Education Reform: One-Size-Does-Not-Fit-All

by Robert G. Holland
Heartland.org

Lately, education scholars at Washington, D.C.-based, nominally conservative think tanks have spun themselves into a tizzy about the education reform movement’s splintering into quarreling factions.

Who knew such a monolithic movement existed? Even among strong advocates of parental choice, lively arguments have raged for decades over vouchers versus tax-credit scholarships, with each side arguing its proposal is the most powerful and/or practical way to empower families. Debate is healthy in a democracy, is it not?

Thinking in terms of a single, cohesive agenda is perhaps more common in Washington, where think-tankers attend each other’s seminars and flock to government briefings. Why should any of this matter to the folks back in Grapevine or Grand Forks? Because advocacy from think-alike think tanks may influence policy in their school districts.

Within these inner sanctums, there is concern about contrary ideologies intruding. In a May 25 essay, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Fellow Robert Pondiscio controversially observed, “Like the proverbial frog in a pot, education reformers on the political right find themselves coming to a slow boil in the cauldron of social justice activism.”

As an example, Pondiscio reported conservative reformers “feeling unwelcome, uncomfortable, and cowed into silence” at a recent meeting of the New Schools Venture Fund in San Francisco. He fretted about leftists aggressively promoting a new orthodoxy on issues of race, class, and gender within the context of education reform while excluding conservative ideas. But what is wrong with having the gumption to debate the reform newcomers instead of acting as though your side owns this turf?

Speaking of taking ownership, the long-time CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, issued a 22-page “manifesto” on June 15 — under her byline — seeking to reframe choice-based reform in terms of “innovation and opportunity,” as though those objectives are new“This is a clarion call,” she announced in the opening sentence.

Much of the manifesto deals in great detail with the level of tolerance for semi-autonomous charter schools within government-controlled school systems over the years. There is nothing about the tremendous promise of the next-generation voucher, the education savings account, and there is little about a steady increase in states adopting private-choice programs and the phenomenal growth of homeschooling.

Allen’s manifesto expresses frustration that “our efforts to drive change have hit a wall. The reality is that more was accomplished in the first nine years of the education reform movement than in the past 16.”

That reference is to the pace of states adopting strong charter-school authorization laws since 1991. Some states and localities now seek to drag charters back under a regulatory umbrella, and that legitimately concerns advocates. (Of course, charter schools are far from constituting the entirety of the education reform movement.)

Charters have helped thousands of families find a tuition-free alternative to conventional public schools, and that is a good thing. However, because charter schools operate within the governmental system, the nature of the larger, controlling agenda becomes relevant.

In that connection, the manifesto actually laments the demise of the federal No Child Left Behind law because it helped set the bar for student proficiency and defined the terms of accountability. The manifesto goes further and hammers the debate over Common Core as a “distraction” that “has drained our collective energies and focus on students.”

Actually, the parents across the nation who have stood up against nationalized standards being imposed on their schools are entirely focused on students — their children and their neighbors’ children. And they see clearly that Common Core uniformity and true choice in education are incompatible. The manifesto is likely to deepen their suspicion that choice becomes problematic when linked to an agenda imposed from the top down.

So, what is the clear call for action, the clarion call? Its name is the New Opportunity Agenda, the tenets of which are to be “innovation, flexibility, opportunity, and transparency.” The ideas discussed include drawing on new educational technologies, starting new schools, allowing public funds to follow children to schools of choice, and reporting test data in ways that can show how schools and districts are performing.

The prospect of yet another agenda being developed by Washington insiders and passed down to the people may excite some who call themselves “education reformers,” but a different kind of reformer will argue for families having the freedom to pursue their own agendas for their children — with their individual decisions contributing to a vibrant marketplace that reshapes the face of U.S. education.

Even though there is not a single education reform movement, there are ideas on which agenda-driven and liberty-loving advocates may agree. They should be able to talk with each other — and even welcome social-justice warriors to the conversation.

