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Betsy DeVos, charter schools, and public education


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This has been a fairly hot topic lately so I think this deserves its own thread.

 

First, Betsy DeVos herself as a pick. Many believe she got picked because of her donations; I believe this to be true. There are many people that are significantly more qualified for the position. That is my reasoning for disliking this pick. However, I believe it is her stance on public education, specifically charter schools, which is causing the freak-out. If she was for strengthening teachers unions, despite her overall lack of experience, she would be seen by many educators as an outsider-grassroots-philanthropist. The other concern is her religious beliefs, primarily her statement that education reform will "advance God's Kingdom". This was said in 2001 to a group of rich Christians at a fundraising event. What the hell is she supposed to say to hustle that green? I am not opposed to religious schools receiving vouchers as long as there isn't a religious screening and they have to teach actual science and such. I say this as an atheist who believes, depending on the day, that religion is at best the manifestation of prehistoric brain hard-wiring or at worst humanities self-inflicted plague that will be the end of our species.

 

Sooooo....let's look at the actual issue of school choice and vouchers. A few things to keep in mind:

 

1. Public school is very much a state and local issue (funding, curriculum, etc). There is NOTHING in the US constitution about a right to education. The SCOTUS ruling San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez confirmed this. Whether a school gets closed (public or charter) is determined at the state or local level.

 

2. However, there have been many consistent bipartisan efforts by the federal government, as early as the 1960's, to get more involved in public education. One of the effects of this movement is the increase in high-stakes standardized tests being tied to funding (this is a completely different topic).

 

3. There are great charter schools. There are terrible charter schools. The same goes for public, private, and home school programs. This is just a general outline of concerns surrounding the issues.

 

Now then, let's first look at the primary cons of charter schools:

 

1. Students that choose to attend charter schools do so because their families are vested in the student's education. Family involvement in the child's education is an indicator of student success. Because of this, the students that go to a charter school are often already the highest performing students at a public school.

 

2. These students do not come out in nice, even sets. If i have an elementary school of 1000 students and enrollment drops to 900, my big expenses will remain the same (staff, transportation, light bill, etc). Most of the money I will need to cut is my principal discretionary fund: after-school clubs, staff professional development, new technology, instructional aids, art supplies, general school supplies for low-income students, computer software, etc. If I do have to lose a staff member, it will be a counselor or I will need to drop an elective teacher or program like music, foreign language, or PE. The kids that are hit the hardest are the kids that need this stuff the most.

 

Charter schools also do sketchy stuff like:

 

3. Most states use count days to determine funding. A state will assign a few days a year (usually 2-4) that schools will take positive attendance, that is, report on students that are present rather than absent. These counts are sent in and funding is distributed to the district. I have noticed a lot of students get expelled from charter schools after count days.

 

4. Charter schools in the wealthier districts tend to set up invisible gatekeepers which have strict policies that would be illegal in public school in order to expel students. Sure, they will accept anyone. However, they won't provide transportation or meals or all parents need to volunteer at the school a certain number of hours per week. (or all of the above). I had one student (low-performing with autism) was kicked out because he received too many dress code violations. He had to wear customized orthopedic shoes. The mom was poor so she received the shoes through a government program which only offered the shoes in brown--which was not one of the approved shoe color (only solid black or white). I am usually skeptical of these claims, but this was confirmed by the school when I called to get the real story. Nope, that WAS the real story. This is just one example, but similar practices are common. Oh, and it was right after a count day.

 

5. Put all of those together, and you end up with a public school with a diverse population with a variety of learning needs (think English language learners, low socio-economic income, social/emotional/ behavioral challenges, etc) and limited parental involvement. This is compared to the local charter school with a very homogeneous population with a low variety of learning needs and high parental involvement. Even though I get the same amount of funding per pupil, I can do much more with a budget with a homogeneous population rather than a heterogeneous population...especially if I pay teachers less and they have to work longer hours.

 

Okay, so the pros:

 

1. Many of these schools are allowed to set in policies such as longer school days, mandatory study halls, and stricter behavior policies that many students need to either catch up due to lack of educational resources outside of school. Students are provided longer structure, supervision, and exposure to an educationally minded peer group.

 

2. As a parent, I feel my child should not have a lesser education because other parents do not care about their student's education.

 

3. Charter schools have greater staffing flexibility than public schools. They can pay teachers however they like and can require longer teacher workdays and workloads. Some teachers like this trade-off because they don't have to mess with a lot of riff-raff. Many of my challenges as an administrator are due to the inflexibility of the contracted teacher work day. (Notice I did not say firing bad teachers. That is a myth advanced by a few high profile cases).

 

4. Teachers and parents generally are a bit of a paradox, they want more control over what happens in the schools, but also want a stronger DOE...which is frequently the agency taking that control. Charter schools have greater flexibility in the day-to-day operation than public schools (but that could vary depending on school leadership).

