Saturday, September 22, 2012

Don't Cry for Me JC Penney

Today I visited the local JC Penney store and happily purchased a pair of shoes on sale. What a deal! The salesperson was great, but prior to the end of the transaction asked if I wanted to donate 45 cents to Teach for America. I let her know that the question itself was upsetting to me. She gave me my receipt, told me about the online survey, and said I could voice my concern there. I did just that. Here's what I sent using the character limitations available.

"Upon checkout, I was asked if I would like to donate to Teach For America, which is not a charity. It is a controversial national organization that provides zero benefit to any schools or children in my community and questionable contributions to communities across the nation. The name gives the false impression it benefits teachers. The request upset me and hearing it offered to another customer caused me to leave the store. I am a long time shopper at JC Penney, but I will avoid it until I am made aware that the company has severed this inappropriate program that destroys an otherwise satisfactory shopping experience."

How did JC Penney get mixed up with TFA in the first place? I recall that Target and even Walmart targeted some donations to local schools. In any case, for my shopping needs as the holiday season approaches, I have TJ Max and Ross For Less on the top of my shopping destination list. I will not be buying much this season, but where I purchase will be as important as what I purchase.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Washington State Ballot Initiative: Redefining School Choice

Parents, community members, and taxpayers across the nation have been loud and clear regarding what they expect from public schools.
1) They want accountability; but do not want schools turned into centers of testing and test preparation instead of centers of learning.
2) They want safe, student-centered, and instructionally-rich environments that include art, music, and P.E.
3) They want reasonable class sizes and believe that class-size matters.
4) They want stronger local control and less federal and state control.
5) They want less standardization, less intrusive rules, less tests, and less data collection.
6) They want to retain parent rights, and not have them weakened by new FERPA regulations.

Education policy-wonks, education reformers, foundations, and legislators in both establishments persist in ignoring these concerns and persist in forcing their definition of education reform.

Washington State is one of  nine states that do not allow charter schools. "Washington voters have rejected charter schools three times before -- in 1996, 2000 and a third time in 2004." This November, voters will revisit this situation again via a ballot initiative 1240, based on a petition drive. The three week petition drive was funded this way:
According to Public Disclosure Commission filings posted Tuesday, Yes On 1240 has raised a total of $2.3 million and spent about $2.1 million to gather about 350,000 signatures. Most of the money has come from Washington technology leaders, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who donated $1 million.
Other reported funds and funders of the petition drive included $100,000 from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and $200,000 from Katherine Binder, chairwoman of EMFCO Holdings, $150,000 has been donated to the campaign from out-of-state, and $50,000 from Democrats for Education Reform, which is based in New York but has a presence in Washington state.

The successful petition drive was organized by Winner & Mandabach of Santa Monica, California, a company that specializes in "big-buck initiatives." 

The final and approved wording on the ballot measure read as follows:

             Initiative Measure No. 1240 concerns creation of a public charter school system.

Concise description:
This measure would authorize up to forty publicly-funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious, nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools.

Ballot measure summary limited to 75 words:
This measure would allow a newly-created state commission or approved local school boards to authorize qualifying nonreligious, nonprofit organizations to operate public charter schools, limited to forty schools over five years. Public charter schools would receive standard per-student public school funding and be open to all students without tuition. Public charter schools would be subject to teacher certification requirements, government oversight, and performance reporting requirements, but exempt from certain state laws and school district policies.

Read more here: voters are unlikely to read is the 39-page implementation plan, which includes
What voters are unlikely to read is the 39-page detailed implementation plan or the "conversion charters" plan tucked within it.  These new public charters would be free of regulations required of the public schools except for testing requirements. Conversion charters permit parents or teachers to vote to turn a standard public school into a charter school via a petition process. While controversial so-called parent trigger laws are restricted to low performing schools and rely on a petition process, this ballot initiative allows any school including high performing schools to "convert."

 I1240 proponents attempt to distinguish "conversion" from "parent trigger" this way:
"...there is no parent or teacher “trigger” in I-1240. Under I-1240, it’s possible for a traditional public school to convert to a charter school only if the school meets rigorous application requirements, and demonstrates community need and parent and community support. One additional requirement before that conversion could happen is that either a majority of the parents or a majority of the teachers would have to sign a petition supporting the conversion. However, this is an additional requirement to demonstrate support for the school — a petition alone would mean nothing."
Parents, community members, and taxpayers are not so easily fooled by changes in a word or two and creating new definitions. Pass it now, fix it later is a bad idea. The devil is in the details, or lack of, and Washington state voters would do well to reject this ballot initiative. What is clear for the rest of the nation is that charter expansion for all is the goal.

While public schools strain under regulations, public charters would not. How does this make any sense? Wouldn't the public be better served by wider discussion of what type of customized conversion schools would be developed even in those areas where students demonstrate high achievement? How do customized schools navigate in a standardized-driven top down environment? Without that conversation first, how much more experimentation on children should the taxpayers be willing to pay for?

Below is a section of the final text of the ballot measure that references a conversion.

Part II
Sec. 201: (8) "Conversion charter school" means a charter school created by converting an existing noncharter public school in its entirety to a charter
school under this chapter.
(9) "New charter school" means any charter school established under this chapter that is not a conversion charter school.
Sec. 205: (3) A conversion charter school must provide sufficient capacity to enroll all students who wish to remain enrolled in the school after its conversion to a charter school, and may not displace students enrolled before the chartering process.
Sec. 213: (3) In the case of an application to establish a conversion charter school, the applicant must also demonstrate support for the proposed conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers assigned to the school or a petition signed by a majority of parents of students in the school.
Sec. 222: (6) Conversion charter schools are eligible for local levy moneys approved by the voters before the conversion start-up date of the school as determined by the authorizer, and the school district must allocate levy moneys to a conversion charter school.
Sec. 223: (5) A conversion charter school as part of the consideration for providing educational services under the charter contract may continue to use its existing facility without paying rent to the school district that owns the facility. The district remains responsible for major repairs and safety upgrades that may be required for the continued use of the facility as a public school. The charter school is responsible for routine maintenance of the facility including, but not limited to, cleaning, painting, gardening, and landscaping. The charter contract of a conversion charter school using existing facilities that are owned by its school district must include reasonable and customary terms regarding the use of the existing facility that are binding upon the school district. References: