Thursday, January 27, 2011
For the first time, I missed Charter School Day at the Capitol this afternoon. I was on my way to a board meeting (exciting, I know!) in Moab. (In case you think that's lucky, you're wrong. Moab's not like St. George, and its the same temperature here as in Salt Lake. Not the best for hiking the red rocks.)
Board meeting went well, though. Exciting possibilities abound for Moab Charter School.
So, I count on media recaps of the event, the best one from Daily Herald.
BTW, the pillows at the Super 8 suck.
Waiting for "Superman," certainly the year's most talked-about documentary, wasn't among the five films nominated for best documentary at the Oscars this year. Talked-about isn't the same things as good, and lots of talked-about films don't deserve "best" nominations.
But I found these theory's on its snubbing from Variety interesting:
The Washington Post's education blogger Valerie Strauss writes, "Academy Award nominations are heavily political, yet this film didn’t make the cut even though President Obama called it “powerful” and welcomed to the White House the five charming students who starred in the film.
She added that the film distorted the reality of the public education system. "Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate."
The movie certainly stirred debate over the best solutions to the education system, but it also defied conventional wisdom, that the documentary community churns out projects that almost always can be characterized as the agenda of the left. "Superman" did draw praise from Obama, but also a smattering of conservative candidates across the country. In her unsuccessful bid for governor of California, Meg Whitman encouraged voters to see it.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
There's talk every year of changing how State Board of Education members are elected, but this bill, by Stuart Reid, would eliminate the State Board as a Constitutional body. "General control" of public education would be the responsibility of the Governor.
It passed the Senate Education Committee today.
A second bill, sponsored by Chris Buttars, also passed the committee today. His bill made a much more minor-seeming change, though it also makes significant changes to the power of the state school board. It adds the words "subject to statute" into the Constitution, to subordinate the SBE to the State Legislature. (The testimony in committee on this bill wasn't so much about that, though, as it was about how school district boards do wacky things and need to be reigned in.)
A third bill, mentioned in committee but not yet available publicly, would change the method of election for the state board.
The committee's Republicans all supported Reid's bill, and only one voted against Buttars'. The one Democrat on the committee voted against both. If that trend holds, at least one of these will pass.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
...is this week, and there are events across the country and lots of attention on topics and issues related to charter schools, parental choice, and increased accountability for public education.
Here are some videos that are relevant to what we're doing in Utah. Check out this one on changing how schools are funded. Senator Dan Liljenquist has a bill request open on this issue:
Here's one from leading education reformer Jay P. Greene on the concepts, successes, and obstacles of school choice:
Interestingly, the new Public Education blog run by USOE, mentions nothing about this. They are missing an opportunity. Utah has very strong parental choice laws, a vibrant, growing, and successful charter school movement, and a voucher for special needs children. Why not highlight these programs? Unfortunately, the bureaucracy is insufficiently proud of its Utah's in this area. Is that because the establishment doesn't want as much choice as we have? And doesn't want choices to expand?
Sunday, January 23, 2011
The legislative session starts on Monday. This year there are more bill "requests" than I can remember in recent years, but fewer of those bills are yet public with actual language. Here are the initiatives that I'll be following and updating, as of today's listed bills and requests.
First of all, the charter school bills. Unfortunately, none yet has public language.
(Bigelow's is abandoned because he's no longer in the legislature.)
- HB50 by Rhonda Rudd Menlove would make it easier to terminate school employees and teachers who haven't reached "career" status. This has no impact on charters, which are exempt from the Orderly School Termination Procedures Act, but this is an overall improvement in local control and school accountability, and is therefore a step in the right direction. Senator Stephenson has a bill request that would repeal the entire Act, and would essentially make all district employees at-will. Even better.
- Online High Schools, by Howard Stephenson would allow any student in any school to take any state-approved (including charter-offered) online programs, with centralized funding. This is a big step forward in providing student- and parent-directed education, with real variety and choice, and strong accountability. You want accountability? This bill would not completely pay providers (including districts and schools) until students successfully complete courses.
