Today the blog reached 29 million page views (hits). That means that on that many occasions, someone opened the blog to read an entry. It doesn’t mean that there are 29 million separate individuals who read the blog daily.


I decided not to watch the number of hits (page views) on the blog because reaching a milestone is not the purpose of doing what I do, which is like a full-time job. But I happened to notice a few days ago that the blog was nearing the million mark again, and it seemed worth noting, if for no other reason, just to tell myself that the hours I put into the blog every day do not go unnoticed. You are reading, you are commenting, you do (or don’t) find the information and perspectives useful or you wouldn’t be reading this now.


So, thank you for reading the blog, adding your comments, and making this a lively destination for those who want to stay abreast about the latest developments in education and have a place to discuss what is happening in American education and around the world.


The next four years will be challenging, to say the least, for those of us who believe in the ideal of universal public education, open to all, and to our hopes for making all schools far better than they are today. In a better world, billionaires would be helping to strengthen our public schools, not trying to make them compete in a marketplace, not contributing to the growth of a dual system of schools. In a better world, the government would prohibit for-profit organizations from operating schools; the only profit in schooling should be the satisfaction of learning and mastering new ideas, new skills, new appreciations for what is good, beautiful, and just.


We need to stay informed, prepare to join with our allies to work together, and never, never, never give up hope. Hope is what keeps us going. Hope for a better future is essential or we concede defeat without putting up a resistance. Resist we shall when market forces come to take away what belongs to all of us.


Keep reading, join the Network for Public Education to find your allies in your state, and persist. Think about not just the next four years, but about the next 20 years. Plan for the future and join together to make it one that is better for all of our children.



Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to lead the EPA.


This signals an end to efforts to protect the environment.


The New York Times writes:


“Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

“Mr. Pruitt, 48, who has emerged as a hero to conservative activists, is also one of a number of Republican attorneys general who have formed an alliance with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, a 2014 investigation by The New York Times revealed.

“At the heart of Mr. Obama’s efforts to tackle climate change are a collection of E.P.A. regulations aimed at forcing power plants to significantly reduce their emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution. It will not be possible for Mr. Trump to unilaterally cancel the rules, which were released under the 1970 Clean Air Act. But it would be possible for a legally experienced E.P.A. chief to substantially weaken, delay or slowly dismantle them.

“As Oklahoma’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Pruitt has fought environmental regulations — particularly the climate change rules. Although Mr. Obama’s rules were not completed until 2015, Mr. Pruitt was one of a handful of attorneys general, along with Greg Abbott of Texas, who began planning as early as 2014 for a coordinated legal effort to fight them. That resulted in a 28-state lawsuit against the administration’s rules. A decision on the case is pending in a federal court, but it is widely expected to advance to the Supreme Court.”



Look west for hope!


The New York Times has a good article about the new generation of leaders in California who have the dynamism and energy to replace the aging lions, the national leaders who are now in their 70s.


The leaders of the party affirmed their intention to ward off the worst of Trump’s policies.


Previewing an adversarial relationship between California and the federal government over the next four years, legislative leaders opened a new session on Monday by vowing to preserve California’s liberal agenda and passing a resolution rejecting President-elect Donald Trump’s hardline immigration stance.
Members of both houses directly confronted Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric, which has included calls to deport millions and block immigration by Muslims. Lawmakers passed a resolution that says “California stands unified in rejecting the politics of hatred and exclusion” and exhorts Trump “to not pursue mass deportation strategies that needlessly tear families apart, or target immigrants for deportation based on vague and unjustified criteria.”
“We have all heard the insults, we have all heard the lies, and we have all heard the threats,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, adding of an undocumented immigrant population that is the nation’s largest, “if you want to get to them, you have to go through us.”
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, opened his chamber’s business by accepting the election results but rebuffing Trump. He urged Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to “treat immigrant families and children humanely, with a modicum of dignity and respect.”
“They are hard-working, upstanding members of our society who contribute billions of dollars to our economic activity and tax revenue to our state each year,” de León said.
The immediate challenge to Trump drew criticism from Republican members who said Democrats were demonizing a man who had not yet taken office. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said the tactic “seeks to flare up tension between communities.”
“To throw down a gauntlet and say ‘here we go’ without ever having time to discuss this” is inappropriate, said Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside.
But dark warnings about the coming Trump administration set the tone, with Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, saying the president-elect had advocated “ethnic cleansing policies.”
With fiery language that broke from his usually staid public demeanor, Rendon said California faces a “major existential threat.” He spurred raucous applause for an apparent dig at Trump aide Stephen Bannon, saying that “white nationalists and anti-Semites have no business working in the White House.” Bannon’s Breitbart website has drawn admiration from nationalists and opponents of multiculturalism as well as criticism for pushing bigotry into mainstream discourse.
“It is up to us to pass policies that would firewall Californians and what we believe from the cynical, short sighted, and reactionary agenda that is rising in the wake of the election,” Rendon said, adding that “unity must be separated from complicity…Californians do not need healing. We need to fight.”

