Tag Archives: Affordable Care Act

Massachusetts Governor Baker and the Charter School Question on the Ballot: Has the 2020 Presidential Election Begun?

“I will be voting no on Question 2 … I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.” Elizabeth Warren in the Boston Globe, 9/26/16

“Donors to the pro-charter school campaign include two prominent millionaires – former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who contributed $240,000 and Jim Walton of Arizona, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who contributed more than $1.1 million.” WCVB, 9/10/16

The Manhattan Institute hosted Governor Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of a blue state, Massachusetts, and one of the most popular governors in the nation.  The Governor traipsed down from Boston to defend Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot – a proposal to allow the creation of 12 additional charter schools a year, sites to be determined by the state.

The proposal is highly controversial in Massachusetts and across the nation.

What is perplexing is why the governor of the state with the best educational system in the nation would expend so much political capital on a contentious and highly questionable proposition.

If Massachusetts was considered a nation it would be at the top of the world in educational attainment.

Forbes reports,

… if Massachusetts were allowed to report subject scores independently — much the way that, say, Shanghai is allowed to do so — the Bay State would rank 9th in the world in Math Proficiency, tied with Japan, and on the heels of 8th-ranked Switzerland. In reading, Massachusetts would rank fourth in the world, tied with Hong Kong, and not far behind third-ranked Finland.

How Massachusetts raised itself to the top of the state heap is straightforward, the Education Reform Act of 1993, frequently referred to as the “Grand Bargain.”

“We will make a massive infusion of progressively distributed dollars into our public schools, and in return, we demand high standards and accountability from all education stakeholders. This grand bargain is the cornerstone of education reform.”

The law provided the following,

1) Curriculum frameworks in each subject; (View the frameworks here)

2) State testing – the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System:  View MCAS test items here)

3) State tests for graduation, which students could take beginning in the tenth grade, and which they were given multiple opportunities to retake until they passed;

4) More time for instruction;

5) Entry tests for new teachers;

6) A new foundation budget that raised funding across the state, especially in high-needs districts;

7) 22 charter schools for the entire state (currently there about 75).

It is also noteworthy that the state increased early childhood education funding by 247% between 1996 and 1999.

The combination of an equitable funding formula, highly regarded standards and rigorous entry standards for teachers resulted in very impressive outcomes.

When the Massachusetts legislature failed to raise the charter cap pro charter folk collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. The battle for and against the question has been extremely costly, millions of dollars poured into the ballot question. Polls give the “no” votes a slim lead within the margin of error.

The Governor based his support on ending the suburban versus urban achievement gap.  Baker proffered that the 75 or so charter schools in Massachusetts, mostly in high poverty cities were outperforming public schools.  Scott claimed the longer school day and school year resulted in 50% greater instructional time, and, was the primary reason for the higher test scores. To a question about high suspension rates and high attrition rates in charter schools Scott pushed back, sort of.  From what I heard from Baker charter schools had higher graduation rates, among the students who remained.

To my question: whether he agreed with Jeb Bush that all parent should be given a voucher to choose any type of school, public, charter, independent,  Baker punted. “I’m only concerned with the question before the voters.”

Baker failed to address the core question: if charter schools are doing better than similarly situated public schools, why are they more successful?  There is no evidence that the longer school day and school year equals higher test scores. In fact, charter schools vary widely in achievement. Baker argued that the pre-screening of new charter school applicants and the closing of struggling charters was working well.

I am not familiar with the charter school data from Massachusetts.  In New York State charter schools vary greatly in quality and the charter schools with the highest achievement also raise significant dollars through philanthropy. High suspension rates and attrition; maybe forcing out the lowest achievers, impact test scores, and appears to be the norm.

Some of the charter networks are highly organized with high quality materials and low teacher-student ratios, others, struggle to meet payrolls.

If there is a “secret sauce,” I’m unaware of it.

I listened to a discussion, a public school teacher asked a charter school parent, “Do you know that charter schools force out discipline problems and low achievers?” The charter school parent replied, “Yes, that’s why I send my children to a charter school.”

Yes, charter schools select students by lottery; however, the parents who participate in the lottery are parents with greater social capital. The parents who do not participate in the lottery, who are unaware of charter schools may be parents with less ability to assist their own children.

Are charter schools a triage model?

Do charter schools effectively “cream” the most able students? Do charter schools educate the “talented tenth?”

… in 1903 in a book called The Negro Problem, W. E. B. DuBois wrote:  “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.”

