools are, in fact, heavily regulated and face tremendous amounts of bureaucracy and oversight. The Oxford Prep example shows that, in reality, they are even more accountable to the government that the schools the government itself operates! To get another perspective of the challenges facing people who attempt to start charter schools, read this interview with Gloria Romero, a Democratic former state senator in California who just opened her own charter school this year. That she had to put her own credit at risk and mentions other charter schools having to take out short-term loans while the state drags its feet forking over the money (despite claims of profiteering, charter schools usually get less funding than their public school counterparts) serves as an interesting alternate explanation as to how family and friends end up involved in providing goods and services to charter schools. As we see more attacks on charter schools, keep an eye out for weighted words like "unregulated" being deliberately tossed out to incorrectly describe how they operate. And also be very wary of vague coverage of test scores that don't account for the full picture, like an attempt to[...]

Was Trump's Victory a Win For School Choice?

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 11:01:00 -0500

"Trump has been good on these issues in a very vague, 100,000-foot level," says education reformer Lisa Graham Keegan. He's made statements in support of expanding school choice and giving more control to the states. And two of the rumored candidates for U.S. Department of Education secretary—Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former education official in Florida and Virginia, and Williamson Evers, a fellow at the Hoover Institution—would be great picks, says Keegan.

On the other hand, former presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson—another rumored candidate—is a head scratcher.

Keegan is a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and head of the education consulting firm, the Keegan Company. She'd like to see Trump appoint a secretary who can "manage [all the regulations on the books] to the benefit of freedom...and the people [on the local level] who are actually doing the work."

Nick Gillespie caught up with Keegan for an interview yesterday afternoon. Click below to listen to that conversation, or better yet subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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Brickbat: Mystery in the Wax Museum

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) An elementary school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has canceled a planned "wax museum" after several third-graders said they were going to dress as Adolf Hitler. According to local media, other "controversial" figures students planned to portray were Donald Trump and Christopher Columbus.

Hillary Clinton Wants More Kids to Get Nothing Out of Early Childhood Education

Thu, 03 Nov 2016 09:20:00 -0400

Overpaying for a low-quality product won't turn it into something better. Outside of politics, this isn't a controversial notion. Plopping down $20,000 for a 10-year old Kia isn't going to turn that car into a brand new BMW. If you were repeatedly dissatisfied with your neighborhood pizza joint, you wouldn't go back to the pizza shop and pay double for the same thing. Instead, you'd order Thai or otherwise find a better way to spend the take-out food portion of your household budget. Which bring us, somehow, to the topic of early childhood education. A new report published this week in Behavioral Science and Policy Journal, raises serious questions about whether the widespread adoption of publicly funded preschool programs is in the best interest of children and taxpayers. Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey, the two Vanderbilt University researchers who published the study, say governments are funding pre-K programs without having a good sense of what these programs should be trying to achieve and without knowing how to judge if they're working. These programs aren't cheap. According to the Brookings Institution, state and federal governments spent more than $34 billion on pre-K last year. Head Start, probably the most well-known early childhood education program, has been around since the 1960s and it costs the federal government more than $8 billion a year—not counting the matching funds that state and local governments pay when they receive a Head Start grant. After all that time and all that money, there's not much evidence that Head Start has given students much of a head start. A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that any benefits from the program "yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade." Still, that doesn't mean all pre-K program don't work. Oklahoma, for example, has been funding statewide early education since 1998 and boasts that 74 percent of all four-year olds are enrolled in pre-K. Studies that tracked Oklahoma students from 1998 through 2010 found that children enrolled in pre-K consistently outperformed others, regardless of class or race. Oklahoma's successes set off a mad dash in state capitols. By the end of 2015, 54 state-funded pre-K programs were operating in 42 states plus Washington, D.C., at a cost of more than $6.2 billion for state taxpayers. Programs that used to be narrowly targeted to low income students are now being expanded—New York City recently adopted a universal pre-K program and Barack Obama called for states to do the same in his 2016 State of the Union address. In the rush to create new programs and expand old ones, Farran and Lipsey say, states are misallocating money and not checking for results. "Viewed with a critical eye, the currently available research raises real questions about whether most state pre-K programs do anything more than boost 4-year-olds' academic cognitive skills to where they would be by the end of kindergarten anyway," Farran and Lipsey conclude. "Children are not well served by a perpetuation of magical thinking about the likelihood of profound effects resulting from poorly defined, state-run pre-K programs." You can think about it like this: federal and state governments are spending $34 billion annually on take-out pizza, based on a study of take-out pizza in Oklahoma that concluded take-out pizza in Oklahoma was delicious. These governments don't know if the pizza everywhere else is any good. They don't know whether they would be better off spending their money on Thai food instead. They don't even know how to decide if the pizza they are getting is any good, but they're willing to pay more for it. Hillary Clinton is promising to join the party. The Democratic presidential nominee says she would double the number of children enrolled in Head Start and would expand other federally-subsidized programs with the goal of giving all four-year olds access to pre-K. Clinton is no stranger t[...]

