UCLA Civil Rights Project Gets It Wrong

February 4, 2010

My friends over at Mid-Riffs take apart the new report from Gary Orfield’s UCLA Civil Rights Project claiming that charters produce segregation:

“The report finds:

that charter schools, particularly those in the western United States are havens for white re-segregation from public schools; requirements for providing essential equity data to the federal government go unmet across the nation; and magnet schools are overlooked, in spite of showing greater levels of integration and academic achievement than charters.

It looks like, based on a quick pass through the report, their main finding is based on demographic comparisons  between charter schools and traditional public schools at the state level. This method of comparison likely leads to inaccurate conclusions due to the fact that charter schools are overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon. The correct comparison is between charters and the demographics of their immediate geographic area. We have discussed this topic as it relates to Little Rock at length here.

The Economist’s take on this report is concise, to-the-point, and spot on.

In plain English, there are a lot of black kids in charter schools. This is because charter schools tend to get set up in neighbourhoods where the public schools are terrible, such as south-eastern Washington DC or the rougher parts of New Orleans. These neighbourhoods are disproportionately African-American. Charter schools are popular with poor black parents because their other choices are so awful. There are very few charter schools in rich white suburbs with nice public schools, because there is no call for them.

The important question about charter schools is: do they give kids a better education than they would otherwise have received? The answer is yes. Nothing else matters.”


Blog Envy

December 4, 2009

I’m suffering from blog envy.  Other blogs have had some great posts — much better than what I’ve come up with recently.  If I can’t beat them I might as well link to them and poach their material.

First, Brian Kisida has a superb post at Mid-Riffs on the predictable waste and banality of consultant reports in the political and education arena.  He demonstrates this using as his examples a “curriculum audit” that the Fayetteville school district has commissioned from Phi Delta Kappa for $36,000 as well as a “visioning” report that the City of Fayetteville commissioned from Eva Klein & Associates for $150,000:

To be sure, the report that Phi Delta Kappa comes up with won’t look exactly like the same ideas the community gave them.  They’ll be re-written in such a way that any resemblance or lack of substance will be obfuscated by consultant-speak gobbledy-gook.  For example, when the Rogers School District hired Phi Delta Kappa to conduct an audit, one of the recommendations they received was:

Develop and implement a comprehensive curriculum management system that delineates short- and long-term goals, directs curriculum revision to ensure deep alignment and quality delivery, and defines the instructional model district leaders expect teachers to follow in delivering the curriculum.

Translation: Establish a system to set and achieve goals. And make it a good one.

Here’s another recommendation from the Rogers audit:

Research, identify and implement strategies to eliminate inequities and inequalities that impede opportunities for all students to succeed.

Translation:  Do what you and every other school district has already been doing (or should have been doing) for decades.

I’m willing to bet Fayetteville’s audit will contain many of the same recommendations given to Rogers.  These types of consultant groups have stock boiler-plate language that they recycle time and time again.  I also expect to see some of the views of the community rewritten in consultant-speak.  Here’s some of the comments and concerns the Northwest Arkansas Times picked up from teachers and parents at one of the focus groups:

  • Weaknesses in foreign languages
  • lack of flexibility, especially at the high school level
  • poor communication about special programs
  • lack of strong leadership in some schools
  • the need for more vocational classes, including in middle school
  • too many different intelligent levels in the classroom
  • special needs and at-risk students need more technology
  • need more literacy coaches, especially one at the high school
  • more coordination in all programs
  • need more time for physical activity
  • need more writing in classrooms
  •  I got this list from the newspaper, which cost me fifty cents–a whopping $35,499.50 less than Phi Delta Kappa is going to charge for repackaging these ideas in consultant-speak.

    I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses.   Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do?  So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?

    Wow.  Great blogging!

    And Paul Peterson is hitting his stride as a blogger over at the Education Next Blog.  There he notes the political difficulty posed by teacher union financial might for President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s efforts to turn Race to the Top rhetoric into reality:

    The National Education Association (and its local affiliates) gave $56.3 million dollars to state and federal election campaigns in 2007 and 2008, more than any other entity. That’s what we learn from the recently released report issued by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) together with the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

    The much smaller American Federation of Teachers tossed in another $12 million dollars into political campaigns….

