Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Research double standard, adults cheating on tests and hostile charter takeovers

MrGibbonsReportCardDavid L Kirp, professor, University of California, Berkeley

David L Kirp’s latest New York Times op-ed pleads with education reformers to focus on teachers rather than “impersonal” reforms like charter schools and vouchers. Although nothing is more impersonal than being zoned to a school by a faceless bureaucrat, Kirp’s distaste for school choice reforms seems rooted in a double standard he holds on education research.

For example, Kirp is a big supporter of Head Start, a pre-k program for low-income children. Even though the federal government has spent billions on Head Start, the evidence that it improves academic performance is weak, at best. Kirp even acknowledges that the most recent report on Head Start, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found no statistically significant benefits for participating students.

Yet Kirp still wants to expand Head Start to include wealthier students. He argues adding rich students will create peer effects that benefit low-income students. It is a plausible theory, but it is one he mysteriously doesn’t apply to other educational programs such as vouchers.

David L. Kirp

Kirp argues that charter performance is no different than public school performance and that Milwaukee’s voucher program hasn’t produced learning gains, at least so far as he can tell.

The nation’s largest charter school study by CREDO has twice found modest academic advantage for low-income and minority students enrolled in charters. There are also “gold-standard” studies on Milwaukee (one by Greene, Peterson, and Du and one by Rouse) which demonstrate that participating low-income voucher students also see statistically significant academic gains and even higher graduation rates.

If including higher-income kids will help save Head Start, then imagine what it would do for programs already producing measurable benefits for low-income kids.

Grade: Needs Improvement

 

Public school cheaters in Ohio

ColumbusOH

Columbus, OH

Incentives to behave badly exist whether you work for a public non-profit school or a private for-profit company. The most recent example of this comes from an investigation in Ohio where auditors revealed at least 20 different public schools manipulated student assessment data to keep school grades from dropping. School leaders cheated by “scrubbing” student enrollment to make it appear as if low-performing students did not attend for the entire school year.

School leaders had a dual incentive to cheat: 1) they received financial bonuses for good performance and 2) preventing the school from receiving a D or F grade would ensure students remained ineligible for vouchers. According to the Columbus Dispatch, one father has already sued the district to recover tuition money he spent for a private school education after it was revealed his daughter would have been eligible for a voucher because she was actually assigned to a D-rated school.

The FBI is now involved and, according to the Dispatch, one leader has already plead no contest to felony charges while several others have resigned or have been fired. The Dispatch has been following this closely in its ongoing series “Counting Kids Out.” The newspaper’s editorial board has also blasted the districts.

Grade: Needs Improvement

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Appeals courts criticize Florida charter school statutes

Two Florida appeals courts recently decided two cases involving the same charter school operator and came to the same conclusion: There are “deficiencies” in the state’s charter school statutes.

The courts indicated that when the state Board of Education overrules school boards on charter school applications, it should be required to spell out its reasoning in greater detail. They also found other “shortcomings” in the state’s standards for high-performing charter school appeals.

The state board can hear appeals from charter schools whose applications are rejected by local school boards. It often overturns their decisions, especially in cases involving “high-performing” charters like Renaissance Charter School, Inc., which was rebuffed in two separate efforts to bring its South Florida schools to Central Florida.

State law only allows high-performing charter schools to replicate once per year. If a school board rejects a high-performing charter’s application to replicate one of its schools, the school board has to show “clear and convincing” evidence the application failed to meet certain standards spelled out in state law.

In the two recent cases, one in Seminole County and one in Polk, the state board decided the districts did not prove their case. The districts disagreed, and appealed the cases to state courts. Three-judge panels for the Fifth and Second Courts of Appeals both sided with the districts and overturned the state board’s decisions. And in both rulings, the latest of which was issued earlier this month, the courts criticized the state laws that spell out the process for charter school appeals.

The two cases, both decided 3-0, were broadly similar.

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Florida roundup: Catholic schools, reading, turnarounds and more

Catholic schools. The latest evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program suggests Catholic schools get impressive reading results. The Thomas Fordham Institute’s Ohio Gadfly runs the numbers.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A Palm Beach Post columnist rips charter schools.

Turnarounds. The EdFly highlights a successful effort to turn around a struggling Central Florida school.

Transportation. St. Lucie students who live close to their schools may soon have the option of paying for bus service from the district. St. Lucie News-Tribune. The Pasco school district improves communication with its bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

English language learners. Their treatment in the state’s testing and accountability system is the subject of a dispute between Florida and the federal government. Tampa Bay Times.