Trump Effect? School Bullying Isn’t Increasing, But Hillary Clinton Wants to Spend $500 Million Fighting It

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:15:00 -0400

Making use of time-honored federal government logic—we have to do something about X, and this is something, so we must do this—Hillary Clinton has proposed $500 million in federal spending on school anti-bullying initiatives. Under Clinton's plan, titled "Better Than Bullying," the feds would use the money to essentially bribe states into hiring more school counsellors, developing suicide prevention and mental health programs, re-training teachers, and cracking down on cyberbullying. Tax increases would pay for it, according to The Wall Street Journal. Supporters argue the program is necessary because bullying is on the rise—and it's all Donald Trump's fault, the Clinton campaign alleges. Indeed, this has become a Clinton talking point. "Teachers and parents call it the 'Trump effect,'" she said during the second presidential debate. "Bullying is up. A lot of people are feeling uneasy, a lot of kids are expressing their concerns." The National Education Association—the country's most powerful teachers' union, and an important pillar of support for the former secretary of state—has seized upon the idea that Trump's candidacy has somehow made schoolyard bullying worse. "Amid Trump-inspired spike in school bullying, Clinton announces national initiative," is how the NEA heralded Clinton's plan on its website. Another NEA headline: "'Trump Effect' elicits 'disgraceful' behavior from some students, strikes fear in others, educators say." This is a transparently politically useful argument for Team Clinton: my opponent is making your kids less safe! Think of the children! But is it true? We have no idea. The NEA has cited the anecdotal evidence of a handful of its members. It also cited a Southern Poverty Law Center survey that found the Trump campaign was producing "an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color." But: Our survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers was not scientific. Our email subscribers and those who visit our website are not a random sample of teachers nationally, and those who chose to respond to our survey are likely to be those who are most concerned about the impact of the presidential campaign on their students and schools. So that doesn't count. But can we do better? As it so happens, the National Center for Education Statistics collects scientifically sound data on teen bullying rates. Unfortunately, the most recently available data is for the year 2013 (it was published in 2015). Data for 2014 won't be released for a few more months. Data that takes into account the "Trump effect" won't be available for years, presumably. "2013 is the most recent year for which we have published data on student bullying," NCES's Lauren Musu-Gillette told me via email. Still, the 2013 figures were interesting. According to the NCES, 22 percent of kids ages 12-18 were bullied at school in 2013. That was an improvement over previous years: the bullying rate was 28 percent in 2011 and 2009, and 32 percent in 2007. School bullying, it seems, is falling. Has Trump singlehandedly reversed this trend? There are no data to support such an assertion. It may even be the case that perceived bullying is rising even as actual bullying continues to fall. That's because "bullying" is prone to something psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "concept creep." For behavior to be considered bullying, it used to have meet certain criteria: a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim, intentionality, and repetition. These days, bullying is typically defined more broadly, as virtually any form of unwanted behavior. In light of evolving definitions, Haidt is concerned that grand efforts to combat bullying—broadly defined—might be ill-advised. "The concept of bullying has experienced such massive concept creep in psychology and education circles that these new programs are likely to target a great deal of the normal conflict kids have with each other," he told me via email. "Such a policy fo[...]

