Essay on How Charter Schools Weaken Democracy and Societly

Dennis Smith, former consultant to the Ohio Department of Education Charter School Office, writes how the formation of charter schools weakens our society – it rings true on several levels.  Read his piece here:

Charters, Vouchers, Individual Choice And Our Strained Social Fabric

 

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Effects of School Choice: Holland, Michigan

segregated-city-divided-town-illustration-by-frits-ahlefeldt

While visiting my mother-in-law she gave me an article titled ‘Urban district, suburban community’ from the March 23, 2016 Holland Sentinel newspaper.  The article focused on the long-term effects of school choice on the Holland Public Schools.

The lead sentence of the article stated rather straightforwardly, “State policies that promote school choice have fueled a changing demographic landscape for many of Michigan’s public schools.”  The article goes on to say that 1,600 students (over 30%) within the Holland Public Schools’ boundaries have used the state’s 20 year Schools of Choice law to attend charter schools or go to neighboring school districts.

What caught my eye was the reporter’s assertion that as a result of school choice, the district “doesn’t represent the town in which it operates” and that Holland has become “a fragmented community that prolongs stereotypes.”  The numbers show the demographic differences between the city and school district:

Holland                  White    Hisp./Latino  Black          Asian

2010 Census             68.9%          22.7%        3.2%            2.9%

Holland Public Schools

2015-16                     37.9%         47.1%         7.4%           2.6%

So even though Holland’s population is about 69% White, only 38% of the students in its schools are White.  Similarly, the town is about 23% Hispanic/Latino but its schools have more than twice that proportion.  What happened?

Superintendent of Holland Public Schools Brian Davis points directly at school choice as the reason why the district’s population doesn’t reflect the community it serves. Davis recalls 1996 (when Michigan’s Schools of Choice law went into effect) as a time when Holland parents began to look at neighboring Zeeland schools as a choice. Zeeland was 94% White (2000 census).   Also, providing school choice was an invitation to start charter schools.  Today, 17% of students attending school in Holland go to charter schools.

Davis said some families chose to attend other schools when they noticed an “increasing free and reduced lunch” student population.  He stated that “middle to upper-middle class families with disposable income” were the ones with enough time and money to drive their kids to neighboring Zeeland or charter schools.  It’s not too hard to read between the lines – because they could afford to white families took advantage of the school choice law and left lower-income Hispanic/Latino and Black families in the Holland schools.

Is it OK that school choice allows parents to create segregated schools?  At what point in time do their children learn to live with people who look different from themselves?  Is this the kind of America we want?

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 2

philanthropy

In my previous post I recounted how, after a discussion with my wife about Bill Gates, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where all the Gates Foundation money goes to and if all those projects are “Good Charity” or “Bad Charity”.

I then went to the Gates Foundation website which maintains a list of all the projects they have funded.  I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” projects for 2014 into a spreadsheet (a MicroSoft product) and found that the Foundation had spent $93.3 million.   I categorized each of the projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recepient’s website to see what their mission is).

Here are the results:

Category Amount
Professional Development $24,624,816 26.4%
Charter Schools $17,218,099 18.4%
Common Core Implementation $10,413,185 11.2%
School Redesign $10,167,209 10.9%
Strategic Plan Implementation $7,049,649 7.6%
On-line and/or Personalized Learning $6,057,826 6.5%
Conference Support $4,296,208 4.6%
College Ready $3,826,647 4.1%
Provide Classroom Materials $3,600,000 3.9%
Other $3,086,742 3.3%
Supporting Philanthropy $1,287,629 1.4%
Teacher Leadership $946,228 1.0%
Influencing Policy $764,730 0.8%
$93,338,968 Total

The categorization process is somewhat subjective.  For example, Anthony Cody just completed the same process and came out with different totals based on his interpretation of each project.  Given his knowledge of the Gates Foundation (see his excellent book The Educator and the Oligarchy) I would encourage you to read his post as he has some fascinating interpretations about the intent of some of the grants as it relates to R&D and policymaking.

Surprised that Professional Development projects were the top category (26.4% of the funding)?  I was too until I realized that if you want to change instructional practices you need to provide professional development to teachers.  In 2014 the Gates Foundation issued an RFP (Requests for Proposal) for “The iPD Challenge” and then provided over $24 million in grants to organizations to design new methodologies that met the Foundation’s criteria of what PD should look like.  According to the RFP iPD should be, “more personalized and calls for higher levels of teacher engagement and collaboration.”  When you dig deeper iPD should include personalized learning technologies, data collection to demonstrate change, and a blend of individual learning with collaborative learning.  Before I retired I was in charge of professional development for several school districts and I always struggled on how to bring theory into practice.  Perhaps the Foundation will come up with some alternatives to the current way we provide professional development to teachers.  I would say this is “Good Charity” with reservations.

Support for charter schools ($17.2 million) continues to be a big priority for the Foundation.  Combine that with the $10.1 million funding for School Redesign projects, the Foundation spent over $27 million to find ways to make public schools obsolete.  “Bad Charity” with no reservations.

