Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fully expected

The City Paper headline tells us: MNPS denies all three charter school applications. That was fully expected. Coulda written that headline months ago.

This is another reason to be thankful they'll be a Republican House and Senate in Tennessee. We can rewrite these charter school laws so that the school boards, which consider these public schools competitors, don't have the authority to approve or deny these applications in such a routine manner. Alan Coverstone (District 9) has the right idea. Let's approve them with provisions. Especially ones with track records of success like Smithson-Craighead and KIPP that want to expand. Typical protectionism. If you can't or won't improve your own job performance, make sure there are no other choices.

And here's the incredible truth that makes one wonder why, when one considers the lack in their own system, the MNPS BOE should have any say in judging a charter school's fitness:

Both Smithson-Craighead and KIPP Academy have met all benchmarks set by federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, despite serving populations of students considered by many to be high-risk. All of Smithson-Craighead’s students, and 94.3 percent of KIPP Academy’s, are considered economically disadvantaged by state Report Card data. LEAD just completed its first year of operation, so no Report Card data is available.


N.S. Allen said...

I'm no fan of the way MNPS has been and, to my knowledge, still is run, but acting like its authority over charter schools is illegitimate because of poor performance by its other schools just seems silly. Charter schools are, by definition, part of the public school system. Who is supposed to make those decisions, then, if not the people running said system?

What bothers me, more broadly, about charter school advocates is that they always seems to take charter schools as a good in and of themselves. They aren't. They generally serve a number of students dramatically smaller than your standard public school, for one thing. If you have a charter of, say, 250 students, you'd need almost 11 such schools just to enroll the number of students that attended McGavock in 2005.

And, hey, maybe that's plausible. Or maybe charter schools will offer some insight into improved teaching or administrative methods that will be beneficial regardless of school size. But, given that talk about applying the lessons of charter schools across entire school systems as a whole is so rare, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that some systems are hesitant to embrace said charters. The relative handful of parents whose kids get in may be happy that they're there, but the main priority of the system should be reforming itself for all students - not for a handful of kids who get lucky via lottery or application process.

That's not to say that charters are a bad idea. It's just to say that, except as a component to the system as a whole, they can only do a pretty minimal amount of good. And the grassroots types arguing in favor of charter schools too often seem to treat them as a blessed alternative to other public schools, instead of as a potential force for said schools' reform.

Kay Brooks said...

Are you familiar with the charter school laws in Tennessee? Do you realize that before a child can attend a charter school his zoned school has to have failed the child??

They serve a 'dramatically smaller' population of students because that's all the system will let escape.

Who should make these decisions? How about people who care less about the HOW of the education and much more about the FACT the child is educated?

Nashteach said...

Look, I'll agree the state law needs to be amended so more families have the options that a few have, and I'll also question whether mnps is the best authority to screen the charter applicants.

However your implication about charters being a success and mnps not is way oversimplified. KIPP has some good scores with many students, but it has very poor scores with the subgroup "students with disabilities." Guess what? That's enough for NCLB to deem the school a failing school over time. Any subgroup is expected to have an 85% pass rate; KIPP's is around 55% for that subgroup. While many MNPS schools and mnps overall improved the percentage of students at "proficient and advanced," Smithson-Craighead's numbers weakened. And the percentage deemed "advanced" at Smithson is well below the state average. So, I absolutely question your broad implication that charter data is all good while mnps "can't or won't improve" despite data to the contrary.

And one more thing. These charters do not have English Language learners (ELL)- non-native speakers. The nine high schools on the state's watch list do. One not on the list, and deemed as improving, is Pearl Cohn, which is high poverty/at risk as well but not enough ELL students to even be deemed a subgroup. So is the good KIPP data because it is a charter school? Or do some of the weaker MNPS schools simply have a non-native English population that KIPP and Smithson Craighead (and Pearl Cohn) do not have?

I'm open to charter expansion, but I'm not buying cause-effect relationships that simply aren't proved.

din819go said...

Charter schools are another means of competition for the public schools. This type of competition and demand for tax-payer dollars for public education is long overdue! If they are done correctly they should have a stronger curriculum than all of MNPS. Yes they should compete with Hume Fogg, too, as I believe it is in a massive decline in academic quality.

