I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Who Is Running America's Charter Schools? A Data Correction

For some time now, I've been posting this graph on the blog:

This graph is incorrect, and it's my fault. Let me explain:

Last year, I made a dataset that merged the work of education researchers Gary Miron and Charisse Gulosino with a school database from the US Department of Education. The dataset was for an academic paper on for-profit charter management organizations (CMOs) that is still undergoing peer review. I used the Miron-Gulosino directory of CMOs as a base, made some changes on my own, and then combined this directory with the federal data to analyze patterns in school spending. 

My co-author, Bruce Baker, made the graph above with my dataset. Unfortunately, while most of the state-level datasets used for this pie chart were correct, one -- Illinois -- was not. At the risk of going way into the weeds, what happened was that several CMOs in the Chicago area were over-counted, so that the total number of students enrolled by the CMO were multiplied by the number of different campuses in the Miron-Gulosino directory.

This is entirely my mistake: Bruce and Gary and Charisse had nothing to do with it. I apologize to them for misrepresenting their work, and I apologize to all of you for missing the error.

Here is a corrected version of this graph (click to enlarge).*

As you'll notice, the shares of students enrolled in Chicago-area charter schools -- Noble, UNO, Distinctive, etc. -- are way lower. Nobel's own annual report for 2011-12 put their enrollment at "more than 6,300," which means they and others move into the "less than 10K" category.

Which actually reinforces a point Bruce made in his post:
At least a handful of studies on high profile charter operators have yielded substantive, positive results, at least with respect to growth on narrowly measured student achievement outcomes, and in some cases on college acceptance/matriculation. Of course, even these studies, like the Mathematica/KIPP studies, or Fryer studies tend to totally ignore key features of the models that may be contributing to those outcomes – like money, smaller classes, more time and teacher pay to support that time.
But here’s the bigger picture – In all of this time that we’ve been allowing and inducing charter school growth, while studying KIPPs and others to validate positive effects – we’ve paid far too little attention to the actual distribution of providers out there. Most charter schools aren’t KIPP (whether we like KIPP or their educational model/practices). And most charter schools across the country aren’t like NYC’s (or Boston’s) other major charter operators.
There has been some increased scrutiny of K12's virtual charter schools in the last few of years (and the news has not been good). National Heritage has received some press due to its role in Detroit's charter school expansion and its schools in New York. The Miami Herald did some stellar reporting on Academica a few years ago, but there hasn't been much following up. These few stories, however, are the exception; overall, there has not been much in-depth reporting on the results many charter operators are getting.

In the academic literature, KIPP has been the focus of quite a few econometric-based studies. I have my issues with some of the methodologies and reporting of results (I'll have more to say about this in the coming year), but at least the network has been assessed by serious researchers. At least we have some sense of the scope of the impact KIPP has on its students.

Further, and to their credit, the CREDO folks at Stanford have done some work on assessing the impact of CMOs on student outcomes. Again, I've got some serious issues with their methodologies -- but at least they have looked (a bit) into whether CMOs impact student learning differently.

Unfortunately, it's not nearly enough. We know next to nothing about many of the charters that enroll less than 10,000 students -- and that's 80 percent of the sector. We know a bit more about some of the major CMOs, but it's still not much.

By my reckoning, KIPP had a 1.7 percent share of the charter sector in 2011-12; Academica had a 1.5 percent share. Keep this in mind as you head over to the National Bureau of Economic Research, where many of the "lottery studies" on KIPP have been published as working papers. Do a search on KIPP; then do a search on Academica. Guess who has been getting all of the economists' attention?

I don't blame NBER researchers for not studying the other CMOs as much as they've studied KIPP; maybe they can't get the data or the cooperation they need. But we need to stop for a moment before we allow charter proliferation -- with all of its pernicious effects on district public schools -- to continue so we can assess what's really going on. We just don't know enough about the vast majority of charter operators to justify the massive expansions taking place in the sector.

And that includes the Gulen-linked charter schools -- I'll get to that next. Until then, let me again apologize for my error.


* The terms "Charter Management Organization" (CMO) and "Educational Management Organization" (EMO) have had somewhat different meanings for different researchers over the years. But I find that the two terms are largely interchangeable these days. 

Also: the numbers I report here are somewhat different from those in Miron-Gulosino for a couple of reasons. First, I added and/or subtracted schools based on whether I could link them to federal data or not. Next, there were a substantial number of schools in Miron-Gulosino that were duplicates, listed as being managed by two EMOs. I had to choose one or the other (not doing that is what led to the error in Chicago schools). I made the best determination I could; on my last build (on which the above graph is based), I switched a few of the "second" EMOs to the "first" position based on some further research.

Caveat regressor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

There Is No Sustained Social Justice In Schools Without Adequate and Equitable Funding

Twitter wars are stupid, and I'm stupid for engaging in them:

Diane Ravitch cares about school segregation now? That's new.

If you read "Reign of Error," you will find a chapter on the importance of desegregation. How can you judge without reading?

It's true: Diane did write an entire chapter in Reign of Error about the effects of segregation on schooling. I know because I pointed that chapter out in my review of the book, and included an excerpt:
But the wounds caused by centuries of slavery, segregation, and discrimination cannot be healed by testing, standards, accountability, merit pay, and choice. Even if test scores go up in a public or charter school, the structural inequity of society and systematic inequities in our schools remain undisturbed. For every “miracle” school celebrated by the media, there are scores of “Dumpster schools,” where the low-performing students are unceremoniously hidden away. This is not school reform, nor is it social reform. It is social neglect. It is a purposeful abandonment of public responsibility to address deep-seated problems that only public policy can overcome.
So, from my perspective, Russo is just dead wrong about Ravitch's views. He disagrees:

Over-testing & under-funding are fine but they're not cops out of schools, classroom bias training, etc.