Katherine Crawford-Garrett and Rebecca Sánchez  are professors in the school of education at the University of New Mexico. They wrote the following commentary:




Like so many universities across the country, the University of New Mexico, a minority-serving institution, has experienced a sharp increase in hate-related incidents since the presidential election last week. These events, which have included swastikas being spray painted around campus and the attempt to remove a Muslim woman’s hijab in the library, have triggered responses from departments, colleges, and senior level university officials such as the President and Provost.


The chair of the American studies department, for example, immediately sent a note to students inviting them to an informal gathering to process emotions and share thoughts and insights; a colleague who teaches Spanish reported that faculty and administrators in her department were collectively planning a teach-in. A professor in Chicano studies initiated a petition to have the campus designated as a sanctuary for undocumented students. The Provost shared insights about the role of the university in comforting those who “are hurt, scared, and disenfranchised.” As professors in the College of Education, we wondered how our college might respond, aware that our students were not only navigating a treacherous environment on campus but simultaneously working as pre-service teachers in public schools where they were struggling to debrief the election, address issues of bullying and aggression, and ease the anxieties and fears expressed by their students from immigrant backgrounds.


As the days passed, we became increasingly confounded by the silence from our college and department and tried sending emails inquiring whether a message would be sent to education students and faculty within our community. Specifically we asserted that, “As the College of Education at a Minority-Serving Institution, we have a moral obligation to acknowledge the events of the past several days, re-affirm our commitments to diversity, and offer our students an opportunity to discuss and process what has happened.” We understand that addressing these issues is difficult and that members of our college community hold diverse political views and experienced the aftermath of the election from a variety of different positions and perspectives. Yet we argue that we have an ethical responsibility to foster dialogue, generate discussion and encourage solidarity. As a result of these convictions, we also attempted to start a conversation among our colleagues directly by sending an email to our faculty listserv. In our message, we posed critical questions about the purposes of teacher education, including the following:


    • What does it mean to be critical participants in a democracy?
    • In what ways do we rigorously and consistently engage diversity in our courses, programs and department? 
    • What does it mean to prepare teachers to teach in “these times?” 
    • How do we center human relationships in our work? Both with each other and with our students?
    • How do we stay connected to our vision and values as we negotiate pressures from state and federal sources?


While many of our colleagues expressed interest in discussing these questions, we later discovered that certain responses to our email were not distributed by department leaders, including one particularly powerful response authored by a Black, female professor. Lastly, we sought to reach out to the elementary education students enrolled in our program by compiling a comprehensive list of resources to support them as they attempted to confront the numerous issues surfacing in their classrooms in the wake of the election. These resources included links to news accounts of school and university-based violence occurring across the country, guidelines for discussing the election from organizations like Teaching Tolerance and Facing History and Ourselves, a list of our College’s core values which include tenets like social justice, diversity and advocacy, excerpts from U.S. court cases that affirm children’s rights to an equal education, and suggestions on how to move forward collectively in an era marked by deeply divisive rhetoric. Unfortunately, we were denied access to the elementary education listserv (though we are both faculty members in the program) and told the resources we sought to provide did not constitute official business.


