Poll: Public resists spending on schools, teachers

The public is becoming “more resistant to rising school expenditures and to raising teacher salaries,” according to Education Next‘s annual poll. However, “the public is also becoming increasingly skeptical of such reform proposals as performance pay and school vouchers.”

Half the sample was told the current per-pupil spending in their district before being asked if they favored more, less or the same funding; the other half wasn’t provided any information.

Among respondents not told actual spending levels, only 53 percent support higher funding, down 10 percentage points from the 63 percent who were supportive a year ago. Information about current spending decreases support for higher levels of spending. Among those told how much local schools currently spend, support for spending increases was 43 percent, the same as a year previously.

The average person estimated their local district spends ”$6,680 per pupil, hardly more than 50 percent of the average actual expenditure level of $12,637 per pupil in the districts where respondents live.”

 In 2013, 55 percent of respondents not informed of current pay levels favor increases in teacher pay, down from 64 percent taking that position a year ago. Meanwhile, only 37 percent of those informed of salary levels favor an increase, virtually the same as the 36 percent taking that position in 2012. Once again, we cannot attribute the change to better knowledge of actual salary levels, as average estimates of salary levels remain essentially unchanged at $36,428, about $20,000 below actual average salaries in the states where respondents live.

Support for performance pay remains at 49 percent, but “opposition to basing teacher salaries in part on student progress has grown from 27 percent to 39 percent over the past two years.”

Opposition to vouchers for all students increased from 29 percent in 2012 to 37 percent this year.

Fewer people were neutral about charter schools: support moved up from 43 to 51 percent, while opposition increased from 16 to 26 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support Common Core standards in their state,though opposition is growing, the survey found.

Common Core standards? What’s that?

Sixty-two percent of Americans haven’t heard of the new Common Core standards adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. Of those who recognized the term, “most had major misconceptions about the standards and believed that they will have no effect or will make American students less competitive with their peers across the world,” reports the Washington Post.

As in previous polls, most gave the nation’s public schools a C grade,while rating their local school as an A or B.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools, up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago. However, support for vouchers hit an all-time low.

People were sharply split on closing underenrolled neighborhood schools to save money, a strategy that has made headlines recently in cities including Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of all respondents opposed such a policy; opposition was higher among those who were not white.

As lawmakers struggle to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, more than half of the poll’s respondents — 55 percent — said they opposed providing free public education to children of people who are in the country illegally.

The majority of those polled believe that testing hasn’t improved public school performance; nearly 60 percent opposed using test scores to evaluate teachers.

That contradicts a new poll for the Joyce Foundation by Associated Press and NORC, which found that 60 percent of parents support using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The AP-NORC poll also found that most parents think standardized tests are an effective measure of their children’s performance and school quality, reports the Post.

Support for homeschooling is strong: Most say homeschooled students should be allowed to attend public school part-time and participate in athletics.

‘Restart’ weak charters

When a charter school isn’t performing well, closure isn’t the only option, argues a new Public Impact report. The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform. Instead of forcing students to find new schools, “introduce new adults who have the will and skill to help struggling students achieve, and let the students stay.”

Charter school restarts offer a way to intervene when performance does not meet expectations–and not just as a last-ditch effort to avoid closure. Restarts can also be used proactively by responsible boards and authorizers when the conditions are right.

This report describes how restarts worked at five charter schools in Chicago, New Orleans, Trenton, New York and Philadelphia.

Oakland’s school board plans to close three very high-scoring charters because it believes the American Indian Model Schools board remains under the thumb of founder Ben Chavis, who resigned amid conflict of interest charges.  Students will be forced to transfer to lower-performing schools. Why not restart with a new board?

Urban districts compete with charters

Urban school districts are changing  to compete with charter schools, according to researchers Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken in Education Next.

While some districts try to block the spread of charters, others are cooperating and collaborating with charters, replicating successful charter school practices and marketing their services to students and families.

