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Are Traditional Public Schools “Franchises”?

According to Investopedia, a franchise is defined as follows:

A franchise is a type of license that a party (franchisee) acquires to allow them to have access to a business’s (the franchiser) proprietary knowledge, processes and trademarks in order to allow the party to sell a product or provide a service under the business’s name. In exchange for gaining the franchise, the franchisee usually pays the franchisor initial start-up and annual licensing fees.

Franchises are a very popular method for people to start a business, especially for those who wish to operate in a highly competitive industry like the fast-food industry. One of the biggest advantages of purchasing a franchise is that you have access to an established company’s brand name; meaning that you do not need to spend further resources to get your name and product out to customers.

In sum, the term franchise is a marketing term. And given the push to turn American public education into a marketed product/service under the auspices of “school choice,” it should come as no surprise that promoters of market-driven ed reform use business terminology to attempt to reframe American public education.

Consider, for example, Brooking Institute fellow Grover “Russ” Whitehurst’s usage of the term, “franchise,” in discussing his disagreement with the institution of the local-board-run community school in this March 29, 2017, Brookings video, “The 2016 Education Choice and Competition Index.” Below is Whitehurst’s first minute of his opening remarks, which precede a speech by US ed secretary Betsy DeVos:

Good morning. Glad to see you here, see some familiar faces. I know you’re here to hear Secretary DeVos talk, but you’ve got to sit through a little bit of me first.

We’re here today to think and talk about K-12 school choice, and we’re doing that in the context of publicly-funded education.

If we had this event, or an event with this title twenty years ago, it would have been mostly about the prospects of something that did not then exist. The traditional, school-district model of the delivery of public education was a monolith that completely dominated education through the end of the twentieth century. Education within each state was provided entirely by school districts governed by elected school boards. Each district had an exclusive franchise to provide educational services within its geographical boundaries, and within those boundaries, districts managed individual schools that themselves were organized as exclusive franchises within their own geographical student assignment zones.

In the above remarks, Whitehurst attempts to redefine traditional public education using economic language, but the language simply does not fit.

Traditional public school is not a for-profit venture. There is no dealing in school-district or school-level trademarks. The purpose in opening a public school is not to use the district “brand” in order to sell a product under a business name.

Marketing a school as a brand is a characteristic of charter schools, particularly certain charter school chains. Charter schools hire PR firms to promote the school organization’s image, including commercial spots in order to market to a public in order to draw students.

Traditional public schools do not usually hire PR firms. Charter schools do. (I have been contacted twice by charter school PR reps. One wanted me to promote the school; the other wrote to defend the school based on a post I wrote.)

Why, then, describe traditional public schools as “franchises?”

I’ll return to that question shortly.

Note that Whitehurst also describes the traditional public school system as a “monolith.” According to Merriam-Webster, a monolith in this case is “an organized whole that acts as a single unified powerful or influential force.”

So, the traditional public school system, in Whitehurst’s reasoning, “acts as a single unified powerful or influential force,” which agrees with his saying that the traditional school system has “completely dominated education through the end of the twentieth century.”

In economic parlance, the traditional public school system is (dare I write) a monopoly, one definition for which is “exclusive possession or control.”

Indeed, to dominate is to control. However, it seems that the purpose of school choice is to take control from the traditional public school, but the purpose of traditional public school is to provide a service to the community in which it is located.

Why describe traditional public schools as “franchises?”

Describing traditional public schools as franchises ascribes to traditional public schools some dark, ulterior motive of profiting at the expense of students. Add “monolith,” and that self-serving motive helps foster the image of market reformer “choice” as savior underdog.

Describing traditional public schools as franchises makes those schools impersonal in a way that twists back and bites corporate ed reform in its hedge-funded keister.

The traditional public school is not a marketing entity. It never has been. Career classroom teachers do not choose the classroom for the career-ladder climb or the promise of grand salaries. The traditional public school does not market to certain, “preferable” parents and children.

However, school choice in its current manifestation cannot be divorced from a market-driven mindset. School choice is a marketed entity. I receive placards in the mail several times a year from the Alliance for School Choice, telling me about how school choice will save my children from failing public schools– and if I call to inquire, I could be enrolled in a raffle for a beginning-of-school-year shopping spree worth $500!

If I wanted to make big money, I would start my own charter school and appoint a board that would pay me six figures.

I might even sell the right to my school brand. There’s money to be made in franchising.

Whitehurst is right, however, about traditional public education being large. School systems run by elected boards still dominate the American public education landscape. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2016, a projected 50.4 million students attended US public elementary and secondary schools. According to the Center for Education Reform (CER), in 2016, 3 million students attended charter schools. Thus, approximately 6 percent of public school students attend “public” charter schools.

Sometimes the charter school franchises fold. It seems that CER is proud that charter schools close– without a hint of how such closure upsets students and communities– or affects schools that must absorb stranded students– or how the very fact that almost 300 charter schools can close in a single school year (“by a percent larger than any other schooling sector”) flies in the face of “empowering parents”:

  • Charter School Closures: Do bad charter schools close? You bet, by a percent larger than any other schooling sector. That means that 15 percent of charters have closed…. In the 2014-2015 school year, 272 public charter schools were closed for various reasons.