While we both found creative ways around these obstacles by contacting our individual students directly (a fraction of those we could have reached through the listserv) and working to organize a community forum, which will be held on Inauguration Day, we remain alarmed by the silence and resistance we encountered in our college. What is most damning about this silence is that it subverts the very core of our work as teacher educators. What could be more essential to our profession than helping pre-service teachers conduct meaningful, urgent discussions with students about what it means to live and participate in a democracy?


When we finally saw our students in class nearly a week after the election, they had stories to share regarding personal experiences on campus and the conditions they encountered in their elementary and high school classrooms.  One high school teacher was told by her principal that discussing the election with students was unprofessional and would be marked as such on a forthcoming evaluation. An elementary school teacher shared a note written by student who said he wouldn’t be participating in class that day because he was so worried about his family’s impending deportation. Another teacher shared that a group of 5th graders were bullying younger students at the school with the justification that “If the president can talk like this, so can we.” A Middle-Eastern graduate student conveyed fears that if he chose to leave the U.S. to visit his family over the summer, he may not be allowed back in to complete his degree. These concerns serve as tangible and concrete reminders of the necessity of creating the space to have difficult conversations in our classrooms.


We still don’t fully understand the silence we encountered within our college and cannot definitively identify its roots, but we believe it may be related to fear — the same fear pre-service teachers often express about raising controversial topics in the classroom, confronting homophobia directly, or discussing race with their students — fears that we connect, at least tangentially, to school reform initiatives that extol compliance over criticality and creativity. Our teacher education program, like those across the country, faces pressure to comply with a host of increasingly meaningless standards and mandates while the potential for real, transformative work is essentially lost. As a teacher education department, we seem to dedicate a tremendous amount of time to discussing assessment, analyzing standards and designing performance indicators but precious little time to the hard work of interrupting hate in K-12 classrooms, on college campuses, and in the world at large. Even when many of us attempt to do this work individually in our own courses and through our research endeavors, how much more powerful and potentially transformative would this work be if it were given the institutional attention that standards and evaluation so often receive?


Our nation is clearly at a crossroads and education will undoubtedly play an essential role in how we collectively move forward. If our goal as educators is to develop critically-conscious citizens capable of engaging productively within our democracy, we must live these values as well. We must talk fearlessly with one another, engage in dialogue even when it feels uncertain and uncomfortable, and be willing to affirm one another’s humanity. As Holocaust survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel noted, “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”


Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press and a parent of children in a Detroit charter school, wrote a scathing critique of Betsy DeVos and her lack of qualifications to be Secretary of Education. He called his article “Betsy DeVos and the Twilight of Public Education.”


She is not an educator nor does she have relevant experience, he says. She is a lobbyist for school choice. The chaotic mess in Detroit is her handiwork. The city has many charter schools, and they are no better than public schools.


Thanks to her zealous lobbying, he says, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charters that just about any other state.


He writes:


“In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.


“What remains in short supply is quality.


“In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.


“On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.


“Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.


“For students enrolled in schools of choice — that is, schools in nearby districts who have opened their doors to children who live outside district boundaries — it’s not much better. Kids who depend on Detroit’s problematic public transit are are too far away from the state’s top-performing school districts — and most of those districts don’t participate in the schools of choice program, anyway.


“This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.


“And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan….


“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located…


“The most accurate assessment is that charter schools have simply created a second, privately managed failing system. Yes, there are high-performing outliers — a little more than 10% of the charter schools perform in the top tier. But in Detroit, the best schools are as likely to be traditional public schools.


“DeVos and her family have not been daunted by these outcomes. It’s as if the reams of data showing just incremental progress or abysmal failure don’t matter. Their belief in charter schools is unshakable, their resistance to systematic reforms that would improve both public and charter schools unyielding.”

Indiana has one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, even though the state constitution explicitly forbids spending public money for religious schools. The state courts decided that the constitution doesn’t mean what it says. Former Governor Mitch Daniels initiated the voucher program and Mike Pence expanded it. Although born a Catholic, Pence is now an evangelical Christian.


