Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Boxcar bills" waiting until the last two weeks to start big education budget battles

I've been torn lately -- so much going on at the legislature and so little time to write about it. The small government loving Utah legislature has proposed 109 bills related to education for the 2011 legislative session. That is not counting the 19 abandoned bills at the bottom of the page or other education related bills not labeled as such like Rep. Draxler's bill HB 25 using "excess" oil and gas taxes to create "petroleum literacy" materials for elementary schools.

There are also numerous "boxcar" bills (meaning they have a name and a number, but the sponsor has not chosen to allow anyone to read the text of the bill yet with only 2 1/2 weeks remaining of the session ) sitting like timebombs, waiting to be sprung onto the floor "under suspension of the rules," which means they can be rapidly debated on the floor with no committee hearing to allow public comment and which also prevents the public and legislators alike from having time to read and understand the bill before it gets voted on. Some of these bills I've been watching finally received text on Monday, Feb. 21, Presidents Day.

There are multiple final education budget battles looming as likely candidates for last minute shenanigans, including again stealing locally voted funds for charter schools, de facto vouchers as "backpack" funding, funding for reading programs for K-2, actually funding growth instead of just moving funds around and claiming to fund new students, or completely removing the ability for local districts to raise taxes while increasing the sales tax on food, which is of course controlled and distributed by the state legislature. Watch Howard Stephenson who has a history of anti-education last-minute tactics and also has a bill tucked away intended to make school board elections partisan. Rep. Merlynn Newbold is his frequent partner in crime, initiating Stephenson's ideas as bills in the House -- like HB 313, an empty boxcar bill replacing the Charter School Finance Amendments bill Stephenson abandoned -- so it isn't as obvious how much Senator Stephenson is single-handedly manipulating education policy in Utah.

Here are some doozies to watch out for. These are all boxcar bills as of Feb. 21 if they are listed, unless I explain when the bill was made public next to the item on the list. You can sign up at the bottom of each link to receive email updates if and when these bills become active. Notice how many have vague titles about "amendments" and "modifications" which lets the legislator stick in anything they want at the last minute.

H.B. 65 Public School Funding -- Harper, W. Received text last week. Financial mumbo-jumbo that would usurp some local taxing control.
H.B. 123 K-12 Education Amendments -- Sumsion, K. Received text yesterday. This bill would totally change the whole basis of how the state distributes education funding, likely giving more to charter schools. It would also shorten terms for school board members. No big deal to hold it until the end.
H.B. 145 Education Amendments -- Eliason, S.
H.B. 151 Compulsory Education Amendments -- Briscoe, J. Received text last week. Would make kindergarten non-optional.
H.B. 290 Public School Transportation Amendments -- Wimmer, C.
H.B. 301 School District Property Tax Revisions -- Newbold, M. Received text last week. Another example of the legislature taking away local tax control and giving the power to themselves.
H.B. 302 Reading Program Amendments -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 307 Public Broadcasting Funding -- Herrod, C. Though Chris Vanocur has already revealed the liberal plot on this one.
H.B. 313 Charter School Funding Amendments -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 339 Charter School Enrollment Amendments -- Hutchings, E.
H.B. 346 Provisional Teaching Modifications -- Herrod, C.
H.B. 377 Higher Education Textbook Fairness Act -- Cox, F. Aimed at specific companies or increasing conservative leaning texts?
H.B. 388 Financial Oversight of Charter Schools -- Herrod, C.
H.B. 426 Education Funding Amendments -- Pitcher, D.
H.B. 427 Education Modifications -- Newbold, M.
H.B. 443 School Business Administrator Amendments -- Richardson, H.
H.B. 447 Modifications to Education -- Dee, B.
H.B. 455 Land Exchange Distribution Account Amendments -- Noel, M. Presumably related to this dust-up over HB 98 where Noel wants to further remove local control from counties. (Click on the Floor Debate audio file to hear his rant) Related to HB 400 yet another boxcar which Rolly references?
H.B. 464 State-Supported Voted Leeway Program Amendments -- Briscoe, J.
S.B. 4 Current School Year Supplemental Minimum School Program Budget Adjustments -- Buttars, D. C.
S.B. 78 Public School Early Graduation Counseling -- Buttars, D. C. Received text yesterday. Actually seems like an easy, good idea rather than eliminating 12th grade.
S.B. 163 School Restructuring -- Stephenson, H. Stephenson bragged on his radio show that this bill is intended to close down a set number of schools each year. No need to consult the teachers on this one, let alone the parents. Great candidate for a rushed debate.
S.B. 210 Utah Postsecondary Proprietary School Act Amendments -- Bramble, C. Received text yesterday. One of two or three bills Bramble is running about the regulation and taxation of private schools and training programs. I have no idea what these bills will do, but I smell a tax break for "economic development."
S.B. 217 Education Policy Amendments -- Bramble, C.
S.B. 224 Partisan School Board Elections -- Stephenson, H. Of course a "school board elections" bill run by the chair of the Senate Education Committee was not labeled education. Easy to miss this one.
S.B. 227 Student Based Funding for Public Education -- Liljenquist, D. "Backpack" funding. The PCE and charter lobbyists will hit hard for these pseudo-vouchers when this bill is unveiled in the near future.
S.B. 241 Tuition Waiver Amendments -- Hinkins, D.
S.B. 245 Higher Education Tuition Revisions -- Valentine, J.
S.B. 256 Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process -- Adams, J. S.
S.B. 263 State Board of Education Powers Amendments -- Buttars, D. C.
S.B. 265 State Charter School Board Modifications -- Madsen, M. Unnecessary due to SB 140?
S.B. 278 School District Modifications -- Bramble, C.
S.B. 292 Private Institutions of Higher Education -- Valentine, J.
S.B. 304 Bullying Amendments -- Okerlund, R.
S.B. 305 Economic Development Through Education / Career Alignment -- Stephenson, H. Stephenson's 2.5 to 8 million dollar career web app and chat room that will convince undergrads not to be dance majors. And of course, IBM developed this one-of-a-kind software prototype at his request (meaning no private company has seen promise in making a for-profit chat room developed around career information easily searchable for free already), but Senator Stephenson "doesn't know" if they would win a bid for this service. We have seen this before.
S.B. 316 Disclosure of State and Institutional Trust Lands Information -- Niederhauser, W.