But back to Whitehurst and his speech.

I did not listen to Whitehurst’s entire speech, and I did not listed to DeVos’, either.

However, it seems that Whitehurst has his school-choice-promotion work cut out for him, especially if he is promoting Betsy DeVos.

According to a survey conducted by the St. Leo University Polling Institute (March 03-11, 2017; 1,073 adults; + 3.0 margin of error) has DeVos’ approval rating at 34.5 percent, with 16 percent “strongly approving” of DeVos appointment as US secretary of education and 18.5 percent “somewhat approving.”

Of all of Trump’s staff and cabinet appointments, DeVos has the highest “strongly disapprove” rating at 41 percent.

Not exactly an ideal spokesperson to advertise for school choice franchises.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

The Pahara Institute Proliferation of Corporate Ed Reformers

Pahara Institute is a nonprofit, market-based-education-reform mill designed to proliferate corporate reformers. It was formed in 2012 and is located in Walnut, California.

The corporate reform message of Pahara Institute is the stale sale of *public schools failing and leaders with new, innovative solutions needed*– except the solutions are neither new nor innovative.

Still, Pahara Institute seeks to spread school choice and test-score based reforms.

Lest there be any doubt about Pahara Institute as a corporate reform proliferation nest, consider the bio of its founder and CEO, Kim Smith:

Kim Smith is the founder and chief executive officer of the Pahara Institute. … Immediately prior to the Pahara Institute, Kim was co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. Earlier in her career she served as a founding team member at Teach For America, created and led an AmeriCorps program for community-based leaders in education, managed a business start-up and completed a brief stint in early online learning at Silicon Graphics. After completing her MBA at Stanford University, she co-founded and led NewSchools Venture Fund, a philanthropy focused on transforming public education through social entrepreneurship, where she helped to catalyze a new, bipartisan, cross-sector community of entrepreneurial change agents for public education. Kim has helped to incubate numerous education and social change organizations and has served on a range of boards, which currently include those of Bellwether, NewSchools, and Rocketship Education, and she has authored or co-authored a number of publications about innovation and social entrepreneurial change in education. [Emphasis added.]

Corporate ed reform entrenched.

Note the all-too-familiar corporate reformer lingo in the Pahara Institute Mission and History/Purpose, which, of course, is both “bold” and “urgent”:

The Pahara Institute is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify, strengthen, and sustain diverse high potential leaders who are reimagining public education, so that every child in America has access to an excellent public school. …

American public schools are not delivering on our promise to prepare every child to achieve prosperity and success. Children from low income and underserved communities do not have access to the quality of educational resources enjoyed by peers in wealthier communities.

To achieve educational excellence and equity at the same time and to live up to our aspirations as a democratic society, we must make bold improvements to our public schools so that every child in America has access to the tools and skills he or she needs to be successful in life.

The Pahara Institute seeks to strengthen the movement for educational excellence and equity by:

  • helping to develop and sustain experienced, innovative leaders
  • identifying and developing the next generation of leaders
  • better connecting leaders across the field, and across traditional silos and stakeholder groups

Our work is to support exceptional, innovative leaders who bring urgency and dedication to ensuring that all our children have access to an excellent public school.

The following Pahara Institute mission comes from its most recent tax filing as of this writing: Pahara Oct 2014- Sept 2015

Pahara Institute identifies, strengthens, and sustains diverse, high-potential leaders who are reimagining public education, so that every child in America has access to an excellent public school.

In 2014-15, Pahara Institute spent $4.4 million on the following “service accomplishment”:

The Pahara Institute provides leadership development activities and programs for leaders in education reform. Education reform in the US is a complicated undertaking, and it is important that we have a strong cadre of diverse and highly skilled leaders who are able and motivated to reimagine our public schools so that we are providing a high quality education to all of our children and communities. The institute addresses this need through initiatives targeting the development needs of a range of education-related leaders. During the current fiscal year, the Institute had 364 participants in its programs.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation funded Pahara Institute $2 million “to support the Pahara Institute and its two leadership programs, the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship Program and a new emerging leaders program designed to accelerate the development of high potential emerging leaders of color.”

However, Pahara Institute’s primary “partner” is the Aspen Institute, also a major vehicle for advancing corporate education reform ideas. (I wrote a chapter about the Aspen Institute in my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, including its history and mammoth annual event, the Aspen Ideas Festival.)

Note that the Gates Foundation is a major funder of the Aspen Institute (over $94 million since 2002), which, in turn, is the primary “partner” of Pahara Institute. However, the Aspen-Pahara fiscal connection becomes murky as Pahara Institute is not mentioned on the Aspen Institute tax form and vice-versa.

Current fiscal murkiness aside, as its “about” page notes, Pahara Institute was originally launched in 2006 as the Aspen-NewSchools Fellowship, a joint venture between the Aspen Institute and NewSchools Venture Fund.

To give an idea of who participated in the Aspen-NewSchools Fellowship, see this 2008 newsletter featuring that year’s Aspen-NewSchools fellows, including:

  • Cami Anderson, Sr. Superintendent of District 79, NYC Dept. of Ed.
  • Jemina Bernard, Executive Director, NY Teach for America
  • Becca Bracey Knight, Managing Director, Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
  • Tim Daly, President, The New Teacher Project
  • John King, Sr. Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, NY State Dept. of Ed.
  • Jordan Meranus, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund
  • Rebecca Nieves Huffman, VP, The Fund for Authorizing Excellence, Nat’l. Assn. of Charter Schools Authorizers
  • Terry Ryan, VP for Ohio Programs and Policy, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
  • Sarah Usdin, Founder and President, New Schools for New Orleans [Emphasis added.]

The first cohort of Pahara fellows (2007) included the following corporate ed reformers (bio links from main link above are rich with corp ed reform connections):

  • Russlyn Ali, Managing Director of Ed Fund, Emerson Collective
  • Chris Barbic, Founding (former) Superintendent, Tennessee Achievement District
  • Richard Barth, CEO, KIPP Foundation
  • Michael Bennet, US Senator (Colorado)
  • Susan Colby, Partner, McKinsey and Company
  • John Deasy, Former Los Angeles Superintendent, now with The Broad Center
  • Kaya Henderson, Former DC Chancellor
  • Jon Schnur, Co-leader, New Leaders for New Schools
  • Jim Shelton, Former Ed Program Director, Gates Foundation
  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America

Some more Pahara fellows from other years:

  • Ben Austin, Founder, Parent Revolution (2014)
  • Tom Boasberg, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools (2013)
  • Chaka Booker, Managing Director, the Broad Center (2015)
  • Derrell Bradford, Exec. VP and Exec. Director, NYCAN, 50CAN (2016)
  • Jean-Claude Brizard, Former CEO, Chicago Public Schools (2010)
  • Chris Cerf, Superintendent, Newark Public Schools (2016)
  • Deborah Gist, former Rhode Island Commissioner of Ed and current Superintendent, Tulsa Public Schools (2013)
  • Aimee Guidera, Founder and Exec. Director, Data Quality Campaign (2013)
  • Keri Hoyt, Chief Operating Officer, Success Academy Charter Schools (2014)
  • Shavar Jeffries, President, Democrats for Education Reform (2017)
  • Michael Johnston, Colorado State Senator (2013)
  • Neerav Kingsland, Former CEO, New Schools for New Orleans (2013)
  • Patricia Levesque, CEO/Exec. Director, Foundation for Excellence in Education (2013)
  • Marc Porter Magee, Founder, 50CAN (2014)
  • Deborah McGriff, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund (2013)
  • Kira Orange-Jones, Executive Director of Teach for America, New Orleans (2010)
  • Dana Peterson, Deputy Superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District (2013)
  • Margaret (Macke) Raymond, Founder and Director, CREDO (2017)
  • Caroline Roemer (Shirley), Exec. Director, La. Assn. of Public Charter Schools (2012)
  • Stefanie Sanford, Former Director at the Gates Foundation, now with The College Board (2011)
  • Laura Slover, CEO, PARCC (2013)
  • Andy Smarick, Partner, Bellwether Education, and Member, Maryland Board of Education (2010)
  • Preston Smith, Co-founder, Rocketship Education (2010)
  • Daniel Weisberg, CEO, The New Teacher Project (2016)

There are many, many more Pahara fellows on the long list extending from 2007 to 2017.

One would think that with such concerted effort, market-based ed reforms would actually work– school choice would clearly triumph over those stepchild community schools, and test score outcomes would usher in local and state economic improvements.

I wonder how many Pahara cohorts it will take to bring us into the market-driven promised land.

I have at least ten more years before I retire from my traditional teaching position.

The race is on.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Chester Finn Laments Maryland’s Corporate Reform Resistance; Fails to Connect Common Core to Falling NAEP Scores

On March 22, 2017, former Fordham Institute President and current Maryland State Board of Education Vice President Chester Finn published an opinion piece for the ed reform think tank, Fordham Institute, entitled, “A Painful ESSA Setback in Maryland.”

Finn is upset that signature ed reform policies, such as the expansion of charters and vouchers and test-score-centric policies for “grading” schools are taking a hit in the Maryland legislature.

Finn tries to leverage his argument by centering on Maryland’s 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores:

Maryland prides itself on having high-performing public schools, but the truth is that its primary-secondary education system is failing to prepare far too many children for what follows. On the most recent (2015) National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, barely one third of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” or “advanced” in either math or reading. Among African-American youngsters, that key benchmark was reached by fewer than one in five.

Yet lawmakers are on the verge of undermining the best chance the state has had in ages to do something forceful about the schools that have allowed this sad situation to endure. They’re about to prevent the State Board of Education from installing a new school-accountability system that prioritizes pupil achievement and student success, as well as true transparency by which parents can easily tell whether their child’s school is succeeding or failing. Instead, House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871, now speeding toward enactment, sharply limit the extent to which learning counts, restrict the use of achievement data, forbid the state from “grading” its schools (or intervening in dreadful ones), and give top billing to measures of teacher satisfaction, class size, adult credentials, and other inputs that are dear to the hearts of teacher unions but have woefully little to do with classroom effectiveness. The General Assembly has already killed Governor Hogan’s proposed expansion of the state’s cramped charter school program and is threatening to shrink its tiny voucher program, thereby ensuring that kids stuck in district-run dropout factories won’t have any alternatives. Maryland districts are also famously allergic to public-school choice, save for the occasional magnet.

Maryland’s House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871 are essentially the same bill. Both call for school quality indicators to be included in school performance grades; both specifically forbid school quality from being measures using test scores. Furthermore, regarding schools identified for intervention, both bills specifically forbid 1) the creation of a state-run school district; 2) “converting a public school to a charter school” (note that such language defies the notion that “charter schools are public schools”); 3) “issuing scholarships to public school students to attend nonpublic schools through direct vouchers, tax credit programs, or education savings accounts” and 4) “contracting with a for-profit company.”

As Finn notes, Maryland districts might be “famously allergic” to charter schools since in Maryland, only traditional school districts can authorize charters– a move understandably at odds with the fiscal interests of a traditional school district.

Maryland does have a voucher program, but if HB 978/SB871 passes, vouchers will not be expanded as a “solution” for addressing schools “in need of intervention,” a part of ESSA Title I funding.

Indeed, based on a December 2016 Washington Post article on charters and vouchers, it seems that notable hope for expansion has indeed been nixed by HB 978/ SB 871.

On the charter expansion front, there was another push: In January 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan promoted charter school expansion with his Public Charter School Act of 2017.

However, that, too, is a no-go. Hogan’s charter expansion bill received an unfavorable report on March 01, 2017, in the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, and the hearing on the issue was canceled in the Maryland Senate on March 06, 2017.

Back to HB 978/SB 871:

In short, these bills are misery for the likes of Finn, who has spent his, uh, education career promoting the grading of things and the privatizing spin-off collectively known as “corporate education reform.”

As one might expect, Finn goes for some test scores that support his public-ed-privatizing point.

Indeed, Maryland’s NAEP scores have dipped in 2015 in both math and reading. Finn doesn’t focus on the dip, but it is obvious.

Maybe too obvious.

Another way of looking at 2015 NAEP scores is as those that are five years after the official completion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In 2010, like most other states, Maryland adopted CCSS– which Finn’s Fordham Institute worked hard to sell. (Also see here and here.)

According to a report released by Fordham Institute in July 2010— only one month following the official release of CCSS– Finn et al. graded Maryland’s state standards as C in ELA and D in math.

Still, in 2015, Maryland’s NAEP scores dropped below its 2007 levels in both reading and math.

This is surely no Common Core win.

Finn is silent this point.

Finn is also silent on the fact that Fordham Institute’s 2010 grading of state standards did not consider 2009 NAEP scores. To do so then would not have served Finn’s purposes, for NAEP scores do not align with Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards.

Note also that Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards had the end goal of promoting a CCSS, as shown by the fact that CCSS itself did not receive a Fordham Institute grade higher that the math and ELA standards in all states.

To solve this issue, Finn et al. offered a slanted interpretation of state standards letter grades, one designed to promote CCSS. I wrote about it in 2013:

Traditionally, the A-F letter grades hold the following meanings:

A = excellent or outstanding

B = very good or above average

C = average or satisfactory

D = below average or needs improvement

F = failing or unsatisfactory

However, in Fordham’s “bottom line [summary of state standard grading],” traditional meaning is replaced with the following biased terminology (or not discussed at all):

A = Letter grade not included in “bottom line.”  (A-minus, B-plus, and sometimes B are also not included in “bottom line.”)

B = “decent”

C = “mediocre”

D = “among the worst in the country”

F = “among the worst in the country”

Fordham’s “bottom line” letter grade setup allows for no state to outdo CCSS.

If Chester Finn wants to complain about Maryland’s 2015 NAEP scores, he should address how it is that Maryland’s NAEP scores have fallen below pre-Common Core levels.

The beauty of being Chester Finn is that he never has to answer to anyone for the reforms he pushes.

But it sure is refreshing to read that Finn is not getting his corporate reform way with the 2017 Maryland legislature, regardless of his all-too-obvious Common Core silence.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Hannah Skandera Booted from Consideration as DeVos Assistant

According to Politico’s March 23, 2017, Morning Education, controversial New Mexico education commissioner Hannah Skandera will not be joining US ed sec Betsy DeVos in DC as assistant education secretary. (Note: A December 2016 Politico Pro article had Skandera under consideration for “deputy secretary or undersecretary.”)