Reading. The extra hour of reading for 300 struggling schools may be more like a half hour in two Southwest Florida districts. Naples Daily News.

Growth. Hillsborough’s enrollment is up. Gradebook.

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Nothing more impersonal than an education system without school choice

Coons

Coons

In the New York Times of Aug. 17, David Kirp tells us “there is no substitute for the personal element” in schooling and claims those who support school choice disagree with him. In his “Teaching Is Not a Business,” he scolds the entire parental choice movement as dominated by “marketplace mantras” that regard test scores “as the single metric of success.” He would have us understand that business competition and systematic testing exhaust the litany of arguments for choice and that these are impersonal forces.

Kirp, in my judgment, is correct to downgrade both scores and competition; they are important essentially as the instruments of the more central values thought to be served by parental autonomy. And, true, in arguing for choice, some economists have found little to say beyond hailing the market. I will suggest they have forfeited their best arguments. But, then, for Kirp to attribute their narrow vision to the mainstream of serious students and proponents of family authority is grossly misleading.

What is school choice really about? Like any other element of human freedom it is, before all else, an occasion of responsibility. It is specifically so for the parent; armed with constitutional authority, fathers and mothers must face up to the issue: where will Little Nell get her formal instruction? The parents must decide; but first they must probe and learn – they must act like responsible citizens. They will make mistakes and grow by them, because these decisions will affect their own future lives. They care about this child, not simply because she is theirs – though that is crucial – but because they have to live with the outcome.

The child observes such behavior, and that experience suggests the meaning of responsibility. Further, Nell grasps that, if the decision turns out painful for herself, she has an open mic at dinner and bedtime to plead her own case and maybe change schools. She gains confidence in the possibility of her own responsibility. There is a system; she is part of it; and it can work. She has discovered that she is a citizen.

Nell’s neighbor, Jim, for reasons of poverty, has no parent who is able to choose for him; he is conscripted for a school called “public.” He is called to learning by strangers who bear no long-term responsibility for his success. His parent and he are both helpless – for 12 years. Is this what Kirp means by “the personal element?” Does conscription serve the development of a “civic” attitude? Continue Reading →

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Survey: 1 in 5 public school teachers send kids to private schools

School choice will soon be the new normal. According to Education Next’s latest annual poll, 1 in 4  families with school-age children have tried alternatives to district schools such as home schools, charter schools or private schools. Interestingly, 28 percent of public school teachers have tried such alternatives, with 19 percent – 5 points higher than the general public – sending their kids to private schools.

EDNext2014“School choice is no longer an abstract concept,” write researchers Michael Henderson, Paul Peterson and Martin West. “It is part and parcel of the American educational fabric directly affecting 26% of all Americans living with school-age children.”

The 2014 poll has plenty of other interesting findings, including continuation of several trends observed in last year’s poll.

Public support for vouchers for low-income children continues to fall, dropping from 41 to 37 percent while opposition increased from 45 to 51 percent.

At the same time, support for universal vouchers increased to 50 percent while support for tax-credit scholarships rose to 60 percent. Tax-credit scholarships, like the kind administered by Step Up For Students, a co-host of this blog, remain the most popular school choice program among members of the general public.

Other findings remain the same. For example, American continue to believe teachers should be paid more and public school spending should increase. But this doesn’t hold true once respondents are notified of average teacher salaries and per-pupil spending amounts. Support for increasing teacher pay drops 17 points while support for increasing per-pupil spending takes a 25 point plunge once respondents are informed of the true costs of each.

Other nuggets worth mentioning: Teachers would rather see themselves paid more than invest in class size reduction once they know the true cost of the latter. The general public also agrees that increasing teacher pay is preferable to class size reductions once they are aware of the actual costs.

Teachers and tenure:  The general public gives 1 of every 5 teachers a “D” or “F” grade while teachers feel a bit more generous, grading 1 of 10 teachers with a “D” or “F.” Of course, far fewer than 10 percent of teachers are relieved of their jobs for poor performance.

The researchers used this finding to segue into the hot topic of tenure. Researchers found 50 percent of the general public opposed teacher tenure while 32 percent favored it. Furthermore, 60 percent of the public liked the idea of tying tenure to teacher performance. Only 9 percent of the general public that indicated it liked tenure also opposed using student test data to determine it. Among teachers, 60 percent favored tenure and only 31 percent liked tying it to student achievement.

