Posts Tagged ‘Duncan’

Trouble in Arizona’s charter school paradise?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Arizona has more charter schools than any other state in the nation, and has no charter cap.

If Arne Duncan is to be believed, Arizona – with so much charter school “innovation” and “courage” – ought to be the best possible place for your child to get an education.

Let’s see how that looks in NAEP achievement and other factors:

  • Grade 4 NAEP Mathematics Rank, 44 out of 50
  • Grade 4 NAEP Reading Rank, 47 out of 50
  • Grade 8 NAEP Mathematics Rank, 37 out of 50
  • Grade 8 NAEP Reading Rank, 42 out of 50.
  • Arizona’s class size average is second highest in the nation, with an average of 24.2 students per class, compared to a national average of 15.3. Arizona is one of only four states in the nation that have increased class sizes over the last ten years.
  • Oh, yes, and Every national ranking of per pupil funding consistently shows Arizona at or near the bottom of the 50 states.

Charters under the microscope

My mom, who keeps an eye out on Arizona education issues for me, just pointed me to this eye-opening article splashed across the pages of yesterday’s Arizona Republic. It describes a new era of accountability for charters which may be the beginning of trouble in this charter school paradise.

The report says:

Over the past two years, state regulators have reviewed 78 of Arizona’s original charter-school operators, the first to be granted 15-year contracts to create privately run public schools funded with state and federal money.

State officials are now taking unprecedented steps to weed out the worst of the schools. They put a third of the operators on probation and denied new contracts to four more. Two charter operators did not reapply, and one surrendered its contract.

This effort marks a stark difference from the years when politicians and school-choice advocates pushed rapid growth of charter schools above all else, viewing them as game-changing innovations.

School-choice supporters believed parents and students would reject badly run charter schools and allow only the best to remain open. That reliance on the marketplace for regulation is fading, even among the strongest advocates.

Perhaps this potential beginning of the end of the love affair between the 1% and charter schools is behind the increasing push for privatized school turnarounds. The shell game continues.

Stop the churn – give schools back to the community

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Churn rate (sometimes called attrition rate), in its broadest sense, is a measure of the number of individuals or items moving into or out of a collective over a specific period of time…. The phrase is based on the English verb “churn”, meaning ‘to agitate or produce violent motion’. (Wikipedia)

It’s great for butter but simply terrible for children, families, teachers, other school staff, communities, and the health of democratic public education. Who wants to go to school or work for a school system that is in constant upheaval, where people never know from one year to the next where they will be or what they will be doing? where life-altering decisions appear to be based on ever-changing and murky rationales?

History of failure

Yes, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has just announced another set of interventions which will potentially affect dozens of schools and tens of thousands of children and adults.

Since former Mayor Daley took over the schools in 1995 and his hand-picked schools CEO, Paul Vallas, first put schools on probation, CPS has tried one intervention after another.

How has that been working out for Chicago? Take a look:

You get the point. Corporate reform Chicago-style is stuck on the “agitate” cycle, while our children’s education is going down the drain.


In addition to the human costs to children and adults, here’s what CPS will be paying out in money they say they don’t have:

  • $5 million in the coming year to supplement services to schools affected by closures, phase outs, etc including schools that receive students from closed schools.
  • $20 million on the 10 turnarounds, including the 6 contracted to Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), announced earlier in the week.
  • Busing students from shuttered Price to National Teachers Academy will cost an estimated $90,000 per year.
  • Watch for big capital improvement work to begin at the closing schools (if it hasn’t already) to make them nice for the new charter and other privately-managed schools CPS clearly has in mind to move into the empty buildings.

Give schools back to the communities

This has got to stop. All CPS has to show for its bankrupting expenditure of school funds on Vallas’s Folly, Renaissance 2010, and whatever Brizard calls what he’s doing, is a handful of schools with test scores that look better than the average Chicago Public School. Much of this is accomplished by providing these schools with more than their fair share of resources (like the millions in extra foundation and government money AUSL receives, allowing it to pay for 2 teachers per classroom) and turning a blind eye when they refuse to teach (or at least test) some of the most challenging students.

If the mayor had not taken over the schools 20 years ago, where might we be now? 20 years ago we were on track to make improvements in just the way the Consortium on Chicago School Research has affirmed is the only effective way to improve schools: by addressing all aspects of a school’s functioning, and by involving the entire school community. There were representative, parent-majority elected local school councils with real power who planned for school improvement in an open, public way using the five essential supports for school improvement devised by local educators.

Here’s a chart from the 2005 Designs for Change report, “The Big Picture,” that starkly demonstrates how struggling schools that retained local control (top line) improved far more more than similar schools taken over by the administration (bottom line). (Full size chart here)

Now, what if those locally-run schools had been given the extra help and resources that CPS always gives  schools AFTER closing or turning them around. Think where we would be now, and how a whole generation of children would have benefited.

PURE  and many others have consistently supported local control for school improvement. Recently, a coalition of local community Chicago groups offered a strong blueprint for community-based school improvement. CPS seems to have ignored them.

Think what would happen if CPS actually worked with school communities – if they harnessed all the energy of the parents, students, teachers, staff, and community of every school, and gave those who care the most about the school’s success the same tools and resources that they now give to outsiders and privatizers.

And if that doesn’t happen, think where we’ll be in another 20 years.


