Ed Reform - And the Walls Come Crumbling Down

One the benefits of being able to hang in there for a long time is watching - however long it takes - for what you believe to be false and unworthy to slowly loosen (or lose) its grip.

I mean, we now have the Gates Foundation ((apparently) throwing about $100M away on inBloom.  I'm sure they are resourceful and have learned something so all is not lost but it's a good thing they have deep pockets. (Plus the $500k they just blew on ConnectEdu that just folded last Friday.)

So here are the troubling items: DFER, charter school mismanagement and charter school waitlists.

Case#1 - DFER (Democrats for Ed Reform) - I'll just let Politico explain to you how it all played out this weekend at a luxury resort near Lake Placid, NY.

Democrats for Education Reform planned a nice quiet retreat this week at the luxurious Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, N.Y. where top strategists of the education reform movement could map out their next moves at seminars such as “Living to Tell the Tale: Changing Third-Rail Teacher Policies” and “Rocketships, Klingons and Tribbles: Charters’ Course to Where No Schools Have Gone Before.” For a VIP registration fee of $2,500, participants were promised a chance to hobnob with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and other “thought leaders on education reform.” 

Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up.  I'm surprised Jeb Bush wasn't there. Governor Cuomo was supposed to be the "host" for these hedge funders and others. 

Then the teachers’ union got wind of it. A couple public school teachers tried to register for “Camp Philos” and were told it was booked. (Your POLITICO Pro Education team tried to get in, too, but we were told unequivocally: No press). Irate at the idea of wealthy “thought leaders” planning the future of public education without them, about 300 members of the New York State United Teachers union showed up at Whiteface Lodge on Sunday in matching green T-shirts, bearing handmade signs with slogans like “Don’t Sell Our Schools to the Highest Bidder.” The members, plus American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, picketed in a downpour. They got even more fired up when they heard that Cuomo would be addressing the conference by video, not in person — crediting themselves for scaring him away. Check out the Twitter hashtag #picketinthepines for photos and rally slogans galore.

I note two things. 

Hundreds of people stood in the rain to protest.  

Cuomo ran like a scared rabbit.  Never showed up. 

DFER thinks it's the "soul" of the Democratic party but those on the left aren't buying it.  Neither, it seems is Governor Cuomo.

Case# 2 - Charter Schools
Two major studies this week on charter schools.  The first on what seems to be happening - nationwide - with charter management.   From Moyers & Company:

But a report released Monday by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy — two groups that oppose school privatization – presents evidence that inadequate oversight of the charter school industry hurts both kids and taxpayers.

"Our report shows that over $100 million has been lost to fraud and abuse in the charter industry, because there is virtually no proactive oversight system in place to thwart unscrupulous or incompetent charter operators before they cheat the public.” The actual amount of fraud and abuse the report uncovered totaled $136 million, and that was just in the 15 states they studied.

According to the study, fraud and mismanagement of charter schools fall into six categories:
  • Charter operators using public funds illegally — outright embezzlement
  • Using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses
  • Mismanagement that put children in potential danger
  • Charters illegally taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide
  • Charter operators inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues
  • General mismanagement of public funds
Yikes.  Looks like keeping an eagle eye out for charters that come into Washington State just might be a very good idea.  

Speaking of enrollment, the second report on charters is about those waitlists.  We constantly hear that charters have huge waitlists and that means they are popular and good.  Now there's a new report from the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) called, "Wait, Wait. Don't Mislead Me! Nine reasons to be skeptical about charter waitlist numbers."  (I admit; a hokey title but still worthy reading because it's a lot of common sense about these so-called huge numbers of kids waiting to get into charter schools.)

First, to explain why the NEPC did this study:

In 2013, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) estimated that there were 920,007 students on charter school waitlists.1 With a new set of waitlist numbers to be released today, we thought it worthwhile to consider how these estimates are derived, what they mean and don’t mean, and how best to understand the claim of large numbers of students “waiting” to enroll in charter schools.

Here are the nine reasons (in no particular order):

- Students apply to multiple charter schools.  When you have a "choice", you tend to pick more than one and that will expand the "waitlist" number.

- The waitlist numbers cannot be confirmed.   There is no state or federal mandate for this information.  So if you are a charter school, wouldn't you give those numbers a bump in order to look popular AND help expand the charter school movement?

- Charter waitlist record-keeping is slipshod and unreliable.  The authors found that charters often did not keep waitlists up-to-date and were "often cumulative."  So even students who got in a year later, may still be on the list.

- It's likely that most charters aren't very oversubscribed.  From a Mathematica study, the authors of this study found that only 36 out of 500 charter middle schools had sufficiently enough of a list to support the Mathematica study design.

- NAPCS' methods aren't available for independent verification.  Now, where have we heard that before?   Oh right, Teach for America won't give out their data either. 

- NAPCS numbers are inexplicably precise.  Their number is 920,007.  Most estimates, according to the study, don't end with any number but zero. 

- What are we comparing charter waitlist numbers to?  Good question.  Because most public schools don't have waitlists and, in fact, have to find room for any child who comes thru the doors but not charter schools and so, "the waitlist data are not grounded by a meaningful comparison."

- Charter waitlists can be trimmed by requiring "backfilling."  I've mentioned backfilling before but here it is again. 

Student mobility is a simple reality for traditional public schools and charter schools alike, particularly those in lower income areas. Throughout the school year, substantial numbers of students leave and new students attempt to enter. Although some charter schools choose to “backfill” (i.e., replace leaving students with new students), many charter schools do not. This presents an interesting question: 
If charter schools were required to backfill places vacated by students who leave during the school year, as traditional public schools are required to do, would the waitlists at charter schools be considerably reduced?

Backfilling would also make charter schools more responsive to market pressures, which seems reasonable given that one of the key arguments for charter schools has been that they are market driven and responsive to market accountability. In a functioning market place, when demand from consumers increases, successful producers increase the supply; but popular charter schools are apparently not doing so.

Next up, Common Core. 


Anonymous said…
I'm trying to see the complete posting of the 'Seattle High School Updates' blog post from Friday but am unable to do so. I cannot see the comments either. Clicking on the post does not show the entire posting. All I can see is the letter about the Ballard dress code, and nothing about Garfield.
n said…
Sometimes I wonder what Seattle teachers would do. It seems we are an awfully quiet bunch. I wonder how the AFT compares with the NEA?
Nervous Anyone? said…
Cuomo has been busy:

Dream On! said…
Wasn't there a Washington State resident that owns Dream Box Learning that pushed charter schools?

Dream Box partners with Rocketship and the results aren't good.


Twila, there's a link at the bottom. I'm not sure why you are not seeing it, sorry.

Yes and Rocketship seems to be having problems as well.
Anonymous said…
Unfortunately I doubt Cuomo's non-appearance means he's running scared. I think it means he's being the savvy politician he is. (I'm not a fan.)

Less than a month ago he did a huge end run around NYC Mayor DeBlasio's plan to deny charters space in public schools where communities don't want them. Now state law says every district in NY has to provide charters space and if they can't find it in public school buildings, the public school district has to bear the cost of providing private space.

It was not only a step forward for charters - it was a winning step that no doubt will be attempted in other charter-supporting states, possibly ours, as DFER supported the move in NY and is always working behind the scenes in WA.

The charter issue isn't going away. With every new community question about efficacy we are getting legislative codification to keep charters alive.


Anonymous said…
Twila - I had the problem with Internet Explorer 8. Cured by switching to Google Chrome.

Chris s.
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