Freedom works held a rally Saturday in Austin and almost nobody showed up. Featuring the ever bombastic Dan Patrick, the issue was increased money for charter and alternative non-public education , and was supposed to dog whistle the Tea Party faithful out in droves. It didn’t.  But if Dan Patrick is to be believe the fate of the nation hangs on “moral issue”..

Small crowd rallies for school choice at Capitol

"This is a battle line we have to draw in the sand. It is a moral issue, it is in the best interest of Texas and the best interest of America," said Sen. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Texas Senate‘s Education Committee. "Because the world is chaotic, they depend on America. And who does America depend on? America depends on Texas."

I have blogged on bad an idea this is here. I have only to add that the Legislature’s restoration of some of the funding cut in the last session for public education and its vote to keep public funding in public schools, I am hopeful that the damage done to public education will not get any worse this term. The House took this action:

Small crowd rallies for school choice at Capitol 

While passing its version of the state budget, the House overwhelmingly voted to keep public funding in public schools — potentially crippling the chances of any voucher plan, though that amendment can still be removed from the final version of the budget in conference committee.

I have been in deep despair over this issue for years. Is this a ray of hope?

 

The man who wants to put his stamp on Texas education by , apparently, eventually killing it is also the man who this past week cried over at-risk students success stories:

Lawmaker weeps as former school dropouts testify

The chairman of the state Senate Education Committee broke into tears Thursday as he promised to fight for dramatically expanded "school choice" in Texas…

The Tea Party-backed lawmaker became emotional as students told his committee of dropping out of school but then returning, thanks to charter schools and other facilities specializing in at-risk youth…

You have inspired me. I am going to fight for you and thousands like you," he said. "We are not going to let politics steal futures and dreams." [Patrick said]

I was not there, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of the tears. But the irony in that last statement is lost on Patrick. If he is some dedicated to the cause of at-risk students why has be been busy destroying public education? Does he honestly believe that the ONLY place that at risk kids can be helped is in alternative ones? Even if he thinks , and maybe rightfully so, they need something different,  why can’t public schools be given the resources to provide this something different. They have years of experience in helping kids, what makes a school being “non-public”  the magical additional feature that works miracles?

 

Maybe it is this Dan Patrick who is the problem:

 

Lawmaker weeps as former school dropouts testify

Patrick calls himself an "education evangelist" and suggested during a recent committee meeting that anyone who opposes expanding charter schools in Texas opposes students and families who weep when they try to attend charter schools but are waitlisted because demand outpaces existing supply.”

Dan Patrick the lone crusader, the prophet form Houston who alone has the interest of children at heart.

 

Or maybe it’s this Dan Patrick:

 

Young: There’s no business like Fox business

Listen to Dan Patrick destroy his guests. Try to get a word in edgewise; he’ll not only cut you off, he’ll slice you into cold cuts.

Patrick is a Houston radio talk-show host. To catch his act, however, you don’t have to give his AM ratings a bump, something I’ll not facilitate. Just catch his act as he cuts the legs off citizens at the Lege — the Texas Legislature.

I don’t know if on the radio he is the same samurai seen on a recent video. Surely not.

Surely if “goon” is one’s day job, one puts on different clothes before heading off to serve as a state senator, which Patrick is.

In a hearing on his bill to prevent school districts’ enlisting Planned Parenthood for sex education, Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was beyond abrupt — unless someone came to agree with him.

See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=v7rqgY5A8i0

 

So what are we to make of all this? What does it tell us about the pathology is Dan Patrick and education policy in Texas? It is this: self-righteous ideologues make lousy legislators. When you can weep honestly about the problem, but your solution is bounded by your ideology, YOU are the problem.

From Houston Chronicle, Feb. 23,2013:

 

Charter schools prompt fierce political battle

The proposal creates a new state agency with ability to approve an unlimited number of new charter schools, now capped by state law at 215. It also would allow traditional school districts to convert to charter operations. For the first time, charter schools – public schools freed from state regulations regarding such issues as teacher contracts and the school calendar – would be eligible for state funding for leasing or purchasing their own campuses.

