Archive for November, 2017

November
17th 2017
Tax Reform Would Harm Cristo Rey Students

Posted under Private Schools & Ross Izard & School Choice & Tax reform & Vocational Education

The House of Representatives’ newly proposed tax reform would greatly impair the Cristo Rey Network’s ability to provide educational opportunities to low-income students. The Washington Examiner’s Todd Shepherd–the Independence Institute’s former investigative reporter–describes the negative implications of the proposed tax reform in his piece House tax reform could cripple innovative education model aimed at low-income families.

My good friend, and senior fellow at the Independence Institute, Ross Izard, wrote a private school profile called Building Hope: A Profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School that exemplifies the local impact of the Cristo Rey Network here in Colorado.

Cristo Ray’s consortium of high schools emphasizes the combination of “four years of rigorous college preparatory academics with four years of professional work experience.” The network is Catholic, but open to all students. Its primary concern is helping low-income students reach success, despite religious affiliation.

The network is incredibly successful–it has graduated over 13,000 students, 90 percent of which enroll in college. That’s an enrollment rate 29 percent above the national average for low-income students and 4 percent above the national average for high-income students.

The average Cristo Rey household earns around $37,000 annually, but the network’s 32 schools are exclusively private, college-prep institutions. To pay for their education, students participate in the Corporate Work Study Program, in which they work at local businesses that in exchange pay for the majority of their tuition.

As of now, the tuition students earn through the work study program is untaxed–it goes straight from the business to the school with no obstructions.

With the introduction of the House’s new tax reform, this would no longer be the case. The tuition students earn from their work study program would no longer be exempt from taxation. This would also mean that when it came time to apply to college the Cristo Rey students’ work study would be counted as income. Consequently, the financial aid they receive for college would be diminished.

This negative externality of the proposed tax reform is an unnecessary obstacle forced upon students working for a brighter future–though I believe many legislators are blissfully unaware that it is being included in the reform. Hopefully by the time I go to high school, my brightest friends will get the best opportunity to maximize their potential, despite their income. I wonder how that would be possible without the full support of groups such as the Cristo Rey Network?

 

 

 

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November
14th 2017
Union Wins Bragging Rights

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & charter schools & Donald Trump & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that:

“No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.”

While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale “elitist” argument into the school choice debate.

The claims of these groups are notoriously ungrounded lashes at school choice. The ACLU’s “unequal access” claim, in which it stated that hundreds of charter schools in California were practicing discriminatory admissions policies, proved to be over-exaggerated fluff. Dozens of schools were promptly removed from the list, which was ultimately deleted after receiving criticism for its imprecise research. AFT has made its own outlandish claims in preceding years, calling school choice programs “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

I’m not sure why grown-ups expect to always be right, and will defend their positions past objectivity into the realm of name calling and dishonesty. How does that benefit anyone?

However, that’s the discourse that school choice critics have adopted. They want parents and students to believe that somehow choice is an attempt at bigotry and elitism. And what better way to tie that tone to school choice supporters than affiliating them with Trump and Devos?

The teachers union clearly wanted to fabricate an election in which anyone who was not on their side was identified as pro-Trump/DeVos. During the Denver School Board race, the teachers union sent mailers which attempted to link pro-reformers with Trump an DeVos, and in Douglas County funded the creation of a website which depicted the pro-reformers as swamp monsters, playing on Trump’s “drain the swamp” statements.

I think, being a five year old, that I would have done the same had I managed one of the anti-reformers campaigns. Drawing mean pictures of your enemies is the highest form of rhetoric; simply draw devil horns on the teachers you don’t like in your yearbook and watch your classmates rally to your inspiring statement.

As everyone knows, agreeing with our president or secretary of education is wrong, and school choice is inherently elitist–despite the results of prominent studies which prove the contrary.

Right or wrong, the union’s mailers and DeVos propaganda proved effective. The Denver School Board, which was previously composed of all reformers, will now face dissonance with the addition of two anti-reform, union backed members.

The Aurora School District has also elected an anti-reform slate, though it has recently experienced the positive effects of school choice. Just this year–after warmly ameliorating its charter school applications process, inviting new charter schools to join the district, and turning over one of its low-performing schools to charter school management–the Aurora school district was removed from the state’s watch list.

Discrimination is obviously neither the goal or the result of school choice–it’s simply a fictitious crutch for its combatants to lean on. Although the results of the election were unfavorable, there are still many incredible events across the nation that are spurring the positive momentum of the school choice movement.

