Charter school supporters hold public forums

Both Greenville and Belfast hosted public forums on charters schools in Maine this afternoon. Dr Judith Jones will speak at the event in Greenville. Dr. Jones talk will emphasize how charter schools can benefit a rural state such as Maine. Dr. Jones is director of the Maine Association for Public Charter Schools.

Dr. Joe Nathan will appear at the Belfast forum. Dr. Nathan heads the University of Minnesota Center for School Change and was also a founding father of the U.S. charter school movement. Dr. Nathan will give a little history of the charter school movement in his speech, while highlighting the lessons we have learned on charter schools up to this point.

The Maine Senate rejected charter schools, LD 1438, back in June. The bill garnered support from many state agencies such as the state Board of Education, Department of Education, Governor Baldacci, the Maine House, and the Maine PTA. Maine is one of only nine states who do not allow some form of charter schools. This puts Maine in serious jeopardy for $4.3 billion of Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” education stimulus funds to be released this December. This is money Maine education cannot afford to miss out on. The Maine Senate dropped the ball on charters. It will be Mainers who get the bricks dropped on them, not Augusta.

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Arne Duncan wants to slam dunk bricks on charter school haters

“We will come down like a ton of bricks on states that treat charter schools unfairly.” Arne Said it. You’ve read it.

Depending on where you read Slam Dunc’s statement you will get a slightly different version of the story. Just like a top chef, Mike Klonsky at Small Talk serves up Ed Sec Duncan’s quote done three ways.

from Small Talk:

Charter school lobbyist Gary Naeyaert, tweets Duncan’s threat from the floor of the national charter school conferences like this:

“We will come down like a ton of bricks on states that treat charter schools unfairly.”

Chicago’s WGN quotes Duncan this way:

Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on anyone who defies the administration’s plans to bring relief to states who face layoffs because of budget cuts.

ASCD Smart Brief says the bricks are just for governors (whew!) :

Secretary Arne Duncan, who threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on governors who attempt to divert education stimulus funds.

What is Duncan saying here? Well this is the same kind of strong arm tactics the government employs to influence state policy. You don’t have to do what we ask, but that nice stimulus money you were hoping for might just go elsewhere. It’s a lot like economic sanctions on misbehaving nations.

To states already practically working with the lights off to save money, the lack of funding will indeed come down like a ton of bricks on them. This could be especially damaging to school districts agonizing over what programs they can afford already.

Maine itself could be in Duncan’s sights. Recently Maine voted down LD 1438 a bill to allow charter schools in the state. The rejection of the bill, if I may digress a moment, had nothing to do with Duncan’s push for charters. Some touted the vote as a Maine legislators standing up to the menacing Ed Sec Duncan. Though Duncan’s insistence that states support charters or die and the vote in Maine occurred around the same time, as a Mainer I can assure they were unrelated.

Back to the matter at hand.

States have already been told they put themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” for stimulus funds by not supporting charters. Now Duncan is backing that with even stronger language. Dunc’s words will most likely be backed with action. Mainers are sure to lose out when that action comes.

Maine Votes to Maintain Folksy Ignorance

After being tossed back and forth between the Maine House and Senate, LD1438 (the Charter School Bill) is dead. The Senate upheld its decision that the bill “ought not to pass” 20 to 14. This is a great disappointment to many, including myself. The distinction of being one of 10 states yet to implement some form of charter schools is not one I’m proud of. The Maine Association for Charter Schools had this to say

from MACS:

In a sad commentary on our Government’s concern for the children not currently served well by public education in Maine, the Senate voted 20-14 to “adhere” to their previous decision, not to allow public charter schools in Maine.

MACS is already debriefing our campaign this session and looking ahead to the January 2010 second session when we’ll have a new opportunity to pass a charter school bill. We plan to keep fighting for the rights of all students and parents, of all income levels, to have choices within Maine’s system of public education.

