Dr. Suggs and I met with the AG and others in August to discuss in very general terms the possibility of a settlement. We left with the understanding that a specific written proposal would be considered in good faith. I talked individually with board members who said what they have said many times before publicly and privately - they believed that a reasonable settlement would be in the best interest of LRSD students. I met with Dr. Suggs and Kelsey Bailey in September to discuss a settlement proposal which Dr. Suggs had prepared and the work Mr. Bailey had done to show that LRSD could make the proposal we made and remain financially stable during and after the proposed seven year transition if the proposal were accepted. I called or met with board members individually to talk generally about a proposal which did not include continued State funding of magnet schools or limitations on charter schools. I did not ask for any commitments and asked them not to discuss this with each other until we had a substantive response from the AG to consider at a public meeting. I sent the proposal to the AG on September 27. There has been no substantive response. The proposal does not require continued State support for magnet schools or interdistrict transfers, although the recent change in the school choice law would allow interdistrict transfers to magnet and other schools. There is no restriction on charter schools in the proposal. Previous efforts to settle this case have been unsuccessful primarily because the parties have been unable to resolve magnet and charter school issues.
One way a shutdown makes the passage of a debt limit increase easier is that it can persuade outside actors to come off the sidelines and begin pressuring the Republican Party to cut a deal. One problem in the politics of the fiscal fight so far is that business leaders, Wall Street, voters and even many pundits have been assuming that Republicans and Democrats will argue and carp and complain but work all this out before the government closes down or defaults. A shutdown will prove that comforting notion wrong, and those groups will begin exerting real political pressure to force a resolution before a default happens.
It's worth noting, for the record, that it would be vastly better if there was no shutdown and no default and House Republicans stopped trying to enact an agenda that lost at the polls by threatening the country. But American politics is what it is right now, and given its sorry condition, a shutdown might be the best of very bad options.
But, pointing to the National Assessment of Education Progress, which has sampled math and reading scores every two years since 1992 and, in an alternate version, every four years since the early 1970s, Ravitch demonstrates that levels of achievement have been rising, incrementally but steadily, from one decade to the next. And — surprise! — those scores are now “at their highest point ever recorded.” Graduation rates are also at their highest level, with more young people entering college than at any time before.There's a good interview by Jake Silverstein with Ravitch, by the way, in Texas Monthly, a state that could use more facts about education and less faith. (You read, didn't you, about how the board that will pick the state's biology textbooks is packed with creationists?) Excerpt:
Black and Hispanic children, nonetheless, continue to lag behind. The black-white gap, as Ravitch documents, narrowed greatly in the era of desegregation, but progress has slowed as the hyper-segregation of our schools and neighborhoods along both racial and economic lines has come to be accepted once again as the normal order of the day. Market competition has not reduced the gap. Charter schools — Ravitch says we ought to ban those that operate for profit — have an uneven record. They “run the gamut from excellent to awful” and, on average, do no better than their public counterparts. Those that claim impressive gains are often openly or subtly selective in the children they enroll. Most do not serve children with severe disabilities. Others are known to counsel out or expel problematic students whose performance might depress the scores.
What passes for reform today, Ravitch writes, is “a deliberate effort” to replace public schools with a market system.
JS: In your new book, Reign of Error , you say that the well-meaning people who support these reforms—and presumably these are the people who used to be your allies—have “allied themselves with those who seek to destroy public education.” You really think the result of the reform movement will be the destruction of public education?
DR: I think that’s the direction we’re heading in. First of all, I have a lot of trouble with the word “reform” being attached to what’s happening right now. That’s why I call it the privatization movement. So if the privatization movement continues unchecked, then yes, it will destroy public education. There’ll be public education here and there in relatively affluent communities that are untouched, but it’ll be dead in the cities, and it’ll be dead in the inner suburbs. It won’t be completely privatized, but there’ll be a dual system.
