School choice? That’s too scary

We Don’t Want School Choice — complete with a Choice Monster — is satire from ChoiceMedia.TV.

EdNavigator, a new nonprofit with a New Orleans pilot, helps parents choose the best school for their kids and track their progress. It’s free for parents. Funding comes from employers and charities.

For example, Erica, a hotel housekeeper, had six children in five different schools. Ed Navigator helped her transfer two younger children from a “D”-rated school to their eighth grade sister’s “B”-rated school using an “obscure sibling consolidation process.”

International House Hotel, which partners with EdNavigator, gave her paid time-off to complete the registration. The school provided free uniforms.

Zuck’s bucks: Are Newark kids learning more?

In 2010, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to turn Newark’s schools into a “symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Mayor Cory Booker raised another $100 million. 

In The Prize, Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff describes what happened. “It feels like a wash,” she tells the Newark Star-Ledger‘s Tom Moran. “Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not.”

Reforms didn’t tackle poverty and family dysfunction, she says. District schools don’t provide “extra teachers, tutors, social workers, counselors, and a dean of students whose job it is to be sure there’s an adult in every child’s life.” The best charters do provide extra support, because they get much more money to the classroom.

Only about half the money that goes into the district actually reaches the classroom. . . . The rest is spent inside the bureaucracy. There is supposed to be an economy of scale in a big system, yet the charters, which get less money per kid, get more money in the classroom.

. . . the district spends $1.200 per child on custodians. KIPP charter schools spend $400.

Newark spends $22,300 per student in district schools, writes Moran. Russakoff would like to see “a forensic audit to find out why this money doesn’t reach the classroom.”

Newark students are better off, even though “reformers blew the politics” and triggered a huge backlash, argues Moran.

Nearly a third of the city’s students now are in charters, and Newark has some of the best urban charters in the country, according to a study by Stanford’s CREDO.

For example, TEAM Academy students — 92 percent are black and 88 percent eligible for a subsidized lunch — beat the state average on reading and math tests. Ninety-five percent of TEAM high school graduates enroll in college.

District-run K-8 schools are doing no worse, Moran writes, and reading proficiency and graduation rates have improved in the high schools.

In  Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera mourns the children “left behind” in district-run schools. But he also wonders where the money is going.

The KIPP charter network, which runs Spark, gets $16,400 per Spark pupil, of which $12,664 is devoted to the school. The district schools get $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 trickles down to the schools. Money that the charter school is spending on extra support is being soaked up by the bloated bureaucracy in the public school system.

Zuckerberg has pledged to donate $120 million to start new district and charter schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and improve existing schools. It will include “listening to the needs of local educators and community leaders.”

NOLA’s new public schools lure middle class

Stephanie and Ben McLeish walk their children Micah, 5, ila, 7, and Silas, 9, right, to their local charter school, while their youngest Levi, 2, is pushed in the stroller.

The first signs of gentrification can be seen in New Orleans public schools, writes Danielle Deilinger in the Times-Picayune.

St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Despite a record of excellence, St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Before Hurricane Katrina, “few people with financial resources, regardless of race, put their kids in a New Orleans public school,” she writes.

Most public students were overwhelmingly poor and black, except for those who attended a handful of schools with entrance requirements. Private schools enrolled a quarter of school-age children.

New Orleans’ public students are as poor as ever: Three quarters qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. However, white enrollment has doubled — to 7 percent.

“Several new schools are attracting families who could afford private or parochial school, the same type of families who started leaving the school system 45 years ago,” writes Dreilinger.

. . . Morris Jeff Community School and Bricolage Academy are among the city’s new hot schools, according to enrollment numbers. So is Lycée Français, a language-immersion charter. They join pre–Hurricane Katrina favorites: Lusher Charter, Ben Franklin High, Edward Hynes Charter, Audubon Charter, the International School.

Before the storm, Morris Jeff was a low-performing school for low-income black students. Reinvented as a charter school, it’s now 40 percent white and non-poor. Eighty-four percent of fifth graders test as proficient in reading and math.

New Orleans’ Catholic schools are losing students, reports Jon Marcus. “Parents know they have a lot of choice,” said Karen Henderson, principal at St. Rita, which offers pre-kindergarten through Grade 7.

Life and death of an urban high school

Once the largest high school in the U.S., Queens’ Jamaica High had only 24 students in its final graduation class, writes Jelani Cobb in The Life and Death of Jamaica High School in The New Yorker.