Charter Schools operators want to use public monies for the purchase or rental of facilities. That is the first priority of  Senator Dan Patrick . Not restoring the $5.4 billion taken from public education by the Republican Free Market Fanatics in the last round of budget cuts. Moreover, Patrick wants to turn Texas public education into Charter School education. This is simply the latest round in the privatization of Texas Public Education.  With a straight face Patrick claims that it is all about the 100,000 students who are waiting for Charter school slots, not about killing public education. If he and the Repugs cared so much about Public Education – why did they refuse to protect it from the utterly disastrous funding cuts in the last cycle of budgeting. They could have tapped the Rainy Day fund. They choose not to do so, so spare me the crocodile tears please.

 

As an indication of what the underlying agenda is in all this the forces aligning themselves in support speak very loudly:

 Charter schools prompt fierce political battle

Meanwhile, politically knowledgeable groups are joining hands with philanthropic foundations committed to education reform. Houston’s Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Greater Houston Community Foundation are backing a new pro-charter group: Texans Deserve Great Schools.

They have been joined by key leaders in the state’s premier political juggernaut, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, who formed Texans for Education Reform to work on behalf of the same goals. The group is led by former Sen.Florence Shapiro, R-Dallas, Patrick’s predecessor as education chair until her retirement last year. Influential lobbyist Mike Toomey, a former top assistant to Gov. Rick Perry who fought for tort reform, has signed on as a lobbyist.

What is ironic of course with this free market wanna be model is that it really isn’t a open competition . Remember this ? Charter schools are “public schools freed from state regulations regarding such issues as teacher contracts and the school calendar “.  So, how exactly are we comparing apples to apples ? And don’t get me started on the self-selective cherry-picking of students who attend these schools.  Also note the anti-teacher dig – the charter school teachers do not have the benefits of a contract to protect their rights. How lovely for the administrators, lord knows that they are all just totally above any need for a check or balance on their authority over anybody’s livelihood. If you think that bit of snark is true, let me assure you I know it is not. What the system of pure charter schools would produce is at least a two tiered system of non-standard public education that would perpetuate the inequalities of the present system and sharpen them.

As for the claims of superior performance, I covered that in my previous posting. This summarizes it the bottom line:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Excellent student performance at Texas charter schools is by far the exception, not the rule, as amply documented in a dozen state-sponsored evaluation reports. As the latest of these evaluations (Texas Center for Educational Research, July 2011) put it, despite “perceptions that new charter schools, as small schools, provide improved learning environments, this evaluation provides little evidence that new [state-approved] open-enrollment charters are improving students’ outcomes.”

Most telling for me in this latest development is what IS NOT being addressed – regulation of charter schools since they are exempt form most school regulations:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Along with Texas AFT, Dr. Soto also noted the lack of enough staff at the Texas Education Agency to oversee charter schools. At last report, after recent budget cuts only seven TEA employees remained to supervise and regulate the hundreds of charter schools statewide enrolling more than 100,000 students.

Soto also raised a more fundamental issue, illustrated with data from his home county. There are 15 school districts wholly within Bexar County, he said, four of them rated “recognized” and 11 rated “academically acceptable.” At the same time the county plays host to 26 charter holders—none of them rated “exemplary” or “recognized,” and 11 out of the 26 rated “academically unacceptable”—a 42-percent failure rate, Dr. Soto said.  Questioning the $31 million in state aid spent on these low-performing charter operators, he added:  “We need a clear and coherent vision of how the charter system fits into the overall Texas landscape and into local communities that these charters serve, including how they fit alongside traditional ISDs.”

The sad part is that to the degree charter schools are useful for Texas students, we already have access to these benefits inside the public education system. DeBakey High School for the Health Professions is an example. So it the highly acclaimed School for the Preforming Arts.  There are provisions for such an expansion in Texas charter law:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Texas also provides a glimpse of how the original charter vision can still bear fruit. At Friday’s hearing we urged legislators to look at the development of in-district charters initiated by parents and teachers working together in their neighborhood schools. There is a specific provision for this in the Texas Education Code (Section 12.052), and it has paved the way for promising experiments within districts such as San Antonio ISD. As of last year, 13 of these in-district charters were up and running there, created by collaborations between members of our local affiliate, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, and parents, with community and administration support.

 

Why not expand their proven success? The answer is obvious – this it NOT about education, its about ideology pure and simple.

For more reasons that the expansion of charter schools is not a good idea see my previous posting, Inequality Perpetuated-Public Education at the Crossroads.

