Massachusetts leads, California lags

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California likes to be linked with Massachusetts as states with the nation’s most rigorous academic standards.  Call it bragging by association.

A big difference, though, is that the Bay State is also high-achieving – near the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress state rankings, among other measures ­– while California bumps along year after year near the bottom.

The two states’ approaches to evaluating common-core standards, being developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers,  are revealing as well – and tell  a lot about how seriously the two states go about deciding education policy.

While the concept of common math and English language arts K-12 standards and accompanying assessments is compelling, every state should be taking a hard look at the proposals and especially the cost implications of new curricula, assessments and textbooks.  California and Massachusetts especially will want to make sure that the common standards don’t water down the two states’ standards.

But while Massachusetts has taken the evaluation seriously and critically, California has, well – it’s hard to know what California has been doing.

Massachusetts has refused to succumb to the federal government’s pressure to adopt common core, sight unseen. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered an extra 20 points in Race to the Top competition as an incentive for states that pledged to adopt common core standards by Aug. 2. The first draft of common core wasn’t out until after states submitted their first-round applications, and the delayed final draft won’t even be out until June 2, a day after the second round applications are due.

As a matter of principle, Massachusetts education commissioner Mitchell Chester said, the state refused to commit without seeing the standards. The 15 points it lost as a result of its candor moved it from fifth to 13th place in the first round – even though President Obama often praises Massachusetts’s standards as a model for the nation.

Chester, who spoke at the Education Writers Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Saturday, said he was so angry with the feds’ ploy that the state is considering withdrawing from the second round of the competition.

As a piece of its Race to the Top legislative package, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature set the state on the route to adoption of common core by Aug. 2. Initial drafts of Senate legislation (point 7 in the summary) called for adopting common core without public comment; wiser heads eventually prevailed, and the final version of SB 5X-1 set up a process to evaluate it: A 21-member common core commission, with 11 members appointed by the governor, and half of its members being teachers, is to make recommendations to the State Board of Education by July 15. And the board must then make an  up or down vote by Aug. 2. But with less than two months left before the commission is to finish its work, its members have yet to be named.

Big task in a short time

As Chester made clear, from Massachusetts’s perspective, a lot of work must be done. Chester said that his state board would examine national analyses of common core standards; it would convene experts from K-12 and higher education to see what is lacking in common core; and it would hire one or more national expert to do a detailed, side by side comparison of the state and common core standards.

The California Legislature has authorized the state commission to change up to 15 percent of the common core standards to meet California’s needs. So it could bolster common core’s Algebra II standards or ratchet upward the expectations for Algebra I in eighth grade. But it will be hard-pressed to do a comprehensive review in the narrow time frame. The  scope of the its  work, the size of its budget and staff haven’t been spelled out.

Chester said that Massachusetts board has dedicated considerable staff time to provide suggestions to the drafters of common core, and they, in turn, “have been very responsive.” Michael Cohen, president of Achieve and a leader in the national standards movement, praised Massachusetts’ lobbying for rigor and its principled stand on Race to the Top.  Common core has been improved because of Massachusetts’ efforts, he told education journalists.

California’s education officials did comment on initial college and career readiness standards but issued no formal response to the main draft and has been a bit player.

Chester said that Massachusetts reviews its standards every five years and that he looks forward to learning from the research behind common core – regardless of whether the state ultimately adopts it.

California adopted its standards in the late ‘90s and has no mechanism for making changes. Instead, state leaders have been worried about reigniting math wars and ideological fights over bilingual education. While disappointing, it’s not surprising that legislators and education leaders view common core as little more than points to be gained in a federal competition that the state’s not likely to win.

53 Comments

  1. Can you post some data on Massachusetts’ education spending per student in comparison to California’s, please? Thanks. That’s in relation to this:

    Massachusetts is “near the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress state rankings, among other measures ­– while California bumps along year after year near the bottom.”

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  2. I guess he could post something like that Caroline, but i can maybe save you a little time by pointing out that the top spender is typically Washington, D.C. and their schools are terrible. And some low spending states’ schools are great. Patrick Moynihan once commented that the primary determinant for American school success seemed to be proximity to Canada, since a lot of those states did well on measures of success. if you can find something that show a linear relationship between school spending and results, please post it here because i would like to see it too.

    i have tried to find that relationship from time to time and have had little luck, and instead have run into examples like Wash DC or other stories such as the Kansas City schools debacle, which seem to show that more money by itself does nothing. i’m not any kid of researcher though and have only looked here and there throughout the years, so if you can find something you think is credible please post a link because it’s an important question to everyone in this state and country really.

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  3. In schools, as in personal life, there are a lot of ways to spend money badly, and schools are littered with the educational equivalent of the bread making machine that sits unused in the kitchen cabinets, and probably more so in high spending states than in CA.

    But that doesn’t mean that you can function without well some basic level of income, and California is perilously close to failing that test.

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  4. I agree with many of the points made in the article, and California’s approach to education is, and has been for a number of years, been in a dramatic tailspin based totally on political ideology and $$, and not student achievement. Just as it is between classrooms, however, the make up of the student population between states is significant. I would like to see some in-depth comparison of student demographics. California schools (not all but many) are awash in first or second generation immigrants, both legal and illegal. Remove the undocumented (illegal) or anchor child scores from test results and you will see a significant improvement in the CA scores.

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  5. John, you are spot-on with your analysis of CA’s response to the Common Core initiative thus far. It shows a substatnital lack of engagement and lack of leadership by all segments of CA’s K-12 governance: the SPI, the SBE, the Sec Educ, the Legislature, the Governor. Compared to the engagement and vigorous debate by all of these segments as well as local school districts and the public when CA’s rigorous academic content standards were developed and adopted in the 1996-1998 time frame, the lack of leadership and engagement on the Common Core initiative is alarming.