Maine may have shot itself in the foot on this one. Apparently those who voted LD 1438 down do not follow what US Ed Sec Arne Duncan has been saying. Arne “Slam Dunk” Duncan released a statement concerning which states will be awarded part of the $4.35 billion education stimulus. Dunc’s words are rather clear; support the reforms we advise, including charters, or you may be holding out your empty hands forever.

from Press Herald:

States like Maine that don’t allow charter schools are putting themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” when it comes to applying for education reform funds, the country’s top education official said Monday.

The 10 states that do not allow charter schools and the 26 that put caps on the number they allow will endanger their chances for awards from a $4.35 billion education innovation fund that’s part of the federal economic stimulus package, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

“They put themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the largest pool of dollars states have ever had access to,” Duncan said during a conference call with reporters. “We want to invest in states that push a reform agenda.”

I’m not sure what legislators were so scared of. The LD 1438 was a solid proposal. The authors designed the bill to protect against corporate schools, fairly accept those who wish to attend, provide funding, and implement useful innovations like virtual charters. No, Maine is apparently content with continuing to be backwater. While Augusta scratches its collective heads when trying to figure out why young Mainers leave the state ASAP, those who watched things like LD 1438 pass us by will know. And when our education budget is sorely missing those stimulus funds we will stifle the urge to say I told you so.

Change in Education?

Or more of the same?

I am loosing faith in “Change”. EdSec Duncan seems to be more hype than “Hope”. I had a lot of confidence that Arne Duncan would clean house and sow the seeds for some real gains in education. There is a bit of egg on my face at this point.

While Duncan and Co certainly push changes in the education system these changes are more novelties than substantial improvements. Some take issue with the business like manner Team Duncan takes on education reform. Personally this is not a problem for me. If the business world presents a solution to an education woe we should use it. That being said, business and education are not entirely the same. Teaching a student is vastly different from running an add agency or producing a product. Ideas should be kept in perspective. Business solutions can translate to more effective ways of running a school (It does concern me that, excusing the rising costs of stuff and inflation, education continually gets more and more money for the same mixed results. Money is not the solution obviously). Business solutions do not translate well to business of learning.

Why this lack of education in education reform? Team Duncan is no team of rivals.

from Change.org:

Something that stands out about Ed Sec Arne Duncan and his inner circle – Klein, Sharpton, and, lord help us, Newt Gingrich at the *cough* “progressive” Education Equality Project; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Mayor Bloomberg, and the whole Billionaire Boys’ Club gang; Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and the “give us a rookie idealist and a five week crash course, and we’ll give you a competent, expert teacher” gang at Teach for America – and their whole “reform” discourse is how much talk and proposed action we hear about teachers, and how little about teaching.

An obvious cause is that Duncan and most of his gang have more background in management (or, lord help us, politics) than in education. And the frightening thing is, when we listen to them, there’s little evidence they’re aware of the difference between an MBA and a Ph.D. in education. It’s like the hospital comptroller thinking he should have the right to dictate surgical techniques in the O.R.

Clay Burell goes on to say that Team Duncan may actually have a deeper understanding of education, but they continually fail to show this. Burell leads in to a recent post by Diane Ravitch at Bridging Differences. Ravitch uses accountability and high stakes testing as an example of how Team Duncan are just pushing more of what doesn’t work.

from Bridging Differences:

I think our society is in dangerous territory on this subject of accountability. The so-called “reformers,” the guys (yes, guys) who call themselves the Education Equality Project, would have the world believe that accountability is the key to improving American education. They think it can be done fast, not incrementally. They think the key to improvement is punishing the bad students, the bad teachers, and the bad schools. Their latest formula, as enunciated by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is to close down 5,000 schools and re-open them. I wonder where he plans to find 5,000 new principals and thousands of new teachers, or does he just intend to reshuffle the deck?

This approach rests squarely on the high-stakes use of testing. One only wishes that the proponents of this mean-spirited approach might themselves be subjected to a high-stakes test about their understanding of children and education! I predict that every one of them would fail and be severely punished.

We agree that a better approach is needed to assess how well students are learning what they are taught. We agree that current standardized tests are not adequate to the task of determining the fate—whether they should be rewarded or punished—of children, teachers, and their schools.