Want to Live Longer? Then Go to College

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:15:00 -0400

(image) Demographers have known and reported for a long time that college graduates have longer life expectancies than do their fellow citizens that have a high school degree or lower educational attainment. For example, a 2010 study reported that average life expectancy for American men and women with a high school diploma averaged 76 and 81 years respectively. The life expectancies of those men and women who are college graduates were 82 and 87 years respectively. In other words, both college men and women could look forward to an average of 6 more years than high school graduates.

A new study from scholars associated with the Brookings Institution bolsters these earlier findings. The press release reports that

an additional year of college decreases mortality rates by 15 to 19 percent by reducing deaths from cancer and heart disease....The study, which notes that health benefits from education could increase the total returns to education by 15 to 55 percent, is important for policymakers currently grappling with proposals to reduce the high cost of college....The researchers point to prior research showing the correlation between education and health, including later life mortality. For example, high school graduates have a mortality rate that is double those with some college or a college degree, which "represents a significant non-pecuniary return to education. They would also imply that policies meant to increase educational attainment could serve as an important means for improving health."

In their Brookings notice, the authors suggest, "If individual investments in college education are suboptimal because of credit constraints, externalities, or lack of information, the presence of additional health returns to college strengthens the case for subsidizing education."

It is true that U.S. life expectancy has been climbing at the same time that the percentage of Americans with college degrees has been increasing. The new study claims to have identified a causal relationship between more education and better health. In their earlier NBER version of the study, the researchers note that college educated folks tend to smoke less, weigh less, exercise more, and have health insurance. The result is that they tend to experience heart disease and cancer (lung and colon) at later ages. The researchers suggest that "the impacts on cancer (especially lung cancer) and heart disease may be partially explained by the differences in behavior." So does college teach the habits of delayed and restrained gratification that produce healthier lifestyles, or do folks who already have those habits tend to graduate from college?

Here’s What It’s Like to Open a Charter School in California

Wed, 07 Sep 2016 16:00:00 -0400

For those who care to actually pay attention, the charter school movement and the school choice movement writ large is not some plot by either the wealthy or by conservatives to destroy the public school system. While there are certainly wealthy and conservative people who want to flee the public schools, there are—particularly in urban centers—a significant number of parents who are neither wealthy nor conservative who are demanding a greater number of education choices for their children. In California, major pushes to improve school choice for students came partly from the left, and former State Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat, was notable for her efforts to shepherd in policies that give parents more control over where and how their children would be schooled. She was motivated by seeing the stagnation of public school quality in areas that serve poor and minority students and the resistance by powerful education unions to reform. Romero has been involved in School Choice Week, and Reason interviewed her in 2013. After a lengthy political and activist career supporting school choice, Romero is now putting her money where her mouth is. This fall sees the launch of a charter school co-founded by Romero in the heart of Santa Ana, California. Scholarship Prep Charter School opened at the end of August with enrollment of more than 300, serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The launch of her school, with its emphasis on serving poor students and particularly kids from foster homes, drew positive attention from the Wall Street Journal in a piece noting the many challenges in trying to actually start a charter school in California. Romero spoke with Reason Wednesday morning about her shift from activist to school founder and the extraordinary difficulties in trying to open a charter school in an environment where public school defenders and union representative are arrayed against them. Romero says she had been thinking about the possibility of launching a school for quite some time, reaching back as far as when she was term-limited out of the state Senate in 2010. "People were telling me, 'You're always trying to reform schools; why not start your own?'" Romero says. "[The school] was probably years in the making." After seeing many charter schools launch in California and succeed, she decided to partner with Jason Watts of CharterBoost to help start her own. The process took months and required a 300-page petition and a hunt for a facility to house the school (a church). Rather than attempting to get approval from Santa Ana Unified School District, Romero went to Orange County's Department of Education to help bypass an approval process where local resistance by entrenched public school interests can very much influence school board votes. Scholarship Prep Charter School was approved unanimously. But that's just a small part of the challenge. Charter schools are publicly funded schools, but Romero notes they're "funded as though we really are the little stepchildren of the public education system." The school has been awarded a $500,000 start-up grant, but as of the start of the school year, they've only gotten one check for $84,000. Romero has been putting some expenses on her own credit card and says there's now a niche market developing for short-term loans for charter schools as they attempt to navigate a complicated process of getting the money the schools have been promised. "You get caught up in the bowels of the Sacramento educational bureaucracy," she says. "You have to try to navigate around a system that is set up financially to choke it until it fails. Those are issues that the traditional public schools will never have to face." The rather vague name of Scholarship Prep Charter School explains what its goals are, Romero says. The foundation for the school is not on the "three R's" but the "three A's"—academics, athletics, an[...]

