Conservative journal: Charter schools aren’t fulfilling promise

It really says something when the conservative Indiana Policy Review publishes a lengthy article that essentially declares Indiana’s charter school experiment a failure.

Especially when the article’s author, Timothy P. Ehrgott, is a longtime school choice advocate who helped found one of the state’s first charter schools and was director of the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust, a privately funded voucher program.

But Ehrgott looks at the data and concludes that, after 12 years, Indiana charter schools aren’t doing what their advocates promised: producing better results with greater efficiency than public schools. Judging by the state’s A-F school grading system, he shows that public schools perform better than charter schools, even adjusting for location and for student poverty and race/ethnicity.

The question almost asks itself: Why fund charter schools as alternatives, when the existing schools are doing not only as well, but, as we’ve seen, much better?

Indeed, the results presented here are so lop-sided as to call into question not only any increase in the number or funding of charter schools, but perhaps even the wisdom of continuing to fund the majority of charter schools in our state.

Let’s be honest. If a medical study of a drug produced these kinds of results, with many more adverse outcomes than positive ones, the project would be shut down.

Ehrgott’s analysis is similar to one that I did two months ago, but he goes into considerably more detail; he also adds information on the history and philosophy of charter schools. He hits on the high points of the article in a newspaper column distributed by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.

Despite his disappointment, Ehrgott isn’t actually ready to end the charter school experiment – or maybe he just recognizes that isn’t going to happen.

Instead he says Indiana authorities should get serious about accountability: Shut down charter schools that get Ds and Fs, intervene with those that get Cs and put an end to “authorizer shopping.” He also suggests offering more ways for charter schools to pay for facilities and letting their students ride to and from school on public school buses.

Indiana steps into testing privacy mess

Regarding Indiana’s selection of British-owned testing giant Pearson to develop and run the ISTEP+ exam: The timing wasn’t the best, was it?

Last week the Indiana Department of Administration chose Pearson as the contractor for ISTEP+ math and English tests. The two-year contract is worth $38.1 million.

Two days later, a New Jersey blogger reported that Pearson was monitoring social media use by students taking tests it created for the PARCC consortium of states.

A test-security contractor said a girl in New Jersey had posted confidential test information on Twitter. Pearson apparently tracked down who she was and told the state education department, which informed local school officials.

The local superintendent vented about the overreach in what she thought was a private email. But it found its way to the inbox of blogger Bob Braun, who broke the story of Pearson snooping on students.

Pearson insisted the monitoring was necessary for test validity, but a lot of people weren’t buying it. Continue reading

‘Scholarship granting organizations’ drive Indiana voucher expansion

Donations for private school scholarships yield big returns from taxpayers

Here’s a feature of Indiana’s school voucher program that we critics may have overlooked. The program’s rapid growth is being driven by the awarding of vouchers to students who previously received private school scholarships – even small ones – from what the state calls scholarship granting organizations.

Credit Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Publication Education for calling attention to the situation in a column highlighting findings of the annual school voucher report from the Indiana Department of Education.

The DOE report reveals that four of five first-time voucher recipients in 2014-15 had never attended a public school. And nearly two-thirds the 10,500 new voucher recipients qualified because they or a sibling had previously received a scholarship from a nonprofit scholarship granting organization.

“This is simply giving vouchers not to those low-income families who wanted to make a choice but to families who had already made the choice and now just want the taxpayers to pay for their child’s private or religious education,” Smith writes.

As Smith suggests, many of these families are not low-income. Scholarships from scholarship granting organizations – and the resulting vouchers – are available to families that make up to 370 percent of the federal poverty rate: over $100,000 for a family of five.

When the voucher program was created in 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels sold the idea as a way to let poor kids escape “failing” public schools; he said they would have to attend a public school for a year to qualify. Later the program was expanded to let in siblings; special-needs students; and students who, if not for a voucher, would attend a public school that got an F on Indiana’s grading system.

Those are the voucher routes that attracted most of the attention. But from the start, students could also qualify if they previously received support from a state-approved scholarship granting organization, under a tax credit program that pre-dated vouchers. Continue reading

An open letter to Condoleezza Rice

Dear Dr. Rice,

I read that you recently told a TV interviewer, “Anybody who isn’t in favor of school choice, anybody who isn’t in favor of educational reform, anybody who defends the status quo in the educational system, that’s racist to me.”

