The NAACP’s demands of charter schools aren’t about educational quality

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If you want to kill a good idea just set impossible conditions for its success and it will die trying to meet them. That’s the apparent strategy behind the resolution adopted by the National Association of Colored People this fall calling for a moratorium on public charter schools until the following four conditions are met:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

These conditions are either unprovable, subjective or baseless so the call for a moratorium is essentially a call for no new charter schools until the NAACP changes its mind. It’s like some accountability opponents who insist they are not against testing but simply want “valid, reliable” tests, and then go on to argue that every existing test falls short of this “reasonable” standard.

Consider the conditions one at a time.

Are transparency and accountability standards different for charters than for traditional public schools? Charters and traditional public schools are both subject to the same open meetings laws and financial and academic reporting requirements.

Both public charter schools and traditional public schools are required to administer the same standardized tests and meet the same performance goals. And charter schools are closed down more frequently than traditional public schools.

When families are provided quality, accessible, and easily-digestible information about charter schools, charters also face organic accountability from parents seeking the best options for their children. They just leave.

In practice, many charter schools may face less scrutiny than traditional public school systems because the public and the media don’t regularly attend their board meetings, but the laws apply equally. Charter schools are also held accountable by their authorizers who, in a quality environment, are similarly watched and held accountable by an oversight body.

The second requirement is silly on the face of it. Charter schools are public schools and in our system of public education, most of the money follows the child. If a child switches from a neighborhood school to a magnet school, to another traditional public school, or if the child’s family moves to another school district, the school loses some funding tied to that child.

It’s no different for charters. Traditional public schools are not entitled to keep money dedicated to a child’s education simply by virtue of the the child’s address. Parents vote with their feet and the money follows the child. When school enrollment declines, for whatever reason, the system must adjust.

It’s important to note that, despite the fact that money should follow the child, charters get approximately one third less funding than traditional public schools. They’re typically provided only a portion of the per-pupil expenditure and have less access to facilities funding.

Regarding, the third issue, there is some data showing higher suspension and expulsion rates among some charter schools, but there are also places like D.C. and New Orleans offering positive alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Traditional public schools invented zero discipline policies and are plenty guilty of suspending and expelling students. Blanket condemnation of the entire charter sector is both unfair and false.

And let’s also remember that some charters, like some traditional schools, may not be right for some kids, but that’s a decision for the parent and the school to make together. If charter schools are systematically pushing kids out, authorizers should hold them accountable.

The fourth issue is especially hard to pin down. The NAACP implies that charters are “creaming” — screening out low-performing students in order to boost their overall test scores. Here again there may be anecdotes, but there is no data supporting this claim, and therefore no ability for the charter sector to “meet” this expectation.

What are the facts about creaming and what would satisfy the NAACP? Nobody knows. What we do know is that when applicants exceed the number of seats, charters hold a lottery and accept all kids who are selected. Magnet schools and gifted programs, which are in many traditional school systems, openly screen for higher-performing students. Is the NAACP okay with that?

In the end, quality must count most

None of the NAACP’s four conditions have anything to do with educational quality, which is, after all, the core reason we have charters. Parents want better educational options for their kids. Studies show that many charters, especially in urban areas, are doing very well and the best of them are closing achievement gaps.

Parents have a right to choose the school that best meets their child’s educational needs. People with money choose private schools or move to expensive communities with better schools.  Charters empower low-income parents to make the same choice.

Public charter schools aren’t perfect and they need some oversight. But the NAACP’s four conditions fail the “reasonable” test and their moratorium will effectively take away a parent’s right to choice from the very people the organization exists to serve.A

School districts haunted by a ‘creepy clown’ fear campaign

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Every generation produces an aging bunch that proclaims “the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” Now that group has proof.

Public schools in multiple states are reporting a rash of “creepy clown” incidents that involve death threats, crimes, and the menacing of school staff. The New Times says 12 people are facing various charges. At least one “clown hoax” that has been linked to a death.

