‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

NY charter parents sue for equal funding

New York underfunds charter schools, discriminating against low-income, black and Latino students and denying them an equal education, charges a lawsuit filed today by Buffalo and Rochester parents.

Buffalo’s district-run schools get $23,524 per student, while charter schools receive $13,700, according to the suit, filed with the help of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. That’s about 60 percent of district funding. In Rochester and New York City, charters get 68 percent of the per-student funding allotted to district schools.

“New York’s charter students receive a fraction of what their friends in district schools receive—that’s unfair, unconstitutional, and discriminatory,” said NESCN Interim President Kyle Rosenkrans. “And because the formula provides no money for buildings, charters must divert their already shortchanged classroom dollars to pay the rent.”

Some 107,000 New York students attend charters and more than 50,000 are on charter school waiting lists. Ninety percent of charter school students are black and Hispanic compared to 41 percent in district schools. Some 80 percent are considered economically disadvantaged vs. 52 percent in regular district schools.

End special ed

It’s time to end special education, writes Matt Richmond, co-author of Financing the Education of High-Need Students. The special ed model, developed in the 1970s to end the exclusion of “handicapped” students, is “broken,” he writes.

It assumes that only students diagnosed with a disability have needs that require attention and support. The student who reads poorly due to dyslexia gets special help. The student who reads poorly because his parents didn’t read to him – or his family moved three times when he was in first grade — is out of luck.

Monitor all students’ progress and help those who need it, without requiring them to fall into a disability category, argues Richmond. Response to Intervention is an effective model, ” but current laws limit its potential reach.”

Tearing down the divide between special education and general education would benefit everyone. The disability label is not necessary or helpful; it does not define the needs of a child or his potential — nor does the absence of a medical disability negate a child’s struggles or measure his advantage. Our laws and funding structures have created a line which is harshly demarcated but entirely meaningless. In reality, there are no special-ed kids or general-ed kids; there are simply children who need an education. Each one unique. Each one requiring special attention. And every one deserving it.

The special ed funding formula is badly out of date, writes Clare McCann on The Hill. Federal funds are based on old enrollment numbers: Districts with declining enrollment get more federal dollars per student than growing districts. In addition, small states get more than larger states.

Congress was supposed to reauthorize and revise the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) several years ago. 

How productive is your district?

How well does your local school district spend its money? The Center for American Progress has ranked the educational productivity of more than 7,000 school districts.

Productivity ratings are adjusted for factors including “cost-of-living differences and higher concentrations of low-income, non-English-speaking, and special education students,” according to the report.

Few states and districts track “the bang . . . for their education buck,” writes analyst Ulrich Boser.

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Analysts also looked at “twin” districts with similar students but different spending levels and results.

Of the more than 400 twin districts studied, we found the higher-spending twin spent on average $1,600 more per student to educate similar groups of students to similar achievement levels. . . . We also found a number of districts that spent equal amounts of money, had the same demographics, but ended up with different levels of student achievement.

Another report analyzes the nation’s most financially disadvantaged districts.

Charters get $3,800 less per student

Charter schools receive $3,800 less per pupil or about $1.5 million less for the average charter school than district-run schools, concludes Charter Funding: Inequity Expands, a University of Arkansas study. The funding gap — 28.4 percent —  is growing.

Public charter schools receive only an average of $1,819 per pupil from local government sources while traditional public schools receive a whopping $5,222. On average, charters get somewhat more state money than traditional public schools, while receiving somewhat less federal money. Although there is a perception that public charter schools are handsomely funded by private sources, our research shows that traditional public schools received slightly more private funds per-pupil in 2010?11 than public charter schools.

Tennessee is the only state that provides equal funding to students in charter and traditional public schools.

Urban charter schools, which have been shown to be the most effective in recent studies, suffer from the largest funding gap, the study found.

Cyber charters face cuts

11-25-13 Cyber chartersPennsylvania may cut funding to cyber charters amid charges of high turnover and poor results, reports the Pennsylvania Independent. Charter school leaders and education reformers are split on the proposed legislation.

Under S.B. 1085, online charter schools would have to operate at 60 percent of the budget of a traditional public school.

Virtual schools don’t attract the average mix of students. Even the good ones will have high turnover. Traditional funding methods don’t work.

Funding high-need, high-cost students

Financing the Education of High-Need Students from Fordham recommends ways for districts and states to fund high-need, high-cost special education students.

For example, multi-district co-operatives allow for economies-of-scale and better service-delivery.

Weighted student funding provides more money to districts with more high-need students. “Basing those weights on services needed by children rather than disability diagnoses significantly improves the accuracy of this system,” notes the report.

Exceptional-needs funds serve as insurance for districts with one or two very high-cost students.

Onion: Public schools try 6-day year

Nation’s Underfunded Public Education System To Experiment With Shortened 6-Day School Year, reports The Onion.

WASHINGTON—Faced with shrinking tax revenues and decreased public spending, the Department of Education announced Friday the 2012-2013 academic year would need to be radically shortened from 180 days to six. “The first day, of course, will be spent learning names, handing out textbooks, assigning lockers, and so forth, but on day two, we’ll hit the ground running, covering all of history by lunch and hopefully squeezing in the entire language-arts curriculum before the final bell rings,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adding that any student caught misbehaving would be given three seconds of detention after class. “That will leave the rest of the week free for an intensive program of math and science designed to help American children develop the skills they would already have if they lived in just about any other industrialized nation.”

Duncan acknowledged not much would get done on day six, as students tend to be distracted on the last day of school, and they would in any event be worn out from the previous day’s homecoming, talent show, SATs, winter semiformal, prom, finals, and commencement exercises.

It’s satire.

Investors fund pre-k in Utah

People talk about preschool as an investment. In a Utah school district south of Salt Lake City, investors will spend $7 million over eight years to expand an early-childhood program, reports Education Week. If fewer children require special education, the district will ask the state to share the savings, which will be used to pay back the loan with 5 percent interest.

This fall, Goldman Sachs and the investor J.B. Pritzker will pay for the expansion of an early-childhood program in the 67,000-student Granite district through a social-impact bond, also known as a pay-for-success loan. Social-impact bonds are loans that seek to achieve a positive social outcome, and reduce future costs, by investing in prevention and intervention programs in the public sector.

Utah gives schools $2,600 per year for each student who requires special education. “Many students are placed in special education simply because they trailed their peers academically upon entering elementary school,” experts say.

If there are no savings — a Utah State group will decide — then the investors will lose their money.

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.