Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘charter schools’

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

It’s usually hard to settle on which bit of news to write about. If I were getting paid to do this, I’d spend all day and write about all of them. EdWeek had two really interesting articles this morning, one on work in developing science standards and the other is about a study showing teacher induction programs had positive results in student achievement gains, although not in keeping teachers in the field or making them feel more prepared. I was also intrigued by an article about why “bad” children can come from seemingly “good” parents. While it’s not directly school related, it makes me think of parent conferences I’ve and how many parents asked me, a 22-year-old straight out of college, how I can help them with their child that they can’t manage. How do we expect teachers so control all of the learning outcomes in their classes when we have so little hope with parents? (The answer is that most students aren’t like that and that we have to factor in this possibility when we look at student achievement).

However, the issue that sparked my thought the most today was Eduflack’s article about whether Bill Gates has the power to remake education. It’s the old question: if you had all of the money in the world, what would you do to___________. In this case, it’s what would you do to completely change the face of an education system that perpetuates class separation and causes inefficiency? Over the last few years, Gates has poured billions of dollars into education, funding everything from common standards to  charter schools to performance pay. Of course, even when one is being philanthropic, when dealing with lots of money, there are always critics. Leonnie Haimson calls him “the most dangerous man in America.” She claims his small schools have created less space for classes and have shut down entire programs, such as arts and science labs.

The same situation is now unfolding in NYC as the rapidly proliferating charter schools are wedged into public school buildings. As a result, the existing public school, with much higher concentrations of English language learners, special needs students, and homeless children, is now in many cases forced to provide instruction and mandated services in hallways and closets.

Perhaps Haimson should do her homework before lodging complaints. Charters generally have about the same number of ELL , homeless, and special needs students. In The Lottery, a scene shows Harlem Village Academy CEO, Eva Moskowitz,  being grilled by school board members while trying to get more space for HVA2. One of the questions asked is on that very issue. The board member asks what her special ed population is. Moskowitz points out that HVA’s special ed population was over 20%, much higher than the school she in the same location. Haimson also ignores major facts completely. She points out that Gates has concentrated his funding in cities where there are fewer people in power, saying that it helps him ignore the constituents. He has tended to places where there is mayoral control, rather than school boards with slow and bureaucratic methods. However, that is completely irrelevant to whether parents or students have any say. Large districts with complicated structures generally don’t have any constituent input, either.  What can you expect from the executive director of an organization called “Class Size Matters”, when studies show that for the most part, it doesn’t? (It’s only when classes are reduced to fewer than 20 that any effects are shown). Haimson spends the second half of the article angry about the fact that Gates hasn’t put much money into reducing class sizes. I suppose that shows why she has an axe to grind.

How could this face be the most dangerous in the world?

Regardless of ethical questions some may have about his methods, Eduflack’s question still remains: can Bill Gates change the face of K-12 education? He’s got a $35 billion foundation that says, “Yes.” While that may be a drop in the bucket compared to the close to $600 billion the US spends on education a year, it’s enough to create an entire model. Up until now, Gates has been spending money funding various projects. He’s given money to charter organizations, districts, and even teachers’ unions. Eduflack thinks he should go further. If Patrick Riccards (the writer of Eduflack) had that kind of money, he’d build his own districts. He’d take all of the existing research and create a complete district. Why spend $100 million dollars in Tampa trying to convince people to do things you like when you can spend money to run a whole operation? The Gates Foundation could control everything from the budget to hiring to curriculum and beyond. I wouldn’t stop there, though. I think Riccards is ignoring one key factor in school success – training. For Gates to truly create an entire system and see if it works, he’d have to found a school of education. Perhaps with New York’s new decision to allow alternative certifiers to have their own Master’s programs, there is an opening for such a plan to get off the ground.

Of course, the Gates Foundation would need to have a fundamental change in vision for something like this to happen. The Foundation sets its sights on funding a variety of projects, allowing for as much innovation as possible. Funding an entire district would not allow for the same scope of change, depending on the size of the district. Perhaps if the Gates Foundation were to create a medium-sized district with a budget of only tens of millions, rather than hundreds, it could keep its hand in more projects. Let’s say Gates opts to spend $15,000 per student plus the cost of the teacher training (more than almost every state currently spends). He could have a decent-sized district of 6,500 students (500 per grade, larger than average) for $97.5 million. That means if he were to create five of those (with varying methods for comparison), it would cost $492.5 million each year, not including the teacher training. He’s spending about that much currently, but that figure also doesn’t take into account that much of that funding would come from the state anyway. Let’s say the Foundation gets half of that from the state, so it’d be spending $250 million or about half of its budget on running five districts with over 30,000 students. Add in costs for running teacher training and you’ve still got a hefty but manageable sum. I’m sure they could do the math better and get it to work out in their favor even more than the math that I’m spewing (how else do you become the richest man in the world, afterall). The Gates Foundation could easily run a 10-year pilot for “only” a few billion and still have plenty to work in other areas. In the time that it’s taken Green Dot to become a noticeable presence, Gates Dot could completely change what education in the US looks like. Plausible? Probably not. Worthwhile? absolutely.

