Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wayne, Where'd we put all those AR-15s that are keepin' the kids safe?

I don't know, Barney. Better ask the Sheriff.

This from the Times Ledger by way of KSBA:
School board member questions missing semi-automatic rifles

As the meeting of the Russell County Board of Education concluded mid-day Monday, an issue of missing weaponry was broached by newly elected school board member Gerald Murray.

Murray said that he was aware that the school system has five or six AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and bullet proof vests that are not accounted for.

“I know that at one time we did have them, and if we do still have them, I’d like to know where they’re at,” Murray said.

Superintendent Pickett said that to the best of his knowledge the school system never owned them, that the items belonged to the Sheriff’s Office. He also said his research into the matter did not turn up any records of the school having purchased them.

“I can’t find any documentation,” said Pickett. “I think it was through a grant through the sheriff’s department.”

“I know they’re not in the possession of the school system,” Pickett said.

“I know that too,” said Murray. “That’s why it was brought to my attention.”

“We’ve looked back and I’ve had Ms. Carnes look back; I cannot find anywhere the school board ever purchased weapons,” Pickett said.

Board member Wayne Gosser echoed Pickett’s explanation.

“That was done through a grant that was given to the resource officers through the Sheriff’s Department and that was done, I believe about six or seven years ago,” said Gosser. “And those weapons were purchased by a grant, through a grant. We never purchased weapons, the school system never purchased them, and they were furnished through that grant.”

“As rumors go, I’ve been told where they’re at,” said Murray, who did not elaborate but said it will have to be “verified later on.”

In a later interview with then Sheriff Larry Bennett, he said of the weapons purchase; “It’s my understanding they were bought for the school system, through the Sheriff’s Department, for use by school resource officer’s. It was not the Sheriff’s Office’ money.”

SGA Video Raises Awareness of Higher Education Funding

The Student Government Association at Eastern Kentucky University has produced a video to raise awareness among elected leaders and the public about the importance of accessible and affordable higher education, especially for EKU students. 

The video, which runs almost four minutes, features comments from seven Eastern students, including SGA President and Student Regent Madelyn Street, as well as from EKU President Doug Whitlock and two staff members. It can be viewed at

The students talk about financial obstacles to completing a degree, and the role higher education plays in improving their lives. 

“The Board of Student Body Presidents reached a decision late last semester to cancel our annual Rally for Higher Education that is hosted at the State Capitol,” Street said. “We decided that we would like to take a more personal and respectful approach to voicing our opinions to the state legislators. It was then decided that all eight public institutions would develop their own ways of getting our message across and voicing the opinions of our students. 

“I think that this approach shows that we (student government associations) are trying to take a more professional stance on the issue,” Street continued. “We are able to appeal to the legislators on a level that truly shows what we are trying to accomplish.” 

In addition to Street, students featured on the video are: Matthew Greenleaf, John Perrin, Andrew Beasley, Madison Koller, Chris Ernste and Michael Deaton. Benton Shirey, director of academic advising, and Brandon Williams, assistant director for student rights and responsibilities, joined Whitlock in making comments.  

 The video idea was proposed, Street said, by SGA Treasurer Elizabeth Horn and then “immediately put into action” by the SGA Executive Cabinet. Street credited Brandon Shinkle for the video production. 

“It is absolutely essential that our state government take into consideration how their cuts … place the burden on our students,” Street said, “especially at Eastern, because we pride ourselves in providing a low-cost education for students who wouldn't otherwise be able to receive a degree. We are the future of this state, and we will ultimately be the ones who contribute economically and socially to Kentucky’s well-being. 

“As SGA President, I want to challenge the state to not only end higher education budget cuts, but to look at creating ways for our public institutions to begin receiving more funding. I am challenging them to come up with new and innovative ways to provide incentives for universities to earn more funding.”

Charter schools bill advances in Kentucky Senate

This from The Courier-Journal:
A charter schools bill is on a steady course to clear the Republican state Senate but seems sure to stall when it hits the Democratic House.
The Senate Education Committee on Thursday passed Senate Bill 176 on a party line vote with majority Republicans voting in favor.

The bill would allow a local board of education to designate a persistently low-achieving school as a charter school.

The only witness for the bill Thursday was a Democratic state representative from Georgia, Alisha Thomas Morgan, who said she once opposed charter schools.
“It wasn’t until I started visiting them and seeing the impact they were having on kids — particularly low-income kids and students of color — that I realized that my mind needed to change,” Morgan said.

Morgan said Kentucky is one of just seven states that does not allow charter schools in some form.
SB 176 passed on a 6-4 vote with all four Democrats voting no. It now goes to the Senate floor, where the Republican majority is expected to pass it.

But it then will head to the House Education Committee, where its journey for the 2013 legislative session is likely to end.

“I’m doubtful if there’s much support on the House Education Committee to get it out of committee,” said House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins. “There are a lot of educators on there, people who’ve worked in the public schools, and they don’t support the whole concept of charter schools.”

Sharron Oxendine, who is president of the Kentucky Education Association and attended Thursday’s meeting, said later that the main problem for Kentucky public schools has been inadequate funding.
“Instead of giving resources and attention on a small group of schools, let’s make them available to every Kentucky kid. Let’s not wait until a school becomes a persistently low-achieving school before we start paying attention to it,” she said.

But advocates for HB 176 say they have hope for this session because they say lawmakers can see the need for improvement, particularly in Jefferson County schools.