Shutter Bad Schools (Public or Private), Get Better Education. How Is This Even Controversial?

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 12:20:00 -0400

Parents often resist when public schools close their doors, even when said schools are underperforming and/or underpopulated. In my former hometown of Barstow, out in the California desert, in the face of declining enrollment, citizens nevertheless resisted school districts' efforts to close a couple of schools and even used California's absurdly complicated environmental laws to try to block it (essentially arguing that the district hadn't adequately studied the environmental impact of moving students to other schools). But when privately operated charter schools perform poorly, school districts are often very quick to try to shut them down. Paperwork issues? Shut them down! Don't like how they're spending the money? Shut them down! Research highlighted by NPR suggests that the willingness to shut down bad or unneeded schools is good, public or private, and doing so is often a boon to students. This should not be a controversial issue, but it is. NPR notes that a full 84 percent of parents in a recent poll said they'd prefer to keep a poorly performing school open and try to fix it, rather than shut it down. It's pretty easy to understand the logic of parents here. Changing schools is a stressful, difficult experience for families, and there's a high level of resistance unless circumstances truly call for it. As NPR notes, it's tougher for parents to be involved with schools the further they are from the family's home. But perhaps the stress of being in a bad school is much worse. Some early research is showing that when underperforming and underenrolled schools are shut down, the closings benefited the students who were sent elsewhere. Contain your surprise: James Kemple at NYU's Steinhardt School took a look at New York City's shuttering of 29 high schools that were among the lowest-performing in the city. The phaseout took place over several years, allowing students to finish out their educations at the school where they began. At the same time, New York opened a group of small high schools offering open enrollment and personalized attention for students, and it instituted a citywide choice policy. Kemple followed a matched group of eighth-graders who, based on their middle schools and their neighborhoods, would have been expected to attend one of the closed schools. He studied where they went and what happened to them. The impacts were "quite strong," he says, in a positive direction. "They ended up attending high schools that were higher-performing, with higher attendance, better test scores, better graduation rates, and did much better than students we compared them to," he says. That included a 15-percentage-point increase in the students' high school graduation rate. Note that the story's a lot more complicated than just taking students from one school and shipping them off to another. It involves New York City treating school choice seriously and giving families much more power over where their students would attend. There a bit of an "It's too soon to be entirely certain" tone to the story. Students from closed schools in Chicago, NPR explains, have been shifted to schools with better ratings from the city, but it's too soon to evaluate the outcomes. That—in the year 2016−we don't have adequate research on the educational impacts of closing bad public schools says so much about how entrenched the public education system is. And yet, the power within the system has ultimately led us to a situation where the only way to actually "fix" public schools is to either threaten them with closure or allow parents to ship their kids elsewhere. The powerful education unions have made it next to impossible to fire bad teachers. They do everything within their power to even fight methods used to evaluate teacher performance or to tie pay or bonuses to educational outcomes. At this point, eliminating entire schools is one of just [...]

