Charters adopt common applications

Applying to charter schools is getting easier in some cities, reports Education Week. Charter schools are adopting universal enrollment systems and common applications, so parents can apply to multiple charter schools at the same time.

• Denver launched a centralized enrollment system called SchoolChoice in 2010 for all district-run and charter schools in the 85,000-student system.

• In New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District, in partnership with the Orleans Parish School Board, debuted a universal enrollment system called OneApp for charter and district-run schools in February 2012 and is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system serving the city’s 44,000 students.

• The Newark and District of Columbia school systems are making plans to implement universal enrollment systems for their district-run and charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Before OneApp, New Orleans parents had to deal with multiple applications, deadlines and lotteries. Now they apply once for both district-run and charter schools, ranking their choices in order of preference. Each student gets one “best offer.”

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.”

 

Denver remediates collegebound grads

Denver Public Schools is providing free remedial math and English classes over the summer for collegebound graduates. One summer student failed the placement test at the University of Colorado-Pueblo, despite earning a 3.1 grade-point average in high school.

After dropping out of high school in ninth grade, Krista LeBrun earned a GED at 17 — and kept going till she got a PhD.

Teachers: Suspensions are down, but so is safety

Denver schools have cut suspensions and expulsions dramatically, but some teachers say their schools aren’t safe, reports Jenny Brundin on Colorado Public Radio.

“Students have threatened to follow teachers home and jump them,” says Greg Ahrnsbrak, who teaches at Bruce Randolph, a 6th-12th grade school in north Denver.

 We’ve had students who have threatened to bring a gun and kill teachers. We’ve had students who’ve threatened to kill all of us with a bomb. Our administrators have tried to expel some of them and they’re told they can’t.

“Our schools are safe,” says Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson.

But, nearly all of the staff at Denver’s Morey Middle School, Bruce Randolph and Munroe Elementary schools signed a letter complaining there are no consequences for fighting or cursing at a teacher.

A local parent and youth activist group Padres y Jovenes Unidos, pushed for the new discipline policy. “We had thousands of students being referred to the police for minor discipline issues, like being disruptive in class,” says Lalo Montoya.

Now the discipline process is complex, writes Brundin. “In order to get a belligerent kid removed from school or even class, it takes multiple steps, and sometimes weeks of documentation that teachers say cuts into teaching time. Kids know that and push boundaries.”

A teacher, who didn’t want to use her name, says she used to be able to ask a disruptive student to leave the classroom, knowing the student would leave.

And now they won’t. They refuse. So you’ve got to call security. Actually,  just yesterday, I had a student who was using horrible language, just yelling these awful, awful things. I asked him to stop. He said he would and he didn’t. And then he started laying hands on some of the other students, kicking, hitting, pushing. Just very violent. So I called for security. Security comes out and says, “I will ask him to come with me, but I can tell you right now, he’s not going to come.”

Students can be sent to an in-school-suspension room, where they’re supposed to get counseling. But schools don’t have enough counselors.

Student: When kids get real angry, they just be cussin’ at the teachers, and the teachers really don’t even do nothin’. They just send us to the SI office. You just sit down, do your work and just wait until the next period and get your stuff and go!

Students can be suspended or expelled for bringing guns or knives to school, Wilson says. He concedes schools need more support to make the new discipline policy work. An extra $1.5 million is budgeted for mental health specialists next year, targeting mainly middle schools.

Via Education Week.

Charters get $4,000 less per student

Charter schools received one third less per-pupil funding — about $4,000 less per student — than district-run schools in Denver, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles in 2007 to 2011, according to a University of Arkansas study commissioned by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. “In the large, urban school districts evaluated, traditional public schools receive substantially more local, state and federal funds than public charter schools,” said lead researcher Larry Maloney.

As of 2011, the charter funding gap ranged from $2,684 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in Washington D.C.

