Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Kershaw Commentary: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/35571339.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:U0ckkD:aEyKUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU.
I want to start my response by saying I don't have any particular problem with the concept of charter schools. In my waning days on legislative staff nearly twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to sit on a couple of working groups that discussed expanding school choice to include the ability of school districts--and back then, it was only school districts in the discussion--to create charter schools. Through these discussions, I developed a healthy respect for many of those who advocate for charter schools that remains to this day.
But what is troubling in this whole episode is a reluctance on the part of charter school proponents to recognize that Myron Orfield, the Director of the University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Race an Poverty, is more reporting facts than making value judgments about the performance of charter schools and how the enrollment patterns in charter schools are exacerbating racial isolation. Where Orfield appear to make a judgment is in the embrace of current laws pertaining to the desegregation rule.
I am not going to weigh in on that because I can see both sides of the argument. I have never believed that creating and maintaining racial balances will, in and of themselves, promote greater achievement. If it did, all we'd have to do is get out the ol' slide rule and watch the magic happen. And I can understand the frustration of the minority community with a system that sometimes appears to be more intent on developing student ratios than promoting student learning and seek to have more control over their community's education through the establishment of charter schools. The testimony of Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, Eric Mahmoud, and former St. Paul Councilman Bill Wilson bore that out and the achievement levels in the schools in which they are directly involved are promising. Unfortunately, many charter schools aren't doing nearly as well and are often rife with management issues.
Where I start to get a little bent out of shape is when people seemingly give charter schools a pass on their achievement scores. The law is clear. It's not like Orfield was at the State Fair handing out "Charter School Criticism on a Stick" in the same way that the Minnesota Department of Education was handing out school scores "on a stick" in 2003. His report simply reported raw data and made similar judgments regarding charter school performance that are made when public school test scores are released and usually accompanied by damning headlines at every daily newspaper in the state.
What is particularly maddening is that charter school supporters tend to pull out the same explanations mainline schools use to explain whatever difficulties they are having. It just seems when the explanations come from public schools, they are viewed as excuses while the same reasons, when cited by a charter school, are met with an understanding nod of the head. There needs to be, and at least Kershaw admits this, a single, meaningful standard of measurement developed that will look at student performance realistically and support further achievement in a dynamic manner as opposed to simply taking a snapshot of student achievement levels on a given day.
Three consecutive administrations have placed a lot of stock in charter schools (less so in the Ventura Administration, but heavily in the Carlson and Pawlenty Administrations) and have promoted them, sometimes at the expense of the mainline public school system. Programs like charter school lease aid have produced some questionable decisions and have cost the state a considerable amount of money. Rules relating to sponsorship of charter schools have been loosened, allowing the establishment of some charter schools that should not have been created and allowing charters to be created without having a formal agreement from the school district in which they are located. Management of some charter schools has been nothing short of atrocious. There can be no excuses when problem like this arise, even from the most ardent charter school supporters. This isn't "poor little charters" being descended upon by critics from the vicious education cartel. It's a matter of following the law and meeting expectations.
There desperately needs to be a truce here. Continuing an "us vs. them" in this area serves no one's, especially the students in all Minnesota schools, district or otherwise, purposes. Charter schools are public schools with public school students, just like those students in area learning centers and alternative programs. In the discussions surrounding measurement of student achievement, there are threads of an agreement beginning to reveal themselves. This could be the opportunity that will, if not eliminate the tension, at least put everyone on the same plane in terms of operation and measurement.
MSBA Delegate Assembly. I forgot my camera, so I didn't get any quality candids of the many SEE board members in attendance at the 2008 MSBA Delegate Assembly. It was nice to see as many of you as I did run into and the discussion of the resolutions was interesting.
There were two positive developments during the proceedings. In her address to the delegates on Sunday evening, Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), chief author of the PS Minnesota bill, announced that increased equalization will be part of the comprehensive funding reform bill she intends to introduce early in the 2009 Legislative Session. HF 4178/SF 3828--the comprehensive funding reform bill introduced in 2008--did not include increased equalization although both authors voiced support for the concept.
The other development was the passage, by the delegates, of a resolution urging support for the comprehensive funding reform bill. While some may view this as a "no-brainer," there are concerns from some regarding elements of the proposed reform and it is very expensive. At any rate, on a vote of 94-12, the delegates voiced (more accurately, punched their support on their voting keypad) support for the bill. Hoo-rah.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The hearing began with a discussion of the Office of the Legislative Auditor's evaluation report on charter schools. The report was presented by its evaluation manager, Judith Randall (pictured at left).
While finding that after adjustments for different demographic and student attendance patterns are considered, differences in achievement between charter schools and regular public school are minimal, the report does make five recommendations. They are as follows: (1) Clarification by the Legislature of roles of the Minnesota Department of Education and charter school sponsors, (2) Implementation of standards for sponsors by the Minnesota Department of Education, (3) Requirement for all charter school board members to receive financial management training, (4) Expansion of conflict-of-interest laws as they relate to charter school boards, and (5) Repeal of the requirement that a majority of a charter school board be teachers.
When the Office of the Legislative Auditor embarked on their effort, many believed the result would be much more hard-hitting. Even if the report does not "blow the roof" off anything, neither does it give charter schools a clean bill-of-health. The report clearly points out the challenges facing charter schools, their sponsors, and the state as it grapples with an education movement where 24,000 Minnesota students receive their education.
Minnesota Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown responded to the Legislative Auditor's report and informed the working group that the Department will be introducing legislation that will address some of these concerns.
The "polite fireworks" of the day began with a presentation by former State Representative and current University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield's presentation. Orfield (pictured testifying at left flanked by Institute researchers Baris Gumus-Dawes on his left and Tom Luce on his right), who heads the Institute on Race and Poverty at the Law School, provided data and research from a report prepared by the Institute showing that charter school performance lags behind that of the regular public schools and, further, are serving to "re-segregate" inner city and inner-ring suburban schools Orfield has worked for years on issues related to poverty and whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, his methodology is meticulous.
A panel of inner-city charter school leaders--Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, Eric Mahmoud, and for St. Paul City Council member Bill Wilson (pictured in order from right to left)--defended the performance of charter schools, which are primarily comprised of African-American students. The African-American students at each of these schools is out-performing the African-American cohort of student not only in the inner cities, but also in a number of suburban districts. They also defended a number of charter schools that are not doing as well, citing the relative newness of those schools.
It was a commendable performance by all involved in the hearing, as charter school performance, especially as it relates to the performance of minority students can be a difficult subject to discuss. People on both sides of the issue spoke with both expertise and passion as they staked out their respective intellectual territory on the issue.
My take on the issue has less to do with charter schools and more to do with how we measure student performance. It's really too bad that this hearing couldn't have followed the Monday's hearing on assessment. What is clearly needed to clear up performance concerns in both charter and regular schools is a valid "growth" model for judging student performance year-to-year and building-to-building.
As controversial as charter schools have become, I don't foresee a day without them being part of the educational landscape in Minnesota. I can also appreciate the desire of many Minnesota's minority communities to have as much input as they can in the education of their children and how they can somehow feel stunted in these efforts by large school environments. What is needed is greater transparency in how charter schools operate and the encouragement to share more between the charter and regular school frameworks, so that best practices--moving in both directions--can find their way into more classrooms.
Legislative Auditor's Report: http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/2008/charterschools.htm
Institute on Race and Poverty Report: http://www.irpumn.org/website/projects/index.php?strWebAction=project_detail&intProjectID=57
StarTribune Story on Institute on Race and Poverty Report: http://www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/35109429.html?elr=KArksUUUU