    Also, the prospect for a federally determined K-12 assessment system replacing CA’s current K-12 assessment and accountability system via the RTTT Assessment initiative is very real. Whether one likes or dislikes the current system, substantial public engagement should preceed adoption of a replacement system. The deadline for CA participation in a consortium applying for RTTT Assessment is June 23, even sooner than the Aug 2 deadline for adopting the Common Core standards. CA leadership has paid even less attention to the RTTT Assessment initiative than to the Common Core initiative, as far as I can tell. Doug McRae, Retired Test Publisher, Monterey, CA

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  6. John you promised that you would learn some about the lack of alignment of NAEP to California Standards (eg we take algebra in the 8th grade they do not test algebra in the 8th grade) and the lack of alignment of test takers. (eg each state tests who they want to take like Texas only tests ELs after three years of schooling and New York tests 30% fewer of their Special Education Students than California) before you mis use NAEP scores for silly political purposes. I am disappointed that you have thus far ignored that promise and continue to mislead. John

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  7. tonytheTiger is right — education researchers have tried for decades to tease out the marginal impact of per-pupil spending on educational achievement, without success. Rather, once differences in race, parental income, parental education, and language spoken in home are controlled for, the impact of per-pupil spending is negligible. This does not mean that money doesn’t matter — only that tossing more money at schools to do the same things they’re doing now is unlikely to improve achievement levels.

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  8. Well, just to shake things up, here’s the view of USC Professor Emeritus and education commentator Stephen Krashen: “American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. The US has the second highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (22.4%, compared to Sweden’s 2.6%) which of course pulls down our overall average. The success of American children who are not in poverty shows that our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.” … D.C. schools are such an outlier that it’s really not valid to cite them to prove that schools don’t need adequate funding to thrive. D.C. schools serve a critical mass of high-need, high-poverty students and have been mostly abandoned by the middle class. And from what I’ve read, there’s also no doubt that the D.C. school district has been both corrupt and mismanaged for many years. But another reason it’s an outlier is that that’s ONE high-poverty urban district, which can’t be compared to an entire state full of varying school districts (high-poverty and high-wealth; rural, urban and suburban). It’s simply not a sound comparison. I agree with RDT here: “…that doesn’t mean that you can function without well some basic level of income, and California is perilously close to failing that test.” And, to restate the obvious, the people who claim that “you can’t improve schools by throwing money at them” never seem to send their OWN kids to underfunded public schools. People who send their kids to underfunded public schools understand the need for adequately funded schools (which is why people of conscience should send their kids to public school).

    Here’s Krashen’s commentary on poverty:

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/05/stephen_krashen_fix_poverty_an.html

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  9. Also, TonyTheTiger, which low-spending states’ schools are “great”? And please make sure to adjust for cost of living when you give us that info.

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  10. A couple of years ago, EdSource dug into the NAEP scores. Here is some information from their September 2008 report, “How California Compares”:

    “To varying degrees, standardized state tests differ from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in purpose and design and in how well students perform. NAEP is the only national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in core academic subjects. NAEP is an ongoing assessment, and results are calculated to permit comparisons of student performance among states.”

    “…California’s overall student performance on the 2007 NAEP was significantly lower than the national average. The state’s students ranked among the five lowest states on each of the assessments. HOWEVER, WHEN THE ENGLISH LEARNER POPULATION IS TAKEN OUT OF THE EQUATION AND THE RESULTS OF NON-ENGLISH LEARNERS ONLY ARE COMPARED, CALIFORNIA’S PERFORMANCE IS MORE AKIN TO THAT OF THE OTHER LARGE STATES AND THE NATION AS A WHOLE.

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  11. So does the EdSource passage that Lorene is citing constitute “justifying and rationalizing”? By the same standard, it’s “justifying and rationalizing” to point to poverty as a primary cause of low achievement. Is it “justifying and rationalizing” to say that a district like East Palo Alto has struggling schools because of its residents’ high poverty and low level of English-language proficiency, while Palo Alto boasts high-achieving schools because of its residents’ high wealth and high educational attainment levels? … John, does that mean you discount the effects of poverty and lack of English-language proficiency on achievement, along with (I assume) the effect of variations in school funding? That’s surprising in a sophisticated education commentator, given that those effects (of poverty and English ability, anyway) are generally accepted throughout the education world.

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    • Lorene and Caroline: Of course, the proportion of poor students and English language learners affects a state’s scores.
      The statement I made — a minor point in the post — was that both Massachusetts and California claim to have high academic standards but that Massachusetts actually delivers better results. You can compare subgroup by subgroup — Hispanic, white, African American, poor kids — on NAEP in the two states if you want by going here. The contrast is significant.

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  12. CA does “lag” behind Mass in various ways. Mass runs about 16% of its population speaking English as a second language while CA comes in at 40%. Mass is about 36th in the nation in class size, while CA is # 3. (That was prior to the recent cuts. CA is now likely #1.) Mass is #6 in dollars spent per student, and CA is # 26. That’s in NEA unadjusted dollars. In dollars weighted for cost of living (as per EdWeek) CA is 46th. (Again, that’s prior to the cuts. We are now likely 50th, or #1 if you want to rank it as neglect.) All of this means CA is vulnerable to an “adequacy” law suit. (Which CASBO is going to file I believe.) “Adequacy” is the discrepancy between the rigor of state standards (in CA very “high”) and the level of funding (in CA very low). Someone always has to throw Wash DC and its funding into the picture. Funding follows students with “disabilities.” DC has lots of them. Look at crime, drug, violence, poverty statistics for DC and there are the answers to school performance. And then the poor devils got Michelle Rhee thrown at them. Job had nothing on the kids and teachers of DC.