Most school boards in the state-and those who manipulate them-prefer having their elections when most of the rest of us aren’t paying attention. That way, they don’t have to deal with an overly enthusiastic public messing around with delicate matters like voting and the like. That should be left to a select few, i.e., themselves. Can’t have the public being overly involved in the public’s business. That would come dangerously close to democracy.
The book is divided into two parts: the first is a point-by-point takedown of the mythology of reforminess. No, America’s students aren’t falling behind; the data actually shows they are making slow, steady progress. No, our schools don’t suck compared to the rest of the world, and education is not a “national security crisis.” No, merit pay has never worked. No, unions and tenure and seniority and local school boards aren’t the problem. No, charters don’t get better results; in fact, cyber-charters are an unmitigated disaster. No, closing schools doesn’t improve education; as Ravitch says, “Schools don’t improve if they are closed.”
She argues that federal programs such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set unreasonable targets for American students, punish schools, and result in teachers being fired if their students underperform, unfairly branding those educators as failures. She warns that major foundations, individual billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers are encouraging the privatization of public education, some for idealistic reasons, others for profit. Many who work with equity funds are eyeing public education as an emerging market for investors.
Reign of Error begins where The Death and Life of the Great American School System left off, providing a deeper argument against privatization and for public education, and in a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, putting forth a plan for what can be done to preserve and improve it. She makes clear what is right about U.S. education, how policy makers are failing to address the root causes of educational failure, and how we can fix it.
Two days ago NYC Mayoral Candidate de Blasio (the frontrunner for Tuesday's Democratic primary) announced his support for a moratorium on 'co-locating' charter schools into buildings already occupied by neighborhood schools. If 'co-locating' sounds reasonable, well it's because the practice was given a deceptively anodyne title.
NYC co-locations are really hostile takeovers (sometime in whole, sometimes in part) of zoned neighorhood schools. Kids attending then'co-located' neighborhood schools are kicked out of their classrooms and forced into yet more crowded classrooms. Charter schools don't pay rent, often get the best facilities, and cherry pick the use of 'shared space'. They often reject students who don't fit in their managers' model of the right sort of student.
The department has asked the Panel for Educational Policy to sign off on dozens of new schools and space-sharing arrangements to begin in 2014 or beyond. But those plans could be in jeopardy regardless of the panel’s vote this year, as Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor, has said he would cancel any space planning that the department does between now and the end of the year that he deems negative for schools.
Sternberg’s level of involvement in those changes — which map closely to Walton’s priorities — over his final few weeks at the department remains unclear. A department spokeswoman said Sternberg had consulted with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to ensure that his ties with Walton would not compromise planning that takes place now.
...More broadly, Sternberg’s portfolio at the department is directly in de Blasio’s line of fire. Sternberg oversaw opening and closing schools and was instrumental in identifying space for charter schools to expand in public school buildings. (After a state Supreme Court judge gave a light to a set of school closures in 2011, he invited colleagues at the department to celebrate at a happy hour.)
Among many topics, he said he was firmly committed to building a middle school in west Little Rock, where students at the packed Roberts Elementary school currently have nowhere nearby to go. The closest middle school is Henderson, on John Barrow. Land has been
purchased put under contract for the school near Johnson Ranch on Highway 10, but the transaction isn't completed and construction is not yet set.
School building in western Little Rock has been problematic for years because of the long-running school desegregation case, from which Little Rock is now mostly extricated. But race lingers as an issue. The Little Rock School District has been fighting the movement funded by some of the richest people in Arkansas that aims to break up the Little Rock District into as many free-standing school districts (publicly financed charter schools) as possible.
This week, I happened to also learn more about another charter school push. The latest batch of applications includes one sure to get opposition from the Little Rock District. It's the work of Gary Newton, a long-time critic of many aspects of the Little Rock school district, particularly its school board, and a former chamber of commerce executive. He started up an educational organization, Arkansas Learns, funded by Walton Foundation money to wage his fight. More recently, he's been named the new paid director of Arkansans for Education Reform, the charter school lobby funded by Walton money and also supported by Stephens, Murphy and Hussman families to advance their education reform agenda. That agenda includes charter schools, school vouchers, opposition to unionized teachers and the like.
