Monthly Archives: June 2017

Six Reasons Why Charter School Expansion Is a Problem


    Is Replacing Neighborhood Schools with Charters Worth the Risk?

  1. The question of charter expansion becomes critical when a neighborhood school is slated for closure to be replaced by a charter. The trade-off should be framed as follows: based on the evidence, closing a public school for a charter will improve performance about one-fourth of the time and will make it worse about one-fourth of the time. Thus, the one-in-four chance of an improved school must be weighed against the massive dislocations local school closures cause families, students (e.g., long bus rides or walking through alien turf), and communities. In addition, the very real chance of worsening school performance one-quarter of the time must be factored in. Further, widespread charter expansion can reach a financial tipping point crippling the school district’s ability to improve the remaining open public schools. One underreported consequence of charter expansion is that the remaining schools must rely increasingly on late placements and substitutes, which substantially harms student performance. So even if some students are able to attend a successful charter school, many more are stranded in the remaining starved public ones. The experience in Newark exemplifies this tragedy:

What parent would agree to a policy that benefits one of her children but seriously damages one or two of her other kids? The Prize [a recently published book about Newark] does an invaluable service in helping to explain how true believers in top-down reform may or may not have benefitted many of the 30 percent of students headed for charters. They did so, however, by harming the schools serving the majority of poor children. They created even more intense concentrations of children from extreme poverty and trauma; they took failing schools and made them worse.

Stated that way, the widely advocated policy prescription of replacing low-performing schools with charters looks horribly off the mark. Of course, if there are stringent controls to assure that only the better performing charters (determined by legitimate measures and practices) can replace a low-performing public school, then the odds of increased student achievement improve. Whether the increased benefit to the individual student who qualifies for a high-performing charter justifies the larger number of students who are left behind and neglected is a tough question each community must address.

No or Trivial Gains

2.     Most studies find no or trivial gains from charters. CREDO effect sizes are in the .01 SD range (.05 for some ethnic groups). (Charter advocates keep saying the CREDO studies show significant advantage for of charters. Statistical significance is different than whether the effect is worthwhile.) Where there are gains, they are very small and are 1/10-1/20 of the gains of effective interventions as chronicled by John Hattie such as building teams for continuous improvement, reciprocal teaching, strong curriculum, etc. Also the evaluations matching charters to traditional public schools never take into account the several thousand charters which were forced to close (which would substantially lower charter results) and that on the natural with active parents and a receptive student body charters should be scoring substantially higher.  Also all the evidence that many charters don’t backfill (it’s not attrition rates which are similar but schools such as Success Academy start with say 100 children and end up with a rarified group of 40 which they then use for comparison purposes or use other methods to now enroll or to get rid of low performing students.

How About Giving Parents the Choice to Improve Their Neighborhood School?

3.      One powerful argument on choice is what about giving parents who want to choose their neighborhood school and for it to be improved that choice. Several studies have shown around 70% of parents want that option over charters. Closing a neighborhood school  and offering enrolling in a charter robs them of  that choice. Often public schools are starved and offered limited support causing low performance and then closed to make way for charters. . Under the Parent Empowerment Act in California which gives a majority of parents the right to convert their neighborhood school to a charter, only a handful have actually approved the conversion.

 Competition Forces Marketing Pressure Which Leads to Harmful Educational Practices

4.      Contrary to the charter argument that charters would be innovative most are no different than their traditional public school counterparts. In fact the pressure for marketing leads them to narrow the curriculum and emphasize test prep or, even worse, the widespread anti-child, harsh, no excuses policies which may get better short term test results at the expense of deeper learning and emotional harm. Many of these schools are dreadful places to attend.

Charter Expansion Is Used As an Excuse to Privatize and Reduce Funds for Traditional Public Schools

5.      Many conservative governors and legislatures have used charter expansion as an excuse to make massive cuts in traditional public schools  driven by a privatization anti-public school philosophy. In Indiana, for example, from 2009 to 2013 traditional public school funding was cut by more than $3 billion. During the same period, charter funding was increased by $539 million, vouchers by $248 million, and virtual schools by $143 million. Students who attend public schools account for 94% of Indiana students and took a huge hit. The remaining six percent gained more than $900 million. Similar policies were adopted in North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

 Lack of Accountability Leads to Fraud, Self-Dealing, and Low-Performance

6.      For-profit organizations often offer stripped down education to maximize profit and by clever marketing mislead parents. In states with unregulated charters, vouchers, or on-line virtual academies there have been significant examples of fraud, self-dealing, and low performance. There are nearly 7000 charter schools existing today. But over 1000 other charters have failed causing massive disruption to the children enrolled. Even charter advocates estimate that over 1000 existing charters should be closed for low performance. Even non-profits often mask self-dealing by promoters paying themselves high salaries, setting up dummy corporations to sell stuff to the schools at outrageous prices, making money from floating bonds, and buying property which the owners get to keep.