Some thoughts Ravitch’s post

Things in education should be done incrementally. Playing fast and loose with children’s education is unacceptable. When you rush a reform without thinking it through it can have severe detrimental consequences. I’m not saying that everything Team Duncan proposes is a ticking time bomb, but it seems they are putting little thought behind their plans. There is far too many buzz words being tossed about and far too little contemplation of what they mean.

Bad students, teachers, and schools should face some consequences. I hate using the word “bad” however. That word has such an implication to it. Bad is something I say about the outdated milk. There’s no saving it. Straight to the garbage. Let’s say failing to meet standards for lack of a better word. Consequences should be assistance to meet standards. Talk about throwing the education system under the bus. Would you punish a child who has reading difficulty rather than provide assistance to meet that goal? Recalling an earlier post by Clay they might.

I am not against testing. It is a good way to find trouble areas in curriculum and in spotting students in need of help. Students should be meeting certain standards before moving ahead. Otherwise we are just pushing students into new territory before they even have a grasp on where they were. That is an excellent way to loose a student. And of course ultimately a HS diploma must be more than a piece of paper.

But the current tests that are being pushed are ineffective. Standardized tests prove nothing except how well a student is at regurgitation. Multiple choice cannot show a true understanding of a topic. Problem solving and analysis type tests are the only way to show this.

The thrust of their “strategic plan”, which negates strategic thinking, ignores a large looming issue. They are trying to duct tape a crumbling 19th century factory. The foundation itself is shaking. They are rebuilding what doesn’t work already with band-aids. There needs to be consideration for how we teach students, what skills they need for this new century, and how to inspire life-long learning. Duncan and company has contracted assembly line sickness. I’m not sure if they will survive the disease.

Can They Think Outside the Box? – More thoughts on merit pay and policy wonks

I posted a few days ago about my evolving thoughts on merit pay. The catalyst for this was a study on class disruption and learning. The comments left pushed my thinking on the subject even further. I’d let to post the discussions here today and get some more thoughts on there on merit pay.

Just to recap, the article I read from Change.org pointed out that even one disruptive student in a classroom can taint the learning experience for the whole class. Commentator d.eris of Poli-Tea Party illustrates the principle with a little anecdote from the Simpsons.

from d.eris

I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge are hauled into the school and are shown a diagram of the grades of students who sit in Bart’s immediate vicinity. In a set of concentric circles, grades go up as distance from the trouble-maker increases.

If someone hasn’t written “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from The Simpsons” they someone damn well should!

It becomes easy to see how one tiny factor can skew assessment scores in any given classroom. Most teachers get their students by pure chance. One teacher could have a classroom full of students ready and willing to learn. Another may have a student with a learning disability or a constant rule breaker.

Chuck of Tongue-In-Cheek weighed in as well. Chuck and I have discussed merit pay before. Chuck applauds me for beginning to see the merit pay light, but also puts my solution for disruptive classrooms in perspective.

from chuckrates

Now you’re starting to see some of what I was trying to tell you about why merit pay is unrealistic. Executing proper discipline/behavior management against the “bad apple” is not always an effective solution. In my 5 years of teaching experience, the “bad apple” is not always breaking the rules. Often, he/she just has a poor attitude, or has special needs that must be accounted for to the detriment of my ability to attend to the other students.

Again, it’s all oversimplification. There might not be one “bad apple” in a certain classroom, but maybe there are three generally good kids who are shy or don’t work well with others. There goes my unit that centered around group projects. Maybe teacher A has a class in which five students miss a week of school because of a band trip, but teacher B has only one such student. Six people in Teacher A’s class (counting the teacher) now have to work significantly harder if they are to keep up with Teacher B’s class, which can pretty much continue as normal.

Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to merit pay. I just consider it unrealistic because there’s no way for it to be fair in the reality we live in. Sort of like Libertarianism — yeah, the world might be a better place in a lot of ways if it looked like Libertarians want it to look, but how in the hell do you get to that point without nuclear holocaust or something?

I’m starting to see the situation is far more complex than can really be solved by one measure. We can’t think that school is a factory line. Info in citizens out. There needs to be some outside the box thinking here.