 

5. Often times, there are TERRIBLE public schools with corrupt school board (see the Kansas City school district). Shouldn't students have that option even if it is a select number of students that would otherwise be high performing?

 

I hope this outline of the main arguments for and against sheds some light on the issue. It isn't as cut and dry as most people think.

 

Thoughts?

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Sooooo....let's look at the actual issue of school choice and vouchers.

 

To me, failing schools are like trying to pull people off of a sinking ship. The whole vessel is going to drown most of the people there, and there's really not much that can be done. Charter schools and school voucher programs are basically lifeboats for those who still have the agency to escape that fate. Let them as far as I'm concerned.

 

I've since worked at schools that are close to the way it should be. Places where I can only imagine where I would have ended up if I'd had that sort of learning environment growing up. But I've worked at bad schools too, and there's no way for a person to learn in many of these classes. They're not classes, they're just expensive daycare for teenagers. And I could see the ones that are bored watching the daily classroom disruptions that can't be stopped because the whole school is just overwhelmed with discipline problems and what are you going to do?

 

There are students in those classes with great potential being ground down by their situation. To be successful in such an environment, you not only have to be smart, but you'd need uncommon self-sustaining drive for a teenager. Most will never going to even begin to realize what they could be. If there's an alternative learning environment in which these kids can shine, by all means, open up that opportunity even if there's limited room on the lifeboats. Let those that want the heck out of this trap have an opportunity.

 

 

 

Charter schools also do sketchy stuff like:

 

These are funding loopholes that are more a matter of lawmaking and the general inefficiency of government accounting than an actual con for charter schools themselves.

 

 

 

These students do not come out in nice, even sets. If i have an elementary school of 1000 students and enrollment drops to 900, my big expenses will remain the same (staff, transportation, light bill, etc).

 

Why would you need the same staff or buses if you lost 10% of your students?

 

I'll also point out that if this is true, it would mean smaller class sizes, which sometimes seems to be the one and only way we're allowed to try and improve schools (despite it not being all that effective).

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To the idea of DeVos: I think it's her lack of any kind of experience in education that kind of rankles me slightly about her (and maybe the Amway connection because PYRAMID SCHEMES and religious beliefs)! Really she is not going to do any worse or better than anyone else who's had this position. She's not much of a discussion starter in my Masters of Math Ed group because the choices the Department of Education makes are kind of far off in the way the actually touch us on the state and local level for the same reasons Ender outlined. I honestly think she was fodder to distract from other Trump activities. A lot of energy was poured into calling Congressional representatives but ultimately what get's taught in school boils down to local levels.

 

Charter schools, homeschooling and public as well as private schools can be great and successful schools but can also have issues that make them bad. It's like there are good McDonald's and bad McDonald's to eat at.

 

Ender covered all that pretty good.

 

I think my issue that made me want to respond to this topic was what she said at her confirmation hearings. I feel like things are being sold to these people like Betsy by the administration telling them it will be a cake walk and that it will be easy and you just answer a few softball questions. She really didn't prepare and it made her look bad. I'm sure she's not completely dumb. And her answers were shocking and kind of underlining things that are wrong with the administration. It's like they're very out of touch with reality. Many of my students are below the poverty line and with the shrinking middle class and uncertainty about health insurance for families is she capable of understanding the needs of an education system that is for us, the people?

 

This is possibly the greatest time to make change and make meaningful change to our education system. I feel like this is opportunity wasted.

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Sooooo....let's look at the actual issue of school choice and vouchers.

 

To me, failing schools are like trying to pull people off of a sinking ship. The whole vessel is going to drown most of the people there, and there's really not much that can be done. Charter schools and school voucher programs are basically lifeboats for those who still have the agency to escape that fate. Let them as far as I'm concerned.

 

I've since worked at schools that are close to the way it should be. Places where I can only imagine where I would have ended up if I'd had that sort of learning environment growing up. But I've worked at bad schools too, and there's no way for a person to learn in many of these classes. They're not classes, they're just expensive daycare for teenagers. And I could see the ones that are bored watching the daily classroom disruptions that can't be stopped because the whole school is just overwhelmed with discipline problems and what are you going to do?

 

There are students in those classes with great potential being ground down by their situation. To be successful in such an environment, you not only have to be smart, but you'd need uncommon self-sustaining drive for a teenager. Most will never going to even begin to realize what they could be. If there's an alternative learning environment in which these kids can shine, by all means, open up that opportunity even if there's limited room on the lifeboats. Let those that want the heck out of this trap have an opportunity.

 

 

 

Charter schools also do sketchy stuff like:

 

These are funding loopholes that are more a matter of lawmaking and the general inefficiency of government accounting than an actual con for charter schools themselves.

 

 

 

These students do not come out in nice, even sets. If i have an elementary school of 1000 students and enrollment drops to 900, my big expenses will remain the same (staff, transportation, light bill, etc).

 

Why would you need the same staff or buses if you lost 10% of your students?