Texas must decide whether or not to participate in the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid to the poorest Americans. Here are the facts about what this provision is and how it works after the Supreme Courts’ ruling regard the constitutionality of the reform:

ObamaCare Medicaid Expansion
The ObamaCare Medicaid reforms were meant to expand coverage to up to 21.3 million of our nations poorest. The law had said, prior to the supreme court hearing, that very low-income individuals (those under the 133% FLP line) including adults without dependent children. Even though Medicaid is a federal and state joint program the funding for low income individuals was covered 93% over the next decade by the federal government using tax payer money.

<b>Medicaid Expansion Means, in all States, Individuals with annual incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty line — currently, $14,856 or less — are able to enroll. </b>Right now eligibility differs from State to State.

If a state refused to expand coverage then it would lose all of it’s Medicaid funds, this was meant as a protection to ensure that states supported their poorest equally. However the NFIB repeal ObamaCare effort worked to some extent and now states are no longer required to insure their poorest under ObamaCare, yet they can still receive the full federal funding for their Medicaid program.

So, Texas has a choice to make. It should be a NO Brainer, but this is Rick Perry’s Texas. Now the Legislative Budget Board that makes recommendations on spending has weighted in , in favor of participation.

LBB CALLS FOR FUNDING MEDICAID EXPANSION AS PART OF ITS ADDITIONAL BUDGET PRIORITIES
the LBB is acknowledging just how much cash would be left on the table should the state’s leadership ultimately decide against the expansion. Also, the added coverage is expected to drive down governmental health care costs at the local level as fewer people seek care in hospital emergency rooms. Uncompensated care at hospitals amounted to $3.1 billion in 2011, according to LBB figures.

<b>The federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of coverage for the 2014-15 state budget cycle. Meanwhile, the cost to the state would be $50.4 million to cover half of the administrative costs of the expansion. In turn, the federal aid over the next two fiscal years for the expansion is expected to be $4 billion, according to the LBB. In other words, the state in its next budget would bear 1.2 percent of the total cost of the expansion.</b>
The state’s share could actually be less than that. The LBB earlier recommended allowing the local taxing authorities that bear the biggest burden of paying for uncompensated care provided by hospitals to cover the match.

But , like the posturing ass he is, has said that he will not let Texas participate in the program. There are reasons to believe that he can’t sustain that asinine position. Paul Burka points out one reason:

LBB CALLS FOR FUNDING MEDICAID EXPANSION AS PART OF ITS ADDITIONAL BUDGET PRIORITIES

Three guesses who is turning backflips at this news. It’s the freshman Republicans, who were facing the prospect of (a) voting for a $7 billion spending bill or (b) telling their hometown doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers to go fly a kite.

The other is provided by an analysis on the Kaiser Health News website:

Businesses Will Push Perry to Rethink Medicaid Expansion
But if there’s one thing more powerful than Republican governors’ dislike of the Affordable Care Act, many believe, it may turn out to be the business interests in their own states.

<b>"Once the headlines die down, every hospital in Texas is going to look at Perry and say, ‘Please tell me why we’re not taking money from the federal government to offset my uncompensated care,’"</b> said Thomas Carroll, who follows health insurance stocks for investment firm Stifel Nicolaus. "That is a question that Rick Perry absolutely cannot answer."

A higher portion of Texans lack coverage than residents of any other state. A Texas Medicaid expansion would generate $100 billion in federal money for the state over a decade, according to the state Health and Human Services Commission, and furnish coverage to an estimated 2 million Texans.

At the same time it would generate nearly $1 billion in annual Texas revenue for Amerigroup and WellPoint, calculates Carroll.

Quiet for now, insurers are expected to join hospitals and patient advocates to fight for Medicaid expansion and what are enormous amounts of money, even by Washington standards. Nowhere are the dollars bigger than in Perry’s state, where one in four lacks health coverage.

"Fights seem to follow the money, and there is a lot of money at stake in Texas on this," said Phil King, a Republican state representative from outside Fort Worth who opposes the Medicaid expansion. "Maybe you need to rename this ‘The Full-Employment Act for Lobbyists.’"

For once, maybe greed can serve a larger public good. Texas healthcare for its poor citizens is an abomination before God and man. If the healthcare lobbyist can help change that for their own selfish reasons, so be it.

After Rick finishes pretending he can convince any but the most low tech California companies to relocate here, he will have to deal with this issue. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Rick may well have outstayed his welcome, what with his embarrassing run for the Republican nomination, the ongoing inquiry into his corporate slush fund and all.