Mother Jones investigated the Indiana voucher program and found that it has been a boon for religious schools, including many that teach creationism. Student performance in the voucher schools is poor; maybe someday the state will realize that it has to save kids who are failing to learn in mediocre voucher schools.


“One of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s pet projects as governor of Indiana was expanding school choice vouchers, which allow public money to pay for private school tuition. President-elect Donald Trump has said he’d like to expand such vouchers in the rest of the country, but what happened in Indiana should serve as a cautionary tale for Trump and his administration.


“Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.


“In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out. “Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels declared after the voucher legislation passed. It was supposed to be a small program, initially capped at 7,500 vouchers. Full vouchers, worth 90 percent of the per-pupil spending in a school district, were reserved for families with incomes up to 100 percent of the cutoff for free or reduced-price school lunch, about $45,000 a year for a family of four.


“But in 2013, Pence and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature raised the income limits on the program so that a family of four with up to $90,000 in annual income became eligible for vouchers covering half their private school tuition. They also removed most requirements that students come from a public school to access the vouchers, making families already attending private school eligible for tuition subsidies, thus removing any pretense that the vouchers were a tool to help poor children escape failing schools.


“Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church- and-state issues.

“By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students.


“Opponents, including public school teachers and local clergy, sued the state to try to block the voucher program in 2011, arguing that it clearly violated the state constitutional provisions that protect taxpayers from having to support religion. They were also concerned that the money going to the religious schools was coming directly from local public school systems, draining them of critical funding in violation of the state constitution. But the Indiana state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the voucher program was constitutional because public money was going to the students and not to religious institutions directly….


“Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids in these schools aren’t performing very well on the state’s standardized tests, putting voucher schools among the state’s worst-performing schools. The three campuses of Horizon Christian Academy rank near the bottom. Two of its schools were once for-profit charter schools that lost their charters because they were badly underperforming. They reconstituted as private religious schools and now take taxpayer-funded vouchers. In 2015, less than 9 percent of the students at one of the Horizon campuses passed the state standardized tests in math and English, a rate worse than most of the state’s public schools from which the vouchers were supposed to provide an escape.


“A study by researchers at Notre Dame University published last year shows that in the first three years of the program, Indiana kids who left public schools to attend voucher schools saw their math scores decline in comparison with their peers who remained in regular public schools. The public school students saw improvements in their English skills, but the voucher kids’ results stayed flat. The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.”


This is what is in store for the nation in the Trump-Pence era.









The Nevada state constitution contains this language:


Article 11, Section 10: “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”


Mercedes Schneider explains how the Nevada Supreme Court did a fancy rhetorical two-step to conclude that the state constitution does not forbid vouchers, it just forbids funding them. Got that?


She then shows a video of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, telling a Florida lawyer how corporate taxes can be used to provide vouchers for use in any school, including religious schools. This, despite the fact that the Florida state constitution explicitly says in Article 1, Section 3:


“There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”


This, despite the fact that the voters of Florida rejected an effort to change this portion of the Florida state constitution to allow vouchers for religious schools in 2012. The so-called “Religious Freedom Amendment” was voted down by 55-44%.


US Secretary of Education nominee and “true pioneer of the school choice movement across the country,” Betsy DeVos, explains how the educational tax credit enables what would be public money (collected in the form of corporate taxes) from becoming public money at minute 4:45 in the 2015 Youtube video below in which Edward Pozzuoli, the president of Florida-based Tripp Scott Law Firm, interviews then-American Federation for Children (AFC) Chair DeVos, about tax credits.


The entire 9-minute video is an eye opener; DeVos talks about how the AFC does it all: finds the school choice candidates (she’s particularly keen on private school choice); puts “political effort” behind electing/defeating candidates; “works on the policies… the actual legislation,” and “helps parents and kids to find schools and schools to find parents and kids.”