[Originally published at the American Spectator]

The Reality of Charter School Funding in Massachusetts

Since 2005, MA has double-funded students in an attempt to curtail the impact of funding changes on traditional public schools.

Rather than make funding work more effectively for the students they serve, many traditional public school leaders have relied on funding for ghost students without accounting for the fact that they no longer serve them.

The effort by the Save our Public Schools campaign is anathema to the public interest and grossly misrepresents the reality of charter funding in MA.

The Bay State provides one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation when students choose to leave conventional schools for public charter schools.

Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number: Education Reform Turns 25

by Marilyn Anderson Rhames
Education Post

I’m a Generation X-er, but don’t you dare call me old.

I’m fairly new to the fourth decade, but I am often mistaken as an early twenty-something.

It’s a dubious misconception. Sometimes I’m flattered and other times it’s offensive. When I want to be taken seriously, I drop hints about my age—my teenage daughter, my 16th wedding anniversary, and how I changed careers after 9/11, etc.

With age comes wisdom, right?

Education reform turns 25 this year. She’s a baby by institutional standards, and the 140-year-old traditional system of neighborhood schools and teachers unions are always trying to put her in her place.

Still, education reform keeps vying for respect, appearing wiser than her years when she pushes back with the tenacity of a young adult with a freshly minted college degree, loads of student loan debt, and a dream just big enough to save the world.

At 25, education reform is a quintessential millennial. Depending on who you talk to, that’s a positive or negative distinction. Some say millennials are self-absorbed, entitled brats who think technology will solve all of life’s problems. Others believe that millennials are an ultra-smart generation that aren’t afraid to revolutionize the false assumptions we have worked under for far too long.

While I’m attracted to reform’s bold, innovative stance on improving learning outcomes for low-income, urban children of color, I am often equally put off by its hubris, its white savior, I’m-smarter-than-you mentality that doesn’t engage the community or empower its homegrown leaders to lead.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are 6,700 charter schools in 42 states, educating nearly three million students. And while congratulations are in order to Ted Kolderie, the mastermind behind the passage of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota in 1991, the reform community might be its own worst enemy.

This fear has prompted the Center for Education Reform’s CEO Jeanne Allen to recently publish a manifesto on how to save this “movement at risk.”

Allen argues that choice and accountability, two major issues on reform’s platform, are cannibalizing innovation, another fundamental aspect of education reform. She writes:

The truth is, we have lost the change-forest for the choice-trees, too often pushing charters and vouchers as an end in and of themselves rather than a means to spur innovation and opportunity and ultimately deliver on the promise of a great education for all children.

We have spent so much time talking about what’s wrong with our schools, and fighting for alternatives to it, that we have understandably left too many parents with the impression that we have given up on public education—or even worse, their kids.

Personally, I see innovation in education without accountability as nothing more than an experiment, and no child deserves to be a guinea pig. We also don’t want rules and regulations to suck the life out of a school’s ability to be creative. These lofty goals pose a tension that serves to provide reformers with a healthy dose of checks and balances, lest the adults get all the checks and the kids get a zero balance.

But, yeah, reform is just 25 years old…what 25-year-old isn’t still trying to find herself?

Just a few weeks back, for example, I was caught in a firestorm of controversy stemming from my blog posts about the NewSchools Summit that put race at the center of the education reform debate. I argued that substandard education in America is rooted in racist policies and social norms, and if education leadership is afraid to address issues like #BlackLivesMatter then maybe they aren’t fit to lead.

Judging by the fallout, you would have thought I had started a charter school named Kardashian College Prep!

The American Prospect last week published an insightful piece about the many divisions that exist within education reform on her 25th birthday. It’s not just racial—it’s also sociopolitical, ideological, and philosophical all mixed in together.

Now that I’m on summer break, I can put my feet up and ponder these heady things. I’m questioning some of the reform values I’ve always held dear, and seeking to discover my true identity in this effort.