Twists and Turns

In Federal on July 1, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Well, despite all of the opposition (at least in the blogosphere) to Rep. Obey’s $10 billion teacher jobs amendment to a war bill, the House decided to pass it. The bill includes $800 million in cuts to White House initiatives, including $500 million from Race to the Top. If the Senate approves it, President Obama has promised to veto the bill. I can’t imagine it’ll get the 2/3 it would need to override a veto. Then again, I didn’t think it would pass in the first place. It’s interesting to note how education often does not completely work along party lines. The president is opposed to an appropriation that would be considered by many to be “too liberal.”

Creating the Finish Line

In Federal, Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 2:02 pm

It seems as though I am not alone in my criticism of Cortines from my last post. The mayor’s not too fond of his mettle, either. He says he’s not supportive enough of charter schools.

As I said on Thursday, one of the big recent developments is Race to the Test, a contest to create assessments that align with the new Common Core standards. Personally, if they can actually make legitimate assessments that aren’t just multiple-choice fill-in-the-bubble exams that force students to regurgitate information for a few hours at a time, not only will I be impressed, but it will be a major step forward from what the current state tests look like.

The odd thing about this particular race, though, is that instead of allowing a number of different groups to compete for the prize, only three organizations were tapped and all three will be getting something. According to EdWeek, there were originally six consortia, but because there was so much overlap, they combined forces. Two of the three consortia, consisting of 26 and 31 states, are competing for $320 million of the total $350 million to create tests for all grades, while a smaller group of 12 states is aiming at making reliable high school exit exams. Even though these are states creating the assessments, it seems as though the federal government’s suggestions may go a long way to shaping what the tests look like. The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers initially started out with major differences in their proposals, but after the receiving comments on them, their plans now look very similar to one another. Both are planning on having performance assessments spread throughout the year to track development along with a big exam at the end.

Perhaps smarter tests can be integrated into schools better.

One major difference is that despite the fact that both groups are using technology, SMARTER seems to have latched onto the computer-adaptive model, which can lead to greater accuracy and faster tests. For those unfamiliar, most graduate entrance exams (the LSAT, the GRE, etc) at this point use computer-adaptive tests that change depending on how well the student is doing. They are essentially the exam equivalent of an optometrist trying to figure out your vision. Instead of changing the strength of the prescription depending on how well you can see,  questions get harder or easier depending on how well you perform on each question. That way, they can zero in on where your performance is. Why is this important? In most states, standardized tests take a significant amount of time. I can remember my own high school experience in Indiana when the entire school would essentially shut down for a week for the sophomores and students who hadn’t previously passed to take the ISTEP. As a teacher in Arizona, there were separate days  for reading, writing, math, and science sections of AIMS, as well as an additional day for freshmen to take the TerraNova, and that doesn’t even include the extra days in the fall for students who failed the previous spring to retake the tests. If these tests used adaptive technology, they could be whittled down to a fraction of the length, resulting in more accuracy because of less burn-out from the sheer length of the tests.

While these developments are encouraging, there has been some criticism of the process. EdWeek’s Catherine Gewertz says that the timeline might be too quick. The DOE wants these tests to be in use by 2014-2015. For a strong test to be administered, there needs to be considerable piloting and adjustment and four years may not be enough to reliably do that. Bill Tucker of The Quick and the Ed and EducationNext warns that there are some important steps that may or may not happen that could determine the success of the process. His biggest concern is having open platforms and shared infrastructure. The two consortia seem to be working together so far, so it looks like a positive start. We won’t know how successful this initiative is for a couple of years probably, though.

Gambling with Students’ Futures Should Be Illegal

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Last night, as a part of InformEdaction’s bi-monthly discussion series, I went to go see The Lottery at the Laemmle Music Hall. The movie is for the most-part what I expected it to be – a heart-wrenching account of an unfair system that keeps some families down alongside a glimmer of hope for a few. The premise of the movie is simple. Each year, thousands of families “apply” to get their student into one of the various charter schools in Harlem. At the time of filming, there were just over 20 charter schools there. The film tracked four families who applied for their children to attend Harlem Success Academy, the most popular lottery in New York.

The night that we attended just happened to include a Q&A by Madeleine Sackler, the director of the film. Ms. Sackler’s film offers a scathing review of union actions and local politics that seem to stand in the way of children’s success. Alongside the stories of the children trying to get into Harlem Success is the battle between the charter organization and advocates for PS129, a failing school that Harlem Success 2 wanted to expand into last year. The movie  claims that the major “shadow” actors behind the resistance movement are members of the teachers’ unions. At the hearing, there are even shots of opposition members wearing hats with the teachers’ union’s initials on them. In the Q&A, Sackler claimed that in making the movie, she had no agenda. She wasn’t trying to paint a certain picture of the unions or even of charter schools. In fact, she said she repeatedly tried to get union participation in the project – especially of AFT President, Randi Weingarten – and was told they were too busy for an entire year.