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  13. I wonder whether anyone will ever be able to demonstrate (statistically or otherwise) a cause-and-effect relationship between high standards and high achievement.

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  14. Caroline: If poverty was directly related to low achievement–in a causal sense–then you would see no exceptions to the low achievement levels of schools in poor communities. Similarly, schools in rich communities would–also without exceptions–have rather high achievement. Instead, we see prominent exceptions (and not just a handful) on both ends. For example, since you mentioned East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, we have the Aspire charter in East Palo Alto that does very well, in contrast with the Stanford East Palo Alto charter that did so poorly that its charter was effectively yanked just few weeks back. Same population, same neighborhood, different teaching approach. We have Kelso and Bennet-Kew schools in Inglewood (LA) that are high (65%-75%) poverty and high (~30%) ELL doing almost as well as the affluent Palo Alto elementaries with their 7% low SES and 9% ELL (and doing much better(!) than Palo Alto when comparing just the low SES students between the two). And both the Aspire charter and those two Inglewood schools have been doing it for years. On the other extreme someone already mentioned poor school districts that got a ton of money (Kansas City, NJ Abbott districts) and the money was blown away without any effect. You may want to read the chapter “High-Spending, Low-Performing School Districts” at http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817947817_103.pdf for a detailed description of them. And you also have not only poor district that got infusion of money that they can’t manage, but simply rich district that routinely waste their riches with nothing to show for them–check the “Upscale Home Guide” at http://special.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/educat/2007/Middle_Class/Upscale_Home_Guide.pdf for some fun information on such. The existence of many such examples on both ends of the spectrum calls to question the presumption that more money is necessary before we can expect improvement, or that providing more money will necessarily increase achievement.

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  15. MyReality: I don’t think anyone can show a clear correlation (not to say causal relationship) between high standards and achievement. I don’t think anyone would claim that high standards alone can *cause* high achievement — they need a bit more to be effective: teachers that know the content in the standards and are trained in its delivery are probably the first thing that comes to mind. What one CAN probably claim is that you will not find high achievement in any system that does not have both clear and high expectations. Those expectation are often captured as “standards” although in stable (or small) societies they may not always be formally captured on paper and instead may be transmitted through other means, e.g., mentorship. In other words, necessary but not sufficient.

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  16. Speaking of necessary but insufficient, a lot of money seems neither necessary nor sufficient for high achievement. A strong academic program does not need exorbitant amounts of money and can overcome normal social markers of low achievement. It is only when the school program is weak that wealth makes a big difference — poor children won’t get the out-of-school help that affluent children will, to overcome the effect of the weak program. I tried to post the rest of this message yesterday and for some reason it did not post. Perhaps this time I’ll be more lucky. Caroline: If poverty was directly related to low achievement–in a causal sense–then you would see no exceptions to the low achievement levels of schools in poor communities. Similarly, schools in rich communities would–also without exceptions–have rather high achievement. Instead, we see prominent exceptions (and not just a handful) on both ends. For example, since you mentioned East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, we have the Aspire charter in East Palo Alto that does very well, in contrast with the Stanford East Palo Alto charter that did so poorly that its charter was effectively yanked just few weeks back. Same population, same neighborhood, different teaching approach. We have Kelso and Bennet-Kew schools in Inglewood (LA) that are high (65%-75%) poverty and high (~30%) ELL doing almost as well as the affluent Palo Alto elementaries with their 7% low SES and 9% ELL (and doing much better(!) than Palo Alto when comparing just the low SES students between the two). And both the Aspire charter and those two Inglewood schools have been doing it for years. On the other extreme someone already mentioned poor school districts that got a ton of money (Kansas City, NJ Abbott districts) and the money was blown away without any effect. You may want to read the chapter “High-Spending, Low-Performing School Districts” at http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817947817_103.pdf for a detailed description of them. And you also have not only poor district that got infusion of money that they can’t manage, but simply rich district that routinely waste their riches with nothing to show for them–check the “Upscale Home Guide” at http://special.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/educat/2007/Middle_Class/Upscale_Home_Guide.pdf for some fun information on such. The existence of many such examples on both ends of the spectrum calls to question the presumption that more money is necessary before we can expect improvement, or that providing more money will necessarily increase achievement.

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  17. Speaking of necessary but insufficient, a lot of money seems neither necessary nor sufficient for high achievement. A strong academic program does not need exorbitant amounts of money and can overcome normal social markers of low achievement. It is only when the school program is weak that wealth makes a crucial difference — poor children won’t get the out-of-school help that affluent children will, to overcome the effect of the weak program. I tried to post the rest of this message yesterday and for some reason it did not post. Perhaps this time I’ll be more lucky. Caroline: If poverty was directly related to low achievement–in a causal sense–then you would see no exceptions to the low achievement levels of schools in poor communities. Similarly, schools in rich communities would–also without exceptions–have rather high achievement. Instead, we see prominent exceptions (and not just a handful) on both ends. For example, since you mentioned East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, we have the Aspire charter in East Palo Alto that does very well, in contrast with the Stanford East Palo Alto charter that did so poorly that its charter was effectively yanked just few weeks back. Same population, same neighborhood, different teaching approach. We have Kelso and Bennet-Kew schools in Inglewood (LA) that are high (65%-75%) poverty and high (~30%) ELL doing almost as well as the affluent Palo Alto elementaries with their 7% low SES and 9% ELL (and doing much better(!) than Palo Alto when comparing just the low SES students between the two). And both the Aspire charter and those two Inglewood schools have been doing it for years. On the other extreme someone already mentioned poor school districts that got a ton of money (Kansas City, NJ Abbott districts) and the money was blown away without any effect. You may want to read the chapter “High-Spending, Low-Performing School Districts” at http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817947817_103.pdf for a detailed description of them. And you also have not only poor district that got infusion of money that they can’t manage, but simply rich district that routinely waste their riches with nothing to show for them–check the “Upscale Home Guide” at http://special.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/educat/2007/Middle_Class/Upscale_Home_Guide.pdf for some fun information on such. The existence of many such examples on both ends of the spectrum calls to question the presumption that more money is necessary before we can expect improvement, or that providing more money will necessarily increase achievement.

