For those of you who missed 20/20 with John Stossel, Bailouts & Bull%#@&, Friday night, here's the segment where I appear.
If you can't see the video, go here.
Commentary on government schools and school choice alternatives
On Tuesday, trustees voted unanimously to cap the number of students who can transfer from their neighborhood school to another through open enrollment at 5 percent.
Last school year, 240 children normally bound for Eddy chose open enrollment. Most went to Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle, a new school in the neighborhood. For the coming school year, an additional 240 children that automatically would have gone to Eddy applied to go to another school.
The cap was hotly debated Tuesday night. Supporters of the cap praised the academic rigor at Harriet Eddy and its diversity. Those against the cap said the school is unsafe and poorly administered.
But providing an equitable education to all students at all middle schools ultimately trumped parental choice.
"I will not stand by and let a couple of schools deteriorate as a board member," said trustee Chet Madison.
But the debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn't about facts. It's about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program? Why wouldn't Congress want to get the results of a carefully calibrated scientific study before pulling the plug on a program that has proved to be enormously popular? Could the real fear be that school vouchers might actually be shown to be effective in leveling the academic playing field?
“I don’t think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids.”
Charter public schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are outperforming their district public school peers at all grade levels, with high-poverty students, with English Language Learner (ELL) students and with ethnic minority students with the exception of whites, according to a new report released today by the California Charter Schools Association. The report also found that these gains are most prominent at the middle and high school levels, and that these gains are increasing over time.
Entitled, “A Longitudinal Analysis of Charter School Performance in Oakland Unified School District,” the report analyzed results from California’s Academic Performance Index (API) Growth results and also assessed, in the most detailed analysis to date, charter schools’ performance compared to their most “similarly-matched” Oakland district public schools that students would otherwise likely attend.
The report found that nearly seven in 10 charter schools (69 percent) on average outperformed their three most “similarly-matched” district schools on 2008 API Growth results.
The report also found that charter schools significantly outperformed district public schools in middle (836 to 624) and high schools (688 to 528) and slightly outperformed district schools at the elementary school level (725 to 705). Of the top ten highest-performing public schools in Oakland, all secondary schools were charter schools.
Oakland’s charter schools outperformed Oakland’s district public schools on behalf of Asian, African-American and Latino students, as well as ELL and high-poverty students while they slightly trailed in the performance of white students. Of all subgroups, charter schools most significantly outperformed among African-American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (a gap of 77 and 76 points, respectively).
In 2002, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission contracted with the for-profit education management organization Edison Schools to manage 20 of the district’s under-performing schools, and with Victory Schools and Chancellor Beacon Academies to manage five each. The commission also contracted with and with nonprofit organizations to manage 16 schools: the University of Pennsylvania (5 schools), Temple University (5 schools), Foundations (3 schools), and Universal (3 schools). Since that time, the district has terminated several of the contracts and regained control of the schools. Do the terminations reflect the schools’ relative performance? The study by Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos finds that they do not and concludes 1) for-profits outperform district-managed schools in math but not in reading; 2) nonprofits probably fall short of district schools in both reading and math instruction; and 3) for-profits outperform nonprofits in both subjects.
Philadelphia schools managed by for-profit companies outperform district-managed schools in math, and for-profits fare better in both reading and math when compared to schools under nonprofit management, according to new research by Paul E. Peterson and Matthew M. Chingos of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The Peterson-Chingos study, published in the peer-reviewed research section of the forthcoming issue of Education Next (Spring 2009), confirms that the effect of for-profit management of schools is positive relative to district schools, with math impacts being statistically significant. Over the last six years, students learned each year an average of 25 percent of a standard deviation more in math -- roughly 60 percent of a year’s worth of learning -- than they would have had the school been under district management. In reading, the estimated average annual impact of for-profit management is a positive 10 percent of a standard deviation -- approximately 36 percent of a year’s worth of reading. Only the math differences are statistically significant, however.
Get ready for another golden era for charter schools. In many ways, the Bill Clinton years were better for charters than the George Bush years. Largely that’s because the press and the public expects Republicans to support choice and charters; it’s much more powerful when Democrats do so. And by all accounts, Arne Duncan loves charter schools. One person told me that Duncan would make every school a charter school if he could. But at the least, he will be an effective advocate for the view that urban districts can use chartering to promote their larger reform agendas. Which means charters are going mainstream.
Raheja, whose mother is a Seneca, wrote the letter upon hearing of a four-decade district tradition, where kindergartners at Condit and Mountain View elementary schools take annual turns dressing up and visiting the other school for a Thanksgiving feast. This year, the Mountain View children would have dressed as Native Americans and walked to Condit, whose students would have dressed as Pilgrims.LA Times story here.
Under the proposal:
• Franklin Middle School, 1501 Aldrich Av. N.: Likely would be sold to WISE Charter School, a K-7 program on the North Side that serves about 300 students and plans to expand to eighth grade next year. Sale price: $5.3 million
• Putnam Elementary, 1616 NE. Buchanan St.: Yinghua Academy, one of the state's first Mandarin Chinese immersion programs, would relocate to Putnam from a site in St. Paul. Sale price: $2.4 million
• Morris Park Elementary, 3810 E. 56th St.: Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a K-2 that serves a large Latino population, would move into the school. Sale price: $2.9 million.
All three charter schools expect to see their enrollment increase in the near future and have agreed to partner with Minneapolis on joint training programs for teachers. They will also open their facilities to the community for enrichment and recreation programs.
Minneapolis closed five schools on the North Side during the past five years and began an ambitious plan to improve achievement at the remaining 10 schools. So far, the results of those changes have been mixed. While the charter schools won't be sponsored by Minneapolis or increase its enrollment in the short term, the prospect of adding WISE as a feeder school for North High is important because the school has faced sharper enrollment declines in recent years than high schools in south Minneapolis.