- Student-based budgeting, by Dan Liljenquist would require school districts to fund schools based on the students in them. Now, money flows from taxpayers, to the state, and then to school districts. Districts use that money to pay for all the district administration and overhead, leaving hardly any money to be controlled and spent at the local school level. By sending more money with students to individual schools, this bill would greatly increase local control and governance of schools.
- School Grading, by Wayne Niederhauser. I've written about this before. Further details and language are not yet public.
Other bills that are intriguing, but I haven't seen further details:
- Education Policy Amendments, by Curt Bramble
- K-3 Reading Initiative Accountability, by Karen Morgan. (How might this differ from her K-3 Reading Amendments?)
- Public School Accountability, by Howard Stephenson (hits a buzzword of mine)
- School Board Election Provisions, by J Nielson. There may be more than one effort to fix the horrible way that our school board members are currently elected.
There are others (like the bill that would not allow districts to pay the salaries of union employees--how that bill fails to pass is a testament to the UEA's hold over the legislature), but this is a good list of what to watch as the session starts. Not listed here is the other annual bill showing the establishment's political clout, as they continue to oppose and defeat efforts to fund charter students equitably. Watch this space.
That's the somewhat bizarre conclusion of a fairly biased article in Sunday's Deseret News.
I can somewhat understand the premise, that too many proposals, done too often, abandoned before results can be fairly judged, and undone by new politicians with different priorities end up stalling reform.
But, the conclusion, that the status quo is somehow preferable, or that public policy should let failing mandates continue at taxpayer expense, is the exact wrong conclusion.
What we need are the right reforms, the most important being parental choice, site-based control and governance, transparency, and accountability. Bills that move these reforms forward (like the school grading bill, student-based budgeting) should move forward, while program-tinkering with mandates (K-3 Reading) would be better left as local issues controlled by local school leaders.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Not according to the results of the nearly seven-year-old K-3 Reading Achievement program.
Last school year, 78 percent of Utah third-graders tested proficient in language arts on state tests, compared with 75 percent in [before the program started in] 2004. In 2009, 78 percent of Utah third-graders were reading on grade level according to the Iowa Reading Test, the same percentage as the year before.
And that's after increased spending of $30 million. More money is always nice, and can mean better tools, but without changing the methods, curriculum, incentives, accountability, and other core barriers to education reform, it will mean little to nothing in terms of student learning.
Is federal intrusion and the burdens that come with it worth the money? We all know that the paperwork and compliance burden for federal programs are vast, but how does it compare with the funding they provide? Not very well.
“As a result of No Child Left Behind, states were burdened with nearly seven million man-hours of paperwork in order to comply with new federal mandates, costing states an estimated $141 million. And while the federal government provides just nine percent of funding for public education, it is the source of an estimated 41 percent of the administrative compliance burden for states.”
Keep this in mind as the feds come with money for bailouts and a renewal of NCLB.
Right next door, the Idaho Education Association (the state affiliate of the NEA and sister of our UEA) has infiltrated into its first Idaho charter schools, North Star Charter School and Xavier Academy. The union couldn't be happier:
“Your issues are our issues. Our issues are yours. We welcome you with open arms,” IEA President Sherri Wood said after the board’s unanimous vote last November to welcome locals representing educators at North Star as well as at Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls.
This movement is moving westward, and will surely come to Utah. Charters and their teachers here will soon face the decision of whether schools exist for the sake of the students or the teachers.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I don't know if that's good news. More federal intervention in education, whether done by Republicans or Democrats--or potentially both in this case--has usually led to more red tape, but not better academics.