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  18. You mean you dispute that poverty has a causal relationship to low academic achievement, Ze’ev Wurman, based on the fact that there are exceptions? OK, I’m speechless, so I’ll just go about my business here on Planet Earth.

    (And, as noted, individuals who claim that adequate funding doesn’t correlate with higher achievement, without exception, either have no children or send their own kids to private or wealthy public schools that spend amply to educate each student. There’s a credibility deficit either way.)

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  19. Also, there are two basically unrelated issues under discussion here: the home/family socioeconomic status of the students who attend the school (and whether that affects achievement) and the amount the school spends per student (and whether that affects achievement). Ze’ev Wurman, you are veering back and forth between the two in your comments as though they’re the same. By the way, you repeatedly said there are many examples of schools in rich communities that are low-achieving, but didn’t cite any. Can you?

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  20. And actually, one more point. Here in San Francisco, amid the funding crises, a bright spot for our community is that middle-class young families are seriously returning to public schools. The younger counterparts of the higher-income families who 15 years ago would have gone private without even considering SFUSD are now sending their kids into our public schools, including schools that were considered failing not long ago, bringing infusions of resources, political clout and volunteer energy. And as these high-wealth (mostly white and Asian) young families send their kids back into once-low-income schools, the schools’ achievement is rising. This is happening with literally dozens of our schools. I can name many, but I’ll give you the example from my personal experience: Aptos Middle School, which was considered a struggling, “dirty,” “dangerous” “ghetto” school when I started my son there in 2002, and is now steadily rising in popularity and API. Once-downtrodden Aptos’ API rose last year above that of nearby, once-superior Hoover Middle School (and Hoover’s has not dropped). Aptos has had ordinary but not high teacher turnover; it has no shining new programs; while most teachers are good to excellent, they didn’t do anything magical to transform their teaching. The rising achievement is clearly caused directly by the fact is that an increasing percentage of the student population is middle-class, and a decreasing percentage is low-income. The same thing happened during about the same time period with the K-5 school around the corner from me, Miraloma Elementary, which has shot up in popularity and API and dropped in free/reduced lunch percentage at the same time. It seems indisputable that poverty CAUSES low achievement. Poverty also, overall, causes people to be less healthy, to dress less fashionably, to maintain their homes less impeccably, and so forth — yet there are exceptions to those situations too, in which low-income people do manage to maintain excellent health, to dress beautifully and to keep up their homes scrupulously. The fact that there are exceptions doesn’t disprove the existence of a causal relationship. … All that was the long version of “huh?”

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  21. Caroline: Thank you for expounding–it is difficult to answer a “huh?” but I am happy to answer your more specific questions. Regarding examples of low-achieving schools in rich districts, if you were to go the the references I provided before (both freely available on-line) you would have found the answers there. The book chapter on “High Spending, Low Achieving School Districts” includes the examples of Cambridge, Mass. and our local bay-area Sausalito. Both are rich communities that spent anywhere from 2X to 3X state average expenditures per student, yet achieved average or below average results. The Pacific Research Institute report I linked to provides less rigorous, but fascinating, description of Calif. affluent communities–many of them “basic aid” districts spending above and beyond the typical per-student spending–that have disappointing academic results. If you want to dig deeper, simply look on the state API rankings for schools and districts with absolute rankings of 3-7 and similar-school rankings of 1-2. You will find many familiar and well-respected community names there. Regarding your SF anecdotes and poverty-health-lifestyle nexus, I think you are actually strengthening my point. Nobody gets sick because of poverty. But poverty promotes bad outcomes when someone gets sick due to other reasons. This seems to be what is happening in those San Francisco schools–the schools probably didn’t get much better (except for safety–middle class will tolerate pitiful academics but not violence!), but the increased affluence of parents allows them to compensate for the inferior program provided by the schools. So let me repeat again–poverty doesn’t seem to cause poor academic performance–ineffective school programs do; poverty simply cannot compensate for poor school programs, while affluence ameliorates them through outside-school support. And strong & effective academic school programs do not cost more than weak and ineffective ones–super fancy labs and field trips are nice add ons but do not make an ineffective core program into an effective one.

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  22. I’m not talking about high-SPENDING and low-achieving, Ze’ev. I’m talking about districts and schools with HIGH-WEALTH STUDENT POPULATIONS that are low-achieving. I can’t speak for Cambridge, but your information about Sausalito is wrong. Here are the demographics for the Sausalito-Marin City school district, 08-09 school year: 78.4% free-reduced lunch, 44.4% African-American, 25% Latino, 11.7% white, 18.8% limited English. I’m at an advantage here as I grew up and went through the public school system in adjacent Mill Valley (Tamalpais High ’71), and Sausalito schools fed into my high school. Sausalito schools are dominated by the population of Marin City, which in my day was all-black – Marin City was and is dominated by low-incomje housing originally built for the workers in the Marinship shipyards during WWII. The white population of Sausalito was bohemian, artsy and lefty. My school years were the era when the intellectual left was abandoning public schools, viewing them as mills intended to produce mindless drones and suppress creativity and independent thinking – so Sausalito’s schools ended up entirely populated by low-income African-Americans (they are now more diverse, but still mostly nonwhite and low-income). So that is not a high-wealth school district with low achievement. When I have some time I’ll look for other districts, but if that’s the info PRI (which is an advocacy organization, not a credible research source, of course) is putting out, it’s not reliable. … I don’t see how your comments about San Francisco (made from afar with no familiarity, of course) refute my point that the improvement of our schools demonstrates that poverty CAUSES low performance. And I dispute and object to your attack on my children’s schools (and the schools where my husband teaches) as “inferior” and “ineffective.” I disagree with your claim that schools don’t need adequate funding to succeed – and you truly have no right to make such a claim unless you yourself are choosing to send your child/children to low-funded schools – but we can agree to disagree on that. But your disparagement of San Francisco public schools is out of line and unfounded.