No surprise that third on the list was Common Core Implementation.  The Foundation funded the incubation and birth of the Common Core.  I believe that the original concept of providing a nation-wide set of curricular expectations was good (compared to 50 different sets of standards).  However it has mutated into an uncontrollable beast.  “Bad Charity”

Although Strategic Plan Implementation was #5 on the list, it only had 2 grantees, with the bulk of the funding ($6.1 million) going to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  This group is made up of the people who are in charge of each state’s department of education.  I can remember years ago hearing the Illinois State Superintendent Chis Koch enthusing over a new concept – Common Core Standards – after he returned from the annual meeting of the CCSSO.  A good place to put your money if you want to change education.  “Bad Charity” with reservations.

Number 6 on the list was On-line and/or Personalized Learning ($6 million).  Interestingly enough, several of the grants in this category went to public school districts (the vast majority of the 128 grants went to anything but public schools).  This shows the Foundation’s believe that technology should take a more prominent role in the instruction of students.  If developed properly this area could be a benefit to teachers and students.  “Good Charity” with reservations.

Conference Support (#7) is an interesting category.  In most cases it appears the Foundation provided funds to organizations to send teachers (and sometimes students) to attend various conferences.  It didn’t appear that every conference was about a particular topic (i.e. Common Core).  “Good Charity”

I was a bit surprised to see that the category College Ready only had three recipients, of which one (Alliance for Excellent Education, Inc.) received the bulk of the funding.  College Ready is the Gates Foundation’s #1 priority for it U.S. Programs, so why not more funding in this area?  My only guess is that the Foundation already believes they know what it takes to make kids college ready and doesn’t need to invest more in that area.  I’m always suspicious of anyone who has all the answers.  “Bad Charity”

The last category I’ll touch on in this post (yes there is one more coming) is Provide Teacher Materials.  Most teachers know that DonorsChoose.org is a website they can look to for classroom materials.  The Foundation made two grants totaling $3.6 million to support DonorsChoose.org.  “Good Charity”

Ying_yang_sign

So is the Gates Foundation a “Good Charity” or a “Bad Charity”?  The answer is “Yes”.  In some cases its philanthropy may actually help public education.  In others it definitely hurts public education.  What we do know is with over $42.3 billion in assets it will continue to impact education for a long time.

In my next post on this topic I’ll look at why the Foundation might spend funds to support other philanthropic organizations, what are some of the projects funded in the “Other” category, and a look at the organizations that received the most money from the Foundation in 2014.

Charter Schools Are Like Cheap Sex

I love a good analogy and this one is a doozy.  Peter Greene over at Curmudgucation is at it again.  He says that supporting for-profit charter schools is like being with a hooker.  Really.  Here’s an excerpt about the logic of those who support for-profit charter schools:

“I don’t care if they are making a pile of money,” is the response. “If they’re getting the results, what difference does it make?”…
That response makes the same sense as saying, “I don’t care if I’m going to bed with a person who’s committed to a loving, long-lasting relationship or if I’m going to be with a hundred dollar an hour hooker. As long as the sex is good, what difference does it make?”

Read the whole piece by clicking HERE.

 

Demographic Analysis of Charter Schools in New Jersey

newjersey-700x700Those reading posts from this blog may have wondered, “Why is he critical of charter schools?”.  There are many reasons why charter schools hurt public education and today I’d like to focus on the fact that they aren’t fair.  As public educators, we always feared that charter schools would skim off the “good” students and leave public schools with those students who require the most assistance.  A recently released report has substantiated that concern.

Authors Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin released the report titled “New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View, Part 1“. Click on a synopsis of their report HERE.   In the words of co-author Mark Weber:

The data is quite clear: as a sector, charter schools do not educate the same students as their host districts. On average, charters educate proportionately fewer students in economic disadvantage (as measured by eligibility for the federal free lunch program) than do the district schools in their communities.
Charters also educate fewer students with special education needs; further, the students with those needs that charters do educate tend to have less costly disabilities. In addition, the sector enrolls very few students who are English language learners.  (NJ Spotlight, 11/14/14)

Is this what “choice” is all about?  Leave the kids with the most needs in public schools while the charter schools skim off the kids who are less expensive to educate?  If public schools have a disproportionately higher percentage of students in economic disadvantage, special education needs, and English language learners what will their test scores look like compared to the charter school down the block?  If their test scores are lower, then I guess that would prove that public schools are failing and should be “reformed”.

Sunny Beach

Peter Greene is the author of the blog Curmudgucation.  He is a teacher who cares about his profession and an eloquent writer.

One of his recent pieces, titled “Nobody Owns the Beach”, hit a chord with me.  In it he points out that the beaches in Hawaii are public resources.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, you can’t “own the beach” in Hawaii.  Why is it important that nobody owns the beach?  Peter says:

That’s because your government recognizes that certain resources are a public good and need to be maintained as public goods. So even when somebody offers to “manage” that public good for you, just for a cut of the take, that doesn’t happen. Because as soon as a public resource becomes a way of enriching private interests, the public interest in that resource takes a back seat.

At the end of his essay, he beautifully transitions this concept to public schooling.  I would encourage you to read this short, but insightful piece.  Click below to read “Nobody Owns the Beach”

Nobody Owns the Beach

hawaiibeach

Aloha