Massachusetts said NO to more charter schools, Connecticut should as well

At the same time that Governor Dannel Malloy is instituting the deepest cuts in Connecticut history to Connecticut’s public schools he is diverting more than $110 million dollars a year in taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

Malloy and his operatives now want to expand this outrageous money grab with a plan to increase the number of charter schools in Connecticut and implement a new funding proposal that would see an additional $40-$50 million a year diverted to the private corporations that own Connecticut’s existing charter schools.

Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials should take a deep pause and look to Massachusetts for an indication of what happens when a state adopts this so-called “money follows the child” funding system.

Last November the charter school industry in the Bay State tried to push through a state-wide ballot initiative that would have allowed more charter schools to be opened in the Commonwealth.

To fund their effort the charter school industry pumped more than $24 million dollars into their political campaign.

The cash came from large corporate education reform “dark money” groups that refuse to release the names of their donors, wealthy hedge fund owners, Massachusetts corporations and out-of-state contributors including the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  (See Wait, What? post Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts).

But in this case, the massive outpouring of money couldn’t buy the outcome of the election as parents, educators and taxpayers successfully pushed back against those who seek to privatize public education in the United States.  On Election Day, 62 percent of voters cast their ballots against the measure and only 38 percent in favor of the provision.

Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Assocation, summed up the significant victory saying;

 “It’s really clear from the results of this election that people are interested in public education and value that.”

Madeloni added,

“There should be no conversation about expanding charters until the Legislature fully fund our public schools.”

Media coverage of the Massachusetts ballot initiative explained the outcome noting,

“The opposition could not match the “Yes on 2” campaign on television advertisement spending. But the “no” camp had the support of prominent Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. And it mobilized a sprawling field operation, with hundreds of teachers and liberal activists reaching an estimated 1.5 million voters statewide over the course of the campaign.”

In Massachusetts, voters realized that the charter schools were diverting scarce taxpayer funds away from local public school because Massachusetts already utilizes what is called a “money follows the child” school funding formula.  This funding system means that,

“When students leave traditional public schools for charters, they take thousands of dollars in state aid with them. And opponents focused heavily on this financial strain, raising the specter of cuts to arts education, transportation, and other services at the schools that serve the vast majority of students.”

Connecticut’s charter school advocacy groups have recently proposed just such a system for Connecticut and it is very likely that Malloy, an advocate of privatizing public education, will adopt their proposal as his own when he issues his proposed state budget next week.   See the Wait, What? Post of January 26, 2017 entitled Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme.

The question now is whether the state legislature will do Malloy’s bidding or actually step forward and do what is best for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

Stay tuned!

The dangerous rise of privatization and corporate education reform

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement are making unprecedented gains in their effort to privatize public education in the United States.

With Betsy DeVos on the verge of becoming the United States Secretary of Education and President Donald Trump promising to divert $20 billion in federal funding from public schools to privatization through school choice programs, the movement to undermine public education must be deliriously excited about their prospects over the next four years.

Of course, the proponents of corporate education reform have been riding high for more than two decades thanks to the policies and politics of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom used their time in office to promote charter schools and the broader corporate reform agenda.

Although the corporate reform movement has made unprecedented gains in the last twenty years, its roots go back more than sixty years to Milton Friedman’s essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” which laid out the call for privatizing public education in the United States.

Friedman argued that the nation needed to scrap its historic commitment to local public schools and replace these hallowed institutions with a system in which parents could use public funds to send their children to “private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools or even ‘government schools,’” a derogatory term corporate education reformers use to describe local public schools.

For decades, Friedman’s proposal was relegated to academic debates about the potential advantages and pitfalls associated with privatization.

However, the situation started to change when the state of Wisconsin enacted the first large-scale school voucher program in 1989 and Minnesota adopted legislation allowing for the creation of charter schools in 1991.

Today, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws paving the way for charter schools and the number of charter schools in the country has reached about 6,900, enrolling a total of almost 3 million students.

