Thursday, April 17, 2014

Welcome to my blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, please email me at WTilson at tilsonfunds.com. In addition, in between emails, I regularly tweet the most interesting articles I come across, so sign up to follow me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/arightdenied

For more about me and links to my favorite articles, posts and videos on education reform, see my School Reform Resource Page at www.arightdenied.org, in particular my Powerpoint presentation entitled A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which is posted at www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides

The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming. After seeing it, I thought to myself, "That's exactly what school reformers need as well!" My presentation is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that forcefully advocates for an urgent school reform agenda. It was made into a documentary in 2010 that you can watch at www.arightdenied.org. I did an interview about it with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=1507057055&play=1.

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Shavar Jeffries for Mayor of Newark

Dear friends,

 

I’ve been involved in Newark for more than a decade, supporting both the TEAM charter schools (part of the KIPP network) and Cory Booker. With Cory having moved on from the mayor’s office to the U.S. Senate, the city is at a critical inflection point: will it continue on its upward trajectory or slide back to its notorious old ways?

 

The answer to that question depends largely on who is elected mayor on May 13th, and the choice couldn’t be clearer: my friend Shavar Jeffries, a courageous reformer, is running against a classic old-guard politician, Ras Baraka, whom David Brooks describes well in his NY Times op ed today:

 

Baraka has the support of most of the major unions and political organizations. Over the years, he has combined a confrontational 1970s style of racial rhetoric with a transactional, machine-like style of politics.

 

Shavar is a 5th-generation Newarker, has an astounding personal story (see below), and was the founding board president of the KIPP schools in Newark. I’ve known him for years and can attest to his character, smarts, and leadership ability.

 

But to win, he needs a lot of money fast, as the election is less than two months away, so I hope you’ll join me in supporting him – just click here: http://bit.ly/1lLB7Sb

 

Thank you!

 

Whitney

 

PS—Here’s an excerpt from Brooks’s op ed (full text below):

Now Jeffries is running for mayor of Newark against City Councilman Ras Baraka. The race has taken on a familiar shape: regular vs. reformer.

Baraka has the support of most of the major unions and political organizations. Over the years, he has combined a confrontational 1970s style of racial rhetoric with a transactional, machine-like style of politics. Baraka is well known in Newark and it shows. There are Baraka signs everywhere there.

Jeffries is the outsider and the reformer, promising to end the favor trading in government and modernize the institutions. Three months ago, it looked as though he had no shot of winning. And, according the close observers, he has not organized a particularly effective campaign. But he is an eloquent speaker and has strong people skills. His candidacy has become something of a cause célèbre among New York Democrats who fear Baraka would reverse the strides Newark has recently taken. Jeffries is still the underdog, but the election is much closer than it was.

The election on May 13 will be decided on two issues, one cultural and one structural. Jeffries is being portrayed as a Duke- and Columbia-educated law professor, not somebody who is truly of and for Newark. There’s a veiled or not-so-veiled debate here over what it means to be authentically African-American.

Then there is the split, which we’re seeing in cities across the country, between those who represent the traditional political systems and those who want to change them. In Newark, as elsewhere, charter schools are the main flash point in this divide. Middle-class municipal workers, including members of the teachers’ unions, tend to be suspicious of charters. The poor, who favor school choice, and the affluent, who favor education reform generally, tend to support charters.

These contests aren’t left versus center; they are over whether urban government will change or stay the same. Over the years, public-sector jobs have provided steady income for millions of people nationwide. But city services have failed, leaving educational and human devastation in cities like Newark. Reformers like Jeffries rise against all odds from the devastation. They threaten the old stability, but offer a shot at improvement and change.

------------------------

How Cities Change

By DAVID BROOKS
NY Times, March 17, 2014

Shavar Jeffries was born in Newark in 1974, the son of a 19-year-old mother who was unprepared to take care of him. He spent the first nine years of his life shuttling between different relatives. Then his mother came back into his life and moved him to California.

Shortly after they moved to Los Angeles, there was a problem with the lock to their apartment door. Jeffries’ mom called the locksmith and soon began a relationship with him. One evening the locksmith was looking over her phone bill and found a number he didn’t like. He smacked her in the head and sent her hurtling across the room. The beatings continued from then on.

Once his mother picked up Jeffries from Little League wearing big sunglasses, her eyes blackened underneath. Another day she tried to bar the locksmith from their apartment, but he kicked through the door. She moved to Burbank and got restraining orders, but on Nov. 25, 1985, the locksmith stalked her workplace and killed her with a sawed-off shotgun.

Jeffries was brought back to Newark and lived for a few months with his father. But one day he came home and his father had vanished, without leaving a note. By this time, he was numb; he just figured this was the way life is. His grandparents took him in and he spent the spent the rest of his childhood with them, living on a street called Harding Terrace in the South Ward of Newark.

William Spear, who grew up on Harding Terrace a few years later, describes the street the way Jane Jacobs describes Greenwich Village in the 1950s: There were eyes everywhere. “You couldn’t cut class, because the neighbors would see you and call you on it,” Spear recalls. The neighbors couldn’t and can’t stop the worst violence — Spear’s brother was killed in 2012 when a street fight sent bullets flying through a block party — but they could keep some kids in line.