The reason? Republicans are spooked by Skandera’s ties to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS):

the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education may still be up for grabs after the Trump administration recently reversed plans to nominate New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera for the assistant secretary job, POLITICO has learned. The administration’s decision to pull back an offer came after Republicans raised concerns about Skandera’s support for the Common Core standards. The offer appears to have been extended before Hill Republicans were consulted.

“About a dozen Republican offices were skeptical that they could ever vote yes” on Skandera because of her embrace of the standards, said a senior GOP aide. … Skandera, who sits on the governing board for the Common Core-aligned PARCC test, declined to comment.

Skandera not only “sits” on the PARCC governing board; she is the board chair, and under clandestine circumstances: PARCC did not formally offer a press release concerning Skandera’s replacing Massachusetts ed commissioner Mitchell Chester as PARCC chair. However, the PARCC website has Skandera listed as PARCC chair since January 2016.

The March 23, 2017, Politico article continues by referring to Skandera’s supposed “extensive K-12 and higher education experience” making her “a good bet for a federal job.” Given that DeVos’ only K12 experience appears to be mentoring some students who attended “public school” (no specifics provided as of yet beyond this DeVos talking point), Skandera might appear to be “experienced.” However, Politico glosses right over the fact that the New Mexico senate took four years to confirm Skandera because of the sticking point that the New Mexico constitution requires its ed commissioner to be a “qualified, experienced educator.”

According to Skandera’s New Mexico’s Public Ed Department (PED) bio, Skandera began above the classroom as a Hoover Institute fellow and continued floating above any substantial K12 experience as undersecretary of education in california under former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. She continued her float to the US Department of Ed (G.W. Bush admin) and then headed for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s state department of ed as commissioner.

In Skandera’s case, it seems that being (again) catapulted to the top in New Mexico was enough to finally gain her a close confirmation. (The vote was 22-19.)

So, even though DeVos and Skandera both share close confirmation votes (DeVos’ was historical; 50-50 with VP Mike Pence breaking the tie), Skandera’s continued CCSS affiliation has her on the outs as a DC comrade for DeVos.

  Hannah Skandera


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Louisiana School Boards Assn. Confronts Louisiana’s ESSA State Plan Rush Job

On March 13, 2017, US ed sec Betsy DeVos contacted state superintendents to let them know that there are now two possible deadlines for submission of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plans: April 03, 2017, or September 18, 2017. There is no penalty for a state’s waiting until September and not rushing to submit by April.

Nevertheless, it seems that Louisiana superintendent John White wants to rush anyway and submit an incomplete ESSA plan that does not have the support of the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA).

On March 23, 2017, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard sent this three-page letter to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, the state board of education (BESE), and White.

LSBA’s letter addresses six primary concerns with the ESSA plan that White wants to send to the US Department of Education (USDOE) in April.

The first concerns the state slicing off an additional 3 percent of ESSA funding and redistributing it in a manner that the state sees fit:

Just as the State is struggling fiscally, local school boards have, year after year, been called upon to provide a higher and higher percentage of the cost of providing public education.  Long gone are the days when the State carried 65% of the fiscal burden, compared to 35% for local districts. Recent financial data shows local school boards carrying about 50% of the costs of providing public education in Louisiana. The proposal to withhold an additional 3% of federal funds from every local school board is, therefore, very troubling.

While local school boards appreciate the notion espoused by Supt. White that the LDOE will redistribute that money, the inevitable fact is the many local school boards, and the children they are tasked with educating, will suffer a net loss of funding through this process.  While a few local school boards or charter schools may benefit, that benefit will be at the expense of every other local school board and charter school.  The LSBA, therefore, objects to the reservation and diversion of federal funds as provided in the LDOE proposal.

The second concern is that school districts are not even aware of how the district performance scores will be calculated. Yet the state plan is supposed to include such metrics:

The State plan is supposed to set forth the metrics and the process for the State Accountability System.  That necessarily includes the assessment of students, teachers, schools and school districts.  However, as of the writing of this letter, the State Accountability Commission has yet to even consider the metrics for establishing District Performance Scores (DPS).  Until that decision is made the submission of a State Plan is premature.  Again, ESSA gives the State until September, so the State should not rush to file an incomplete plan.  The LSBA cannot even speak to its support or objection to the DPS metrics, as those metrics are, to date, unknown.  There seems to be a lack of the very stakeholder input that was originally envisioned by ESSA.

One wonders if White would slip in some metric at the last minute, or in some belated communication with USDOE. This idea of last-minute calculations is addressed in the next concern: the improperly-vetted addition of “bonus points/progress points” into previous school score calculations. Such points award certain schools at the expense of other schools, as LSBA shows in its third concern:

Finding a valid means of incorporating student growth into our State Accountability System has been a goal since before the passage of ESSA.  Recalling the “bonus points” or “progress points” that were inserted into the System in prior years, without fully vetting those proposals, that system created counter-productive disputes, where districts that had achieved at seemingly high levels found themselves surpassed by districts with lower scores due to the after-the-fact application of “bonus points”.

There were ongoing disputes as to how best to calculate and apply bonus points.  The Accountability Commission does not appear to have reached consensus on how to incorporate “student growth” that does not under-compensate historically higher performing school districts.  Under the current proposed model, a school district that has historically performed as an “A”, could fall to a lower letter grade, even if the DPS letter grade without the growth factor still qualified as an “A”, based solely on the district not showing sufficient “growth”.  This would be like giving a student a B because the student made a 97% in the first semester and a 97% in the second semester – thus showed no “growth”.

Other interest groups actually objected to the “student growth” model, conceptually, asserting that the use of “student growth” would mislead the public by over-compensating a lower performing school or district.  This issue needs more study and consensus.  The LSBA objects to moving forward with the proposed plan that does not appropriately address this issue.

One of the beauties of school score manipulation is the sensationalizing of “growth” via bonus points for lower-scoring schools. It takes the focus off of the low score and not only puts it on “improvement”; it boosts the appearance of improvement even more by tacking on additional points for that improvement– even if the so-called improvement is still incredibly low when compared to set criteria.

Of course, if the schools that one wants to promote are low-scoring schools, then use of bonus points for improvement can make it appear that the low-scoring schools are “progressing” even as the higher-scoring schools are not.

There is nothing inherently objective about use of school grades. The calculations behind the school grades can be profoundly convoluted, as the LSBA letter shows in its fourth concern:

The current proposed plan makes dramatic and fundamental changes to the State Accountability System in the awarding of points.  The notion that Mastery earns 100 points, but just below Mastery earns 50 points, and Basic earns 50, and just below Basic earns 0 is not a valid means of implementing an A, B, C, D, F grading scale.  The proposal is akin to a teacher awarding the following grades to the following students:

Student Test Score Letter Grade
1 90 A
2 89 D
3 50 D
4 49 F


The points should be awarded in bands, aligned with the letter grades, if the letter grade system is to remain in place.  The proposal establishes a system where there are only 3 possible grades A, D or F, there is no B or C.

The fifth LSBA concern involves the many state requirements excluded from school score calculations. Such exclusion presents a slanted picture since the state is not offering schools and districts credit for that which the state itself mandates– and such mandates could easily be incorporated into the ESSA state plan:

There are a number of items of coursework or instruction mandated by State law, from bullying, to cell phone security, to cursive writing.  None of these items are taken into account when calculating an SPS or a DPS.  The LSBA has long worried about the paradox between the State mandating certain coursework or instruction and the State not valuing those matters enough to include them in the State Accountability System.  One of the highlights of ESSA was the flexibility afforded to States to include multiple measures, beyond standardized tests scores, in the assessment system for public schools and local school districts.  Taking advantage of that flexibility will also show that the State values the mandates imposed on local school boards.  The current proposed plan does not take advantage of this key flexibility provision in ESSA.

The sixth and final LSBA-detailed concern is that school and district performance results are not delivered in a timely manner. The next school year is well underway before the previous year’s school and district scores are available. Indeed, the state ed department is slow because it answers to no one for its slowness. In contrast, district and schools are supposed to make adjustments before the next round of spring testing:

The current proposal does not remedy the problem that has long existed in Louisiana – the State Accountability System does not provide meaningful feed-back to local school boards in a timely manner.  Currently, the State provides results weeks or even months after the beginning of the school year from tests taken back in the prior Spring.  Yet, the State expects local school boards to be able to implement changes at those lower performing schools identified after the school year has begun.  ACT, one of the most widely utilized standardized tests in the country, provides results within a few weeks of the completion of testing.  The underlying purpose of the State Accountability System is to provide local school boards, instructional leaders, teachers and parents with information on whether the students under their charge are meeting academic expectations.  Local school boards, instructional leaders, teachers and parents need that information much sooner than the proposed plan will provide.

As LSBA notes, there is much room for improvement in Louisiana’s ESSA plan. One wonders why White wants to rush through with a plan that has so many issues.

But White is an established “narrative mudder.”

As it stands, Louisiana’s ESSA plan is indeed muddy, with the most mud around the unnecessary rush job.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

NC Charter School Graduated 160 Students Who Lacked Coursework

In (or after) March 2017, the North Carolina State Board of Education is supposed to decide whether or not to close Kestrel Heights High School. Information on Kestrel Heights was presented to the board on March 1 and 2, 2017. It seems that the state board has indeed decided to close the school.**

Kestrel Heights made the news in January 2017 following the release of an internal report by the Kestrel Heights board of directors.

It seems that over an eight-year time span, Kestrel Heights graduated 160 students who lacked all of the necessary coursework to graduate.

From the report:

In September of 2016, the Board of Directors (“The Board’) of Kestrel Heights, a public charter school located in Durham, North Carolina, currently providing K-12 education to 1,016 students, was informed of discrepancies in the transcripts of approximately 22 seniors in the graduating class of 2015-16. The discrepancies appeared to indicate that 22 of the 71 graduating seniors were missing at least one state-mandated core curriculum course required to graduate with a Future Ready Core designation on their transcript. The printed student transcripts disclosed that the student graduated with a Future Ready Core designation, but also disclosed that the student was missing one or more of the state mandated core curriculum courses, such as “English 4.”