Newton has been doing the spade work to start a charter middle school in western Little Rock. He's been assisted by Scott Smith, another recipient of Walton money at the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, but also a recipient of state taxpayer dollars. A national charter school operator has been engaged to run this school, Responsive Education Solutions of Texas. Remember that name. Its work was remarked on so poorly in a recent widely disseminated Stanford study of charter school performance that it was prompted to issue the lengthy defense I've linked.) Said another report:
Of four super-networks reviewed in the study, a pair of them, KIPP and Uncommon Schools, generally had a strong academic showing, the authors found, while the other two, Responsive Education Solutions and White Hat Management, did not fare as well.
For example, both KIPP and Uncommon Schools had a large, significant positive effect on the academic growth of students in both reading and math, the study found.
But Responsive Education Solutions had a significant negative impact on student reading and non-significant effects in math.
Newton is publicizing an Aug. 27 meeting at the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ to continue to build support for the application for the Quest Middle School. Under a new state law, the application could be approved or denied by state Education Department staff, but appeals of those decisions still may be made to the state Board of Education. It's hard to imagine this particular application won't inspire discussion and an appeal to the full board if the staff grants the application. Or rejects it. You can see Newton's pitch at an earlier meeting on the YouTube above.
The Little Rock School District has argued that the state has failed in its duty not to encourage resegregation by its approval of multiple charter schools in Little Rock. The very first school approved was a middle school, LISA Academy, in western Little Rock. It opened with a minority of black students and a relatively small percentage of students who qualified for subsidized lunch. This surrounded by a conventional public school district where blacks are in the majority and a much greater percentage of students qualified for free and reduced price lunches. The school affected one of the district's magnet schools, Dunbar, by luring away top math students. The pattern has been repeated, notably at the eStem charter school. It, too, enjoys a much smaller minority population and smaller percentage of economically disadvantaged kids than the Little Rock School District. Economic background is about as sure a prediction of academic performance as you can find (yet eStem often compares its test scores against those of the entire Little Rock district, with much different student demographics). The charter advocates argue that many all-black charter schools have been established, too, thus "helping" the district after a fashion by reducing minority population.
The west Little Rock charter school would be open to all comers. But it will sit in a majority white part of town. If experience is a guide, it will be attractive to parents in that neighborhood, less so in faraway inner city neighborhoods for kids without bus transportation. We can't know that for sure — until it's too late. But one of the early charter schools in Maumelle, which promised to particularly serve minority students, was heavily white in part because of the distance to black students. The argument now by charter school advocates is that race no longer matters. Resegregation in the name of school choice is OK, legally and otherwise. Jess Askew, a lawyer closely aligned with Walton-funded school efforts, including at eStem, has been making that argument repeatedly in court in various cases.
So the questions: Do taxpayers need to be paying for two new middle schools in western Little Rock, even if one has Walton money for startup costs? Do taxpayers want to create a whole new charter school district (the goal is to add a high school, too), with payments to a private Texas organization to operate it? (Remember that charter schools don't answer to the public; there are no elected school boards.) Does the state, with its poor record on providing nondiscriminatory equal education in Little Rock, want to encourage this effort in the whitest, most economically advantaged part of town? Should a state-supported school be created because parents don't want their children to attend available middle schools that happen to be majority black? The Waltons say the answer is yes. And they have the money, and the lawyers, to argue the case.
I feel confident that there will be arguments.
Hmmmmm. Not that this could happen anywhere else, but, an AP exclusive from the New York Times:
... when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, [former Indiana School Superintendent Tony] Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks.
Bennett wrote that "anything less than an A" would compromise all the state's accountability work. How's that for irony.
There's compromise enough already to the accountability claims about charter schools in national studies, the New Orleans 'miracle' and abundant other evidence that charter schools put their raggedy pants on one leg at a time just like every other school.