The large high schools are being considered failures by many. Hopefully charter schools or some other school will be allowed to reduce the sizes of the huge high schools in MNPS. I truly doubt the small learning communities will be successful. Sorry to be this way but the MNPS leadership at all levels is generally very very weak. Still a rudderless ship ---

I am all in favor of a change to the way charter schools are formed. This cannot come soon enough for me...Competition for tax dollars for public education with quality programs, administrators and teachers is long over due in this city....

Yes, I wish the board had approved some or all of the applications with provisions. I was very disappointed to hear this was not done. However, nothing this board does surprises me. Yep a rudderless board too.

N.S. Allen said...

TN law may force TN charter schools to be small, but that's actually relatively incidental. A Department of Education report across ten states found that charter schools had an average, student population of less than 200. claims that the average charter has a student population of 250. And smaller class and school size are often cited as one of the factors that lead to higher performance by charter schools.

So, while it may be true that TN law would restrict the ability of the state's charters to expand to greater size, there's little reason to think that, absent said law, those charters actually would expand. Unless they're drastically different from other charters around the country, there's good reason to suspect that they would not.

N.S. Allen said...

On another note, I find the idea that increased school choice, leading to supposed increased competition for tax-payer dollars, will improve the quality of poor-performing schools to be highly suspect.

I'll tell you why:

1) If you take money away from failing schools, how are they supposed to improve? Money certainly doesn't result in high performance, but there's a pretty good chance that an absence of it will result in poor performance, simply due to a lack of resources. If your school is financially strapped, you're not going to be attracting the high quality teachers you need to have, if you hope to improve, and the teachers you have aren't going to have much incentive to do better.

In that case, the bad schools will just get worse, more kids will abandon them, and we won't be talking about competition from good schools making the bad schools shape up, anymore. Instead, we'll be talking about the good schools wiping the bad ones out. And, in that case, the good schools are going to have to get bigger and bigger and bigger, or we'll have to make more schools and somehow guarantee that they turn out good, rather than bad.

That sounds like an administrative disaster waiting to happen, to me.

So, for one thing, I don't see what mechanism the schools that end up on the losing side of the resultant competition have that would enable them to improve themselves.

2) Second, I'm not convinced that competition between schools will result in the people who run those schools doing a better job. Competition in the free market works through self-interest. So who is it, exactly, who has the power to reform a failing school and is threatened by said school losing money? Whose pocketbook is hurt by the losses and what can they do to fix things?

It seems likely to me that we'll find that this question is hard to answer. When you have schools that need to improve across a system, it makes a lot more sense to treat the problems at hand as systematic - in which case, they would presumably be above the paygrade of one principal, one teacher, one administrator, etc.

Nashteach said...

Well, you aren't just taking away money, you're "taking away" students and thus certain expenses as well. But then "taking away" implies to me that a school, namely a zone school, has a right to the students in the zone. I find that a dangerous supposition. No school has a right to enroll a student whose family wishes to be elsewhere.

Instead, we'll be talking about the good schools wiping the bad ones out. And, in that case, the good schools are going to have to get bigger and bigger and bigger, or we'll have to make more schools and somehow guarantee that they turn out good, rather than bad.

Except for the "bigger and bigger and bigger" not sure that I see anything wrong with that.

Though one of the pieces missing here is that schools that primarily rely on enrollment through assigning zones are not given the same capacity to "recruit" students that charters, magnets, and open enrollment schools are allowed. Maybe that needs to be changed. We can see this with the (too?) many IB programs popping up in the last decade; IB schools, at least Hillsboro, I know, is allowed to use its IB program to enroll out-of-sone studnets. Glendale with Spanish immersion is another example that seems to have worked. Perhaps interest is so great that a second school like this can be opened. Perhaps other schools ought to be allowed to try innovative programs rather than Central Office creating some new schools like SLCs while at the same time tying the hands of some other struggling schools. In other words, if a charter is to be created to compete with zone schools, fine, but we need to allow that zone school to truly compete for students, too.

din819go said...

I think all schools should have to compete for their students. I truly believe this will soon eliminate the poor administrators, teachers and close schools. This will cause others to expand. Forced schooling is not working. Something needs to be changed. Me, homeschooling, apprecenticeships, internships, choice schools, more dual enrollment programs, etc are needed. This being forced to go to the school closest to you is not the solution unless of course those are top performing schools...replicate the successes rather than continue to allow the under-performing schools to remain open.