Thursday, April 28, 2011

Charter school bill passes both houses

Both houses of the legislature have passed the bill to allow expansion of charter schools in Indiana. Although much decried by the government education establishment, its effect will mainly be felt in urban districts where government schools are "under performing". Those areas already have charters in place. Establishing a new school is a difficult task, especially to serve the population in urban areas. The best outcome would be for the existing charters to stabilize and improve their operations before seeing a new wave of schools being opened. We may also see some failing government schools taken over by the IDE under the provisions of PL 221 and given to charter operators. That mechanism, rather than new charters, is the best means to put pressure on government schools to change.

Meanwhile the JG continues to beat a dead horse, attacking for profit charter operators for paying no property taxes on their schools. Charters got no funding for obtaining their buildings or fixing them up to serve as schools. To recoup that outlay they have come up with various arrangements like sales and leasebacks. They have increase the value of the property, but in the case of for profit operators are being challenged in court over property tax liability. This situation incenses Karen Frisco who wrote a long, excruciatingly detailed piece on the topic in the Sunday Perspective.

Fine, let for profit charters pay property taxes. No problem, end of story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So why did Harding fail?

Throughout the fiasco at Harding no one has talked about the cause of its closing. It didn't just get bad overnight. Like all failing urban schools, it has been in a long decline, which nobody seemed to notice or care about. It would have gone on like that forever absent state intervention. As Winston Churchill said "Americans always do the right thing, when they have no other choice".

Kids in urban districts start school behind in basic skills. The elementary and middle schools fail to get them caught up and pass them into high school unprepared. So they fail. Upset parents are now trying to turn Harding into a charter school. They didn't seem to be upset when their kids were coming out of Harding undereducated, but are now outraged about long bus rides to the remaining district high schools where the culture is unwelcoming. Other than avoiding busing, what else would turning Harding into a charter accomplish? The kids will still be coming from the same homes and passing through the same elementary and middle schools that couldn't prepare them for high school. A charter school won't do any worse, but the improvement will be limited.

But why pick on Harding? In FWCS Wayne has virtually identical scores on the ECA, about 4 points lower in math and about 4 points higher in English. Considering that Harding has 30% English challenged Burmese you could argue they were actually doing better than Wayne, which also just fired its principal, apparently because he wasn't with the program either. Then there's SSHS which is only a bit better and is now run by the principal who couldn't fix Wayne?

Well, as Henny Youngman's most famous one liner would have put it to Tony Bennett, "Take my high schools .....please!" More likely the he'll dumb down the ECA's.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If "research suggests", it must be true

NAC announced it will be offering full day kindergarten, for a $2000 a fee for those who can pay. Superintendent Chris Himsel said "research and evidence for those who participate in early childhood learning programs are much, much more likely to graduate from high school". Note he didn't say those who participate in full day kindergarten vs. half day kindergarten. There is no conclusive evidence that full day kindengarten is more beneficial than half day once kids are past the third grade. Studies at Indiana University and the University of Southern California "suggest" the benefit is gone after grade three. In other words Mr. Himsel is blowing smoke. Just like FWCS saying eliminating full day kindergarten to save money (and keep Elmhurst open) is off the table. It's a popular baby sitting service and now that we have it it's not going away.