Jeffries’ grandparents brought stability to his life. He became active with the Boys and Girls Club. He did well in grade school, won a scholarship to Seton Hall Prep, then won scholarships to Duke and Columbia Law School, got a prestigious clerkship and began a legal career.

And then, having escaped Newark, he moved back to the crime-ridden South Ward. He has worked as a civil rights lawyer. He was the founding board president of a charter school in the Knowledge Is Power Program called Team Academy. He became an associate law professor at Seton Hall and took a leave from that to serve as assistant attorney general. In 2010, he ran for the Newark school board and became its president.

Now Jeffries is running for mayor of Newark against City Councilman Ras Baraka. The race has taken on a familiar shape: regular vs. reformer.

Baraka has the support of most of the major unions and political organizations. Over the years, he has combined a confrontational 1970s style of racial rhetoric with a transactional, machine-like style of politics. Baraka is well known in Newark and it shows. There are Baraka signs everywhere there.

Jeffries is the outsider and the reformer, promising to end the favor trading in government and modernize the institutions. Three months ago, it looked as though he had no shot of winning. And, according the close observers, he has not organized a particularly effective campaign. But he is an eloquent speaker and has strong people skills. His candidacy has become something of a cause célèbre among New York Democrats who fear Baraka would reverse the strides Newark has recently taken. Jeffries is still the underdog, but the election is much closer than it was.

The election on May 13 will be decided on two issues, one cultural and one structural. Jeffries is being portrayed as a Duke- and Columbia-educated law professor, not somebody who is truly of and for Newark. There’s a veiled or not-so-veiled debate here over what it means to be authentically African-American.

Then there is the split, which we’re seeing in cities across the country, between those who represent the traditional political systems and those who want to change them. In Newark, as elsewhere, charter schools are the main flash point in this divide. Middle-class municipal workers, including members of the teachers’ unions, tend to be suspicious of charters. The poor, who favor school choice, and the affluent, who favor education reform generally, tend to support charters.

These contests aren’t left versus center; they are over whether urban government will change or stay the same. Over the years, public-sector jobs have provided steady income for millions of people nationwide. But city services have failed, leaving educational and human devastation in cities like Newark. Reformers like Jeffries rise against all odds from the devastation. They threaten the old stability, but offer a shot at improvement and change.

 

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Charter school save in New York

The charter school movement has earned an enormous victory in NY State:

State leaders reached a tentative deal on a charter school reform package that will increase per pupil spending and provide government-funded rent for the schools for the first time.

Also under the deal, if a new charter approved by the city includes a request for space inside existing city buildings, the city would have five-months to make a "reasonable" co-location offer or pay for private space, the sources said.

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Cuomo hailed as education hero after charter save

What happened in NYS was due in large part to Gov. Cuomo, who has been beyond courageous and heroic (with a nice quote from DFER's Joe Williams):

Cuomo hailed as education hero after charter save

Gov. Cuomo's actions to protect charter schools have made him a darling of education reformers who back student choice.

The group Education Reform Now has named the governor its honorary chairman for its annual national retreat, which will be held at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid from May 4 to 6.

"Gov. Cuomo has emerged as a key national leader for education reform. The speech he gave at the charter-school rally in Albany showed that he stood on the side of innovation and quality education," said Joe Williams, president of Education Reform Now.

The group's board of directors is filled with hedge- fund investors who support publicly funded, privately run charter schools, which are largely exempt from union rules.

Williams said Cuomo has agreed to attend and speak at the event.

Cuomo, who is running for re-election this fall, countered Mayor de Blasio's plans to limit charter schools. The new $139 billion state budget would require the city to allow charter schools to co-locate in public-school buildings.

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On the Rocketship: How High Performing Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope

Richard Whitmire (who's out with a new book I just received but haven't had a chance to read yet, On the Rocketship: How High Performing Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope; click here to pre-order) on the huge national implications of Cuomo and what just happened in NYS:

That fact that a governor like Andrew Cuomo, someone mentioned as a future presidential contender, came out so strongly in support of charter schools is something that won't go unnoticed nationally.

Congress is definitely paying attention. The House education committee is scheduled to update the federal Charter Schools Program — an update which would increase the share of program funds used to support facilities for charters. Do you really think conservative House members will allow themselves to be outdone by a liberal New York governor?

And then there are impacts in Democrat-leaning states. In nearby Connecticut, a state with weak charter school laws, the governor and legislature have to be wondering about whether the time is right to move in New York's direction.

In Massachusetts, Democrats may be rethinking their opposition to a law allowing high performing charters to expand. If Cuomo was willing to stand tall, does that make Gov. Deval Patrick look like, well, something less than tall? Um, yes.

Several Republican governors, some of whom remain a bit wishy washy on charters, will feel a bit skunked. In Pennsylvaniaand Tennessee, the governors have to be wondering: Why are we letting a Democratic governor like Cuomo make us look passive, maybe even a little wimpy, on charters?

On the flip side of the political picture, in progressive enclaves across the country, places where New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio is regarded as the brightest political prospect they've seen in years, political leaders have to be wondering what went wrong. If the incredibly popular de Blasio got slam dunked while attempting a modest charters trim back, what hope do they have?