There's really no point in continuing to debate whether Diane Ravitch has adequately addressed segregation -- and other issues related to education, race, and class -- or not. Russo has his opinion and I have mine (not that Diane needs me defending her). I do, however, find it odd that a guy who has publicly admitted he doesn't follow Ravitch's work thinks he has a grasp on her world view:
As you already know, I don't think that's very constructive for CPS over all for Ravitch or anyone else to keep bashing at failed or imperfect reform efforts rather than begin working on some joint efforts. And the truth is that while I like her personally I've basically stopped paying attention to Ravitch because she's become so rigid, ideological, and almost cartoonish in her positions. [emphasis mine]
So whatever. But I'd like focus for a bit on Russo's last tweet...

One reason (among many) that Twitter wars are dumb is that most people's view of the world can't be condensed accurately into 140 characters. But I don't think I'm mischaracterizing Russo here in saying that he seems to believe over-testing and under-funding, while perhaps important issues, are not the totality of the conversation we should be having about race, class, and our public schools.

I agree. Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline certainly requires de-criminalizing our students, which means putting in place structures and procedures that maintain order in schools without denying students -- particularly students of color -- agency.

Classroom teachers most certainly need to reflect on their practice and improve when it comes to issues of race (and class and gender and creed and sexual orientation). I know it's sometimes hard to have those conversations; I'll admit I've had times, as a straight, white, middle-class man, where I've been clueless about my privilege until someone pointed it out to me, and I've had to acknowledge the effects of that privilege on my work as a teacher.

So there's lots of work to do here -- and we haven't even touched on things like the racial composition of school faculty, or disparities in school governance, or racial and other bias in curricula, or a dozen other issues.

But let's note how Russo framed his tweet: apparently, over-testing and under-funding is one set of issues, and more immediate concerns about social justice in schools is another. I, however, would argue these issues are not separate; to the contrary, they are tightly intertwined.

Because there will be no sustained social justice in our schools in the absence of adequate and equitable funding.

The first reason why is obvious: you can't claim our school system is just when students are receiving fundamentally unequal educations due to resource disparities. As I noted recently, one of my great frustrations with the charter school sector (or, more accurately, a large part of it) is their continuing insistence that the "choices" they are offering their students and families are somehow equivalent to the "choices" suburban families have when enrolling the children in well-funded public district schools.

There is no equivalence. Even the highest-flying charters cannot match the offerings, atmosphere, and resources of more affluent suburban schools. And the students know this -- they know the system is unequal. They know their "choice" -- underfunded, crumbling, neglected public district schools or "no excuses" charter schools -- is not the "choice" kids in the leafy 'burbs get.

Research has clearly shown that schools serving more at-risk students need more resources to achieve comparable results. And yet even progressively funded states, like New Jersey, have reneged on their commitments to fully fund urban public schools -- even though that commitment is probably still not enough to provide an adequate education for those students.

But even if we set this reality aside, there's another problem with separating funding and social justice in education: bringing restorative practices to schools costs money. As Rethinking Schools points out:
But simply announcing a commitment to “restorative justice” doesn’t make it so. Restorative justice doesn’t work as an add-on. It requires us to address the roots of student “misbehavior” and a willingness to rethink and rework our classrooms, schools, and school districts. Meaningful alternatives to punitive approaches take time and trust. They must be built on schoolwide and districtwide participation. They are collaborative and creative, empowering students, teachers, and parents. They rely on social justice curriculum, strong ties among teachers and with families, continuity of leadership, and progress toward building genuine communities of learning.
Too often, this is not what we see in places that tout a focus on restorative justice. At far too many schools, commitments to implement restorative justice occur amid relentless high-stakes “test and punish” regimens—amid scripted curriculum, numbing test-prep drills, budget cutbacks, school closures, the constant shuffling from school to school of students, teachers, and principals.
Meaningful restorative justice also requires robust funding. It can’t mean a high school teacher released for one class period to “run the program” or a mandated once-a-year day of staff development training. Under these circumstances, announcing one’s embrace of “restorative justice” is hypocritical window dressing.
And so we see also the importance of moving beyond a test-and-punish curriculum if we really want social justice in our schools. Over-testing and under-funding make achieving social justice in education much more difficult. Evans, Lester and Anfara (2013) note:
Despite its many benefits, restorative justice in schools remains largely an abstract idea, while punitive discipline remains the norm. One obstacle to wider implementation of a restorative justice disciplinary model in schools is the cost of developing such a model. In Minnesota, the State Legislature authorized a $300,000 grant for four districts to develop alternative disciplinary measures. In Denver, a non-profit organization supported the schools implementing restorative justice models. Without supplemental sources of funding, it is unlikely that schools will have the financial resources to develop their restorative justice programs, given the existing pressure on schools' budgets and personnel resources. [emphasis mine]
A quick tour around the web finds plenty of examples to confirm this. California, for example:
If they had more money to improve discipline in their schools, administrators would spend it on counselors, staff training, conflict-resolution programs, support services and rehabilitation services, rather than security, a study released Monday reported.

But of course they have less money. And the study, by the Oakland-based education resource and research group EdSource, found that state budget cuts are affecting the ability of administrators to deal with student discipline and behavior. Overwhelmingly, the respondents -- from 315 school districts around the state -- said they were concerned about discipline and also whether it varies by students' racial and ethnic backgrounds. [emphasis mine]
Another example:
But the data—along with interviews with parents, students, and educators—reveal that progress so far is halting and uneven. Critics say that’s because the transition from punitive to restorative justice is haphazardly evaluated and underfunded. In fact, Peer Courts, a model program extensively promoted in the Board’s 2009 resolution, was forced to close this year due to budget cuts. Meanwhile, suspensions and expulsions are actually rising in some schools that have yet to embrace restorative practices, often in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. At one, Thurgood Marshall High School, suspensions have almost tripled since 2007. 
The resulting picture is a school-by-school patchwork, at best an unfinished project to reform the traditional juvenile discipline paradigm. It’s a work-in-progress that contains lessons for educators and parents in other districts who are looking for effective disciplinary policies in a time of severe budget cuts. [emphasis mine]
How about Pennsylvania?
But in states like Pennsylvania, budget cuts have endangered districts’ ability to dedicate and train staff in new approaches to discipline. Thirty-four states will spend less this year on education than they did before the recession. The School District of Philadelphia lost $300 million for the 2013–2014 year and had to close 23 schools and fire almost 4,000 staff members, including all its assistant principals, more than 250 counselors, and more than 600 teachers. The district’s projected shortfall is estimated to rise to $320 million next school year.
Restorative-justice programs don’t cost a lot to implement—two-year training for faculty runs between $50,000 and $60,000—but they do require schools to have sufficient staff. The support staff on which the programs rely—counselors, assistant principals, restorative-justice coordinators—are often the first to go when budget cuts hit. [emphasis mine]
Let me be clear: I don't think budget cuts should be used as an excuse for schools to not examine their  disciplinary practices. I think administrators and teachers must improve in making their schools places of true social justice, even when short-sighted politicians refuse to do their jobs and adequately fund schools.

