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Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

The latest attack on allowing parents the freedom to choose the best education for their children comes from the mayor of Laurel and the transportation director for the Laurel School District, John Schwed. In the Nov. 21-27, 2013 edition of the Laurel Star he wrote:

“Our State leaders have created a mess in public education. I recommend we wipe the slate clean and start all over. Why do I write this? Well, I believe by pandering to special interests: the Federal Government, unhappy parents, business, clever vocational school district administrators, etc., we have created a separate and unequal educational system for Delaware’s school children. That inequality is rooted not in racial segregation but in economic and social segregation.

A review of Department of Education (DOE) data indicates there are 16 charter schools in New Castle County, four in Kent County and one in Sussex County. I don’t believe New Castle County parents are more educationally enlightened than the people in Sussex County, so there must be some other good reason for their existence. If the Legislature believes charters are a good thing, then let’s make all schools charter schools. Oh? Perhaps that can’t be done because, quote: “traditional schools” have a different student population to serve, perhaps different governmental rules and regulations that are not there for charter schools? DOE also has an Office of Charter Schools funded by the Legislature. Now I read that some want this office removed from and made independent of DOE. Sounds like that would take charter schools one more step to becoming what they should be — private schools.

If that’s what those parents want, charter schools should not be funded by taxpayers, but by the parents, just like those parents who pay to send their children to tuition-based private schools. I am not in Rep. Kowalko’s district, but he really gets it, and I applaud his recent opposition to more funding for charter schools.

Choice, another well intentioned debacle, is now being made as easy as buying something online at Amazon.com. The American public school system was set up decades ago with school districts. This system served America well for decades. We educated generals and admirals who won wars, inventors who gave us ingenious inventions, and entrepreneurs who created very successful businesses. As a minimum there should be some financial penalty for parents who choose to send their children out of their home school district.

Teacher evaluations are the latest dustup. I applaud those school boards who are fighting back against the Component 5 section of teacher evaluations. Evaluating teacher performance on student test performance is ridiculous and unfair. I wonder if doctors would like it if we based their pay on how well a patient responds to their treatment.

Members of the State Legislature get their pay regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their votes. True, we can end their pay by voting them out of office, but while in office, everyone gets paid. The Legislature got into this because they took Federal money and it came with strings attached. Maybe you should send the money back and say, “No thanks, we are going to control our own destiny.” School administrators have rated teachers successfully for years. They know who is doing the job well and who is not.

The big elephant in the educational room that no one really wants to talk about is what has changed since WWII. Is it really the teachers or is it society and the students who have changed? I believe public education has become the whipping boy for society’s failures. Until our State and Federal government invest more energy to strengthen families we will continue to have problems with student performance. Until then government will continue to “reform public schools” as a way of showing a frustrated public they are doing something. We will get more special programs run by high paid consultants. We will get more experimentation with different techniques, but we won’t get financial support for sustainability. Districts in financially depressed areas of the State need money to hire additional resources who can provide the early intervention for students who need help and are not getting it at home. It cannot be done by the classroom teacher alone given the present state of the student population.

Now for Sussex ­— my home county. Years ago, clever administrators at Sussex Tech figured out a way to save their school from educational irrelevancy by converting a vocational high school to a comprehensive high school. The Legislature bought their story, allowed them to make a significant change, and then opened the financial floodgates. Now everyone in Sussex County pays a school tax for that school but has no say in whether their child gets to attend there. The school has great facilities, a 100-person band that they rightfully brag about going to national and international events and a host of other extras — all paid for by a willing State Legislature. The school never has to go to referendum like the people of the Laurel School District. 

State Legislature, level the playing field. Fund all public schools at the same per pupil level both for operational and capital expenditures regardless of where the student lives and repeal the Sussex Tech tax.

Business likes to hide behind the “there are no trained workers available statement.” I say to Delaware business, not DEDO, show me the jobs. What are you doing to create jobs?

I see one new business locating in Seaford and I see a brewery that’s expanding. That’s a good start but here in Western Sussex, we need thousands more at more than minimum wage to lift our people up.

I see many minimum wage jobs, but I don’t see the jobs requiring the skills that Delaware business likes to tout. The DuPont Family was a leader in making this State what is. It is time for the present DuPont leadership to rise to the current challenges and provide some new jobs throughout the State, not just New Castle County. Take the Seaford Nylon Plant back from Koch Industries, turn it into the DuPont Business Park and encourage other industries to locate there. Make washing machines, solar panels, wind turbine parts, or something to support the new budding aerospace business at Wallops Island.

State leaders, throw all of this alphabet soup back in the pot. Enact the Educational Reform Act of 2014 and level the playing field for all of Delaware’s school children.