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The Charter School Performance Breakout

A FANTASTIC op in the WSJ entitled The Charter School Performance Breakout: The oft-heard claim that charters perform no better than conventional schools is out of date and inaccurate:

But do they get results? Initial assessments were mixed. In the early days, charter authorizing was very loose, nobody knew what worked best, and lots of weak schools were launched. The system has since tightened. In Washington, D.C., for instance, seven out of nine requests to open new charters are now turned down, and 41 charters have been closed for failing to produce good results.

Nationwide, 561 new charter schools opened last year, while 206 laggards were closed. Unlike conventional public schools, the charter system allows poorly performing schools to be squeezed out.

As charter operators have figured out how to succeed with children, they are doubling down on the best models. Successful charter schools have many distinctive features: longer school days and longer years, more flexibility and accountability for teachers and principals, higher expectations for students, more discipline and structure, more curricular innovation, more rigorous testing. Most charter growth today is coming from replication of the best schools. The rate of enrollment increase at high-performing networks is now 10 times what it is at single-campus "mom and pop" academies.

The combination of weak charters closing and strong charters replicating is having powerful effects. The first major assessment of charter schools by Stanford's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found their results to be extremely variable, and overall no better than conventional schools as of 2009. Its follow-up study several years later found that steady closures and their replacement by proven models had pushed charters ahead of conventional schools. In New York City, the average charter-school student now absorbs five months of extra learning a year in math, and one extra month in reading, compared with counterparts in conventional schools.

Other reviews show similar results, and performance advantages will accelerate in the near future.

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Success Charter Network teacher

A great WSJ op ed by a Success Charter Network teacher:

The newest theory regarding our test scores is the most outlandish. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a union-funded nonprofit, was quoted in Bloomberg News saying that Success Academy is "trying to find ways to increase test scores; that's why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods."

Really? Is it just me—or does anyone else hear the prejudicial undertone in that statement? Is it really impossible for Mr. Westin to believe that Success Academy's poor black and Latino children can achieve at extraordinarily high levels? That with hard work and dedication, significant numbers of children in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy can be proficient at math and reading? That Success Academy might want all children—black and white, poor and middle class—to have access to great schools in various New York City neighborhoods?

Critics fail to understand how insulting and hurtful their remarks are to students and their parents. One of my students recently asked me, "Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?" These children work incredibly hard, and they're proud of their success. No one, especially without knowledge of their situation or home life or personal effort, has the right to undermine their remarkable achievements.

There's an excellent reason why Success Academy scholars do extraordinarily well on the state exams: We believe they can. We believe all children can succeed, no matter their socioeconomic circumstances.

Our critics do not share that belief. To them, the achievement gap—with only 11% of African-American children and 12% of Latino students prepared for college—is a given, an unfortunate, but unavoidable fact of New York City's public schools.

Our students have flipped that "fact" on its head. Now it's time for educators to start believing that with the right changes, we can achieve these results for all New York City students.

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Stand Tall, John King

TNTP's Tim Daly with a great article, Stand Tall, John King – amen!

At this weekend's annual meeting, representatives of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) are expected to follow through on a longstanding threat to vote "no confidence" in the state's chief education official, John King. 

Put plainly, the intent of the vote is to intimidate King. He has steadfastly insisted on raising the standard for what it means to master basic subject areas in New York classrooms. The union has demanded that King delay—for years—any accountability for teachers to help students make progress against the Common Core State Standards. King has stood his ground. The planning process has already lasted four years. He believes that a 2010 law adopting new teacher evaluation parameters, passed with the union's hearty support, should now be implemented as agreed. In the recent state budget negotiations, the governor and the state legislature agreed with him and declined to make any changes to teacher evaluation. At least for now, the issue appears settled. 

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Pre-K education in NYC

I'm glad de Blasio got funding for pre-K – now I hope he can execute well:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has every right to call the agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in Albany to finance a vast expansion of prekindergarten in New York City a major victory — for him politically and for tens of thousands of children who will be put on a path to a better future.

The amount — $600 million for two years, to start — is not everything Mr. de Blasio said he needed, and it won't be raised through a higher income tax on high-earning New Yorkers, an idea that Mr. Cuomo decisively rejected. But never mind, the de Blasio administration says, $300 million a year is enough to offer free, full-day, high-quality, prekindergarten classes across the city, at $10,000 per 4-year-old. New York is poised to make a commitment to preschool on a larger scale than any city in the country.

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School discipline

A spot-on NYT editorial:

new report released by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country's 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system — even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children.

Black students, for example, are suspended at three times the rate of white students. Minority children with disabilities fare worst of all; the race effect is amplified when disability comes into the picture. More than one in four minority boys with a disability — and nearly one in five minority girls — receive an out-of-school suspension. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population, but 25 percent of those are either arrested or have their disciplinary cases referred to the police.

This is distressing enough when it happens to adolescents. But the new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early — in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension.

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Poor education for minority students

The DOE study provides further evidence for the immoral and outrageous truth that our educational system systematically gives poor and minority students – the ones who most need the best teachers and schools – the worst:

At the same time, minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Most minority students and English language learners are stuck in schools with the most new teachers. Seven percent of black students attend schools where as many as 20 percent of teachers fail to meet license and certification requirements. And one in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5,000 more than teachers in schools with higher black and Latino student enrollment.