Which reminds me: I just got a bundle of state Department of Higher Education data, that shows the college dropout rate of state scholarship recipients from three public school districts in Phillips County since 2010. The scholarship dropout rate from the conventional school districts — Barton, Helena-West Helena and Marvell — is superior to that of the much lauded KIPP Delta College Prep High School for the 2011 and 2012 classes — 10 of 36 from Barton, 37 of 68 from Helena Central, 15 of 21 from KIPP and 15 of 23 from Marvell. It's too early to say how the 2013 grads have done. I'm not ready to make a mountain, or even a molehill, out of this, but I also don't expect to find the fact mentioned anytime soon in Billionaire Boys Club promotional literature. KIPP's a good school. But it is also possible that the others nearby, despite some obvious disadvantages against KIPP in terms of private financial support and requried parental commitment to the KIPP program, may be somewhat different than presumed. Or maybe the old-fashioned schools have just responded to the competition.
The Billionaire Boys Club, with leading press agentry by the Walton "education reform" propaganda machine, is already spinning it differently, but they are outliers in interpreting yet another Stanford study that was hoped to demonstrate the superiority of charter schools.
Writes columnist Wendy Lecker, senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center:
The verdict is in, and it is the same as four years ago. In updating its 2009 national study on charter schools, Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reaches the same conclusion it did in its previous study: The vast majority of charter schools in the United States are no better than public schools.
In 2009, 83 percent of charters were the same or worse than public schools, and now about 71-75 percent are. Even more telling, CREDO concludes that "the charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is largely driven by the closure of bad schools." In addition, students at new charter schools have lower reading and math gains than at public schools.
I had written before that a full examination of the study shows that, on the whole, Arkansas charter schools have not outperformed conventional Arkansas public schools in the measured categories. This link contains a link to the entirety of the Stanford study.
You'll find a deeper, more nuanced analysis by Matthew Di Carlo on the Shanker blog. He writes about changes between 2009 and the most recent study:
Overall, what do these results mean? The differences within and between time periods are still quite small, and, overall, the major conclusion is no different than before: There is substantial variability in estimated charter school effects, and little meaningful difference on the whole. That said, the finding that charter schools’ relative performance may be getting better is significant, and should not be disregarded. It will be very interesting to see if this improvement keeps up.
And, of course, the most important question — how do we explain these differences within and between time periods, states and subgroups — remains an open one, and is severely constrained by the difficult of gathering these data, but this report provides some useful information toward that goal (actually, having school-level estimates across 27 states is by itself a big asset). Going forward, this will hopefully be the focus of charter research.
One final point: It’s a little striking to consider that it’s been over 20 years since charter schools appeared on the public educational landscape, and opinions about them, positive and negative, tend to be exceedingly strong, but we’re still in the earlier phases of figuring them out. Good policy research, like good policy, requires time and patience.
In Arkansas, the message driven by the Waltons, Hussmans and their camp followers has been that invocation of the words "charter school" — real or virtual — is next to godliness. They must be better than those nasty ol' real public schools. The reality is far more complicated.
You might remember that Sen. Johnny Key pulled a fast one in the special language subcommittee and exploded the cap on "virtual charter school" enrollment in Arkansas from 500 to a whopping 5,000 without full legislative deliberation. This will be a $28 million taxpayer windfall to the "virtual charter" and to K12 Inc., the private corporation that makes millions nationwide providing management services to virtual charter schools.
Virtual charter schools are essentially structures to take in state tax money equal to that given bricks-and-mortar schools with paid faculties and facilities in support of home schoolers. It's a racket, but a richly rewarding one for Bill Bennett and the others who dreamed up K12.
Please note that Colorado's biggest "virtual academy" has decided to break off its relationship with K12.
From local radio reporting:
Brian Bissell, head of the COVA board, confirmed the change Tuesday. It will go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.
Bissell, who is a K12 Inc. shareholder and has three children enrolled in COVA, says that the school could still use K12’s curriculum but says school leaders have decided that new management is the best option. “It became clear that at certain points in COVA history the interests of COVA—that is our students and their families, their teachers and Colorado’s taxpayers—these have not always been aligned with K12’s interests,” he said.