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  23. Ze’ev:

    I will assume your intentions are good, but that you have bad information to work with.

    The Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution don’t do reasearch. They do right-wing propaganda. Hoover is, to give them credit, typically upfront about reporting from a conservative bias.

    The high performing schools in poor areas often have strong corporate/institutional backing that bring lots of extra dollars into the budget, and/or a curriculum that is entirely test-prep. At that,he claims of success are often dubious. Logging on to the Aspire web site shows a long list of contributors starting with donations of a million. Do regular Palo Alto schools all have that? KIPP would be an example of a charter system with major contributions and a debased instructional program. Almost all of them have contracts requiring certain levels of parental /student peformance or they, the kids anyway, are bounced back to regular public schools. These are not models to bring educational parity to struggling communities and schools.

    There was a guy, I think his name was “Spud,” in the NBA. He was 5’6″ and could dunk a basketball. This was a freakish ability. By your reasoning schools could teach all students at heights of 5’6″ or better to dunk a basketball. Dunking, after all, is a world class standard. Right. And schools in poor communities can all have high school achievement. Uh-huh.

    Sausalito, like Wash DC, is always dragged out to try and demonstrate that the extremes have some meaning for the majority of cases. Sausalito is a very prosperous community. The prosperous people don’t send their kids to those schools. They go to Mill Valley or private schools. Sausalito, left with Marin City’s (a housing project)poor, and DC get dollars that flow behind kids with disabilities. They both have lots of those kids. Both DC and Sausalito schools have had years of poltical and management upheavals. Both school systems tell us nothing about the majority of schools. if you look at published API scores, you can find them displayed in sports page style box scores, you see an obvious trend. As EL/ED numbers go up, API scores go down. And the reverse, too. There is no freakish solution to this. It will take huge investments in communities and schools. Business will need to start paying the kind of taxes that will support the kinds of schools they say they want. (Can you hear me Silicon Valley?)

    Must be something in silicon that distorts people’s world view.

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    • Gary: If you don’t mind my butting in, it’s obvious that not everyone who’s 5’6″ can dunk like Spud Web (some of us who are 5’6″ can’t reach the net), but all kids can learn – a fundamental difference. Some district and charter schools obviously have much success in showing that, and it’s usually a combination of factors: strong leadership, extra supports for kids who need it (that should include meals and wellness programs), committed teachers working together. No need to lecture here. The challenge is to remove the obstacles to achieving this: teacher churn, layoffs, district bureaucracy, elements of the teacher contracts and now another round of budget cuts.
      Tuition — ADA — is embarrassingly low in California; all should agree to that. Yet many high-achieving charters do get by on it. Come visit Rocketship in San Jose, which excels yet is able to build its schools on tuition by integrating online learning, saving on teacher salaries. Other charters raise some extra money to support longer days and Saturday schools. You can’t have it both ways: criticizing charters for burning out young teachers then criticizing them for raising money to pay them extra for longer days. School advocates ought to be praising the smart use of money and saying, We need that, too. Other charters, like KIPP, raise money to support a year-long principal apprenticeship — again, another practice that other states, with more money, employ.
      District schools pass school bonds for facilities; if they don’t like the shoddy facilities they’re handed by districts, they have to pay rent out of ADA.
      And do provide hard evidence that other charters kicks out kids whose parents violate what is a non-enforceable contract or are struggling academically. You hear the charge; I’ve yet to see the facts.

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  24. Ze’ev, this piece of propaganda from the far-right Pacific Research Institute is deliberately misleading. I was going to do a quick spot-check of a couple of the high schools in that piece, but the trusty Dataquest website is giving me error messages right now. So I’ll have to go with schools I’m familiar with — I can see the PRI tricks based on those. For example, the PRI piece picks on San Marin High in Novato, and then says it’s in an ultra-wealthy county. Well, true, but it’s in a working-class part of that ultra-wealthy county. It’s deliberately misleading for PRI to present it that way. Novato (again, this is my native county, so I can deconstruct the BS pretty readily) has historically been the residential choice of San Francisco police and firefighters who wanted suburban sunshine and quiet, for example. Meanwhile, when PRI blasts Saratoga, it doesn’t blast Saratoga High, where kids from actual Saratoga go. It blasts Prospect High, which has a Saratoga street address but is in the Campbell Union HS district and does not serve the Saratoga population — Prospect’s population is high-poverty and heavily Latino. John, you did your 750 Ridder Park Drive time and you know that’s true; you can see that PRI is being deliberately misleading. And Ze’ev, how can you present this so-called “information” without checking the data yourself?

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  25. Gary: Hoover and Pacific Research do research, as much as Brookings or Urban Institute do. They do social science research, as well as economic, health-care, and historical research. Remember the CREDO charter study discussed here a few months back that found limited effectiveness of charter schools? CREDO belongs to Hoover, in case you didn’t know. So much for your “right-wing propaganda.” I suggest that if you have problems with the data, please describe your problems rather than attacking the source. Using your technique we should automatically ignore anything that comes from the teacher unions as “left-wing propaganda.” I’d rather debate it on the merits. That I will do in the follow-up post on the data that you and Caroline brought to the discussion.

