Hillary: Charters don’t serve ‘hardest-to-teach’ kids

“Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” charged Hillary Clinton in a town hall hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton responds to a question from Roland Martin, host of TV One's News One Now, during a town hall meeting at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., Credit: Richard Burkhart, AP

TV One host Roland Martin talks to Hillary Clinton at a town hall at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. Credit: Richard Burkhart, AP

Moderator Roland Martin had asked if she supported expanding charters and vouchers. In a TV One poll, “74 percent of black parents said they were interested in enrolling their kids in charter schools, 78 percent favored school vouchers,” he said.

Clinton said she backs “the idea of charter schools” as a “supplement for the public schools.” But . . .

In addition to implying that charters aren’t public schools, Clinton ignored the reality that, except for students with disabilities, charters serve a higher percentage of children from “hard-to-teach” group, writes Charles Barone. He cites Stanford’s CREDO:

“Charter schools in the United States educate a higher percentage of students in poverty. [A] much larger proportion of charter students are black than in all public schools. The proportion of Hispanic students is slightly larger in charter schools than all public schools as well. [Charter schools] have a higher proportion of students who are English language learners and a lower proportion of special education students than are in all US public schools.”

Nationwide, “charter schools served a higher-percentage of low-income students (57%) – than district-run schools (52%) – and have better outcomes,” responded Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In New York City, charter public schools do a better job of retaining students with disabilities than their non-charter public school counterparts, she added.

In 14 cities, more than 30 percent of public students are enrolled in charter schools, according to a NAPCS report. Charter school enrollment has tripled since 2006.

Why Americans like their local schools

Forty-seven percent of the public gave their local public schools an “A” or “B” in the 2014 Education Next survey, while 18 percent gave them a “D” or “F.”  When asked to rate the nation’s public schools, just 20 percent awarded an “A” or a “B,” and 24 percent handed out a “D” or “F.”

This happens in just about every survey: Americans are very critical of schools in general but supportive of their local schools.

Why Do Americans Rate Their Local Public Schools So Favorably? asks Martin R. West at Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

As part of the 2014 EdNext survey, respondents were asked to estimate how well the average student in their district performs in math relative to students elsewhere.  They were quite accurate.

When asked to estimate how much is spent per pupil nationwide, the public makes an average estimate of $10,155 — quite close to the Census Bureau’s estimate of $10,608 in current spending per-pupil for 2012 and only modestly lower than the Department of Education’s estimate of $12,608 for 2011 (which includes capital and debt expenses).

But when asked about spending in their local school district, they estimate only $6,486 per pupil on average.  In other words, Americans believe that their local schools spend just two-thirds the amount they believe public schools spend nationally – and roughly half what their local schools actually spend.

Those who underestimated spending gave higher grades to their local schools than “respondents with accurate information on school spending.”

It’s not public if you can’t go

well-to-do Baton Rouge neighborhood wants to secede from the city school district, reports Margaret Newkirk on Bloomberg News. “Local control” would mean more money per student and fewer problem kids.

It’s a myth that public schools are public, writes Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias. It’s not public if you can’t go.

The way the word is used a school is “public” if it is owned by a government entity and thus part of the public sector. But a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there. Here in the District of Columbia anyone who wants to wander into a public park is free to do so (that’s what makes it public) but to send your kid to a good “public” elementary school in Ward 3 you have to live there. And thanks to exclusionary zoning, in practice if you want to live in Ward 3 you have to be rich.

. . . if you proposed randomly assigning students to schools to produce integrated instructional environments, you’d have an epic battle on your hands.

In D.C. at least, charter schools—unlike “public” schools—have to admit (or not admit) students on an equal basis regardless of which neighborhood they live in.

That points to a weird ideological divide, writes Jonathan Chait in New York.

Neighborhood schools are open to children who live close by and restricted to everybody else. Charter schools are open to all children in the city, and their slots are allocated by lottery.

. . . . Moderate liberals and conservatives want to expand and empower the public schools that admit everybody by random lottery. The lefties want to preserve geographic-based restrictions.

A major reason for this is obviously that charter schools are more aggressive about creating accountability standards to promote good teachers and coach up or replace bad ones.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch, who’s become an opponent of charter schools, “doesn’t favor all public schools — she likes the ones that exclude kids from outside neighborhood boundaries, because they’re also the ones where it’s hardest to fire teachers,” writes Chait. “She opposes the ones that can’t exclude children whose parents lack the wealth to buy property in-boundary.”

No choice for the wealthy

Actor Matt Damon, who opposes school choice for low-income students, has chosen to send his children to private school in Los Angeles, where he’s just moved, notes Andrew Rotherham in TIME, who calls the actor a “hypocrite.” The son of a teacher turned education professor, Damon has campaigned against education reform and in favor of public education. But he says there are no progressive public schools in Los Angeles, so “we don’t have a choice.”

Los Angeles has many charter schools and traditional public schools in demand by parents, responds Rotherham. Superintendent John Deasy offered to help Damon “tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

 In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

“Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college,” writes Rotherham. That increases social mobility and reduces inequality. “If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?”