I just think it's interesting that Education is the area where Obama has governed most from the center--some would argue even from the right. He and his Education Secretary are big believers in charters and accountability. If they hadn't nixed the DC voucher program, there'd be even less for reformers to complain about.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Thanks, Michelle. Just after I made the previous post, I read Rhee's editorial in the Wall Street Journal today, where she writes:
What change, you ask? About the same ones I suggested earlier today:
The fiscal crisis, and the latest embarrassing rankings of U.S. students by the Program for International Student Assessment compared to their international peers (of 65 countries, American 15-year-olds were 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math), can focus the nation on the need for change.
What change, you ask? About the same ones I suggested earlier today:
Treating teachers like professionals. Compensation, staffing decisions and professional development should be based on teachers' effectiveness, not on their seniority. That means urging states and districts to implement a strong performance pay system for the best teachers, while discontinuing tenure as job protection for ineffective teachers. (I called this "incentives.)
Empowering parents and families with real choices and real information. This includes allowing the best charter schools to grow and serve more students. It also means giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools, [and] legislation to equip parents and communities with the tools they need to effectively organize and lead reform efforts when their public-school system fails them. California's "parent trigger" law, for example, forces the restructuring of a poor performing school when more than 50% of the parents whose children attend it sign a petition. (I called this transparency and choice.)
Ensure accountability for every dollar and every child. Sometimes only a shakeup in the school governance structure can bring about fiscal responsibility. After all, the buck has to stop somewhere—and knowing exactly who is responsible and accountable for spending and academic achievement has proven to show positive results. Mayoral control is one way to achieve this. We've seen success is places like Washington, D.C., and New York City, where funds are directed toward initiatives that improve achievement, and test scores and graduation rates have greatly increased. (I called this autonomy and accountability.)
According to the Trib:
Utah ranks 41st in the nation for education performance and policy, according to Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report released Tuesday, down from a ranking of 38th the previous year. The report gave Utah an overall grade of C-minus, slightly lower than the national grade of C.
Well, a C- might not be too bad for some, but that puts Utah 41st among all states, and even lower when you consider Utah's demographic-underperformance.
Utah really needs paradigm-shifting education reform based on these principles:
- Transparency: Everyone in Utah should know how schools perform, and be able to compare them to each other. The school grading bill would be good here, but we also need better assessments and open checkbooks.
- Incentives: We should reward schools that perform well with bonuses for high-performing teachers and administrators. We should put more funding to what is proven to work.
- Autonomy: Leaders at local school should be able to make decisions about where to spend money, which teachers to hire, and what programs would best serve the needs of local students. School budgets should be based on enrollment and student achievement. Budgets should be based on students, not systems.
- Accountability: Schools that fail should be transformed or closed.
- Choice: Parents need the ability to choose the best school for their child easily, and funding should follow those parents to the school they choose, instead of funding empty seats in the school they left.
Monday, January 10, 2011
...according to the Center for Education Reform.
Though we don't need "significant" improvement according to CER, watch this legislative session for bills that will improve autonomy, funding parity, and strengthen the charter movement.
- Changes to ensure the State Charter School Board has representatives from and with experience in charter school startup and operation
- Funding to bring charter students up to or closer to the funding level of district students
Watch this space!
Friday, January 7, 2011
The legislative session is coming in just two weeks from Monday. Most of the bills I will be watching (see a future post) are charter-specific, but the concept of school grading is catching my attention.
Senator Niederhauser (my Senator) will be running a bill to give all public schools letter grades based on their CRT scores, with the final grade including both raw scores and growth in achievement.
I hope charters will be supportive of this concept, and I hope the language in the bill is positive.
The largest problem with such a system is that in order to be valid and meaningful, it requires a valid assessment, which we have never had in Utah. However, I believe that, after decades of knowing that we needed a quality assessment tool and not achieving one, having such a public and simple statement of results will do more than anything else ever has to motivate us to implement one.
While I'll hold off endorsing a specific bill until I see language, I love the concept of simply informing parents about how well schools are doing at teaching its students.