“This bill will require the school district to try other forms of education for persistently low-achieving schools,” said Hal Heiner, a former member of the Louisville Metro Council. “In Jefferson County we have 16 of the 17 lowest-performing schools in the state. It’s simply time to try different forms of education.”

Arne Duncan's Education 'Sequester' Claims Questioned

This from Politics K-12:
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has long been seen as an administration asset. But this past week, he's also been the chief spokesman for the White House claims about the potential impact of sequestration on education jobs. Now those estimates have run afoul of fact-checkers—and that could ultimately undermine the administration's effort to make education a poster child when it comes to the impact of sequestration on domestic programs.

Some background: On Sunday, the White House released a set of claims about the number of jobs that would be lost due to sequestration. We told readers that the numbers were very hard to prove or disprove—the number of actual jobs or positions lost will depend a lot on how districts decide to implement the cuts. (That information was also in our Sequestration FAQ.)...
But, even though it's too early to really get a handle on just how many, if any, education jobs will be lost thanks to the federal cut, administration officials have insisted on going out with job-loss estimates. And now it's beginning to bite them in the rear. 

Yesterday, the Washington Post put Duncan through the fact-check ringer—giving him "Four Pinnochios" for his statements about pink slips already going out to teachers, which is what the education secretary told Politics K-12's Michele and other reporters last week.

For the most part, districts haven't sent out staff-reduction notices yet. The lag makes sense since districts are just beginning to do their budgets. Most haven't yet figured out whether the federal cuts are likely to lead to layoffs or frozen positions. But the truth, which is that the sequester makes programmatic cuts and layoffs possible or likely, doesn't make for nearly as snappy a sound bite. The Post even compared Duncan's statements to Susan Rice's comments on Libya, which ultimately doomed her bid for Secretary of State. Ouch.

Already, Republicans on the Hill are seizing the moment. GOP staff on the Senate Finance Committee sent around the Post's initial fact check in an email to reporters with the subject-line "Shame On Them."

Will the perception that Duncan and the White House are inflating the job loss estimates ultimately hurt the administration's—and advocates'—push to ensure that pending education cuts should be part of the sequester debate? 

Revisiting the Foolish Endeavor of Rating Ed Schools by Graduates’ Value-Added

This from School Finance 101:
Knowing that I’ve been writing a fair amount about various methods for attributing student achievement to their teachers, several colleagues forwarded to me the recently released standards of the Council For the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP. Specifically, several colleagues pointed me toward Standard 4.1 Impact on Student Learning:
4.1.The provider documents, using value-added measures where available, other state-supported P-12 impact measures, and any other measures constructed by the provider, that program completers contribute to an expected level of P-12 student growth.
Now, it’s one thing when relatively under-informed pundits, think tankers, politicians and their policy advisers pitch a misguided use of statistical information for immediate policy adoption. It’s yet another when professional organizations are complicit in this misguided use. There’s just no excuse for that! (political pressure, public polling data, or otherwise)

The problems associated with attempting to derive any reasonable conclusions about teacher preparation program quality based on value-added or student growth data (of the students they teach in their first assignments) are insurmountable from a research perspective.

Worse, the perverse incentives likely induced by such a policy are far more likely to do real harm than any good, when it comes to the distribution of teacher and teaching quality across school settings within states.

First and foremost, the idea that we can draw this simple line below between preparation and practice contradicts nearly every reality of modern day teacher credentialing and progress into and through the profession:

one teacher prep institution –> one teacher –> one job in one school –> one representative group of students

The modern day teacher collects multiple credentials from multiple institutions, may switch jobs a handful of times early in his/her career and may serve a very specific type of student, unlike those taught by either peers from the same credentialing program or those from other credentialing programs. This model also relies heavily on minimal to no migration of teachers across state borders (well, either little or none, or a ton of it, so that a state would have a large enough share of teachers from specific out of state institutions to compare). I discuss these issues in earlier posts.

Setting aside that none of the oversimplified assumptions of the linear diagram above hold (a lot to ignore!), let’s probe the more geeky technical issues of trying to use VAM to evaluate ed school effectiveness.

There exist a handful of recent studies which attempt to tease out certification program effects on graduate’s student’s outcomes, most of which encounter the same problems. Here’s a look at one of the better studies on this topic.
  • Mihaly, K., McCaffrey, D. F., Sass, T. R., & Lockwood, J. R. (2012). Where You Come From or Where You Go?
Specifically, this study tries to tease out the problem that arises when graduates of credentialing programs don’t sort evenly across a state. In other words, a problem that like ALWAYS occurs in reality!

Researchy language likes to downplay these problems by phrasing them only in technical terms and always assuming there is some way to overcome them with statistical tweak or two. Sometimes there just isn’t and this is one of those times!