I also don't believe adequate funding, by itself, is enough to overcome the systemic inequality built into our public schools. And even desegregation, by itself, isn't enough -- we have too many examples of discriminatory practices within more integrated schools to ever be sanguine about this.

But expecting a sustained, meaningful change in our schools' social justice outcomes in the absence of adequate funding and the presence of a punitive, testing-driven curriculum is not realistic.

I'm going to grant Alexander Russo a courtesy that he refuses to grant Diane Ravitch: I believe he wants the best for all of our students, especially those who are victims of systemic racism and economic disadvantage. But I think his framing needs to change. Inadequate funding and over-testing are part and parcel of social injustice in our schools. They must be part of any larger program of establishing our schools as places where our best American ideals are realized.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

School Funding Hypocrisy: Presidential Candidate Edition

Fair warning: I'm going to start with Trump, but I'm not going to let Clinton off the hook. Stay with me...

Last night, at the Republican National Convention, the candidate's son took the stage to engage in some good old fashioned teacher bashing. The crowd, naturally contemptuous of anyone who might be complicit in teaching the nation's youth how to think critically, ate it all up. Look carefully and you'll see Chris Christie, our country's foremost teacher basher, standing near the front of the crowd, egging Don Trump, Jr. on as he blamed America's education woes on those hated teachers and their unions.

The fun starts at 7:25:

(7:25) The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. Growing up, my siblings and I, we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don't have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities. Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now, they're stalled on the ground floor. They're like Soviet era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers. For the teachers and the administrators and not the students.  
You know why other countries do better on K through 12?* They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. That's called competition. It's called the free market. And it's what the other party fears. They fear it because they're more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.
Like so many other scions of wealth and privilege who have thrust themselves into education policy, Don Jr. wants "all Americans to have those same opportunities" he and the other Trumps enjoyed. OK...

How did a reality-television star, now the presumptive G.O.P. nominee, raise such normal kids? On some level, he did it by outsourcing the job. Trump and his first wife, Ivana, left their young children in the care of two Irish nannies and, for a time, their maternal grandparents, before sending the kids off to boarding school (Eric and Donald Jr. to the Hill School; Ivanka to Choate). “My father is a very hardworking guy, and that’s his focus in life, so I got a lot of the paternal attention that a boy wants and needs from my grandfather,” Donald Jr. told New York Magazine in 2004. [emphasis mine]
The Hill School is on a beautiful campus in Pottstown, PA.

Here are a few fun facts about Hill (edited for brevity; emphasis mine):
  • Student/teacher ratio: 7-1; Typical class size: 12-14 students; Largest class size: 20 students
  • Advanced Placement subjects offered: 28. 
  • Each college adviser has approximately 35-40 advisees. College advisers are assigned during the winter term of the fifth form (junior) year.
  • The Hill has 72 teaching faculty members; 71% hold or are working toward advanced degrees. Nearly all reside in dormitories serving as dorm parents, or in homes on campus.
  • Students will have the opportunity to take several new academic courses, including Engineering 1, the first of three progressive, year-long courses in engineering and robotics; the Quadrivium Capstone, which combines math, science, engineering, and technology into a culminating experience for The Hill’s new interdisciplinary science curriculum; and AP Economics and Calculus courses that will use college-prep pedagogies by combining large lecture format with smaller discussions in an effort to replicate the most common college model. Additional new or significantly revised courses include Introduction to Web Development, Speech 2, Advanced Music Technology, Advanced Latin and Greek Seminar, Creative Writing, World History, Arabic 2, and AP Environmental Science.
Extra-curricular Activities:
  • We offer 29 interscholastic sports programs; 3 club sports; 9 instrumental and vocal ensembles; and 3 theatrical productions per year.
  • The Student Activities Office offers a wide variety of on-and off-campus opportunities to students. 
  • The Hill has a thriving community service program.
  • As of July 2015, The Hill School's endowment was approximately $155 million.
Our Campus:
  • The Hill's campus is more than 200 acres, and includes two new artificial turf fields, a new 8-lane track, and 11 new faculty homes.
Keeping in mind that $155 million endowment means tuition does not fully cover the costs of educating a Hill student, what is the tuition?
For the 2016-17 school year, the annual tuition is $55,660 for boarding students and $38,400 for day students. For boarders, the tuition charges cover all instruction, room and board, on-campus events, health services at the Health Center, and some athletic equipment. The charges for day students cover instruction and on-campus events, as well as lunch on every day except Sunday. Students must pay for their textbooks and supplies. Some elective courses, athletic activities, music instruction, and other programs also may require additional fees. The Admission Office can supply detailed information on all costs associated with an education at The Hill.
Let's simply use day student tuition: If Donald Trump, Jr. really wants "all Americans to have those same opportunities" he had, every child in the United States would go to a school that was funded at $40K a year per pupil. That, by the way, is given a labor cost similar to the Pottstown labor market, and including all the extras Hill faculty get like free housing.

Remember also that Hill is a competitive admissions school, so they don't have to worry about the increased costs for educating children who are at-risk or Limited English Proficient or who have special education needs.

Just for a little context: national per pupil spending was $10,700 in 2013. New York City spent $20,331; Chicago, $12,284; Los Angeles, $10,657. Again, those figures are unadjusted for labor market costs or student characteristics. Imagine how much more it would cost in these big, expensive cities to provide every child, no matter their need, with a Hill-like education.

As I've pointed out many times before, school choice advocates love to pretend that urban charter schools (often run by for-profit managers) or low-spending voucher schools are somehow equivalent to elite private schools like Hill. The comparison is absurd on its face.