PSAT for 1-4-11: Tell Mark Kirk “no” on federal funds for charters

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I have not been able to respond to this survey (which was forwarded to me by a friend) but I hope that’s due to my incompatibility with all things Bill Gates, not a rejection of my views by my senator….

In the post, Mark Kirk declares that he “strongly supports charter schools.” The post is headlined with the incorrect statement that 9 of top 10 High Schools in Chicago are Charter Schools.

(Here’s the video demonstrating how some CPS high school students called candidate Rahm Emanuel out on a similar misstatement.)

But then Sen. Kirk asks what we think:

“Should Congress use its educational funds to support the expansion of Charter Schools?”

Why don’t you tell him? You can also leave a message on Sen. Kirk’s Facebook page. So far, comments are overwhelmingly against charter schools – for example, “Charter schools in many cases are run by corporations and receive little money from the government and operate in many instances under a different set of rules. We don’t need more charter schools, we need better public education funded by local government and with some help from the federal level as well. Stop pushing our tax dollars into the corporate sectors pockets just to win votes – use it locally the way you’re suppose to.”

Status of ESEA in Congress

The U. S. House recently passed HR 2218, which is essentially a charter school expansion bill. This law was opposed by Parents Across America (our position paper here). My Congressman, Bobby Rush, and Congressional Black Caucus Education Chair, Danny Davis, voted NO. I spent quite a bit of time with Cong. Davis’s education point person on this bill when I was in Washington for the SOS March last July, and I believe it was time well spent despite the outcome.

The House’s approach to ESEA reauthorization has been to break up various aspects of the existing No Child Left Behind law into several small bills, most of which they have passed and sent on to the Senate. Now the Senate is beginning to consider their own version, which is more likely to be an all-inclusive bill, and is not likely to go anywhere this year, according to our sources.

Still, the Senate language is already being crafted and will form the groundwork for whatever the Senate eventually does on ESEA, so now is the time to be heard.

If you aren’t from Illinois and are not represented by Senator Kirk, it’s still a good idea to share your thoughts with your Senator on expanding charter schools, test-score-based teacher evaluations, national standardized tests, school closures and turnarounds, and other “reform” strategies that most people involved with schools don’t want and most educators/researchers say don’t work.

You can make it easy by sending them the PAA position paper on ESEA reauthorization, which is summarized here:

Parents Across America opposes:

  • Policies that use standardized test scores as the most important accountability measure for schools, teachers or students, and/or expand the use of standardized testing in our schools.
  • Competition for federal funds; a quality education is not a race but a right.
  • “Parent trigger” laws, vouchers, charter takeovers or other forms of school privatization that take resources from the schools attended by most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.
  • Limiting federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including charter schools and privatization, which are favored by corporate reformers but which have had little verified success.

A new ESEA/NCLB must include:

  • Sufficient and equitable resources in all public schools, so that every child receives a high-quality education.
  • Improving schools rather than closing them, by means of evidence-based solutions backed by parents and other stakeholders.
  • Less standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices.
  • Programs that encourage the retention of professional, experienced teachers.
  • A full range of parent involvement opportunities including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school, district, state, and national levels.
  • The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

Better tests? Better get some better answers first. Part 1

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Here’s part 1 of my follow up to last week’s post about common core state standards and the developing related national assessments.

This week has seen a major flap over the Obama administration’s plans for testing under a new ESEA. The brouhaha started with remarks by President Obama at a student forum on March 28. In answer to a student’s question about whether there could be less testing, the President went on a riff against standardized tests and over-testing which brought back some fond memories of 2008 candidate Obama.

He railed that we’ve “piled on” too many standardized tests. He asserted that such tests should be given only “occasionally” as is the practice at his daughters’ private school, and even then shouldn’t have high-stakes attached. “Too often,” he said, “what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.”

Well, a few people found it remarkable to hear this strong anti-test rhetoric from a president whose Department of Education is prepared to expand standardized testing to unprecedented levels in its proposal for reauthorizing federal education laws.

Most notable was what teacher Anthony Cody wrote about Obama’s response on his Education Week blog, Living in Dialogue, where he concluded that, “Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.”

Almost immediately, someone from the Dept. of Education contacted Cody, asking him to post a “correction” to his “misinterpretation” of the President’s remarks.

Cody, who is a co-organizer of this summer’s Save our Schools March, came back with four questions for clarification, which the USDE’s press person eventually answered. You really need to read the whole exercise in bureaucratic doublespeak here.

But the upshot of the USDE’s argument is that we will have better tests. More formative assessments as opposed to one-shot tests. Tests of critical thinking as opposed to bubble tests. Growth measures as opposed to year-to-year apples and oranges comparisons. A “new generation of tests.” Tests scored by computers! Better tests.

At best, our children’s futures depend on that promise being real and realizable.

OK. So what are the odds that we will really have better, more accurate and helpful tests?

Here’s just one description of these “better tests” by a report by the International Center for Leadership in Education:

A new, next generation assessment program will accompany the Common Core State Standards. These assessments range far beyond the usual multiple-choice and short-answer questions. Instead, students will have to apply their knowledge to real-world situations through performance events…. Some performance events will take weeks to complete. These performance events will move instruction and assessment from Quadrants A (Acquisition) and B (application) to Quadrant D (Adaptation).

So, the odds are not too good. More in Part 2.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.