“Reformers” intent on replacing public schools with for-profit charters and religious schools don’t let a little thing like the state constitution get in their way. Conservatives used to call themselves “strict constructionists” when it came to the federal or state constitution. They insisted on abiding by the original intent of those who wrote the constitution. It turns out now that they believe quite the opposite and are ready to reinterpret the clear language of state constitutions to achieve their goal of privatization.

Bruce Baker is a professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers; his area of specialization is school finance and the economics of education.


This new paper is a major analysis of the effects of charter schools on their host districts. Until now, there has been little attention paid to the ways that the expansion of charter schools affects the budget and policies of the district in which the charters open. Over the past twenty years, the United States has been developing a dual school system of public schools, open to all and responsible for all students who enroll, and charter schools, which are free of most state regulations and free to remove students they don’t want.


Baker is interested primarily in the fiscal impact of charters but he does consider the disciplinary policies of charters and also their segregating effects.


Here is his summary of his findings. I urge you to read the paper in its entirety to understand how charters are depleting the resources of public schools without necessarily providing a better quality of education.


Effects of charter expansion


District schools are surviving but under increased stress


In some urban districts, charter schools are serving 20 percent or more of the city or districtwide student population. These host districts have experienced the following effects in common:


*While total enrollment in district schools (the noncharter, traditional public schools) has dropped, districts have largely been able to achieve and maintain reasonable minimum school sizes, with only modest increases in the shares of children served in inefficiently small schools.
*While resources (total available revenues to district schools) have declined, districts have reduced overhead expenditures enough to avoid consuming disproportionate shares of operating spending and increasing pupil/teacher ratios.
*Despite expenditure cutting measures, districts simultaneously facing rapid student population decline and/or operating in states with particularly inequitable, under-resourced school finance systems have faced substantial annual deficits.
Charter expansion is not driven by well-known, high-profile operators


Most charter expansion in these cities has occurred among independently operated charter schools.
*High profile, frequently researched nonprofit charter school operators including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) have relatively small shares of the charter school market in all cities except Newark.
*In many of these cities, some of the leading charter operators (those with the most market share) have been the subject of federal and state investigations and judicial orders regarding conflicts of interest (self-dealing) and financial malfeasance. These operators include Imagine Schools, Inc., White Hat Management, National Heritage Academies, and Concept Schools.
*The varied and often opaque financial practices across charter school management companies, while fitting with a competitive portfolio conception, leads to increased disparities across students, irregularities in the accumulation of additional public (publicly obligated) debt, and inequities and irregularities in the ownership and distribution of what were once commonly considered public assets—from buildings and vehicles right down to desks, chairs, and computers.


Charter schools are expanding in predominantly low-income, predominantly minority urban settings


Few are paying attention to the breaches of legal rights of students, parents, taxpayers, and employees under the increasingly opaque private governance and management structures associated with charter expansion.
Expansion of charter schooling is exacerbating inequities across schools and children because children are being increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities and further, because charter schools are raising and spending vastly different amounts, without regard for differences in student needs. Often, the charter schools serving the least needy populations also have the greatest resource advantages.
With the expansion of charter schooling, public districts are being left with legacy debts associated with capital plants and employee retirement systems in district schools while also accumulating higher risk and more costly debt in the form of charter school revenue bonds to support new capital development.
In many cases, the districts under investigation herein are large enough to be cut in half or thirds while still being financially viable, at least in terms of achieving economies of scale. In effect, charter expansion has already halved the size of many urban districts. Similar charter expansion in smaller districts, however, may lead the districts to enroll fewer than 2,000 pupils in district schools and suffer elevated costs. Given the literature on costs, productivity, and economies of scale, it makes little sense in population-dense areas to promote policies that cause district enrollments to fall below efficient-scale thresholds (around 2,000 pupils) or that introduce additional independent operators running below efficient-scale thresholds. It makes even less sense to introduce chartering to rural areas where schools and districts already operate below efficient scale.