Perry looking highly vulnerable 

Texas voters- even Republicans- have had enough of Rick Perry.

PPP’s newest poll finds that only 31% of voters think Perry should seek reelection next year, compared to 62% who think it’s time for him to step aside. He’s among the most unpopular Governors in the country, with only 41% of voters approving of him to 54% who disapprove.

 
Even though is apparent successor maybe Greg Abbott, at this stage I would gladly accept that outcome if it were the only way to show this arrogant poseur the door.

So far in this series of postings I’ve concentrated on or less pragmatic details and failings of the present school reform efforts in Texas. You know the litany high-stakes testing, denial of adequate resources/spending, the increasing presence of a self-interested corporate lobbying, and the false hope presented by charter schools and their myopic  idealist supporters. This time they look at the flawed foundational theory of school reform – the corporate model if you will.

Diane Ravitch, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education , puts it this way…

The new corporate reformers betray their weak comprehension of education by drawing false analogies between education and business. They think they can fix education by applying the principles of business, organization, management, law, and marketing and by developing a good data-collection system that provides the information necessary to incentivize the workforce—principals, teachers, and students—with appropriate rewards and sanctions.

the basic strategy was a market model, which relied on two related assumptions: belief in the power of competition and belief in the value of deregulation. The market model worked in business, said the advocates, where competition lead to better products, lower prices, and leaner bureaucracies, so it would undoubtedly work and education as well.

How badly this model has worked in practice is illustrated by a recent pronouncement form StudentsFirst – Michelle Rhee’s organization . Ms. Rhee was shown the door after turning the troubled DC school system into a demoralized mess and failing to demonstrate any advantage for the corporate, take no prisoners, high stakes testing approach to reform.

Rhee Quits as Washington, D.C., Schools Chief Amid Clash With Teachers

Rhee, 40, favored measuring teacher quality by students’ test scores, firing underperforming instructors and pushing merit pay – ….. In July, Rhee dismissed 241 teachers and put 737 on notice to improve within a year or leave. Washington has languished for years near the bottom of national rankings in student proficiency in reading and math.

In a tribute to ideologue’s everywhere, she had the gall to publish a report grading the states on their educational policies.

Rhee’s StudentsFirst grades education on ideology, not results

  • Louisiana is the top-rated state, according to StudentsFirst. It ranks 49th of 51 on eighth grade reading scores and 47th of 51 on eighth grade math scores.
  • Florida is StudentsFirst’s second-best state according to ideology. According to educational results, Florida is 35th on reading and 42nd on math.
  • StudentsFirst says Indiana is third. The "nation’s report card" says it’s 30th on reading and 23rd on math.
  • The District of Columbia, where Rhee had her way from 2007 to 2010, comes in fourth according to Rhee’s ranking system. According to the NAEP? Dead last.
  • Rhode Island is fifth in Rhee-land. It’s 29th in both reading and math on the NAEP.

By contrast, of the 11 states Rhee rates as having the worst policies for education, three are in the top six for eighth grade reading scores on the NAEP, and four more are in the top 20. Another contrast: The three highest-scoring states on reading are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Rhee scores them 14th, 21st and 18th.

In other words in Rhee world, being true to the ideology is more important than actually teaching kids to read and write.  This perverse priority is NOT a bug of corporate education reform it is a feature.

Please notice also where the blame is laid for the poor test results in Rhee world – the teachers. Both HISD and Springbranch ISD , IMHO, seem to be moving in the same direction. All of a sudden decorated, veteran teachers are being given poor evaluations and put on “improvement plans”. The threat , of course , is that if your students scores don’t improve, you will be gone. The presumption here is that the test actually measure what each teacher adds to the “value” of the produce, i.e. increased student performance. As in corporate America, the worth of the employee is the measurable value added to the product and the bottom line by the employee .  HISD’s version of all this was delayed in 2011 until the 2012-13 school year and , with the legislature showing every sign of revamping radically the STARR testing program , who knows when it will be in place. Never, I hope.

HISD teacher evaluations may be delayed

Roughly half of a teacher’s rating was supposed to be based on student performance, including their students’ annual progress on state exams. Teachers of electives such as art and music would be rated on other measures, which Baker said are still being determined.

Classroom observations

The new evaluation system requires principals to observe teachers in the classroom at least four times a year, taking note of their teaching strategies, ability to engage students and other factors. The old process, used by most Texas districts, requires only one observation, and many veteran teachers are exempt from annual reviews.