Charter school devotees seem to be saying, and Baker fits into the scenario: the lottery divides parents into those that are aware of the lottery and others who are not; charter schools enforce strict discipline and force out those that don’t conform to the model and don’t enroll, to the extent possible, children with special needs. Charter schools are far more successful that public schools in the same catchment area, basically they are a triage model, a sort of “talented tenth;” however, if it wasn’t for charter schools all children would be receiving an unsatisfactory education. In a way we are a magnet school type option, and, we have put pressure on the local schools to improve in order to compete with us. We may not be “fair” to the neighborhood schools; our model is more than fair for the children we serve.

Not Baker’s words, clearly what Baker implied.

Why would a highly popular governor involve himself in a highly divisive fight?  Cuomo picked a fight with teachers, passed a number of anti-teacher laws, engaged in a war of words, lost the war, and is still scrambling to regain his credibility among teachers and parents.

I believe, maybe totally off base, that Baker is establishing a place on the Republican spectrum; the 2016 Republican contenders became pretenders. He is creating a place for a Romney/Reagan Republican appealing to the “old” Republican Party and the right of center Democrats.  When asked about the Affordable Care Act he acknowledged problems and saw the solutions among the governors.  He did not trash the law as others Republicans have taken as a reflex action.

His support of the question on the ballot is simply checking a box on the potential presidential candidate checklist.

He is a thoughtful, engaging speaker, and, quite popular in a state dominated by Democrats. The 2020 presidential race has begun before the 2016 race has ended.

deBlasio’s Education Plate is Full: PreK, Contracts, Co-Location, Charters and Let’s Not Forget Running a School System.

de Blasio’s education plate runneth over…

Mayors, unlike presidents and governors, don’t have a Congress or a legislature to win over. In New York City the City Council has limited authority, they can “make trouble,” i. e., hold hearings and trash city officials, however the mayor runs the city. deB assured he would have a friend at the council by craftily managing the campaign for speaker. Melissa Mark-Viverito is more than an ally, she is a philosophical partner.

Tonight in Washington President Obama will spend an hour or so laying out his plans for the next year, probably broad strokes with a few specific program initiatives, immediately afterwards the Republicans will trash his ideas, the “official” response and the responses from the 2016 candidates – Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The president’s agenda is held hostages to the guys/gals across the aisle, and, world events over which he has no influence: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Central Africa, and the Ukraine, any of which could explode into a cataclysmic event.

A little simpler in Albany, although the governor requires both houses of the legislature to buy into his spending – tax-cutting agenda, he has been extraordinarily successful in fending off political adversaries.

In City Hall it is the mayor, and the mayor alone, who sets the stage, and, education at the center.

Whoever thought that 4-year olds would dominate the airways and cyber world? The mayor needs Albany to approve a millionaire tax to fund Universal PreK (UPK -all day in all schools) and the governor’s budget does not address a tax increase, it pays for some of the costs, for one year. Under New York State law local tax increases require local approval plus inclusion in the state budget; the headline writers are pumping up a deB v.Cuomo battle over UPK. The state budget will be resolved shortly before the April 1 deadline with intense down to the wire negotiations. The UPK plan, whether the deB plan or the Cuomo plan or some combination is enormously complex, with many, many moving parts – will deB avert an Affordable Care Act meltdown?

The absence of labor contracts for 300,000 city employees – contracts that expired three and four years ago potentially will eat up projected city surpluses and could embed deficits down the road. The unions want full back pay as well as a substantial raise, the mayor, correctly silent, acknowledges the gravity of the problem. Union members have high expectations, and in spite the universal labor support deB will push for “productivity savings,” creative ways to both satisfy unions and reduce costs going forward – with a ticking clock. If no contracts are approved by the end of the school year tempers will fray with more and more references to David Dinkins one-term mayoralty. Would teachers be willing to “trade” dollars for better working conditions? The answer: it depends.

The mayor clearly has a problem with the co-location of charter schools in public school buildings. In the waning days of the Bloomberg years the central board, the Panel for Educational Priorities, PEP, approved many co-locations (see list here). Will deB and Farina reverse the decisions? If they do Eva, the NY Post and the Manhattan Institute will compare deB to Iosif Dzhugashvili and reserve a place for him in the Nineth Circle.

The clumsy, overly complex principal-teacher evaluation plan is part of the upcoming union negotiations, and, an opportunity to simplify the plan, whatever is negotiated requires the approval of Commissioner King.