 

I'll also point out that if this is true, it would mean smaller class sizes, which sometimes seems to be the one and only way we're allowed to try and improve schools (despite it not being all that effective).

 

I agree. They should be lifeboats.

 

My concern is when the lifeboats have rules set in place that allows passengers to be kicked out based on things that are out of their control. Trust me, these are NOT loopholes. These extra rules are the lifeblood of the charter program. It is allowed because it is a school of choice, the student chooses to go there over a neighborhood school. The student can still go to that school, so the students access to education is still there.

 

If a PK-6 goes from 1000-900 students, you are looking at at around 10-15 students per grade level. That isn't enough to cut a section. With 1000 students, you are looking at 5-6 sections per grade so you are right, class size does go down be 1-3 and research on class size is tough because so much of it is other factors. Would you rather be 1:1 with a terrible teacher or be 1:30 with an incredible teacher? Even with that said, class size decreases of that size do not show any significant impact on learning when other factors are shown to somewhat equal.

 

If I have a school with a high number of students with diverse learning needs, I have to hire additional stall to meet those needs. I do get more money to hire those additional staff, but I always end up having to use money from the general fund. For example, if I have 80 kids that are English Language Learners (ELL) I need three ELL teachers (1:30 caseload) that can serve up to 90 students. With 80 ELL students, that pays for 2.6 ELL teachers so the general fund has to subsidize the remaining .4 of that staff payroll. Sure, there are workarounds (sharing a teacher, part-time, etc), and that does work sometimes. However, these numbers can rise and fall throughout the year (mainly in high impacted school districts which tend to have a high transient population). I can't keep saying to someone.."today your FTE went down to .5 from .6 because we lost a student". All schools have these issues to some extent. You never have the perfectly funded student to staff ratios. In you budget, you are always robbing Peter to pay Paul somewhere. But a high impact school with high student diversity, this can make a horrible situation even worse.

 

So I am not arguing against charter schools, I am very much for them. But I think there are some issues on how they impact neighborhood schools...schools that have to take and RETAIN all students.

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To the idea of DeVos: I think it's her lack of any kind of experience in education that kind of rankles me slightly about her (and maybe the Amway connection because PYRAMID SCHEMES and religious beliefs)! Really she is not going to do any worse or better than anyone else who's had this position. She's not much of a discussion starter in my Masters of Math Ed group because the choices the Department of Education makes are kind of far off in the way the actually touch us on the state and local level for the same reasons Ender outlined. I honestly think she was fodder to distract from other Trump activities. A lot of energy was poured into calling Congressional representatives but ultimately what get's taught in school boils down to local levels.

 

Charter schools, homeschooling and public as well as private schools can be great and successful schools but can also have issues that make them bad. It's like there are good McDonald's and bad McDonald's to eat at.

 

Ender covered all that pretty good.

 

I think my issue that made me want to respond to this topic was what she said at her confirmation hearings. I feel like things are being sold to these people like Betsy by the administration telling them it will be a cake walk and that it will be easy and you just answer a few softball questions. She really didn't prepare and it made her look bad. I'm sure she's not completely dumb. And her answers were shocking and kind of underlining things that are wrong with the administration. It's like they're very out of touch with reality. Many of my students are below the poverty line and with the shrinking middle class and uncertainty about health insurance for families is she capable of understanding the needs of an education system that is for us, the people?

 

This is possibly the greatest time to make change and make meaningful change to our education system. I feel like this is opportunity wasted.

The out-of-touch is what bothers me. I frequently see people not in education say do X,Y, and Z here because it worked over here. The problem is, all communities are different. Doing home visits in an Orlando suburb turned a district around but they did them in a small mountain resort town here in Colorado and it bombed.

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Honestly, education (much like healthcare) is a highly individualized set of needs. The higher up and further from the student you go obviously the more standardized and one-sized-fits-all things are going to become. So the one thing I do agree with DeVos on is giving more control back to the states. Ideally, I'd prefer we allow each school to make decisions based on the needs of each of their students, but I know that's a Utopian pipe dream. Even at the state level you're gonna get crackpot ideas and policies like the clusterfuck that the Houston Chronicle exposed last year about Texas's policies on special needs students. Some oversight is needed. I know.

 

Other than that, it will probably be several years before the issues with a voucher system begin to affect us. As a homeschooler though, I do reject anything that might possibly bring more government interference into my home. So we'll have to see how this all plays out.

I do wish, however, that something drastic would happen that would dramatically change the schooling system. Right now, it's barely doing its job. And I know it's not because of teachers (not all of them at least) or administrators, but the system itself. I believe education took a turn to dumbing down the country several generations ago and it's been snowballing since. One only needs to turn to every day interactions with the products of this system to see this.

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So this bothered me today. Betsy DeVos was going to visit her first public school and a bunch of protesters shouted and blocked her and she retreated back to her car. She really should visit schools. Talk to people. I dunno. Some part of me thought this was a big distraction for kids.

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