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  26. It is unfortunate that both Caroline and Gary chose not to read the reference I provided for Sausalito. Had they done so, they would realize that it covers the period of 1999-2004. By 2003-4 Sausalito spent over $24,000 per-students, compared with less than $7,000 state average – over 3.5 times as much. Interestingly, at those days Sausalito had significantly less poor students: only 58% low SES as compared to the 78% Caroline quotes last year. It also had fewer ELLs: only 10% as compared to twice as many (19%) today. Yet in those days Sausalito had an API of 663 while today, despite the *increase* in poverty and doubling the fraction of ELLs, Sausalito has increased to an API of 733 – not that great, but better than before. Still, at over $37,000 per-student Sausalito spends today more than 4 times the state average of about $9,000. No, it is not about poverty – it is about ineffective educational programs. As I am sure it is in many San Francisco schools, whether Caroline likes it or not. Read the chapter at http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817947817_103.pdf .

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  27. Caroline: I clearly said that the PRI data is less rigorous but fun to read. Still, since you call in for fire and brimstones, let me point out that the Prospect High has less than 4% low-SES students, much below the state-wide approximate 40% at high school levels, and only 12% ELL, also below state averages. The (correct) point that fun brochure is making is that even relatively affluent area with high real estate values does not guarantee schools with high achievement, so one should better watch out.

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  28. Well, I don’t actually find it “fun” to see public schools being attacked with lies, but we all get our entertainment in different ways. But OK, I’ll go with your terminology. The claim that Prospect High has only 4% low-SES students is “fun,” aka false. The “fire and brimstone” figure, aka the accurate one, is 25.1%. The point is that the “fun” brochure falsely indicated that Prospect High represents the population of Saratoga. But actually, the population of the Los-Gatos Saratoga Joint Union district is 0.8 (that’s zero point eight) free-reduced lunch, compared with Prospect High’s 25.1 percent. Regarding Sausalito, it may be “fun” to represent it as a district full of wealthy students. But the “fire and brimstone” version is that 58% free/reduced lunch figure of past years makes it a high-poverty district. Regarding San Francisco’s improving schools, the ironic thing is that normally if someone cites the improvement in one of those schools, the cynical (though accurate) response is to shoot that claim down by pointing out that the school has raised achievement as its percentage of non-low-income students increased. So in other words, the skeptical view is to respond: “The school itself didn’t actually improve; it just enrolled a higher percentage of middle-class kids.” Now Ze’ev is saying that those cynics are wrong and the many San Francisco schools that have shot upward actually did it by becoming better schools. Well, that’s certainly high praise for my district’s schools, especially from someone so hostile to public schools, so maybe I should just be quiet and let that claim stand. I have trouble doing that, though, because it wouldn’t be honest or accurate.

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  29. Caroline: We’ve already extended this discussion beyond reasonable so I will just make a factual correction. Prospect High in Campbell Union High SD has indeed less than 4% low-SES students, about 10 times less than the state average at these grades. Please re-check your data.

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  30. Prospect High School, Campbell Union School District:

    Total enrollment 1,359… Eligible for free/reduced-price lunch 334, or 25.1%

    Source: California Department of Education website

    http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/Cbeds4.asp?FreeLunch=on&Enroll=on&cSelect=PROSPECT^HIGH–CAMPBELL^UNION^–4369401-4336137&cChoice=SchProf1&cYear=2008-09&cLevel=School&cTopic=Profile&myTimeFrame=S&submit1=Submit

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  31. Caroline: Seems you are right about low SES numbers for Prospect High. Ed-Data (http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us) seems to have an error and it reports only 3.8% for 2008-9 for it. In any case, this is still about half of the state average.

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  32. Ze’ev Wurman, I’m not saying that Prospect HS is the most impoverished school ever. I’m saying that the Pacific Research Institute put out deliberately misleading material, falsely representing Prospect HS as enrolling the population of Saratoga. Actually, Prospect HS has a far higher poverty level (25.1%) than that of Saratoga proper (0.8%). In my view, that’s not “fun”; it’s just dishonest and malicious. In my view, it’s also not ethical to knowingly quote dishonest and malicious propaganda. … John, I disagree that Gary is trying to “have it both ways.” It is a widely acknowledged concern that charters burn out young teachers (god only knows what would happen if they tried to get people my age to work those hours – they’d be keeling over daily in the classroom). That situation is a logical result when charters operate for longer days and hours and require their teachers to be on call for still more hours. Why is it trying to have it both ways to point out those issues? … I agree that public schools SHOULD have enough money to operate for longer hours if it works for their community. … It’s widely understood that some charter schools “counsel out” students who are doing poorly academically and whose parents (or the students themselves) don’t abide by the contract. Anecdotally, I know it’s true. Joanne Jacobs described that occurring in her book about Downtown College Prep (yes, I read it with great interest and have it right here at my desk). I don’t know about Gary Ravani, but I am a volunteer advocate and don’t have the wherewithal to “prove” this. I don’t think it’s thoughtful to claim that it doesn’t exist if we can’t “prove” it. Wouldn’t the thoughtful response of a serious education researcher/commentator involve keeping an open mind and trying to learn more, instead of remaining staunchly incurious and taking the attitude that you refuse to hear it if we can’t “prove” it? … Also, John, you’re calling out Gary and completely ignoring the fact that Ze’ev Wurman is giving flat-out false information. Do you just figure it’s OK for him to give false information as long as I’m refuting it, or what’s the deal?