The proposed policy has some terrible parts that require a start-over:
• Access to placement on the district Web site. Charter schools from New Technology High School to the Language Academy to Sacramento Charter High School would be listed only on a "case-by-case basis." Placement would be a "privilege." These schools would have to show they are in "good standing" and then "enter into an agreement." This is nonsense. The district already does annual reviews of its charter schools and extensive reviews during the five-year renewal process.
• Access to schools for open houses and "Options Nights." The district has six comprehensive high schools and six small high schools (some charters, some not). These schools recruit at the middle schools leading up to the open enrollment process. In the past, individual principals could decide to include charter schools or not. That arbitrary policy was bad enough, but now things are worse. This year, charter schools run by nonprofits (independent charters), such as Sacramento High, will not be allowed access to middle school campuses for recruiting.
Unlike our national infrastructure, our education system's problems do not stem from a lack of investment. The United States spent $553 billion on public elementary and secondary education in 2006-2007, which is 4.2 percent of gross domestic product. Per student government spending on education has grown 49 percent between 1984 and 2004 and two years ago stood at $9,266 after adjusting for inflation. Still, student achievement has barely budged as measured by high school graduation rates, SAT scores or long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores.
The conventional wisdom is that schools need more resources to reduce classroom size, buy more computers and hire more credentialed teachers. The problem, however, is not one of inputs, but of accountability and incentives. As things stand, the vast majority of parents whose children are stuck in failing schools have few options for transferring to better schools. What's more, since teachers obtain guaranteed raises based on the pay scales negotiated by their unions, they have little incentive to try new teaching strategies or look for innovative ways to ensure learning. In short, public schools have a captive market whose providers face little penalty for poor service.
To change that would require reintroducing proper incentives, including firing underperforming teachers and linking teacher raises to performance - both measures that Obama has supported. He has also advocated doubling funding for charter schools to expand parental choice.
However, kids in failing schools will get real choice only when education dollars are tied to their backs so that they can go to any public, private or charter school of their choice. San Francisco, Florida and many other places have tried this with remarkable success in reforming their public schools and improving student performance.
The choice component in the No Child Left Behind Act, however, has failed because it is too weak. It requires chronically low-performing schools to give their kids an option of attending another school in their district. But since there are usually few good options within a district, less than 1 percent of parents actually opt for a different school. The new secretary should use the pending reauthorization of the law to expand and strengthen its school choice aspect.
The hands down best person for the job would be Michelle Rhee, current chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and the founder of the New Teacher Project, a nationwide nonprofit that trains teachers for needy school districts. A non-establishment liberal, she has been dubbed the "Crusader of the Classroom" by The Atlantic because she has taken on the city's powerful unions and offered unwavering backing to D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarship Program - the country's first federal voucher program that gives 1,900 kids from low-income families up to $7,500 to attend private schools of their choice. Rhee, a tough and able administrator, doesn't see school choice as a threat to her mission in the public schools. "I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent's ability to make a choice for their child. Ever," she said. Indeed, she correctly sees the competition presented by school choice and charter schools as part of the process of raising standards in the public school system at large. Although she hedged her support for vouchers when pressed during the presidential campaign, her overall support for school choice stems not from any ideological commitment, but her pragmatism and open-mindedness - exactly the kind of person that an empirically-driven president would want on his side.
Also excellent would be General Colin Powell and Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City's schools - both political centrists who support school reform over simply pouring more money into the system.
Gen. Powell, President Bush's former Secretary of State who endorsed Obama, has been an ardent supporter of all manner of school choice to give poor, minority parents the same options that the rich enjoy. He has the stature and the depth to take on the education establishment and push reforms, qualities that would more than compensate for his lack of experience in education.
More controversial, but equally good would be Joel Klein, whose very possibility for the office has caused New York teachers' unions to launch a petition drive opposing him - something that in itself demonstrates his aptness for the job. As chancellor of the largest public school system in the country, he has realized that top-down central planning doesn't work and emphasized giving school principals more authority to run their schools while holding them accountable for results. He should, however, be kept as far away from the Justice Department as possible given the gusto with which he used antitrust laws to hound Microsoft during the Clinton years.
Among the less good, but still quite respectable picks, would be Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools and a regular in Obama's basketball games. He was on the court with Obama the morning after the election. Duncan is a reformist who has implemented something along the lines of San Francisco's weighted-student formula under which kids can take their education dollars to any school - public or private. Although not a supporter of full-blown vouchers, he authored the Renaissance 2010 program which aims at converting all failing schools in Chicago into charters by 2010. Like Obama, he supports performance pay for teachers.
Also acceptable would be Jonathan Schnur, founder and chief executive officer of New Leaders for New Schools - a national nonprofit that trains principals for urban public schools. He takes an unorthodox approach to teacher training, focusing not on candidates with traditional educational backgrounds but from all walks of life.
Obama should try to stay away from governors such as Janet Napolitano of Arizona; Tim Kaine of Virginia; and Jim Hunt of North Carolina. All of them would favor driving as much federal funding to states as opposed to tackling school reforms. They all are strong advocates of early childhood education and are likely to push - rather than temper - Obama's plan to create a federally-funded universal preschool program, despite little evidence that this would help to improve academic performance.
Among the absolute worst picks for the job would be Randi Weingarten, current president of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, and Inez Tenenbaum, State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina. As a leader of New York unions, Weingarten has constantly butted heads with Joel Klein and opposed basic, sensible school reforms that unions find threatening. Tenenbaum is a career politician who has shown no interest in reforming South Carolina's schools despite their dismal SAT performance. Picking either of them would be an eloquent signal that Obama wants to use this cabinet pick as pay-off to special interest groups rather than fix America's broken school system.