I am 99% sure I have missed some boxcars or recently posted bills, but here are at least 36 education-related bills which have either not been posted for public viewing or only received their text in the last week. These last two weeks could get even uglier for education in what is already the worst session in recent memory...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Virtual Vouchers bill, SB 65 by Howard Stephenson, passes committee -- My notes of the meeting

I posted about the "Virtual Voucher bill" a couple of weeks ago. I was able to listen to the committee hearing for the bill yesterday, which went much longer than I expected.

Committee hearings are the background nitty-gritty of the legislature where 95% of the meaningful debate and education about bills occurs. Fewer legislators are present; those legislators have more leeway to ask questions and read supporting evidence about the bills; they have been in that ongoing committee and usually have more background and expertise on the subject matter than the legislature as a whole; and the public is allowed to comment which usually brings in further expertise and perspective not possible in the stilted parliamentary procedure of the legislative floor meetings tightly controlled by the Senate President and Speaker of the House. The floor debate usually just repeats talking points as a matter of course, very rarely actually changing anyone's mind. In the majority of debates, everyone already knows if the bill will pass or fail before it is brought before the body.

So the committee hearings are the place to get good background and info about a proposed bill. You can listen to the audio of the Feb. 8, 2011 meeting of the Senate Education Committee here.

However, it is over 90 minutes long. My notes will probably take you 10-15 minutes to read and cover all of the main points. They are definitely not perfect and I especially apologize to anyone's name I butchered. I listened to the hearing live and just tried to keep up as I took notes. If anyone feels my summarization misrepresents what someone said, let me know and I'll go back and listen.

I inserted a few comments of my own as I typed and a couple afterward as I looked over the notes. They are in brackets. Realize that there are two senators with similar names on the Senate Education Committee. Howard Stephenson is the sponsor of the bill. Jerry Stevenson is another member of the committee. My shorthand for their names will make sense if you know that.

My notes:
[Annoying because starts late with no warning, missed first part of Sen. Stephenson's comments.]

Stephenson - Some book says high school families will demand better than current.
Claims 3 time teacher of the year John Taylor Gotto said NY schools were intentionally designed for mediocrity because business bosses were threatened by social mobility and need for labor. System hurts kids. We can learn from that. We can respect learning styles much better than before.

