Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Dallas should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools.

Dr. Diane Ravitch is an education historian and research professor at New York University. She is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” a critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement. Ravitch was an assistant secretary of education in the administration of former president George H.W. Bush.
Recently Dr. Ravitch wrote an article titled “Why states should say 'no thanks' to charter schools.” It is online at Below are 6 of the reasons she gives in this article for rejecting charter schools as a solution.  They have been modified below for a 2/22/12 presentation before the Dallas City Council.


Charter schools haven’t helped other states. They won’t help Texas. They won't help Dallas. Here are 6 reasons Dallas should be very cautious about Charter Schools:

1. Numerous national and state studies have shown that charters on average don’t get better results than regular public schools. A small percentage get high scores, more get very low scores, most are about average in terms of test scores. Why kill off a community’s public schools to replace them with a privately managed school that is no better, and possibly worse?

2. Charter schools weaken the regular public schools. They take money away from public schools and from the district budget. As charter schools open, regular public schools must cut teachers and close down programs to pay for them. Dallas is now seeing this happen.

3. Many of the “high-performing” charter schools succeed by skimming off the best students, even in poor districts. The more they draw away the best students, the worse it is for the regular public schools, who are left with the weakest students. This cannot be avoided when parents must take the initiative to apply. Such involved parents, willing to do the needed research, and fill out the applications, also generally have children who are the better students. How can a charter school correct for that? Why would they want to?

4. Many charter schools succeed by excluding or limiting the number of students they accept who have disabilities or who are English language learners. They are also free to push out low-scoring or behavior problem students and send them back to the local public school. This improves their results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students. (The evidence that this may be happening in Dallas at Kipp Truth Academy is found in the large decrease in enrollment after 5th grade found in this study covering the years from 2008/09 through 2011/12.  The attrition from 5th grade to 8th grade is much higher than DISD.)

5. The money paid to charter schools is money that could be sent to public schools. Charters are free to pay often exorbitant executive compensation that wouldn’t be acceptable in a regular public school district.

6. Charters fragment communities and community leadership, such as this council. Instead of everyone working together to support the children and schools of their communities, time and resources go to charters and regular public schools fighting over these scarce resources and space. This is not good for education, or for children. Our community should be united in supporting our public schools.

Transferring control of public dollars to private hands is not reform. It is privatization. This strikes at the very heart of public education. It is a mirage. Texas needs to do the right thing and support a sound public education system that benefits all children equally, not just the children whose parents know enough to be able to invest the needed effort to enroll and then keep their child in a charter school.

(Original 6 points from Dr. Diane Ravitch, modified 2/22/12 by Bill Betzen for Dallas City Council. 

There is slowly increasing evidence of significant attrition within charter schools.  These students are not counted as dropouts as they transfer back to public schools, or possibly other schools.  Work is being done to track these students.  The indications that this attrition may be significant are found in the report on the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) study done for Dallas County ISD's .  That study indicated that almost all Dallas County ISD's had a positive improvement in their graduation rates, as measured by the CPI, from the years 2007/08 to 2009/10, with DISD one of the districts leading the way. But, inspite of all these positive numbers, when you removed only DISD enrollment from the entire Dallas County enrollment for all publically funded schools, which includes charter schools, the improvement goes negative 1.13 percentage points! That can only indicate a significant attrition within the charter schools as the average among the other ISD's should have left that number as a positive.  More study is needed of actual charter school enrollments to see if that can be verified. )

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Texas Public School Cuts Can Stop!: The Center for Public Policy Priorities

The following post was released this morning by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.  Please copy and distribute it to anyone and everyone you know who is concerned about public schools in Texas.

Time Proves State’s Refusal to Spend Rainy Day Fund Misguided; What We Should Do Now and for the Future

February 21, 2012        Contact: Dick Lavine,

During the legislative session, the Center for Public Policy Priorities recommended that the state spend the Rainy Day Fund to prevent damaging cuts to vital state services, particularly public education. See Using the Rainy Day Fund to Ensure our Recovery and Prosperity (Feb. 21, 2011). The Rainy Day Fund is a constitutional fund designed to save money in good times to pay ongoing expenses during bad times when revenue is short. After the economy improves, and revenue rebounds, general revenue once again pays for ongoing expenses. During the 2011 legislative session, with billions available for appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund, the state had no need to cut spending on public education—the proven path to good-paying jobs. Unfortunately, the state cut public education spending by $5.3 billion.

What We Can Do Today

Time has proven our recommendation to use the Rainy Day Fund a sound one. The Comptroller’s December 2011 certification revenue estimate projects a $1.6 billion ending balance by August 2013, because of improved tax collections since the 2011 legislative sessions ended. The economy has begun to recover. The state sales tax brought in more money in the first five months of fiscal 2012 than in the similar period of any previous year, including 2008—the current record year for sales tax revenue. At this rate, sales tax collections for 2012 may be some $1.4 billion higher than predicted by the comptroller when she certified the current state budget.