And corporate education reformers claim that they have only begun their effort to privatize the country’s public schools.

So what are the fundamental elements of corporate education reform?

Educator and journalist Stan Karp, who works for the Education Law Center and serves as an editor of the  Rethinking Schools magazine, addressed this issue in a stark and direct way more than six years ago in a presentation that was reprinted in the Washington Post.

Stan Karp wrote;

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

  • Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education
  • Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights
  • An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees
  • Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters
  • Replacing  governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management
  • Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition
  • Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff
  • Implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff.  Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country.  These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many….

Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. They’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world.  Few people understand how either really works.  Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals.  And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge.  Yet these deeply flawed tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison.

Let’s look for a minute at what corporate reformers have actually achieved when it comes to addressing the real problems of public education:

First, they over-reached and chose the wrong target.  They didn’t go after funding inequity, poverty, reform faddism, consultant profiteering, massive teacher turnover, politicized bureaucratic management, or the overuse and misuse of testing.

Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority.  And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public schools.

Look again at the proposals the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation.

 If every one of these policies were fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college.

 There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time.  The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during periods when concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration, or during economic growth for the black middle class and other communities, or where significant new investments in school funding have occurred.

Or take the issue of poverty.  Most teachers agree that poverty is no excuse for lousy schooling; much of our work is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms.  But in the current reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.

Corporate reform plans being put forward do nothing to reduce the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education.  Instead, educational inequality has become the entry point for disruptive reform that increases instability throughout the system and creates new forms of collateral damage in our most vulnerable communities.

The “disruptive reform” that corporate reformers claim is necessary to shake up the status quo is increasing pressure on 5,000 schools serving the poorest communities at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and budget cutting.  The latest waiver bailout for NCLB announced recently by Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan would actually ratchet up that pressure. While it rolls back NCLB’s absurd adequate yearly progress system just as it was about to self-destruct, the new guidelines require states that apply for waivers to identify up to 15% of their schools with the lowest scores for unproven “turnaround” interventions, “charterization,” or closing.

Teachers and schools, who in many cases are day to day the strongest advocates and most stable support system struggling youth have, are instead being scapegoated for a society that is failing our children.  At the same time, corporate reformers are giving parents triggers to blow up the schools they have, but little say and no guarantees about what will replace them.

The only thing corporate ed reform policies have done successfully is bring the anti-labor politics of class warfare to public schools. By overreaching, demonizing teachers and unions, and sharply polarizing the education debate, corporate reform has undermined serious efforts to improve schools.  It’s narrowed the common ground and eroded the broad public support a universal system of public education needs to survive.

Since Karp’s assessment in 2011, we’ve seen the rise of the Common Core and its associated Common Core testing scheme, a system that is turning classrooms into little more than testing factories and profit centers for the testing industry.

And that is all before Trump and DeVos introduce their own brand of radical corporate education reform in the marketplace call American public education.

Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme

The charter school front groups, ConnCAN and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, with the help of the Connecticut School Finance Project, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) – the latter two groups which are funded through local school budgets and are supposed to be advocating for public schools – have proposed a set of principles for a new school funding formula for Connecticut that will undermine the state’s public school districts and drain local municipal budgets.

The new pro-charter school plan is based on the school funding formula in Rhode Island and it is a classic “Money Follows the Child” system that would mean that, in addition to collecting about $110 million a year from the State of Connecticut, the state’s privately owned and operated Charter Schools would grab an additional $40-$50 million a year in public funds from the local schools in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Hamden, Norwich and Manchester.

The operative language in the new charter school sponsored formula reads;

“A combination of state and local funds should be allocated to schools of choice on a per student basis, so that the total per-pupil funding for these students will go to the schools or districts of choice.”

This public money “follows the child” plan is particularly appalling and inappropriate because charter schools are not accountable to elected local board of education.  Local school districts have no say in whether charter schools are created, where they are located, which children they educate or refuse to educate, nor do local boards of education have control over any other charter school policy or practice.