For example, Denver Public Schools created the Blueprint Schools Network to ”re-create within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools, and keep the state funding.”

 

No choice for the wealthy

Actor Matt Damon, who opposes school choice for low-income students, has chosen to send his children to private school in Los Angeles, where he’s just moved, notes Andrew Rotherham in TIME, who calls the actor a “hypocrite.” The son of a teacher turned education professor, Damon has campaigned against education reform and in favor of public education. But he says there are no progressive public schools in Los Angeles, so “we don’t have a choice.”

Los Angeles has many charter schools and traditional public schools in demand by parents, responds Rotherham. Superintendent John Deasy offered to help Damon “tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

 In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

“Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college,” writes Rotherham. That increases social mobility and reduces inequality. “If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?”

Wealthy parents can afford to live in an area with excellent public schools. That’s the most common choice for those who value public education.

Damon’s new movie, Elysium, is about a future dystopia were the uber-wealthy live in an edenic space station — with great medical care — while the 99.9 percent suffer on a polluted Earth.

What do parents really want?

Seventy-seven percent of parents “choose strong neighborhood public schools over expanding choice, charters and vouchers, concludes a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, Public School Parents on the Promise of Public Education.

That contradicts research by less-biased groups, writes Daniela Fairchild on Education Gadfly.

It “finds,” for example, that just 24 percent of parents support school choice—dramatically fewer than other recent polls report. The latest Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, conducted in August 2012, found that 66 percent of Americans supported charters and 44 percent are warm to private school choice. And the 2012 PEPG/Education Next survey concurred: Sixty-two percent of Americans favor charter schools.

So why the disconnect? . . . The AFT’s poll asks parents to choose between “good public schools” that offer “safe conditions” and an “enriching curriculum” and private schools paid for “at the public expense.” The former—naturally—won the day.

Other AFT questions are riddled with the same problem (see Terry Moe’s excellent book for more on how question framing pre-determines answers).

The vast majority of African-American voters in the South strongly support school choice, according to a survey by the Black Alliance for Educational Options. As the name suggests, BAEO supports school choice.

In Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, 85 percent to 89 percent of those surveyed wanted as many educational choices as possible.  A majority — 55 percent to 57 percent — said they would choose a different school for their child.

Like AFT, BAEO got the answers it wanted.

 

CREDO: Charters do better in reading

Charter students show greater learning gains in reading and similar gains in math compared to students in traditional public schools, concludes the National Charter School Study 2013 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The neediest students show the strongest gains: Low-income students, blacks and English Learners “gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math” if they attended charter schools rather than traditional public schools, the study found.

More charter schools are high performers and some underperforming charters have closed, concludes CREDO, which analyzed data from 26 states and New York City.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students,” says Dr. Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO.

Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students, the study found.

Charters do the best for the worst students, according to an MIT analysis reported by the Boston Globe.

Lower-income students who performed poorly on tests while attending traditional public schools did much better after enrolling in charter schools. Moreover, their improvement was greater than fellow charter students who had previously tested well in traditional public schools.

In other words, those most in need of educational improvement tended to benefit the most from charter schools.

A string of recent studies have found urban charter schools produce learning gains, while suburban and rural charters have mixed results.

Empowering the best, testing the rest

How can we “create an accountability system that empowers excellent educators to create top-notch schools while ensuring a basic level of quality for everyone?” asks Fordham’s Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Petrilli once believed that “educator autonomy, plus parental choice, would lead us to the Promised Land.”  At Fordham, which embraced “let a thousand flowers bloom,” he helped plant a few charters in Dayton, Ohio. The “flowers that turned out to be, err, more like skunk cabbage.”

Empowering educators was necessary, but not sufficient, he concluded.

You can’t just empower anyone—you have to empower a team of people who actually know what they are doing. And these people, collectively, must have the capacity to run a great school. They need to have a coherent pedagogical vision, know how to build a curriculum, know how to create a positive school culture, know how to build and follow a sensible budget, know how to put reasonable “internal controls” in place, know how to recruit a great staff, and on and on. These people, it turns out, are scarcer than I had realized at age 22.