    The money is wrested directly from teacher paychecks as an add-on to their monthly dues (unless teachers specifically object), a power granted unions by school boards as part of collective bargaining deals.  So the NEA’s slush fund is in fact built by taxpayer dollars, which flow directly to the NEA instead of into the teacher’s own bank account.  Yes, some individual teachers object and don’t make the political contribution, but unions typically collect the money by default.

    With all that cash in hand, unions are in a position to tell state legislatures what to do, if they want campaign dollars next time around.  Significantly, over $53 million of the $56.3 million dollars went for state-level expenditures, a clear indication that unions know that the action is not in Washington but in state capitols.

    This enormous cash nexus that swamps anything any business entity has contributed creates a huge problem for President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is asking states and school districts to put merit pay into place.


    Can’t Think of A Blog Post

    November 18, 2009

    I apologize for my lack of a post yesterday and this lame post today.  I just can’t seem to think of a good post.

    Yesterday Greg suggested that I blog about this excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal denouncing the Ford Foundation for giving $100 million to the teachers union to spur education reform and claiming that this money would “shake up the conversations surrounding school reform and help spur some truly imaginative thinking and partnerships.”  The Ford Foundation might as well give $100 million to the city of Las Vegas to address gambling addiction. 

    But the Wall Street Journal already did a great job, so it didn’t seem worth my blogging about since I really wouldn’t have anything to add.

    I also thought about blogging about how the Race to the Top criteria issued this week hardly demand meaningful reform from states.  But I’ve already written several times on how little we should expect from Race to the Top, such as here.  The bigger surprise is that anyone is surprised.  Besides, Jeanne Allen did a fine job critiquing the Race to the Top criteria here.  And on top of all that, I’ve probably been beating up on Obama and Duncan about education reform too much.  The reality is that at least they are saying a lot of the right things, which has had a big effect on education reform battles at the state and local level.  It’s a big deal that a Democratic Administration has (at least rhetorically) thrown its weight fully behind expanding choice and competition (if only via charters), merit pay, weakening teacher tenure, etc…

    I also thought about blogging about a bunch of local issues.  A state school board member was featured in an article in the Northwest Arkansas Times explaining why she opposed every newly proposed charter school in Arkansas this year.  She helpfully explained that she had visited a predominantly Hispanic school in Springdale, AR that was making AYP with its ESL students and “that helped convince her Springdale’s services were sufficient for their students.”  There’s no need to let those families decide if the quality of their education is sufficient.

    But some of my friends who write the excellent blog, Mid-Riffs, were already working on something to address this.  I saw no need to duplicate.

    In short, I’m sorry, folks.  Maybe I’ll think of something fresh soon.  Or maybe I can just keep writing about all the things that I was going to write about but didn’t.  Or did I?


    Have you “Experienced” The Riffs at Mid-Riffs?

    September 15, 2009

    Mid-Riffs, a blog started by a bunch of my friends, is off to a great start with several posts on the high school millage in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t, but they are always fun to read.

    The election is today, so be sure to check out their excellent information and analysis.  In particular, they have argued:

  • The high school is not falling apart. (In a 2006 statewide ranking of buildings needing repair, Fayetteville high school was ranked 988 out of 1,129 K-12 public school buildings, where 1 was most need of repair.)
  • There is no evidence buildings improve student outcomes.
  • The current facility has deficiencies, but they don’t necessitate complete demolition and reconstruction.
  • There is a case to be made for economic development, but any positive effects will be much diminished by the necessary tax increase.
  • But Mid-Riffs did make a case for why we might want to spend $116 million to tear-down the currently functional building for a brand new one — we like shiny new things.  We don’t need to buy diamond engagement rings, but people like to have them.  We don’t need a new building, but we might still want to have one.

    It’s not a very compelling argument, but it is no worse of a reason than your reason for buying that new Lexus.


    New Blog — Mid-Riffs

    September 8, 2009

    Check out the new blog, Mid-Riffs.  It’s got a catchy name for a blog offering “a view from mid-America.”  In it’s inaugural post it declared:

    “While those of us that contribute here won’t always agree, we are bound by a shared appreciation for good arguments, logical consistency, geeky sarcasm, and all things good.  We are against things that are bad (e.g., Texas).”

    And in its first substantive post, Mid-Riffs takes on the new high school millage in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

    (edited to correct typo)


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