For Those NC Lawmakers Who Blindly Believe In The Opportunity Grants, Read This

As a loyal follower of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s blog, I came across this nugget that she posted today. And while I do not make it a habit to repost stuff as of yet in this relatively young blog, this bears attention in light of the voucher-happy North Carolina General Assembly.

Ravitch’s blog entry references another posting in the New York Times by an individual, Kevin Carey, who is a staunch advocate of the charter school movement and has in the past challenged empirical research against the anti-charter school movement that many public education advocates like Dr. Ravitch draw warning to. I certainly count myself among Dr. Ravitch’s camp in opposing how charter schools are growing without regulation, especially here in North Carolina.

But Carey in this post actually talks about the shortcomings of rather well-known voucher inititives across the country.

Dr. Ravitch’s blog post is here: https://dianeravitch.net/2017/02/24/kevin-carey-researchers-surprised-by-dismal-results-from-vouchers/.

The Kevin Carey post is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html?_r=0.

Here are some of the more revealing comments:

“But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.”

“The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.”

“They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.”

“In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.”

These research reports dealt with Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio – all of which are hotbeds for voucher use.

North Carolina is quickly advancing its own use of vouchers. Within the next ten years, Opportunity Grants will have proportioned almost a billion dollars in tax-payer money for vouchers that until this point have heavily been used in religious private schools.

Many of those schools have come under investigation like this recent development where a coach at a religious school in Fayetteville was arrested for supposedly embezzling nearly $400,000 over an almost eight year period. That school, Trinity Christian, also receives more voucher grant money than any other school in the state (http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/).

Currently, the Opportunity Grants give a maximum yearly amount of $4200 to low income families for use in tuition.

I have yet to see any empirical information from Opportunity Grant advocates that the students being served with these vouchers are experiencing any growth in academic achievement.

I also do not know of the more well-known private schools in the state who have really accepted funds from the grants. Typically these types of schools have a yearly tuition price tag that far exceeds $4200 for a single quarter of school, much less an entire school year.

And it also might be of interest to see exactly how many new private schools have been established in the state since the advent of the Opportunity Grants.

Either way. Someone is making money from them.

 

 

 

Vouchers, Charters, and Choice! Oh, My! – Dorothy, You’re Not in Public School Anymore

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!” – Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

lions-tigers-bears

“Vouchers, Charters, and Choice! Oh, my!” – Me

As the North Carolina General Assembly is about to convene for the long session here in the new year, it bears repeating that public education will again be at the center of many of the very items of the agenda.

public-school-sign-brick-building-5310531

With a challenged bill in the court system now concerning the power of a neophyte state superintendent, a blind commitment to an ASD school district, more charter school disruptions, and a voucher system that is slated to  take almost a billion dollars of tax payer money in the next decade it is important to bring light to a couple of reports that have surfaced this week.

First is the Annual Charter Schools Report to the NCGA, of which a draft has been released (https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=10399&AID=79615&MID=2933) .  According to Billy Ball of NC Policy Watch, the report says,

“According to the report, charters’ percentage of students classified as “economically disadvantaged” remains significantly lower than their traditional public school peers (see page 9).

In 2015-2016, for instance, less than 30 percent of charter students were counted as low-income, far below the 50.2 percent counted in traditional schools.

Additionally, charters’ share of low-income children has been consistently on the decline since  it reached 39.6 percent in 2012-2013, at at time when traditional schools’ have reported fluctuations up and down.

The numbers were prepared by the state’s Office of Charter Schools, which oversees the state’s growing charter school sector” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/01/03/state-report-n-c-charter-schools-work-fewer-low-income-children/#sthash.JC3kSKYF.dpuf).

In fact, the table on that very page 9 looks like:

charter

In fact, it seems that the number of “economically disadvantaged’ children serviced by the charter schools has gone down over the years.

Remember last year when Lt. Gov. Dan Forest asked DPI to redo a report on charter school because it did not reflect so well on their servicing of students of low income? I do.

Ball concludes his report with,

“Also of note in this year’s state report, student performance in North Carolina charters varies more than it does in traditional schools. While a greater percentage of all public charters earned an A+, the highest school performance grade, a higher percentage of charters also pulled in the lowest school performance grade possible (see page 13 of the report).”

Interesting. So much for consistency.

