Why charters lost: They worked too well

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Charter-school expansion lost in Massachusetts in a 62-38 blowout, writes Richard Whitmire on The 74. Why did voters reject “the best charter schools in the country?”

Unions targeted charters because they’re so good, he concludes. “The better the charter, the bigger the threat.”

Educators fought to defend the premise that schools can’t make a difference for kids in poverty, writes Whitmire.

When a charter operator such as Brooke Charter Schools, which serves a poor and minority student population, turns its students into scholars who rival the white and Asian students attending amply funded public schools in the suburbs along the Route 128 corridor, the question has to be asked: If Brooke can do it, why not others?

The Massachusetts Teachers Association started its anti-charter campaign seven months before the election, focusing on funding rather than school quality, Whitmire writes. Neither unions nor superintendents “can afford to lose the poverty argument. That risks losing everything.”

Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham asks how much the unions spent in Massachusetts to “protect jobs and keep poor black kids bottled up in crappy schools?” What if they’d spent that money “in, oh I don’t know, Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania on politics there?”

 Non-urban school districts with existing charters voted heavily against lifting the charter cap, reports MassLive. Money was the issue: The state pays districts 100 percent of per pupil revenue lost to charters in the first year, but only 25 percent for the next five years.

Why vote for new charters? Kids learn more

Massachusetts voters are split on whether to approve 12 new or expanded charter schools, according to a new poll. Some 30,000 children are now on charter waiting lists.

“Progressives” Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have come out against Question 2. The Boston Globe has editorialized in favor of more charters.

Alanna Clark at Match High School in Boston in October. Photo: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

Alanna Clark at Match High School in Boston in October. Photo: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

Boston’s charter schools, most of which follow a “high-expectations, high-support” model, are very, very effective at teaching disadvantaged students, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Rigorous research shows these are schools that work — and you’d think we’d want more of them.

Alanna Clark fell behind in school, but got no help with her reading disability. Her mother entered her in a charter lottery.

Alanna today is 10th grader at Match High School, which provides intensive tutoring to help students prepare for college success.

Match and other high-expectations, high-support charters focus on classroom teaching, Principal Hannah Larkin tells Leonhardt.  Students spend more hours in class. Standards are high. Teachers get weekly feedback on how to improve their teaching.

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Black students who enroll in a Boston charter in sixth grade have much lower math scores than their white counterparts, researchers have found. By the end of eighth grade, they’ve caught up.

“Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains,” said Joshua Angrist, an MIT professor.

Massachusetts’ urban charter students don’t just earn higher reading and math scores, compared to students who applied for a charter but lost in the lottery, conclude Brookings researchers. Charter students are much more likely to take and pass AP tests, earn much higher SAT scores and are much more likely to go to a four-year college or university.

“The gains to children in Massachusetts charters are enormous. They are larger than any I have seen in my career,” researcher Susan Dynarski wrote in a Facebook post. “To me, it is immoral to deny children a better education because charters don’t meet some voters’ ideal of what a public school should be. Children don’t live in the long term. They need us to deliver now.”

Why charters will lose in Massachusetts

Massachusetts voters will reject a measure allowing up to 12 new charter schools, predicts Jay Greene on Ed Next‘s blog. Why? Charters serve disadvantaged blacks and Latinos, not middle-class and well-to-do families. That’s bad politics, he writes.

Rigorous evaluations of existing Boston charters show large test score gains,” he writes. Charter supporters are spending millions on ads.

Yet the charter expansion appears to be way behind in recent polls.

Education reformers are “so obsessed with social justice virtue-signaling that they’ve forgotten how politics actually works, writes Greene.  “If you want to help the poor, you should design programs that include the middle and upper-middle classes.”

Here’s more from The 74’s Matt Barnum on competing claims in the Measure 2 campaign.

Who’s blocking the door now?

It’s been 53 years since Gov. George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” to keep blacks out of the University of Alabama.

Affluent white suburbanites want to limit urban charter schools, complain minority parents in Boston. “So far, 194 mainly non-urban school committees statewide have backed resolutions opposing Question 2,” which would lift the cap on charter schools, reports the Boston Herald.

“You are hurting our children — not yours. Do you actually care what happens to little black and brown children? No, you don’t” said Dawn Foye, a Roxbury mother who sends her son to KIPP Academy in Mattapan.

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the nation. Most students come from low-income and working-class Black and Latino families.

Massachusetts’ test for teachers is humbling

After years teaching middle school English, Peter Sipe decided to seek an elementary teaching credential in Massachusetts. Tackling the state teachers’ exam was “humbling — and motivating,” he writes.

He missed half the answers on the practice math test. “Questions 20 and 36, for example, gave me a bit of a workout,” he writes.

Then there was biology: “Why would some cells have more mitochondria than others?” He had to relearn bio.

With the help of knowledgeable friends, hours of study, and a kind and patient man named Sal Khan, I got better at the sample tests. But it was humbling. If you factor in my two graduate degrees, my fifteen-year teaching career, and the fact that I’ve written disparagingly about teacher preparation standards in these very pages, my humbling was squared (or cubed, or something).

That practice math test is not easy.

College prep, job training — or both?

While most high school graduates go on to college, “nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some 70 percent of students at community college will never earn their degree,” comments John Tulenko on PBS NewsHour. Should more teens train for the workforce instead of prepping for college?

Marissa Galloway, Norton learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

Marissa Galloway learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

“It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out,” says David Wheeler, principal of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston. “Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.”

In addition to academic subjects, students at Massachusetts’ regional vo-tech schools learn skilled trades.