My posture has shifted, as well. Instead of entering debates with a defensive stance, I’m trying to understand the nuances of opposing ideas so I can appreciate them, and I just might change my mind.

So to all you the millennials, Gen X-ers, and even baby boomers out there: Your age is just a number. We don’t get wiser with time; we get wiser by thinking deeply and listening.

Happy 25th Birthday, education reform! It’s been a hoot watching you grow up.

Education Opportunity Forum Lineup Finalized

Indiana Governor Mike Pence to Headline Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity with U.S. Senator Tim Scott

For Immediate Release
July 11, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC — On July 27, 2016, The Center for Education Reform and The Jack Kemp Foundation will welcome Indiana Governor Mike Pence, along with U.S. Senator Tim Scott and Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, to the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity has been established as a vehicle for federal lawmakers to learn from and engage state and local leaders on specific, tangible efforts to ensure upward mobility through education policies that empower people and reduce dependency and poverty.

“Our goal with the Jack Kemp Foundation is to ensure that Congress has a roadmap for educational opportunity that benefits and draws from best practice thinking in the private sector as well as lessons from key states where Governors have made opportunity a prominent part of their agenda,” said Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of The Center for Education Reform.

Seeking common ground on the best paths toward making educational opportunity available to students at all levels regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or zip code, the forums are intended to ignite a national conversation on upward mobility and empowerment, with a renewed focus on innovation and education solutions as a critical aspect of that goal.

“Engaging and recognizing exceptional leaders who champion the American Dream is critical for our nation’s future. We want to drive conversations that translate into tangible action for policy and paves the way for a better future for all,” said Jimmy Kemp, President of the Jack Kemp Foundation.

About the Center for Education Reform

Founded in 1993, the Center for Education Reform aims to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans — particularly our youth — ensuring that the conditions are ripe for innovation, freedom and flexibility throughout U.S. education.

Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity: Indianapolis

TimScott

KEMP FORUM ON EXPANDING OPPORTUNITY
Upward Mobility Through Education

Twenty-five years ago school choice was born in America. It wasn’t just about education, it was about opportunity – the opportunity for children to have a better future, no longer determined by their zip code. School choice has been the driving force behind stopping the inevitable course of poverty for millions of students over the past two and a half decades. Yet we still have much further to go.

As we look back on a quarter-century of educational choice in this nation – and how we get to a point where education opportunity is front and center in all we do – please join us for this critical discussion.

Logistics:

The invitation-only Kemp Forum is being held in conjunction with the ALEC opening reception on July 27th at 6:45PM. The location is the NCAA Hall of Champions immediately following the reception.

July 27, 2016 | 6:45 – 8:30 PM
NCAA Hall of Champions
700 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Participants:

U.S. Senator Tim Scott will be moderating the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, featuring Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Incoming American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Chair and Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, and more! 

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 2.50.51 PM

 

For more information or to RSVP, please contact brenda@edreform.com.

 

About the Center for Education Reform

Founded in 1993, the Center for Education Reform aims to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans — particularly our youth — ensuring that the conditions are ripe for innovation, freedom and flexibility throughout U.S. education.

As a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to great opportunities for all children, students and families, The Center for Education Reform does not endorse candidates or take political positions, but will always recognize and applaud those who advance sound education policies.

As U.S. Celebrates 240 Years of Freedom, Children Still Cannot Escape Tyranny of Teachers Unions

by Larry Sand
Union Watch
July 5, 2016

Despite the U.S. declaring its independence from Britain in 1776, Californians are still saddled with teacher union redcoats 240 years later.

Teacher tenure is an atrocity. Officially called “permanence,” this union-mandated work rule allows some teachers to stay in the classroom when they should be imprisoned or at least working somewhere else, preferably far away from children.