Let’s dig in. Here’s a breakdown of the abstract:
In this paper we consider the challenges and implications of controlling for school contextual bias when modeling teacher preparation program effects. Because teachers from any one preparation program are hired in more than one school and teachers are not randomly distributed across schools, failing to account for contextual factors in achievement models could bias preparation program estimates.
Okay, that’s a significant problem! Teachers from specific prep institutions are certainly not likely to end up randomly distributed across a state, are they? And if they don’t, the estimates of program effectiveness could be “biased.” That is, the estimates are wrong! Too high, or to low, due to where their grads went as opposed to how “good” they were. Okay, so what’s the best way to fix that, assuming you can’t randomly assign all of the teacher grads to similar schools/jobs?
Including school fixed effects controls for school environment by relying on differences among student outcomes within the same schools to identify the program effects.  However, the fixed effect specification may be unidentified, imprecise or biased if certain data requirements are not met.
That means, that the most legit way to compare teachers across programs is if you can compare teachers whose first placements are in the same schools, and ideally where they serve similar groups of kids. And, you’d have to have a large enough sample size at the lowest level of analysis – comparable classrooms within school – to accomplish this goal. So, the best way to compare teachers across prep programs is to have enough of them, from each and every program, in each school, teaching similar kids similar subjects at the same grade level, across grade levels. Hmmmm…. How often are we really likely to meet this data requirement?
Using statewide data from Florida, we examine whether the inclusion of school fixed effects is feasible in this setting, the sensitivity of the estimates to assumptions underlying for fixed effects, and what their inclusion implies about the precision of the preparation program estimates. We also examine whether restricting the estimation sample to inexperienced teachers and whether shortening the data window impacts the magnitude and precision of preparation program effects. Finally, we compare the ranking of preparation programs based on models with no school controls, school covariates and school fixed effects. We find that some preparation program rankings are significantly affected by the model specification. We discuss the implications of these results for policymakers.
With “no school” controls means not accounting at all for differences in the schools where grads teach. With “covariates” means correcting in the model for the measured characteristics of the kids in the schools – so – trying to compare teachers who teach in similar – by measured characteristics – schools. But, measured characteristics often really fail to catch all the substantive differences between schools/classrooms.  And where “school fixed” effects means comparing graduates from different institutions who teach in the same school (though not necessarily the same types of kids!).

Okay, so the authors tested their “best” methodological alternative (comparing teachers within schools, by school “fixed” effect) with other approaches, including making no adjustment for where teachers went, or making adjustments based on the characteristics of the schools, even if not matched exactly.

The authors found that the less good alternatives were, to no surprise, less good- potentially biased. The assumption being that the fixed effect models are most correct (which doesn’t, however, guarantee that they are right!).

So, if one can only most legitimately compare teacher prep programs in cases where grads across programs are concentrated in the same schools for their first jobs, that’s a pretty severe limitation. How many job openings are there in a specific grade range in a specific school in a given year – or even over a five year period? And how likely is it that those openings can be filled with one teacher each from each teacher prep institution. But wait, really we need more than one from each to do any legit statistical comparison – and ideally we need for this pattern to be replicated over and over across several schools. In other words, the constraint imposed to achieve the “best case” model in this study is a constraint that is unlikely to ever be met for more than a handful of large teacher prep institutions concentrated in a single metropolitan area (or very large state like Florida).

Other recent studies have not found VAM particularly useful in parsing program effects:
We compare teacher preparation programs in Missouri based on the effectiveness of their graduates in the classroom. The differences in effectiveness between teachers from different preparation programs are very small. In fact, virtually all of the variation in teacher effectiveness comes from within-program differences between teachers. Prior research has overstated differences in teacher performance across preparation programs for several reasons, most notably because some sampling variability in the data has been incorrectly attributed to the preparation programs.
Koedel, C., Parsons, E., Podgursky, M., & Ehle, M. (2012). Teacher Preparation Programs and Teacher Quality: Are There Real Differences Across Programs? (No. 1204).

Example from Kansas

Let’s use the state of Kansas and graduates over a five year period from the state’s major teacher producing institutions to see just how problematic it is to assume that teacher preparation institutions in a given state will produce sufficient numbers of teachers who teach in the same schools as graduates of other programs.

All programs
Specific programs
Indeed, the overlap in more population dense states may be more significant, but still unlikely sufficient to meet the high demands of the fixed effects specification (where you can only essentially compare when you have graduates of different programs working in the same school together, in similar assignments… presumably similar number of years out of their prep programs).

Strategically Gaming Crappy, Biased Measures of “Student Growth”

In practice, I doubt most schools of ed, or state education agencies will actually consider how to best model program effectiveness with these measures. They likely won’t even bother with this technically geeky question of the fixed effects model, and data demands to apply that model. Rather, they’ll be taking existing state provided growth scores or value-added estimates and aggregating them across their graduates.

Given the varied, often poor quality of state adopted metrics, the potential for CAEP Standard 4.1 to decay into absurd gaming is quite high. In fact, I’ve got a gaming recommendation right here for teacher preparation institutions in New York State.

We know from the state’s own consultant analyzing the growth percentile data that:
Despite the model conditioning on prior year test scores, schools and teachers with students who had higher prior year test scores, on average, had higher MGPs. Teachers of classes with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students had lower MGPs. (p. 1)
We also know from this same technical report that the bias appears to strengthen with aggregation to the school level. It may also strengthen with aggregation across similar schools. And this is after conditioning the model on income status and disability status.

As such, it is in the accreditation interest of any New York State teacher prep institution to place as many grads as possible into lower poverty schools, especially those with fewer children with disabilities. By extension, it is therefore also in the accreditation interest of NY State teacher prep institutions to reduce the numbers of teachers they prepare in the field of special education. As it turns out, the New York State growth percentiles are also highly associated with initial scores – higher initial average scores are positively associated with higher growth. So, getting grads into relatively higher performing schools might be advantageous.