Such discrimination lowers academic performance for minority students and puts them at greater risk of dropping out of school, according to previous research. The new research also shows the shortcomings of decades of legal and political moves to ensure equal rights to education. The Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling banned school segregation and affirmed the right to quality education for all children. The 1964 Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal access to education.

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Kudos to John and Laura Arnold!

Kudos to John and Laura Arnold!

In recent months, I have endured a number of intensely personal public attacks on my philanthropy—including lies (that I hid a donation to PBS when the writer found the information on our website), selective reporting (listing political contributions to Republicans as evidence that I aspire to be a "Koch brother," without noting that I am a Democrat and hosted a fundraiser for President Obama), and juvenile insults (that I have a "jug-eared face of a Division III women's basketball coach").

Further, opponents seek to discredit me by mentioning the ironic but irrelevant fact that I was once a mid-level manager at a company that filed one of the most devastating corporate bankruptcies of all time. One blogger even went as far as accusing me of "fleecing" Enron investors, a vicious allegation for which she summarily issued a public apology.

In light of the level of vitriol and misinformation displayed by criticisms such as these, I feel compelled to more clearly shed light on what I do and why I do it.

PS—He's referring to Ravitch here: "One blogger even went as far as accusing me of "fleecing" Enron investors, a vicious allegation for which she summarily issued a public apology."

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Preschool for 4-year-olds

 An important effort that I hope works and is expanded:

Amid a political push for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds, a growing number of experts fear that such programs actually start too late for the children most at risk. That is why Deisy Ixcuna-González, the 16-month-old daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, is wearing a tiny recorder that captures every word she hears and utters inside her family's cramped apartment one day a week.

Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor. So the recorder acts as a tool for instructing Deisy's parents on how to turn even a visit to the kitchen into a language lesson. It is part of an ambitious campaign, known as Providence Talks, aimed at the city's poorest residents to reduce the knowledge gap long before school starts. It is among a number of such efforts being undertaken throughout the country.

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Overprotected kids

 A lengthy and fascinating article about overprotected kids:

Like most parents my age, I have memories of childhood so different from the way my children are growing up that sometimes I think I might be making them up, or at least exaggerating them. I grew up on a block of nearly identical six-story apartment buildings in Queens, New York. In my elementary-school years, my friends and I spent a lot of afternoons playing cops and robbers in two interconnected apartment garages, after we discovered a door between them that we could pry open. Once, when I was about 9, my friend Kim and I "locked" a bunch of younger kids in an imaginary jail behind a low gate. Then Kim and I got hungry and walked over to Alba's pizzeria a few blocks away and forgot all about them. When we got back an hour later, they were still standing in the same spot. They never hopped over the gate, even though they easily could have; their parents never came looking for them, and no one expected them to. A couple of them were pretty upset, but back then, the code between kids ruled. We'd told them they were in jail, so they stayed in jail until we let them out. A parent's opinion on their term of incarceration would have been irrelevant.

I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn't work all that much when I was younger, but she didn't spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn't arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend's house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

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Vergara Lawsuit, California

Marcellus A. McRae, the lead co-counsel in the Vergara lawsuit, delivered an impassioned closing argument on behalf of the student plaintiffs: http://studentsmatter.org/marcellus-a-mcrae-delivers-plaintiffs-closing-arguments-in-vergara-v-california/ (56 minutes)

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Brookings Debunks "Too Much Homework" Fad

 
A great 2-min video:

Brookings Debunks "Too Much Homework" Fad

"The average American student does not face an extraordinary homework burden, the assignment load has not increased meaningfully over the past 20 years, and parents are generally satisfied with the amount and quality of schoolwork assigned to their children," says Brookings.

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State leaders reach deal on charter school reforms

State leaders reach deal on charter school reforms

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, March 27, 2014, 8:08 PM
 
Gov. Cuomo at a March 4 pro-charter school rally at the state Capitol on March 4. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos in in the blue blazer in the background.

State leaders reached a tentative deal on a charter school reform package that will increase per pupil spending and provide government-funded rent for the schools for the first time.

Also under the deal, if a new charter approved by the city includes a request for space inside existing city buildings, the city would have five-months to make a "reasonable" co-location offer or pay for private space, the sources said.

The charter can then accept the offer or challenge it before an arbitrator. If the school loses, the charter must pay its own rent or accept the original co-location offer, the sources said.

The charter issue became an unexpected budget battle after Mayor de Blasio stripped $210 million in capital funding from the city's charter schools and rescinded co-location agreements with three charters operated by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

Gov. Cuomo and the birpartisan coalition that rules the Senate vowed to protect the publicly-funded, privately run charters in the budget process.

A de Blasio spokesman had no comment on the emerging deal Thursday evening.

Those briefed on the plan say that per pupil funding for the charter schools will jump by $1,100 over three years, including $250 per student in year one, $350 in year 2 and $500 in year 3.

Charter schools in New York City receive nearly 30% less in public funding per pupil than traditional public schools.

The state, not the city, will pick up the additional costs, the sources said.

The city, under the tentative plan, would be on the hook to pay up to $40 million to cover the rents of charter schools located in private buildings. The state and city would share the costs above the $40 million, a source said.