Current factory model puts 30 kids in a cubicle and one adult trying to pour knowledge uniformly into different minds. Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences, no bell curve of intelligence. More efficient to teach to middle, bore some, lose some. Instead 3-D bell that is impossible for one teacher to reach. We can now respect diff styles through online learning. Brain research shows that self-directed learning is more rapid and deep than otherwise. Research in seminars. Synapses of brain connect when we make a choice and become a permanent connection when we receive feedback if we are correct or incorrect. If no feedback, synapses withdraw as if connection were never made. We need to provide immediate interactive feedback. Piaget said anyone could be highly proficient in math and science with immediate feedback. [A teacher online with no class size limit cannot provide this. A software program can only provide concrete answers and can't help much with process. Writing software is a joke.] Today it can be provided by computer. Tech is available today, bit not in classroom. Lack of vision for using these modern tools.

This bill allows students to get online instruction. Online provider is paid 60% at beginning of course, and 40% when student tests proficient. [Multiple choice tests?? Given by provider? Or will CRT be test?] We're trying to scale this in a reasonable way and not just open floodgates because we don't know how many will apply. So 2 credits available ion first year and more each year until reach 6 credits. Portion paid up front and remainder as competency proven.

Niederhauser asks for more explanation of provisions of bill.

Steph -- Definitions on pg. 4. Pg. 5 purposes of the program. Pg. 6 Option to enroll and phased scaling of program so ultimately option for student to get all credit through online means. this doesn't take away from fact there are established online schools. They will have to compete with other providers. Those I’ve talked with welcome the competition be/c can provide for other students that only want 1 or 2 course rather than whole year. Requirement for online providers to be authorized by law, State Office of Ed. Must be certified by State Board. Standards for online course providers. Then payment process. 60% up front, rest as competencies are proven. pg. 9 Plan for payment also identified. Requirement for course credit to be recognized. Then administrative things. Then we want to require a report on online course providers so we have transparency who is performing. Make available to public to decide who they want. Rule making by State board of Ed. Legislature will review results as ongoing.

Niederhauser acting as chair-- About 15 public people to talk about bill.

Superintendent Shumway -- I'm a strong believer that direction of this bill is the right direction. I appreciate intentions of sponsor. Is their a fiscal note? Or do you have any idea what it might be?

Steph: Not yet. I don't think it will be significant b/c not new funding. Takes current funding of students in schools.

Shumway: I met w/ Sen. Stephenson prior to meeting and discussed bill a lot. Primary area I hope Stephenson will be open to change is phasing language. To provide time to deal with problems I didn't anticipate. There are many options for phasing. I really hope you will be open to that discussion before going to floor.

Steph: I'm open. Currently, it was meant to not open floodgates. Dr. Shumway suggested to me with another way of phasing it. Maybe start w/ few districts and few providers.

Shumway: As my staff and I, I see significant rule-making and monitoring and support necessary. I want to do it in way that doesn't constrain intention of the bill to provide more online opportunity but provide for quality.

J Stevenson - I don't like idea of limiting, but I see necessity of making it not a burden on dept. of ed.

Shumway: I spoke with staff. Long line of things to be resolved: FERPA, transfers, special ed. Not to throw down roadblocks, but to work together on implementation.

Steph: This bill puts burdens on board to plow new ground with rules. 2 ways to get publicly funded school now: Online high school at state office and charter schools. I'm hoping we can expand as drastically as possible these opportunities. I believe making them make rules respects their constitutional prerogative to make rules over education.

Ashley Hanson: Student at open high school - I really love this school. Teachers, activities, getting to know people. Teachers email me back in 10 min. I can see my grades easily. Nied: All courses online? Ashley: Yes: Nied: When? Ash: Most of day until about 3:00.

Mother and teacher: My son went to 9th grade charter school in N. Utah, New Aims school. Sounded great. Big problem in first week with bussing. The charter school had to bus students from certain distance b/c was public school. [This seems fishy to me. Charter schools don’t have to bus students now. Have they ever?] Was a hard issue. If this is a charter school, taking public funds, is school responsible to provide internet access, computers, laptops, etc.? What if student wants online class and can't use school computer lab? Will online high schools be responsible for internet access and computers with certain specifications?