HISD board president Paula Harris, who, like most of the trustees opposed a pilot of the evaluation, said she can support giving teachers a "bye" on the performance data in the upcoming year because of the difficulty of the new state exams.

"I’m hoping it’s going to increase morale and make people see we’re trying to be fair and still expecting great things," Harris said.

A program which attempts to pit teacher against teacher for “merit” pay is going to raise morale – how? This kind of gentle intimidation is , ironically out of favor in corporate America, even as it lives on in  school reform. Team building and collaboration is the new approach, but not in education.  In the case of education there is the additional and intractable problem that students are NOT widgets – standardized in production process and final form, they are  human beings. They mature and develop at different rates, respond to different strategies on different time tables. So, how do we decide if it Mrs. Jone’s or Mrs. Smith’s class that finally got Johnny reading at grade level?  Surely not be a single high stakes test. Even worse it might have been a combination of both. Who gets the bonus then?

And , by the way, who really believes that all teachers are waiting for is the extra incentive of test validated extra pay to turn on their secret strategies for success which they have been with holding until incentivized? 

The theory behind this part of the reform movement is called “value added” education:

Value-added modeling (also known as value-added analysis and value-added assessment) is a method of teacher evaluation that measures the teacher’s contribution in a given year by comparing current school year test scores of their students to the scores of those same students in the previous school year, as well as to the scores of other students in the same grade. In this manner, value-added modeling seeks to isolate the contribution that each teacher makes in a given year, which can be compared to the performance measures of other teachers. VAMs are considered to be fairer than simply comparing student’s achievement scores or gain scores without considering potentially confounding context variables like past performance or income.

The problems with is corporate inspired idea are myriad:

Seven misconceptions about vaue-added measures

Misconception 1: We cannot evaluate educators based on value-added because teaching is complicated.

Harris says the complex nature of teaching and learning is obvious, but value-added can bring some clarity. Student outcomes are just one factor, but an important one. My problem is that the focus on each teacher’s effect on student academic growth detracts from the team spirit that animates the best schools I know.

Misconception 2: Value-added scores are inaccurate because they are based on poorly designed tests.

Many tests are flawed, Harris says, but you can’t blame that on the value-added approach. If we had better tests, such as an assessment that caught the content of International Baccalaureate exams, we could “still use value-added methods with these richer assessments.” That sounds nice, but I think even my grandsons will be beyond IB age before we figure out how to do that reliably.

Misconception 3: The value-added approach is not fair to students.

This means that if we abandon our current system of calculating how many students reach proficiency, and instead assess how much each improves, students who have failed to achieve proficiency will be ignored. Harris says our current system is no better because it usually focuses only on students close to reaching proficiency. He is right.

Misconception 4: Value-added measures are not useful because they are summative [he does use some jargon — this means focused on how well teachers have done] than formative [focused on how to make them better.]

Harris concedes the point, but says value-added can be used with other measures to guide improvement. We need both summative and formative measures, he says. This, I think, overlooks the greater power of measuring yourself daily against your fellow teachers by trading thoughts about students.

Misconception 5: Value-added represents another step in the process of “industrializing” education, making it more traditional and less progressive.

The factory model of education, by this way of thinking, focuses too much on making every widget, and every student, the same way. Harris argues that “if policy makers concentrate on results, they can reduce the rules” that constrain imaginative educators and make schools more progressive. This topic makes me cross. It betrays an academic desire to categorize what schools are doing rather than see if they are helping kids.

In the end the problem with the corporate model of education reform is that it has little to do with the realities of real classrooms and what it takes to teach real students. It it an attempt to solve a complex problem by the blind application of an inappropriate abstract theory .

Let’s give an analysis named Stan Karp  the last words as he points out some of the less obvious subtext of the reform effort:

A primer on corporate school reform

These proposals are being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of astroturf political groups, and canned legislation from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff.  Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country.  These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many….

Image a political movement born of the witches brew of  free market ideology, uninformed idealism and political opportunism.  No, its not the Tea Party, its not Texas’ scammy Free Market Energy initiative, it is the Charter School Reform Movement.

But let Dan Patrick explain:

Key Legislator Says Stars aligned for voucher push in Texas

Patrick, R-Houston, and other school choice advocates in Texas are looking to create a tax credit program similar to the one in Florida that allows corporations to redirect a portion of state taxes to a scholarship fund in return for a tax credit. Low-income families who qualify can use the scholarship to help pay tuition at private schools.