The plan does not make the charters eligible for state building aid to make up for the mayor' scapital funding cut, sources said.

As reported earlier this week by the News, the final budget deal will include $300 million in funding for de Blasio's push to implement universal full-day prekindergarten and additional money for after-school programs.

"The mayor will get what he needs and charter schools will be part of the city and state," said one legislative source.

Cuomo and the legislative leaders had hoped to wrap up the budget talks Thursday, but got bogged down on final details.

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Charter school war could go national

---------------

Charter school war could go national

Richard Whitmire 3:44 p.m. EDT April 1, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is winning the battle in New York, but what about your state?

(Photo: Tim Roske, AP)

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New York City's celebrated new mayor and the state's famous governor just hammered out a truce over charter schools that most people probably assume only matters in that state. They are wrong.

The drama started when the ultra-liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, decided to crack down on charter schools— publicly funded, independently operated schools that he considers a threat to traditional schools. Then, the centrist liberal governor, Andrew Cuomo, mounted a strong defense of charters, not only blunting the attack but also boosting funding for charters. A win-win for Cuomo and charters.

That fact that a governor like Andrew Cuomo, someone mentioned as a future presidential contender, came out so strongly in support of charter schools is something that won't go unnoticed nationally.

Congress is definitely paying attention. The House education committee is scheduled to update the federal Charter Schools Program — an update which would increase the share of program funds used to support facilities for charters. Do you really think conservative House members will allow themselves to be outdone by a liberal New York governor?

And then there are impacts in Democrat-leaning states. In nearby Connecticut, a state with weak charter school laws, the governor and legislature have to be wondering about whether the time is right to move in New York's direction.

In Massachusetts, Democrats may be rethinking their opposition to a law allowing high performing charters to expand. If Cuomo was willing to stand tall, does that make Gov. Deval Patrick look like, well, something less than tall? Um, yes.

Several Republican governors, some of whom remain a bit wishy washy on charters, will feel a bit skunked. In Pennsylvania andTennessee, the governors have to be wondering: Why are we letting a Democratic governor like Cuomo make us look passive, maybe even a little wimpy, on charters?

On the flip side of the political picture, in progressive enclaves across the country, places where New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio is regarded as the brightest political prospect they've seen in years, political leaders have to be wondering what went wrong. If the incredibly popular de Blasio got slam dunked while attempting a modest charters trim back, what hope do they have?

The most significant part of the "treaty" that emerged from Albany is facilities funding. This is Cuomo saying flatly that charter schools are just as "public" and deserving of money for buildings as traditional school districts.

Until now, charter school critics — the unions and superintendents who see charters as intruders — have successfully painted charters as part of a nefarious "privatization" movement. Definitely unworthy of public school buildings. (Just how union presidents and school chiefs came to view themselves as the true public and charters as something else is unclear, but that's the way it is.)

Cuomo's strong steps could also end the fiction that charter schools are some kind of "experiment" tolerated only to pass lessons on to traditional schools — and therefore should not be allowed to expand. That hasn't been valid for years, not since it became clear that most traditional school leaders studiously ignore lessons-learned from charter schools.

It's not that charter schools are America's great education salvation. On average, they perform only a little better than regular schools. But the top charters, let's say the top 15%, maybe even the top quarter, are doing something special. They are succeeding with low-income minority kids in ways never before seen. They are not antidotes to poverty, but they demonstrate that poverty alone can't entirely predict academic outcomes. Schools matter, at least the good ones.

In recent years these top charters have shown they can partner with regular school districts in ways that help both. If de Blasio ever visited schools in Denver or the Spring Branch district in Houston, he might start rethinking his hostility toward charters. They could help him achieve his goal of narrowing the gap between the haves and have-nots.

As it turns out, de Blasio's botched attack on charters may end up doing a lot of good for urban students in several states. Maybe even in New York.

Richard Whitmire, author of On the Rocketship:How High Performing Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope, is working on a book about education politics.

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The Charter School Performance Breakout

The Charter School Performance Breakout

The oft-heard claim that charters perform no better than conventional schools is out of date and inaccurate.

By Karl Zinsmeister
Updated March 28, 2014 7:37 p.m. ET

Many have been puzzled by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's skepticism toward charter schools, his calls for ending space-sharing and charging them rent, and his $210 million cut of a construction fund important to the schools. Education reformers are also anxious about the failure of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to defend charter schools in the face of these prominent reversals of New York City policy. Is this just about teacher-union politics, or are there perhaps legitimate performance reasons for tapping the brakes on charter schools in public education today?

The first thing to remember about charter schools is how recent an invention they are. Born in the 1990s, it wasn't until 2006 that total enrollment reached a million children—out of 55 million pupils in the country. More than half of the charters in New York City are less than five years old.

Students enter the Success Academy and Opportunity Charity schools, both of which share space inside Harlem's P.S. 241, in New York. Associated Press

With huge waiting lists for every available seat, though, charters are now beginning to mushroom. Well before Mr. de Blasio faces re-election in 2017, charters will educate 10% of New York City's public-school students, and they already enroll a quarter of all pupils in some of the city's poorest districts. Nationwide, charter schools will enroll five million by the end of this decade.