P. Diddy's Charter School in East Harlem Opens Up, Draws Immediate Flack

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 15:10:00 -0400

Charter schools are in the news, what with HBO's John Oliver slagging them on Last Week Tonight as hotbeds of criminal behavior and thievery (alas, he would have done better to turn his ironic gaze to principals in Detroit's traditional public-school system). One New York charter that's just opened is connected with music mogul P. Diddy, who cut the ribbon at East Harlem's Capital Prep this week: "I want Harlem to have the best schools," Diddy read. "The best of everything," he added, in an address about ten minutes long.... Diddy largely kept to a script, except when he told students directly from the lectern to do their homework and to get excited about work in class. The other off-script exception was when PIX11 was able to get close enough to him after the ceremony to ask how he really feels about six years of planning a school finally coming to fruition. "Instead of me complaining about education," he said, "I want to do something about it. So that's why I'm starting this school." Read more from WPIX here. The day-to-day operations of Capital Prep are handled by Steve Perry, a controversial educator whose schools in Hartford, Connecticut were both successful and highly criticized. Perry's Capital Prep in Hartford started as a charter and then morphed into a traditional magnet school. Critics say while it's true that Capital Prep sent 100 percent of its mostly lower-income graduates to college, there was an attrition rate of 35 percent between sixth grade and senior year. But perhaps it's Perry's outspoken views about teachers unions that really get under people's skin. Here he is, quoted disapprovingly in a 2013 Washington Post story: "I know in polite company, you're not supposed to talk about the unions," Perry said. "But I will. I know you're here. I hope you hear me, because I'm tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you're killing children, and that's not cool. "Every single time you make a job harder to remove someone who is simply not educating, and everybody in the building knows they're not educating, you're killing your profession, you're killing our community and you're making it harder on yourselves. "It's high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I've been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids." Elsewhere, the Huffington Post says that both Diddy and Perry have anger issues, so they are perfect together. And yet, the New York school that just opened seems to be doing something right. WPIX reports that one of the school's new students is sixth grader Cameron Louis, whose mother is sending him there despite a long daily roundtrip: He has a commute of 20 miles a day from Queens Village, near the Nassau County line. Louis's mother said she's optimistic that the commute is worth it, as is the time she put in to deciding to come to Captial Prep Harlem in the first place. "I listed my pros and my cons," she said in an interview after the first day of classes, "and there were a lot of cons because of the distance, but I thought why not try it?" "I love my son, and would do anything that's best for him, so I thought, 'I'm gonna give it a shot.'" There is no question that charter schools, which operate with about one-third less public money per student than traditional public schools but are freed from many regulations and rules, fail on a regular basis. And so Capital Prep may well hit the skids. But failure isn't what defines charters vs. traditional public schools. After all, public schools fail all the time, too. The difference is that when charters fail, they close down. Students and their parents leave and go elsewhere. Traditional public schools, in contrast, often stay open indefinitely and even often get extra funding to address thei[...]

Federal Judge Rejects Move To Block Texas Campus Carry Law

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 11:28:00 -0400

A federal judge denied an injunction Monday that would have temporarily blocked the implementation of Texas' campus carry law. The move was led by three University of Texas at Austin professors, who argue the law, which allows for the carrying of weapons on campus, infringes on their right to free speech under the First Amendment and violates the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The professors said guns could suppress class discussion, especially regarding sensitive topics like sexuality. Judge Lee Yeakel rejected these arguments, saying the professors "failed to establish a substantial likelihood of ultimate success on the merits of their asserted claims." The lawsuit filed by the professors to overturn the law, however, remains active. The campus carry law permits those who are at least 21 years old to carry a concealed handgun into most campus buildings if they have a license. License holders have been allowed to concealed carry on public university grounds (but not into the buildings) since 1995. The Texas Department of Public Safety reports less than 3 percent of the population in 2014 held a concealed handgun license. Additionally, UT Austin—the flagship school of the University of Texas system—estimates less than 1 percent of its students have a license to carry. "I am pleased, but not surprised, that the Court denied the request to block Texas' campus carry law," said Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. "There is simply no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas." But System Chancellor Bill McRaven has previously said the law could be costly and dangerous for universities. Meanwhile, when classes at UT Austin began Wednesday, students were greeted by protesters carrying sex toys. Thousands pledged on Facebook to be part of an all-day event called "Cocks Not Glocks." Movement organizers said they distributed more than 5,000 dildos, all of which were donated by sex shops. The organization participated in a similar (but smaller) protest in March during Austin's tech, music, and film confab, South by Southwest. "The State of Texas has decided that it is not at all obnoxious to allow deadly concealed weapons in classrooms," the protesters' website states. "However it does have strict rules about free sexual expression, to protect your innocence." (Emphasis theirs.) For more on the protest and Texas' laws regarding obscenity, Elizabeth Nolan Brown has you covered.[...]