Patrick has included the measure in an ambitious education plan that also calls for doing away with the 215-school cap on charter schools; incorporating a school rating system modeled after Florida’s A-F grades; and giving students the ability to enroll in any school within their district or in another district that has space.

He compared this fight to one in which he supported a bill that requires a woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure. The contentious legislation passed and became law in May 2011.

Public Education is in crisis. No one doubts that, the question is both why and what should be done. As I have tried to demonstrate in my previous post (here, and here)  the cure of more and more testing has been part of the problem. I will leave the discussion of  the crack dream that is the “corporate reform”  model for next time. This time we consider Patrick’s little scheme.

The vouchers Patrick is pushing would allow parents to take state education monies to a school of their own choosing. So public , private , charter, all schools would be “in competition” for education monies. Wow, we have the magic trifecta of all Republican solutions to all problems:choice, freedom, free markets! Except , surprise the model does not fit and the solution does not solve.

First, the average tuition paid for private schools is $8,549 per year, which means a total of $47 billion is spent each year on opting out of the public education system. Patrick has said he anticipates the vouchers to be between Florida’s 2012-13 allotment of $4,335, Patrick said, but less than the annual per-pupil cost for public school students in Texas. Texas public schools spend more than $8,000 per student.

 

Even if Patrick goes for the upper figure, (unlikely given the states’ history of starving public education funding) he would still not provide enough of a subsidy for the majority of middle to lower class kids to get into a good private school. As is proven by the  tidal wave of rip-off charters that have sprouted under the current regime, there would not a shortage of folks to take the inadequate funding . The loser would be the families and kids who would believe that they were getting a leg up by buying to this scheme.

For example:

Funds misuse, nepotism feared at Texas charter schools

Sherwin Allen’s family, including two brothers, his wife and their two children, earned nearly $700,000 last year working for Children First Academy campuses in Dallas and Houston, according to Texas Education Agency records. The campuses enrolled a total of 750 students.

TEA oversees charter schools and all traditional public schools with a limited staff, budget and authority. In 2003, state budget cuts forced TEA to downsize its staff and curtailed campus visits.

The agency looks into complaints of fraud and financial mismanagment and has taken action against some troubled charter schools, including shutting some down. But those cases can drag on for years if charter schools fight back in court.

And try to find out about the quality of the charter school you are thinking of attending, not easy. Charters closed down or voluntarily shuttered can just re-open under a new name and “new management” (wink, wink). There is no database you can search to become informed about this.

Let’s give him a free jump on these vexing issues, I mean public charter schools modeled on the very successful KIPP formula could use a lottery system so that everyone, rich, poor, and middle class would have a chance to get in, right?

Not quite. If you live a rural area, there are ,in Texas, you are in all likelihood plum out of luck.

Vouchers and School Finance: Saving the Statehouse $?

In Texas a voucher program clearly would not address a complete lack of a local public option, like in Maine and Vermont. That leaves the question of how many Texas rural students could reasonably access private schools. There are 254 Texas counties (77 in metropolitan statistical areas and 167 in rural areas), and of those 254 counties, 129 have private schools within them (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Out of those 129 counties, 63 are within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). According to U.S. Office of Management and Budget 66 are outside an MSA, making it seem like private schools do penetrate rural Texas (2009). If one counts grades Pre-K through 8th as one school and grades 9 through 12 as another, as does the website Private School Review, then of 2,643 Texas private schools, 2,451 are in those counties that also are within an MSA. However, 192 are in those 66 counties outside an MSA. That leaves a mere 7% of private schools in rural Texas counties, a fraction small enough to suggest that rural students would not receive the suggested benefits of any state-wide voucher program. Furthermore, of those 66 rural counties with private schools, 25 only have one option for grades Pre-K through 8th and grades 9 through 12. That leaves a meager 41 rural Texas counties with only a single choice when deciding between private schools. In sum, of the 167 rural counties, 108 have no private schools and 25 only have a single private school to serve the county effectively nullifying any school choice argument in favor of vouchers for rural students.