Just a few recent examples of permanence at work:

This awful perk is, in part, what California’s fabled Vergara lawsuit is about. Though the ultimate fate of the case is still unknown (next stop California Supreme Court), the state legislature has been trying to come up with some fixes to satisfy the reformers and the teachers unions alike. One such effort was a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. As originally written, Assembly Bill 934 would place poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they receive a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

Ben Austin, policy and advocacy director for Students Matter (the outfit that filed the Vergara case), thought the bill was on the right track but could be even stronger. Reformer Michelle Rhee has noted that while there should be protections in place so that teachers can’t be fired for arbitrary reasons, she doesn’t think we need to reform tenure; she doesn’t see any need for it at all.

But ultimately Austin’s and Rhee’s opinions matter little. Nor do the left-leaning San Francisco Chronicle, the libertarian Orange County Register and other California dailies that supported the bill. Parents, too, are fed up with the inability get rid of rotten apples, but too few in positions of power care about parents. In a 2015 poll, 73 percent of California voters said that teachers should never be given tenure or receive it much too quickly, and believe that performance should matter more than seniority when teachers are laid off. But voters’ opinions are not worthy of consideration. According to another poll from last year, even most educators believe that a teacher should serve in the classroom at least five years before an administrator makes a decision about whether or not to grant tenure. But then, why should teachers’ thoughts be respected?

Actually the only entity that really matters when it comes to tenure, seniority and other teacher work rules is the California Teachers Association, the powerful special interest which regularly bullies its way through the halls of Sacramento to get its way. This case was all too typical. At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then the union went into hysterical mode, using its trademark loopy rhetoric to proclaim, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

And then CTA spun into action. The union arm-twisted Bonilla and ultimately managed to eviscerate the fair-minded, commonsense, hardly-radical, pro-child bill and transformed it into legislative detritus that pretty much keeps the current tenure and seniority laws securely in place. For example, tenure would be achieved after three instead of two years, whereby if a teacher doesn’t regally screw up in roughly 30 months, they essentially have a job for life. And the quality-blind seniority regimen would be virtually untouched. (For a detailed comparison of the original bill and CTA version, Students Matter has put together an easy-to-read chart.)

Claiming that the disemboweled bill was better than the status quo, Bonilla and some in the media thought the union’s version was better than none at all, and that the legislation should move forward. But Austin and other reformers were outraged and felt strongly that the sham bill should be killed. Austin declared, “Watered down and gutted beyond recognition, the new AB 934 preserves the unconstitutional and unjustifiable disparities in students’ access to effective teachers caused by the current laws.”

Austin et al prevailed, and last Wednesday the bill was mercifully euthanized in the state’s Senate Education Committee. Hence, we have no changes to our odious tenure and seniority statutes and CTA’s imperious regime marches on. So as the nation has just celebrated its 240th birthday, the children of California sadly still cannot escape the tyranny of the teachers unions. Fans of King George III, rejoice!

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Newswire: July 5, 2016 — Burdensome compliance requirements for Ohio charter schools — North Carolina expands opportunity — Massachusetts charter high schoolers college-bound

freedomringflag

FREEDOM RINGS. Hoping your 4th was great, we continue to celebrate freedom this week, highlighting events and places where freedom and innovation are allowing for – or sadly prohibiting – greater opportunity for all. Join us in our fight to ensure all children have access to truly exceptional education opportunities, regardless of where they live.

freedomringflag

PIONEER STATE OPPORTUNITY. Parents of more than 32,000 children anxiously await November for a ballot question to lift the cap on charter schools in the Bay State. According to new data from six Boston charter high schools  – which serve a student population that’s largely Black and Latino – 98 percent of graduates are accepted to college.

class-of-2014-college-acceptances-list

IN OHIO. Charter schools in the Buckeye State have one month to document and provide evidence that they are complying with 319 state laws and rules. Among the hundreds outraged by the latest regulatory overreach by the State education department, Buckeye Community Hope Foundation representative Jennifer Robinson told Gongwer that charters are being held to completely different standards than traditional public schools. The focus should be on making sure schools are providing a quality education, “not whether they have a flag five feet in length,” Robinson said, referring to item number 209 on the compliance list. Next week CER Founder and CEO Jeanne Allen will bring the message of innovation and opportunity to the Ohio Council of Community Schools‘ (OCCS) gathering in Toleldo. OCCS is the strongest and most tenured authorizer in the Buckeye State. For more info call Lenny Shafer at (419) 720-5200.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 12.37.11 PM