J Stevenson: New Aims is by Davis District and very successful.

Mom: They fell under state laws that they didn't understand.

Leslie Phillips, mother and electronic high school 4-yr teacher, 20-yr teacher overall: Teachers at elec high school have been discussing strengths and weaknesses of bill. I brought handout and summary of our concerns. I think one of the keys to online ed working is relationship w/ schools. We have great relationship w/ schools b/c we don't charge them. they provide computers, admin and counseling support. We share curric. Aims and Granite using our curric. If you take us out of service role and put us in competition w/ districts and schools, will hurt support and mean fewer opps to students. Example. I teach English 12, half are juniors who want to grad early encouraged by counselors. Law says can't discourage, but provides incentives to not encourage. Rigor of curric will also suffer. I teach eng and class is tough. My 1st duty is to students. But bring in for profit orgs and their duty is to share holders. 16-yr-olds will choose between easy and quality. For profit will play to those consumers and water down curriculum.

J Stevenson - Sen Stephenson has expressed worries about completion rates. Reason for 60 up front, but 40 after. What is elec high school completion rate?

Leslie - I don't know. Principal is here, she can tell you.

Kathleen Webb, prin of elec high school: Depends what you mean. In some online environments, they don't count students until in for a month., count all grades, including F as completion. We have in past measured since day in class, and whether they receive a credit. From 20% to 50%. If count as other online high schools, our grad rate would be higher.

J Stev: H Steph, what is your definition of credit?

H Steph: Get a credit.

J Stev: Based on that, what is rate %?

Webb: I don't know grad rate. We don't track that. About 7,000 students received funding last year.

Stev: That's uncomfortable.

Nied: Do you want to speak? No. How are you funded then?

Webb: We're a line item in budget. We received 3,000 FTE's. All courses of all students adds up to about 600 full-time students.

Jackie Warren w/ 14-yr-old daughter: My 14-yr-old daughter is in 9th grade. 6th grade honors after home school. Skipped 7th grade and went to 8th. She is in 9th. Her counselor suggested she go to online ed b/c she is too advanced. She is very frustrated w/ education system. She has ideas how to better school system in USA.

Nied: She should be legislator. (Laughs)

Warren: She's on her way. She wants to be a JAG officer in Marine Corp and go into politics form there. She has issues in school b/c 12th grade reading and comprehension level. 9th and 11th grade students don't know the word sarcastic. These students don't belong in school system. They don't know meaning of redundant or sarcastic. When counselor comes to me, that your student is too advanced, so go to online system, after I came to USA from Australia, which was bad--So we need online b/c US system is screwed up and we should go for it. But current bill doesn't allow that.

Female - ______ Meyer student: We are not currently retaining enough knowledge. Onoine school will help retain better, help slower do well and advanced accelerate, we should do it.

Laura Belnap, Principal of Online school Washington District: online ed for 9 years, my kids have used elec high school and other things, purchased software. Online ed is a complement to traditional. Traditional school is all or nothing, no options. Need flexibility, esp in cash-strapped system. Wonderful Bountiful photography teacher cut b/c of funding. Could do online. Provides options, ed w/o boundaries, but stable parameters. Online ed is no longer cutting edge, is now mainstream and probably the future. Thanks Sen Stephenson.

Elaina Tonks, direc of Open High School, one of 2 online charter schools: Misperception--charter schools are public schools. I take many calls from parents wishing one or two classes, especially health and biology classes. Schedules make this hard. Many advanced students don't fit into factory ssetem. Many others want a slower pace. We can leverage tech promise and meet the needs of every single student. At our school, we focus on student as individual. We have choices in every phase of our life. Can choose Harmans over Smiths, cars, gas, etc. Students and parents deserve to have a say in how their child is educated. Students deserve access to best courses and teachers. We put our stakeholder's report in handout w/ grad rates, scores, etc.

Kelly Broadbent, parent of Open High School student, former teacher, board member of school: My son Nathan had stumbling blocks in last school. Needed diff approach. This school provided a teacher who can individualize instruction. Teachers are inventive and passionate. Exciting. No busty work, every assignment has purpose. [She is reading a sales pitch...She likes it, but brother.] Get skills not offered at school, slower or faster paced courses. This bill would allow more flexibility and best time of day and day of week. More opps to learn and grow.