Lindsay Wagner of the AJ Fletcher Foundation published a very interesting and insightful article on the voucher system here in North Carolina today. An experienced researcher and educational journalist, Wagner has witnessed the evolution of the “reform” movement first-hand here in North Carolina and this article deserves your reading.

It is called “North Carolina’s school voucher program: an accountability and transparency wish list for 2017” and you may find it here: http://ajf.org/north-carolinas-school-voucher-program-accountability-transparency-wish-list-2017/.

One very poignant statement observes,

“Our voucher program is one of the least accountable and transparent when comparing program participation standards to that of other states…”

Wagner then gives a realistic “wish list” and explains why lawmakers who enable the voucher programs to work so surreptitiously should be more transparent with taxpayer money. That’s especially important when much of that voucher money goes to religious schools that can alter both curricular standards and admission policies.

And then we have school choice, one of the most nebulous terms of the current school reform movement. Books are being written about school choice and we have a president elect who is in favor of school choice who has nominated a woman who herself is a champion of school choice, charters, and vouchers by the name of Betsy DeVos.

Dr. Diane Ravitch on her iconic blog which to date has almost 30 million hits responded to a recent Washington Post editorial concerning school choice, vouchers, and charters by kindy referring to places where school systems have literally been destroyed by “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/01/02/a-wake-up-call-for-fred-hiatt-editorial-page-editor-of-the-washington-post/).

Places like New Orleans.

Places like Milwaukee.

Places like Detroit (in DeVos’s home state).

And now there is news out of Tennessee that their Achievement School District is having some “problems.”

wizard-of-oz-flying-monkey-tattoo-2

Are those flying monkeys I see on the horizon?

UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation – Part 4, The Empire Strikes Back With a Menacing Phantom Study Report

I look forward to reading John Hood’s perspectives on education in North Carolina. They reaffirm my stances on what is happening in the Old North State and its public schools.

I do not have his bandwidth. As the president of the John William Pope Foundation and the past chairman (still on Board of Directors) for the John Locke Foundation, Hood serves as the mouthpiece of Art Pope, the leader of the Civitas Group and considered by many to be the biggest financier in North Carolina of ultra-conservative politics.

John Hood will be heard. Too many microphones have been bought to be placed near his mouth.

But I have my blog and a teacher voice.

I find most everything that Hood writes about public education to be extremely slanted (not surprising), yet smugly conciliatory, as if he is appeasing the more liberal people into thinking he wants what they want from our state government. In his recent op-ed posted on EdNC.org entitled “School reform is good economics”, Hood begins,

“Although the debate about education policy is robust, complicated, and sometimes vitriolic, there is actually broad agreement about the bottom line:

If our students were better prepared for college, careers, and the responsibilities of citizenship, North Carolina would reap tremendous benefits.

Liberals and conservatives disagree about means, not about the ultimate ends — and often, even our disagreements on the means of school improvement are more about priorities and details, not about basic concepts. I know these policy debates will continue for years to come. I welcome them.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth devoting more attention to those ultimate ends.”

It’s as if he is saying, “Hey, I want what you want!” but then is thinking, “But I just want to help my cronies make money from it all.”

It is also not uncommon for Hood to start throwing out cherry-picked numbers to show that current reform movements in North Carolina are helping our state regain prominence in the country. I have written about his assertions before and those of his contemporary, Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation, on this blog before. These following are links to those posts, and please note that they were written in response to something written by Hood and Stoops.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/13/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-dr-terry-stoops-and-charter-schools/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/16/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-teachers-and-advanced-degrees/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/17/open-letter-to-john-hood-unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-part-3/

If you read these posts and the pieces written by Hood and Stoops that inspired these posts, you will see that both Hood and Stoops reside in the gray nebula of lack of explanation and platitudes. Their love of broad statements and sweeping assertions really are a smokescreen for a political agenda that wants to further priviatize public education here in North Carolina.

In this latest op-ed on school reform, Hood cites work from three scholars who “reported the findings of a study they recently conducted of student performance and economic growth across all 50 states. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, Jens Ruhose of Leibnitz University, and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich” did the study.

Hood claims,

“They assert that because the level of education and skill in the labor force is associated with economic growth, more government spending on education and training will lead to more economic growth. That doesn’t logically follow, and isn’t confirmed by empirical research. Over the past 25 years, there have been some 119 academic studies probing potential relationships between state education spending and subsequent economic growth. Only 32 percent found a positive correlation.”