The operative question is why should local taxpayers pay for a school that is utterly unaccountable to the local community?

In addition, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for discriminating against Latino students, students who require additional help learning the English language, children who need special education services and those who display disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, charter schools in Connecticut do not face the same costs as public schools since,  among other things, they refuse to allow educators to unionize and in most cases only half the teachers (or even fewer) have been certified under Connecticut’s strict teacher preparation programs.

The truth is that Connecticut charter schools also DO NOT pay for transporting students to or from their school nor do they pay for any special education costs associated with their students – those costs are already picked up by the local school districts.

Although pro-charter school Governor Malloy will undoubtedly use this plan as his proposed formula when he announces his school funding plan next month, the plan is bad for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

His efforts to privatize public education in Connecticut know no bounds and the charter school industry’s newest proposal is simply a stunning money grab from school districts that are already massively underfunded.

A cost study conducted in 2005 found that Connecticut was underfunding its schools by approximately $2 billion a year, leaving schools without the resources they need to close the achievement gap and help all students succeed.  A new cost study – which is sorely needed and which the school funding advocates (CCJEF) are calling for —one done to reflect current costs, taking into account all our new mandates and standards,  and current student demographics and need – will undoubtedly show a similar if not even larger gap in state funding.

This incredible pro-charter school funding proposal would make the situation even worse for Connecticut’s urban districts.

The plan is being put forward by:
CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE)
CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)
CT Association of Schools (CAS)
CT Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
CT Council for Education Reform (CCER)

Finally, the reality that CABE and CAPSS are joining the charter school industry in promoting such a disastrous funding plan is a disturbing indictment of their failure to represent the citizens of Connecticut and a gross violation of their mission, purpose and nonprofit status.  Compounding their dereliction of duty is the fact that these two groups are part of the CCJEF coalition yet their scheme harms the very children, parents, public and schools and poorer towns and cities that CCJEF has been fighting so hard and so long to help.

For more about how charter schools are seeking to undermine Connecticut’s public schools read, Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

In her column, Wendy Lecker wrote;

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts

The final campaign finance reports have been submitted and the Charter School Industry raised and spent $24,476,132 in its losing effort to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

According to the Ballotopia website,

Question 2 would have authorized the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools per year.

Organizations in support of Question #2 in Massachusetts Total Raised
Yes on Two $710,100
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,570
Great Schools Massachusetts $21,198,748
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,002
TOTAL $25,624,360

An incredible 95 percent of the money that flowed into the Massachusetts charter school campaign came from out-of-state donors, with 84 percent of the total funds coming from New York based Families for Excellent Schools, a dark money charter school group that advocates in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

According to the official reports filed with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a total of five political action committees engaged in the effort to fund the ballot proposition aimed at lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.  Together they reported raising a total of that $25,624,360, but that count reflects money funneled from one committee to another.  The actual amount raised was closer 24.5 million.

In addition to Families for Excellent schools, the list of corporate education reform donors included more than $1.8 million from Jim and Alice Walton of the Walmart fortune, $490,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from former Enron executive John Arnold.  Education Reform Now and a variety of other groups that refuse to release the names of their donors also contributed to the Massachusetts pro-charter school effort.

 

Major contributors to Question #2 Amount Donated
   
Families for Excellent Schools, (Advocacy) Inc. $20,803,679
Jim Walton $1,125,000
Strong Economy for Growth, Inc. $1,060,000
Alice Walton $710,000
Great Schools Massachusetts $501,000
Michael Bloomberg $490,000
Education Reform Now (Advocacy) $469,317
John Douglas Arnold $250,000
Edward Shapiro $250,000
Bradley Bloom $150,000
Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150,000
Ray Stata $125,000
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association $100,000
Paul Sagan $100,000
Charles Longfield $100,000
Cohasset VC LTD (TX) $100,000
Shari Redstone $100,000
Partners Healthcare $100,000
The Kraft Group $100,000
State Street Bank and Trust Co. $100,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc. $100,000
MassMutual Financial Group $50,000

Corporations donating to the anti-public education campaign included Partners Healthcare, The Kraft Group, State Street Bank and Trust, Co., Suffolk Cares and the MassMutual Financial Group.