Upon learning of the discrepancies, the Board ordered a subsequent review of the analysis conducted by staff for the 2015-16 graduating class. After receiving a verified report, the Board self-disclosed the discrepancies to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s (“DPI”) Office of Charter School (“OCS”) and scheduled an advisory meeting. At the meeting, the school disclosed the results of its initial investigation and a corrective action plan to the assembly of DPI staff, including representatives from Accountability, Instruction, OCS, and Legal. The staff of DPI was unable to provide any technical support or assistance during the meeting. The school was subsequently advised by the OCS to handle the matter in the best way it saw fit. The school undertook a second review of its corrective action plan by retaining the services of an outside education consulting firm. The outside education consulting firm assisted the school with the development of student centered options to address the transcript deficiencies in a timely and efficient manner.

In the interim, the Charter School Advisory Board (“CSAB”) met with the Board of Directors and Executive Staff to discuss the dilemma. On December 5, 2016, the CSAB unanimously voted to require the school conduct an internal investigation spanning back to 2008 when the High School opened to determine the actual extent of the problem and provide a detailed investigatory report to it and the State Board of Education (“SBE”) on or before January 3, 2017. The CSAB further requested that OCS place the school on probationary status for “governance” concerns, and withdraw its previous recommendation of a 10-year charter renewal to the SBE. The SBE subsequently referred the matter to the Durham County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether criminal wrongdoing had occurred.

The results of the school’s internal investigation found that between 2008 and 2016, of the 399 total graduates, 160 have received a diploma without tangible evidences of meeting all requirements. With one limited exception, there was no discernable pattern to the majority of missing courses as the courses ranged from English 3 or 4 to Geometry or Algebra 2 to Physical Science and Physical Education. However, the internal investigation did reveal that approximately 54 of the graduated students are identified because they took American History I (Pre-Civil War), but not American History II (Post Civil War) due to an error in scheduling not detected by the high school principal or high school guidance counselor at the time. [Emphasis added.]

As the report continues, it seems that the Kestrel Heights board of directors actually contacted students who had already been awarded diplomas possibly several years earlier in order to have these students correct the school’s error:

The school has made or attempted to make contact with all the identified students. The school and students in most cases have agreed to cure the deficiency by several means:

1. Credit Attainment or Recovery Through Kestrel Heights Administered Proficiency Exam

2. Transfer of Credit based on Approved Course Taken Through an Accredited Institution

3. Proof that a required course was previously completed but not properly reflected on the transcript.

For those students unable to demonstrate mastery due to the lapse of time, the school is offering tutoring services or the opportunity for the student to take the course during its currently scheduled offering. As of January 3, 2017, no students have chosen not to obtain the Future Ready Core designation on their high school transcripts and those students the Board has approved amending their transcript to reflect a “Kestrel Heights” designation if they meet all other established criteria and have at least 22 credit hours.

A “‘Kestrel Heights’ designation” appears shaky, kind of like a *Rollexx*, especially after 2012-13: “Future Ready Core” is the state-required coursework for a diploma in North Carolina beginning in 2012-13.

As for the culprits in this eight-year-long fiasco, well, they’re no longer employed at the school:

The previous administration in the high school, along with the high school counselor were separated from the employment of the school on June 30, 2016 (principal) and September 2, 2016 (counselor), respectively. Effective July 1, 2016, the Board merged the administration of the middle and high schools to create a new Upper School, and the existing middle school principal was promoted to principal of the new Upper School.

Moreover, the Kestrel Heights board of directors has outlined a “corrective action plan” that demonstrates a level of (dare I write) accountability that should have been in place in 2008:

A corrective action plan has been implemented, which includes the use of a current and aligned program of study for grades 9-12, multiple meetings and review dates calendared throughout the academic year with each individual student and the student’s parent in grades 9-12, monthly reviews of academic progress by the high school leadership team for all juniors and seniors, and final review by the upper school principal/designee and the counselor to review senior credit hours within the first 20 days of school and the last 20 days of school prior to graduation.

A question hanging in the air concerns whether the dismissed principal and counselor just decided to graduate students regardless of students’ meeting coursework requirements for the sake of boosting graduation rates. Plus, it seems that such was easy enough to do with no off-site entity apparently regularly auditing the transcripts.

Bringing the issue into the open in the first place required whistle blowers– which happened to be two staff members:

On June 7, 2016, two Kestrel Heights staff members stopped the Executive Director while he was monitoring the High School. Separately these staff members expressed a concern that several students were on the list to walk across the stage during graduation, but they had not met the graduation requirements.

I am a believer in external audits.

