More choices, more lawsuits

If 2011 was the year of school choice — including tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, charters and vouchers — 2012 was the year of school choice lawsuits, notes Education Next.

Many of the laws, including Indiana’s voucher program, Arizona’s savings accounts, and a new voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado, were challenged in court shortly after passage. These legal challenges stalled reform and kept the school choice movement fighting for a clear identity. Is school choice just for certain student groups, like low-income children, or can it actually change the public school system?

For some laws, such as Indiana’s, a legal challenge did not prevent thousands of students from participating in the program’s first year. In other cases, as with Colorado’s voucher initiative, courts shut down the program just as the school year began, leaving hundreds of students uncertain as to whether they could remain at their new schools.

“Legal challenges to school-choice programs have become as inevitable and painful as death and taxes,” says Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

Can technology replace teachers?

Can Technology Replace Teachers?  As part of a series of layoffs and salary cuts, Eagle County, Colorado’s school district  replaced three French and German teachers with online instruction, reports Ed Week. Nobody’s arguing the online courses are just as good, but enrollments were high enough to justify keeping the teachers.

Technology can help teachers do more, not serve as a replacement, writes Coach G.

Colorado’s 2-year colleges claim $3 billion impact

Colorado’s community colleges provide $3 billion in economic benefits to the state, a new study estimates.

Erie, Pennsylvania hoped to revive a depressed economy by building a community college to provide affordable job training. But it didn’t happen.

Four-day school week raises achievement

When rural schools move to a four-day week, test scores go up, along with student and teacher attendance, reports a study by Georgia State and Montana State researchers. And schools save money on transportation and utility bills, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

The study looked at fourth-grade scores in Colorado, where more than a third of districts — typically small, poor and rural — have moved to a longer day and a shorter week.

Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.

The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.)

A four-day week creates child-care problems for parents, the researchers warned. It could give unsupervised children more time to get into trouble. Or it could make it easier for teens to hold part-time jobs, possibly decreasing the dropout rate.

Of course, what’s true in rural areas with long bus rides to school may not apply to urban and suburban schools.

$2 billion for remedial ed — and it doesn’t work

Remedial education costs community colleges $2 billion a year – and only a quarter of students go on to earn a credential. Colleges know it’s broke, but not how to fix it.

Colorado community colleges have improved success rates for remedial students. Unfortunately, more high school graduates require remediation.


Online students fall behind, transfer

Colorado’s online K-12 students fall behind their former classmates and often quit virtual schools to go back to brick-and-mortar classrooms, reports EdNews Colorado. The state compensates schools based on enrollment in the fall, so students bring no funding to their old schools if they give up on virtual schooling after a few months.

According to an I-News/EdNews analysis, half of Colorado’s online students quit within a year. Most lose ground on reading and math scores.  (See snapshots of the state’s five largest online programs.)

Online schools produce three times as many dropouts as they do graduates. One of every eight online students drops out of school permanently – a rate four times the state average.

. . . most are not struggling academically when they leave their traditional schools. Among the 2,400 online students who had taken a state standardized reading test in a brick-and-motor school the year before, the analysis showed that more than half had scored proficient or better.

At Branson Online School, one of the state’s oldest online programs, students beat the statewide average in proficiency in reading and were six percentage points short in math.

(Assistant Superintendent Judith) Stokes said growth slowed when the school focused on ensuring families understood the online program before enrolling because, “If you’re looking for easy, it’s not us.”

Full-time online students are exceptionally mobile in Ohio, as well, writes Bill Tucker on Education Next. He worries if teen-agers understand what they’re getting into when they sign up for a virtual school.


Act up in class, end up in court

Campus police officers — not principals — are enforcing discipline these days, reports the Washington Post.

Texas police issue thousands of misdemeanor tickets for offensive language, class disruption, schoolyard fights and misbehavior on the school bus. A parent must appear with the child in court. Students may be ordered to perform community service or take a behavior-management class. Fines can total $500.

Six in 10 Texas students were suspended or expelled at least once from seventh grade on, according to a new study. Federal officials say suspensions, expulsions and arrests create a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“That is something that clearly has to stop,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

It’s not just Texas. In many states, principals are turning to the police to enforce order.

Connecticut is rethinking discipline after students faced court charges for drinking soda, running in the hall and dressing improperly.

A Colorado task force is analyzing school ticketing and law enforcement referrals.

Texas schools adopted ticketing in the 1990’s, the Post reports. As more police officers have been assigned to schools, the number of tickets has soared.

In one highly publicized case a middle school student in Austin was ticketed for class disruption after she sprayed herself with perfume when classmates said she smelled.

In Houston one recent day, a 17-year-old was in court after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other. “She was mad at me because I broke up with her,” he said.

Ticketing rates vary from 1 percent of students in Pasadena to 11 percent in Galveston, concluded a report by Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center. Children as young as five have been ticketed.

Not surprisingly, students who’ve been suspended, expelled or ticketed are more likely to drop out of high school and get into trouble as adults. But that raises a chicken-and-egg question: Was it the punishment or the crime?


Judge halts vouchers in Colorado

Days before the start of school, a Colorado judge has blocked a voucher plan. Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez issued a permanent injunction of the Douglas County district’s pilot Choice Scholarship Program.

“The prospect of having millions of dollars of public school funding diverted to private schools, many of which are religious and lie outside of the Douglas County School District, creates a sufficient basis to establish standing for taxpayers seeking to ensure lawful spending of these funds,” Martinez wrote in his ruling.

The pilot program allows up to 500 students already enrolled in Douglas County public schools to receive up to $4,575 toward tuition at a private school.  The district already had made the first payment to parents of 265 of 304 students who’d applied.


Racially diverse dolls in day care

Colorado day-care providers would be required to provide dolls representing at least three races, under a proposal being considered by the Department of Human Services.

In other rule changes: Children over age two must not be served whole milk without a note from a doctor, kids over age one can’t drink more than six ounces of juice per day, TV and computer time will be capped at twenty minutes daily, and staffers must wear clothing that covers the lap and shoulders. (What’s so bad about bare shoulders? Search me.)

That’s why they call it the nanny state.

I’m not sure children that young are conscious of race unless adults work hard to make them think it’s important. We’re visiting the grandkids today in Maryland.  Julia, who’s two, is very fond of Elmo on Sesame Street. He’s red.  Grover is blue. Are they different races? Who cares?

Colorado: Tell parents of teacher’s arrest?

Colorado parents  must be told if a school staffer is arrested on felony charges or for any sex or drug offense, under a regulation passed by the State Board of Education.

The law calls for notifying parents if the DA drops charges but — a puzzling omission — not if the teacher is acquitted.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is challenging the regulation in court.

As the union points out, not everyone arrested for a crime is guilty.

My niece’s sixth-grade teacher, a man, left a few months before the end of the school year. Parents weren’t told why and nobody’s produced a shred of informtion. The rumors have gone wild. The teacher’s name is mud.

A new company now publishes arrests that have been posted online — but will supress the arrest record and clear the arrest from search engines for a $99 fee, writes Clayton Cramer on Pajamas Media.  It’s very close to extortion, but legal.  Career criminals won’t care, but the  person arrested once by mistake risks a potential employer, a landlord — even a googling girlfriend — finding the arrest record online with no explanation about dropped charges or acquittal.