With a little statistical savvy, a few good scatteplots, one can easily mine the biases of any state’s student growth metrics to determine how to best game them in support of CAEP standard 4.1.
Further, because it is nearly if not entirely impossible to use these data to legitimately compare program effects, the best one can do is to find the most advantageous illegitimate approach.
Are these really the incentives we’re looking for?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

California School's Yoga Program Draws Church And State Law Suit

This from The Huffington Post:
An attorney representing a family bent out of shape over a public school yoga program in the beach city of Encinitas filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop the district-wide classes.

In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court, attorney Dean Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious, in violation of the separation between church and state.
The plaintiffs are Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children, who are students in the Encinitas Union School District.

"EUSD's Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust," Broyles said.
"Compliance with the clear requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney."

Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not directly comment on it, but he defended the district's decision to integrate yoga into its curriculum this year.

The district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga. Since the district started the classes at its nine schools in January, Baird said teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the breathing practices to release stress before tests.

"We're not teaching religion," he said. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It's part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it."

Baird said the lawsuit would not deter the district from offering the classes.

Broyles said his clients took legal action after the district refused to take their complaints into account. He said the Sedlocks are not seeking monetary damages but are asking the court to intervene and suspend the program.

The lawsuit notes Harvard-educated religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown found the district's program is pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices...

'Un-Fair' Campaign Defended By University Of Wisconsin-Superior

This from The Huffington Post:
The University Of Wisconsin-Superior has announced that, despite criticism, the school intends to continue its support for the "Un-Fair" campaign, a local advertising effort to raise awareness of and fight misconceptions about racism.

Conservative blogs have been criticizing what they call "racially charged" advertisements that show Caucasian people with statements like "is white skin really a fair skin?” written on their faces.
UW-Superior said in a statement released last week that the school is "proud to host the diversity dialogues" as a partner in the Un-Fair campaign, and will work to "reshape the message" to avoid alienating anyone in the community.
"We have an obligation to engage in difficult conversations about complex, even controversial social issues, with a goal of finding workable solutions," the UW-Superior statement reads.

UW-Superior added that media reports have mischaracterized the university as the sole sponsor of the campaign.

"In fact, the campus is part of a coalition of 16 third-party community sponsors," the statement reads. "That coalition includes a wide range of education, civic, religious, and service organizations."
According to the Un-Fair campaign's website, it was conceived in 2011 by a committee of the Duluth YWCA and a local ad agency. Since then, it's added local churches, the NAACP, community groups and Lake Superior College as campaign partners.

The campaign's stated mission is to "raise awareness about white privilege in our community," and the tagline reads "It's hard to see racism when you're White."

"We swim in a sea of whiteness -- it's the norm," Ellen O'Neill, one of the campaign organizers, told Minnesota Public Radio in January of last year. "If we're white, we don't have to think about it, we don't see it. So the first step is getting white people to see it."

Last summer, the University of Minnesota-Duluth dropped its support of the campaign, calling the ads "divisive" in a statement.

The same conservative blogs now criticizing UW-Superior declared victory when UMD dropped out, saying that pressure from sites like Campus Reform, which claims to have broken the story, helped to prompt the decision. However, the Duluth News Tribune and MPR both had reported on local backlash in January 2012, shortly after the university announced its involvement in the campaign.
The News Tribune reported at the time that Mayor Don Ness had received complaints about the ads from "fair number of people in the community," and quoted area resident Ann Reyelts as saying the ads were "poorly conceived."

"To assume that it's hard for whites to understand racism is insulting to my intelligence," Reyelts told the paper. "I get what they're trying to say, but I don't think that's the way to go about it."

The Duluth-Superior metro area is overwhelmingly Caucasian: 91.9 percent classified themselves as non-Hispanic white in the 2010 census, down from 97.5 percent white in 1980, according to data tracked by the Harvard School of Public Health.

MPR reports that a 2010 survey of local residents "found Duluth residents viewed the city as less hospitable to racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, young adults without children, and talented college graduates looking for work than other comparable cities."

Survey: Washington 'Insiders' Pessimistic About Common Tests

This from Curriculum Matters
A small group of Washington policy wonks is increasingly pessimistic that the two big state assessment consortia are headed for success. That's the key finding of a survey released today by the consulting group Whiteboard Advisors.

Bear in mind that this survey takes the pulse of a really small group, and it's hardly reflective of the country in general. The group surveyed is 50 to 75 "Washington insiders"—people like current and former Congressional staffers, White House and U.S. Department of Education officials, and the heads of major organizations—so you've got to see it for what it isn't, as well as for what it is.
Since it isn't nationally representative, the survey is notable less as a reflection of general sentiment than for the way it tracks those "Washington insiders'" views across time. And the latest findings show a downward trend in warm-and-fuzzy vibes about the two federally funded test-design groups, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The story starts on page 9 of the survey. The graph on that page shows that last April, only 27 percent of the "insiders" thought PARCC was on the wrong track. Now that's up to 52 percent. Smarter Balanced's numbers have sunk by only 6 percentage points since last April, but they were more heavily "on the wrong track" to begin with than was PARCC. Seventy-one percent saw SBAC as off-base last April, and optimism grew for a while last summer. But now the "wrong track" numbers are up to 77 percent.

Page 10 shows a sampling of why respondents think what they do. There is some praise for the work: one respondent, for instance, appears to think that PARCC's sample test items reflect a rigorous and promising assessment. But others are worried about the tests being delivered on time, and troubles—both internal and external—that could cause the consortia to stumble.