Beyond issues of economies of scale, charter expansion can create inefficiencies and redundancies within district boundaries, from the organization and delivery of educational programs to student transportation, increasing the likelihood of budgetary stress on the system as a whole, and the host government in particular. In addition to increasing per pupil transportation expense, ill-planned (or unplanned) geographic dispersion may put more vehicles on already congested urban streets, contributing to traffic and air quality concerns, and significantly reduces the likelihood that children use active transportation (walking or biking) to school (Baker 2014b; Davison, Werder, and Lawson 2008; Evenson et al. 2012; Merom et al. 2006; Rosenberg et al. 2006; Wilson, Wilson, and Krizek 2007).


Here are a few excerpts that I found edifying:


While charter schooling was conceived as a way to spur innovation—try new things, evaluate them, and inform the larger system—studies of the structure and practices of charter schooling find the sector as a whole not to be particularly “innovative” (Preston et al. 2012). Analyses by charter advocates at the American Enterprise Institute find that the dominant form of specialized charter school is the “no excuses” model, a model that combines traditional curriculum and direct instruction with strict disciplinary policies and school uniforms, in some cases providing extended school days and years (McShane and Hatfield 2015). Further, charter schools raising substantial additional revenue through private giving tend to use that funding to a) provide smaller classes, and b) pay teachers higher salaries for working longer days and years (Baker, Libby, and Wiley 2012). For those spending less, total costs are held down, when necessary, through employing relatively inexperienced, low-wage staff and maintaining high staff turnover rates (Epple, Romano, and Zimmer 2015; Toma and Zimmer 2012). In other words, the most common innovations are not especially innovative or informative for systemic reform….


As early as the mid-1990s, authors including Paul Hill, James Guthrie, and Lawrence Pierce (1997) advocated that entire school districts should be reorganized into collections of privately managed contract schools (Hill, Pierce, and Guthrie 2009). This contract school proposal emerged despite the abject failure of Education Alternatives, Inc., in Baltimore and Hartford. This proposal provided a framework for renewed attempts at large-scale private management including the contracting of management for several Philadelphia public schools in the early 2000s. Philadelphia’s experiment in private contracting yielded mixed results, at best (Mac Iver and Mac Iver 2006).2 Notably, Hill and colleagues’ contract school model depended on a centralized authority to manage the contracts and maintain accountability, a precursor to what is now commonly referred to as a “portfolio” model. In the portfolio model, a centralized authority oversees a system of publicly financed schools, both traditional district-operated and independent, charter-operated, wherein either type of school might be privately managed (Hill 2006).3 The goal as phrased by former New York City schools’ chancellor Joel Klein is to replace school systems with systems of great schools (Patrino 2015).


A very different reality of charter school governance, however, has emerged under state charter school laws—one that presents at least equal likelihood that charters established within districts operate primarily in competition, not cooperation with their host, to serve a finite set of students and draw from a finite pool of resources. One might characterize this as a parasitic rather than portfolio model—one in which the condition of the host is of little concern to any single charter operator. Such a model emerges because under most state charter laws, locally elected officials—boards of education—have limited control over charter school expansion within their boundaries, or over the resources that must be dedicated to charter schools. Thus, there is no single, centralized authority managing the portfolio—the distributions of enrollments and/or resources—or protecting against irreparable damage to any one part of the system (be it the parasites or the host)….


Increased attention is being paid to the fiscal and enrollment effects of charter schooling on host districts. These concerns come at a time when municipal fiscal stress and the potential for large-scale municipal and school district bankruptcies are in the media spotlight (Governing 2015). Many high profile cases of municipal fiscal stress are in cities where the charter sector is thriving, for example Chester Upland, Pa., Detroit, and Philadelphia (Layton 2015; Graham 2015; Pierog 2015). Some charter advocates have gone so far as to assert that school district bankruptcy presents a “huge opportunity” to absolve the taxpaying public of existing debts and financial obligations and start fresh under new management, reallocating those funds to classrooms (Persson 2015). Of course, this strategy ignores the complexities of municipal bankruptcy proceedings, and the contractual, social, and moral obligations for the stewardship of publicly owned capital (and other) assets and responsibility to current and retired employees.


