Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Regulatory creep

There is a tendency in bureaucracy (and not just government ones--even small ones like with your school. Or your family) over time to make new rules in an attempt to prevent bad things from happening. Or happening again.

Charter schools are a good example. In theory, charters have wider autonomy than school districts, but that autonomy and the difference between district and charter schools shrinks when new rules are put in place that applies equally to all or when a new regulation targets charter schools (like the new charter performance framework).

Most of the discussion regarding school performance and accountability at the State Charter Board these days reflects a desire to create a one-size-fits-all accountability system that ignores the differences and autonomy that charters have. Or should have.

The video below explains how, in New Orleans, this regulatory creep is slowly chipping away at charters' ability to make decisions for themselves and for parents to make decisions about their children's education.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Incumbent school board members mostly lose

From the Trib: "School board incumbents Heather Groom, Dan Griffiths and Michael Jensen, ...all fell to challengers Tuesday night."  A fourth incumbent, Terryl Warner, is currently down a bit with more ballots left to count.

Given the controversies surrounding the alleged politicization of the board, the new superintendent, and the unconstitutional method for electing school board members, there will be a lot of changes coming to public education with the new faces on the board.

Hopefully, these new board members will find a way to bend the establishment and the entire public education apparatus to one that provides real choice for families, real autonomy for schools, and real accountability to students and parents for the entire system.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to improve charter school performance

Charter schools performed about as well (or, more accurately, as poorly) on the whole as other public schools on last year's statewide student assessment (SAGE).
Of the 89 charter schools listed in SAGE testing data released Monday by the Utah Office of Education, 34 had proficiency rates higher than the state average in all three test subjects, 36 were below the state average in all subjects and 19 were both above and below the state average, depending on individual test subjects.
I suppose that's better news than if charters had under-performed, but it's nothing to cheer about.

There are two aspects of the charter school movement that, in theory, should help charters as a whole outperform other schools.  Those aspects are parental choice and taxpayer accountability.

In theory, letting parents choose their child's school should help better match the strengths of the school with the needs of individual students, which ought to lead to at least some improvement in overall academic performance (assuming that what parents want is for their children to score better).  One reason we don't see large choice-driven differences between charters and district schools is that Utah's district public school system also has a lot of parental choice built-in.  Parents can essentially choose any school in the state for their children, district or chartered, in or out of the district.  That choice is important and good to have in Utah system-wide.

What's missing in both public and charter schools is taxpayer accountability.  While parents can (and do) leave charter schools whose academic performance isn't up to snuff, charters, sadly, have been like their public school counterparts in avoiding real accountability by closing failing schools.

If the bottom ten percent of charter schools were closed, then academic performance statewide would increase.  If students in those schools went back to average district schools or charters (assuming that those schools get better results by providing better education), those students would be better off.  If failing charter schools were replaced by even average charter schools instead, the charter system would be vastly outperforming the public system.

But failing schools of all varieties stay with us, and that means mediocrity reigns.

Monday, October 27, 2014

If SAGE truly measures proficiency, then comparisons are irrelevant

The education world is sounding defensive now that SAGE test results have been released.  Last year's "proficiency" scores were much higher than this year's, but, cautions everyone, (including Interim State Superintendent Joel Coleman) "the results aren't comparable" to the prior year's results, because the test was so different and was measuring different things.

"Our new standard is ‘on track for college and careers;' it is no longer ‘has mastered course content,'" Coleman said in a press release.

That's all well and good, but 41 percent proficiency sucks.  This test says that schools aren't putting the vast majority students "on track for college and careers."  That's a real problem.  Defensiveness about comparisons to last year offer no defense at all to the fact that performance in absolute terms was so low.  I don't think anyone will look at these results and think, "Gee, education must be a lot worse than it was before, since the scores on a new test dropped so much."

The establishment is right on this--comparisons are futile.  But that doesn't excuse 41 percent proficiency in language and 38 percent in math.

Looking at this data, one might wonder if the assessment was really poor at measuring progress, but the fact that there's no defensiveness about that, indicates to me that public education isn't meeting its own goal of preparing students for life after school.  So, let's not distract the conversations with complaints about comprability and let's get down to the business of improving educational quality.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A la carte education

How customizable should public education be?  In some states, you can go to the public school you're assigned to, and that's it.  In others, you can choose a charter or another neighborhood school.  Utah really is a leader in allowing students to tailor their education. We have very open ruels regarding enrollment, even allowing students to choose between schools within districts, across districts, or charter schools.  The state has about 30 accredited online education options, including those in charters and districts.  The Statewide Online Education Program allows students to attend one school most of the time, but then take classes at other schools at a distance.

Now comes a proposal that would greatly expand the a la carte nature of public education, allowing students to order off the vast menu of public education options.  Rep. Brian Greene's bill would create a pilot program to provide a small number (1,000) of students an Education Savings Account that they could use to pick and choose which classes they want to take from which source to fully customize the educational options to their goals, pace, and interests.

I'm, of course, all for such customization. I'm completely unpersuaded by UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh's claim that "We cannot afford" to provide educational choices to families because multiple "systems" cost too much money.  She and those system-firsters like her have a fundamental misunderstanding of public education.

They think that students are the product of public schools and that society is the customer. As long as that mentality leads the way, the needs of the families and children in public schools will be subservient to what politicians and lobbyists think are in The System's (that is, their own) best interests.  Families and children are the customer in public schools.  And they come first.

Monday, October 13, 2014

UAPCS is approved as Mentor

Today UAPCS announced that it had been selected as the recipient of the state's Charter School Mentoring program funding.  The Association will now be the official training and support arm of the  State Charter School Board.  This is a wonderful development.

Utah's charter schools will now start seeing some real funding and some real expertise put toward training and supporting the state's charter schools.

New Supe

Brad Smith, until about right now the Superintendent of Ogden School District, will lead Utah's public education system as its new super, after a contentious vote of the board that gave him the board's majority by a single vote.

Smith, also a former board member at Ogden, rankled education establishment-types when the district opted out of negotiating with the Ogden branch of the UEA and instead made individual teaching offers to teachers.  At that time, only a small handful of teachers declined the district's offer, though since that time, about half the teachers have left the district.

Is that cause for concern?  Not on its face.  The education establishment needs some real shaking up.  When it's shaken, people who want to maintain the status quo for their own sake will be upset, make noise, and may leave.  That's a good thing.  I've never met the man, however, so I suppose it's possible he's just a bad boss and no one likes working for him.

Here's hoping that the former is the case.  Let's shake things up at USOE and within Utah's school districts. Let's have those who are in it for themselves decide that now is a good time to retire.  Then let's help a remade Office and Board of education really focus on gathering relevant data and using it to prod all schools to focus on student achievement.

While Smith is reputed to be a charter school supporter, this process won't be an easy one for charters either.  Our movement as a whole is also not focused enough on the collection of relevant data and increasing student achievement.  Don't expect Smith to ignore charters in his quest to improve Utah's public education system. Charters need improving.  Let's take the market-based incentives that are part of charters, pair that with strong leadership and a focus on student achievement, and then help failing schools improve or have them taken over by more successful models.

Good luck, Superintendent Smith. You've got my high hopes and support.