Former superintendent, Patty Harrington: I represent self, not school boards assoc. today. - I also love tech. We don't have enough in public system. We need to improve. I love parts of this bill. An interim study of WPU funding. What about students who go to school and do online after and use more than 1 WPU? Like planned site to connect providers, including private providers. I have concerns. I want report, lines 270-284, about accountability of providers. Do we need districts to contract w/ private companies? Tracking requirements are laudable, but almost impossible. We need to look at it. Much is already happening. Elec high school, 2 charter schools Davis and Washington District we heard from. Private providers. Colleges provide. I have discussed with Steph frustration with credits from online schools not being accepted. This is a voucher bill giving public money to support private companies.

Some lady they know (UEA)? [Ends up being Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh]: Sen. Steph, appreciate passion for online ed and multiple intelligence. I heard in approp. committee this morning. Deaf and blind begging for money, K-3 reading begging, transportation begging. I'm concerned about money without funding basic program. Lines 260-267 = vouchers. Pay to private schools. Completion rates--what about students not completing? Would 60% already gone be returned to LEA's? WPU would be sent, my tax dollars out of state to online providers? No limits on class size. No way to monitor quality of services. In light of budget cuts, not expand a program when trying to keep basic, minimum services at this point.

Carry Valentine, parent: I heard this afternoon and raced down here. I have 3 students. 2 in school, Jr High and Elem. Fit public school mold. My other son is in Utah Virtual Academy and fits that mold very well. Would a student be enrolled concurrently in public and private school? We had to withdraw our son. That sounds like logistical nightmare to administer student in both. How would my tax dollars provide both? Would my tax dollars already increase? How divvy up? How is this different than what is already provided? Can purchase more or less privately. Parents provide $ currently, not public. In light of current budget situation, seems redundant to provide things already provided when cutting. Let's look at direction of public ed like universities. Provide online option along with classroom model.

Victor Shanti: Board qualified psychologist from U of U, parent of student both online charters, traditional schools, and private schools. My son was not being challenged, given false sense of compassion for African American student, low expectations. Machine didn't have that bias. 2 types. Machine ?'s and instantaneous feedback and person teaching via computer. He raised reading level in 6 months. Better expectations. Standards of proprietary schools not necessarily lower than public schools. Our school had high standards, tracking, success rate. I know there is a conflict between retention of employees which cost a lot. Leverage one employee through machines can save a lot of cost. We put him in charter school after machine learning, now he is not in lower quintile, but in middle range at traditional charter school. I favor bill and expansion of online ed.

Mother of 3 children in Utah Public system: I have read bill many times in last week. I am favor of online ed and all possible choices. There are legitimate concerns. This looks like system behind times and unnecessary. We already have quality online ed, not perfect, but offered and available. Current system works in conjunction with pub schools w/o competing for WPU's or other money. The limits would limit students making up credit initially. Current system allows. [Interrupted here] Something about limiting private and homeschool students.

This would open door to WPU going to private services by choice of student. I support choice, but not pub money going to private schools. Accounting would be confusing to districts, cause conflict. Stephenson says bill would allow choice. I think bill would hamper choice and complicate things. He also said $ to private entities. This is simply a voucher proposal.

Nied: Last 3 people allowed to speak.

Stan Rassmussen, Sutherland Inst. We support SB 65 to help families. Need customized and personalized ed. This describes online ed. Avoids other requirements of time or place. Allows parents primary control over education of children. Doesn't require parents to meet schools' terms. Not driven by adults. Student can take some online and some on site. Develop social skills while avoid social problems. Study found students in online schools as well socialized, and not significant differences in bad social behaviors. Focuses on student learning. Study shows discussion between teachers and parents is focused more on learning than trad schools.

Judi Clark, PCE director: We heard v-word thrown around with animosity. This is not voucher program. Several districts are using private providers already. That is a concern for establishment. Puts emphasis on individual needs and helps digital natives. We love that funding is extremely efficient. These precious dollars will go to provider of student choice. Rather than protect systems that are entrenched.