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    • Caroline: You were clearly right about Prospect High, as Ze’ev acknowledged. Ed Data’s report on the school, with 3.8 percent free and reduced lunch, was wrong. To the larger point, yes, I too am skeptical about some of Pacific Research Institute’s research, with its libertarian bias. On the other hand, Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education has some top-flight researchers and scholars: Paul Peterson of Harvard, Paul Hill of University of Washington, economist Eric Hanushek at Hoover, Caroline Hoxby, E.D. Hirsch, and, until recently, yes, it’s true, Diane Ravitch. Hoover’s Education Next usually makes provocative and informative reading. Joanne Jacobs already has taken exception to your characterization that Downtown College Prep counsels out students, but you repeat it anyway. As she said told you, “DCP does not give up on low achievers.” So that’s the deal.

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  33. Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss explicitly says that “many charters” “counsel students out,” in a commentary she just posted on her blog. Here’s her quote (caps mine):

    “Traditional public schools have to educate every student who is eligible to enroll. THEY CAN’T COUNSEL STUDENTS OUT, AS MANY CHARTERS DO, or select who they want. This is not an excuse for bad schools. But it is part of the reason that the job of the traditional public school system, which still educates about 95 percent of all schoolkids, is far more complicated than many reformers today would have you believe.”

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/charter-schools/about-the-brill-story-on-chart.html#more

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  34. Joanne Jacobs is denying what she herself wrote in her book; she made it explicitly clear. I’m sorry it casts a bit of a shadow on DCP’s undeniable success, but there it is. … Obviously I am well aware of the many forces criticizing public education and promoting privatizing the entire public school system — as noted, I learned about this myself doing a freelance job in 1997 for the Hoover Institution. My specific point here was to question the Pacific Research Institute’s material promoting the false notion that there are many low-performing public schools serving high-wealth communities (unbeknownst, PRI indicates, to the ignorant, deluded parents). The PRI material that Ze’ev Wurman cited as a source is based on two deliberate modes of deception. The first employs the trick I spotlighted regarding Prospect High School — find a school that serves diverse students, including a significant number of low-income students, that happens to be located near an extremely high-income enclave, and falsely portray it as a high-wealth school. The second involves using the number passing the Early Assessment Program — but that’s also false and misleading too, because the EAP is voluntary and the high achievers are unlikely to take it. This is just one piece of reams of well-funded advocacy materials attacking public schools, but Ze’ev Wurman actually cited it as though it were a reliable source.

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  35. John:

    You made a good point. I have information around that points to the high level of “churn” (something you suggest needs to be avoided) of students and teachers at charter schools. I need to find it. As to Hoover having “top-flight” researchers as named, the assertion leaves me (almost) speechless. As to Ze’ev and his reliance on “data,” well, Caroline seems to have dealt with that. Poverty, and its consequences, just can’t be the primary cause of low school achievement (recognized since Coleman did his studies for Congress in the 60s) because, well, it just can’t. If it was true you’d be forced to consider doing something about poverty and you wouldn’t be able to scapegoat teachers. What would some pundits and some in the business community do if that was the case? As to Spud, dunking, and learning. Sure some kids can rise out of poverty and soar academically like some at 5’6″ can soar on a court. Doesn’t happen often. I saw an expose of a high performing charter in DC last night on 60 Minutes called SEED (I believe). It set up a boarding school situation behind locked gates in a at-risk neighborhood. Seemed quite militaristic, even more than KIPP. It is alleged to be successful. It costs $35K per student per year. If society could swallow the “morality” of subjecting large numbers of kids to pedagogic boot-camp, and you held other schools fiscally harmless, do you think pundits and business would accept the tax consequences of bringing such a program to scale and putting them in every at-risk community?

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    • Gary: Low-income parents in Los Angeles aren’t waiting around for the next federal War on Poverty or, in its current, intriguing but small-scale form, Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative. Their kids need better schools now. That’s why so many are turning in droves to high-quality charter schools as their best hope. It’s facile to accuse me of scapegoating teachers. Go make the same charge to the parents in East Los Angeles, Watts and other neighborhoods sending their kids to Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, ICEF Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, PUC Schools and others. I’d like to be there to hear what they say to you.

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  36. Joanne Jacobs claims I mischaracterized what she wrote because she apparently didn’t mean to reveal what she revealed. I didn’t mischaracterize what she wrote, no matter how much she wants to skin back now. … Regarding the EAP, many subsets of students have no need to take it — students only aiming at UC or only aiming at private college; students who are fully aware that the don’t need remedial courses; students who already have AP credit in those subject areas. (And also students who don’t plan to go to college, of course). It’s again deliberately misleading for PRI to use that particular gauge to brand a school as failing. It’s dismaying that such a dishonest organization is given any credibility at all.

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  37. Oh, and Gary Ravani, I missed the SEED school profile, but the NY Times Mag did a piece on them a few months ago that mentioned that 70% (SEVENTY PERCENT) of the students who start the SEED school leave before graduation. So the usual question surfaces: If the public school down the street could also get rid of 70% of its students — clearly the ones who weren’t getting with the program — would it soar with the remaining 30%? I wonder if 60 Minutes mentioned that (they are famously unsophisticated in their education reporting, so I would bet not).

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  38. Carolyn:
    No, 60 Minutes did not mention that. On the other hand, I was so blown away by the implication that “if SEED can do it, anyone can do it,” for a mere $35K per year (why, that’s even more than Sausalito gets!) that it might have slipped by me. I don’t think so.

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  39. Ze’ev:

    I didn’t respond to your Hoover/Stanford/CREDO remark. I have made a distinction, which may be putting too fine a point on it, of looking at Hoover being AT Stanford but not OF Stanford. I still consider Stanford to be a legitimate academic institution. Likewise I saw CREDO being AT Hoover, but not OF Hoover. After all, the major disgreement between CREDO and Hoxby over the CREDO chater findings (that you have 2X the chance of finding a charter that under-performs rather than over-performs regular public schools)seemed to confirm that. If they are in the same building they are on different floors ideologically.