I’m not convinced Obama, Duncan, etc have it in them to approach the situation in this way. I like you, think there are ways so improve learning, use merit pay, etc. The execution at this point is just all wrong.

It’s like Lee at Gettysburg. Everyone is telling him you know if we just packed up and flanked these guys they will leave their HIGHLY DEFENSIBLE POSITION. Lee just says, “naw let’s just cross miles of open ground and march straight up that darn hill. (I know this is a gross oversimplification of the battle and circumstances surrounding it. Just let it go this once.)

Also I’ve had the Libertarianism argument before. I’ll refer to His Little Majesty James Madison on this one. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Unfortunately a country needs a little more guidance than making sure its citizens don’t kill themselves and countries don’t invade. Libertarianism, and communism for that matter, take a utopian view of humanity I just don’t subscribe to.

There is a point to this. There is really no way to make the pay system for teachers 100% “fair”. There are inequalities inherent in the system that just can’t be avoided. There are circumstances outside of the educator’s hands. People do not carry an equal share of the work. Unless we genetically engineer the perfect teacher there wont be even teaching ability, then what would be the point of paying them anyway.

Can the pay system be made more efficient? Yes. Can the pay system reward teachers for exceptional work? Certainly. Are the current merit pay proposals we’ve seen the solution? No way. Will merit pay raise student achievement? Anyone who thinks any one reform on its own will solve out education woes needs their head checked.

The merit pay proposals we’ve seen attack the problem directly, like a factory. Merit pay crafters seems to have assembly line sickness. If we input this we will get this output. The solution is far from that cut and dry. What we need is outside the box thinking. I’m not convinced merit pay, or at least a better pay system, can’t be achieved. Antiquated linear thinking wont get us anywhere.

Are these policy crafters in need of some lessons in 21st century skills?

Maine Explores Charter Schools

Maine is now considering charter schools. According to Maine Charter Schools, a bill(LD 1438) has been proposed to allow charter schools to form here in Maine.

Some highlights on the bill:

– LD 1438 will cash in on federal funds available to new charters. For a state struggling to meet budget requirements this is a boon. Without these funds charters would not be possible in Maine.

– During the first ten years after the bill passes twenty charters can be started. The charterization of current alternative schools and specialized schools such as magnet schools will not count toward the limit. There are 72 school administrative districts in Maine, not to mention numerous single town districts. Populace regions like Southern Maine and Bangor already have a number of alternative schools that may be converted to charters, so this limit should not restrict their implementation too greatly. The number of charters should be kept to a manageable number, at least until we can get the hang of how to run them.

– Local and regional school boards, colleges and universities that award 4 year degrees will be able to authorize applications for charter schools. The authorizing establishments will have oversight of the charters they allow. They will have measures to “enhance the quality” of the charters and make judgments based on the performance of the schools. What on earth does “enhance the quality” mean? Well it is made up of data including student academic performance, student academic growth, attendance, continued enrollment, college readiness for charter high schools, financial performance/responsibility, and parent involvement. These are all measures I support. They also necessitate a push toward better data collection for parents and authorizing boards. Exactly how certain things are measured, (will student performance be based solely on grades?) , have not been made clear.

– The charter will allow no more than 10% of the students from the district it is in to attend the school. If the school cannot accommodate all students who wish to attend students will be chosen to attend at random. This prevents the cherry picking of students to boost numbers we all fear.

– Maine charter teachers may bargain collectively or “form a professional group”. They can unionize in layman’s terms.

– Virtual charters are allowed as well. This is perhaps one of the most interesting developments in my mind. With a population density of about 43 people per square mile, which is skewed a bit by the dense York, Cumberland, and Androscogin counties, virtual charters would be a huge advantage to children living in the boonies. I hope the bill gets passed just so we can see some virtual charters sprout up.

The bill seems pretty solid to me. It is sponsored by Dennis Damon, who you may remember as being the sponsor of LD 1020 to legalize same-sex marriage. I’m interested to see how it will be presented to the public. This could be a big chance for Maine to show the rest of the nation how to make charters work. Here is a link to the pdf of the bill and a summary composed by Maine Charter Schools. Read them, then let’s hear your thoughts.