The New Charter School and Voucher Debate

The New Charter School and Voucher Debate

Some charter school and voucher advocates have shifted their arguments in the face of a large number of studies which show trivial or negative results of choice and privatization schemes as well as evidence that such policies causing substantial harm to traditional public schools and their communities.

These advocates now argue that the performance of charters and vouchers is not the primary issue. Instead, enshrining parental choice should be the driving value in education and developing a pluralistic delivery system (traditional public schools, magnet schools, charters, for-profit schools, online schools, schools funded by tax credits and vouchers, religious schools, etc.), of publically funded education to maximize choice should  be the  policy goal.  If that means abandoning the central role of traditional public schools, so be it.

There are several fatal flaws in this argument. First of all, why start with maximizing parental choice as the main aim of our publically funded educational system. Aren’t there much more important educational goals such as broadly educating each generation to be prepared for work, citizenship, and reaching individual potential? Parents and their desires are important, but so is broadening their children’s perspectives so that they gain the ability to choose, and since the public, not just parents, is paying for schools, there are key public interests involved. Then the question becomes which structure can best deliver these goals which does raise the issue of performance and impact.

Before the country entertains radical policies to devalue our public education system we need to answer two questions. Will choice and market-driven strategies improve overall performance? So far they haven’t but have caused considerable damage to public education in decreased state and local funding, significant levels of fraud and self-dealing, and the elimination of neighborhood schools. And are we willing to risk severely undermining our existing public schools by undertaking questionable large-scale choice strategies? That is what happened in Chile and Sweden when they initiated a choice and market-driven system. Performance plummeted and income segregation increased dramatically in what became a two-tiered system.

It seems to me that the burden of proof is on those who want to scuttle our nearly 200 year commitment to locally and democratically governed public schools—an institution which has served this democracy so well. If the objective is improving performance there are much many successful build and support strategies which have delivered much greater improvement than choice, market-based policies, and privatization without the collateral damage.

Often, parental values conflict with the public goal of broadly educating students and expanding their horizons through democratically developed educational policies. Some parents have problems with current scientific knowledge but our democracy needs a scientifically literate population and the proper education of scientific personnel. Schools teaching science based on creationism won’t deliver that.  Some have strong prejudices or bigotry, are conspiracy cranks, or have a skewed view of our history. Should schools cater to those beliefs even if they run counter to our democratic ideals?

Here is Robert Pondiscio’s argument for the primacy of choice. Choice exists to allow parents to educate their children in accordance with their own needs, desires and values. If diversity is a core value of yours, for example, you might seek out a school where your child can learn alongside peers from different backgrounds. If your child is a budding artist, actor or musician, the “evidence” that might persuade you is whether he or she will have the opportunity to study with a working sculptor or to pound the boards in a strong theater or dance program. If your child is an athlete, the number of state titles won by the lacrosse team or sports scholarships earned by graduates might be compelling evidence. If faith is central to your family, you will want a school that allows your child to grow and be guided by your religious beliefs. There can be no doubt that, if you are fortunate enough to select a school based on your child’s talents or interests or your family’s values and traditions, the question of whether school choice “works” has already been answered. It’s working perfectly for you.

Fair enough. But what if parents choose a racist black panther or white nationalist school. A school with an anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim curriculum. An extreme Christian academy teaching erroneous science or hostility to religious pluralism.  An anarchist or communist or fascist school. A fanatical Sharia school. A Koch sponsored  school which is organized around an Ayn Rand view of history.  All these are antithetical to our democratic ideas and values.

Or what if for-profit organizations offer stripped down education to maximize profit and by clever marketing mislead parents. In states with unregulated charters, vouchers, or on-line virtual academies there have been significant examples of fraud, self-dealing, and low performance. There are nearly 7000 charter schools existing today. But over 1000 other charters have failed causing massive disruption to the children enrolled. Even charter advocates estimate that over 1000 existing charters should be closed for low performance.

Second, the debate is about how to organize publically funded education. Currently nothing prevents parents from sending their child to any specialized school of their choice if they are willing to pay for it. If public funds are used, then the public interest should be paramount.