It's nice to see that Donald Trump, Jr. is grateful for his privileged upbringing. But Trump, Jr.'s gratuitous swipes at teachers while pretending he and his father support giving all American children an education equivalent to his is just about as obnoxious as it gets.

Now, I did promise I had something to say about Hillary Clinton and school funding. Let me be clear so you know just were I stand: Donald Trump is to completely unfit to serve as president, there is much I like about Clinton, and I will, of course, vote for her this fall (frankly, I don't see how anyone sane could ever do otherwise).

Unfortunately, like far too many Democrats, Hillary Clinton is far too accepting of the mantra of "choice," and not nearly motivated enough to address the serious issues this country has with school funding inequity. Below, for example, is her recent speech before the American Federation of Teachers.

I think Clinton was spot on in making Philando Castile, police reform, and violence against police the first focus in her speech (although it's clear we need to hear a lot more from her, with specifics, as to what she intends to do about it). I'm glad to hear her say to teachers: "We ask so much of you and we don't give you enough in return." I'm glad to hear her speak about raising teacher wages and forgiving student debt for teachers after 10 years.

But she never quite seems to put together the inequitable conditions of public schools with inequities in school funding:

(18:40) I used to have what I called the "Chelsea Test." Now I've got the "Charlotte Test." And you know that test is pretty simple: would I want my daughter and now my granddaughter, and soon my grandson, to go to school here? I'll tell you what, I have walked into a lot of schools where I said: "Boy, would I be happy to have the most important child in the world to me attend here." But I've also walked into schools where literally the building is falling down. Where you can see the holes in the ceiling, where you can see the mold, where you walk into a library and there's not a single book, and there certainly is not a computer. 
We can't tolerate that. We can't let any one of America's precious children, I don't care who they are, attend a school that shows we don't care about them. And that's why we are not going to go in the direction of letting people on the outside foist for-profit schools on our kids. We are going to continue to oppose vouchers that drain resources from public schools and undermine their ability to provide the education our children deserve. 
Where there are public charter schools we will learn from them. But what we're interested in is making sure that every child in our country has the chance to attend a great public school. And I believe part of that rests on working together to find the right balance on testing. 
Wait, what? You were just talking about school funding; now you've pivoted to testing. Where was the plan to get resources to schools that desperately need them?

Look, I am quite sympathetic to the notion that our students are over-tested -- especially when the tests themselves are normative instruments that inevitably show at least some students must be "failing." But Clinton was right at the place where she should have addressed directly the serious inadequacy and inequality found in our current school funding system... and she bailed.

Yes, vouchers do drain resources from public schools. Yes, for-profit charters are a serious impediment to getting funds into instruction (more on this to come, hopefully soon). Clinton misses that "non-profit" charters have also been shown to cause the same pernicious effects on public schools, but setting that aside...

Where was Hillary Clinton's direct call to address inadequate and inequitable school funding? Especially given that Clinton's own test -- whether a school could compare with her own child's education -- is predicated on judging how much a school spends per pupil?

Don't believe me? Let's ask again: where did Chelsea Clinton go to school?
There were obvious reasons for the Obamas to pick Sidwell Friends for their daughters Sasha and Malia. As the school that educated Chelsea Clinton, Al Gore III and the Nixon girls, it understands the unique personal and security needs of prominent children. It provides a first-rate education on two well-equipped campuses. Nearly 4 in 10 students are children of color. But the choice makes sense at a philosophical level as well, because of how Quakers view the challenge of shaping children into socially responsible and spiritually aware adults. [emphasis mine]
Yes, the Clinton and Obama children all famously enrolled at Sidwell Friends. Again: what's the tuition?
Tuition for 2016-2017
Lower School
$39,360 (includes hot lunch and textbooks)
Middle and Upper Schools
$39,360 (includes hot lunch)
Well, for that kind of dough, the lunch better damn well be hot.

As with Hill, Sidwell Friends has a large endowment: $44 million as of 2011. Which means, again, tuition only pays for part of the per pupil expenditures. For contrast, the DC Public Schools -- located in an extremely expensive labor market and, again, serving many children with the expensive educational needs that Sidwell's students do not have --  spends $17,953 per pupil.

Give Clinton this: she is at least willing to recognize that we have too many schools that are brutally, inequitably underfunded. But stopping vouchers and for-profit charter schools isn't going to solve the problem by itself. "Learning" from ostensibly nonprofit charters certainly isn't going to solve the problem -- especially since many of those schools outspend their host districts.

If Hillary Clinton really wants an education for all children equivalent to her own daughter's it's going to require a massive infusion of funds into our public schools. Is she for this?

I'm pointing out Clinton's and Trump's personal hypocrisy here because they are the two current candidates for president and the spotlight is obviously on them for the next several months. But the phenomenon of powerful, prominent people who are lukewarm, at best, on equitable and adequate funding for public schools, yet who send their own children to extremely high-spending private schools, is quite pervasive.

Barack Obama's children go to Sidwell Friends. Arne Duncan's children go to the Chicago Lab School. Chris Christie's son went to Delbarton. All spend way more than their states' public, district schools. All serve far fewer children who are at-risk, LEP, or have expensive special education needs. All also eschew the test-and-punish prescriptions loved by so many "reformers."

It is hypocritical for any prominent politician to downplay or dispute outright the need for adequate and equitable funding in our public schools while simultaneously sending their own children to high-spending private schools with small class sizes, highly compensated faculty with advanced degrees, remarkable facilities, and a broad curriculum with many extra-curricular activities.

We have a long way to go in this election, and we'll be hearing debates about many things. I certainly won't be voting solely on the basis of the candidate's school funding policies - that would be nuts. But let's get this on the table: neither seems particularly interested in tackling the disparities and inadequacies in public school funding head-on.

And that's a problem -- especially when, by their own actions with their own children, they've acknowledged just how important school funding is in providing students with a quality education.

Sidwell Friends Middle School (photo credit).