They do as well academically as students in traditional high schools. (Wheeler’s students outscored the state average.)

They don’t have to “skip college,” as Tulenko puts it. Statewide, 60 percent of regional vo-tech students enroll in college, while others go directly to the workforce.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed expanding the state’s vo-tech schools.

Linking school to careers

Career readiness is an afterthought for most U.S. high schools, concludes Jobs for the Future in a new report. However, High Tech High Schools, Cristo Rey schools, Big Picture Schools, P-TECH models, and early college schools provide “applied learning related to the labor market.”

Cristo Rey students share a single full-time job (in a law firm, bank, hospital, or other setting), with each student working one day a week to pay school tuition.

At Worcester Tech, students run a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

At Worcester Tech in Massachusetts, students work in a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

Big Picture students make personalized learning plans that take them out to work several days a week with mentors, and a goal of defining their passions and finding work that is satisfying.

Massachusetts vocational schools typically host companies on site and provide the clinical training required for industry certifications. Worcester Tech, for example, hosts Tufts at Tech, a veterinary clinic serving the community.

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in Clovis, California, provides half-day programs for 11th and 12 graders in four career clusters: professional sciences, engineering, advanced communications, and global economics.

. . . students complete industry-based projects and receive academic credit for advanced English, science, math, and technology. Students do everything from testing water in the High Sierra, to making industry-standard films, to trying out aviation careers by actually flying planes. Teaching teams include business and science partners, and many teachers have extensive professional experience.

Only 24 percent of U.S. teens have jobs, down from 44 percent in 2000. Teens from well-to-do families are the most likely to have jobs, while few lower-income teens are in the workforce.

In Switzerland, students apply for internships at the end of ninth grade.

For the next three or four years, your week consists of three days at work, two days at school, and an occasional stint in an intercompany training organization (like the Centre for Young Professionals, in Zurich, Switzerland). Your company pays you between $600 and $800 a month to start, moving up to $1,000 or $1,200 or more by the end of your third year.

Seventy percent of young people use this system, completing “the equivalent of high school (and a year or so of community college).”  Swiss youth unemployment is 3 percent.

Linked Learning integrates career tech education with academics.

Earning a technical certificate or associate degree at a community college significantly boosts earnings. However, most community college students — including those who place into remedial classes — are trying to earn academic credentials.

Employers are doing more to train workers for skilled blue-collar jobs, reports U.S. News.

Massachusetts abandons Common Core tests

Massachusetts will redesign its state exam instead of using PARCC’s Common Core tests, the state board of education has decided. The new MCAS will be aligned with Common Core standards, say officials.

“Only 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, are currently scheduled to continue with PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards,” reports Molly Jackson for the Christian Science Monitor.

High-scoring Massachusetts “was considered a crucial supporter for Common Core tests and now, a crucial breakaway,” writes Jackson.

The Common Core was supposed to allow state-to-state comparisons, but states are “tweaking the language used to report results” so that “a score that counted as ‘approaching expectations’ in one part of the country might be labeled ‘proficient‘ somewhere else.”

“It may be a little too premature to declare it a failure,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education James A. Peyser told the New York Times, “but for sure it’s in retreat.”

‘Early college’ boosts persistence

Dual-enrollment programs — college classes for high school students — are helping disadvantaged students get to and through college, reports Emily Deruy in National Journal.

Early-college graduates are less likely to need remedial classes and more likely to make it to their second year of college, according to a Rennie Center report.

Earning college credits and getting a taste of college expectations is especially valuable for students at schools that offer few Advanced Placement courses, the report noted.

“Early-college programs improve students’ overall grit and persistence, but also help them become knowledgeable about the overall [college] system,” Chad d’Entremont, executive director of the center, told Next America.

Early-college classes, often taught by community college professors, include academic and career courses. At Murdock High in Massachusetts, seniors can take technical classes at Mount Wachusett Community College that lead to a credential in information technology.

Defining ‘college readiness’ down


Naesea Price teaches a lesson on sentence and paragraph structure in a remedial English course at Baltimore City Community College.

“College readiness” has been redefined as ready to take middle-school courses in college, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

A movement for “co-requisite remediation” is placing remedial students in college-level courses, he complains.

Massachusetts will stop requiring a placement test for new students with a 2.7  grade point average (in all subjects). Those with a 2.4 grade point average who’ve passed four years of math also will be placed in college-level math.

A kid with a D in math but good grades in photography, gym, and basket weaving could easily end up with a 2.7 GPA, notes Finn. Four years of D’s in math and he needs only a 2.4 (C) average.

Florida’s open-access state colleges (formerly community colleges) now let students skip remediation and start in college-level courses, if they choose, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alarmed by the high dropout and failure rates for college students who start out in remedial classes, Florida lawmakers voted last year to make such courses, and even the related placement tests, optional for anyone who…earned a [high school] diploma….The optional-remediation law is forcing professors in college-level composition classes to spend time on basic sentence structure, while mathematics teachers who were ready to plunge into algebra are going over fractions.

These students are earning college credit for learning middle-school skills, writes Finn.

There’s an easy way to make the reform look like a success.

Just teach fractions and sentence structure to students in courses that you label “college-level” — even though they’re not. Dumb ‘em down. Cheapen the currency. And again defraud the students (and anyone who might someday contemplate employing them) into believing that they really were prepared for college and are now getting a college education, even though neither of those statements is actually true.

Employers already are concerned that college graduates lack important skills, writes Finn. There’s “mounting evidence” that many graduates haven’t learned very much. Sending more unprepared students to college further cheapens the meaning of “college-educated,” he argues.