Denver—$11,139; $2,684 less than regular public schools
Los Angeles—$8,780; $4,666 less than regular public schools
Milwaukee—$10,298; $4,720 less than regular public schools
Newark—$15,973; $10,214 less than regular public schools
District of Columbia—$16,361; $12,784 less than regular public schools

The research will appear in the September issue of The Journal of School Choice.

A 2010 Ball State study of charter school funding in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that charter school students received 19.2 percent (or $2,247) less per-pupil funding than students in regular public schools.

Report: Close bad charters, expand good ones

Urban charter schools outperform traditional public schools in five cities, concludes Searching for Excellence, a Fordham report conducted by Public Impact. However, urban charter students trail students in their home states, who are much less likely to be living in poverty.

The study looked at charter performance in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. In each city, charter quality varied greatly from school to school.

 . . . there are deeply troubled charters—some whose academic results can’t even match up with their long-suffering district peers. but on the other hand, there are fantastic charters—some whose academic performance competes with the best schools in their states.

Fordham calls for closing the worst-performing 10 percent of charters and expanding the top 10 percent.

In Cleveland, the policy of closure and aggressive replication of high-performing schools would, Public Impact estimates, result in charter schools vastly outperforming the district schools in five years. Moreover, this policy would put Cleveland’s charters on track to perform on par with the state average by year five.

Charter schools educate 30+ percent of public school students in seven cities — New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, DC,  Kansas City, Flint, Gary; and St. Louis — and 20+ percent in 18 cities.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and revolution in Denver

“Students in the Denver Public Schools need to know reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, but what about the fourth “r” — revolution? asks the Washington Times.

New teacher-assessment criteria described a “distinguished” teacher as one who “encourages students to challenge and question the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.” The district’s “Framework for Effective Teaching” also said teachers would be scored on whether “[s]tudents appear comfortable challenging the dominant culture in respectful ways.”

After critics complained, the district eliminated references to the “dominant culture” and “social change.”

The updated language says a top teacher “encourages students to think critically about equity and bias in society, and to understand and question historic and prevailing currents of thought as well as dissenting and diverse viewpoints,” and “cultivates students’ ability to understand and openly discuss drivers of, and barriers to, opportunity and equity in society.”

Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the “real intent” was to produce students who are “critical thinkers.”

But what if they want to think critically about the meaning of “social justice” or question the prevailing definition of “equity?”

Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.

Money isn’t everything

Money isn’t everything. Five years ago, donors offered to pay college tuition for all graduates of public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Students can use the offer at any public college or university in the state. While 81 percent of graduates receive a scholarship, only 54 percent have earned a degree or remain on track to graduate, according to the Hechinger Report.

College-funding programs exist in 15 to 20 cities, including Denver, Pittsburgh, New Haven, Connecticut and Hammond, Indiana.

In Pittsburgh’s program, the percentage of scholarship recipients who return to their public four-year colleges after freshman year trails the state average by nearly three points, said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, which launched in 2007 with a $100 million commitment by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The picture for community college students on Pittsburgh Promise scholarships is brighter: 70.3 percent return for their second year, about 10 points above the national average. Graduation data are not yet available because the program is so new.

In Denver, half of the 199 students in the first class eligible for that city’s promise-style program came back for their fourth year of college, said Rana Tarkenton, director of student services at the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Most promise-style scholarships reward residency in a school district, city or state, rather than academic merit, though some set minimum grade-point averages or college-entrance exam scores. The effect is to encourage less-prepared students to try college.

To keep their scholarships, Kalamazoo Promise students must be enrolled full time in a two-year or four-year college and maintain a C average. The program’s graduation rates are lowest at two-year colleges, as they are in the rest of the U.S: only a third of the Class of 2006 who attended community college had graduated by the fall of 2010, program statistics show. The following year’s class didn’t do much better. Nationally, just 11.6 percent of students at public two-year colleges complete degrees within six years.