 

 

 

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November
3rd 2017
Let’s Not Forget Colorado’s Successful Charter Schools

Posted under CDE & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Lots of great things have been happening in school choice lately. All over the nation, research is emerging about the success of charter schools. I’ve highlighted some of these studies, specifically from New York and Florida, but it’s been awhile since we talked about charter schools in Colorado. So today, why don’t we?

The newest comprehensive research done by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the 2016 State of Charter Schools Triennial Report, displays the success charter schools in Colorado have had in improving education for the general student population and disadvantaged groups.

Contrary to the opponents of school choice who claim that charter schools are the religious right’s 21st century attempt at segregation, CDE determined that public charter schools in Colorado actually serve a greater percentage of minority students than the state average for non-charters. 46.9% of charter school students are minorities, while the state average in 45.9%.

Though public charter schools in Colorado serve slightly fewer students that qualify for free or reduced lunch programs (FRPL), those that do attend charter schools show greater academic proficiency. On the 2014 state Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, charter school students that qualified for free or reduced lunch programs predominantly outperformed their traditional public school peers. For reading, “across all grade levels the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools,” and for math “across all but fifth-grade the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade-level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools.”

The number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in charter schools has more than doubled since 2001, likely because of the exceptional results charter schools have produced. As more research surfaces that charter schools “generally outperform state non-charter schools on state performance measures, overall and with educationally disadvantaged groups,” their demand will continue to grow.

While students at charter schools almost exclusively outperformed students in traditional public schools, they fell short in one area.

CDE’s study notes that charter schools are behind traditional public schools in postsecondary and workforce readiness performance. To explain this gap, CDE points largely to the fact that a “disproportionally greater percentage of charter schools fall into the online and AEC [Alternative Educational Center] categories than do non-charter schools.”

So why would having a lesser percentage of students in AEC schools push the statistics to favor traditional public schools? Well, on average an AEC school contains a considerably greater amount of special education students, English language learning student, and students that qualify for the FRLP. There are about 8 times more charter school students in AEC’s than traditional public school students.

I don’t see a problem with the statistic being skewed this way–after all, the point of many charter schools is to provide educational options to traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Take the New America School for example. New America is an AEC that serves students aged 14-21, and is focused on helping provide “academically underserved students the educational tools to support and maximize their potential.” This includes English language learning students, student-parents, and new immigrants. New America concentrates on making sure these groups of students get an adequate educational foundation, rather than four-year graduation rates and progressing its students into pretentious colleges.

Opponents of school choice claim that charter schools have misrepresented student populations–that they have filtered out students and segregated the lower classes, all in an attempt to put the numbers in their favor. As CDE’s report exemplifies, this is simply not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

 

 

 

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November
1st 2017
Florida Charter Schools do More with Less

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & charter schools & Educational Choice & Grades and Standards & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Boy, would I like to visit Florida. Walt Disney World, Legoland, and a flourishing assortment of innovative charter schools–what’s there that a five-year old wouldn’t love?

OK, to be honest I’m more excited by the theme parks than the schools, but the growth and success of Florida’s charter schools is like Splash Mountain to my policy nerd friends over at the Independence Institute.

One of the most recent testaments to the success of charter schools in Florida is the Florida Department of Education’s (FLDOE) Student Achievements in Florida’s Charter Schools report.

FLDOE’s report uses 4.2 million test scores from the 2015-2016 school year to compare charter school students to traditional public-school students “in terms of grade level achievement, learning gains, and achievement gap.”

In 84% of the comparisons, students in charter schools had higher grade level performances, and in 85% of comparisons the average learning gains for charter school students were higher.

Florida’s charter schools are thriving; it’s no wonder their enrollment has almost tripled in the last ten years.

And no, the results of this report were not fueled by charter schools filled with preppy white suburban kids. The number of charter school minority students in this study exceeded those in traditional public schools by 6.8%.

In fact, the learning gaps between charter school African-American students and charter school white students, in contrast to the learning gaps between TPS African-American students and TPS white students, were lower for 81.8% of comparisons. Furthermore, the learning gaps between charter school Hispanic students and charter school white students were lower for 100% of comparisons–that’s right, all of them.

Despite receiving notoriously less funding than traditional public schools in past years, Florida’s charter schools have made exceptional strides. According to FLDOE’s research, they have predominantly surpassed traditional public schools. Once again, charter schools in the sunshine state have done more with less.

 

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