Were this happening in one place there might be less concern, but district from east to west are experiencing attacks.

A teen in Kansas has been arrested for making “creepy clown” threats on social media against two schools in Wichita.

A high school student was arrested in Prince George’s County, Maryland for making threats against Parkdale High School, and another student faces disciplining for bomb threats against Blandensburgh High School.

Parents in Seattle were alerted by school staff that several local schools were named as clown targets in Instagram and Facebook posts.

School officials in New Haven have called for a ban on clown costumes until more information is available about the threat clown threat.

While none of these stories give clues about the origin of the creepy clown faux-crime wave against public schools, Thomas Erik Bascome’s article in locates State Island, New York as the launching point.

He says:

In March 2014, there were several reports of a mysterious clown wandering Staten Island that caused quite the uproar online.The “Staten Island Clown” became a social media sensation when pictures came forth of him dressed in what appeared to be a replica costume of Pennywise from Stephen King’s “It” — consisting of a yellow jumpsuit, face paint, and a classic red nose.

The story drew massive interest and was shared by many major news outlets.

The clown was spotted at the Grasmere and Richmond Valley train stations but reportedly did not bother anyone, simply standing and waving at onlookers. However, this was enough to scare several Staten Islanders to the point of Tweeting that they were afraid to even leave their house.

Less than a week after the first reports came out, it was discovered that the “Staten Island Clown” was really just a promotional stunt for Fuzz on the Lens Productions, a low budget film company with roots on Staten Island. 

In past years the public might had viewed these incidents as youthful horseplay. But in an era of school shootings and declining school budgets schools districts must take precautions that divert staff attention and resources to a needless problem that puts everyone on edge.

Kids today.

How can a school district be ‘politically neutral’ about black lives?

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Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt got a Senior at Buckeye Union High School called into her principals office. She says her principal asked her to remove the shirt after receiving a complaint from a student who was offended by it.

It all started when Mariah Harvard encountered a student who told her “black lives don’t matter” and “that shirt is meaningless.” Harvard attempted to explain what the shirt meant to her, but the other student complained and school leaders responded by banning the shirt.

Last Friday her vice principal ordered her to remove her sweatshirt to see if she was wearing the BLM shirt again, something local BLM activists call a “quasi-strip search.”

The incident prompted 10 students to stage a walk out where they were supported by their parents, community members, and local civil rights groups.

According to Great Schools, Buckeye Union High School has only 7% black students enrolled (53% Hispanic, 38% white). The school has graduation rates for all groups well above the state average, but low test scores.

School officials issued a statement that said the district “strives to remain politically neutral while still allowing for student expression.”

It should be surprising to all that in 2016 three obvious words, Black Lives Matter, are more than a “public” school can handle.

Even if teachers aren’t in it for the pay, they should still be paid well

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A good family friend recently told me about a $175 steak offered at a high-end restaurant in Las Vegas. I wondered what kind of magic cow could produce such a piece of meat, and who are the people willing to fork over that kind of cash to devour one?

This is America. We pay 4000% mark up for a good cup of coffee. We add several hundreds of dollars to the cost of a two-hour flight for the pleasure of sitting in first class which includes a couple of drinks, and a few extra service touches that make flying civilized. We pay extra for lounging chairs in movie theaters. We believe in the power of money and the promise of premium, meaning, we pay more for things we assume are of better quality.

Except for teachers. They’re screwed.

We expect high quality, but we aren’t willing to pay the cost of being the boss.

John Fensterwald from EdSource has a Huffington Post piece about the problem, based on a new report from the Economic Policy Institute:

Pay for teachers has stagnated nationally over the past two decades, and fallen behind earnings of other workers with college degrees, the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank, concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In 1994, teachers earned on average 1.8 percent less than other comparable workers; by 2015, they earned 17 percent less, adjusted for inflation. Factoring in total compensation, including health benefits and pensions, teachers earned the same as other workers with college degrees in 1994 but 11 percent less by 2015, the report found.

