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charter schools Tag

The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Everybody wants to fight the good fight. Until the battle begins. Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before. To paraphrase Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman. I see this almost every day in our schools. Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face. They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore. The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy. To which I say – Amen, Sister! Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest. Two conflicts of interest, actually. First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell. Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools. So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks. But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors. What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today. Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests. We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment. I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight. But I find myself standing there alone. “You can’t do that,” I say. “It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.” (Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.) Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote: “If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…” Or how about...

Another Charter Management Company nightmare

The link below points to an investigation by @WFLA 8 in Florida around Newpoint Education Partners, who is accused of creating bogus loans using taxpayer dollars. The issues in Florida are an indicator of a larger issue in our country where the average charter management company puts profits first, ahead of students or even taxpayers. The issues around a lack of general accountability, transparency, and efficiency are hallmarks of charter school management organizations, which are for-profit entities determined to turn public education in a system of haves and have-nots. @WFLA's investigation actually resulted in several school districts distancing themselves from Newpoint but only after losses to the community's public schools. Read the investigation and see the video by WFLA's Mark Douglas by clicking here. When you check out the article, the one thing I think will stand out to you, that stood out to me, was the fact that the San Jose school board paid Newpoint a staggering $500,000 per year the last 3 years as an "annual fee. An annual fee...

The Presumptive Presidential Candidates: What’s at Stake in Education

We’re approximately five months out from the general election for the presidency, and after a long and protracted battle for the nomination, we have presumptive candidates for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Both presidential candidates have strong opinions on issues that will affect our nation for the next four years of their potential presidency and beyond. It’s important to note that thus far, education hasn’t been a big topic of discussion in the presidential primaries, with debates focusing on issues related to the economy and immigration. Trump’s campaign website minimally addresses education in the “issues” section (and not the more visible “positions" section). Clinton’s website has two sections in the issues page dedicated to education (one for K-12 and one for early childhood education). Notably, in this election, because education hasn’t yet been a big topic of conversation, it’s up to the voter to pursue information on their own to try to get a feel for the reforms their preferred candidate might make. From their campaign websites, it’s easier to decipher Clinton’s education policy platform; Trump has been more reluctant to define his opinions on education aside from his strong support of moving away from federal oversight to more local control. The table below showcases some of the “hot button” issues in education of the moment, and the current standings (as of June 2016) of the two presumptive presidential candidates. Issue Clinton Trump Common Core In Favor Opposed ECE Supports universal pre-K Unknown Federal Oversight In Favor Opposed Free Community College In Favor Opposed School Choice In Favor (in public system) In Favor In February, Trump emphasized, “We need to fix our broken education system!” and he has previously advocated for school choice, saying “Competition is why I'm very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn't want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren't good enough to attract students would close, and that's a good thing.”* School choice is the most specific issue that Trump has recently addressed (aside from common core); it’s a fitting focus for him, given his background in business. Clinton has spoken on numerous education related issues recently. To compare their views on common core, Clinton recently said, "I know Common Core started out as a, actually non-partisan, not bi-partisan, a non-partisan effort that was endorsed very much across the political spectrum…What went wrong? I think the roll-out was disastrous…Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they'd been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you're expected to turn on a dime.”* Trump strongly opposes common core and federal oversight in general. The biggest difference between the two candidates will likely come down to the struggle between local and federal control when it comes to supervising education reform and ensuring that every...