And then you have to hold these schools accountable for getting strong results with kids.

The charter movement started with the idea that each school would commit to the results it would achieve, customizing the metrics to the school’s goals, writes Petrilli. In response to No Child Left Behind, charter leaders agreed to take the same exams and be judged by test scores like other public schools.

Petrilli suggests keeping testing and accountability as the default system, but with better standards and tests.

Students are tested annually; schools are held accountable for making solid progress from September to June, with greater progress expected for students who are further behind. States and districts give these schools lots of assistance—with curriculum development, teacher training, and the like. Such a default system won’t lead to widespread excellence, but it will continue to raise the floor so that the “typical” school in America becomes better than it is today.

All public schools—district and charter—could opt out by proposing a different set of accountability measures that might reflect the long-term success of their graduates or the willingness to face school “inspections.”

Flipping the factory model

Despite national honors, long wait lists and a feature spot in Waiting for Superman, California’s Summit charter schools needed radical change, CEO Diane Tavenner decided.

. . . “we took the factory model high school and did it significantly better,” Tavenner explains. “We made it smaller, more personal, with no tracking, longer hours, more support for kids. We recruited very talented teachers and fully developed them. But it’s still a factory model and kids are moving through that system.”

In Learning Optimized on Education Next, I explain Summit’s experimental “optimized learning environment” at its two new San Jose charter high schools.

 Two hundred 9th and 10th graders at a time spend two hours a day studying math and brushing up on basic skills. They start at a work station by opening their personal guide, reading e-mail from the math teachers, and setting goals. Students can choose from a “playlist” of online learning resources, seek help at the “tutoring bar,” participate in teacher-led discussions in breakout rooms, or work on group projects, such as designing a water fountain.

When they’re ready, students take an online test to see if they’ve reached their goals. The math team, five teachers and two coaches, keeps students on track.

Nearly all Summit graduates go on to college, but Tavenner was disappointed with graduation rates for the first graduating class. Taking AP classes isn’t enough, she decided. Students need to be “self-directed learners” to handle the challenges of college. Summit is opening new schools and expanding its “optimized” experiment.

Michael Horn writes about The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms, also on Education Next.

Pulling the parent trigger

More than a half-dozen states now have parent trigger laws that let a majority of parents seize control of a low-performing school, notes Education Next.

Empowered Families Can Transform the System, argues Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, which has led the parent trigger drives.

Parents enduring a parent trigger campaign are transformed. Some, like the parents at Desert Trails, are forced to endure lengthy legal battles, a process most of them have never experienced. Others, including the parents of 24th Street Elementary School and also Haddon Avenue Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), find a responsive school district that wants to collaborate with them in changing their school.

. . . Many of these parents, for the first time in their lives, feel real power, not only over their child’s destiny but over their own as well. These parents, and parents like them, are the key to the future of public education in America.

“Parents don’t care if a public school is a traditional district school or a charter school,” writes Austin. “They just want it to be a good school.”

There’s a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power, responds Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. While “it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger,” it’s not likely to turn around many schools or force significant reform.

First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to much. And third, empowering parents via the parent trigger (creating a “bargaining chip”) won’t be enough to force larger changes in dysfunctional districts—because nothing will force such change.

Petrilli favors expanding school choice with more charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. Even if choice doesn’t force districts to improve, it will give parents more options for their children, he argues.

Try the trigger, writes Checker Finn, also of Fordham. Since “most bad districts are going to stay bad,” serious reformers need to “give kids every possible exit” into something better. “Helping an entire school to extricate itself from the dysfunctional system is surely one such strategy. Instead of pooh-poohing it, how about we put it on the list of possibilities, wish it well, and do our damnedest to help it succeed as often as possible?”