Wealthy parents can afford to live in an area with excellent public schools. That’s the most common choice for those who value public education.

Damon’s new movie, Elysium, is about a future dystopia were the uber-wealthy live in an edenic space station — with great medical care — while the 99.9 percent suffer on a polluted Earth.

In 7 districts, 30% of students are in charters

More urban students are choosing charter schools, according to a new National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report. In seven school districts, 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in 25 districts, 20 percent are in charters and at least 10 percent are attending charters in 110 districts.

New Orleans is the number one charter city: 76 percent of students enrolled in charter schools in 2011-12,, up from 70 percent the year before. Also in the 30+ percent range are Detroit, Washington D.C., Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, Gary, and St. Louis.

Nationwide, charter schools enroll more than two million students with an increase of  200,000 students in 2011-12.

Georgians voted to expand charter schools in the November election. Now Superintendent John Barge plans to “brand” public schools in marketing campaign titled “Georgia’s Future. Now!” reports Education Week.

“A lot of folks don’t know the good things going on because we historically don’t do a good job telling them about it,” Barge said.

The effort . . . includes old-fashioned outreach: printed literature, knickknacks with a logo, a speaker’s bureau of teachers to address community groups. If enough private money is raised, it also will feature a Web TV comedy series — with hopes of the show being broadcast on Georgia Public Television — titled “Modern Teacher.” Styled after the television series “Modern Family,” it depicts life in a Georgia school.

Competition is healthy, but I doubt knickknacks will be effective with Georgians. The comedy series is a creative idea, but these things require very good writing.

Public educators must live with public policies

Education leaders need to get over their aversion to education policy, writes Rick Hess, who’s been teaching at Penn and Rice.

I had smart, talented leaders complain about ill-conceived accountability systems. About pols who weren’t willing to spend enough on schools. About why pols don’t listen to them or ask their advice. About how the pols ought to stick to their own business, and let educators run the schools. In general, the view was that policy is something done to them by meddling pols who don’t know their place.

Get over yourselves, advises Hess.

. . . Public schools spend public dollars and hire public employees to serve the public’s children. For better or worse, they’re going to be governed by public policies.

This isn’t new, he writes. Public policy always has determined spending, class size, subject matter and teacher qualifications. People notice it more now because there’s “substantial dissatisfaction with how schools are doing and with the effects of these older rules and regs.”

If you were an elected official and were responsible for elementary schools where only half of kids are reading at grade level and high schools where only fifty percent of students are graduating, it’d be pretty understandable (and laudable, even) to think you can’t simply trust the educators to do the right thing.

If you think educators should run public schools as they see fit, you have to believe that generals should set national security policy, police should write criminal law, doctors and pharmaceutical companies make health policy and bankers to regulate banking, Hess concludes.

Poll: Confidence in schools hits new low

Only 29 percent of Americans express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the public school system, down from 58 percent in 1973, according to a new Gallup poll.

Forty percent in the new poll had some confidence while 30 percent expressed little or none.

The survey also found record lows in public confidence in churches or organized religion, banks and TV news.

Public schools for the elite

I attended public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Chicago suburbs. Nearly all my classmates were white; none were poor. In fact, most were Jewish in elementary and middle school and tracking kept my high school classes majority Jewish as well. I got an excellent education. Diverse it was not.

Public schools in name only educate more than 1.7 million U.S. children concludes a Fordham Institute report on  “private public schools” with very, very few poor students (and few blacks and Hispanics).

More students attend these schools than attend charter schools. And in some metro areas, like New York’s, almost 30 percent of white students attend these exclusive schools. Because you have to be well-off enough to live in their attendance boundaries, these schools are more private than private schools—which at least give scholarships to some needy children.

. . .  there’s none of the outcry that surfaces when someone proposes vouchers so poor children can attend private schools at public expense. How come? And if the civil rights community is upset that charter schools serve “too many” poor and minority kids, why aren’t they upset that these “public” schools serve too many white and middle-class children?

The report include links to the all-affluent public schools in 25 cities. My schools don’t make it, probably because they’re too far from Chicago.

The report’s author, Mike Petrilli, whose elementary school makes the elite list, writes:

Unions and others love to hide behind their fealty to “public education” when arguing that charters or vouchers will lead to “exclusive” schools, whereby their beloved public schools “serve all comers.” Except, it turns out, when they don’t.

Interestingly, 79 charter schools made the list of 2,800 public schools serving few poor students. I’d be curious how that reflects the percentage of schools in the 25 urban areas.

Many private schools, especially Catholic schools, “do valuable work serving primarily poor students,” writes Eduwonk guest blogger Sara Mead. In addition, “many affluent public schools raise significant funds from private donations and other fundraising.”

The Coleman Report found private schools better integrated by income than public schools, Cato’s Andrew Coulson writes.

In New Jersey, which has many small school districts, one in four white or Asian students attends a public school with very few poor students, notes the New York Times. Only two percent of black students and three percent of Hispanics attend a wealthy school.