Faced with declining or leveling revenues from the three casinos due to competition and a sluggish economy, perhaps it is time to review how to best spend the State’s educational dollars. Let the debate begin.”

Very clearly, Mayor Schwed (who had a note in the paper saying this letter was written asa  citizen and not in his official capacity as mayor) is going to be someone who will work hard to prevent parents from being able to choose the best schools for their children. Here are some facts for the mayor:

In regards to average SAT scores of students per district planning on attending college, Laurel School District is 14th of 19 (Seaford is 18th) with average scores of 1222 (out of 2400). That is 22% below what is considered a good score of 1550 to be enrolled in college, and 60 points below the state average (though Red Clay SD uses one of their charter schools to boost their numbers). Who would be the top performing district without that charter school being counted? Sussex Tech (average score 1413), which the mayor wants to eliminate by repealing their tax base, thus depriving some students of an educational choice because he doesn’t like that not everyone can go to the school.

The Laurel School District spends about $15,642 per student per year with $11,419 coming from the state. That is 13th overall. Seaford spends $16,378, which is 12th overall but is second to last in average SAT scores. 29% of education funding in Delaware comes from local taxpayers. Most private schools cost much less than this. Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, which has the highest average SAT scores of any individual school in the state, charges less than $5,000 per student per year and has about 30% of its matriculated students come from low-income family backgrounds.

Based on the state’s K-12 numbers, Delaware will have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and roughly an even number of students who drop out or are suspended or expelled from school as students who enter college, regardless of whether they finish or not.

In Delaware “The education finance system is simply not organized with the goal of knowing whether how money spent produces results or whether alternate allocations of resources would increase student achievement. Instead, the system is organized around counting kids. District finance personnel focus on managing unit counts (the codified system for counting students in districts and school buildings) in order to maximize revenues.”

This is  not a CRI quote. This is a quote from the Delaware Public Policy Institute Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of  Financing Delaware’s Public Education”.

Conclusion? Rather than just throw more money into Delaware’s public schools, Laurel included, Mayor Schwed ought to be supportive of efforts to control education spending to reasonable levels for taxpayers, where the money is accounted for and used wisely, and for efforts for parents who are unhappy with what is being offered in a below average district even by Delaware standards to go elsewhere. This will not destroy the Laurel schools, but it will require them to evaluate how resources are being allocated and make the schools more competitive with other schools, including Sussex Tech.

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2013 is already upon us, and three days in things are headed downhill. Congress just passed a bill to respond to the so-called “fiscal cliff” by increasing EVERYONE’S taxes at least a little bit, and a lot if you have a high income (note: if your money comes from investments and assets, such as Warren Buffett, your taxes will be unchanged). More battles will come up on the debt ceiling, automatic defense cuts, and future budget deals (if any come), and no doubt the partisanship will continue.

Delaware has its own problems to deal with: unfunded pension liabilities, out of control Medicaid spending, bad deals with Fisker and Bloom Energy, education performances moving sideways and not up, and taxes such as the gross receipts taxes which harm business growth. These are just a sample of the issues facing the state. While CRI would like to resolve every major issue within the state, that is not very likely.

Therefore CRI will spend 2013 focusing on three elements: improving education standards, discouraging corporate subsidies, and preventing the state from passing any legislation which pushes single-payer healthcare by abolishing private healthcare insurance.

Education reform will be CRI’s top priority in 2013. There is general consensus that the education system as currently structured is not serving the students well, particularly those in areas like Wilmington and Dover, where parents usually do not have the  financial means to send their children off to private schools, and who cannot be guaranteed a slot in the charter schools due to bureaucratic processes. CRI is calling for legislative actions to allow the money to “follow the student”, where parents have options such as Education Savings Accounts (ESA) that give parents the financial opportunity to choose where they want to educate their child. We hope to inform and engage the public and the legislators into some serious action this year that will give students a big victory for their future.

Our second goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, subsidies for preferred businesses and special interest friends of the government. Bloom Energy and Fisker Automotive are two prime examples of the government handing over “subsidies” for “investment” in these companies, meaning hundreds of millions in tax dollars to give to these companies, money we will in reality never receive payback for. There is no industry in Delaware receiving taxpayer money that can be said to be worth the corporate welfare. Our aim is to educate the public and legislators, and push Delaware to either reduce/eliminate current government subsidies to preferred parties, or else to agree to prohibit future government subsidies via “corporate welfare”.

Our third goal will be to discourage the Legislature from passing any bill which bans private health insurance in favor of “single payer” government. While CRI acknowledges the issues in containing healthcare costs, such as Tort reform, allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines, and using means-tested methods to determine who qualifies for Medicare or Medicaid as opposed to just handing it out to anyone who asks, there is no way the government can raise all the taxes needed to pay for this without destroying job opportunities or sending them out of state. Plus, the government will not be able to manage the insurance aspects of healthcare policy without setting up a massive, inefficient bureaucracy, just like they do with everything else.