Use of virtual [online ] private schools has grown in some states and therefore it could be argued that they would permit rural school choice. More than any other state, Ohio has implemented virtual private schools.  However, privately operated virtual schools in Ohio face criticism regarding quality, with student to teacher ratios reaching as high as 250-1. School student to teacher ratios are indicative of other structural quality issues such as the lack of rigorous curriculum, organizational oversight, and high student turnover (Saul, 2011).

 

 

As for KIPP style choice in urban areas, the data is sadly clear. If you can get in, and stay in , you will be well served. That , of course , presumes that KIPP can continue finding teachers who will put I 54 hour work weeks, be available by phone outside of school hours . KIPP promises on its Houston website that its salaries are above those of local districts. That is impossible to verify one way or the other. The evidence I saw says otherwise, but the problem is I am interested in teacher salaries and the sites I found are not so granular.

I attended a public brag session for KIPP and RICE Education collaboration. I asked a simple question of the presenter – is KIPP the solution for public education? What about the kids who aren’t as dedicated. Who won’t go on Saturdays and for 2 weeks in the summer- who educates them? The answer given was that they make every effort to keep students who enter KIPP. Beyond that there was no reply, this form the gold standard of charter schools.

In fact creaming ( taking the best , most motivated students ) and cropping ( washing out those not motivated, not blessed with super-supportive parents) are the rule, not the exception in the competition between public and private/charter  schools.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

As currently configured, charter schools are havens for the motivated. As more charter schools open, the dilemma of educating all students will grow sharper. The resolution of this dilemma will determine the fate of public education.

The question for the future is whether the continued growth of charter schools in urban districts will leave regular public schools with the most difficult students to educate, thus creating a two-tier system of widening inequality. If so, we can safely predict that future studies will prove the success of charter schools and the failure of regular schools, because the public schools will have disproportionate numbers of less motivated parents and needier students. As charter schools increase in number and able students enrolled, the right of public school in the nation’s cities be locked into a downward trajectory. This would be an ominous development of education and for our nation.

That the advocates of charter schools and some of their most ardent and idealistic supporters are not aware or willing to confront this reality is also not a bug but a feature of this model:

Educational Reform and Our Common Peril !

A consultant at the same lecture [ a public brag session at Rice University] button-holed me afterward and pointed out that all the Young Turks favored by right wing education reformers are of a mold: white, under 30 , experience in Teach for America or some such and corporate training.  NONE have backgrounds or training in education. In fact such training seems to be a DISQUALIFICATION for being taken seriously as a reformer.

They share something else with the whole herd of New Reformers – angling for ways to capture education reform money, lots of it! 2014 is coming and by the NCLB act failing schools must be upgraded, closed , taken over or replaced.

I admire the enthusiasm of the Young Turks of KIPP and like-minded charter school efforts, but as always good intentions and passion is no substitute for knowledge and context.

It might almost be worth it to take the plunge and hold our noses and pay that charters are the magic answer, if only the average results from charters were routinely and dependably better than public schools . The research on this is mixed at best and totally unconvincing at worst.

Ravitch, Diane (2010-02-04). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (p. 138)

Some are excellent, some are dreadful, and most are somewhere in between. It is in the nature of markets that some succeed, some are middling, and others fail. In 2004, a furious controversy erupted between advocates and opponents of charter schools when it turned out that the federal government had tested a national sample of charter schools in 2003 but had not released its findings. The federal government did not release the data on charter school performance when it announced the results for states and the nation in November 2003. The charter scores went unnoticed until the results were discovered on the federal testing agency’s Web site by staff members of the American Federation of Teachers. They learned that NAEP showed no measurable differences on tests of reading and mathematics between fourth-grade students from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in charter schools and in regular public schools. Among poor students, fourth graders in regular public schools outperformed those in charter schools in both subjects. Overall, charter and public students performed similarly in reading, but public school students performed better in mathematics.

A final note , Patrick and his allies are being very aggressive about the destruction of public schools . Fully 50% of the Texas schools as measured by the now defunct and little lamented No Child Left Behind  are failing .  Patrick expressed a desire to accelerate the use of its successor, the STARR testing .

Can We Stop Senator Patrick’s Education Agenda?

Perhaps the biggest surprise, and most dangerous proposal, was closing schools that miss state standards for just TWO years. Current law allows for a maximum six-year improvement timeline, with the feds allowing seven. Under a two-year proposal, 40 schools would be closed immediately, including five Dallas high schools and a number of rural schools with no nearby alternative. Over 500 other schools are lined up to follow shortly after. This is an insane proposal and needs to be fought HARD. The only possible logic behind it is in the TEA code. When a school is closed, it can either be repurposed as something different (a high school used as an elementary school) or the TEA Commissioner may turn the school over to “alternative management,” which in most cases means a charter school. We may be looking at a wholesale takeover attempt.