But what Hood doesn’t acknowledge is that North Carolina has actually proven that the converse is true. If Hood claims that spending more on state public education does not translate to subsequent economic growth, then does he claim that lowering spending would not hurt economic growth? I believe it does.

Because that is what has happened in North Carolina.

We are spending less per pupil now than we did years ago, and years ago we in North Carolina had what was considered the strongest public school system in the Southeast. Our teacher pay (no it is not better as the GOP claims for veteran teachers) is still in the lowest tier of the nation. Politicians have created grading systems that repeatedly cast public schools in a bad light to create the excuse for the very reforms that Hood champions.

Do not forget that John Hood works for Art Pope, who was the architect of the first Pat McCrory budget and campaigned to remove due-process rights from veteran teachers. He succeeded in removing them from newer teachers as well as removing graduate pay bumps – things that Hood has made hollow arguments for in the past (see referenced posts above).

But I digress. Hood then states toward the end,

“And what if we focused on low-performing students rather than average scores? If North Carolina raised all of our students to at least a “basic” level of competence in reading and math, the study found, our economy would be nearly $800 billion larger by 2095 than the baseline, an increase of 12 percent.”

Well colored me surprised or paint me green with envy because I didn’t say it first. Actually neither, because I am not as concerned about 2095.

I am concerned about 2016, 2017, 2018, and all the other years in between.

I’ll be dead in 2095. And if people like Art Pope have their way, there won’t be a public education system in North Carolina in 2095.

But our state constitution says we must have a quality one and that we must fully fund it, so we may as well fund it properly.

Oddly enough, John Hood uses Eric Hanushek of Stanford University as a buttress for his argument.

Hanushek was one of the people who wrote essays in a companion book for the documentary Waiting For Superman. I myself do not agree with the findings of that Gates-financed piece of propaganda, and in his essay “The Difference is Great Teachers” Hanushek does say that the biggest influence on a student’s performance is the teacher.

Anyone in education should read that essay, especially if you are a teacher. Hanushek claims that lowering class-size doesn’t affect student performance. That having graduate degrees doesn’t help teachers teach. He claims that if “we could simply eliminate the bottom 5 to 10 percent of teachers (two or three teachers in a school with thirty) and replace them with average teachers, we could dramatically change student outcomes” (p. 98).

I think that is pure bullshit.

If you know anything about what has happened in North Carolina in the last four years with teacher evaluation protocols, teacher salaries, removal of due-process, unregulated charter school growth, vouchers, and ideas for merit pay, then look at this essay by Hanushek and see a blue print for what people like Art Pope have financed and John Hood has vocally championed.

And then ask, are these “re-forms” really working? In a state where over 20% of children live in poverty?

By the way, people like Eric Hanushek are constantly spoken of in the same breath as Bill and Melinda Gates. It would be interesting to see how much financing the Gates Foundation has given to create studies that would show favorable results to their agenda.

Furthermore, Hanushek has been debunked quite frequently. Diane Ravitch wrote an essay in the The New York Review of Books on November 11, 2010 entitled “The Myth of charter Schools”.  In two paragraphs Dr. Ravitch pretty much squelches Hanushek’s claims about teacher effectiveness, even with some of Hanushek’s own research.

 “But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.”

So if Mr. Hood wants to tout people like Hanushek as reasons to continue traveling down the road of reform that North Carolina is on now, then so be it. It fits Mr. Hood’s agenda.

But for a state that is gutting public schools, denying Medicaid expansion, and allowing environmental concerns to not be heard, 2095 is simply a stupid date to see if these reforms are working because they are not.

What reforms Mr. Hood is praising actually seem to creating more obstacles for many in NC, and we don’t need to wait another 80 years to prove that.

I see it in 2016.

Teach For ‘Merica!

There was a very disconcerting report from Arika Herron in April 28th’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. In an article entitled “School district could partner with Teach for America to fill persistent vacancies”, Herron describes that the WSFCS system is looking at trying to fill persistently hard-to-staff job vacancies through alternative means.

There are many who look at Teach For America as fulfilling a need. Bright, young, energetic recent college graduates can devote two years (sometimes more) to educating students in hard-to-staff schools. According to Herron’s article, there are studies that show these teachers having effectiveness like their “counterparts” in the schools where they are placed.