* A quick aside on comparing America's educational outcomes to the rest of the world: as Bruce Baker and I note in this report, the United States is just about where you'd expect on international test scores, given our rates of child poverty and how much we spend on education. I'll also note that what other countries call "school choice" is far different from the voucher and charter system growing in the US, and there are serious concerns about how choice affects segregation even in ethnically homogeneous countries -- but we'll save that discussion for another time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What We Don't Know About Gulen-Linked Charter Schools, And Why That's a Problem

This week's attempted coup in Turkey will inevitably turn the spotlight on Fethullah Gulen -- the primary political rival of Turkish President Erdogan -- who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. Gulen is linked to a network of over 160 charter schools operating across the country, including several in New Jersey that Governor Chris Christie has recently praised.

I've written several pieces about Christie's love affair with Gulen-linked charters here in New Jersey -- see here, here, and here. Even though I've looked at these schools closely, I won't claim I've exhaustively researched the entire Gulen movement, otherwise known as Hizmet, and its connections to US charter schools. Still, from what I have read, it's clear that there certainly is a network of charters connected to Gulen. The proliferation of these charter schools has been reported on by CBS News, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall St. Journal. This is hardly tinfoil hat territory.

That said, there's quite a bit we still don't know about these schools:

- The charters linked to Gulen generally do not express their connections openly. While Hizmet is clearly a religious movement, there is no indication the charters ever proselytize. Charter leaders may express their admiration for Gulen, but they do not, so far as I've ever seen, admit to taking direction directly from him when it comes to the administration of the charters.

- This said, there is at least an informal network that binds these charters together, and that network is aligned with Hizmet. The website Gulen Charter Schools has documented, in great detail, the structure of this network, which includes not only the charters themselves but also related contractors.

- These schools employ staffs that consist of large numbers of Turkish nationals, although not exclusively. There are many reports that the schools use H1-B visas to bring teachers into the US from Turkey; however, there appears to be no definitive documentation of just how many charter staff members in the network have entered the US through this channel.

- There are also reports of staff members giving kickbacks on their salaries and income tax refunds to their employers. Again, however, we don't have documentation of how widespread this practice may be; further, the allegation has not yet had the chance to be held up in court.

- Federal authorities have raided several Gulen-linked charter schools and continue investigating the schools' relationships with their contractors. Again, however, no charges have as of yet been filed; consequently, no allegations have been held up in court.

- A USA Today investigation found that Gulen-linked organizations paid for Congressional members and staff to travel to Turkey at least 214 times. Expenses total at least $800,000, but that figure is likely understated because it does not include in-country expenses.

Given what's just happened, this lack of transparency is a real problem for our country's national security. If, in fact, Hizmet was one of the driving forces behind the attempted coup, the United States may well be complicit in allowing a charter network to grow in this country that provided de facto support for the attempted overthrow of one of our NATO allies' governments.

I don't have any expertise in Turkish politics. By most accounts, Erdogan is not a friend of democracy and freedom of the press, and that's very troubling. And Gulen denies any involvement with the coup attempt, even though Erdogan is now saying the US risks its continuing alliance with Turkey if it continues to harbor him.

At this point, we must ask: Has it been in America's best geopolitical interest to prop up Erdogan's primary political foe by allowing an aligned network of charter schools to grow across the country? Has the risk been worth what are, at best, marginal gains in test scores for student populations that, at least here in New Jersey, look nothing like the populations of their hosting public school districts?

Further: these Gulen-linked schools are merely one of a host of charter networks about which we know next to nothing:

Once again, this is a graph made by Bruce Baker from data I compiled based on work by Gary Miron and Charisse Gulosino. Yes, economists have studied the outcomes for charter chains like KIPP fairly extensively. But what do we about all the others? Who are they aligned with? Who are their contractors? Who do they hire to teach? What networks may operate behind the scenes of these schools?

My quick tabulation shows the Gulen-linked Cosmos Foundation (since renamed Harmony Public Schools) controlled 18.5 percent of the total enrollment of Texas charter school students in 2011-12.* That's nearly 20,000 students -- each a source of taxpayer funds that go... where, exactly? Do we really know? Shouldn't we care?

Look, I won't pretend we haven't had problems -- in some cases, big problems -- with fiscal opacity in public district schools. But charter schools, because they are not state actors, are not subject to the same standards of transparency as public district schools. Once the money flows past the non-profit shell of a charter school and to its aligned management organization or property lease holder, all bets are off.

We are now seeing a very real and very serious consequence of this lack of transparency. It's not at all an exaggeration to say our national security interests may have been compromised by allowing this network to flourish within our borders -- and, again, for what?

It's well past time to clean up the charter school sector. Standards of transparency and accountability have got to become much tougher. Americans have every right to know who, exactly, is running their schools and under what circumstances. If the Turkish coup and the growth of Gulen-linked charter schools teaches us anything, it's that the consequences for not properly regulating the charter sector are potentially serious and far-ranging.

One more thing: I've noticed some rumblings on social media that criticism of Gulen-linked charter schools might be motivated by Islamophobia. I obviously can't speak for every critic, but that strikes me as far too facile. The problem with Gulen-linked charter schools isn't about the particular religion Hizmet subscribes to; its about the total lack of transparency in these schools' management.

The Gulen movement is now front and center on the world stage. The leader of one of our most important allies has accused the movement of supporting a military coup. And that movement is clearly linked to a substantial number of charter schools in the United States, which are supported by taxpayers' monies.

Is anyone seriously prepared to suggest being concerned about this is somehow tantamount to racism?

ADDING: I have not yet seen Killing Ed, but it looks fascinating.

Why are we relying on independent filmmakers to investigate this stuff? Why haven't the state and federal agencies in charge of charter school regulation been looking into this before allowing charter schools to flourish nearly unchecked?