If the governor called the legislature into special session today, $1.6 billion (the currently estimated ending balance), along with $400 million from the Rainy Day Fund, could be appropriated to restore public education spending for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. With the Rainy Day Fund expected to have a balance of $7.3 billion at the end of the present biennium—more than enough to cover any supplemental General Revenue needed for Medicaid in 2013—the state could confidently restore Foundation School Program spending before school districts are forced to make additional damaging cuts in the next few months.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Diane Ravitch review of Finnish Lessons

Within the past 24 hours a review of Finnish Lessons by Diane Ravitch has been posted on the New York Review of Books Web Site.  This article summarizes the struggle education in the US is facing.

This is the first of two articles that Dr. Ravitch will be writing for the Review.  Here are the last two paragraphs of this article, setting the stage for the second article about Teach for America as compared to the Finnish model:
Sahlberg recognizes that Finland stands outside what he refers to as the “Global Education Reform Movement,” to which he appends the apt acronym “GERM.” GERM, he notes, is a virus that has infected not only the United States, but the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other nations. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program are examples of the global education reform movement. Both promote standardized testing as the most reliable measure of success for students, teachers, and schools; privatization in the form of schools being transferred to private management; standardization of curriculum; and test-based accountability such as merit pay for high scores, closing schools with low scores, and firing educators for low scores.

In contrast, the central aim of Finnish education is the development of each child as a thinking, active, creative person, not the attainment of higher test scores, and the primary strategy of Finnish education is cooperation, not competition. I will consider the Teach for America organization—the subject of Wendy Kopp’s A Chance to Make History—in comparison to the Finnish model in a second article.

—This is the first of two articles.  That second article was published online 3/2/12.  It is titled: How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools .  It is about facts regarding Teach for America that are less shared in the media.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Middle Schools vs K-8 Elementary Schools

Debates over grade configurations surrounding middle school have gone on for as long as middle schools have existed.  That issue is moving beyond the debate stage.

A July 2011 Harvard University study documented the damage being done in middle schools. Parents need to read it. This detailed and extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students."  If parents agree, they must demand change, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.

The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized test were lower in middle schools than in K-8 elementary schools. Parents and teachers familiar with both settings will rarely be surprised by these findings.

This past November a powerful editorial was published by CNN giving a simple message: "By all accounts, middle schools are a weak link in the chain of public education."

The K-8 response to this "weak link" is gaining momentum. The number of  K-8 schools has almost doubled in the US since 2000 while over 1,000 middle schools have disappeared or been re-purposed as K-8. Google news for K-8 and middle school.  You will find reports of school districts closing middle schools and changing them to K-8 elementary schools with very few exceptions. The reason is as simple as the statement a decade ago by William Moloney, then the Education Commissioner of Colorado: "K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name."

What better place to endure the uncertainties of the changes of puberty?

This past April the National Middle School Association changed it's name to the Association for Middle Level Education. They saw middle schools being closed in the US, and realized such separate institutions do not exist in the highest achieving school systems in the world, such as Finland.  In such countries the elimination of the middle school transfer trauma appears to help in far exceeding US academic achievement while at the same time investing significantly fewer classroom hours. The name change reflected a more authentic focus on educating students ages 10 to 15. Will Texas public schools see what is happening?

In Cincinnati Ohio the change to K-8 schools happened in the 1990's. It was a positive change. Now Cincinnati wants more improvement and is exploring a K-6, 7-12 configuration.  They are finding better initial results. The jury is still out and questions remain. See this 12-26-11 news report on explorations all school districts should be making.
We must continue to study the growing research. Google "middle school," "K-8," "7-12," "research," and related search combinations, to find such research.  Below is a chronological listing of relevant articles, a list that will continue to grow:

  1. K-8 Schools: An Idea for the New Millenium?, Published 1999, updated 2010 Education World
  2. Revival of the K-8 School: Criticism of middle schools fuels renewed interest in a school configuration of yesteryear , March 2002, Priscilly Pardini, in The School Administrator
  3. Mayhem in the Middle: Why We Should Shift to K–8, April 2006, Cheri Pierson Yecke, ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
  4. K-8 or middle school? Which is better?,  2008, The Arizona Republic
  5. K-8 beats middle school in study,  2010, JoanneJacobs blog
  6. Study Finds Students in K-8 Schools Do Better than Students in Stand-Alone Middle Schools,  2010, EducationNext
  7. How and why middle schools harm student achievement, Fall 2010, Rockoff & Lockwood, Columbia University
  8. The Middle School Mess, Winter 2011, EducationNex
  9. Why Pre-K - 8?, list of reasons collected by an Atlanta Georgia school.
  10. No middle ground: Middle school may harm achievement, 11/29/11 Silicon Valley Education Foundation: Thoughts on Public Education
  11. Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High School, July 15, 2011, Schwerdt & West, Harvard University 
  12. How Grade Level Configurations Affect Student Achievement,  July 2011, Elizabeth Dhuey, University of Toronto
  13. Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, September 2011, Jacob & Rockoff, The Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst.
  14. Finnishing School: The world's top school system gives pointers , 1/20/12, Kathryn Baron, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Thoughts on Public Education (Note: Finland has no middle schools separate from their 1-9 basic schools.)
  15. Finnish far ahead of U.S. schools. The education system in Finland — one of the world’s best — focuses on the students first.  2-19-12, The Register Guard, Eugene, Oregon.
  16. In Finland, Students Win When Teachers Compete. 2-18-12, Heartlander, The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois. 
  17.  The Middle School Plunge. Spring 2012, EducationNex. An update on the research with some meaningful comments.
  18. The Middle-School Cliff. 3-12-12, Society for Quality Education, a discussion of the issue in Ontario.
  19. On 2-16-13 there was a powerful conference on the crisis of black male students dropping out on the pathway to prison.  It was called "The Urgency of Now" and was at Friendship West Baptist Church in South Dallas. The following chart was part of the presentation by Kevin Monday related to his decade+ of work.  It clearly shows the damage of middle school with one plus.  It shows what happened in Dallas ISD from 2005/06 to 2006/07 when DISD moved about 60% of 6th graders from elementary schools into middle schools. Notice how disciplinary actions increase over 130%!: 
Click on the above chart to see the rest of the damage done in middle school! Remember, most of our dropouts never made it into the 10th grade until about 2011 when graduation rate progress pushed that 50% marker into 10th grade for DISD.  

The rest of the story on the chart above is the terrible 440% increase in discipline problems from 5th graders to 6th graders the first semester of 2012/13 school year in Dallas.  See the following chart.  It is accurate but still being ignored by DISD!
It is from

Below is a erratic listing of articles, gathered as time is available, about school districts now in the process of moving to a K-8 configured system:
  1. Lakewood, New Jersey, 2-17-12 K-8 is proposed but apparently with inadequate information based on comments on page.
  2. Corning, California, 2-17-12
  3. Toledo, Ohio, 3-2-12, a successful transition to K-8 for Toledo Public Schools.
  4. Lakewood, New Jersey, 3-2-12, example of K-8 transition that was rejected in a community with a 50-year middle school tradition.  The battle does not need to end.  A community awareness of the research is needed.
  5. Corning, California, 3-2-12,  Article includes quotes from administrator familiar with k-8, and the research, as this district makes the transition. 
  6. Elizabeth, New Jersey, 3-28-12,  "all six middle schools replaced by reconfigured K-8 elementary schools"
  7. Mariposa Middle School to close, District cites potential budget deficit; K-6 schools will be K-8, 4-3-12, Merced, CA, middle school closing so as to create k-8 school
  8. York schools' middle school idea raises question: What grades should buildings serve?, 4-7-12,  York, PA, considering move to k-8 schools and closing all middle schools. 
  9. York District's planned move to a K-8 model instead of having separate elementary and middle schools will reduce the need for staff.  In Dallas this is NOT the reason to move to a K-8 model.  It is almost certain that as DISD moves to a more K-8 centered model that enrollment will go up as parents return their children to DISD and achievement goes up.  We will need more teachers!
  10. Comparing Achievement between K-8 & Middle Schools By Janie Andrich, of 21st Century Education, writes a good summary of the research and benefits of K-8 schools, July 10, 2012.
  11. New K-8 Schools opening in Colorado
  12. Due to the research on increased achievement, more K-8 schools are opening in Florida:
  13. Research in NYC showing that the worst and least productive configuration for schools is K-5/6-8, the exact configuration now dominating in Dallas ISD: 
  14. Do Middle Schools Make Sense?    Yes!
If anyone knows of any research that indicates K-8 schools have a negative affect on discipline or student achievement compared to K-5/6-8 or K-6/7-8 configuration, please email the links to me at and describe what you found.  Thank you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dallas ISD Blinked

School boards and administrators everywhere struggle to improve their schools. However, on 1/26/12 the Dallas ISD administration and school board mandated 45 minutes into a teacher's daily schedule. DISD blinked!

Lack of administrative focus on student achievement was exposed. DISD didn't even have a goal focused position statement for the public on this change! DISD motivation is still unclear. Different reasons are being given.

Who is more focused on a student's achievement than their teacher, and hopefully their parents? With this change some of the freedom of teachers to focus their time most effectively on student achievement will be lost.