However there are many, many critics of TFA. Sometimes referred to as “Temps For America”, TFA only requires candidates to complete a summer “crash” course in teaching before placed in schools. Critics look at this as bringing in ill-equipped teachers into schools who will only stay for a couple of years at most. In essence, it only puts a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.

Dana Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars spends some time exploring the rise of TFA and other “corps” driven ways to counter teacher shortages. While attempting to treat the subject of the reform movement in education with objectivity, Goldstein shares what are perceived as positives and negatives of Teach For America, but one quote really seems to garner the most attention from me. It is from Catherine Michna, a TFA alumna, who states,

“They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran-teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges” (p.196).

That’s not flattering coming from someone who was a part of the program.

Michelle Rhee, the former firebrand chancellor of the Washington D.C., made national headlines with her method of “house-cleaning” in the D.C. schools firing many principals and teachers immediately. She is a TFA alumna who is now championing the charter school movement in California. She expounds on TFA’s credentials quite often.

Diane Ravitch is well-known for voicing her opinions about TFA and opposing the ideology of reformers like Rhee. She even devotes a chapter in her bestselling book Reign of Error to dissecting Teach For America. She opens Chapter 14 with a claim made by proponents of TFA and then immediately follows it with a statement on the “Reality” of TFA.

CLAIM Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.

REALITY Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

In a recent March 21st, 2016  post on her iconic blog entitled “Insider:Big Trouble Inside TFA”, Ravitch posted an anonymous letter from an employee at TFA chronicling layoffs and improprieties (https://dianeravitch.net/2016/03/21/insider-big-trouble-inside-tfa/). That post nearly coincided with news that San Francisco was terminating its relationship with TFA due to poor results.

Yet, I am not simply wanting to debate TFA’s merits. There are some great teachers who naturally possess qualities and a drive to succeed that allows them to be successful in teaching. But I do have a concern over the length that many TFA’s serve in classrooms because if teaching is a professional endeavor, then does that not denote some sort of commitment beyond two years?

I would argue that it takes almost three years to even get a handle on the teaching profession. Dealing with actually developing a craft, much less get a handle on the curriculum takes time. Most teachers student-teach longer than TFA “graduates” actually train, and that is not even talking about the course work and observations beforehand.

Two to three years may not afford one person an idea of what it is like to undergo a curriculum change, a change in leadership, a new evaluation system, or a new round of standardized tests. Gosh, it took me over two years to just develop an immune system that had come into enough contact with students to not get sick every week with some malady.

Maybe it is just that fact that some teachers spend more time preparing to become teachers than many TFA’s actually serve in schools that makes me wonder.

But I believe the real issue is why would these people need to be recruited? What would make the teaching profession so hard to staff in a state that once boasted one of the best teacher education systems in its colleges and universities? How could conditions become such that school systems like WSFCS even need to look at alternative paths for teachers to become “certified” to place in a school?

Kevin Bastian of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) wrote an interesting piece for EdNC.org on May 22nd entitled “Staffing North Carolina’s classrooms”. In it, he highlighted the decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs while a teacher shortage is continuing. It is very much worth the read, not that I agree with all that he says.

What I truly feel is the root of this need for teacher recruitment through programs like TFA is a simple lack of respect for the teaching profession that many state governments have made commonplace. With stagnating salaries, more students in more classrooms, VAM evaluations, and an emphasis on singular test scores, many teachers do not feel supported and respected. Potential teachers stop even considering becoming career teachers.

In my youth, the teacher was respected he/she was the teacher. In fact, my mother believed a teacher over me when it came to academic progress. Simply put, the teacher was respected because the occupation was valued.

Is that the case today?

Sorry, that is not a rhetorical question.

My post on DianeRavitch.net – asking for the Network for Public Education to not cancel conference in Raleigh in regards to HB2

I have been fortunate to have Dr. Diane Ravitch post some of my op-eds and open letters on her national blog. She posted this one yesterday. Take a look if you can and if you are anyone who advocates for public education, there is space left for the conference in Raleigh for April 15-17. I’ll even buy you a cup of coffee.

http://dianeravitch.net/2016/03/31/stuart-egan-why-npe-must-come-to-north-carolina/