But do they get results? Initial assessments were mixed. In the early days, charter authorizing was very loose, nobody knew what worked best, and lots of weak schools were launched. The system has since tightened. In Washington, D.C., for instance, seven out of nine requests to open new charters are now turned down, and 41 charters have been closed for failing to produce good results.

Nationwide, 561 new charter schools opened last year, while 206 laggards were closed. Unlike conventional public schools, the charter system allows poorly performing schools to be squeezed out.

As charter operators have figured out how to succeed with children, they are doubling down on the best models. Successful charter schools have many distinctive features: longer school days and longer years, more flexibility and accountability for teachers and principals, higher expectations for students, more discipline and structure, more curricular innovation, more rigorous testing. Most charter growth today is coming from replication of the best schools. The rate of enrollment increase at high-performing networks is now 10 times what it is at single-campus "mom and pop" academies.

The combination of weak charters closing and strong charters replicating is having powerful effects. The first major assessment of charter schools by Stanford's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found their results to be extremely variable, and overall no better than conventional schools as of 2009. Its follow-up study several years later found that steady closures and their replacement by proven models had pushed charters ahead of conventional schools. In New York City, the average charter-school student now absorbs five months of extra learning a year in math, and one extra month in reading, compared with counterparts in conventional schools.

Other reviews show similar results, and performance advantages will accelerate in the near future. Charter schools tend to start small and then add one additional grade each year. Thus many charters in New York and elsewhere are just getting started with many children. As the schools mature, and weak performers continue to be replaced, charters will become even more effective.

But the results top charter schools are achieving are already striking. At KIPP, the largest chain of charters, 86% of all students are low-income, and 95% are African-American or Latino, yet 83% go to college. In New York City, one of the academies Mr. de Blasio has denied additional space to is Harlem's highest-performing middle school, with its 97% minority fifth-graders ranking No. 1 in the state in math achievement. It and the 21 other schools in its charter network have passing rates on state math and reading tests more than twice the citywide average.

Judged by how far they move students from where they start, New York charter schools like Success Academies, Uncommon Schools, Democracy Prep and Achievement First—and others like them across the country—are now the highest-achieving schools in America. The oft-heard claim that charters perform no better than conventional schools on the whole is out of date and inaccurate.

Remarkably, charters do all this on the cheap. In a city where conventional public schools spend $19,770 per student, the New York City Department of Education funded its public charter schools at only $13,527 per pupil in the latest year. That's right around the average disparity nationwide, where urban charter schools get 72% of what conventional public schools receive for each child enrolled.

When the next school year starts this fall, there will be nearly 7,000 charter schools in America, with the growth curve pointing sharply upward. Historians who look back at our era may describe charter schools as the most consequential social invention of this generation, with potent effects on economic mobility.

And chartering represents one of the great self-organizing movements of our age. It rose up in the face of strong resistance from the educational establishment. It has been powered by independent social entrepreneurs and local philanthropists. It is a response by men and women who refused to accept heartbreaking educational failures that the responsible government institutions showed no capacity to solve on their own.

Mr. Zinsmeister is the author of "From Promising to Proven: A Wise Giver's Guide to Expanding on the Success of Charter Schools," just published by The Philanthropy Roundtable.

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What I've Learned Teaching Charter Students

What I've Learned Teaching Charter Students

One seventh grader asked me, 'Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?'

By Nicholas Simmons
March 31, 2014 7:33 p.m. ET

I'm a seventh-grade math teacher at Success Academy Harlem West, a public charter school. On April 30 and May 2, 3, the 272 students at my school, along with some 480,000 other New York City public school children, will sit for the state math exam. Last year, 89% of my seventh-graders and 83% of our sixth-graders passed the test, more than half scoring at the highest level.

But only 29% of all sixth-grade public-school students in the city passed the New York State Mathematics Test last year. Among sixth-grade black and Latino kids, only 15% and 17% passed, respectively. Among my sixth-graders, 97% are African-American or Latino, and three out of four of them are from low-income families.

Many teachers and parents—as well as New York City's school chancellor and the mayor, have said there is too much emphasis on testing. But at Success Academy, we believe internal assessments and the results from state exams are essential feedback for how well we as teachers have done our job in the classroom. Students and teachers embrace academic rigor and take pride in having some of the top math scores in the city, in many cases outperforming the city's gifted and talented programs.

A group of charter school students rally in support of charter schools outside the Capitol in Albany in March. Associated Press

I grew up in an affluent Connecticut suburb, attended an elite private school, and had many advantages the children in my school do not. Yet students are getting a far better education than I did. They are in school from 8:00 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. If some students do not fully understand a concept that day, they willingly stay for tutoring after school until they master it, sometimes working till 6 or 6:30 p.m.

Success Academy critics, however, have a hard time accepting our students' academic achievements, even after a five-year track record ranking among the state's top-performing schools. Critics, among them the teachers union, claim we "counsel out" special needs or low-performing students to keep scores high. Success Academy loses fewer of its students (10%, including special needs students) each year than our peer co-located public schools do (21%). Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth is frequently cited as fact in print and online. Last year, 1,538 Success Academy students took the state exams; 13% of them were special-needs kids. Of that group alone, 56% of them passed math. An average of 7% of New York City district special-needs students passed math.