Connecticut Makes it Hard for Poor Students to Escape Standard Public Schools; Sued Over Practice

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 16:20:00 -0400

The day after their California state lawsuit attempting to overturn various student-damaging rules regarding the firing of teachers, Vergara v. California, was declined by the California Supreme Court, the group Students Matter filed a federal lawsuit against aspects of the state of Connecticut's education practices. The suit is called Martinez v. Malloy. The suite challenges the legitimacy of the following state laws: Moratorium on New Magnet Schools: Connecticut has instituted a moratorium on new magnet schools (Public Act No. 09-6, 22; Public Act No. 15-177, § 1), despite the fact that Connecticut's magnet schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools. Cap on Charter Public Schools: Connecticut's laws governing charter public schools (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-66ee(c)-(d), 10-66bb(a), 10-66bb(g)) prevent high-performing schools from opening or expanding in the State, despite the fact that Connecticut's few charter public schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools. Open-Choice Enrollment Penalties: Connecticut's inter-district Open Choice enrollment program ( Gen. Stat. §§ 10-266aa(c), 10-266aa(e), 10-266aa(f), 10-266aa(g), 10-266aa(h)) penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts, thus dooming the viability of the very program designed to provide Connecticut's students with quality public school options. It is the suit's contention that those laws: limit the educational opportunities available to Connecticut's students, forcing thousands of poor and minority students to attend traditional district schools that the State knows are consistently failing to provide students with a minimally acceptable education.... As a direct result of these Anti-Opportunity Laws, low-income and minority children in Connecticut's poorest communities are resigned to a devastating game of chance that effectively determines their odds of success in life, based on nothing more than the ZIP codes in which their parents reside..... Connecticut has no possible justification for intentionally subjecting poor and minority children to such unequal and unfair treatment. Where—as here—the State knows that it is not providing, and cannot provide, substantially equal educational opportunities to inner-city children, then it must not stand in the way of feasible options that would significantly improve the quality of their lives.... Through these pernicious laws and policies, Connecticut knowingly and without any rational justification "heavily burden[s]," Bullock v. Carter (1972), and "substantial[ly] . . . dilute[s]," Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the fundamental due process and equal protection rights of Connecticut students, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs ask this Court for a simple declaration that would have immeasurable benefits for many thousands of children: By forcing Plaintiffs and thousands of other students to attend public schools that it knows are failing, while impeding the availability of viable public educational alternatives through the Anti-Opportunity Laws, Connecticut is violating students' federal due process and equal protection rights.... As Students Matter's press release announcing the suit sums up: Plaintiffs describe the heartbreaking struggle they have endured trying to enroll their children in schools that provide an adequate education. Year after year, these parents have tried to avoid sending their children to failing public schools by trying to enroll them in magnet schools, charter public schools, or other adequate public school alternatives. But year after year, the children have been denied admission and forced to remain in failing schools, all because Connecticut's laws prevent high-quality publ[...]