Advocates for charter expansion typically assert that charter expansion causes no financial harm to host districts. The logic goes, if charter schools serve typical students drawn from the host district’s population, and receive the same or less in public subsidy per pupil to educate those children, then the per pupil amount of resources left behind for children served in district schools either remains the same or increases. Thus, charter expansion causes no harm (and in fact yields benefits) to children remaining in district schools. The premise that charter schools are uniformly undersubsidized is grossly oversimplified and inaccurate in many charter operating contexts (Baker 2014c). In addition, numerous studies find that charter schools serve fewer students with costly special needs, leaving proportionately more of these children in district schools. Perhaps most important, the assumption that revenue reductions and enrollment shifts cause districts no measurable harm for host ignores the structure of operating costs and dynamics of cost and expenditure reduction.


Moody’s Investors Service opined in 2013 that “charter schools pose greatest credit challenge to school districts in economically weak urban areas.” Specifically, Moody’s identified the following four areas posing potential concerns for host urban districts with growing independent charter sectors:


Weak demographics and district financial stress, which detract from the ability to deliver competitive services and can prompt students to move to charter schools
Weak capacity to adjust operations in response to charter growth, which reduces management’s ability to redirect spending and institute program changes to better compete with charter schools
State policy frameworks that support charter school growth through relatively liberal approval processes for new charters, generous funding of charters, and few limits on charter growth
Lack of integration with a healthier local government that can insulate a school system from credit stress (D’Arcy and Richman 2013)
Moody’s reiterated these concerns in a follow-up report (Moody’s Investors Service 2015)…


Rarely if ever considered in policy discourse over charter school expansion is whether children and families should be required to trade constitutional or statutory rights for the promise of the possibility of a measurable test score gain. In fact, the public, including parents and children, is rarely if ever informed of these tradeoffs and does not become aware until an issue arises. Charter operators have shown time and time again that they are willing to push boundaries regarding student rights and discipline policies. An evaluation of New York City charter school disciplinary policies by Advocates for Children of New York (2015) found, among other things, that “107 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for any of the infractions listed in the discipline policy, no matter how minor the infraction.”14 Further, these policies included numerous violations of rights to due process when disciplinary actions are taken. While the report asserts that these policies violate state and federal laws it remains unclear whether charter operators might successfully shield themselves by their “private” status. That is, in many state contexts, charter schools may simply not have to follow the same rules in the establishment and implementation of their rules for children, parents, and the public at large.


The loss of rights or the requirement to trade rights for the promise of marginal test score gains—is concerning from an equity perspective because chartering, in particular no-excuses15 charter models are not evenly distributed across communities and children. Table 2 shows that nearly 12 percent of large city student populations are in charter schools, where those populations are 57 percent low income and nearly 70 percent black or Hispanic on average. Suburbs of large cities, which have much lower minority and low-income shares, have charter market penetration less than one-third the rate of large urban centers.


I hope that municipal finance analysts across the nation read this report with care. Moody’s warned Massachusetts that if it expanded the number of charters, several urban districts would be financially distressed. Until now, the reformers have not paid attention to how charters affect the finances of the host district or have not listened to these concerns. Perhaps they thought that a fiscal crisis in the host district would lead to a collapse of the governing authority and thus to more charter schools. But “gimme” is not sound public policy. Sound public policy would be concerned about supplying  good schools to all children, not just to some children.

Back in 2009, when Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competition, he said we as a nation would literally be “racing to the top” of international competition by adopting his favored ideas: expanding charter schools, evaluating teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, “turning around” low-scoring schools by radical measures such as closing them, creating state and national data storehouses to track students, and adopting “college and career-ready standards” (aka, the Common Core). Almost every state fell in line, because they had to do what Arne wanted in order to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion.


But the report cards have not been kind to these “reforms.” When the National Assessment of Education Progress issued its regular report in 2015, test scores were flat or declining in most states.


Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains. We are not racing to the top. We are standing still. Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation. Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools. Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the “status quo.”


Here is today’s report from


PISA RESULTS: BAD NEWS IN MATH: American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.


– U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .


– Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA – while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage – principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.


– Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching – giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.