Cobb, who went to Jamaica High in its prime, earned a diploma in 1987 and went on to Howard.


The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.

The New York City Department of Education closed the once respected high school due to “persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent,” he writes. Four new “small schools” now share the old building.

The high school started to slip when talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other schools, a magnet and an exam school, on college campuses, Cobb writes.

In 2004, the Bloomberg administration let students apply to any high school in the city. Savvy parents found the best schools. Less-savvy parents took what was left.

Once a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix, Jamaica High became 99 percent minority and 63 percent low-income in the year before it closed.

In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, hunger strikers hope to save Dyett High School, a low-performing school that has lost students to competing schools.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of destabilizing the school in 2014 by starving it of resources.

A community group wants to run it as a neighborhood school with a focus on “leadership and green technology.” The principal envisions a school with an sports theme. Another proposal would create an arts theme.

“Schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships, writes Eve Ewing. “Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.”

Bronzeville parents have been choosing alternatives to Dyett for years now, just as Queens parents have been choosing alternatives to Jamaica High. Can they be persuaded to return to the neighborhood school?

Indiana is #1 in parent power

ParentPowerIndex2015 2

Indiana remains the “reformiest” state in the union on the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power Index.

A much-tested and improved charter school law offers a wide variety of options. A path-breaking, statewide school choice program has attracted tens of thousands of parents who have chosen private schools for their children. Indiana also offers more digital learning opportunities than most states and can boast a pretty decent record of teacher quality measures that put the public in the driver’s seat.

Indiana gets an “A.” Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Utah earn “B” grades on the index.

Yes, New Orleans schools are better

New Orleans’ schools have improved significantly since Katrina devastated the city 10 years ago, writes Douglas N. Harris, a Tulane economics professors who directs the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and most attendance zones were eliminated. The state took control of almost all public schools and began holding them to relatively strict standards of academic achievement. Over time, the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs) that, in turn, dramatically reshaped the teacher workforce.

Test scores, once very low, are now higher than in comparison Louisiana districts that were affected by the hurricane but didn’t remake their school systems. More New Orleans’ students are earning high school diplomas and going on to college.

The research looks at various confounding factors: Students who returned to New Orleans were slightly better students than those who left — the poorest neighborhoods suffered the worst flooding — accounting for a small percentage of the gains. On the flip side, most returnees were struggling with trauma and dislocation, depressing school performance. ednext_XV_4_harris_fig01-small

The gains are real and significant, Harris concludes. “The effects are also large compared with other completely different strategies for school improvement, such as class-size reduction and intensive preschool,” even factoring in higher per-student spending in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The state has the authority to close low-performing schools and to choose new school operators with a record of academic success. In a city with 90 public schools, 16 schools have been closed and 30 taken over.

School leaders can hire and fire the teachers they want. Teachers are much less experienced and less likely to have traditional certification. Turnover is high. Yet despite these metrics going in the “wrong direction,” schools have seen large improvements in student learning, writes Harris.

Two factors helped: The schools were so bad before Katrina, they had “no place to go but up.” In addition, teachers saw New Orleans as an exciting place to live and work.

Parents can choose from an array of different schools with different specialties. They can use the OneApp to apply to multiple schools (89 percent of the city’s public schools participate), ranking their preferences.

Campbell Brown launches ‘The 74’

Former NBC News and CNN anchor Campbell Brown has launched a new “online education newsroom” called The Seventy Four.

“Through our reporting we will advocate for a public school system that truly serves the 74 million children in this country,” she writes. “We will fiercely challenge those forces within the education establishment who impede innovation in our schools and who protect and defend inequality and institutional failure. And we will champion the principals, teachers and parents who are demanding the highest standards and best education possible for all of our kids.”

The Seventy Four will host live forums on education in New Hampshire and Iowa. They will gather “prominent elected officials, political influencers, and education thought leaders to discuss the greatest challenges facing America’s education system.”

The launch includes a story on The Great Miami Turnaround led by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who’s expanding magnets, charters and other schools of choice.

Roughly 62 percent of students—that’s more than 200,000 kids—will attend one of these programs in the 2015-16 school year, either in a separate, all-inclusive school like iPrep or a part-time program within a traditional neighborhood school. Some 30 new programs open each year, ranging in specialty from conservation biology to the performing arts to vocational training.

Carvalho came from Portugal at 17, without parents or documents. While working as a restaurant busboy, he met a legislator who helped him get a student visa and work permit and persuaded him to take community college classes.