Funny fun fact: Public support for Common Core fell from 65 percent to 53 percent between 2013 and 2014, but the concept still enjoys 68 percent support so long as the words “Common Core” aren’t used to describe it. Sounds like Common Core advocates should have run the name past a few focus-groups.

There are plenty of other neat findings in this year’s poll, so take a peek for yourself.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, facilities, growth and more

Charter schools. The state Board of Education denies waivers that would have allowed three struggling charter schools to remain open. Miami Herald. redefinED. Some Hillsborough charters boast significant improvements in their school grades. Gradebook. Pinellas schools officials say they don’t know which schools a some students affected by a charter snafu have chosen. Gradebook. The incident inspires a critical editorial in the Tampa Bay Times. A mother says her child was kicked out of a South Florida charter for failing to complete volunteer hours. WTVJ. West Palm Beach’s proposed municipal charter clears an early hurdle. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoFacilities.  A Herando charter school starts the new year in its own building. Tampa Bay Times. An Okaloosa charter finds a new home. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Growth. Orange County could lead the state’s school districts in enrollment gains. Sentinel School Zone. Charters account for most of the public school enrollment growth in Pasco. Gradebook.

Textbooks. Some Hernando students start the new year without textbooks. Tampa Bay Times.

Back to school. The first day goes off without a hitch. Palm Beach Post. A Context Florida column uses the start of classes as an occasion to bash the state’s education policies.

Discipline. Civil citations help students avoid legal trouble. Tampa Tribune.

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Three ‘double-F’ charter schools to close after board denies waivers

The first day of the school year brought grim news to three Florida charter schools, who learned this morning that they will have to close because of their performance.

State law requires the schools to lose their charters after earning failing grades from the state in two straight years. The state Board of Education voted unanimously not to offer waivers that would have allowed the schools to remain open.

So-called “Double-F” charter schools can only receive waivers if their students achieve higher learning gains than comparable public schools. The board agreed to deny waivers after looking at data for the three schools – one in Miami-Dade County, one in Broward and one in Columbia.

None of the decisions drew debate from board members, who noted afterward that they were simply following the requirements in state law.

Representatives from the three schools joined the board on a conference call to plead their case for another year to improve their scores.

Anthony Buzzella, the founder of Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, said the school, which that morning opened its third year of classes, had raised its test scores after a dismal first year. But its improvements were not enough to shake its F grade. He also said the school’s drama, art and music programs have attracted students from three surrounding rural counties who, without those options, might not return to the public school system.

“Test results alone are not the sole indicator of our school’s effectiveness,” he said.

After the meeting, a few board members agreed that the decisions were difficult. Marva Johnson said the state should look for ways to assist new charters that stumble out of the gate, to prevent second-year struggles that can lead to their closure.

“It is a heavy decision to close a school,” she said. “I’d rather be having that conversation after the first year about how we can help.”

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Foundation helps school choice scholarships go further

This school year, tens of thousands of families are expected to enroll their children in private schools with the help of Florida tax credit scholarships. For some of them, the scholarships might not be enough to cover all of their private-school tuition, meaning they’ll have to seek financial help from their schools, or come up with money on already tight budgets.

Riley

Riley

But this school year, more than 350 children in the Tampa Bay region won’t face that conundrum, thanks to a new fundraising effort designed to bridge the gap between their scholarships and the full cost of private school tuition.

Now in its second year, the Bridge Scholarship program, a project of the Tampa-based Riley Family Education Foundation, has doubled in size.

But Scott Riley, its chairman and namesake, has plans for bigger growth in the years to come. He wants to recruit sponsors statewide, and even envisions expanding the effort into other markets with private school choice programs that could use a slight boost.

A serial entrepreneur with roots in the Tampa Bay region, he says he views the first couple years as a “beta test.”

In its first few years, the foundation cobbled together support from local donors and Catholic foundations to support students in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the onetime home of a Catholic boarding school he credits with turning around his own educational career. He is readying a pitch to businesses: The state’s existing scholarship program can allow their money to go further. They can pick the children they support, and follow their progress.

“We’ll be tying businesses into the community, and helping kids and schools get full tuition,” he said.

A broad-shouldered, fast-talking son of an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, Riley is founder and CEO of Financial Information Technologies, Inc., or Fintech. The company has built an electronic payments and data-processing platform for alcoholic beverage sales, and its 15-year-old business is growing. In 2010, it was named “business of the year” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Riley says that success might never have been possible if a once-anonymous benefactor hadn’t interceded in his childhood. Continue Reading →

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