Overall, I think the film does a good job showing what charter schools can be, highlighting some of the amazing statistics that Harlem Success has been able to achieve. The school is proud of its high test scores, but seems to be even more glowing about its culture. Shots of the school show “Class of 2025” posters and university banners of all sorts. Interviews with teachers and principals there illustrate the drive they have to make sure their children succeed. If the film has a hero, it’s HSA’s CEO, Eva Moskowitz. She explains the high expectations the school has and is shown not only to be relentless, but passionate as well. At one point, Moskowitz is shown crying during her defense of HSA II’s plan to move into PS 129, because she believes that children in Harlem are not given the chances they deserve.

As much as I like the overall message of the film and the positive impact it might have on the general public, I have to say that even as someone who likes charters and is often critical of teachers’ unions getting in the way of education reform, I found the film particularly one-sided. Despite Ms. Sackler’s claims of having no prior intent – or maybe because of them – the film clearly portrays charters as fantastic institutions that are just being held back by those who don’t know or don’t care. It’s true, there are some amazing charter schools, but intentionally or not, the film makes it seem as though Harlem Success represents all charters. The school is popular because it stands out, not because it is similar to many others. It does what few other schools have been able to replicate. The movie also does not really share the legitimate concerns many have with the way that some charters are going about their business (or some may argue how they have to go about their business). It was apparent that one of the big worries of parents and local officials was that Harlem Success is not just for students in the areas that the zoned schools (read: normal public schools) where they were using space. The movie seems to gloss over the fact that not all of the children they followed were even from Harlem. The movie’s synopsis on IMDB says they are from “Harlem and the Bronx.”

The criticisms I have, however, are far outweighed by the positive effect a movie like this can have. If the general population were to see it, I think they would get the right message: there is a big problem with the way education has been going and it needs to change. Obviously, there are some who might not agree. Either way, it is clear that whether a child receives a quality education shouldn’t be a matter of chance.

For real this time…

In California, Federal, LA, Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

OK, so my plan to write entries while in Israel did not quite pan out. It did not help that the adapter for my laptop decided to die. So now that I got that all squared away a few days ago, I’ve been in the process of trying to catch up on a month’s worth of articles. I thought perhaps I’d get through all of them and then start writing… I still have almost 600 articles left in my queue dating back to May 28. So instead of making you all wait another week or two, I’ll just start writing and hope that I can get back on track. Before I do, I thought I might mention that I’ll be relocating. The blog will stay here and I’ll still keep the national/LA stuff going, but since I’ll be heading to the NYC area, I’ll add in some NY/NJ local news once in a while, too. Since there are already lots of updates elsewhere on big to-dos in that part of the country, I don’t feel as obligated to make sure the general public is aware of them.

I am about to work on an entry about The Lottery, an excellent film I saw last night. It will be up later today.

UCLA’s CRP Has Its Head in an Oven

In LA, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

It is like having your feet in the oven and your head in the icebox, and saying that, on average, the temperature is just right.

Those are the words University of Arkansas education policy professor Gary Ritter used to describe the methodology that UCLA’s Civil Rights Project used in comparing charter school segregation. As a USC grad, I appreciate any time I can make fun of UCLA. Ritter ripped the CRP for a biased sample, comparing charter schools in predominantly segregated inner-cities with all public schools, both in segregated and non-segregated areas. The CRP concluded that charter schools are much more segregated than public schools based on national, state, and metropolitan averages, rather than comparing to schools serving the same populations. When those schools are compared, Ritter said, there is very little difference. For example, the study pointed out that students in the DC metro area have a 20% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school (more than 90% minority or more than 90% white), while those in charter schools in DC have a 91% chance. What they fail to mention is that the DC metro area includes Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, whereas the majority of the charter schools in the DC metro area are within DC city limits which Ritter shows gives students an 86% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school. He says that what would be better than aggregated data like this is data showing students who switched and comparing their current schools to the ones they otherwise would have attended.

Ritter points to a study by the RAND corporation in 2009 that did this very thing. It found that:

Transfers to charter schools did not create dramatic shifts in the sorting of students by race or ethnicity in any of the sites included in the study. In most sites, the racial composition of the charter schools entered by transferring students was similar to that of the TPSs [traditional public schools] from which the students came.

In some places, charters tended to be slightly more segregated and in some places, they were slightly less segregated. Overall, the UCLA study seems flawed in that its focus was on the segregation specifically in charter schools, when the real segregation is in the cities themselves, regardless of whether the children are attending charter schools or not. To call the charter schools “apartheid” is not only incorrect, it spits in the face of those who had to actually live under forced segregation.