    So, Ze’ev, what’s your pick here? Are the CREDO, aka Hoover Institution, findings that the “distribution of charter school performance” was “not as favorable to charter schools (as) many would have liked…” (CREDO’s words) pretty much on target? If so, why are you still pushing charters? I make a distinction between research that is released through professional; journals or before learned bodies and “research” released at press conferences.

    I read recently (Ravitch?) that 300 different charter schools (including the “academically superior” Aspire schools, received over #500 million in corporate/foundation contributions. That’s over a million per school. That exceeds by a bit the discretionary dollars available to most public schools. Again, a visit to the Aspire website does show a number of “donors.” Might this have something to do with the alleged improved achievemtn of Aspire? Is this really all about “program?” And, Ze’ev, as the Ravitch book goes to some lengths to establish, the whole standards, testing, accountability paradigm was a fiction. It was about imposing a market/business/competition template on to the schools. It not only didn’t work in schools it didn’t even work in the economy. Educators have little confidence that the API is telling us much about conditions on the ground at schools. It has always been the Affluent Parents Index.

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  40. The achievement range of the LA charter schools you mention is all across the board, though, John. For example, many Green Dot schools (despite the gushing press) have truly abysmal test scores, and none are above mediocre. Many reports, including from charter advocates, come to this conclusion: Many families in troubled low-income areas turn to charter schools — even disastrously low-performing charter schools — because they feel their kids are safer there. The obvious reason for that is that only families who cared enough to apply sent their kids to charter schools, and those families are less likely to have seriously oppositional/defiant/out-of-control kids. And, significantly, charters are much freer to remove (however they do it) problem kids — as Joanne Jacobs observed in “Our School”: “Many students left DCP [San Jose's Downtown College Prep Charter] for academic or behavioral reasons.” (Needless to say, kids with behavioral problems are unlikely to remove themselves voluntarily — that takes action by the school — so Jacobs’ “left” should be in quotation marks.) Before you come back with the usual charter-advocate response, I’ll save you the trouble. Of course regular public schools can remove kids who are behavior problems too. BUT when a regular public school does that, the school district (the colleagues and supervisors of the principal who removed the student) must continue to cope with the problem student. And when the problem student winds up at another district school, the dumping school’s principal and staff are colleagues of the dumpee school’s principal and staff. By contrast, when a charter removes a problem student, it never has to give that student another thought.

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  41. John:

    I don’t believe i ever accused you of “scapegoating” teachers. I reserve that charge for Gloria Romero, the grifters (under the employ of Eli Broad) who head up Parent Revolution, and the Basketball Player. You don’t do much to call out the scape-goaters, but that’s not your job. Green Dot just closed down one of these “high quality charters” in LA because revenue expectations weren’t being met and test scores were down around the level of the Gulf oil gusher. It’s a wonder that deregulating energy resutled in the ENRON debacle, deregulating finance resulted in the worst recession in decades, deregulating mining and drilling resulted in death and environmental destruction; but! the answer to low academic achievement is deregulated (charter) schools. Right.

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  42. More wonkiness with little or no value added.  That IS the hallmark of the edu-reform movement. California’s math standards, according to this article, almost match Ma. and are most closely aligned with the new CCS.
    The primary author of the CA math standards is Professor Wu from UC Berkeley.  He is also one of the lead authors of the CCS.
    Ca has not budged because the new boss is the old boss. Simple motion does not imply effect.

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  43. Proof you have.
    My niece worked at an Oakland charter that was open enrollment but had ALL parents sign a compliance contract regarding student behavior, dress, and homework completion. Students who violated the contract were scheduled with their parents for mandatory meetings.  No shows were expelled.  Repeated violators were expelled.
    I have the behavior contract in my hands.  Call them and ask for it.
    Universal acceptance and rigorous enforcement of rules.  That is a VERY EFFICIENT weeding mechanism.

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  44. Accuracy matters, and I would think it mattered most to those heavily degreed thinkers at your think tanks whose entire careers are based upon their ACCURACY.
    At least in my career as a nuclear submariner, being inaccurate could be fatal.  But it appears that  your entire purpose is malicious fun.  You do the edu-debate a great disservice.
    I would suggest we call the various think tanks “advertising agencies.”  They sell their facts, their message, and their images regarding diverse social problems.
    Could it be that this futile debate is pointing to the futility of economic research.  Is the 21st century revealing to us the mythology of most modern economic research and thought?  The sine qua non of economics is the counter-intuitive.  They will NEVER accept the patently obvious.  But in economic research the patently obvious is often what emerges.
    Reason is denied:  Cleverness is exalted. Thank God my chosen discipline, mathematical physics, is immune to this human foible.

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  45. John,
    In rhetoric, the exception disproves the rule.  With stats, well I hope you know, that the null hypothesis is only rejected when we are confident that it can be rejected.  And that means a result that is “significant”. Once exception is an outlier. Failing to reject the null hypothesis strictly means that we must “withhold judgement”.
    That aside, let’s get to the charter screening argument.  My niece worked at a charter in Oakland.  At the end of the first year EVERY SINGLE TEACHER LEFT.  She showed me the rosters.  She showed all of her friends who left for public school jobs in the “burbs”.
    As I mentioned in a previous post, I am also holding in my hand the behavior contract and parent packet for that school.  Yep, they screen after the fact and simple rule violations lead to punctual, severe, consequences.
    My niece told me that she and her principal prepped for these parent meetings and had already decided how to push the child out.  This strategy exists.  It is used.
    Public schools are the “employer of last resort”.
    John, would you accept this business model for charters?  That they become the defacto continuation schools for the publics and that they NOT be allowed to expel or suspend students sent to them by the publics.  Let’s make the expulsion process from the publics to the charters a ONE WAY STREET.
    Wouldn’t that be the REAL test of the effectiveness of charter schools?

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