Archive for the 'Educational Choice' Category

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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October
26th 2017
AFT “so far” pumps $600,000 into School Board Race

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & castle rock & Colorado Supreme Court & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

Remember the Douglas County School Board race? The Toxic-Trio, tire scraps, Blaine Amendments, and what not? Of course you do. The Doug Co race has been one of Colorado’s most eminent issues for months. Well, mail-in ballots have arrived in homes, and with just minutes to go in the bottom of the ninth, the nation’s second largest teacher’s union has made a desperate attempt to sway the outcome of the election in its favor.

The Douglas County School Board race has garnered much national attention–and rightly so. It will not only determine the fate of private school choice in Douglas County, but could determine the constitutionality of Blaine clauses in Colorado. It’s a pivotal moment in education, which is why the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is adamantly attempting to manipulate the election to fit its political agenda.

Ross Izard, senior policy analyst at the Independence Institute and my favorite policy nerd, details the recent uncovering of an additional 300,000-dollar donation AFT made to the Douglas County race (after its initial 300,000-contribution) in his op-ed A national teachers’ union’s war machine is on the move in Colorado, which was published in The Hill.

In total, AFT has donated 600,000 dollars to the anti-choice, self-proclaimed “grassroot” Community Slate in an effort to decimate school choice in Douglas County and blacken the name of any candidate who dares advocate it. Ross’s op-ed expounds how “the [school board] race has been irrevocably altered in its final weeks” by these contributions.

After losing its collective bargaining agreement in Douglas County in 2012, the Colorado chapter of AFT needs to reinstitute itself in Douglas County to be relevant in Colorado. Electing a union friendly school board would help AFT avoid losses in membership, and capitalize on millions from a union contract.

I’m not sure why AFT so inflexibly opposes parents and students having choices in education, but I am sure of one thing; a donation of this size this late in the game means the union is unsure of or frightened by the political landscape it faces. The pro-school choice candidates, also known as Elevate Douglas County, have undoubtedly threatened AFT’s anti-choice agenda.

 

 

 

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October
19th 2017
Stanford Study Reveals the Success of New York City’s Charter Schools

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

The leaves are changing color, school is in full swing, and the air has finally cooled off. Fall is officially here in Colorado! While many kids are debating whether to be a dinosaur or superhero for Halloween, many parents have become caught up in the debate about charter schools. There has been a lot of uproar around charter schools lately, which can make the issue hard to understand from an objective standpoint. Luckily, a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) has shed some empirical light on the issue.

My friend Connan Houser– who is a research associate at the Independence Institute–wrote an op-ed titled “The undeniable efficacy of charter schools” which was published in The Hill. Connan’s piece goes into greater detail about CREDO’s findings, but I’ll give you the most important points in this post.

In early October, CREDO released a study which followed over 97,000 charter school students in New York City over the course of four years. The study found that charter schools had exceptionally positive results on students’ learning outcomes, especially for subgroups which traditionally underperform in education.

The most impressive subgroup in the study was charter school students in poverty, who outperformed non-poverty traditional public-school students. Charter school students in poverty tested at a level equivalent to receiving 55 days of extra learning in math, and at an equal reading level as “their more affluent peers.”

I could go on citing more statistics which display the impact of charter schools in New York City, but fortunately CREDO broke their findings down into a table that even a five-year-old could understand.

 

Table 8: Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students

  Reading Math
New York City Charter Students Positive Positive
Charters in 2012-2013 Similar Positive
Charters in 2013-2014 Positive Positive
Charters in 2014-2015 Similar Positive
Charters in 2015-2016 Positive Positive
Elementary School Charter Students Positive Positive
Middle School Charter Students Similar Positive
High School Charter School Students Similar Similar
Multi-Level School Charter Students Positive Positive
First Year Enrolled in Charter School Negative Positive
Second Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Third Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Fourth Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
English Language Learner Charter School Students Similar Positive
Special Education Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter CMO Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Similar Positive
Charter CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter CMO Middle Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Middle Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO High Schools Similar Positive
Charter Non-CMO High Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO Multi-level Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Multi-level Schools Similar Similar

Fig 1. Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students, 2012-2016.  Graph from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, Chater School Performance in New York City, (Stanford University: CREDO 2017), 53. Online.

