School Reform

Lack of Minority Students in Idaho Charters

Guest Editorial by Levi Cavener

Cavener_Levi_Headshot

 

 

 

Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org

Time to Fix Idaho’s Charter Schools

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.

A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction — local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations. And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

 

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Standardized Test Boycott

education over everything

I think this might be unprecedented. The whole staff of a high school refuses to administer a state required standardized test. The teachers at Garfield High in Seattle, Washington have voted to support a boycott of the required “MAPS” test. Soon after, the teachers at Ballard High school agreed to join the boycott.

Opponents of the nation’s relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of “time and money” amid “dwindling school resources.”

The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.

In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.

On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.

Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday

If you would like to support these teachers, you can sign the petition here.

Rheeform Fail Part II

rhee

As described in the Frontline documentary, Michelle Rhee was forced to leave as Washington D.C. School Chancellor, after doing her best to privatize schools, attack teachers with punitive “assessment” and destroy collective bargaining. Because of her destructive policies, she became the darling of those right wing advocates of “school Reform”. Her lobbying group, “StudentsFirst” was a rousing financial success and she funneled that money into state level campaigns nationwide. According to Daniel Denvir of Slate, reporting right after the election:

Nov. 6 was a good day for Michelle Rhee. The former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, through her organization StudentsFirst, poured money into state-level campaigns nationwide, winning 86 of 105 races and flipping a net 33 seats to advocates of so-called school reform, a movement that advocates expanding privately run public charter schools, weakening teachers’ unions, increasing the weight of high-stakes standardized tests and, in some cases, using taxpayer dollars to fund private tuition through vouchers as the keys to improving public education.

Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents. And Rhee’s above-the-fray bona fides have come under heavy fire as progressives and teachers unions increasingly cast the school reform movement, which has become virtually synonymous with Rhee’s name, as politically conservative and corporate-funded.

StudentsFirst didn’t have to spend much money in Idaho because the “Luna Laws”, Students Come First, were (as the similar title indicates) directly out of Rhee’s preferred policy manual, and funded by outside corporate dollars. The Idaho legislature passed the Luna Laws, but the Idaho voters rejected them in what Diane Ravitch described as a “stunning defeat”.

Voters in Idaho gave Mitt Romney a landslide  but simultaneously voted overwhelmingly to repeal the “Luna Laws,” the brainchild of state superintendent Tom Luna.

This stunning victory for public education demonstrates that not even red-state Republicans are prepared to privatize public education and dismantle the teaching profession.

The Luna Laws imposed a mandate for online courses for high school graduates (a favorite of candidates funded by technology companies), made test scores the measure of teacher quality, provided bonuses for teachers whose students got higher scores, removed all teacher rights, eliminated anything resembling tenure or seniority, turned teachers into at-will employees, and squashed the teachers’ unions.

The campaign to support the Luna laws was heavily funded by technology entrepreneurs and out-of-state supporters of high-stakes testing and restrictions on the teaching profession, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The voters in this reddest of red states overturned all three of the Luna laws (which he called “Students Come First”; anything in which children or students or kids come “first” is a clear tip-off to the divisive intent of the program).

The Republican dominated Legislature and the Idaho School Boards Association, however,  are determined to ignore the voice of the people and implement as much of the Luna Laws as they can get away with. According to the Spokesman Review:

Idaho voters rejected a rollback in teachers’ collective bargaining rights in the November election, but the state’s school boards association is gearing up to try to put some of the same provisions right back into Idaho’s laws.

“We really tried to focus on the things that the trustees felt were most important to them, and to leave the rest of it alone,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We hoped that the union would support at least parts of this – we know they won’t be able to support all of it.”

Among the provisions the school boards group wants to revive: A June 10 deadline by which, if districts haven’t reached agreements with their local teachers unions, they can just impose contract terms unilaterally. At least 16 Idaho school districts did that this year.

“It’s Proposition 1 right back up there again,” said Maria Greeley, a Boise school trustee who opposed the resolution at last month’s state school boards association conference. “I’m not saying that everything in it is bad. … The one piece that concerns me the most is that deadline, because it gives districts the opportunity to abuse the negotiation process. It doesn’t make them come in and do the tough work of working through it.”

As for Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst (more accurately- CorperationsFirst), the latest publicity stunt is the state-by-state “Report Card” released this week. Doug Henwood calls the Report Card for what it is- self-promoting crap:

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Note the irony here. Rhee’s mantra is teacher/school accountability based upon student test  scores, but she doesn’t even consider standardized test scores in rating the states. When Henwood compares state student test scores with the Rhee’s “grades”, there is a strong negative correlation. The higher the student test scores, the lower the grade.

Rhee’s group gave letter grades to each state, along with a GPA that allowed them to be ranked from 1 to 51. (DC counts as a state here.) No state got a grade higher than a B-, and only two states made that grade. Eleven states got an F. Tough! But do these grades mean anything?