The newest theory regarding our test scores is the most outlandish. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a union-funded nonprofit, was quoted in Bloomberg News saying that Success Academy is "trying to find ways to increase test scores; that's why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods."

Really? Is it just me—or does anyone else hear the prejudicial undertone in that statement? Is it really impossible for Mr. Westin to believe that Success Academy's poor black and Latino children can achieve at extraordinarily high levels? That with hard work and dedication, significant numbers of children in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy can be proficient at math and reading? That Success Academy might want all children—black and white, poor and middle class—to have access to great schools in various New York City neighborhoods?

Critics fail to understand how insulting and hurtful their remarks are to students and their parents. One of my students recently asked me, "Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?" These children work incredibly hard, and they're proud of their success. No one, especially without knowledge of their situation or home life or personal effort, has the right to undermine their remarkable achievements.

There's an excellent reason why Success Academy scholars do extraordinarily well on the state exams: We believe they can. We believe all children can succeed, no matter their socioeconomic circumstances.

Our critics do not share that belief. To them, the achievement gap—with only 11% of African-American children and 12% of Latino students prepared for college—is a given, an unfortunate, but unavoidable fact of New York City's public schools.

Our students have flipped that "fact" on its head. Now it's time for educators to start believing that with the right changes, we can achieve these results for all New York City students.

Mr. Simmons is in his second year teaching mathematics at Success Academy Harlem West Middle School.

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Stand Tall, John King

March 27, 2014 | by Tim Daly

At this weekend's annual meeting, representatives of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) are expected to follow through on a longstanding threat to vote "no confidence" in the state's chief education official, John King. 

Put plainly, the intent of the vote is to intimidate King. He has steadfastly insisted on raising the standard for what it means to master basic subject areas in New York classrooms. The union has demanded that King delay—for years—any accountability for teachers to help students make progress against the Common Core State Standards. King has stood his ground. The planning process has already lasted four years. He believes that a 2010 law adopting new teacher evaluation parameters, passed with the union's hearty support, should now be implemented as agreed. In the recent state budget negotiations, the governor and the state legislature agreed with him and declined to make any changes to teacher evaluation. At least for now, the issue appears settled. 

NYSUT's efforts may have failed, but its leaders are not moving on. They still want payback. In February, the union's directors issued a public threat: either King gives in or it will rally members to seek his resignation. This vote would fulfill the threat.

Why would King risk an all-out attack by the best-funded interest group in the state when he could just accede to the union's policy demands and make it go away? 

To understand, you need to know John King. He does not see himself as an appointed official navigating the notorious politics of Albany. He still sees himself as a boy whose life was changed—and possibly saved—by great public schools. And he is not about to break his commitments to today's students, no matter who's demanding it.

King experienced a childhood with challenges that most of us cannot imagine. His mother died of a heart attack when he was eight. Four years later, his father, who had been the first African American school principal in Brooklyn, succumbed to Alzheimer's. King could have quit. But he kept going to school, and nurturing teachers kept pushing him to his fulfill his potential. He also could have quit when he secured a golden opportunity to attend an elite boarding school, but found himself a fish out of water in an all-white environment and was expelled. Again, he kept going. And wow, did he go.

Just eight years after his father passed away, King graduated from Harvard. He earned a master's degree at Teachers College and became a public school teacher. Then he completed law school at Yale. And a doctorate back at Teachers College. He started and led several outstanding public schools that achieved exceptional outcomes for low-income students. Instead of becoming a bleak educational statistic, King epitomized hope.

We need leaders like John King. There are enough safe leaders from safe backgrounds who take the safe path to senior positions and then adopt the safest policies available to them. Under those safe leaders, our schools have failed the overwhelming majority of low-income families. I rest easier at night knowing that there are a few education leaders out there like John King, who know what it's like to go to bed hungry or to feel entirely alone. Or to be the only dark-skinned face in a sea of white faces. It gives me comfort to know that he is in there, fighting for every student to get the same education he got. I love the fact that when King makes a commitment to do something, he keeps the commitment, even when others break theirs.

It's difficult to figure out why NYSUT's leadership has such enmity for the state commissioner personally—especially given that his position on evaluation has been shared by the legislature, Board of Regents, and governor. He hasn't lost his temper, even when he was treated deplorably in forums on Long Island and elsewhere. He doesn't enjoy the political elements of his job. But he accepts them because they are part of the job. He's a fantastic educator with a track record that far exceeds those of his critics. Even if you don't agree with every policy New York is enacting—and I certainly respect those who feel that way—it's awfully hard not to admire John King as a public servant.

So why the no-confidence vote? King's greatest crime is refusing to be bullied by NYSUT's bosses, the ever-present forces in behind-the-scenes New York deal making. He is accused of standing by the promises he made in 2010, while NYSUT shamelessly breaks its own. 

NYSUT leaders believed King would fear them. This was a mistake that led to a series of deplorable moments for the union. NYSUT and its affiliates said nothing when union flacks taunted and shouted at King in publicthen blamed him afterwards. Its top officialsrepeatedly threatened his job. But John King has not buckled. 

NYSUT representatives would be better off tabling this embarrassing vote on John King and shifting to a vote of no confidence in its own bosses, who had a chance to stand up for a fresh era in New York schools when educators lead the way toward better results and richer classrooms. Instead, they've spent the past year breaking their written commitments on their support for Race to the Top,blaming the state for a surge in local testing that they helped cause, and squabbling over which faction will run the union.