 

CREDO’s study concluded that students in “New York City charter schools experienced more learning gains in a year, on average, than their [traditional public-school] counterparts.” It also found that, for minority students, attending charter schools “indicated a significant academic advantage.”

It is time to consider what CREDO calls “evidence about charter schools’ impact on student outcomes,” rather than the unintelligible anti-charter school commotion. When deciding upon the futures of children like myself, adults need to hold unbiased and transparent research, such as CREDO’s, in the highest regard. Only then can we truly discern what educational models are working, and find ways to implement them into the broader educational system.

 

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October
17th 2017
AFT Jumps in Douglas County School Board Race with a BIG Splash

Posted under Blaine Amendments & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & Vouchers

I just came home from school and read an article about the Douglas County School Board race. The article is titled Douglas County ‘Dream Team’  candidates get dream support via $300,000 from National Teachers Union” by Sherrie Peif from Complete Colorado. My mom and dad say this race is the most watched school board race in the country. The AFT, a teachers union, and other school choice opponents have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race because they oppose school choice. I don’t understand why anyone would want to stop children from attending a school that they want to attend. But I don’t always understand grown-ups.

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October
12th 2017
Opening a charter school is difficult – but worth it

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Publications & Ross Izard

My friends at the Independence Institute published a new paper in July telling the stories of three groups of parents and visionaries seeking better educational options for children in their communities by starting charter schools.

Often, I don’t know why adults do what they do.  Sometimes they seem so stressed and anxious.  Sometimes they aren’t nice to each other.  Sometimes they seem so desperate and hopeless.

Other times they seem deeply satisfied, happy, or even elated.  They seem to be this way when they accomplish something that they believe to be extremely valuable—something for which they were driven to work hard.  It’s hard for me to relate because my largest accomplishment in any given day is getting my shirt on right-side-out.

One thing that adults seem to value is doing right by their children, and a big part of that is ensuring that they receive a quality education.  In some cases, that requires lots of hard work.

In The Challenges of Opening a Charter School: Three Colorado Case Studies, Ross Izard portrays the countless hours of hard work that go into navigating the many legal, logistical and bureaucratic barriers to opening a charter school.  Some of these barriers are common to all potential charter schools, but each school also faces its own unique challenges.  Izard contrasts the challenges faced by the parents trying to open a STEM-focused school in an affluent community with those faced by a visionary seeking to open a charter high school to serve teens in a poverty-stricken neighborhood who are pregnant or already parents, and still others faced by parents simply trying to expand school choice in an average suburban area with a classical charter school.

So, what does it really take to open a charter school?  First, there must be a shared vision among the parents and advocates seeking to open a charter school for what a “better” education means.  Next comes translating that vision into a hundreds-of-pages-long charter application, followed by navigating the politics and bureaucracy surrounding the application process.  Charter schools must be authorized by either a school district or the state chartering authority.  Many applications are rejected on either merit or politics.  Though charter schools can request waivers from many state laws, giving them more freedom to be autonomous, they are still public schools and must meet state academic standards and administer state assessments.  Sounds both easy and fun, right?

Wrong.

One of the most difficult challenges is funding.  Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools often must provide their own facilities, forcing them to spend resources out of their operating budgets.  There are federal and state grant programs that help charters get started, though they fall short of covering the full cost.  This leaves less money to pay their teachers, meaning they must work to find quality educators willing to work for less than they could earn in a traditional public school.

Why is it, then, that so many of these schools end up succeeding despite these disadvantages?  It’s simple: persistence, patience, and the relentless desire of parents and other visionaries determined to provide a high-quality education for Colorado’s children.

I don’t always know why adults do what they do, but this paper helps me to understand what they’re up against in the fight to create the best educational opportunities for their children.

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August
25th 2017
Summer break was exciting for school choice!

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

It has been a long summer break, but I’m back watching over education in Colorado!  And, oh my, what a summer it has been for school choice!

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in favor of tire scraps.

Huh?  Tire scraps?