Flipping through the survey to page 17, you can see this pessimism play out in a different way. Nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed predict that more states will drop out of the consortia in the coming year, the way Alabama and Utah did earlier this year. Page 19 captures an already-well-documented worry: that schools and districts lack the necessary technology to administer computer-based tests to all students.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy Anniversary Prich !

 Check out the Anniversary Video at KET:

Committed to Excellence: 

The Story of the Prichard Committee

Committed to Excellence is a documentary honoring the work of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, independent citizens' advocacy group made up of volunteer parents and citizens from around Kentucky, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary in 2003. This is an edited version. (Originally produced and directed by Diana J. Taylor) Length: 00:09:55 First aired in its original version: June 29, 2003.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Class Struggle - How charter schools get students they want

This from Reuters:
Getting in can be grueling.

Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?

These aren't college applications. They're applications for seats at charter schools.

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.

"I didn't get the sense that was what charter schools were all about - we'll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?" said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. "It left a bad taste in my mouth."

Set up as alternatives to traditional public schools, charter schools typically operate under private management and often boast small class sizes, innovative teaching styles or a particular academic focus. They're booming: There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children.

In cities and suburbs from Pennsylvania to Colorado to Arizona, charters and traditional public schools are locked in fierce competition - for students, for funding and for their very survival, with outcomes often hinging on student test scores.

Charter advocates say it's a fair fight because both types of schools are free and open to all. "That's a bedrock principle of our movement," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association. And indeed, many states require charter schools to award seats by random lottery.
But as Reuters has found, it's not that simple. Thousands of charter schools don't provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing "volunteer" work for the school or risk losing their child's seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student's family invest in the company that built the school - a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.


And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.
Among the barriers that Reuters documented:
* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.
* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.
* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.
* Mandatory family interviews.
* Assessment exams.
* Academic prerequisites.
* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.
Many charters, backed by state law, specialize in serving low-income and minority children. Some of the best-known charter networks, such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot and Success Academy, use simple application forms that ask little more than name, grade and contact information, and actively seek out disadvantaged families. Most for-profit charter school chains also keep applications brief.
But stand-alone charters, which account for more than half the total in the United States, make up their own admissions policies. Regulations are often vague, oversight is often lax - and principals can get quite creative.

When Philadelphia officials examined 25 charter schools last spring, they found 18 imposed "significant barriers," including a requirement from one school that students produce a character reference from a religious or community leader.

At Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona, application forms are available just four and a half hours a year. Parents must attend one of three information sessions to pick up a form; late arrivals can't get in. "It's kind of like a time share (pitch)," said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. "You have to come and listen."

Traditional public schools have their own built-in barriers to admission, starting with zip code: You don't have to write an essay to get into a high-performing suburban school, but you do have to belong to a household with the means to buy or rent in that neighborhood. Many districts also operate magnet or exam schools for gifted students, some of which admit disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students.

Yet most of the charter schools that screen do not set themselves up as elite academies for the gifted. They bill themselves as open to all. For two decades, that promise of accessibility and equity has been the mantra of the charter school movement. It's proved a potent political argument as well, as advocates have pressed to expand the number of charters and their share of public funding.


Open access "is an easy and popular talking point," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. There's just one problem, Hess said: It's not true.

"There's a level of institutional hypocrisy here which is actually unhealthy," said Hess, who is a strong advocate of charter schools. "It's a strange double game. Charter advocates say, 'No, no, no, we don't believe in (selective admissions),' but when you see a successful charter school, it's filled with families who are a good fit and who want to be there, and that's not possible when you have a random assortment of kids."

Five states - Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas - explicitly permit certain charter schools to screen applicants by academic performance. Most others do not. Yet schools have found loopholes.

Alaska, Delaware and North Carolina, for instance, permit charter schools to give admissions preference to students who demonstrate interest in their particular educational focus. Some schools use that leeway to screen for students who are ready for advanced math classes or have stellar standardized test scores.

In California, the law sounds straightforward enough: "A charter school shall admit all pupils who wish to attend the school," with seats awarded by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

Yet Roseland Accelerated Middle School, a charter school in Santa Rosa, California, won't even enter applicants into the lottery until they have proved their mettle by writing a five-page autobiography (with no errors in grammar or spelling, the form warns), as well as a long essay and six short essays. Applicants also must provide recommendations, report cards and statements from their parents or guardians and submit a medical history, including a list of all medications they take.

Gail Ahlas, superintendent of the public school district that oversees the charter, says the process isn't meant to exclude anyone, but to "set the tone" for the school as a rigorous college-prep environment. The form does not offer any accommodation for students with special needs or limited English skills, but Ahlas said she is confident the process "has not been a gatekeeper" and "absolutely" complies with state law.

Ahlas is hardly alone in interpreting California law as flexible. One charter high school in the state will not consider applicants with less than a 2.0 grade point average. Another will only admit students who passed Algebra I in middle school with a grade of B or better.

Julie Russell, who runs the state's Charter Schools Division, said she is not sure how, or whether, such policies square with the open-admissions law. "It's not real, real clear," she said. She relies on each school's overseer to make sure it is in compliance, she said.

In California, as in most states, oversight of charter schools primarily rests with local "authorizers" - typically a school district, a university, or a community group. Authorizers review policies, monitor academic progress and make sure the schools under their jurisdiction comply with state and federal law.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers informs members that one of their core responsibilities is making sure schools are open to all, said Alex Medler, a vice president of the group. "That's non-negotiable," he said.