charters vs. traditional

Charters vs. Traditional Schools in Dallas

There is a big debate going on in Dallas right now regarding the charter school movement. If you're not employed in the profession (or in the area), it would probably pass you by, but it holds the potential to drastically affect the Dallas educational landscape for many years to come. It's about charters-- and land. Charters in Dallas are part of the public school system, but run separately. In Dallas there are a couple of different CMOs (charter management organizations), including KIPP, Uplift Education and Harmony Public Schools. Recently Uplift applied for a zoning permit to open a new campus near I-35 and Camp Wisdom Road. They are growing in the region, there is increasing demand and long wait lists to be admitted and they need more space. Parents are drawn to Uplift because of their results and their college focus. Every Uplift student must be accepted to college in order to successfully graduate. In Dallas, where the public schools run the gamut from extremely high achieving to extremely low achieving, school choice really empowers parents. However, for each student that Dallas ISD loses to expanding charter networks, they also lose state funding earmarked for education. This has led to conflict over proposed space, the likes of which we haven't really seen in the region. Uplift's zoning permit was approved, but by a very narrow margin. It will likely continue to be a point of contention as they continue to expand in the area. Charters aren't miracle schools, and often face the same issues as traditional public schools. Still, there's a lot to be said in support of school choice. Letting parents have some influence as to where their child attends rather than have their school dictated by school boundary lines and a home address. Charters often have more flexibility than public schools, but like most systems the quality of schools can vary widely, depending on the principal, teachers and resources of the school itself. In Dallas, education intervention programs like Reading Partners serve both traditional and charter public schools. Each offers different advantages. Charters can offer more intense academics and offer targeted learning, but they often can't compete with the AP offerings, sports and arts offerings of traditional public schools. This can vary widely by campus as well. Comparing the two systems isn't as simple as saying 'charters are better' or 'traditional public schools are better'. What is clear, though, is that parents are interested in charters -- in the unique learning experiences that they can offer and for Uplift, the college focus that is incorporated into all of their classes. Most of all, perhaps, charters offer something new and different, and can be seen as a way out; perhaps parents feel that their students have a better shot at success than they would if they attended the neighborhood school with a high dropout rate and potentially with higher rates of violence. As education advocates, it's our job to look beyond the politics and determine what is best for students and families. In Dallas,...

The Dallas wealth divide and education

As with many other major cities, Dallas is divided into extremes of wealth, oftentimes geographically. Dallas is a sprawling metroplex; for those unfamiliar with the area, it can often take upwards of an hour just to get between Dallas and Fort Worth, making the “DFW metroplex” moniker more than a little ironic. Still, Dallas is a city, and deals with the same urban complexities that many other major urban areas deal with. It might seem ironic to discuss homelessness, unemployment and struggling schools in the same area that is currently experiencing a huge population increase and housing boom, but as Dallas expands the division between rich and poor continues to grow, with more people moving in than moving up. Education in Dallas is itself often complicated by geographical challenges. Access to pre-K can be limited due to limited seats in a particular school building or area while other areas have an excess of pre-K seats. Pre-K is hardly the only geographically impacted educational issue. As with many districts around the country, school boundaries in Dallas are determined by geographic location- often by zip code. The concept, in its most simplistic form, makes sense— why ask parents to drive their children 10 to 20 minutes away when there is a school down the street? Still, this often results in socioeconomic separation and often school quality correlates: poorer neighborhoods often end up with poorer schools.    In his book “The Shame of The Nation,” Jonathan Kozol refers to this as segregation, pointing out that this issue disproportionately affects African American and Hispanic children. Many of Kozol’s examples are taken from his own experience in the Boston school system as well as his travels around the country. Texas is rarely cited, so I can’t speak to the examples that he uses, but nowhere is economic segregation more apparent than in two school districts in Dallas: Dallas ISD and Highland Park ISD. Even within Dallas ISD itself there are struggling schools and Blue Ribbon schools (schools awarded for achievement). Highland Park ISD is another story entirely, a wealthy district that sees exceptional schools graduate large classes of students every year. How can one high achieving school be a mere 5-10 minute drive from an extremely low performing school?    Dallas Morning News writer Rudolph Bush points out that the consequences of the school district attendance zones go further than the classroom. "The economic homogeneity that results creates enormous invisible costs, mainly in infrastructure, as people move further and further away from the city for 'good' schools, by which they often mean schools where poverty isn’t the defining factor of the student body," he says in an opinion piece that followed a longer conversation on the debate over a bond package for HPISD that an anonymous emailer raised concerns would lead to low-income housing in the district.   How can we ensure that all children receive a quality education, regardless of whether they live in the wealthy half of a zip code? Solutions have been suggested: school choice, vouchers, charter schools, even bussing.  Bush suggests a...