There is never a good time to under-pay teachers, but this time might be the worst. According to the report mentioned from the EPI, “At the same time [that teacher wages are depreciating], many factors are increasing the demand for teachers, including shrinking class sizes, the desire to improve diversity, and the need to meet high standards…In short, the demand for teachers is escalating, while simultaneously the supply of teachers is faltering.”

We want high-quality teachers capable of teaching students of color, the new majority in public schools. We want these teachers to be talented and connected to the communities in which they teach. But we’re making them a lousy job offer: work hard, eat little.

We want smaller classes and outsized gains in student achievement, but the pipeline of new teachers is too weak to meet the need.

All put together, shouldn’t that spur premium pricing for teacher salaries?

Nobody gives teachers and their unions a harder time about quality and results than I do. It’s to the point that people believe it’s personal with me (it’s not). I just can’t see how the question of quality teaching is disconnected from the issue of pay.

Yet, when we discuss connecting teacher pay to quality and expectation for results we enter a peanut gallery of conflicting interests. We fall down a dark and cold mine shaft of arguments about the definitions of those ends, the ways we are to measure them, and, in some cases, whether pay and performance should be connected at all.

No blog post will solve that one. Still, wherever you sit in the education wars you have to admit that great teaching is probably harder than what you do. You can’t be serious as a citizen about investing in subsequent generations if you aren’t willing to reward the people tasked with facilitating the intellectual development of children.

Teachers often say they don’t enter the profession for the money. It’s a rejoinder meant to express they have noble intentions for pursuing teaching. I appreciate the thought, but I think they should stop saying it. Whether you like it or not money matters to Americans and it will always be difficult to entice new entrants into the field if it is widely known that doing so means vowing to poverty and being viewed as the one profession least valued in terms of compensation.

If we’re willing to splurge on premium costs for things that aren’t essential, like steaks and chairs on planes or in movie theaters, it’s inconceivable that we would continue to depreciate the people we expect to be caring, competent, and committed when they stand before our children in classrooms.

Remember when people won’t applaud your Success

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Nobody I know disputes Success Academy charter schools get eye-popping results with students the rest of New York fails to educate.

Yet, more people are questioning how Eva Moskowitz, the Success network’s leader, gets the job done.

Jeff Copion calls her a “micromanager” in the first sentence of a textured New York Magazine profile of her. That seems like new shorthand for an intensely focused leader who suffers from the despairing lack of a penis. But I could be wrong.

This paragraph captures the cartoon that is drawn of Moskowitz:

At the crux of this sea change stands Moskowitz. At 47, she is feared, revered, and reviled in like proportions. As the face of the social-Darwinist wing of the local charter movement, she’s been cast as the grim reaper of moribund neighborhood schools, a witting tool of privatizing billionaires, and a Machiavellian schemer with her sights set on the mayoralty. “She’s the spokesperson in demonizing the public schools,” says Noah Gotbaum, president of District 3’s Community Education Council. “Eva’s philosophy is that you’ve got to burn the village to save it.”

Her critics now have a hammer to beat Success with: student discipline practices.  One of her school principals was exposed for having a “got to go” list of troubled students that needed to be counseled out of his school. He gave a pained apology. Moskovitz called the issue an anomaly, but took responsibility in a press conference.

The headlines are hysterical:

“Survival of the fittest at Success Academy,” writes teachers’ union grantee Judith Browne Diannis. “Did Eva Lie? Charter Queen claims “Got to Go” List an ‘Anomaly’,” writes teachers’ union enthusiast Alan Singer. Writing for Slate teen fiction author Laura Moser says “If Eva Moskowitz Weren’t Real, Charter School Opponents Would Have Had to Make Her Up.”

To my knowledge Browne Diannis isn’t experienced in operating a school that educates kids of color.