Some L.A. Public Schools Are Accepting That They’re in a Competition for Students

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 11:50:00 -0400

John Oliver's cleverly presented but only half-researched (as has become typical for the show) broadside against charter schools was appropriately dismantled yesterday here by Nick Gillespie. To further highlight how misguided Oliver is in believing education isn't improved by the introduction of competition, head westward to the other coast over here in Los Angeles. While the teacher's union in Los Angeles fights as it generally does against the expansion of charter programs and the loss of influence over the system, the school districts themselves have increasingly come to understand and accept that parental control and increased school choice is the future. What that means is that, in order to keep students and even win them back from charter schools, they're actually making changes to their curricula and even going so far as to engage in marketing. The schools are learning to compete. The Los Angeles Times notes that the public schools here have been losing students to charter programs. Given that a good chunk of money follows the students, the public schools can't simply do nothing, or else they'll go under. Public schools are changing to better reflect the educational needs and demands of a new generation of students, but they're so used to being the only choice, they are not prepared to sell themselves to parents. Imagine if the Department of Motor Vehicles actually had to convince us to go there. So Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has hired a marketing director and is planning a program to help schools better sell themselves. The natural inclination here is to want to blast the district for blowing tax dollars on non-educational programs. But if we consider a reality where we have a hybrid system of public schools and charter schools, making sure all parties have a competitive mindset is healthy for the students. The Times uses Richard Ramos, the principal of Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy in Pacoima to help explain: "I grew up in this community and there was no question about what schools we were going to go to," said Ramos, who learned the power of marketing in his previous job at a charter school. "Now things are being looked at through a different lens for sure. With a declining enrollment, you have no choice." Five years ago, Ramos' school had 890 students in grades kindergarten through fifth. By the start of last year, it was down to 785, a decrease that not only injured the school's pride but probably meant teachers would be cut. It didn't matter that the principal had expanded the school's mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood's parents knew about it. What did better marketing do? It actually increased enrollment in Ramos' school in the midst of this decline, and the most important point here: He lured back 39 students who had previously been attending charter schools. Competition with the charters doesn't mean that the public schools have to be the losers. It means they have to actually up their game and not simply expect demands for more money to be accepted by the taxpayers. Parents are becoming increasingly aware that funding levels aren't the source of the problem. LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King is herself pushing hard to promote school choice for parents and students who stick with the public school system. King is planning an online portal as a "one-stop shop" to help parents browse the many specialized school options available to parents within LAUSD. Unsurprisingly, the current systems are not particularly accommodating to parents and are not unified. Each program has its own application process. As KPCC notes, the point of this effort is to make it simpler for parents understand what choices they have for their children within LA[...]

John Oliver's Anti-Charter School Rant Is Clever, Glib, and Uninformed

Mon, 22 Aug 2016 14:28:00 -0400

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took aim at charter schools, which are publicly funded K-12 schools that are given more autonomy than conventional residential-assignment public schools to set their own curricula, make hiring decisions, and focus on particular sorts of instruction. In exchange for greater freedom, charters get significantly less per-pupil funding than traditional schools (about 30 percent or $3,000 less, according to one study) and typically no funds for buildings and other physical plant. Most importantly, unlike traditional schools, charters must voluntarily attract students; no one is assigned to them and they only keep their doors open if they keep students enrolled in them. Charters have received praise from both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and they represent the most popular type of K-12 education reform over the past quarter-century. Created in Minnesota in the early 1990s, there are now about 6,700 charters in 42 states and the District of Columbia. They educate about 3 million students out of the more than 55 million kids enrolled in public and private K-12 education and in some large urban school districts (such as New Orleans and Detroit), they educate a majority or students. Oliver's segment (watch below) was almost unrelieved in its criticism of charters. Echoing the talking points of major teachers unions and liberal interest group such as People for the American Way and the NAACP, the HBO host attacked charters for being unaccountable to local and state authorities (this is not true, as all state charter laws have various types of oversight rules built into them), "draining" resources from traditional public schools (which presumes tax dollars for education belong to existing power structures), and skimming students (in fact, charters teach a higher percentage of racial and ethnic minorities than traditional public schools; they also serve a higher percentage of economically disadvanataged kids). Which is not to say that Oliver is all wrong in his analysis. For instance, he ran through a series of charters that were criminally mismanaged and deserved to be shut down (even as he glossed over the fact that failing charters, unlike failing traditional schools, are more likely to be closed). And he's right to argue that, on average, charters perform about the same as regular public schools. However, such comparisons tell us very little about whether charters do help those at-risk students better than traditional schools. On this score, there is very little doubt that charters do more with less money and fewer resources. University of Arkansas education researcher Jay Greene summarizes the data on "randomized control trials" (RCTs), which compare students who enrolled in charters and other who wanted to but were not able to due to limited slots. Because most charters use lotteries to enroll students, it's possible to match the effect of attending a charter versus a traditional school. As Greene puts it: Students in urban areas do significantly better in school if they attend a charter schools than if they attend a traditional public school. These academic benefits of urban charter schools are quite large. In Boston, a team of researchers from MIT, Harvard, Duke, and the University of Michigan, conducted a RCT and found: "The charter school effects reported here are therefore large enough to reduce the black-white reading gap in middle school by two-thirds." A RCT of charter schools in New York City by a Stanford researcher found an even larger effect: "On average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of t[...]