That’s right, tire scraps.

A private, church-affiliated preschool in Missouri applied for the provisioning of tire scraps for playground resurfacing under a state grant program, but was turned down because of their church affiliation under the Missouri State Constitution’s Blaine clauses.  The school challenged the decision in court.  The case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, made it all the way to our country’s high court, which decided that First Amendment freedom of religion rights supersede the discriminatory Blaine clauses of Missouri’s State Constitution.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that just because the preschool was affiliated with a church, that should not prevent them from being eligible for the State’s tire scrap grant program.

Okay, why should Colorado care about tire scraps in Missouri?

In light of this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule on another Blaine-related case—the case regarding Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program (CSP).

Let’s back up for a moment.  In 2011, a Denver District Court judge placed an injunction on the CSP.  The decision was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2013.  That decision was petitioned to the Colorado Supreme Court, which struck down the CSP 4-3, with three of the four justices in the majority citing Blaine clauses.  The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Moving back to this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision on the CSP, ordering the Court to reconsider the case given the Trinity Lutheran ruling.  The case was then sent back down to the District Court.  Why exactly?  It’s hard to say.  Could this be a political maneuver to test the will and ability of the plaintiffs to see the case through?  Perhaps we’ll never know.

And that’s where things stand now.  School choice advocates are anxiously awaiting the ultimate ruling on the CSP which may take several months…

…which brings us to yet another obstacle: school board elections are just over two months away, and the current majority on the Douglas County School Board that supports the ongoing case is in danger of being voted-out in November.  In fact, if they lose just one seat out of the four that are up for election, the Board may flip.

The importance of the Douglas County School District’s ongoing commitment to the pursuit of the CSP case cannot be understated.  I will be keeping a close watch on the upcoming election, knowing that it is perhaps the most important election related to school choice in our country’s recent history.

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May
23rd 2017
HB 1375: What Is It, and What Does It Mean for Charters?

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Union

Last week, we talked about the sausage-making process behind House Billl 17-1375, which was originally Senate Bill 17-061, but on two separate occasions was part of Senate Bill 17-296.  Got it?

Tortured though its legislative journey was, HB 1375′s passage has been heralded by many who worked on it as a huge victory for public charter schools. The Colorado League of Charter Schools, which spearheaded the effort, has been celebrating the bill’s passage as it heads to the governor’s desk, as has much of the rest of Colorado’s education reform lobby. Even the Denver Post gave the bill it’s nod of approval just before final passage.

Certainly, some high-fiving and celebration is in order. Many people and organizations, including the Independence Institute, worked in support of Senate Bill 061′s original incarnation. Those folks, and the handful of Senate Democrats brave enough to vote for the bill in its near-original form, deserve a lot of praise for their efforts. But after all the backroom deals and last-minute compromises, I think it’s important to take a close look at what, exactly, we passed. Let’s do that today. Below is a rundown of the major changes to the final bill and what they might mean in practice for charters.

Continue Reading »

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May
17th 2017
Sausage, Sausage Everywhere: Charter Funding Bill Survives the Legislature… Sort of

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

Well, my friends, we made it. As of last week, Colorado’s 2017 legislative session is a done deal. The session produced a couple of notable wins, including the elimination of PARCC in Colorado high schools and the bipartisan death of  Senator Mike “Special-Place-in-Hell” Merrifield’s perennial effort to blow up teacher tenure reform, performance compensation, and accountability in Colorado. But the main show of this year’s session was Senate Bill 061’s long and tortured journey toward finally providing funding equity for Colorado’s public charter school students. Unfortunately, that journey was rather messy and didn’t end quite the way I had hoped it would.

Despite some major controversy, SB 061 cleared the Colorado Senate on a bipartisan 22-13 vote back in March. Five brave Democrats joined most Senate Republicans in pushing the funding bill forward, though they did add an amendment offering districts the opportunity to “clarify” voter intent with regard to mill levy override revenues—an addition I find rather disconcerting given the near-total lack of MLOs that explicitly exclude public charters. But hey, at least it got through.

Then stuff got weird. Continue Reading »

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