NC EXPANDS OPPORTUNITY. A budget awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature – and a bill to help turn around failing schools – is a boost for the Tarheel State and more quality seats for kids. The proposed budget boosts teacher pay, increases the amount for scholarship grants for children with disabilities (from $5.8 million to more than $10 million), and significantly expands the state’s three-year-old Opportunity Scholarship program (allowing nearly 36,000 students to receive a scholarship by 2027 compared to 3,600 today). More details here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 12.24.18 PM

CER – KEMP FORUM ON EXPANDING OPPORTUNITY. Join CER and the Jack Kemp Foundation for a special focus on opportunity with national, state and local leaders convened for the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. We will be live streaming from Indianapolis July 27th – if you can’t join us that evening in person – with Senator Tim Scott, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Incoming ALEC Chair and Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir and others looking at how we might expand opportunity across all levels. For more information please contact michelle@edreform.com.

0c2083_1b19ef66a3cd411d97982983549ac0b7.jpg_256

IN THE NEWS…

ON MARYLAND STATE BOARD APPOINTMENTS.

ON A NEW OPPORTUNITY AGENDA.

ON THE HOPE AND FEAR OF EDREFORM IN NOLA

Gov. Larry Hogan reshapes schools, utility boards

The president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence is doing something she has never done before: organizing volunteers to monitor the state’s Handgun Review Permit Board.

The board, which hears appeals from people who have been denied gun permits, is one of at least three in the state that oversees hot-button issues and now has a majority of its members appointed by first-term Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican in a mostly Democratic state.

“We want to make sure the people who got on the board are voting with Maryland laws and not their personal philosophies,” said group President Jen Pauliukonis, explaining why the volunteers will take minutes of meetings and record each decision by the board. “We’re doing this because of the new appointees and because of our concern that Governor Hogan was trying to weaken our concealed-carry laws through the appointments.”

Hogan appointees also hold the majority on the state Board of Education and the Public Service Commission, which over the next several years are expected to make weighty decisions on everything from the role of standardized testing in schools to the expansion of charter schools, wind power and net metering, a system that allows customers to offset the cost of power drawn from solar panels that are connected to public-utility power grids.

Advocates from both sides of the political spectrum say they are watching closely to gauge the impact of those appointments.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said he thinks there is a “strong possibility” that the appointees could steer Maryland away from the progressive policies the state has become known for.

“I don’t want to write them off and say the plague has come to Maryland,” Pinsky said of the new members. “I just don’t think it has played out yet. It’s too early to tell what the effect will be.”

Matt Clark, a spokesman for Hogan, said the advocates seem to be “worried about something that might not happen,” adding that the boards and commissions are independent bodies and the Hogan administration “does not have the authority to make any demands on their decisions.”

Jeanne Allen, the founder of the pro-charter-school Center for Education Reform, said she is waiting to see whether the new school board is willing to “push the envelope” on education reform.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Allen, who has advocated for bills making it easier to start charter schools in Maryland. At the same time, she said she worries that only some, not the majority of the new board, are willing to make the type of drastic changes she says she believes are needed to improve education in the state.

Political science professor Todd Eberly said the appointments are an important way for Hogan to advance his agenda in a state where Democrats control both chambers of the legislature by veto-proof majorities.

“Making conservative appointments doesn’t risk his popularity like a high-stakes legislative battle,” said Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “If you are trying to effect change in state government, you look to areas where you have . . . a freer hand.”

Clark said the governor, who served as an appointments secretary under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R), sought the “most qualified, best possible candidates” for each of his appointments. He noted that each appointee must be confirmed by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee when the legislature is in session, although it is common practice for people appointed between legislative sessions to occupy their seats on an interim basis until confirmation hearings can be held.