Many students aren’t prepared for the academic or social challenges of higher education, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

“It’s especially hard for students who come from poor areas and don’t have support networks,” said Jones, one of the founders of Twenty-First Century Scholars, a promise-style program founded in Indiana in the 1990s. “Just giving them the opportunity to go to college isn’t enough. They need support once they get there – mentoring, ways for students to connect.”

Students who are the first in their family to attend college have to learn how to navigate the system, said University of Michigan freshman Adwoa Bobo, a pre-med student on a Promise scholarship. While her tuition is covered, she has to pay for room, board, books and other expenses.

“The hardest adjustment for me is being able to manage my time, and being able to study effectively,” Bobo said. “In high school, I was able to pass through without studying too much. In college, you cannot get good grades without taking notes and studying every night for each class and reading your books thoroughly. You must work hard. I’ve been told that college was harder than high school, but you never know what they mean until you’re here.”

Students who live at home while attending community college or a four-year commuter school can earn a degree at a very low cost in dollars, but those who aren’t willing to invest their time and energy aren’t going to get very far.

Discipline by race

If  schools discipline more blacks or Hispanics than white students, federal officials warn they’ll use “disparate impact analysis” to charge civil rights violations, reports Education Week.

Under “disparate impact,” schools can be in violation if discipline policies affect one racial group more than others, even if there’s no evidence of unequal treatment for the same offense or an intent to discriminate.  An education agency would be found out of compliance if an equally sound policy would have less of a disparate impact, Russlyn Ali,an Education Department official, told Ed Week.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at a conference he was “deeply troubled by rising discipline rates and disparities in discipline” in the nation’s schools.  The department has launched compliance reviews in the Christina School District in Wilmington, Del.; the Salamanca City (N.Y.) Central School District; Winston-Salem/Forsyth (N.C.) County Schools; San Juan (Utah) School District; and Rochester (Minn.) Public Schools. All involve both different-treatment and disparate-impact analyses.

Roger Clegg, president of Center for Equal Opportunity, warned the policy could push schools to manipulate the data rather than enforce rules fairly.

“In education, with respect to discipline, my concern would be that school districts are afraid they will be hauled before a court or some administration agency and threatened with a loss of federal funding whenever they have a racial imbalance of one kind or another,” he said. He explained that educators might become hypersensitive to students’ race or ethnicity in discipline decisions, resulting in disciplining some students who shouldn’t be and not disciplining others who deserve it.

In most districts, suspension rates are much higher for black and Hispanic students. Denver Public Schools changed its policies in response to complaints from a local community group, says Allegra “Happy” Haynes, the chief community-engagement officer.

The district implemented a “discipline ladder,” for example, that spelled out the level of the disciplinary action students would receive for specific kinds of infractions, such as chewing gum in class or talking back to teachers. The policy emphasized that students should receive out-of-school suspensions or be referred to police only for serious misconduct, such as causing harm to someone in a fight.

The result was that referrals to law-enforcement officers dropped by 63 percent and out-of-school suspensions declined by 43 percent in the district from the 2008-09 school year to the 2009-10 school year, she said.

Denver’s policy seems to make sense: Why kick kids out of school or call in the police, unless it’s necessary to maintain safety? But it doesn’t make Hispanics as likely to be suspended as Asian-Americans or whites. For that matter, boys are far more likely to get in trouble than girls. Should the rules be changed to tolerate boy-typical misbehavior?

The “different treatment” rule, used in the Bush administration, is simple: The black kid who curses the teacher shouldn’t get a harsher punishment than the white kid who curses the teacher.  It doesn’t matter if blacks are more likely to curse and therefore to get in trouble.

When student misbehavior is tolerated, it’s harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn.  The wild kid who gets away with it pays in the long run because he doesn’t learn self-control, a critical life skill.  All the high-achieving, high-poverty schools teach students to follow the rules so they can learn in a safe, orderly atmosphere.