The unprecedented effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts will go down as a stunning defeat for the charter school industry and the role of “dark” money in referendum politics.

The question was defeated with 62% voting against the measure and 38% voting in favor of lifting the cap and allowing more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Opponents of the measure included the Massachusetts Teachers Association, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and many local mayors, boards of education and teacher unions.

Proponents included the biggest corporate entities and individuals behind the corporate education reform movement including Families for Excellent Schools, Education Reform Now, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family and a who’s who list of donors from the charter school industry.

The official ballot summary from the State of Massachusetts read:

This proposed law would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.

Approvals under this law could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment each year. New charters and enrollment expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them, and the amount of local school districts’ spending allocated to them.

If the Board received more than 12 applications in a single year from qualified applicants, then the proposed law would require it to give priority to proposed charter schools or enrollment expansions in districts where student performance on statewide assessments is in the bottom 25% of all districts in the previous two years and where demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest.

New charter schools and enrollment expansions approved under this proposed law would be subject to the same approval standards as other charter schools, and to recruitment, retention, and multilingual outreach requirements that currently apply to some charter schools. Schools authorized under this law would be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the Board.

Opponents of Question #2 organized through a political action committee called Save our Public Schools which was made up of parents, teachers and unions, with most of the money coming from teacher unions.  Save our Public Schools ended up raising just over $15 million ($15,406,897) in opposition to lifting the cap on charter schools.

Add New Haven Charter Schools to those that discriminate against English Language Learners and Special Education students

As noted in the recent Wait, What? articles entitled, Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners and  Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children, the privately owned and operated, but publicly funded, charter schools located in Hartford and Bridgeport discriminate against Latino students, those who require assistance learning the English language and students who need special education services.

Data collected by the Connecticut State Department of Education further reveals that charter schools in New Haven are equally bad when it comes to accepting and educating their fair share of students who require these additional services.

Unlike true public schools that must accept every student that comes through the door, charter schools use a variety of underhanded and deceptive techniques to prevent a variety of needy students from enrolling in their schools, or once enrolled, use harsh disciplinary policies and other push-out strategies to rid their schools of what they perceive to be unwanted students.

The numbers are stark and disturbing.   The following chart highlights the level of discrimination in New Haven’s charter schools.

New Haven % English Language Learners % Special Education
New Haven Public Schools 14% 13%
Booker T Washington Charter 0% 0%
Common Ground Charter 0% 17%
Elm City Montessori Charter 0% 0%
Achievement First Inc. – Elm City Charter 5% 6%
Achievement First Inc. – Amistad Charter 11% 5%

The data further indicates that like charter schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, New Haven’s charter schools use what should be illegal tactics to push out certain students who might bring down their standardized test scores.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Amistad charter school in New Haven suspends English Language Learners at a rate 333% more than New Haven Public Schools, and

Achievement First Inc. Amistad suspends special education students 238% more than New Haven Public Schools

Under Connecticut law, local public schools must serve all the range of students that make up their community, but Charter Schools repeatedly fail when it comes to serving their fair share of students who require additional services.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s public schools go without the resources they need from the state, while Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly shovel more than $110 million a year to Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners

As with Connecticut’s privately owned, but publicly funded, charter schools in Bridgeport, (See Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children), the charter schools in Hartford also refuse to accept and educate students who require help learning the English language and those who need special education services.

Connecticut charter schools already collect more than $100 million in scarce public funds from the state of Connecticut, diverting money away from the real public schools that do fulfil their responsibility to accept and educate all students.