ADDING: From a 2011 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (which has, over the years, done some really excellent reporting on charter schools):
Fethullah Gulen is a major Islamic political figure in Turkey, but he lives in self-imposed exile in a Poconos enclave and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.
As evidence, his lawyer pointed to the charter schools, now more than 120 in 25 states, that his followers - Turkish scientists, engineers, and businessmen - have opened, including Truebright Science Academy in North Philadelphia and another charter in State College, Pa.
The schools are funded with millions of taxpayer dollars. Truebright alone receives more than $3 million from the Philadelphia School District for its 348 pupils. Tansu Cidav, the acting chief executive officer, described it as a regular public school. [emphasis mine]
The national Gulen charter school network has been confirmed by Gulen's own lawyer. Except:
Federal officials declined to comment on the nationwide inquiry, which is being coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania's Middle District in Scranton. A former leader of the parents' group at the State College school confirmed that federal authorities had interviewed her.
Bekir Aksoy, who acts as Gulen's spokesman, said Friday that he knew nothing about charter schools or an investigation.
Aksoy, president of the Golden Generation Worship & Retreat Center in Saylorsburg, Pa., where Gulen lives, said Gulen, who is in his early 70s, "has no connection with any of the schools," although he might have inspired the people who founded them.
So Gulen was involved in founding the schools, except he wasn't.
The American charter schools were a central part of Gulen's argument that won him a green card after the Department of Homeland Security ruled that he did not meet the qualifications of an "alien of extraordinary ability" to receive a special visa.
In a lawsuit Gulen filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in 2007 challenging the denial, his attorneys wrote: "In his position as the founder and head of the Gulen Movement, Mr. Gulen has overseen the establishment of a conglomeration of schools throughout the world, in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States."
His attorneys also referred to a letter of support from a theology professor in Illinois who described Gulen as "a leader of award-winning schools for underserved children around the world, including many schools in the major cities in America."
On July 16, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled that Gulen met the requirements for a green card.
Except he was. Hmm...

* Data sources:
Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-12.
Miron, G., & Gulosino, C. (2013). Profiles of for-profit and nonprofit education management organizations: Fourteenth Edition—2011-2012. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/EMO-profiles-11-12

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Once Again, @GovChristie Shamelessly Twists Education Spending Facts

Governor Chris Christie's brazen disregard for facts in today's Star-Ledger is so utterly shameless that I have to respond immediately.

We've seen some truly awful arguments over the past few years from governors across the nation who want to slash state aid to the most disadvantaged school districts. But in the last few weeks, Chris Christie's defense of his "Fairness Formula" has reached new depths of dishonesty. Even the most conservative critics of school funding reform have balked at this plan.

And yet Christie plows ahead, making statements so outrageous it's stunning a public official would try to get away with them:
The Star-Ledger complains that the SDA [Schools Development Authority, the former Abbott] districts don't have the money in their property tax base to fund their schools. But let's look at the numbers. The average New Jersey town spends 52 percent of its property taxes on schools; the SDA districts just 26 percent. If the state blindly pays a disproportionate share of operating those schools, then why should SDA property tax payers feel any obligation to pay more? Yet, there is no mention from The Star-Ledger's editorial page about the failure to fairly fund these SDA schools with local property tax dollars. [emphasis mine]
This is transparently idiotic. While some of the SDA districts have gentrified since the original Abbott lawsuits, they generally are the least-affluent districts in the state. Which means -- as Ajay Srikanth and I pointed out in our report on the "Fairness Formula" -- that they don't have the capacity to generate the revenues they need to support their schools solely with local property taxes.

From our report (click to enlarge). DFG is "District Factor Group," a way of classifying districts by socio-economic status. "A" districts have the lowest SES and, naturally, have both the lowest property values per student and lowest taxable income per student.

The reason the state gives aid to these districts is simple: if they tried to raise the same amount of revenue as a property-wealthy "J" district, they'd have much higher property tax rates. Of course, since they get aid for schools, those districts can then put a higher percentage of their local revenues into other local services like police and fire -- duh.

Everybody who knows anything about taxes understands this. Everybody who is willing to be honest can figure this out. And everybody who follows this stuff knows that even with state aid supplied by a progressive income tax, overall state and local taxes are still regressive, as this report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows.

Here are the lowest quintile taxpayers paying a higher tax rate than the top 1 percent! And yet Christie has the gall to say this:
It is often said that budgets are evidence of your priorities. In the SDA districts they speak loudly: Education is half as important as it is to the rest of the state (if someone else is willing to pay), and big local government is nearly twice as important as is it to the rest of New Jersey. Those are the numbers and they are beyond dispute.
What an outrageous assertion. Chris Christie is essentially blaming the poor for being poor, even though they pay higher overall rates in state and local taxes. Then he turns around and questions these communities' commitment to their children. It's sick...

But it gets even worse:
Liberals like the editorial board of The Star-Ledger continue to believe — 30 years of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding — that pouring money into a demonstrably failed system is an essential element to any salvation for our failed urban education system. They cite Newark charter schools' success sending Newark children to college. Yet they fail to explain how they do it at one-half to two-thirds the cost of the failed traditional public schools without the handcuffs put on them by the Democratic Legislature they endorse or the failed public educators they quote such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Layoffs based on seniority rather than merit. A strangling tenure system that requires us to pay awful teachers in the SDA districts not to teach. And those are just two examples of the madness. [emphasis mine]
First of all, if you read our report, you'll find the notion that these districts have "failed" even though we've "poured money" into them to be completely refuted by the facts. To cite just one piece of evidence, here the renowned psychometrician Howard Wainer:
"New Jersey's black students performed as well in 2011 as New Jersey's white students did in 1992. Given the consequential differences in wealth between these two groups, which has always been inextricably connected with student performance, reaching this mark is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not criticism."
There's much more, but Christie, of course, couldn't care less.

Next, as I have pointed out repeatedly, even if you grant the many, many limitations on the studies showing the "success" of some of Newark's charters, it is quite clear even the "best performers" do not come close to matching the student outcomes of affluent suburban schools.

But let's set that aside and address the main point here: do, in fact, Newark's charters have budgets "at one-half to two-thirds the cost" of the Newark Public Schools? It's actually easy to check, using the state's own data from the Taxpayers Guide To Education Spending. Here's a comparison between NPS and the Newark charter sector.

In the aggregate, total spending per pupil in NPS was $22,013; for the charters, it was $18,692.* That means the charters are spending 85 percent of the total NPS is spending; Christie's "one-half to two-thirds" isn't even close!

