Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Shelly Berman on Charter Schools

Shortly after the 16 January KET show on charter schools I got a call from Dick Innes of the Bluegrass Institute. Innes apparently felt that I had "been a little rough" on BIPPS and that there were apparently some unnamed people who were thinking about picketing my home!?

Well shucks. First of all I'm never home, so I'd suggest my office at EKU. But I couldn't remember what it was I had said about them. At least, not recently - although whatever it was, I'm sure I meant it.

As usual, Innes and I agreed on some things and disagreed on others; but came at things from different directions.

At any rate, the conversation turned to the KET debate on charter schools (KET VIDEO). Bill Goodman's participants Rev. Jerry Stephenson, chair of the Kentucky Education Restoration Alliance, Jim Waters from BIPPS (who, now that I think of it, I have criticized Waters for his passing acquaintance with accuracy and his introduction of creationism into conversations about Kentucky schools - was that it?) KEA's Sharron Oxendine, and JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

Innes and I agreed that Berman's assertion that Charter Schools were a failed reform, was at least premature, if not inaccurate. Then Innes informed me that he had uncovered an earlier (and inconsistent) quote from a report Berman wrote:
"What we're saying is it's possible to have public schools and charter schools stand side by side and learn from each other."
Innes wrote about it over at his place. I said I'd look into it when I got the chance.

The public record on Sheldon Bernman and charter schools seems to begin in 2004 when he served as superintendent of the Hudson School District in Massachusetts. At that time the Massachusetts Board of Education was considering their first seven charter schools. (Boston Globe 16 Jan 2004)

Berman attended a rancorous meeting where accusations were exchanged in a packed auditorium. Berman and other officials were "concerned about the charter school's proposal because it lists a 15 percent attrition rate" which suggested that the charter schools did not intend to educate everyone, as it promised, but instead planned to create an elite school, skimming the best pupils from the communities.

The Massachusetts board approved three of the seven charter applications including the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School, Community Charter School of Cambridge, and KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School. (Globe 25 Feb 2004)

Berman complained to the Boston Globe that residents were never able to comment on changes that were made after the period for public input. "This final proposal did not receive public review," Berman said. "To create an elitist academy is antithetical to the role of public education."

Berman responded with a lawsuit along with school officials from Marlborough and Maynard. "I think there are some substantive issues that have not been fully addressed and deserve a second look," Berman said. (Globe 26 Feb 2004)

The three communities contended in the suit that the Board of Education's review of the charter school was "egregious enough" to justify legal action, said Hudson School Superintendent Sheldon Berman . "We were appalled by the lack of thoroughness and fairness in the process," Berman said. "The [charter school's] application did not meet the standards set by the board itself." Berman said the suit had "a viable chance" to succeed. "We're on strong ground here." (Globe 21 Mar 2004)

The Boston Herald called our Berman by name in its (27 Mar 2004) editorial titled, Oh no, not competition!
In an astonishing display of narrow-mindedness, school committees in Marlborough, Maynard and Hudson are suing the state because they DON'T want to compete with a charter school approved for the region.Talk about fear and loathing! The three school committees filed suit against the state Board of Education in an effort to halt the scheduled fall 2005 opening of the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School. Sheldon Berman , superintendent of the Hudson schools, said, "I think we have a ate] [sic] board with an ideological agenda. It's supportive of privatization and not that clearly in support of public education."

A year later, the Advanced Math and Science Charter School has said it exceeded enrollment projections and held a partial lottery. Berman said the enrollment figures only represented parents of students who were interested in attending the school. The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, which opposes charter schools on the grounds that they drain funding from public schools, will issue a report next week asking the state to require official enrollment registration before funding the schools, Berman said. (Globe, 20 Mar 2005)

Then, in what reads like an olive branch toward charter school advocates, a report co-authored by Berman and released by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Task Force on Charter Schools said that tensions between charter school advocates and traditional public school advocates had become so intense that it was difficult to dispassionately assess the effectiveness of charter schools. But the report also called for a host of changes to shore up the charter school application process.

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association, said he was encouraged by the tone of the superintendents' report. ''For them to say that charter schools can coexist with traditional public schools, it's certainly a big step for them to take," Kenen said. (31 Mar 2005)

But it didn't end there.

By April 14 2005, (Globe) Berman and his colleagues had amended their lawsuit saying that the charter school's proposal for teaching special-education students was deficient. Berman said newly discovered documents "lend validity to the issues we raised" particularly the special education issue and strengthen the school districts' position. Four of seven independent evaluators who assessed the school's application in 2003 as part of the Department of Education's charter school review process gave the school low marks in its plan's "commitment to serving the needs of special populations of students." Berman said state officials only recently disclosed these documents, which the suit called "clear evidence of the arbitrary and illegal nature of the board's decision."