Instead of meeting their obligation to their communities, charter schools discriminate against children in need – all in an attempt to boost their test scores.

The following chart highlights how Hartford’s charter schools are failing the capital city’s children,

Hartford % English Language Learners % Special Education
     
Hartford Public Schools 18% 16%
     
Jumoke Charter School 0% 6%
     
Achievement First Inc. – Hartford 6% 9%

 

Also, just as with the charter schools in Bridgeport, charter schools institute unfair and discriminatory discipline policies designed to force out children who require additional services and attention.

For example,

Achievement First Inc. – Hartford suspends English Language Learners 66% more than Hartford public schools.

Achievement First Inc. – Hartford suspends special education students 83% more than Hartford public schools.

Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children

As is the case elsewhere in Connecticut and across the country, charter schools generally refuse to accept and educate their fair share of children who require special education services, children who need help learning the English language, as well as children with disciplinary issues.

While siphoning off scarce public funds, these privately owned and operated schools fail to educate the wide range of students who live in their communities.

Rather than provide open door policies where all are welcome, charter schools “cream” off those students who they believe will score higher on standardized tests, thereby setting up the false narrative that the narrow, teaching to the test methodology used by charter schools makes them more successful than real public schools.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the charter school industry’s discriminatory approach is in full view.

In a community in which nearly one in six students are not fluent in the English language and many require additional English language services, two Bridgeport charter schools report that they have no ELL students and none of the six charter schools in the city educate an appropriate share of students who need help learning the English language.

Failing to educate English language learners is an “effective” way in which charter schools artificially inflate their test scores.  Not having ELL students means they needn’t worry about those children bringing down their average scores.

A similar story is evident when looking at the charter school industry’s failure to enroll and educate students who require special education services.

As with ELL students, Bridgeport’s charter schools simply fail to enroll and educate those students who would utilize special education programs despite the fact that state law requires schools receiving state funds not to discriminate and the law ensures that any special education costs that the charter schools must make to assist their students will be reimbursed by the community’s public school system.

In addition to the failure to accept appropriate numbers of special education students, when charter schools do report having students who need special services, the data reveal that they are students with fewer and less severe special education needs.

Compounding the problem is the Connecticut charter schools’ record of disciplinary abuses.  Many charter schools suspend and punish students in a never-ending attempt to get parents to withdraw the students that charter schools have accepted but do not want.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport suspends English Language Learners at a rate 137% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools and the same school – Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport – suspends special education students 101% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Using data provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education, the following chart highlights Bridgeport charter school’s failure to educate students who aren’t fluent in the English language.

 

Bridgeport % English Language Learners
Bridgeport Public Schools 14%
Park City Charter 0%
Great Oaks 12%
New Beginnings Charter 0%
Side by Side Charter 6%
Bridge Academy Charter 3%
Achievement First Inc. – Bridgeport 11%

Despite the record fiscal crisis facing Connecticut and the state’s shocking record of under-funding its public schools, charter schools are trying to grab even more public funds this legislative session.  However, the real data makes the situation clear.  Charter schools want taxpayer funds but refuse to provide the services that goes with being a public school.

Charter School Industry’s reach expanding even before Trump…

President-elect Donald Trump is a HUGE fan of charter schools.  His nominee for Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is even more supportive of the privately owned but publicly funded corporate entities that run charter schools.  DeVos has spent hundreds of millions of dollars championing charter schools, public funded vouchers for private and religious education and the inappropriate Common Core standards.

Charter schools are counting on the Trump administration to dramatically accelerate to privatization of public education in the United States.

But even before Trump and DeVos take office, the charter school industry has been enjoying unprecedented growth thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama and their corporate education reform allies like governors Dannel Malloy and Andrew Cuomo.

In a report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter school industry bragged that as of 2014-2015 there were 17 U.S. cities in which charter schools controlled at least 30% of all students.

