Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reflections on the recent challenges to charter schools

I highly recommend this piece from the Education Opportunity Network on what recent challenges to the charter industry reveal.
Now that the NAACP has ratified its call for a charter moratorium, charter proponents are continuing the barrage of invective and unfounded assertions rather than taking stock of their opposition’s arguments. 
Editors of the Wall Street Journal called the NAACP’s action “a disgrace.” An editorial for Forbes said the NAACP “turns its back” on black families. A post in one of the charter industry’s numerous media outlets declared, “The NAACP was founded by white people, and it still isn’t looking out for black families.” 
But the outlandish rhetoric coming from charter proponents does little to change minds and instead reveals a movement that seems incapable of handling reasonable criticism and any option other than total supremacy.
And yes, they mention Massachusetts. 

Remember the Atlanta cheating scandal?

NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz followed up to see what has happened with students.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday October 20

You can find the agenda here.
Two things that are a carryover from the previous meeting: the PCB items, as they involve active litigation, were referred to executive session at 6 pm. The School Committee is also discussing contract negotiations with teachers and unit B (which is unionized administrators) and with IAs.
Also, the report of the superintendent on last year's standardized test scores was held over, so that is happening this week.
There was a Teaching, Learning, and Student Support meeting tonight; that agenda is here: AP scores, debate league, SkillsUSA, Playworks, and wifi.
There are a number of resignations, transfers, and appointments.
Much of the remainder of the agenda is reports requested by members: the state preschool expansion grant, discipline codes on SAGE (the online data system of the schools), content liaison information, a legislative breakfast schedule, MCAS appeals, goals assurances grant letter signing, site council meeting dates, services offered by Worcester Tech,  and kindergarten classes of 25 or more that have no IA (there are none).
There is a request that donations to Heard Street School, to Belmont Street School (for the Healthy Kids and Family project from UMass), and to Burncoat High's day care be accepted.
Mr. O'Connell suggests that new schools have publicly accessible libraries and requests that Worcester Public Library events be shared with WPS students.
Mr. Monfredo wishes to congratulate Kevin Cox on his book being published, and principals on AP launches. He also would like students to learn the Smiley Face song. (yes, that is an item)
Miss Biancheria would like a report on the JROTC program, on the ALICE protocol, and on window replacements (as covered in the opening of school report, which does not appear to be online).

No live blog from me 

You support your charter school. Here's why you should vote no on question 2.

You teach at a charter school.
You send your kids to a charter school.
Or you have.
Or you have a family member or neighbor who does.
So why would you vote against expanding them?

I mean this entirely sincerely: it is great that things are going well, no matter where you educate your kids. Sending kids off to other people for hours a day is a huge matter of trust, and any time kids are being cared for, being well taught, being pushed to do better, being supported, that's a good thing.

Also, like lots of other people in public education, I have friends and relatives who teach or have taught in charter schools, friends who send their kids to charter schools. This is no more a hypothetical than much else in and around public education is to me.

And here's why, when we talk about this, I recommend that they vote no on 2, over and above the reasons regarding the 96% of kids in Massachusetts who aren't in charter schools.

First, do get straight for yourself if this in any way impacts your own child's school. Very, very few districts are anywhere near their charter caps. Here's last spring's "near cap" list; since then, only Springfield and Brockton got new schools, and Everett and Boston got additional seats. If you're being told that this impacts your own child, please do check out the above and see if that is the case. In most cases, it is not.

The reputation of charter schools in Massachusetts, mixed as it is, is closely tied to the state oversight of charter operators. Massachusetts is unusual, in that all charter authorization comes from the state (in other states, there may be a mix of authorizers). All that you heard in response to John Oliver's takedown of charter schools was tied to state oversight: the state only authorizes "proven providers;" the state closes underperforming schools; the state has strict requirements for reauthorization.
As it happens, I'd take issue with all of those statements to one degree or another, but to the extent they're true, that's as a result of DESE oversight. DESE has a yearly budget of just over $4M, which sounds like a lot of money until you realize that there are school districts that spend more than that a year on administration. DESE's staffing recently has been substantially cut, partly due to the current administration, partly due to the loss of Race to the Top funds. This isn't something that has gotten a lot of news coverage--after all, who cares that a state bureaucracy has gotten smaller?--but if you're close to school administrations (charter or district), you've probably heard some murmurings of concern. It's taking longer to get responses; they're not seeing as much on the ground contact; it's becoming more and more clear that they're strapped for staff. (And to my DESE readers: they're not complaining; they're worried.)
Since the only real legal oversight charter schools have in Massachusetts comes through the Board of Education, as reported by DESE staff, that should worry us. If something happens in a district school, and the administration either doesn't know, doesn't care, or willfully ignores it, if all else fails, you can show up at a school committee meeting--meeting in your district, at a publicly posted time and place, in a context in which some form of public comment is on the agenda--and tell them your concern. If a parallel situation happens at a charter school, your only recourse is the Board of Education--meeting on a Tuesday morning, in Malden, and allowing public comment only if you've known to sign up in advance. If your school committee doesn't hear you, you can work to get them out of office. If the Board of Education doesn't hear you, they'll be keeping their seats, anyway, as they're appointed by the Governor on a five year cycle.
This isn't hypothetical to me. Back in May of 2011, a number of Spirit of Knowledge parents applied to then-Mayor O'Brien, who brought in a few of us from the Worcester School Committee, for help in their not being heard by their administration regarding problems there. Having no other recourse, I took their issues to the Board of Ed. I wasn't heard, I would say, any better than the parents were, though some of those issues were the same ones that ultimately closed the school.
I know there are parents whose children are in charter schools because they didn't feel heard by their district schools. Most often, interestingly, I hear this in Boston, which doesn't have an elected school committee.
We're already skating on the edge in terms of oversight of charter schools in Massachusetts. Vastly expanding the vetting, the review, the voting, and then the oversight, with no plan for expanded staffing of the state, is incredibly irresponsible, and it puts at risk any success we are having with such oversight currently.