Education Director Tom Kimbrell had argued that the virtual school should be subject to the same sort of oversight that other charter schools get. Johnny Key doesn't see it that way. Nor do the cheerleaders, such as the Democrat-Gazette, for throwing state tax money at anything calling itself a charter school without concern for how the money is spent or who's profiting unduly.
The Waltons' billion-dollar megaphone is already trumpeting an updated report from a Stanford research arm on performance of charter schools in 25 states.
The earlier report indicated many charters generally didn't do as well as conventional public schools.
The original study, conducted four years ago, showed that only 17 percent of charter schools managed to raise student math test scores above those of local public schools. The new report said that 29 percent of charter schools performed better in math than local public schools.
The study compares children with similar academic and demographic profile. I still think this isn't fully an apples-to-apples comparison because of the parental factor — an engaged parent actively working on schooling seems a better home environment than an absent or disengaged parent.
But ... Before you join the Billionaire Boys Club cheerleading team, check in with the Center for Education Reform, a rigorous evaluator of the nostrums being peddled by the Walton/Hussman/Stephens/Gates/etc. crowd. It says of the Stanford study (and quotes a successful charter school leader in the process):
The new CREDO report, an update of one previously issued in June 2009, is again extremely weak in its methodology and alarming in its conclusions, according to Jeanne Allen, founder and president, CER.
“No matter how well-intentioned, the CREDO research is not charter school performance gospel, said Allen. “Similar to its failed 2009 effort, this CREDO study is based on stacking mounds of state education department data into an analytical process that is decidedly lacking in rigor.”
Added Allen: “The extrapolation of state-by-state data is a worthy exercise, but hardly the foundation upon which to set forth sweeping national solutions, when there is no consensus on the problems.”
Allen, a leader in the education reform movement for nearly two decades, explained that CREDO’s misguided attempt to make comparisons of student success across state lines ignores the reality behind the widely varying state assessments that make such alignment impossible.
If you're open to Walton skepticism — unlike, say, the D-G — Diane Ravitch has more here.
The new study shows that charters are doing better than in 2009. They typically get about the same results as public schools, with some performing better, others performing worse.
I will do my own analysis later but meanwhile this is the best review I have seen, by Stephanie Simon of Reuters.
Key quote: “25 percent of charters outperformed nearby schools at teaching reading, while 19 percent did worse, and 56 percent were about the same. In math, 29 percent of charters did better, 31 percent did worse, and 40 percent were on par.”
The report raises many questions, implicitly, to a critical reader. Why is it that charter schools are not vastly outperforming public schools? They have the ability to skim and exclude. They have the benefit of “peer effects,” since they can expel troublesome students and send them back to their public school. Nearly 909% are non-union. They can fire teachers at any time and offer performance bonuses if they wish. They do everything that “reformers” dream of, yet they are hardly different overall from public schools, which typically must take all children and do not have the support of the Obama administration, major corporations, big media, big foundations, and hedge fund managers.
The fact that charters serve large numbers of black, Hispanic, and poor students does not mean they serve a representative sample of students with disabilities and English language learners (they don’t). To compare a school that can select its student body with one that cannot is inherently unfair. The fact that the public schools do as well as the charter schools, despite their advantages, is remarkable.
UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for a direct link to the CREDO study. Bad news there for the Billionaire Boys Club's Arkansas clubhouse. The Stanford results show Arkansas charters as a group underperform comparable conventional public schools in both math and reading learning gains both among the schools in the original study and in the expanded 27-state study.
The Walton family effort to redesign publicly financed schools in their image — they prefer essentially privatized operations unanswerable to elected school boards and stripped of teacher association representation, preferably with "out-counseling" of difficult students to the remnant real public schools — is familiar by now in Arkansas.
But the Billionaire Boys Club is at work nationally.
That effort gets a rip on this blog in Massachusetts.