While there were more than 6,700 charter schools in the country enrolling approximately 3 million students (about 6% of all students), the charter school industry’s saturation rate is much higher in a group of poorer urban areas.  While charter school reached was 30% in 17 school districts in the United States, the percent of students attending charter schools was more than 50% in three school districts, New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan

According to their report,

“The districts across the country where at least 30 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools are: New Orleans (92 percent); Detroit (53 percent); Flint, MI (53 percent); Washington, D.C. (45 percent); Gary, IN (43 percent); Kansas City, MO (40 percent); Camden, NJ (34 percent); Philadelphia (34 percent); Indianapolis (31 percent); Dayton, OH (31 percent); Cleveland, OH (31 percent); Grand Rapids, MI (31 percent); Victor Valley, CA (31 percent); San Antonio, TX (30 percent); Natomas, CA (30 percent); Newark, NJ (30 percent); and St. Louis (30 percent).

The charter school industry also explained that that,

“Los Angeles has the highest overall number of students enrolled in charter schools, with more than 156,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Los Angeles charter schools enrolled an additional 4,700 students over the previous year. New York City is second with almost 100,000 charter school students last year, nearly double its enrollment five years ago. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of charter school students in New York City has increased from nearly 39,000, to nearly 94,000 – an increase of more than 54,000 students. Rounding out the top 10 districts in charter school enrollment are: Philadelphia (63,520); Chicago (59,060); Miami-Dade (58,280); Houston (55,710); Detroit (51,240); Broward County, FL (44,320); New Orleans (44,190); and Washington, D.C. (38,910). These top 10 districts serve nearly a quarter of all charter school students in the country.”

And the reported concluded that, “there are six districts in which about 40 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools; 17 school districts have 30 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and 44 districts have 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools.”

Overall, there are now at least 190 districts that have at 10 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools, according to the national association that represents charter schools.

In state after state, district after district, charter schools discriminate against students who require special education services, students who need help learning the English language and students who have disciplinary issues.  Yet despite that record of failures, charter schools are collecting billions in taxpayer funds.

Worse, they are now planning for a windfall of riches thanks to Donald Trump and his administration.

Connecticut’s outstanding public education system is undermined by its achievement gap crisis.

Many of Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but the massive achievement gap between wealthy and poor towns is a crisis of epic proportions in this state and across the country.

However, the corporate education reform movement would have us believe that America’s education system is failing.  In fact, here in Connecticut, corporate funded charter school front groups are quick to condemn Connecticut’s public schools en masse.

Their false news rhetoric is beyond inaccurate, it is downright disgraceful and misleading.

Connecticut does have a severe academic achievement gap which is a result of the extreme poverty that is preventing many children from reaching their potential.

But by nearly every measure, Connecticut’s public schools excel compared to those in most other states.

The scores Connecticut’s students received on the 2015 NAEP scores tell the story.

As the United States government explains, the “National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

While the absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is a “high-stakes” test designed to fail students, the NAEP has sought to reflect whether a random group of students have a basic understanding of the key concepts that are actually being taught at each appropriate grade level.

When it comes to the NAEP scores, Connecticut has always been among the highest scoring states in the United States.

In 2015, for example, more than 8 in 10 Connecticut students who took the NAEP test scored at or above the goal level.  By comparison, only about 60% of the students in Louisiana scored at or above the goal level.

2015 NAEP – Percent of students scoring at or above goal

Connecticut   82% at or above goal

Louisiana        63% at or above goal.

The detailed results from the Connecticut NAEP testing reveal just how successful that state’s public schools are and where the problems exist.

Connecticut NAEP Results (2015)

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Percent at or above Goal Level
Connecticut Students 82%
Connecticut – White Students 89%
Connecticut – African American Students 60%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69%
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67%

Compare and contrast Connecticut to Louisiana.  Nearly all of Connecticut’s lowest performing cohorts score at or above the average student in Louisiana and all student sub-groups do significantly better in Connecticut than they do in Louisiana.