As I have often written before, the international test scores do not predict the future of our economy or anything else. Scores on standardized tests measure family income and income inequality. If you want to know more, read my chapter in “Reign of Error” on international tests and what they mean and do not mea.

Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center sent me its news release on the ruling in Nevada that the state cannot take funding dedicated to public schools and use it for “education savings accounts” (ESA), a thinly disguised voucher.


A Nevada judge enjoined the implementation of the voucher program last January.


In the 2016 election, Democrats in Nevada gained control of both houses of the legislature. They do not need to repeal the ESA legislation, although they could. All they need to kill the vouchers is to not allocate any funding to ESAs. The state courts made clear that the funding could not be taken away from the public schools, a policy embedded in the state constitution.



From the Education Law Center:


September 29, 2016


Education Law Center welcomes the Nevada Supreme Court decision in Lopez v. Schwartz firmly declaring the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program unconstitutional and permanently blocking its implementation.


The Court’s ruling makes clear that the Nevada Legislature violated a constitutional prohibition against the use of public education funding for any purpose other than the operation of the public schools. The ESA voucher program would have diverted funds from the public schools for private education expenditures.


This decision strikes at the heart of the ESA voucher program, which was designed to remove significant amounts of funding from public school budgets to pay for private school tuition and other expenses, even for the wealthy. The court’s sweeping ruling permanently blocks the program from being implemented in the future.


“The Court confirmed that the parent plaintiffs’ claims were correct – the state constitution expressly directs that funds appropriated by the Legislature for public education be used for that purpose and that purpose alone,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director, and, along with ELC attorney Jessica Levin, a member of the pro bono legal team representing Nevada parents and children in the voucher lawsuit.


ELC is a partner in Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a Nevada campaign in support of public education founded by the Rogers Foundation. ENN and the Rogers Foundation provided crucial support in the voucher lawsuit. With implementation of the voucher program now blocked, ELC will continue to work with ENN and the Rogers Foundation to improve the educational experiences of the half million children in Nevada’s public schools.


Here is a brief chronology of the case, Lopez v. Schwartz, also from the ELC:


On September 9, 2015, a group of parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new voucher law. The lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, has generated media attention and interest from parents, educators and taxpayers.


In June 2015, the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 302 (SB302) establishing a controversial program to use public funding to pay for private schooling. For students who qualify, the voucher law directs the State Treasurer to deposit taxpayer funding into private bank accounts – called “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) – to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online classes, home-schooling expenses, transportation to and from private schools, and other private services.


ESAs are funded by diverting the per pupil funds provided by the Legislature for Nevada public schools. The ESA amount is based on the statewide average per pupil amount guaranteed in the state budget to operate the public schools. The vouchers are either 90% or 100% of that amount, or between approximately $5,100 and $5,710. For each ESA, the State Treasurer deducts the per pupil amount from public school district budgets, which then reduces the funding available to educate public school students.


Nevada parents sued because ESAs will take critically needed funding away from public schools and lower the quality of education for their children. ESAs will also reduce public school funding, causing cuts to teachers, support staff and other vital programs for the 450,000 Nevada children attending public schools across the state, many of whom are children with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at-risk of falling behind or dropping out.


The Nevada Constitution prohibits taxpayer funds provided by the Legislature for the operation of the public schools from being used for any other purpose. The parents claim that the voucher program violates this constitutional ban by diverting the funding necessary to educate their children in the public schools to pay for private school vouchers.


The parents also claim that the voucher law violates the Nevada constitution by lowering the amount of funding provided in the Nevada state budget for public education and by using public funds to pay for private schools that are not required to serve all students, are not subject to anti-discrimination laws, and are not accountable for student performance like the public schools are.


In January 2016, the parents won their motion for a preliminary injunction in the trial court, which halted implementation of the voucher program. State Treasurer Dan Schwartz appealed the trial court decision to the Supreme Court of Nevada, which heard oral arguments in July 2016. On September 29, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the ESA voucher program is unconstitutional because it violates the prohibition on use of public school funds for other purposes, and permanently blocked its implementation.