Okay, maybe your school is fine and you're sure it will always be fine.

Charters are funded from state education (Ch.70) funds for both state and city side of funding. Charters receive the same proportion over minimum funding that district schools do, but the funding all comes from state aid. This necessarily cushions charters from midyear budget adjustments at the municipal level and to some degree from the state level.
There is, though, no financial plan for this ballot question. While advocates can push "money follows the child" narrative, there are two places where there unquestioningly is an increase in state revenue needed with any new charter: facilities funding (which charter schools get over and above per pupil funding) and district reimbursement. Reimbursement has allowed the Legislature to feel that they are to some degree "smoothing out" transfers--the degree to which this isn't happening is here--but facilities funding is outside and above that. With no budget planning for either of these items, where is the funding going to be found for these? The state, after all, has only so much money to go around.
My previous post on funding spoke of the impact on districts that rely primarily on state funding for their budgets. But charter schools rely SOLELY on state funding for their budgets*. Any hit to state education aid will hit charter schools.
And charter schools aren't any less impacted than district schools from the consequences of health insurance not being in line with actual costs. The same tensions surrounding the foundation budget for districts also (to whatever extent their enrollment is reflective) impacts charter schools. Thus charter budgets are also already short by their respective foundation calculations.
And that's what we should be working on, not this ballot question.

I would also point you to Mary Pierce's excellent post on special education. At ground, this is a social justice issue, which is why the NAACP over the weekend called for a national moratorium on charter school expansion. All of our kids deserve an excellent education. 
*with the exception of funding they may receive privately. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

California may reverse their ban on bilingual education

Among the 18 ballot measures up for a vote in California this year is one that would reverse the statewide ban on bilingual education:
Bilingual education, particularly for primary school children, has become increasingly popular among native English speakers over the past decade, said Wood. That's primarily because studies have shown that a multilingual brain is nimbler and better able to deal with ambiguities and resolve conflicts. Some research shows multilingual people are even able to resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer. 
Currently, California is one of four states -- the others are Arizona, Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- with laws constraining the use of bilingual education programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Right, Massachusetts.

This last legislative session, as I posted, there was a bill that made it out of committee that would have done just that. A new legislative session means, of course, that we have to start over again in January.
Add it to the list!

New Worcester compact?

Reading today's coverage of last night's invitation-only first 100 days presentation from Superintendent Binienda:

  • there's a new "Worcester compact"
  • which was already signed by the Worcester School Committee
  • which was not publicly vetted/available/discussed
  • which is being signed by invited (?) members of the Worcester community
  • which has no involvement (?) of teachers, parents, or students
And we're hearing praise about transparency. 
Okay, then. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Voting for savage inequalities

reference is to Jonathan Kozol's classic

Recently, those pushing for cap lift have been piling on the suburban guilt. It was all over the column I referenced yesterday; it was a big part of the Newton School Committee public testimony last night. Some of this is about wealth, a lot of this is about race, but it is all intended to make those who have a lot feel badly about those who don't and vote for cap lift to make themselves feel better.

As a parent in one of those urban communities, I am telling you: spare us.

I am a parent in a community in which the vast majority of our school funding comes from the state. Worcester is unable to fund its schools on its own. Under McDuffy, Worcester, along with Springfield, Fall River, Lowell, and many of the other urban districts, is majority state funded.

That isn't true of most of the places the cap lifters are trying to send on a guilt trip. Most suburbs get a minimum 15% of their foundation budget in state aid. They are majority local funded.
And most fund well over the minimum requirement.

As I've said numerous times, to some extent, this is actually required: the foundation budget hasn't been reconsidered for twenty years, and the districts that can make up the gaps themselves are doing so.

Many districts cannot.

This includes mine.

Should the ballot cap lift pass, and the state suddenly be faced with funding the reimbursements of up to 12 new schools a year, every year, something is going to have to give. There is no plan in the ballot question for dealing with the funding, and there is nothing in the plan to change reimbursement or any other funding rates.

It will start, of course, with continuing to not fully fund reimbursements. As the number of schools, and reimbursements, and facilities fees get larger and larger, the state's going to have to look at state education aid.

When that happens, it isn't going to be Newton, funded in FY16 at 165% of foundation, or Cambridge, funded in FY16 at 227% of foundation, or--pick a W: Weston? 208% Wellesley? 165%--that get hit.
Will it hurt them if they lose their state aid? Yes.
Will it devastate their budgets? No.

Worcester and its peer communities have no such local resources, though. Thus their district public school children--which are the vast majority of schoolchildren in those districts--will be those hurt.

If you start to feel guilty about other people's children in "those" districts, think about this:

Keep in mind where most of them go to school.
Remember how those schools are funded.
Remember who will really be hurt by a cap lift.
And vote no on question two.