Make no mistake the present voucher effort is serious . The mix of idealism, ideology and cynical self-interest is potent.

Recently on Faux News we learned that public education was all a liberal indoctrination scheme, even Algebra! This is simply the most recent assault on public education as progressive brainwashing The heart of the hard right counterattack has been the effort to destroy public education in favor of a “free market’/private model. One of the prongs in this offensive has been the whole high stakes testing scheme and the powerful corporate sector that has both serviced it and spent millions of dollars advocating for it. That’s the topic of this posting.

I have gently chided by some that the last posting was a bit daunting in length. I would reply that the topic required it, but I get the point.

Here is the short story:

In 1995 Sandy Kress convinced Texas Legislators that the lagging achievements of  minority students could be improved by a new “accountability regime using standardized testing.

When George went national , Kress got to push his plan as a panacea for  pubic education on all the states. No Child Left Behind was born. From its inception it probably should have been called No Child Left Untested.

This grand experiment finally died in 2007, with only Sandy Kress left to mourn its demise . But he had little to gripe about, this law had made him a very rich man. . He became the chief lobbyist for Pearson Publishing which provided everything NCLB – from texts to tests to teacher and student prep materials over the life of the legislation.(By 2012 Pearson’s annual North American gross income was $4,179,240,000,up form a mere $600 million or so in the early days.)

By 2007 the damage had been done:

Texas Backs Away From No Child Left Behind Law, Its Own Bush-Endorsed Creation

“NCLB’s reauthorization in a timely manner has created an obsolete system that does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state’s schools,” the state’s education chief Michael Williams wrote in an open letter Thursday. By the law’s definition, in Texas 47.8 percent of schools — and 27.6 percent of its school districts — made “adequate yearly progress” this year.

The road to this disaster is the story of how blind faith that “market forces” and privatization are the cure for everything.

 

Education Inc. – How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.

How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.

But when the company—like many for-profits—wants to get its way in education policy, Pearson isn’t shy about deploying high-powered lobbyists. Pearson pays six lobbyists to advocate for the company’s legislative agenda at the Texas Capitol—often successfully. This legislative session [2006] , lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education, including funding for a variety of programs to help struggling students improve their performance on state tests. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact. Bills that would have reduced the state’s reliance on tests didn’t pass. The Texas Senate refused to pass any bills that would have diminished the role of testing, a stance some Capitol sources attribute to Pearson’s lobbying, while others give the credit to pressure from reform advocates.

Who’s responsible may not matter. The interests of corporate lobbyists and reform advocates are often the same.  It’s difficult to separate the businessmen from the believers.

In a narrow sense, Pearson’s lobbying efforts simply reflect a company protecting its profits. But in a wider view, Pearson is part of a larger education-reform effort that seeks to improve public education through free-market principles. Often that means non-traditional educational approaches like charter schools and online learning. The movement includes a lot of earnest folks, eager to improve public schools and do what’s best for kids. But their efforts have earned a fortune for companies like Pearson. It’s become difficult to determine where the educating ends and the profit-making begins.

To summarize, – we were the first to get onboard the testing for accountability bandwagon, we never got off. The results have been dismal, and we are poised to continue down this road. NCLB is dead, but Pearson has the contract for the new sure-fire testing regime that has replaced it.

As I reported in my last posting after all these years of “reform”, here is where we are:

.Texas on the Brink

Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) Scores   –   45th of 50.

Percent of Population 25 and Older with
a High School Diploma –  50th of 50.

High School Graduation Rate-  43rd of 50.

Percent of Adults with at Least a  Bachelor’s Degree – 31st of 50..

Diane Ravitch, , former Bush Secretary of Education,  summaries the fundamental willful mistake in the entire testing as end of itself :

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

In education, this belief in market forces lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens. Instead of dealing with rancorous problems like how to teach reading or how to improve testing, one can redesign the management and structure of the school system and concentrate on incentives and sanctions.

Next time, I will talk about the rise and convergence of the starry eyed “Young Turks”  of KIPP and YES and the privatization crowd. Think teacher bashing, apples to oranges comparison and the death of public education. .