But hold on! This is a completely invalid comparison. Don't take my word for it; NJDOE says the figure includes things like transportation costs for nonpublic and charter students. The truth is that public districts pick up the costs for things charters don't spend on, like out-of-district placements for students with profound special education needs, private school books, capital outlays for facilities used by the community outside of school, and so on.

The better comparison -- and again, NJDOE itself says this -- is Budgetary Cost Per Pupil. Newark spends $17,041 per pupil; the charters spend $15,336, which comes to 90 percent of NPS's costs. Chris Christie's assertion that Newark charters spend "one-half to two-thirds" what the public district schools spend is contradicted by his own government's data!

Hang on, it gets even worse. Yes, NPS spends more in the classroom, largely because their staff has more experience and, therefore, higher salaries. We know experience is correlated with teacher effectiveness, but we'll put that aside and instead note this:

Newark's charter schools spend far less on student services and far more on administration than the Newark district schools. Students services, as defined by NJDOE, include the following:
This indicator includes expenditures considered student support services under the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) definition - services supplemental to the teaching process that are designed to assess and improve students' well-being.  It also includes expenditures for activities associated with assisting the instructional staff with the content and process of providing learning experiences. Attendance, social work, health and guidance services, educational media/school library services and child study team services are student support services under the NCES definition. This area also includes the costs associated with physical and mental health services that are not direct instruction, but are nevertheless provided to students, such as supervision of health services, health appraisal (including screening for vision, communicable diseases, and hearing deficiencies), screening for psychiatric services, periodic health examinations, emergency injury and illness care, dental services, nursing services, and communications with parents and medical officials. The expenditures of the guidance office includes counseling, record maintenance, and placement services.  The costs for the child study team include salaries and benefits for members related to the development and evaluation of student individualized education programs (IEPs).  Services provided as a result of IEPs are considered instructional costs and are included in the appropriate classroom instruction indicators. The school library services include books repairs, audiovisual services, educational television services, and computer assisted instruction services. The actual provision of computer assisted instruction is considered classroom instruction. [emphasis mine]
Now, many of these services would benefit any student -- but they are most critical for those students with a special need. Guess what?

Newark's public schools serve many more children with a special education need than the charter schools. As I've shown before, the classified students who are enrolled in the charters tend to have lower-cost disabilities: things like speech and specific learning disabilities (SLD), as opposed to autism or traumatic brain injury or emotional disturbances or physical disabilities.

So it's only natural that the district would have a greater cost load than the charters. You know who agrees with me? Chris Christie!
Of course, we will make sure that we have the aid for special needs students so that they may reach their potential too.  They are the exception though; the overwhelming majority of students deserve the Fairness Formula and we intend to pursue it for them. [emphasis mine]
It's hard to imagine any public official being as shameless self-contradictory as Christie is here.

As to administrative costs: it is clear that charters can't match their host districts on efficiency. There are also many incentives to jack up out-of-classroom costs built into the charter system. The bottom line: if you want to save money, having redundant systems of school governance is a bad idea.

Let's look at Newark's charter vs. NPS spending another way:

Again: comparing total spending is completely invalid -- but even if we did, the charters only spend about 15 percent less than NPS. The more accurate comparison is about 10 percent less, but that doesn't take into account that NPS has a greater proportion of special needs students (and at-risk and Limited English Proficient students as well). Much of the difference between the charter and NPS can be explained by the district's much higher spending on critical support services. Even then, the charters spend far more on administration, including administrative salaries.

All of the facts stand against Chris Christie and his illogical, cruel, and, yes, racist plan to gut the budgets of the schools that serve this state's neediest children.

There's no point in anyone treating this plan seriously; it's built on nothing but distortions, ideology, and lies. Chris Christie has now shown himself to be wholly irrelevant to any meaningful discussion about New Jersey schools or fiscal policies. Sadly, he will still occupy a place of prominence, but all serious stakeholders should immediately understand he has nothing constructive to contribute to the state's policy debates.

Irrelevant then; irrelevant now.

ADDING: I've been called out in the past for using the word "racist" too casually. I don't use it without pause... but read this again:
It is often said that budgets are evidence of your priorities. In the SDA districts they speak loudly: Education is half as important as it is to the rest of the state (if someone else is willing to pay), and big local government is nearly twice as important as is it to the rest of New Jersey. Those are the numbers and they are beyond dispute.
That is an incredible statement for a governor to make. I don't know if Christie added the "communities must make a choice" subheading, but it's a fair reading of what he is saying here: the SDA districts are "choosing" to shortchange their kids and instead lard their towns and cities with patronage jobs. And he's not even hiding behind a qualifier like "the governments in these communities" -- he talking about the communities themselves.

How can anyone not call that racist? How can anyone claim this is anything less than the worst form of divisiveness?

I refuse to play verbal games on this. It's well past time we started calling things what they are.

* Weighted per pupil average.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Christie Visits ANOTHER Gulen-Linked Charter School

There are times when I am astonished that the press doesn't pick up on a particular story. For example: according to activists on Facebook, Chris Christie is having a private meeting tomorrow, June 30, 2016, at Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology.

If this is the case, it will be the third time since this spring that Chris Christie has visited a charter school linked to the controversial Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish expatriate living in seclusion in the United States.

On May 16, Christie visited Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School in Franklin. Two days later, he trekked to Bergen Arts & Sciences Charter School in Hackensack. Thomas EdisonBergen A&S, and Paterson Science & Tech have all been linked by the Gulen Charter Schools website to the Gulenist movement in the US.

As I've written previously, the proliferation of Gulenist charter schools is not some wild-eyed conspiracy theory: it's been reported on by CBS NewsThe AtlanticThe New York Times, and The Wall St. Journal. These schools, all linked to Gulen's movement, have been popping up all over the country and are the subject of concerns expressed by the federal State Department due to their use of H1B visas to admit Turkish nationals into the US.

Given how closely tied Christie is to Donald Trump -- who wants a ban on Muslims entering the country (although even he doesn't seem to understand his own plan) -- I can't understand why no one in the state press has pursued this story. Why is Christie praising so many Gulen-linked charters? Why is he visiting so many of them?