Third, there is a significant cost issue. Money matters in educational results. Who will pay for the 10% of students attending private schools currently funded by their parents. Currently about 90% of students attend public schools (6% of these are charters) and 10% are in private schools. Shifting to a pluralistic delivery system with vouchers for private schools would mean that educational spending would need to increase by over 10% just to cover the funds for those currently in private institutions. However, private schools wouldn’t get the benefit of these funds. These expenditures would mainly be a subsidy to wealthy parents of private and religious school students . State legislatures have the unfortunate habit of making existing public school budgets pay for expanded support for private school parents In Indiana, for example, from 2009 to 2013 traditional public school funding was cut by more than $3 billion. During the same period, charter funding was increased by $539 million, vouchers by $248 million, and virtual schools by $143 million. Students who attend public schools account for 94% of Indiana students and took a huge hit. The remaining seven percent gained more than $900 million. Similar policies were adopted in North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

As for charters, often extensive charter expansion puts the traditional public school sector at financial risk or replaces a neighborhood’s public school with the right to attend a school far away such as happened in Chicago or New Orleans. Dual delivery systems of public goods cost more but our representatives have been unwilling to pay for the extra costs of dual systems.

One major choice that is never discussed is the desire of most parents to improve their neighborhood school. In many cases that choice is off the table. Local schools are starved for funds and effective support, performance suffers, the school is closed, and parents are offered space in a distant school or a voucher. That is not what they wanted.

Many of the most vociferous advocates of choice such as our present Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos also strongly resist any financial and academic performance accountability. As a result many states with lax accountability such as Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida have suffered numerous incidences of embezzlement, high administrative salaries, self-dealing in procurement and property, and weak educational programs. We restrict individual’s choice of buying tainted meat, dangerous drugs, and unsafe cars by legislative protections. Why should our students not be similarly protected?

For more information on this topic see and the talking-points on charters

June Posts 6/20/17



The Highest Performing Countries and Provinces Have Developed a Comprehensive Build and Support Approach to Upgrade the Teaching Profession and Build Continuous Improvement Around Powerful Content. A new extensive report Empowered Educators by the Learning Policy Institute and the National Center for Education and the Economy describes what the highest performing countries and states do supports a build and support approach to upgrade the teaching profession and invest in a comprehensive system to assist teachers in continuously improving their craft.  You can find the general report, country reports, slides, videos, and the streaming of their conference on June 6th at   They identified nine aspects of a systems approach to upgrade teaching and the teaching profession, all of which need to be addressed. Recruitment, preparation, induction and mentoring, on-going professional learning both individual and collaborative, appraisal and feedback, career and leadership development, curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and school funding and organization. The materials give specifics of what these jurisdictions did in each of these areas.

Learning Policy Institute Report on the Elements of Successful Professional Development. The Learning Policy Institute released a brief last week on effective professional development They found that successful efforts included the following elements:

  1. Is content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and expert support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration

The report also contained suggestions for policies to improve practice.

John Hattie Outlines a Key Strategy to Improve Student Performance: a model of learning that takes into account students’ skills and knowledge, learning dispositions and motivation.;;

Incisive comments on accountability issues by Mathew DiCarlo–including the effect of individual scores versus school score measures:


The Importance of Team Building and Continuous Improvement Around identified Problems in Improving Instruction  A very good argument for helping schools to solve educational performance problems by adaptive school strategies (team building and continuous improvement around identified problems) and implications for district strategies by renowned superintendent Joshua Starr:

Two Articles by Professors at the Universities of Chicago and Buffalo Supporting the Importance of Building Relationships at a School and—and-actionable-data-foster-strong-relationships

Practicing What Is Being Taught By Connecting Curriculum to Professional Development Yields Results|3571821778

The Case for Community Schools as a Strategy for Improving School Performance.


The Problems with School Closures as a Remedy for Low Performance.  The authors conclude that school closures as a strategy for remedying student achievement in low-performing schools is a high-risk/low-gain strategy that fails to hold promise with respect to either student achievement or non-cognitive well-being. It causes political conflict and incurs hidden costs for both districts and local communities, especially low-income communities of color that are differentially affected by school closings. It stands to reason that in many instances, students, parents, local communities, district and state policymakers may be better off investing in persistently low-performing schools rather than closing them.

Another Article on the Mixed Reviews on School Closings.