Brickbat: Hold Me Back

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Parents in Florida have sued the State Board of Education, the Florida education commissioner and several school districts after their children were held back in third grade because they opted out of statewide testing. The students all passed all their classes. Indeed, many were honors students, and the Florida Department of Education does not require that students be held back if their parents opt them out of tests.

Homeschoolers Aren’t Waiting on Politicians’ Promises of School Choice

Tue, 02 Aug 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Donald Trump managed to sound at least one encouraging note at a Republican convention focused more on fueling fears then empowering individuals. "We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice," he boasted in his acceptance speech. Well, OK. The reference to "safe school" does put the emphasis on danger rather than education, but at least Trump called for parental choice. And Donald Trump Jr. compared public schools to "Soviet Era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students." He went on to call for choice and competition. That sounds great for those of us who like options, especially with a new school year looming. And Americans have been embracing education choices—we've seen high-profile growth in the number of children attending privately-managed, publicly-funded charter schools, from 800,000 kids in 2003-2004 to 2.5 million, or 5.1 percent of total public school enrollment, in 2013-2014. That's sparked a lot of debate about the effectiveness of charter schools and the desirability (yes, really) of letting motivated families flee faltering public institutions. More quietly, though, many American families have opted out of institutional education of any sort, taking on the responsibility of teaching their own children. From 1.1 million kids in 2003, the ranks of the homeschooled increased to 1.8 million in 2012—and an estimated 2.3 million this year, catching up quickly with the charter population. Homeschooled children outnumbered those enrolled in North Carolina's private schools as of 2014 after a whopping 27 percent increase in just two years. My son is part of the surge in the number of children learning at home. The reason for our choice is ably captured in a point made by John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State Teacher of the Year who became a critic of government-controlled education. In his 2008 book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto wrote about the difference between schooling and education. "Education is a matter of self-mastery, first; then self-enlargement, even self-transcendance—as all possibilities of the human spirit open themselves into zones for exploration and understanding. There are points where the two conditions inform one another, but in schooling, somebody else's agenda is always uppermost." You could say the same of any institution—that its interests overwhelm the individual concerns of the people within it. But that's why it's always a good idea to have alternatives and an exit strategy for when "somebody else's agenda" is incompatible with your own. Such incompatibility has become a serious concern even with popular charter schools. Aside from the fact that there's always a potential mismatch between a family's priorities and a school's, even in an independently operated institution, charter schools face growing regulatory burdens that push them to consolidate and homogenize. Controversial national education standards have added to that burden, since they fall on charter schools as well as traditional public schools. "Some 2 million families have decided that charter schools are the best place for their children," the Goldwater Institute's Jonathan Butcher warned. "But under Common Core, these schools' options for differentiating themselves could be limited." As of yet, homeschoolers face no comparable regulatory threats. Opposition to Common Core was part of the inspiration for the surge in homeschooling in North Carolina, according to the Charlotte Observer, and the same phenomenon is at work across the country. Rather than expend their ti[...]