To date the mayor has been impressive before the public, shoveling snow off his walkway, admitting he could have done better in the recent snow storm, testifying in Albany, he has a firm grasp of the issues, deftly avoids pitfalls and stays on message. New Yorkers, the vast percent of whom voted for him, are getting to know him.

I worked with a principal who, in my judgment was an effective leader. He walked the halls a period or two every day, greeting kids, ducking into classrooms and asking kids a question or two, shooting a few hoops in the gymnasium, explain to teachers why their lesson or their behavior was lacking, writing nice notes of commendation, and an occasional counseling memo memorializing unacceptable conduct. And, of course, he had an open door, he was accessible to all. He was a leader.

deB seems to be in the same mold. You could probably argue with him over whether the Knicks would be better if Melo had more assists, or not, and, he’d have an opinion. Bloomberg would, of course, be cluesless.

Will we feel the same way next fall? Or, will the early days of seduction and allure be soured?

Will Presidential Politics Trump Fairness and Justice for Undocumented Immigrant High School Graduates? Is the Governor Sacrificing Undocumented Immigrant Students for Personal Ambition?

The path to the middle class leads through post-secondary education: a trade school, a community or a 4-year college. President Obama convened a community college summit in Washington this week.

In an increasingly competitive world economy, America’s economic strength depends upon the education and skills of its workers. In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. To meet this need, President Obama set two national goals: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, and community colleges will produce an additional 5 million graduates.

Attending college costs money and for many of our kids paying rent and putting food on the table precludes paying college tuition. There are a range of programs to support high school graduates, both grant and loan programs to assist in paying for college.

To access the grants/loans students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. The form is enormously complex, perhaps as complex as the Affordable Care Act application form. The Center for NYC Affairs has published a wonderful guide for families and students,

We have … created a new website for educators and families available atwww.understandingfafsa.org. The website features PDFs of the guide in English and Spanish as well as a presentation version suitable for classrooms and large groups. Print copies are available while supplies last. Please go to http://www.freefafsaguide.com to order.

There is a substantial glitch: undocumented students are not eligible for financial aid – aid is available at some private colleges.

New York State provides grants through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), except for undocumented students,

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps eligible New York residents pay tuition at approved schools in New York State … annual TAP award can be up to $5,000. Because TAP is a grant, it does not have to be paid back.

TAP is available for students attending SUNY, CUNY and not-for-profit independent degree-granting colleges on a part-time basis. To be eligible for TAP, you must:
 Be a United States citizen or eligible noncitizen
 Be a legal resident of New York State

You may ask, didn’t New York State pass a Dreamer Act that would allow undocumented students access TAP, the answer: no, and the reason, Governor Cuomo does not support the bill, that’s right, the leading liberal candidate for the presidency, a governor who supports a wide range of liberal causes does not support opening a pathway to college for undocumented students who have graduated from high school and met the admissions requirements for college. Unbelievable!

Around the state youth organizations are mobilizing to lobby the legislature and the governor.

Over a year ago Governor Cuomo formed a blue-ribbon 25-member panel, the Cuomo Commission on Education Reform. The Commission held hearings around the state, issued a preliminary report and, four months after the expected date released their final report; without fanfare, almost in the middle of the night, the tepid report supported early childhood education, merit pay for teachers and called for a ballot imitative approving a $2-billion bond issue to purchase technology.

There was no mention of the pitiable graduation rates of English Language learners or support for the Dreamer Act.

* The graduate rate in NYS is 74%, only 34% of ELLs
* The college and career readiness rate is 35%, only 7% for ELLs
* The grade 3-8 ELA scores on the 2013 state test was 33% passing, only 3% for ELLs.

However, there are highly successful models in the state. The fourteen International High Schools in New York City, public high schools that only accept students who have been in country four years or less have a 64% graduation rate – twice the rate of ELLs around the state.

Part of the problem is the State Education Department; the regulations governing the education of English Language learners are basically unchanged for the last thirty years. The Department has been trying to rewrite the regulations for over a year – advocates are sharply critical of the drafts (i.e., compliance regs written by lawyers).

The governor’s callous disregard for students who have struggled through high school, passed courses and Regents exams, and gained acceptance to college is incomprehensible.

The State Education Department must accept the Italian proverb, Il pesce puzza dalla testa, the successes are schools that have created their own models, schools that have basically shunned the rigid, compliance-based state regulations.

As you leaf through the names of the 2014 Intel Competition semi-finalists you see name after name of students who are immigrants or children of immigrants – they are the future of America, as they have always been. To place obstacles in the path of a next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and artists is fool-hearty and short-sighted.