Medler acknowledged that many authorizers have fallen down on the job. They may approve vague admissions policies without demanding details. They may not have the expertise to spot problems. Or they may relax supervision over time, so they don't even notice when a school adds criteria that can help charters weed out less-than-desirable students.

Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, a top-rated charter school outside of Los Angeles, uses a multistep application that requires assessment exams in math and English and a family interview.
Principal Esau Berumen said he does not screen prospective students for academic ability. But, he said, the process is demanding enough that about 10 percent drop out before the lottery - leaving him with a pool of kids he knows are motivated to embrace the rigors of his curriculum.
"If there's any skimming off the top, it's on effort and drive," Berumen said.

The academy's authorizer, the local school district, did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
To some parents, screening applicants makes sense, given the limited number of seats at top charter schools. "Where do we want to put scarce resources? Find the kids who will benefit most," said Judy Bushnell, a San Diego mother who is seeking to get her 12-year-old daughter into a charter school.
Other parents, however, feel unfairly shut out.

Shortly after the school year began this fall, Michelle Newman got a call from The Intergenerational Charter School in Cleveland, Ohio. A spot had opened up in a third-grade classroom, and her 8-year-old son, Lucas, was first on the waiting list. Administrators said he could enroll after he took an exam.

The exam, part of a two-hour assessment, included questions drawn from state standardized tests. It didn't go well. Lucas was still in summer vacation mode and balked at some math problems, his mother said.

Still, she said she was shocked when the principal called a few days later to say Lucas could not enroll because staff had determined that he wasn't academically or developmentally ready for third-grade - even though he was enrolled in the third grade at his local public school, where he remains.

Charter schools say they take everyone, "but they didn't take him," Newman said. "It's not really about educating all children."

Eric McGarvey, admissions coordinator for Intergenerational, said the school assesses applicants through testing, an interview and a report-card review because "we don't want to accept a child into a grade level that they're not ready for. It doesn't do them any justice." Students who are rejected, he said, go to the top of the waiting list for the grade teachers deem appropriate.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education said charter schools are obligated to admit students into the grade they would attend at their neighborhood school, regardless of skill. The community authorizer that supervises Intergenerational Charter said that it is confident the school's admissions policy is legal but that it will review the policy.


Though admissions barriers most directly affect individual students, the stakes are high for public education nationwide. Funding for charter schools comes primarily from the states, so as charters expand, less money is left for traditional public schools. Teachers unions have fought the proliferation of charters because they see the schools, which typically employ non-union teachers, as a drain on traditional public schools.

Charter-school advocates say the shift in resources is warranted because charters often excel where traditional schools have failed, posting stellar test scores even in impoverished neighborhoods with little history of academic success.

But a growing number of education experts - including some staunch fans of charter schools - see that narrative as flawed. They point to application barriers at some charter schools and high expulsion rates at others as evidence that the charter sector as a whole may be skimming the most motivated, disciplined students and leaving the hardest-to-reach behind.

That, in turn, can drive down test scores and enrollment at traditional public schools. In Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities, officials have cited just such trends as justification for closing scores of neighborhood schools to make way for still more charters.

"At some point, the slow leak of the most motivated students and families can put traditional schools in a downward spiral they can't recover from," said Jeffrey Henig, an education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.

Even when charter schools use simple applications, the fact that parents must submit them months before the start of school means that "these students are in some ways more advantaged, come from more motivated families" than kids in nearby district schools, education analyst Michael Petrilli said.
"We're talking about different populations," said Petrilli, executive vice president at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and longtime advocate of charter schools.

A federal report released last summer found that charter schools across the United States enroll significantly fewer special-needs students than district schools.

In New York City and Newark, New Jersey, high-achieving charter networks enroll markedly fewer poor, severely disabled and English-as-a-second-language students than district schools, according to an analysis by Bruce Baker, an education professor at Rutgers University.


Such differences are visible in San Francisco, at a charter school and a district school less than a mile apart.

At Gateway High, a well-regarded charter, 36 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunch because of low income. At the district high school, 66 percent do, according to state data. Just 5 percent of Gateway's students are still learning English, compared with 14 percent at the district high school. And the parents at Gateway are better educated: Nearly half are college graduates, compared to 29 percent at the nearby school.

Gateway requires applicants and their parents to answer four pages of questions, responding to prompts such as "My best qualities are ..." and "When I graduate from high school, I hope ..."

Gateway's executive director, Sharon Olken, said the point is to get families thinking about whether the school is right for them; applicants are not judged by their writing skills or even the content of their essays. The application does not explain that, however, and even though they're allowed to write in their native language, some families with limited English skills are intimidated.

"Oh my God, it was a nightmare!" said Daisy Hernandez, a native Spanish speaker who made it through the forms only with help from her son, who was determined to apply. He got in.

The school's authorizer, the San Francisco Unified School District, has reviewed the application and is confident Gateway "maintains a consistent effort to reach and serve a diverse population," spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

It can be hard, however, to assess with any rigor whether application barriers deter students from applying. Education lawyers in several cities said parents shut out of the process rarely go public with their complaints out of concern for their children's privacy. Others see obstacles as deeply frustrating - but hardly a reason to file a lawsuit or lodge a formal protest with the state.