Person in red Shirt: David Salazar, student at OHSU, charter school: Me being able to work online. I only passed public school b/c teacher was sick of me b/c I was causing probs and ditching school. Now I can't do that. They notify parents right away when I don't finish work. Now I know computer tech, Skype. These teachers actually helped me. My other teachers wouldn't help me when I didn't put in the work. Better than public school. My teachers contact me every day and I get help right away.

Back to committee:
Sen. Thatcher - I think everyone understands that online is great for those who choose and can learn that way. My concern is how track completion online? I know some children do not have self-motivation to complete online. How know students actually getting ed we're paying for?

Sen. Stephenson - The tracking of completion rates under my bill would change current paradigm. Elec high school was uncertain how to define completion rates. Get paid for completion. Tracking will be pretty clear. I have confidence State Board will make good rules. Miss Gee [That’s what I heard…] from UEA wanted 60% back if student doesn't complete. I support that, but also for high schools. If students doesn't complete, then high school gives back money too. [choice people clap] That's answer to question.

Thatcher - If completion rate is so low? How educate?

Stephenson - Best to now pay 60% to allow staffing other things, etc. Future we can make it all dependent and refund all on completion.

Thatcher: People willing to educate on conditional basis?

Stephenson: Now online schools only get $2500 for WPU, when average student, including capital outlay, uses $8500. [DISHONEST use of numbers. Same as voucher debate. No school being built in Saratoga Springs has its locally bonded construction funds divvied up among the students of Utah. I don’t get the funding now. The online voucher kids will get more than the WPU??!] Providers want to compete. Only online school concerned is elec high school [Of two that testified]. They get a line item in budget. I supported online high school. Now it's time for them to get funded on merit. Students will start to review ratings of providers. They will check ratings about support, other things. Provides transparency for online education.

Thatcher - I'd love to see adjustment made in implementation timeline. Allow children to excel, move quickly, but balance burden on schools. I want you to continue to work with Superintendent Shumway.

J Stevenson - I like discussion today. This is direction of future. Knowing Steph will work with Sup. Shumway, I move this be passed to Senate floor.

Steph: Thanks for input. I will work with Sup. Shumway. I think some exceptions will be provided for students who thrive in this environment. Let them take more than 2 credits.

[I don’t think all classes can be transmitted and experienced online. English? History? Debate? Not same experience. The goal of college readiness will not be improved by online education, although it definitely has an important role. Relying on it to spend less $ on public education and make a philosophical voucher beachhead of transferring funds to private schools is the true goal here.]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quick version without background: Utah is copying New York's school grading system, not Florida's

The Senate Education Committee is voting on SB 59 School Grading System today at 2:15.

I have more to add about the methodology and effectiveness of the bill and the newest information about Florida's school grade improvement but here is the book excerpt I will include again in a post today or tomorrow.

Diane Ravitch is an educational historian who advised both George Herbert Bush and George W. bush on education and was a strong supporter of “market based” reforms and No Child Left Behind. She explains in her book why she has changed her position on many of these reforms after reviewing results.

From The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The underlined section was underlined by me.

pg. 164
Another (albeit mixed) example of positive accountability can be found in Florida, where the state gives a single letter grade, ranging from A to F, to all public schools. This is a practice I abhor, as I think it is harmful to stigmatize a complex institution with a letter grade, just as ridiculous to send a child home with a report card that contained only a single letter grade to summarize her performance in all her various courses and programs. That said, after the grades are handed out, the state quickly steps in to help the D and F schools with technical support, consultants, coaches, and materials. As a result of the state's supportive response, most of the low-rated schools have improved. For nearly seven years, the state sanctioned F-rated schools by giving vouchers to their students, who could use them to attend a private or better-performing public school. In 2006, a Florida court declared the voucher program unconstitutional.

pg. 85-87
The accountability movement entered a new phase in the fall of 2007, when the DOE revealed what it called progress reports for each school. Each school received a single letter grade, from A to F. This approach mirrored the grading system introduced in Florida by then-governor Jeb Bush a few years earlier. Most of each school's grade was based on year-to-year changes in standardized test scores (its "progress"), as compared to a group of schools that were demographically similar; if a school's scores went up, it was likely to win an A or B. If they remained flat or slipped, the school was almost certain to get a C, D, or F.

Some excellent schools, known for their sense of community and consistently high scores, received an F because their scores dipped by a few points. Some very low-performing schools, even some schools the State Education Department ranked as persistently dangerous, received an A because they showed some improvement.

