If you believe what NEO says about its role in New Hampshire’s voucher program, you should read this
The Network for Educational Opportunity (actually, the Alliance for the Separation of School and State) is limping along as the only active scholarship organization under the voucher tax credit law passed last year. (There is one more, called the Giving Going Alliance, but the website is inactive and no one answers the phone). NEO planned to offer kickbacks to religious schools that would raise money for them but have not succeeded in raising much. Based on their publicly available records very few public school families are applying for scholarships. A superior court decision on the constitutionality of the tax credit is due any day but, regardless of that decision, the voucher program looks to be dying on the vine. There is no published plan selecting scholarship recipients. They do not know what schools many of the applicants currently attend. And when asked as part the court proceedings when they would begin awarding scholarships, the director of the program did not know (here on page 16).
The voucher program has become a sad side-show distracting from the real story of public education in New Hampshire. But it is still out there right now, so House Education Committee Chair Mary Gile sent a letter to the Network for Educational Opportunity asking for an explanation and what she was going to do to head off real scandal. If I can get a copy I will post it but, in the meantime, here are some points in response to an OpEd in Sunday’s Nashua Telegraph over the name of the program director, Kate Baker:
“The Network for Educational Opportunity is busy launching a scholarship program that will make a positive contribution to educational excellence in New Hampshire. Soon, we’ll discover the merits of parental choice in the decision of where and how students are educated when an authentic choice is presented.”
“educational excellence”: The purpose of the voucher program, as stated by one of the bill’s authors, is to entice students from New Hampshire’s highly rated public schools and send them to unaccountable and unaccredited religious schools that teach a creationist curriculum that is far out of the mainstream.
“Some 800 financially needy children, many of them underserved or neglected in their current school, will no longer be subject to the few educational options available within, and determined by, their ZIP codes. Instead, NEO is helping parents elect where to send children using a portable scholarship toward private school, a different public school, or homeschooling expenses.”
Among the first 700 applicants, 3 want to go to another public school, while 148 are currently homeschooling and would now want a state subsidy to continue doing that. Another 342 would go to unaccredited schools. While some applicants are surely “financially needy,” incomes could be over $80,000 for a family of 5 and many already attend the private school they would use the scholarship to attend.
“We’ll succeed if opponents of educational choice continue to fail in their exhaustive efforts to scuttle the tax credit law that makes this historic step possible. Which brings me to why, during our busy implementation phase, I’ve taken to this forum.
NEO received a curious inquiry from state Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, chair of the House education committee. Though couched as a letter to me, the email was sent to reporters who shared her intent on social media. So here I am, publicly setting the record straight.
Right up front, Gile mangles facts by terming our scholarships “vouchers.” In fact, the scholarship monies we raise are sourced from hard-earned pretax income from businesses that get an 85 percent tax credit for investing in better education. This makes the source of these scholarships charitable donations directly from business owners to a nonprofit. Donations never go to the state, and therefore, our scholarships can’t be vouchers. If that seems like an accounting nuance, as opponents of education choice want it to, consider that the U.S. Supreme Court sees it our way.”
A business making a $10,000 “scholarship” contribution would be repaid all but $429 of that by the State (here’s how it works). ”Voucher” is the accurate and commonly applied name for this kind of program, used by everyone but voucher advocates wanting to obscure what’s going on. Does the “private money” argument really pass the straight face test?
“Gile also nitpicks at NEO’s exploration of fundraising options. In a nutshell, NEO once considered a particular fundraising model that would have permitted schools to collaboratively attract business donors for scholarships. We’d have paid the schools commission the same way we’d compensate an in-house fundraiser. Since she knows we never implemented this model, Gile’s alarmist, accusatory tone is uncalled for.”
Someone should ask Reps. David Hess and Neal Kurk, actively engaged in the voucher debate last year, if they anticipated that the 10% the Legislature provided for “program administration” of scholarship organizations would be split with schools in repayment for fundraising. How did the State of New Hampshire get mixed up with someone who thinks that this kind of kickback is a “nit?”
“Gile then makes an interesting claim about our fiscal solvency, insinuating that NEO is flush with money. So much so, she says, that she wants us to surrender the unostentatious 10 percent administrative fees that nonprofits like ours can retain under the education tax credit law.”