Singer is a teacher at Franklin K. Lane High School, a school that generated this headline: “The City’s most hated school; 20% bolt Brooklyn high school to escape crowding, crime, and low scores.”

No shade.

Moser is a charter school parent familiar with the struggles of balancing the needs of a few disruptive students with the goals of the majority of the students.

She says:

Is Success a model for how to educate disadvantaged students, or are its extreme practices doing a disservice to the charter schools out there that are taking all comers? (My son goes to one such charter, which, while not without its problems, responded to a few parents’ very, very loud calls to push out some “extremely disruptive students” last year by doubling down on its support system for them. Though I guess the fact that pushing these kids out was even a topic of discussion returns us to the original problem …)

Not all criticism comes from union apologists on the Left.

RiShawn Biddle has been giving Moskowitz the business for a while. We had a snappy exchange about it where I was stood for parents, like me, who purposefully chose schools with a strong focus on order, safety, rigor, and results. He took a moral position that equated Success practices with abuse.

Other Moskowitz supporters seem mum on the bad press. Some talking to me offline are torn about the issues, supportive of the results, queasy about authoritarian policies. For others, my guess is they see it for what the pile on for what is, an organized union attempt to take out a formidable competitor to their failing educational monopoly.

It isn’t all bad news for Moskowitz. She got a lift from Madeleine Sackler and James Lawler, the filmmakers who chronicled the efforts of four families competing with 4,000 other families seeking a seat in Success Academy. Their movie, “The Lottery,” is one of my favorites. By favorite I mean it punctured my chest, tore my heart out, poured lighter fluid on it, set it afire, put it on a stake, ran with it through the deepest recesses of my mind until it came to my conscience at which point it reignited my passion for emancipating black families from the mind-numbing starter prisons seemly good people think are appropriate for other people’s children.

Sackler and Lawler say:

We witnessed the overwhelmingly positive impact that the Success Academy’s teaching philosophy and methodology have on its students. We also saw the enthusiasm of the majority of parents with children in the school and the joy within its classrooms. But you wouldn’t know any of this from reading this article.

Instead, you focus on the experience of a handful of disgruntled parents. The implication is that Success Academy’s rigorous culture comes at an unacceptable cost.

Success has some of the lowest attrition rates in the city: Its schools lose only 10 percent of students as compared with district schools, which lose 14.3 percent. In neighborhoods like Harlem, that number climbs to 20 percent.

In New York City, only 35 percent of students passed the state math exam. At Success, that number is 93 percent.

Given the historic results that Success has achieved, the implication that its culture of excellence comes at too high a price is unfair. To the extent to which this article and others like it makes it more difficult for schools like Success, which now serves 11,000 children, to expand, it does a grave disservice to those children, to our city and to our country.

Libby Nelson has a good Vox explainer about the controversy dogging Success Academy. The piece draws an inappropriate between Success and the broader movement of charter schools (no charter chain in America is like Success), but it focus attention about the the real point of education advocacy, results for marginalized children.

Students at Success Academy schools do incredibly well on standardized tests, particularly compared with students in New York City schools as a whole. The charter school chain enrolls 11,000 students, most of them black or Hispanic and poor, in 34 schools across the city.

This year, 93 percent of Success Academy students tested as proficient in math in 2015, compared with just 35 percent of kids in New York as a whole; 68 percent tested as proficient in reading, compared with 30 percent citywide.

Even among urban charter networks, those are outstanding results.

My pro-reform friends are right to be vigilant about discipline practices are unacceptable. The school-to-prison pipeline is real. I’m just at a different point on the continuum of how strict we think schools should be in order to produce results for poor kids who are not disruptive or can be easily corrected for positive behavior. I suspect the thousands of families trying to get into Success Academy are with me on that.

For organizers opposed to charter schools (especially successful ones that discount the prevailing “poor-kids-can’t-learn” gospel of failing districts), I just can’t. Their self-interest is naked. Doubly so because they seem so inattentive to matters of equity in traditional, unionized, industrialized district schools.