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Connecticut

Percent at or above Goal Level

Louisiana

Percent at or above Goal Level

All Students 82% 63%
White Students 89% 79%
African American Students 60% 49%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69% n/a
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67% 55%

 

The data from the NAEP test reiterates the core reality that Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but that poverty remains the most insidious barrier to academic achievement.  Since poverty and race are closely tied in the United States, African-American and Latino students are at a significant disadvantage to the White students who tend to live in more affluent communities.

That said, the truth is hardly a concern when it comes to the slick marketing and public relations tactics of the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement who consistently – and wrongly – claim that American public education is a failure.

Rather than allow them to hide behind their false news efforts, elected and appointed officials should be clear about the problems facing public schools in Connecticut and the United States.

The real and substantive answer is not more privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, corporate entities that refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students who face additional challenges.

The correct policy is for Connecticut officials to step up and address the growing impact of inequity, poverty and a lack of resources that are limiting the success in many of Connecticut’s schools.

The factors undermining public education in the United States can be dealt with but it will take a level of commitment and responsibility that many officials have yet to display.

Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

Despite the political rhetoric coming out of ConnCAN and other charter school industry front groups, Trinity’s Robert Cotto reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools do not outperform local public schools.

 Do Connecticut’s privately-managed charter schools outperform local public school districts? (By Robert Cotto Jr.)

 

A few weeks ago, attorney Wendy Lecker asked me in an interview for the Stamford Advocate, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?” My answer was, “Not exactly”.

As my Choice Watch report (Cotto & Feder, 2014) demonstrated, charter schools in Connecticut tend to serve a relatively more advantaged group of (mostly) Black and Latinx children including fewer children with disabilities, emerging bilingual children, and children eligible for free and reduced priced meals compared to the students in local public schools in the same cities as the charter schools. As a result, comparing the test results of charter schools with local public schools is like comparing “apples to oranges” because they often serve very different groups of children.

However, using a simple scatterplot chart, it is fairly easy to show that charter schools’ mean test results are not overwhelmingly better when compared with public school districts that have similarly-situated students in terms of a rough income indicator. Other scholars, such as Bruce Baker (2012) at Rutgers University, have constructed scatterplots of income vs. 7th grade math test results to demonstrate similar observations about charter and public schools.

For example, below I constructed an interactive scatterplot that compares 6th grade average scale scores on the CMT reading (2012) versus percentage of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (FRPM) at the district level (Google sheet data here). This scatterplot data visualization has three major data points. First, each public district and charter school is positioned by the the overall percent FRPM (x-axis). Second, each district is positioned on the y-axis by its mean scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. Third, the size of the dots correspond to the percentage of emerging bilingual children (crudely labeled as “English Language Learners” by the State).

You can scroll over the dots to see the public school district or charter school name and their demographics and test data. Public school districts are in blue dots and charter schools are in red dots. By placing these data points on a scatterplot, we can more easily compare the average test results of districts and charter schools that are similar in terms of district-wide free and reduced meal eligibility. (See the end for notes on limitations of this data and method.)

For the interactive chart Comparing Average Scale Score & Free/Reduced Meal Eligibility in CT School Districts 2012 go to:  http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

So what does this scatterplot show? Here are some observations:

  • There is a strong negative linear relationship (r= -.869) between this rough income indicator (eligibility for free and reduced priced meals) and average scale score on 6th grade CMT reading. (i.e. as free and reduced priced meal eligibility increases, average reading scores decrease)
  • When compared to similar districts by income, some (4) charter schools appear to have higher than average test results, some (4) have lower than average test results, and some (4) are right in the middle of the pack, or near the average.
  • If charter schools (red dots) had overwhelmingly higher test results, then we would expect more of their average scores to be above the majority of blue dots at their % FRPM level.

Want a closer look?

This second scatterplot chart only compares charter schools with the public school districts where they are located. The same pattern appears.