What do you think? Are there any goals CRI should work for that are no mentioned above?

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Next Tuesday, July 31st, the Caesar Rodney Institute will host a Guest Lecturer Series luncheon at Dover Downs in the Kent Room. Mr. Jim Hosley, who is the Center Director for Excellence in Education at CRI, has invited Dr. Matthew Ladner from the Foundations for Excellence in Education as the featured speaker. Dr. Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research there, and has previously worked as Director of State Projects for the Alliance for School Choice. He has provided testimony to Congress, a number of state legislatures, and the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has also authored studies, journal, and law review articles on education reform.

The purpose of this lunch (which is free for those who attend) is not to hear a great speak pontificate about his accomplishments and preach to the choir of those of us mortals below him as to what we should be doing. What Dr. Ladner is going to do is to facilitate a discussion about education, how strategies to help students from low-income families to succeed have worked, and how to put parents and teachers back in charge of their classroom, as opposed to the red tape bureaucracy both in Dover and in DC which micromanages every aspect of the educational process. So far, two elected officials have confirmed attendance: Senator Gary Simpson and Representative Harvey Kenton. We also have both GOP candidates for the 32nd House District, Will McVay and Ellis Parrott, who will be present.
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP to Matt Revel, our Programs Coordinator, at 734-2700, or e-mail him at matt@caesarrodney.org

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Wednesday the House Education Committee tabled HB 380.  The purpose of this bill is to revise the Delaware Charter School law by among other things requiring charter school applications be submitted to local school boards for review and consideration, require a face-to-face meeting with the charter school applicant to review and discuss the application, requiring statements about the impact on school district enrollment and financial programs, and eliminating five mile draw boundary.

The objectives of HB 380 seem reasonable until questions from House Members and testimony by the Charter Schools Network, CRI, Department of Education and other interested groups pointed out issues with the bill. Problems that include the application process, impact statements, administration of lotteries, the emphasis on the system taking focus away from the student, the logistical impact on families that would have made teacher and parent interaction difficult if not impossible for some, and the potential for influence  by unions and other special interest groups with specific agendas.

 

Rep Jaques’ intent was to start a conversation about Charter Schools and to promote a more civil discourse. He accomplished his purpose and after hearing all the discussion decided the bill should be tabled.

The focus now switches to Rep Schooley’s ‘blue ribbon’ committee on Charter Schools. She briefly outlined her plan at the end of the discussion on the Charter School Bill.

CRI is disappointed she continues to focus on one small part of the overall education system. A part that is less than 10% of the total K-12 enrollment, has some really stunning successes, and has a 58% minority enrollment. We agree they can be even better however they do not deserve the attention given them particularly when the larger problem of how poorly prepared students are for college or careers.

The focus must be on how to improve the education experience and results for all children in the total system including charter schools.

Over the past few years across the country there has been a revolution in innovation. Charter schools were created nearly twenty years ago to improve total student learning and to encourage different and innovated learning methods in exchange for being freed from some onerous regulations and influence; but charters are not enough.

Today innovation challenges the model of single or limited school choice. One model just doesn’t fit the diversity of student and family issues when there are available many different methods with private, religious, home schooling, virtual schooling – creative greenfield approaches that have the potential to overcome the lack of change over the past 50 years and overcome the ‘tuition barrier’ by opening up more funds for parents in all income levels to pay for the best education for their children.

Over next few months CRI will feature some of these through profiles, You Tube video and print articles.

And, CRI needs your support – make your concerns known to your elected representatives. The focus must be on renewing the total school system and expanding the opportunity for all to share the benefits of a great education system.

 

James E. Hosley

Director, Center for Education Excellence

 

 

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A couple of weeks ago, the Newark Charter School announced that its students produced “exceptional scores in social studies and science” per May 2009 DSTP data recently released by the State Board of Education.

The scores reflect high marks for the school’s 8th grade students.

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Per the school’s release,

Newark Charter School’s 8th grade students had the highest science and social studies scores in the state.  In science, 98.7% of the 8th graders met or exceeded the standards, and in social studies 97.4% did the same.  Also, in the State of Delaware, 5% of 8th grade students scored at the Distinguished level in Social Studies and 14% scored that high in Science.  At Newark Charter School, 46% of the 8th graders scored at the Distinguished level in Social Studies and 59% scored at the Distinguished level in Science.

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The scores are evidence that charter schools are a great alternative to traditional public schools. The bottom line is that Newark Charter continues to perform quite well and above state averages. Congratulations to the school and more importantly, its students.

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