The Charter School Debate

Charter schools were in their infancy during the bulk of my grade school career, so I basically only had the choice of public or private (there weren't any magnet schools in the nearby area) when it came to my education.  My parents chose to keep my siblings and me in public school, even though the school district as a whole was/is not the best.  My elementary and middle schools were fantastic, mainly because they were located in the most suburban parts of the district (as opposed to the borough), and were the smallest, enrollment-wise, out of all the other elementary and middle schools.  There was only one high school, however, where all the students of the area - upper-middle, middle, and lower-class, came together and drove statistics crazy from all the variation.  That being said, I think the education I received was quality enough to get me to the next stage of my life in college. I was considered a “smart” kid, so I went to a proportionately challenging university that happened to be a private school.  But there were other students in my classes who went to public and state schools and were just as, if not more, challenged by their curriculum.  So if we’re measuring outcomes, I have friends who graduated from both private and public universities who vary in their job satisfaction/success rates, therefore making the whole private versus public institution debate a bit meaningless in my circle.  Not to mention the fact that there were kids who weren’t great students who didn’t go to college and went straight into working, or went the trade route, and consider themselves successful/satisfied with their life choices as well. So going back to grade school, I also know of people who went to private schools in the area that received an education that wasn’t so different from my own public one, in that their test scores and overall education levels weren’t outrageously better or worse than our results.  But that’s in the suburbs.  There are many schools in the nearby Philadelphia area that were/are much worse financially, statistically, and morally, where students aren’t so fortunate to have a stable environment conducive to learning.  And the sad fact is most of those schools are public, located in the poorest parts of the city, and populated by minorities.  So naturally, parents who cared would have wanted to send their children to a well-funded private school if they had the financial resources and availability of such institutions nearby. That leads us to the present day, where charter schools are gaining popularity with families who want that private school experience for their children, but are “stuck” in a place where their only option is an under-performing public school.  I completely understand the appeal of charter schools, and agree that they sound like a good idea in theory (and sometimes in practice, too).  But like most business dealings and investments, the more money and effort put in, the better the results that come out, and education is unfortunately another business deal in this...

Why does class size matter?

I grew up in a school district with a class size ranging from about 15-20 kids, grades K through 12. Naturally, the classes grew a little bit as I got to high school due to gym classes being larger and just more students moving into my area as the years went on. As I moved on to college, my class sizes stayed the same for the first 2 years at 15-20, and this past year I noticed a change. My classes within my major (Communications at Widener University), began to shrink to about 10-15 students per class and I noticed one side effect of a small class. Soon enough, there was a greater overall closeness with my peers and teachers. It gave us a feel that we were in it together and we all genuinely wanted each other to do well.

In York PA education will be all about profit

In York PA education will be all about profit thanks to the Corbett administration who asked a judge to grant receivership of the district to a local businessman who intends to "sell" the district to a for-profit charter school corporation. Believe it or not, this all happened December 1st, and a PA judge granted the request on the 26th which is when the news broke, leaving parents caught completely off-guard. Unfortunately with all that has been going on in our communities and in the world some stories, even the important ones, fly completely under the radar. The district's Chief Recovery Officer, David Meckley, was appointed to his post by now outgoing governor Tom Corbett in 2012 to fix fiscal issues within the district. 2 years later, the best suggestion he could come up with was to sell the district and the futures of York's children out to a for-profit venture. This move now gives Mr. Meckley sole authority to make York, PA the first city in the nation to turn it's entire school district over to a for-profit education entity called Charter Schools USA. You can read the article on PennLive.com by clicking here. Mr. Meckley is not an educator, does not operate under the counsel of educators, and is able to act unilaterally without the support of the elected school board, administrators, or parents of the children being served by the district. My issue with this is two-fold. First, as a father of two I am bothered by the idea that my children's education can be decided by a person I did not elect to hold that decision in his or her hands. Recognizing that the York school district has had serious budget problems for sometime, we have to admit that many school districts have had a similar issue; and the use of political force to push an agenda here smacks of cronyism. York's parents simply aren't being given a choice - or even a say in what happens to their children's educations...

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