To evaluate the StudentsFirst grades, I got 8th grade reading and math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card. Testing can be a debased pursuit when it’s used to measure individual schools and teachers (sample sizes are just too small, and there’s too much statistical noise from year to year to base anything on), but the NAEP is as good as they come for measuring broad trends.

Here are the results. StudentsFirst has Louisiana at #1 in its rankings—but the state ranks 49th in reading and 47th in math. North Dakota, which StudentsFirst ranks 51st, comes in at #14 in reading scores and #7 in math. Massachusetts, which ranks #1 in both reading and math scores (and which is also the most unionized state for teachers in the country), comes in at #14 on the Rhee scale.

Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25.

If you group the states by their StudentsFirst grades and look at the average test scores and rankings, you can understand why Rhee & Co. didn’t bother to get into outcomes. The two states that got B-’s did almost 8 points worse on math than those that got F’s, and over 9 points worse on reading. The B- states were toward the bottom of the rankings, and the F were above the middle. (And yes, 22-45 is -23, not -22, as the table suggests; the difference is a result of rounding.)

StudentsFirst grades and NAEP 2011 test results, 8th grade
Rhee              NAEP scores           NAEP ranks
grades          reading    math       reading    math
B-             258.4     275.3        42        45
C+             257.3     276.1        37        34
C-             263.8     282.0        29        31
D+             268.3     286.8        18        21
D              263.5     283.3        30        26
D-             266.2     285.0        23        24
F              266.2     284.8        22        22

F less B-        7.8       9.5       -20       -22

Rheeform Fail

Rhee

The PBS documentary series Frontline is airing “The Education of Michelle Rhee” this week. The documentary provides a good background for those who are not aware of Rhee and her tenure as Washington D.C. Public School Chancellor. Most sources that have commented on the documentary focused on the “cheating scandal”  in reporting test scores in the District. For example, in the Washington Post:

Student standardized-test scores at an award-winning D.C. school dropped dramatically in 2011 after the principal tightened security out of concern about possible cheating, according to a new “Frontline” television documentary to be broadcast Tuesday.

The hour-long program raises questions about whether District officials have adequately investigated persistent suspicions that public school employees may have tampered with tests during the tenure of former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Adell Cothorne was principal of the District’s Noyes Education Campus for one year, in 2010-11. She told “Frontline” that just after students took a midyear practice version of the city’s annual standardized test, she stumbled upon three staff members sitting late at night in a room strewn with more than 200 test booklets.

One of the adults was at a desk, holding an eraser. The other two sat at a table, booklets open before them.

“One staff member said to me, in a lighthearted sort of way, ‘Oh, principal, I can’t believe this kid drew a spider on the test and I have to erase it,’ ” Cothorne told filmmakers, offering the first such direct testimony about potential tampering with answer sheets in D.C. schools.

Cothorne told “Frontline” that she reported the incident to the central office, but to her knowledge nothing was done. School system officials said Friday that without having seen the documentary, they could not comment on Cothorne’s allegations.

“Broadly speaking, reports about testing impropriety are taken very seriously,” D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz wrote in an e-mail. “We have investigated and taken appropriate action for every instance reported to us.”

Rhee claims that the Inspector General’s report clear her of accusations. Nevertheless, the Post claims the IG’s report was flawed.

The District’s test scores did rise during Rhee’s tenure, including a particularly dramatic jump after her first year in office.

Rhee left office in 2010 after then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost his bid for reelection. She then launched Students First, a national lobbying organization to spread the reforms she championed in Washington.

But in 2011, USA Today published an investigation that raised questions about the validity of the District’s test scores — and, by proxy, about the effectiveness of Rhee’s reforms.

The newspaper’s report revealed an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on students’ answer sheets at more than 100 D.C. schools between 2008 and 2010. Such erasure rates aren’t proof of cheating, but they are signals of potential tampering.

Current Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson asked D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby to investigate further. Willoughby reported in August that he’d found no evidence of answer-sheet tampering, a conclusion that Henderson said should finally put cheating allegations to rest.

The “Frontline” documentary, however, suggests the inspector general’s investigation may have been incomplete.

The 17-month probe focused on just one school: Noyes, which was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2009 after students made impressive gains on reading and math tests. It also twice won an award from Rhee that brought cash bonuses for staff, and it had some of the highest erasure rates in the city. Investigators found some test-security problems at Noyes but no evidence of answer-sheeting tampering. Based on those findings, they decided not to examine other schools. But Cothorne, the former principal who alleges that she saw staff members after hours with erasers and test booklets, said investigators never interviewed her.

I am not sure we will ever know the truth about the “cheating scandal” or Rhee’s role in it. Did Rhee do damage to the DC educational system? I think it is clear that she did. Unfortunately, the damage Rhee is currently engaged in goes far beyond Washington D.C. schools. The lobbying group Rhee currently heads, “Students First”, is intent upon spreading the “reform model” she used in D.C. throughout the nation.

Tomorrow I will talk about the impact of Students First on Idaho and the bogus “Report Card” the organization recently released claiming to grade the States on educational reform.