When Heather Davis-Jones sought to enroll her eight-year-old daughter, Shakia, in a charter school in Philadelphia last year, she found it much harder than she expected to get into admissions lotteries.
One school made its application available just one night a year; Davis-Jones had to leave work early, forfeiting income, to pick it up. Others demanded birth certificates and other records that Davis-Jones, who adopted her daughter from foster care, did not have and could not get.

Yet it never occurred to Davis-Jones to complain. "I was like, 'This is insane,' " she said. "But I felt like I needed to do whatever it took to get her into a better school. If they want me to stand on my hands for 10 days, I'll do it." Her daughter got into one of the charter schools and loves it.

Another Philadelphia mother, Erika Trujillo, did find the courage to call a charter school and seek clarification when the application required a Social Security card to get her son in the lottery. An immigrant, she did not have that document.

"I was angry," Trujillo said. "It's my child's right to receive an education even though he was born in Mexico."

Federal law requires public schools to admit all resident children, including non-citizens and illegal immigrants. When Trujillo confronted them, school administrators acknowledged that right and said her son could enter the lottery without a Social Security card. But other parents have no way to know that; application forms at that school - and scores of other charter schools around the country - still indicate that a Social Security number is required.

When authorizers or regulators spot improprieties in a charter school's application process, they can demand changes.

In 2011, New York City put Academic Leadership Charter School on probation for irregularities, including leaving hundreds of applicants out of the lottery. (The school has changed its practices and is now acting with integrity, a spokesman for the city's education department said.) This fall, the charter school board in Washington, D.C., moved to shut down Imagine Southeast Charter School for various failings, including inappropriate questions about race and nationality on the application form.
Yet regulators are sometimes unclear on how to interpret the law.

Wyoming, for instance, expressly prohibits charter schools from discriminating against students with special needs in enrollment decisions. Yet Arapaho Charter High School in Riverton requires applicants to write eight short essays, on topics such as "What does the word 'commitment' mean to you?" Each student must also ask an adult mentor to answer another five essay questions.
Principal Mel Miller said he doesn't turn away any student who completes the application, no matter their skill level. He acknowledges, however, that some teens take one look at the form and decide the school is not for them.

Asked whether the process could be considered discriminatory against students with learning disabilities or limited English skills, Elaine Marces, a consultant to the state Department of Education on charter school issues, said she did not know. "That's actually a really good question," she said. "We've not monitored it in the past. Maybe it's something we should be looking at."

The superintendent of the local school district, which oversees the charter school, at first said he was "100 percent confident" the application was permissible under state law. Yet asked whether disadvantaged students might be shut out, Superintendent Jonathan Braack said he was not sure. "This makes me want to look into it," he said.


Authorizers also plan to look closely at possible admissions barriers at the Preuss School at the University of California, San Diego.

Preuss has earned a reputation as one of the best charters in the United States, hailed by Newsweek magazine as a "miracle high school." It serves only low-income students whose parents don't have a four-year college degree.

Yet within that demographic, the school screens aggressively for aptitude, drive and parental support.
The 23-page application requires students to hand-write a long essay and several short-answer questions. They must submit a graded writing sample from their old school, and then explain what they learned from the assignment and how they could have done better. They must provide three recommendations.

And their parents must respond to a page of questions, including: "Describe what type of service you will contribute to this school. Please be specific." If they don't speak English, parents are asked to secure help from a translator.

The school's charter is up for review this summer and its authorizer, the San Diego Unified School District, plans to scrutinize the application process, said Moises Aguirre, who oversees charter schools for the district. "We are interested in equity," he said.

Preuss School Principal Scott Barton said the application is designed to ensure that every child competing for scarce seats in the lottery has "the motivation and the potential to succeed."

Barton said he typically tosses out a few applicants before the lottery - those who have poor recommendations or show only lukewarm interest in Preuss. But he says everyone else who completes the packet goes into the lottery. "We don't cherry pick," he said. "We're certainly not judging the application by grammar or those kinds of things."
That wasn't clear to Teresa Villanueva.

Applying this past fall for a seat for her 11-year-old daughter, Villanueva, who speaks little English, couldn't understand some of the parent questions and was afraid she would disqualify her daughter with clumsy responses. She turned to staff at her daughter's after-school program to guide her through, line by line. To her joy, her daughter got in.

"Thank God I had the help," Villanueva said. "If I was on my own, I wouldn't have been able to do it."

I Spy

This from The Huffington Post:
President Barack Obama was in Decatur, Ga., on Thursday to promote his education agenda that he announced on Tuesday's State of the Union. He stopped in at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center.

Behind that JCPS school board statement on “academic genocide”

This from Toni Konz's Education blog at C-J:
By now, you have probably read the statement/response that the Jefferson County Board of Education sent on Friday in response to Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s assessment of the district’s persistently low-achieving schools in which he compared the lack of progress being made to “academic genocide.”