The Boston Globe called Berman an unofficial spokesman against the charter schools, being one of three districts that sued the school and the state Board of Education in an attempt to overturn the board's approval of the academy. "And he has rallied at least a dozen other school systems from Worcester to Boston to join a complaint against the state Department of Education for approving the charter school, one of the largest complaints against a single charter school so far." (Globe 22 May 2005)

Berman said he had visited Russia and Japan to study their educational systems. He said that not all students with special learning needs would be able to keep up with such rigorous programs and would ultimately drop out. It's an issue that Berman understands well. Several years ago, he authored a report on special education that received national attention and led to increased funding in Massachusetts and other states. Berman also contends that the academy would drain funding and talent from the public schools and undermine their efforts to beef up curriculum. "We have some of the most advanced science and math courses in the state," he said of Hudson High School. "We offer four calculus courses. I don't think there's another school around that does that."

Berman said he does not oppose charter schools in general but considers the Marlborough academy an attempt to create an elite private-styled school at taxpayer expense, he said. He said the school only recently provided more than 4,000 pages of documents that lawyers had requested, and that many of the signatures on petitions used to show support for the charter school were names that could not be verified. "They're very intent on getting their own way," Berman said. "They have essentially subverted what we believe are important regulations . . . and misrepresented themselves."

Berman, 56, said a background in competitive fencing he was a former assistant fencing coach at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has taught him a lot about public policy debate. "It isn't all about attack," he said. "It's about being calm and handling things in the most appropriate way. In fencing, it's most effective to let [the opponent] fall on your point. It's also that way in public policy." But Berman is not sitting idly by. Brookline School Superintendent William Lupini said he joined the complaint after realizing his school would be affected by the new charter school. "Shelley has been the workhorse, the driving force in putting together very research-based, very reasonable position papers," Lupini said. "I can't think of anybody I'd rather be working with on this issue."

Boston Globe readers responded to Berman's position saying,

"The basis of the suit, filed by Superintendent Sheldon Berman of Hudson, seems
to be that "not all students with special learning needs would be able to keep up with such rigorous programs." Yet it is many of those "special learners" not being served in their current public schools who AMSA is attracting. Massachusetts testing procedures ensure that children are held to a minimum standard of learning. But where are the services for those who go beyond the minimum?"
And this:

Berman is a master at whipping local school boards into a frenzy about things like the academy because he is absolutely terrified of competition. So are the other school superintendents. Several are already changing curriculum to better compete and that's good. Hopefully Berman's specious arguments against the academy will be rejected by any judge that has to review the case. It is the future. So is increased competition in the K-12 education business. It's been a monopoly for way too long. As a result, as Alan Greenspan often says, our children are behind the rest of the world in math and science after about the fourth grade. Folks who have lots of money already have, and take advantage of, a plethora of alternatives to public schools. It's time that folks who can't afford to pay twice for schools have access to some alternatives. (Globe 29 May 2005)
Berman's colleagues responded with recognition. Opposition to charter schools was among the reasons that Superintendent Sheldon Berman recently received the prestigious President's Award from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. Berman believes he was recognized because most of the state's superintendents "have become aware of how significant this issue is," he said last week. This is the second time he has gotten the award. "I am very, very honored," he said. (16 Jun 2005)

Amid cries that Berman had somehow manipulated the data, a report by Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate students showed that "several local charter schools [were] enrolling disproportionately small numbers of special education and limited English proficient students."
Robert Harrington, superintendent of the Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School, accused Mr. Berman of being "full of "hatred." Berman, who co-chair the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents' Charter School Task Force, said they proposed the study to WPI because the state didn't seem to be researching the issue. (Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 7 June 2007)

If the implication from Innes is that Berman didn't tell the whole truth by declaring charter schools to be a failed reform - having already declared that public schools and charter schools could stand side by side - I'm not sure that holds up.

(I would have asked Berman myself if past information I had received from had held up, but it didn't. When I was defending him I exchanged several amiable messages with Berman. But when his information turned out to be untrustworthy, and I asked him about it, he stopped writing. I'm still waiting for his explanation as to why that is the case.)

The record would seem to indicate that Berman has been and remains a charter school foe, the 2005 report notwithstanding.

The record also suggests that Berman didn't have to wait two seconds before he considered charters to be a failed idea. He told the Globe in 2005 that "he does not oppose charter schools in general," but the evidence suggests he does.

But Innes had another concern.
If I heard this right, at one point, Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools Sheldon Berman claimed that only two of the 50 charter schools in Massachusetts – where he served before coming to Kentucky – were really performing well.