“These folks have been scrutinized and cleared the hurdle,” Clark said. “So any questions that may be out there about those individuals about positions on policies have been put out there.”

Earlier this year, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence fought against Hogan’s appointment to the handgun review board of Richard Jurgena, a gun rights advocate who had publicly questioned the constitutionality of the state’s handgun permit law.

Jurgena’s contention that Maryland’s law requiring a “good and substantial reason” to get a concealed-carry permit was unconstitutional was troubling to many members of the Senate, which rejected his nomination.

Pauliukonis said her group took note of a report in The Washington Post before the 2014 elections in which gun rights advocates said Hogan had promised them he would do what he could as governor to expand access to firearms. Hogan disputed those claims, however, and Clark said the governor has repeatedly made clear that he does not plan to roll back the state’s strict gun laws.

“The firearms community has been watching” the handgun review board under the Hogan administration — just as it did under previous administrations, said Dan Blasberg, president of Maryland Shall Issue.

Asked whether he was hopeful that decisions from the new board would favor the firearms community, Blasberg said: “All we want, all we’ve ever wanted, is for the board to make its decisions based on Maryland law and statute, not based on personal feelings.”

Meanwhile, environmentalists lashed out at Hogan in June when he appointed Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert), a lawmaker who has opposed major environmental initiatives, to the Public Service Commission. O’Donnell is expected to assume his post on an interim basis later this summer.

Tiffany Hartung, a spokesman for the Maryland Climate Coalition, said she was troubled by O’Donnell’s appointment and the governor’s appointment of Michael T. Richard, a former Hogan aide. She said she feared the appointees could undermine the expansion of renewable energy in Maryland.

O’Donnell, a longtime employee of Baltimore Gas & Electric, has been an outspoken critic of rate increases. During his 12 years in the House of Delegates, he has voted against bills that allowed offshore wind energy and that pushed for new standards in renewable energy usage to fight against climate change.

Richard, who served as a deputy chief of staff during the first part of Hogan’s term, left that post in January to become an interim member of the Public Service Commission. His confirmation hearing in March ran into trouble when the Senate committee became aware of emails Richard had sent to the governor’s office about commission business after taking his seat on the panel.

Richard gave information to his former colleagues about an offshore wind-power company’s application for renewable-energy credits and sought information from them as the commission was weighing a ruling on a solar-energy project.

He was eventually confirmed after a delay and following assurances from Richard that he was simply helping with the transition of his former job and keeping the governor’s staff updated on the status of various deliberations without divulging sensitive information.

Hogan also triggered complaints from teachers unions and proponents of traditional public schools earlier this year when he chose a leader in the charter school movement and other charter and private school advocates to join the state’s Board of Education.

The governor has appointed Chester Finn, a longtime advocate for charter schools and the co-founder of Edison Learning, a for-profit education group; Andy Smarick, who helped co-found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Stephanie R. Iszard, the principal at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Prince George’s County; and Laura Weeldreyer, a consultant who works on charter school conversions.

“It appears the question is not how can we put students in a better position to be successful, but how can we help someone make a profit,” said Sean Johnson, the assistant executive director at the Maryland State Education Association.

Pinsky, who fought against the bill to expand charter schools, said he has met with many of the new board members and says he believes they share some common ground.

“I think we disagree on charter schools, and the legislature has put its imprint on where we think it should go,” he said. “We will have to take it issue by issue.”

Crazy Compliance Requirements for Ohio Charter Schools

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 12.37.11 PM

Charter school sponsors will be spending the better part of July submitting documents for a new evaluation process that some argue is cumbersome and makes it impossible to receive perfect marks.

The new evaluation framework – which was created by an advisory panel following a discovery last summer that the previous ratings were being calculated illegally – grades sponsors on academic performance, quality and compliance.