Why The Secrecy DOE? – Voucher study facts withheld

By this point everyone knows that President Obama’s slogan was change. One of the most reassuring changes Obama promised included government transparency and accountability. This was a welcome change after the Nixonian secrecy of the Bush Administration. For ed policy wonks and those his campaign , it was no surprise when Obama called for the same principals to be applied to education.

Yes everyone from students to teachers to administration, presumably straight up to the DOE would be accountable for the health of our education system. Supposedly we would be privy to accompanying stats as well.

When I read this story about the hijinks surrounding a recent DC voucher study I felt betrayed.

from Real Clear Politics

[The voucher program’s] popularity notwithstanding, Obama stayed silent as Congress scheduled this initiative’s demise after the 2009 — 2010 academic year. Both a Democratic Congress and DC authorities must reauthorize the program — not likely.

Now it emerges that Obama’s Department of Education (DOE) possessed peer-reviewed, Congressionally mandated, research proving this program’s success. Though it demonstrates “what works for the kids,” DOE hid this study until Congress squelched these children’s dreams.

This analysis compared voucher users’ test scores to those of students who requested vouchers but lost the award lottery. Among DOE’s results:

*While they were no better at math, voucher recipients read 3.7 months ahead of non-voucher students.

*Student subgroups — including high achievers, those from functional schools, and applicants between Kindergarten and grade 8 — showed “1/3 to 2 years of additional learning growth.”

*While 63 percent of non-voucher parents gave their kids’ schools As or Bs, 74 percent of voucher parents so rated their children’s campuses.

This good news remained concealed, from the study’s conclusion last fall, through March’s Congressional debate, until April 3, when DOE finally released this report. That was a Friday afternoon, precisely when news whisperers issue stories they want journalists to miss in the mad dash for the weekend and citizens to overlook as Saturday’s papers vanish beneath ski equipment, movie tickets, and pitchers of beer.

Worse yet, DOE researchers reportedly were forbidden to publicize or discuss their findings. “You’d think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program,” the April 5 Wall Street Journal editorialized.

For Team Obama, this is transparency we can believe in.

One expects better from Obama who won a scholarship at age 10 to attend Hawaii’s prestigious, private Punahou school. “There was something about this school that embraced me, gave me support and encouragement, and allowed me to grow and prosper,” Obama has said.

DC voucher recipients want such life chances. If you want to bawl like a baby, visit VoicesOfSchoolChoice.org and watch the Internet’s most inspirational and simultaneously heartbreaking video.

“In my old public school, people screamed at the teacher, walked out of school during class, hurt me, and made fun of all my friends,” says Paul, age 11, imploring Obama to keep hope alive. “I love going to school, where I can learn and be safe,” says Breanna, 9. “I want to go to Morehouse College, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” says De’Andre, 9. “I am going to grow up and be a good man.”

With young black kids themselves begging for vouchers, why would reputedly pro-poor, pro-black Democrats kill this popular and effective school-choice program?

Follow the money: Teachers’ unions’ paid $55,794,440 in political donations between 1990 and 2008, 96 percent of it to Democrats. Senator John Ensign’s (R – Nevada) March 10 amendment to rescue DC’s vouchers failed 39-58. Among 57 Democrats voting, 54 (or 95 percent) opposed DC vouchers.

I can understand withholding information sensitive to national security. It almost goes without saying. Education research is not a national secret. Especially good news. Every single American should have been privy to this information as soon as it came out. It turns my stomach to think that the administration would have withheld this study until after a vote to end the program. Could this information have saved the DC voucher program? Quite possibly. Playing this sort of underhanded politics with our children is disgusting and repugnant.

Unfortunately this story may go unnoticed. I hope that it is carried to all across the nation. You wanted to have the most transparent and accountable government Mr. Obama. Now it’s time to stand up and take your lumps on this debacle. You, Duncan, and the DOE must be held accountable.

UPDATE: Here are a few links to other articles and the PDF links to the study itself.
The DC Voucher Impact Study
Opinion of Brookings Institute rep involved in study
Bismarck news outlet calls buried study news a “shocker”
The Examiner gathers some opinions on the matter