Kestrel Heights’ charter is set to expire in June 2017. North Carolina’s state board apparently has the final word. However, the charter school advisory board wants to renew the charter– but only for grades K-8. From the March 02, 2017, NC state board meeting agenda:

2017 Renewal Activity:

As part of the renewal process, the Office of Charter Schools (OCS) compiled a renewal portfolio for each school; the portfolio consists of information gathered through examined DPI compliance forms and a renewal site visit to each school, and academic and enrollment data from the school and the LEA in which the school resides.  During the completion of this process, discrepancies of academic transcripts of graduated seniors of Kestrel Heights was reported by Kestrel Heights to the OCS.  As a result, Kestrel Heights Charter School’s renewal recommendation was delayed pending further investigation. On January 11, 2017, after further investigation, the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) made the following recommendation:

Kestrel Heights charter be renewed for a period of 3 years with five (5) stipulations:

  1. Effective July 1, 2017, the charter is amended to the grades served on grades Kindergarten through 8th grade.
  2. That Kestrel Heights, at no cost to current or former students, provide an appropriate remedy to the failure to provide an appropriate education that resulted in a Future Ready Core diploma, and that the remedy may not be a Kestrel Heights designated diploma monthly report.
  3. That Kestrel Heights continue to make extensive efforts to contact all impacted former students and provide a monthly report to the Office of Charter Schools of those efforts and the results of those efforts.
  4. That Kestrel Heights appear before the Charter Schools Advisory Board every six months to update the board on its progress.
  5. Kestrel Heights must agree to no grade expansion to high school for its charter term.

**Correction made after I originally posted: Board voted in March to close Kestrel Heights.

My thanks to A. P. Dillon for the correction.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Betsy DeVos Pitches Virtual School with 4-Yr Cohort Grad Rate Below 32 Percent

On March 20, 2017, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed the National Association of State Boards of Education in Washington, DC.

Her speech includes the repeated, slanted story of Denisha Merriweather, whose story of private school success coincided with the stabilization of her home life— and whose private school has an established record of low math test scores.

Of course, DeVos does not mention such pesky details. Instead, she simplifies Merriweather’s story to suit her narrative of private school choice saving a student from those deficient public schools.

In short, when it comes to her shaped Merriweather narrative, DeVos continues to lie.

In this speech, DeVos follows her Merriweather tale with one about a student whose academic life was rescued by his attending a Washington State virtual school:

Another student I met, Sandeep Thomas, grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India with absent and neglectful parents. Sandeep was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey but continued to suffer from the experiences of his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington state, where Sandeep was able to join a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the comfort of his own home and develop at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, and also having earned 39 hours of college credit. Today, he’s working in the finance industry and is a public advocate for increased school options that allow students like him a chance to succeed. …

Only moments later, DeVos urges members of state boards of education to focus on trees, not the forest:

All of these students’ experiences suggest that we should value and appreciate the individual trees rather than see a monolithic forest. Let’s stop prioritizing process over people.  If our actions don’t benefit students at the individual level, there is no reason for us to pursue them.

So, I took her up on her offer to focus on the tree.

I looked on Sandeep Thomas’ Linkedin bio to discover the exact virtual school that he attended: Insight School of Washington (2007-2011).

However, by DeVos’ standards, I slipped. I failed to continue to focus on the success of the Thomas tree and shifted my attention to the Insight School of Washington graduation rate forest.

The results are not pretty.

The following information comes from the Washington State Report Card search engine.

Here’s some forest for you:

Thomas was part of the Class of 2011 graduation cohort.

Only 19.1% of that cohort graduated on time (within four years).

If one extends the Class of 2011 cohort to five years, the graduation rate, uh, rises to 23.6%. (Note that this percentage also includes the 19.1% who graduated in four years.)

Given my interest in the forest created by the trees, I compiled the 4-year and 5-year cohort graduation rates as far back as Washington State utilized cohort graduation rates (2009-10).

From 2006-07 to 2009-10, Washington State also included the percentage of Insight students who dropped out.

It isn’t pretty.

The most recent dropout rate for Insight approached half of its 2009-10 enrollment: 44%.

And if one considers four-year cohort graduation rates, Insight School of Washington has yet to break 32%. But if one allows the extra year, the rate rises to almost 37%.

Betsy DeVos will not be advertising these numbers.

However, she will likely continue to promote the story of one student from among that Class of 2011 19.1% of on-time graduates.

Trees are better for hiding embarrassing forests.


Insight School of Washington

Adjusted 4-Year (On Time) Cohort Graduation Rate:

  • Class of 2015: 31.6%
  • Class of 2014: 27.7%
  • Class of 2013: 23.0%
  • Class of 2012: 19.1%
  • Class of 2011: 19.1%
  • Class of 2010: 19.5%

Adjusted 5-Year (No More Than One Extra Year) Cohort Graduation Rate:

  • Class of 2014: 36.6%
  • Class of 2013: 30.0%
  • Class of 2012: 24.8%
  • Class of 2011: 23.6%
  • Class of 2010: 23.5%
  • Class of 2009: 19.9%

Annual dropout rate (i.e., not counting confirmed transfers or deceased students):

  • 2009-10: 44.8%
  • 2008-09: 34.5%
  • 2007-08: 38.1%
  • 2006-07: 35.7%



Want to read more about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.