I wondered about the same thing. Innes wanted me to know he had the goods on this one from a 2006 Massachusetts Board of Education report. It looks to me like he does.
The study of 56 Massachusetts charter schools found:
  • When there is a statistically significant difference in MCAS performance, it is much more likely to favor the charter school than the CSD.
  • In both English Language Arts and Mathematics, at least 30 percent of the charter schools performed statistically significantly higher than their CSD in each year with the exception of 2001. In 2001, 19% of the charter schools performed statistically significantly higher than their CSD in English Language Arts and 26% in Mathematics.
  • The percentage of charter schools performing higher than their CSD each year has remained fairly constant in English Language Arts and Mathematics while the number of charter schools and the number of students tested in charter schools has increased.
  • The percentage of charter schools performing lower than their CSD has declined to approximately 10 percent in Mathematics and dropped below 10 percent in English Language Arts.

Similar patterns existed for all demographic subgroups, with the likelihood of the significant difference favoring the charter school being most prevalent for the African American, Hispanic, and Low Income subgroups.

Because eighteen charter schools were located within the city of Boston, the aggregate performance of those schools was also compared to the Boston Public Schools. In this comparison, the analysis showed that:

  • Charter school students in Boston as a combined cohort have performed statistically significantly higher than students enrolled in the Boston Public Schools each year from 2001 to 2005 in both English Language Arts and Mathematics, except there was no statistically significant difference in performance in English Language Arts in 2001.
  • Among the African American, Hispanic, Low Income, and Special Education subgroups, charter school performance was statistically significantly higher than the CSD in each year since 2002 in both content areas.
  • Charter school students in the White subgroup performed statistically significantly higher than their counterparts in the Boston CSD in 3 of the 5 years in Mathematics and 4 of the 5 years in English Language Arts.
Now, the only problem with all this is that the study acknowledges that the demographic characteristics of students attending a particular charter school may differ from the demographic characteristics of the students in the CSD...which was one of Berman's original complaints.


Steve Hyndman said...

...which suggested that the charter schools did not intend to educate everyone, as it promised, but instead planned to create an elite school, skimming the best pupils from the communities.

...kind of like SCAPA and Maxwell in FCPS...

I posted the following (below the dashed line) in response to discussion in an online stats class last week...

Why am I posting this here? Charter schools aren't alone in creating elite schools and skimming off the best...however one wants to define "best".

Thanks for sharing your experience and observations.

Let me point out one specific instance in Fayette County Public Schools that may be somewhat related to your experience...

Click the link below and view the student demographics in particular attention to the numbers under Diversity and look under In the cafeterias at the percentage who quality for Free and Reduced lunch. I don't see the special education participants reported for the district, but I believe it's between 12% and 15%.

Now, click the following link and look at the demographics of SCAPA...lower-right side of the the numbers. Keep in mind that SCAPA is a "special school" and doesn't draw from an attendance area...students are "accepted" into SCAPA from all over the district based ONLY on their artistic "interest and talent" least that's the theory.

Does anything jump out at you?

Richard Day said...

Good point, Steve.

What many don't like about charters has been true of magnets.

Anonymous said...

Were some of the Innes people really thinking about picketing your home? What was it that offended them? Your right to exercise first amendment freedom of speech?

No name calling, of course, but I think those people sound downright frightening.

Richard Day said...

Oh...I doubt it was serious. Somebody probably said something off-handed to him. I did NOT take it as a threat; more humorous actually.

Afterall, what would picketers put on their signs?

God hates moderates....?

Day supports charters but not enough....?

Another stupid professor for better schools....?

If BIPPS ever started protesting political speech they disagree with, I doubt it would start with me. But you never know. I suppose a few tea partiers with nothing else to do one day might look for new ways to amuse themselves.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for holding your ground, Dr. Day. You have disagreed with me more times than I can imagine. I simply suck it in, and re-evaluate my thinking.

As a teacher in Fayette County Public Schools, and as the holder of an advanced degree, I was taught to look at intellectual debate (and dissent) as something healthy for our nation. It seems these things really scare Martin Cothran, Richard Innes, and others.

Looking forward to the day when I'm no longer working for "Stu" so that I can sign my name to these posts.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the kind words.

I hope to be thought-provoking for exactly the reasons you state. It was how I was raised; debating over dinner with my father and brother. It's how we challenged and reshaped our own thinking.

Anonymous said...

The most disturbing revelation of your post, "When I was defending him I exchanged several amiable messages with Berman. But when his information turned out to be untrustworthy, and I asked him about it, he stopped writing. I'm still waiting for his explanation as to why that is the case."

I have had the same experience with Berman, so it seems to be a bit of a pattern of behavior.

Is this part of his Social, Emotional Learning curriculum? Obfuscate the reader and duck accountability?