One application opens up choice

Cincinnati parents camped out to enroll their children in a popular magnet school.

In Waiting For Kindergarten, a Cincinnati parent told the story of the 16 days he spent camping out in a tent to get his child into an elite magnet school.  Eventually, tents in front of Fairview-Clifton German Language School “filled the entire hillside each night.”

There’s a better way to manage school choice, writes Alexander Russo in the Washington Monthly.  Most magnets and charters hold lotteries to decide who gets in.  Often parents have to attend meetings, fill out multiple applications on paper and meet “a dazzling array of deadlines.”

Savvy parents have an edge.

Unified Enrollment is making it easier for parents to apply.  “All schools — district, magnet, and charter — operate under one timeline, one form (or website) and one lottery.”

A handful of cities already have it: Denver, DC, Newark, and New Orleans. NYC has it for high schools only. A handful more like Baltimore and LA have streamlined their process but stopped short of a fully unified system.  I’m told it’s being contemplated in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Oakland, Camden, and Detroit.

The benefits of a streamlined system are obvious. Before it created the unified system in 2011, there were 62 different forms and application deadlines in Denver. Now there’s one form, one date, and parents rank their preferences so that schools don’t have to go through an extended waiting period while parents figure out what they’re going to do.

However, it’s hard to get everyone on board, writes Russo. “Chicago and Philly both tried and failed to get it done, blocked by a variety of factors including angry parents and reluctant charters.”

Nevada OKs vouchers for all

Starting next school year, Nevada parents will be able to use public funds to pay for private or parochial school, an online learning program or the costs of homeschooling, reports the Washington Post. Low-income families or students with disabilities can receive $5,700 per year, what the state spends per student. More affluent families will receive about $5,100 a year.

Including local and federal funding, Nevada public schools received an average of $8,339 per student in 2013, well below the national average of $10,700.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice in Carson City, Nevada.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice proposals in Carson City, Nevada.

Under the new law, children must be enrolled in a public school for at least 100 days before they can use the money, which will be held in an Education Savings Account.

Choice advocates are pushing the idea in Georgia, Iowa and Rhode Island.

Since 2006, 27 states have opted for vouchers, tax credits for donations to scholarship funds or education savings accounts, notes the Post. Most programs are limited to low-income or disabled students.

Earlier this year, the Nevada legislature approved tax credits to businesses that donate money to a scholarship fund to help low-income students attend private schools.

The Friedman Foundation, which backs the Nevada plan, identified a Las Vegas parent who hopes to use the new vouchers.

Aurora Espinoza, a single mother who works as a solar-panel sales representative, said her children’s current public schools — which are among the nation’s fastest-growing — are so crowded that it’s hard for them to learn.

She hopes to enroll her daughters in a private school next year.


Parents don’t choose diversity

Parent choice is making San Francisco schools more segregated, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mural at San Francisco's Cleveland Elementary School.

Mural at San Francisco’s Cleveland Elementary School.

One third of the city’s public schools are “racially isolated,” which means 60+ percent of students are of the same racial or ethnic group.

Overall, 41 percent of the city’s public school students are Asian-American, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white, 10 percent black and the rest “other.” About 30 percent of the city’s young people attend private or parochial schools.

Here’s a non-surprise:

Diversity and integration are rarely cited as top factors in choosing a public school. Instead, district surveys of parents show the safety of a school’s neighborhood, the quality of its staff and its reputation are paramount.

Clarendon, the high-achieving school in the story is about one third Asian, one third white and the rest Latino, black and mixed. It offers a Japanese bilingual program for some students; the rest learn Italian.

At the low-achieving school, Cleveland, 82 percent of students come from low-income and working-class Latino families. Parents choose the school because it’s close to home. It offers a Spanish bilingual program.

Cleveland receives $360,000 more than Clarendon from the state each year — $1,000 per student — because its students are so poor and so many of them don’t speak English. The idea is to direct more resources to the neediest schools, but Clarendon more than offsets that through avid parent fundraising and donations from the Japanese and Italian consulates.

(Cleveland Principal March)Sanchez uses the extra state money for basic support, including separate Spanish and English literacy coaches, a technology teacher, tablet computers and laptops.

After being trained by a nonprofit to be an activist, mother Ana Hodgson is “done with public schools,” reports the Chronicle. She got her son into a summer program for low-income achievers that helped him get a scholarship at a private middle school.