You see, here in Massachusetts, the annual occasion on which politicians and advocates for children spend the day bepraising teachers rather than besmirching them just happens to fall right smack in the middle of cap-raising season. For non-excellence lovers: the “cap” is the artificial limit on excellence and innovation that is prohibiting our children from reaching their fullest 21st century workplace skills and prosperity potential. But who among us has the enormous wealth to fund the grassroots movement well-oiled lobbying machine necessary to at last remove the constraints on excellence (and also sneak in a sneaky provision that will force public school districts to hand over “underutilized” property to privately operated charter operators at “rent controlled prices”)? Meet the generous hosts of today’s event, the Waltons: John-Boy, Zeb, Grandma and Olivia Alice, Jim, Rob and Christy. On this special day, we lift our caps to them!
It turns out that Walmart money is paying for virtually every aspect of the campaign to eliminate the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Millions in Walmart dough is being steered to the groups that advocate for charter school expansion, finance the construction of new charters, conduct the polls showing growing public support for more charters and place strategic op-eds calling for more charters. Some $2 million of that money, by the way, goes to individual academies of excellence and innovation, like MATCH and Excel, whose students are transformed into junior lobbyists come cap raising season. Breaking news: a new poll finds that support for excellence rises as voters learn more about its excellence.
All the lobby groups and tactics outlined in Massachusetts are fully deployed by Walton money here, including a Walton-financed arm at their wholly owned university in Fayetteville (nominally known as the University of Arkansas) designed to turn out "research" to validate their view of education.
Such virtual schools appear to be a risky public investment, according to this new research from the National Education Policy Center. The report reviewed 311 full-time virtual schools with 200,000 students, the majority in "charters" operated by education management organizations such as K12 Inc., the management organization for the Arkansas Virtual Academy's elementary and middle schools. Bottom line:
Compared with conventional public schools, researchers found that full-time virtual schools serve relatively few Black and Hispanic students [Arkansas's "virtual" schoolers are 90 percent white], students who are poor, and special education students. In addition, on the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), state performance rankings, and graduation rates, full-time virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools. [In the report, the Arkansas virtual school in 2011, the most recent data available, didn't meet the annual yearly progress standard}
To date, claims made in support of expanding virtual education are largely unsupported by high quality research evidence.
Among the recommendations:
Policymakers should slow or stop growth of virtual schools until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
Too late for Arkansas.
The school, Lauer reports, has come up with an all-hands-on-deck traffic warden system augmented by private security. It COULD stagger school start and release times, but, no, that would be inconvenient to the school. I mean, really, inconvenience the school just because of a couple of cranky neighbors?
I was most interested in the school's remark that it had been "blind-sided" by the city's enforcement of zoning rules.
Through the wonder of the Internet, you can go back to January 2011 when the Planning Commission approved an expansion for LISA to 600 students. It had to present a detailed plan to qualify for that expansion and it included a great deal of discussion of and accommodation for the traffic that would be generated by a facility serving 600 students. LISA was well aware of planning rules then and traffic needs then. Was it really blind-sided by the city's interest NOW in the fact that it had increased enrollment by almost a third over what had been permitted without first going through the required city planning process? I remain interested in any internal communications at the alleged public school about this expansion plan. Did no one remember the 2011 hearing at which traffic requirements were put in place for 600 students? Maybe LISA was just blind-sided by learning that rules really do apply to them. That's not what charter schools in Arkansas had been accustomed to in their beginning years.
A city planning process in which major facility expansions are approved after the fact is not a planning process at all. But once Jess Askew is done with the City Board at a coming hearing, I'm sure this can be worked out. Maybe Walton charter school lobbyist Luke Gordy can also come down and back Askew up. How can Arkansas have school choice if grouchy neighbors and city hall bureaucrats and laws and petty stuff like that get in the way?
PS — In pinpointing the school on a Google map, I happened to run across a comment about LISA by someone who described herself as an unhappy parent of a former student. Her observations included this remark about the 2011-2012 school year, BEFORE the 190-student expansion.
... Getting in and out is a nightmare. There is no parking, no real traffic control, and the street is full of horrible potholes. ....
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