Until Saturday, none of the school board members responded individually to Holliday’s comments. (More on that later on in this blog post). But last night, newly-elected school board member David Jones Jr. took to Facebook and addressed the situation, saying that the “honeymoon is over” and that the “events of the past week need to be a wake-up call to JCPS and to the school board.” Here is his full statement:
Well, the honeymoon for new school board members is over.
The events of the past week need to be a wake-up call to JCPS and to the school board. How we as a board manage our business, what we spend our time debating, what questions we ask, and especially what expectations we demonstrate all make a difference.
The District has been reorganized under Superintendent Hargens’ leadership in a concerted effort to improve student achievement; as a board, we must take a page from that book and reorganize our work to show the same urgent commitment to improvement that we’re demanding from JCPS educators.
While my colleagues and I are personally repelled by Commissioner Terry Holliday’s choice of words, it’s time to let go of that and face the bigger issue: What are we doing to turn the tide so all students receive the education they desperately need to be functional adults in an economy that will continue to demand more from them?
Since joining the board I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know about Dr. Hargens’ reorganization of the District, and about changes that are beginning to take effect. But there’s no question these changes have not yet fixed our weakest schools. We must do far more to explain planned changes to the community and engage parents in their kids’ education, while seeking the help of every Louisvillian to push our students to succeed – and supporting them as that happens.
Our schools are teaching students to approach problem solving with high-level, critical thinking skills. If we embrace those same skill sets we can – and will – effectively address the crisis of persistently low-achieving schools.
I’m pleased that the board is united on the urgency of turning around our weakest schools by energetically implementing Dr. Hargens’ turnaround plan. But we can and must do more to show the community the change that’s underway – and that we’re ready to try new things if this plan doesn’t work. Passively waiting for state data, and then reporting it to Louisville parents and voters, just won’t do.
So – I’m repelled by Dr. Holliday’s word choice, but I welcome his heat. I want adults to model reasonable discourse, which is what we’re trying to teach our kids, but I also know that candor is essential to fixing any problem, and that passion in pursuit of a lofty goal is no vice.
Please let me know your ideas and thoughts on this subject. Post your concerns here or email me at Thank you!
Now, let’s get to the back story of that “unified” school board statement and how that came about.

On Thursday, The Courier-Journal decided to poll all seven members of the school board and ask them each several questions about the district’s persistently low-achieving schools. I made several phone calls to board members, but could not reach any of them by Thursday afternoon, so I decided I would send them an email with some of my questions, so that they would be prepared to talk to me.
Here is the email that I sent to the JCPS school board members at 4:08 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14:
JCPS school board members:
I am working on a weekend story where I need to speak with all seven of you and ask you a few questions about the events/comments that have unfolded in the past week in regards to Jefferson County’s persistently low-achieving schools. This story is strictly about the school board and what each member feels, not the school district or Donna Hargens.
I have tried to call some of you by phone and have left messages. I decided I will email you my questions ahead of time so you can look at them and have some time to think about them before we talk about it, but I am working on a tight deadline. I need to speak with you by 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. If you don’t believe you can meet that deadline, please let me know ASAP! Thanks.
Here are the questions:
1)     What is your reaction to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s characterization that the lack of progress at Jefferson County’s priority schools is tantamount to “academic genocide?
)     Is JCPS correctly handling oversight of the PLAs? Do you feel the district is doing  everything it needs to help students at these schools?
 3 )      What are the implications of the state’s warning that it might take over oversight at some of the district’s priority schools? Is it warranted, and will it improve those schools turnaround?
4) Please read over the following paragraphs from my article in Wednesday’s newspaper:
Asked Tuesday if Jefferson County had created a system with two different levels of expectations, Holliday agreed.
“Some have suggested that I should have used the word ‘apartheid,’ because I think that is exactly what has happened,” he said. “You have two very different systems in Jefferson County, and the data would support what you’re saying.“
Holliday said he hopes the school board will start asking important questions to ensure “not just equity of opportunity,” but that there is “equity of learning outcomes for all children.”
            Do you believe that two systems of expectations exist in JCPS?
Antoinette “Toni” Konz, Reporter
The Courier-Journal
525 W. Broadway Louisville, KY 40201
Office: (502) 582-4232
Fax: (502)582-4200
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I knew each board member had opened my email because of return receipts I had attached to my note, but by Thursday evening,  I had only been contacted by three of them – Diane Porter, who had returned my earlier phone call but had not read my email, so I asked her to read my email and then to let me know when we could discuss my questions; Linda Duncan, who emailed to say she could talk later on that night or on Friday afternoon and Chuck Haddaway, who emailed to say he was sick with the flu and would be unable to respond to my questions.

I heard nothing by my deadline of 1 p.m. on Friday from any of the school board members. At 1:04 p.m., JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey called me to tell me that the school board would be issuing a statement shortly and to be on the lookout for that statement.

I was caught off guard initially because I did not send my questions to the district. The school board is elected — they don’t report to Superintendent Donna Hargens or her staff. I wasn’t looking for a response from the district and I wondered why the board would not contact me directly, either by phone or via email, instead of through the district’s communication department. Jackey told me that he was simply asked to forward the statement on to me.

The statement did not arrive in my inbox until 3:25 P.M. on Friday. It was a direct response to my questions and it was sent out to the other media in town as well.

When I asked Diane Porter, who is the school board chairwoman, why individual school board members did not respond to me, she said it was because two school board members (who she would not name) felt it would be best for the board to respond as a whole. She said the statement was written with input from all board members, with the exception of Haddaway who was sick, but that Haddaway had signed off on it.

My story ran in Saturday’s paper; in addition the “unified” school board statement was published online as well.

As of today (Sunday), only two of the school board members have contacted me in regards to my original email – Linda Duncan and Debbie Wesslund, but neither have elaborated beyond the board’s “unified” statement. I’ve left numerous messages for the others, including Jones, to no avail.
If and when I see or hear any other individual responses to my questions (either directly or indirectly) from other school board members, I will be sure to let you know.