I don’t support the status quo. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does. We all want schools to get better, although many of us disagree about how to make that happen.

But I don’t favor school choice as a tactic for improving education. And I very much am not in favor of the “education reform” agenda that promotes charter schools and private-school vouchers as an alternative to public schools. I haven’t seen any evidence that approach is working.

I don’t think that makes me or my views racist. Let me try to explain.

First, the idea that school choice will help “poor black kids trapped in failing neighborhood schools,” as you put it, may sound good, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, the growth of charter schools has created a two-tiered system that favors children with engaged and savvy parents.

As Iris C. Rotberg wrote in the Phi Delta Kappan, numerous studies show school choice has increased segregation of students by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, our schools are getting more separate and less equal. School choice is making this worse. Continue reading

Teachers union and advocacy group – not two sides of same coin

While Indiana legislators make their usual mischief at the Statehouse, it’s a good time to look back to the 2014 elections and recall who helped them win office.

And when we focus on education, that would primarily be Hoosiers for Quality Education for the Republicans and the Indiana State Teachers Association for the Democrats. Both spent a bunch of money trying to influence key elections, especially where the campaigns centered on education.

You might think they’re two sides of the same coin, each trying to push Indiana election policy. But there’s an important difference – in where their money comes from and whom they represent.

The ISTA contributes to election campaigns through its political arm, the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education. The committee gets nearly all its money from Indiana teachers and education support staff who voluntarily donate $24 a year. Hoosiers for Quality Education, on the other hand, gets most of its funding from a few wealthy people – many of them non-Hoosiers — who support a free-market approach of education.

Based on campaign finance reports that were posted recently, Hoosiers for Quality Education spent $690,000 on the 2014 elections, nearly all of it in contributions to Republican candidates and committees. I-PACE spent almost $1.3 million, most of it going to Democratic candidates. Continue reading

Voucher program growing – and changing

Indiana’s school voucher population is getting whiter, more affluent – and a whole lot bigger. That’s the conclusion to draw from a report on the voucher program released this week by the Indiana Department of Education. A few highlights:

  • More than 29,000 students are getting vouchers, seven times as many as when the program started in 2011-12 and a 46 percent increase from a year ago.
  • 61 percent of voucher students are non-Hispanic white, up from 46 percent in the first year. That’s despite the fact that most voucher enrollment is in urban areas.
  • Only 31 percent of voucher students are African-American or Hispanic, down from 44 percent the first year.
  • Three in 10 are from higher-income families that receive less than the full voucher amount, double the percentage in the first year of the program.

Indiana taxpayers are paying more than $116 million this year for tuition at 314 private schools – nearly all of them religious schools, and almost all of those Christian schools.

And vouchers are going to families that are far from poor.

For a family that makes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, students get 90 percent of what it would cost for them to attend the local public school, typically over $5,000 a year. (The amount is currently capped at $4,800 for grades K-8).

Students from families earning up to 277 percent of the poverty level qualify for 50 percent of the cost of attending the local public school. And they don’t lose the vouchers if the family’s income rises, up to 370 percent of poverty. Continue reading

House budget shifts funding to schools in affluent areas

The Indiana House Republicans vowed to equalize school funding, and that’s what they are doing with the budget they put forward this week. They’re doing it by taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Their state budget and school funding formula cuts 25 percent — $290 million – from the complexity index, the formula Indiana uses to steer extra money to high-poverty schools.

The result is predictable: more money for school districts with few poor students, and less money for districts with many poor students. The 10 lowest-poverty districts get per-pupil increases ranging from 4.4 percent to 6 percent. The 10 highest-poverty districts all get their per-pupil funding cut.

High-poverty school districts will still get more money, per pupil, than low-poverty districts. But the gap narrows. Schools with the most challenging demographics will do with less.

That said, the House plan would do better by public schools than Gov. Mike Pence’s budget proposal. It provides more money: Increases of 2.3 percent each of the next two years compared to Pence’s 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the second year. And under Pence’s proposal, fully 30 percent of the K-12 funding increase in fiscal 2016 would have gone to charter schools, which serve less than 3 percent of Indiana students.

The House plan keeps Pence’s $1,500-per-pupil grant program for charter schools. But unlike the governor’s it would fund the grant with a $20 million per year budget line – it wouldn’t take the money out of the pot for regular public schools. And the charter-school grants could pay only for buildings, technology and transportation, not for teacher salaries and regular operating expenses. Continue reading