It's hard to imagine that New York's hard-working and capable teachers are going to be proud of what the union leaders are doing. But it's also important for observers to understand that "teachers" aren't doing this. The majority of rank and file teachers checked out long ago from union shenanigans. John King is the kind of guy teachers want their students to become, not the kind of guy they'd like to run out of town.

I hope John King spends the weekend of April 5-6 enjoying some time with his family, paying not a whit of attention to the NYSUT vote. To be hounded by the leaders of an interest group like NYSUT, especially when they are desperate to divert member attention from their own failings, is inevitable for any leader who does the right thing. And I believe that on April 7, when the vote is done and everyone heads back to work, Governor Cuomo and the Regents will be more firmly behind John King than ever before.

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Leading the Country on Pre-K

Leading the Country on Pre-K

Mayor Bill de Blasio has every right to call the agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in Albany to finance a vast expansion of prekindergarten in New York City a major victory — for him politically and for tens of thousands of children who will be put on a path to a better future.

The amount — $600 million for two years, to start — is not everything Mr. de Blasio said he needed, and it won't be raised through a higher income tax on high-earning New Yorkers, an idea that Mr. Cuomo decisively rejected. But never mind, the de Blasio administration says, $300 million a year is enough to offer free, full-day, high-quality, prekindergarten classes across the city, at $10,000 per 4-year-old. New York is poised to make a commitment to preschool on a larger scale than any city in the country.

The burden is now on Mr. de Blasio and the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, to take the money and set up a credible, high-quality prekindergarten program in just five months. Their aim is to have 53,000 children enrolled by September, and 73,000 by the 2015-16 school year. An understandable — and not unwise — reaction is to count the many ways this vision can come undone.

One is through a dearth of quality. The city expects about 60 percent of the programs to be run not by public schools but community-based organizations. Many of them are excellent, but it will be a challenge to make sure that every educational nonprofit in every neighborhood can provide safe and well-managed classrooms with excellent teachers. Community organizations have lower-paid, less-experienced teachers than the public schools and don't have to meet the same teacher-certification requirements.

The administration says that it is close to naming the schools where it will place the preschool programs to open in September. It reports a sharp jump in job applications from certified teachers and says schools and community organizations have proposed making available 29,000 new preschool seats, 8,000 more than the city says it needs.

It has just begun the daunting job of persuading tens of thousands of parents to sign up their children for programs not available before, which means putting together an outreach effort on a huge scale, especially for English-language learners and residents of public housing, where benefits of expanded preschool will be most strongly felt.

Whether state financing will carry over many years remains a question. Although legislative leaders have pledged a total of $1.5 billion over five years for the statewide prekindergarten expansion, we can expect to see Mr. de Blasio and his aides trooping back to Albany in coming years for budget battles to come. And separate from the preschool initiative, the second part of Mr. de Blasio's education agenda was citywide after-school programs for middle-schools. That $190-million-a-year proposal was to be financed through the rejected tax, and now plans for it are unclear. It must not be forgotten.

When Mr. de Blasio was running in a crowded field of Democrats and making ambitious promises, it was easy to view the preschool and after-school proposals as wishful, if not grandiose. But he has moved doggedly, and despite predictions that his prekindergarten tax would fail, which it did, the city got the money anyway. With the money struggle over for now, the important work gets harder.

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Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

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Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/opinion/giving-up-on-4-year-olds.html

new report released by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country's 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system — even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children.

Black students, for example, are suspended at three times the rate of white students. Minority children with disabilities fare worst of all; the race effect is amplified when disability comes into the picture. More than one in four minority boys with a disability — and nearly one in five minority girls — receive an out-of-school suspension. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population, but 25 percent of those are either arrested or have their disciplinary cases referred to the police.

This is distressing enough when it happens to adolescents. But the new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early — in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension.

The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers. It runs counter to the very mission of early education, which is to promote school readiness. It harms children emotionally at an age when they are incapable of absorbing lessons from this form of punishment. And it places those children at greater risk of falling behind, dropping out or becoming permanently involved with the juvenile justice system. Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.

Regardless of the causes, there are ways to combat this crisis. Walter Gilliam of Yale University, who has studied the expulsion problem extensively, has suggested several ways to minimize it. Among other things, Mr. Gilliam has called for: limiting enrollment to 10 students per preschool teacher (preferably less) so that teachers have adequate time with the students; making sure that those teachers work reasonable hours; and giving them access to children's mental health consultants who can assist them with the occasional difficult case. Young children with challenging behaviors should not be thrown out but should be assessed to see if a more therapeutic environment might better suit their needs. The goal should be to do everything possible to bring them into the mainstream.

The Obama administration has taken some steps to end practices that disproportionately and unjustifiably subject minority students to suspension, expulsion or even arrest for behavior that should be dealt with by the principal. It has ramped up civil rights investigations and forced some districts to modify their policies.

Earlier this year, it issued extensive guidance to school districts on how to recognize and avoid discriminatory practices, and it called for more training for teachers in classroom management. School districts need to re-examine how they discipline students, especially the youngest and most fragile in their care.


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