Charter school advocates initially took issue with the academic piece of the assessment because traditional schools were provided safe harbor from report card scores. They’re now turning their ire toward a list of compliance requirements that were released last week.

The list includes 319 state laws and rules pertaining to charter schools that sponsors must provide evidence they’re complying with. Previously, documentation was required for only 23 components in the compliance portion of the evaluation.

To top it off, the state’s 36 sponsors – some of which oversee dozens of schools – were given one month to submit compliance documentation to the Department of Education.

Peggy Young, president of the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, said it will be impossible for some sponsors to gather potentially tens of thousands of documents and check compliance with every law in such a short time frame.

“It’s going to take so much of our time that we can’t even focus on the things that we want to or should be focusing on,” she said.

Sponsors are supposed to be autonomous from the schools they oversee, but some of the compliance requirements would require them to get involved in daily operations and spend a significant amount of time in the buildings, she added.

There are also items on the list that sponsors are not qualified to certify, such as proof that there is no lead in the paint or that certain fire codes are met, said Jennifer Robison, associate director of Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.

As the sponsor of more than 40 schools, the foundation will likely have to beef up its staff and possibly contract with professionals in certain fields to ensure that all compliance measures are being met, she said.

Sponsors want to be compliant in all areas, Ms. Robison said, but the evaluation should be more like an audit that takes random samples instead of requiring sponsors to provide documentation to support every law on the books.

“I feel like we’re being held to a completely different standard as a public school than all the traditional public schools and this is not what we should be spending our time and focus on. It should be on improving the schools, helping the schools, making sure they’re providing a quality education to students – not whether they have a flag five feet in length,” she said, referring to item number 209 on the compliance list.

A number of sponsors have replied to ODE’s email that detailed the compliance requirements with similar concerns and claims that they won’t meet the July 25 deadline.

Read the full article here (registration required).

See the full list of compliance requirements here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 12.37.11 PM

Education Reformers Reflect at 25

A quarter-century on, challenges loom for the school reform movement.

by Rachel Cohen
American Prospect
June 29, 2016

It’s been a quarter-century since the nation’s first charter school opened in Minnesota, prompting many self-proclaimed reformers to step back and reflect on their movement’s progress. Charters educated 2.5 million students this past year, in 6,700 schools across 43 states. Programs enabling students to attend private schools with vouchers are expanding. And in February, Teach for America celebrated its 25-year anniversary with a summit in Washington, D.C.—noting that of their 50,000 teachers and alumni, 40,000 are still under 40.

But challenges loom for the movement—politically and philosophically. Some tensions can be chalked up to growing pains: a nationwide bipartisan coalition is bound to disagree at times, and certainly policy implementation can be far more contentious than passing legislation. Transforming the public education system, reformers have found, turns out to be hard, messy work.

But the problems run deeper than that. Internally, two main camps of reformers—market-driven advocates and accountability hawks—have been butting heads increasingly over goals and political priorities. For a long time, these two groups seemed to be one and the same—“choice and accountability” have always been buzzwords for the movement. But over time, the divisions between Team Choice and Team Accountability have grown more apparent. Today, some veteran choice advocates, those who have been pushing market-driven reforms for the last 25 years, have expressed feelings of being hemmed in, and in some cases crowded out, by others who are demanding formal checks and balances.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, is one such frustrated choice advocate. “Reformers have become our own worst enemy,” she declared at an event at the National Press Club earlier this month. Her group organized the event to release its new manifesto, outlining challenges Allen sees within education reform, and steps allies must take to get their movement back on track. “If we’re to be honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our efforts to drive change have hit a wall,” she said. In Allen’s view, reformers saw more progress during their first nine years, than over the last 16.

Her manifesto cites a declining interest in Teach for America, decreasing enthusiasm for the education technology sector, and slower overall charter school growth. She says that officials who authorize charters have grown too overbearing, stifling flexibility and innovation. And she calls on the reform movement to get back on offense—to focus on “opportunity and upward mobility”—so they can begin rebuilding momentum.

The full article here.