To add to the confusion, the city's grades were inconsistent with the ratings issued by the State Education Department in accordance with No Child Left Behind. If schools failed to meet their adequate yearly progress goals under the federal NCLB law, they were called SINI schools, or "schools in need of improvement." If schools consistently performed poorly, the state called them SURR schools or "schools under registration review." In the first year hat school grades were issued, the city awarded an A or B to about half of the 350 schools the state said were SINI or SURR. More than half of the fifty schools that received an F from the city were in good standing with the state and the federal law. The next year, 89 percent of the F schools were in good standing according to NCLB standards, as were 48 percent of D schools.

In 2009, the city's accountability system produced bizarre results. An amazing 84 percent of 1,058 elementary and middle schools received an A (compared with 23 percent in 2007), and an additional 13 percent got a B. Only twenty-seven schools received a grade of C, D, or F. Even four schools the state said were "persistently dangerous" received an A. The Department of Education hailed these results as evidence of academic progress, but the usually supportive local press was incredulous. The New York Post called the results "ridiculous" and said, "As it stands now, the grades convey nearly no useful information whatsoever." The New York Daily News described the reports as a "stupid card trick" and a "big flub" that rendered the annual school reports "nearly meaningless to thousands of parents who look to the summaries for guidance as to which schools serve kids best."

The debacle of the grading system had two sources: First, it relied on year-to-year changes in scores, which are subject to random error and are thus unreliable. Second, the scores were hugely inflated by the state's secret decision to lower the points needed to advance on state tests. Consequently, the city's flawed grading system produced results that few found credible, while the Department of Education was obliged to pay teachers nearly $30 million in bonuses--based on dumbed-down state tests--as part of its "merit pay" plan.

How could parents make sense of the conflicting reports from the city, state, and federal accountability systems? Should they send their children to a school that got an A from the city, even though the state said the same school was low-performing and persistently dangerous? Should they pull their child out of a highly regarded neighborhood school where 90 percent of the kids passed the state exams but the city gave it an F? The city had no plan to improve low-performing schools, other than to warn them that they were in danger of being closed down. Shame and humiliation were considered adequate remedies to spur improvement. Pedro Noguera of New York University observed that the Department of Education failed to provide the large schools with the support and guidance they needed to improve. "They don't have a school-change strategy," Noguera said. "They have a school-shutdown strategy." Chancellor Klein acknowledged that opening and closing schools was an essential element in the market-based system of school choice that he preferred. He said "It's basically a supply-and-demand pattern...This is about improving the system, not necessarily about improving every single school." But there was no reason to believe that closing a school and opening a new one would necessarily produce superior results; in fact, half of the city's ten worst-performing schools on the state math tests in 2009 were new schools that had been opened to replace failing schools. [My note: SB 59 has no provisions to assist "F" schools in any way. Howard Stephenson has a bill in the chute to close a certain numbers of schools each year. He apparently means to replace them with charter schools that can limit the number of students and online classes. The extra students who aren't accepted to the charter schools or who need more help than an online class can provide...drive further.]

HB 83 and SB 140 update: It's hard not to be paranoid

Update on my previous post about HB 83 and SB 140. One is apparently harmless and the other appears necessary even if it is annoying.

I was actually able to listen to most of the committee discussion on HB 83 Charter School Revolving Account, though it was short and I was interrupted a little bit. From the various organizations unanimously in support, it seems like a positive technical change. However, I was frustrated that no one actually explained what the difference was in the account designation beyond general statements like "It will now be in the proper place to do what the account was intended to do." Maybe it's detailed and boring, but I would appreciate even a one minute summary to give the public some idea of why these changes are being made.

SB 140 State Charter School Board Amendments appears to be a necessary change. I haven't been able to go back and listen to the committee discussion, but I read these two short summaries: Trib and D-News. For once, the Deseret News actually gave a lot more detail about the bill. For the State Charter School Board to effectively support and advise new charter schools, I agree it seems best to ensure there is more specific experience rather than just general experience on the board. Unfortunately, there is a relatively small pool of politically connected and lobbyist connected candidates who hold that experience, but I guess it's a necessary evil in this case.