On the Other Hand, Focused Specific Guidelines Encouraging School-wide Planning, a Strategic View of the School Instead of Fragmentation, and Concentrating on Professional Development as well as Embeding Struggling schools with More Successful Schools in a Comprehensive Improvement Strategy Produced Results. A study of Kentucky focus schools by Stanford researchers.  Under waivers to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the federal government required states to identify schools where targeted subgroups of students have the lowest achievement and to implement reforms in these “Focus Schools.” In this study, we examine the Focus School reforms in the state of Kentucky. The reforms in this state are uniquely interesting for several reasons. One is that the state developed unusually explicit guidance for Focus Schools centered on a comprehensive school-planning process. Second, the state identified Focus Schools using a “super subgroup” measure that combined traditionally low-performing subgroups into an umbrella group. This design feature may have catalyzed broader whole-school reforms and attenuated the incentives to target reform efforts narrowly. Using regression discontinuity designs, we find that these reforms led to substantial improvements in school performance, raising math achievement by 17 percent and reading achievement by 9 percent.

The Top Ten Research-based Reasons Why the Use of Large Scale Standardized Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers



5 Key Questions to Ask Beyond Whether Charter Test-Scores in Annual Tests Increased.

How Some Non-Profit Charter Schools Game the System For Financial Self-Dealing.  Here is a quote from the article:

Quick, is this school a nonprofit or for-profit?

In the most recent financial filings available, the couple who run the chain of 18 schools pay themselves $315,000 a year plus nearly $39,000 in benefits. The school also employs their daughters, their son, and even a sister living in the Czech Republic.

Families who enroll their children in the schools are asked to contribute at least $1,500 a year per child to the school to fund its teacher bonus program. They also must pay a $300 security deposit, purchase some books, and pay for school activities that would normally be provided free at a public school.

The school chain contracts its operations to a management company, also owned by the same couple. In the most recent financial accounting available, the management firm received $4,711,699 for leased employee costs and $1,766,000 for management. Nearly $60 million total was charged to the management corporation to provide services to the schools.

After 2009, the owners made a legal change that made it possible to hide from the public much of the school’s financials, including their salaries and expenses. But what we do know is that between 20012 and 2015 administrative costs of the schools were some of the highest in Arizona, where most of the schools are located, spending an average of $2,291 per pupil on administration compared to $628 per pupil spent by the average public school district in the state.

How For-Profit Charters Are Ripping Off California Taxpayers by California Legislator Kevin McCarty.

How Some Charters Extract Money From Their Employees.

South Carolina Has Invested $350 million in On-line Charters With Terrible Results

Detroit Charters: Expensive But No Results

Charters Don’t Help Students Most In Need

Vermont Voucher Plan Pays Wealthy Parents to Attend Elite Private Schools.

The Network for Public Education’s Position Statement on Charter Schools

  • An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools
  • The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters
  • The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations
  • All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline
  • Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff
  • Complete transparency in all expenditures and income
  • Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community
  • Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website
  • Annual audits available to the public
  • Requirements to follow bidding laws and regulations
  • Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes
  • Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes
  • Requirements that charters offer free or reduced priced lunch programs for students
  • Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter
  • Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located
  • A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

Newark’s Charters Don’t Take Their Fair Share of Harder-to-Educate Students.

Florida Takes the Lead as the State Most Hostile to Public Education in New Charter Expansion Bill 



Why We Should Care About Educating Other People’s Children. A great article by the renowned Arthur Camins.  It is time to care about the education of other people’s children. Other people’s children are or will be our neighbors. Other people’s children – from almost anywhere in the United States and beyond – could end up as our coworkers. Other people’s children are tomorrow’s potential voters. How, what, and with whom they learn impacts us all. That is why we have public schools, paid for with pooled taxes. They are designed to serve the public good, not just to suit individual parent’s desires.

An Excellent Paper on the Early Support For Public Schools from the Federal Government Through the Land Grant Program.

The foundation of our political institutions, it is well known, rests in the will of the People, and the safety of the whole superstructure, its temple and altar, daily and hourly depend upon the discreet exercise of this will. How then is this will to be corrected, chastened, subdued? By education—that education, the first rudiments of which can be acquired only in common schools.  

Report of U.S. House Committee on Public Lands, 1826

From the late 18th century through the middle of the 20th century, the federal government granted control of millions of acres of federal land to each state as it entered the Union. These lands were given in trust, with the stipulation that proceeds from their sale or lease be used to support various public institutions—most notably, public elementary and secondary schools and universities. These state land grants have played an important role in the development of the American system of public education and continue to provide revenues to maintain that system today. 

Leadership in Many States Hostile to Public Education Is Forcing Devastating Cuts by Jeff Bryant

What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft By Jeff Bryant

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