For example, Bridgeport Public Schools enrolled children that were 99% eligible for FRPM and 12.6% emerging bilingual (ELL). By comparison, all Bridgeport charter schools had higher average scale scores in reading, but lower rates of children eligible for free and reduced priced meals (68-85%) and emerging bilingual students (0-4%). There are exceptions, of course, such as Amistad Academy, which often appears comparable to New Haven Public Schools in terms of %FRPM, %ELL, and higher in average scale score.

And there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. The hypersegregated Stamford charter schools contain larger proportions of Black and Latinx students, those eligible for free/reduced price meals, and those with disabilities compared to the local Stamford public school district. They also appear to be outliers in terms of having very low average scale scores.

For the interactive chart comparing Avg. Scale Score CMT Read & District & District Demographics go to: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2016/12/27/do-connecticuts-privately-managed-charter-schools-outperform-local-public-school-districts/

This test result (“performance”) question is important because it is at the center of claims made about charter schools in Connecticut. The claim that charter schools achieve superior test results as a result of effort, choice, accountability, educational program, governance structure, or some other reason, is frequently cited by charter school lobbyists at the legislature and the CT State Department of Education. 

The simple claim hinges on a statement like this one from a presentation on charter schools by the CT SDE: “Of the 14 charter schools that administered the spring 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, 12 schools (or 86%) outperformed their host district with their overall SPI.” (CT SDE, 2015) With this statistic, we are left to conclude (or told by the charter school lobby) that charter schools are supposedly excelling compared to local public schools.

The CT SDE presentation (below) offers similar statistics and a chart highlighting some demographics of charter schools versus “alliance” and all other districts, but it does not caution the reader these characteristics could impact test results and comparisons. What the CT SDE and charter school lobbyists are not explicitly telling you in these claims is that charter schools often serve a relatively more advantaged group of Black and Latinx children compared to the local public schools where they are located and these children are likely to do relatively better on standardized tests because standardized tests favor more advantaged groups of people. Therefore, it is not a fair comparison to directly compare charter schools test results to those in local public school districts without some sort of modification (e.g. compare districts similar in income levels and/or other characteristics).

Charter Renewal Process, SBE Overview | April 6, 2015

Source: CT State Department of Education, 2015.

The State is comparing “apples (public schools) to oranges (charter schools)” on test results, despite knowing (it’s their data!) that the massive demographic differences that make these simple comparisons very misleading. To be sure, the CT SDE assists in making these same simplistic comparisons of test results between urban and suburban schools districts as well. This type of misleading comparison of test results persists and is now baked into the CT State Department of Education policy on reviewing and renewing charter schools.

All of this is meant to say that using blunt comparisons of test results does not prove that charter schools or public schools are any better or worse than each other in terms of academic performance, or any other characteristic. Instead, I am arguing that comparisons of test results must account for often massive demographic differences. This was a major recommendation of the Choice Watch (2014) report. I would also add, as I’ve written elsewhere, that school performance should be thought of in broader terms than standardized tests. Simple comparisons of standardized test results will always favor schools with barriers to entry and participation (e.g. charter, magnet, vocational technical schools) and advantaged districts where families must buy or rent homes to attend local schools (affluent, suburban).

So when somebody asks the question, “Do Connecticut charter schools outperform public school districts?”, how will you answer?

Notes: 1. There are many other and better ways of analyzing this question about charter and public schools. My observations above are based on scatterplot charts that crudely “account” for income (FRPM). 2. The data above comes from 2012, the most recent data in which average scale score on State tests can be compared to other demographic information. 3. Finally, the %FRPM applies to all grades in the district, while the average scale score applies to all students in a district in the 6th grade taking the standard version of the test. The State does not share %FRPM data at the grade level. 4. Average scale scores are a better measure of central tendency compared to percent of students at proficient or goal because scale scores do not lump students status levels at arbitrary cut points.