It also appears I need to educate myself on the differences between the State Charter School Board and the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. They must work closely and have a lot of overlap, but I like that the State Charter Board appears willing to assist schools which the Association has moved away from.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Legalese: Serious question--What do HB 83 and SB 140 do? Put lobbyists into charter school code?

I think I follow the session, especially education related issues, as close as anyone not on Capitol Hill, but there are just so many laws and so many meetings that it is impossible to keep up. Plus, "education issues" encompasses a huge range of topics and I don't think anyone can understand the background and impact of every bill in every area.

This leads to my questions about two charter school bills from the Red Meat Regulators, Rep. Greg Hughes and Sen. Howard Stephenson. I just don't know enough about the technical twists of charter school funding and governance to understand the potential impacts of the bills. They will both be discussed in committee tomorrow, Feb. 2, 2011, and finding time to go back and listen to the audio after missing the live hearings will be tough for me this week. The written minutes of both the Senate and House Education Committees don't help either, listing the bare bones of who spoke for or against proposals. (As opposed to the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee--composed of both senators and House representatives who hash out the budget--which posts long, detailed minutes of debate.)

So, anyone interested, please listen and post here about the bills. I would love detailed summaries of debate, but I'll take even a quick snapshot. What is the rationale behind the bills? What are the claimed benefits? Who spoke in support and opposition of the bills?

1. SB 140 State Charter School Board Amendments -- Howard Stephenson
Senate Education Committee meeting, 9:00 AM, Feb 2, 2011
(The committees often start 5-20 minutes late. If you refresh the Meeting Schedule page I linked to, a Live Audio icon will appear next to the date when the meeting begins. You will need Real Player.)

There is already a seven member State Charter School Board that the governor appoints after receiving nominations from charter schools and the State Board of Education. I would not be able to explain very well what they do. This bill summary states that the bill:
"provides that of the seven members appointed by the governor to the State Charter School Board, three members shall: be nominated by an organization that represents Utah's charter schools; and have expertise or experience in developing or administering a charter school;

allows the governor to seek nominations from more than one organization that represents Utah's charter schools;

allows the governor to remove a member of the State Charter School Board at any time for official misconduct, habitual or willful neglect of duty, or for other good and sufficient cause;

What is the purpose of the bill? Looking at the bill text, I'm guessing it was fuzzy exactly who decided the nominations in behalf of "charter schools." The bill mandates now that the nominations will made by "organizations" that represent and manage charter schools. That seems like power is being given to the few charter school lobbyists and management companies who are almost 100% connected with conservative legislators and the Parents for Choice in Education voucher crowd. This City Weekly article treats the Utah Association of Charter Schools Board as the "State Charter Board." Is that accurate? If not, the association is another of the advocacy groups given power to pick the members of the state board. The article delved into the massive conflicts of interest on the association board, with legislators (Craig Frank) and board members profiting from contracts. 4 of the 7 members are are either directors or trustees of PCE, and most also run for-profit charter school contract management companies. The new board forced out the executive director of the association right after the previous article was written because he was providing too much "training and support" of charter schools, which of course conflicted with the business interests of the management company owners.

I have also written a couple of times about how Howard Stephenson purposely changed charter school law last year to allow conflicts of interest, and how at least one lobbyist/charter school board chair with ties to Howard Stephenson is now paying his sister's company $986 per student.

So I'm very suspicious that this purpose of the bill is literally to give board selection authority to lobbyists and relatives like Lincoln Fillmore, Jed Stevenson, and Carolyn Sharette. (Those are basically the only active charter management organizations in the state.) I would love to hear if I am wrong or right on this one.

2. HB 83 Charter School Revolving Account -- Greg Hughes
House Education Committee meeting, 2:00 PM, Feb. 2, 2011.

I just have no idea on this one. The summary reads:
eliminates the Charter School Building Revolving Subaccount within the School Building Revolving Account and creates the Charter School Revolving Account within the Uniform School Fund;

specifies the permitted uses of funds in the Charter School Revolving Account and procedures for making loans from the account;

and makes technical amendments.

Who knows the difference made by designating the Charter School Revolving Account as its own account instead of a subaccount of the School Building Revolving Account? Not me.

The bill's fiscal note reveals no costs. So what is the point? Is it just technical? Or does it change what the account can be used for? Other effects?

Please comment if you can. Thank you.