Back in 2011, Leslie Brody, when she was writing for The Record, broached the subject with the CEO of Bergen A&S:
In some states, such as Texas, charter schools led by Turkish immigrants have caused controversy, with critics claiming the schools were used to bring in teachers from Turkey and give contracts to Turkish businesses without fair bidding. In June, The New York Times ran a lengthy examination of these schools, citing some researchers' findings that many were inspired by the views of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher. Gulen, who lives in the Pocono Mountains, has promoted peaceful dialogue and tolerance but had critics who feared his influence in Turkish government. 
Guvercin said he admires Gulen — just as he admires Gandhi — but his teachers never talk in class about Gulen's philosophy. He stressed that charter opponents should visit before forming opinions. "Some people are not comfortable with any ethnic backgrounds," he said.
Sorry, but that's way too easy. The concern over Gulen-linked charters isn't about staff ethnicities or creeds; it's about transparency. The Ohio press has reported on Gulen-linked charters' use of H1B visas to import Turkish nationals as teachers. In 2011, the NY Times investigated how Gulen-linked charters in Texas made deals with Gulen-linked contractors. The Turkish government (admittedly, hardly an impartial party) recently filed a complaint in Texas related to this investigation. New Jersey taxpayers have every right to know whether there are similar issues with the Gulen-linked charters in this state.

Chris Christie recently proposed a radical transformation of the state's school aid system. Under his plan, aid would be slashed for urban districts -- but, supposedly, not for charter schools. If charters are going to get more state funding than their host districts, that's all the more reason to start asking how that money is being spent.

Here is comparative spending by category for the Paterson Public Schools and PCSST, according to NJDOE data. Yes, budgetary per pupil costs are higher in the public schools -- but much of that is driven by this:

The Paterson Public Schools enroll more students proportionally with a special education need than PCSST. Notice, in the spending graph, that PPS spends about $3,300 per pupil on support services: the services that are especially critical for special needs students. The charter, however, spends nothing on those services according to this data. Instead, they spend more on administration, and much more on their physical plant.

Where is that money going? The Gulen Charter Schools website has a detailed description of the byzantine financial transactions involved in the leases PCSST pays to Apple Educational Services, and how New Jersey Economic Development Authority Charter School Revenue Bonds were used to finance the deal. Apple ES is a foreign non-profit corporation registered in New Jersey. According to its 2014 tax forms (obtained at Guidestar.org), Apple ES controls $36 million in net assets, but also has $34 million in liabilities, primarily bonds issued by the NJEDA. It also pays out $738 thousand in compensation to its staff.

This sort of behavior is quite typical for the charter sector: taxpayer-backed bonds are being used to acquire property that is transferred to private, albeit non-profit, hands,and the bonds are paid off with public funds collected by charters from their host districts. The only way this works, of course, is for the charters to keep expenses low enough to divert enough funds into their lease payments. How does PCSST do this?

PCSST certificated staff have far less experience than Paterson Public Schools staff. And that helps keep costs low:

PCSST staff are actually paid slightly more than PPS staff when accounting for experience. But there isn't even one PCSST staff member with more than 10 years of experience according to staffing files -- and that keeps overall staff expenses low. The money can then be diverted into lease payments. Of course, the evidence continues to pile up that teaching experience matters, even in the later part of a teacher's career. PCSST's students are being denied the benefits of an experienced faculty, but there appears to be plenty of money for bond payments.

Now, all this might be acceptable if PCSST was getting far superior results. But when you account for different student populations as I do here*, it turns out the charter is doing OK -- but not much better than that (click to enlarge).

Compared to PPS, PCSST does relatively well on Adjusted Grade 5 math -- but it's not at the top of the pack.

PCSST's Algebra 1 scores are relatively weak.

PCSST does fairly well on adjusted Grade 6 English Language Arts scores.

Grade 10 ELA is average.

PCSST is, undoubtedly, full of hard-working, talented students and dedicated teachers. I congratulate them on their successes, but let's be clear: Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology is not far and above the Paterson Public Schools in terms of its test-based outcomes.

Why, then, should should PCSST be exempt from Chris Christie's budget slashing tax plan, but Paterson's public schools -- which serve more special needs and Limited English Proficient students -- have to suffer? Especially since there is so much about PCSST's governance and funding that we simply do not know?

I wish someone in the NJ press corps cared enough to ask these rather basic questions.

Fethullah Gulen? Never heard of him...

ADDING: By the way: 
PATERSON – The city school district is in the process of making as much as $20 million in last-minute spending cuts in its 2016-2017 budget, a belt-tightening that comes on the heels of $45 million in reductions made several months ago. 
Paterson Press reported two weeks ago that the district would have to make millions of dollars in extra cuts, but at that time officials had not disclosed exactly how much spending would have to be trimmed. 
Board of Education President Christopher Irving said state-appointed schools superintendent Donnie Evans informed him that between $15 million and $20 million must be trimmed from the district’s $468 million budget that takes effect on July 1. An extra $20 million in cuts would amount to about 4.2 percent of the budget. 
Cuts imposed a year ago eliminated more than 350 district jobs, including about 170 teaching positions. The district struggled to recover from those reductions and had to use substitute teachers for some classes during this past academic year. Local education advocates say the relentless series of spending reductions will undermine the district’s moderately-successful efforts to improve graduation rates and student test scores. [emphasis mine]
Charter advocates are always making the case that parents are "choosing with their feet" when they enroll their children in charters. But if a parent has to choose between chronically underfunded public district schools and charters that serve fewer special needs children and are not transparently managed...

What kind of "choice" is that?

* I use a linear regression model to adjust scale scores on the 2015 PARCC exams. The model is:

ScaleScore = f(pctFreeReducedPriceLunch, pctSpecEd, pctLEP)

Free lunch and LEP are from 2016; there are some clearly misreported 2015 demographic figures for PPS, so I opted for more recent figures but matched them with 2015 test scores. Special education is a three-year average from 2012 to 2014. FL and SpecEd are significant at the p < 0.01 level. LEP significance varies; I decided to keep it in all models for consistency's sake.

Robust standard errors (N is between 1215 (Grade 5 Math) and 393 (Grade 9 ELA)) with typical colinearity checks (VIFs). 

Caveat regressor.