I haven’t seen Rep. Giles’ letter but I doubt that she would have insinuated that NEO is “flush with money.” This kind of spin suggests that Charles McGee, convicted in the 2002 Republican phone jamming scheme, is still writing Ms. Baker’s public communications for her.
“Our position on her request in the near-term is that due to our financial health, we’re willing to redirect this year’s 10 percent administrative fee amount to the scholarship account. Long-term, however, we won’t commit to doing this because we expect to build capacity in response to expected growth in demand for education choice scholarships. We also wouldn’t presume to speak for other nonprofits operating under the law and future non-profits, as these legally obtained administrative fees are used to aid correspondence with the state departments of revenue and education.
Gile then pivots to a conflicting assertion concerning NEO’s finances, arriving at the idea that we’re financially unsound. She declares that the allure of educational choice, particularly the demand for the tax credit, has waned. Without getting deep into the math, Gile should know that our organization is financially robust just as she first contended.”
Ms. Baker/Mr. McGee make this bland “financially robust” assertion with nothing to back it up. In reality, the organization’s donations have fallen from almost $300,o00 a dozen years ago to $35,000 last year. Here’s a letter from the organization’s president saying they are in tough shape and pleading for even $5. NEO lists a staff of 8, but they are mostly volunteers with other jobs. Unless they’ve found an angel, “robust” would not be an accurate description of NEO’s finances.
The organization does not have the capacity or credibility to administer a program funded by tax credits from the State of New Hampshire.
“NEO is poised to give parents $121,000 in donated scholarship monies for which businesses will get a tax credit. The funds are in the bank, ready for distribution. The program will produce up to $500,000 in net savings for the state because the educational settings where the scholarships will be used operate more efficiently than public schools. These funds are separate and apart from tens of thousands of dollars in operating funds, including for staffing, that we’ve raised from proponents of portable education scholarships.”
If you see Ms. Baker, ask her to justify that made-up figure of $500,000. Can’t be done.
“Finally, Gile pleads, “New Hampshire students and families cannot afford waste or misuse of state education funding dollars.” We agree. That’s why our novel scholarship work is 100 percent unattached to public education funding. NEO raises charitable contributions in a voluntary exchange that’s exclusive from how public education is funded. Period. The U.S. Supreme Court sees it our way.”
“Gile may view every potentially taxable dollar in the economy as belonging to the same public education system that fails many of the state’s most vulnerable children. As someone who deals with those children and their parents, I’m sorry to inform Giles that this tired notion offends, and it is deliriously out of touch.”
All Ms. Baker can really say is that, somewhere in the State, she has found only 15 public school kids whose parents would rather send them to a different school (there may be more but NEO’s applicant records are incomplete).
Most importantly, Ms. Baker and her writing team have no basis for the assertion that the “public education system..fails many of the state’s most vulnerable children.” Manchester’s Bakersville Elementary School, for instance, has 80% free and reduced lunch kids, 40% of whom are learning English as a second language, but almost 70% of whom are proficient in reading in the 3rd grade. Think about those numbers. That is amazing.
Not to pile on, but KIPP is everyone’s example of a successful national chain of charter schools and I just happened to see an analysis done by Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher and well informed blogger. He looks into the publicly available data and shows that the KIPP schools in Newark, NJ have the kind of high attrition rates they would not have if they were doing a good job. Here’s his conclusion, but you should read the full post here and see if you don’t agree:
KIPP has received a lot of money on the facade that they have the secret to getting amazing results from the ‘same kids’ with the ‘same resources.’ Their own reports and publicly available data from New Jersey clearly show that their success is extremely limited.
This is not a problem we have in New Hampshire. All our charters are locally grown and most are aimed specific niches that supplement the offerings of the traditional public schools. So far, New Hampshire has had the wisdom to avoid charter schools that game the system this way, which is a good thing to keep in mind as we re-examine our charter policies.
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -
Leaders with Metro Nashville Public Schoolshave serious concerns about what is happening at some of the city’s most popular charter schools.
Students are leaving in large numbers at a particularly important time of the school year, and the consequences may have an impact on test scores.
Charter schools are literally built on the idea that they will outperform public, zoned schools. They are popular because they promise and deliver results, but some new numbers are raising big questions about charter schools.
One of the first things a visitor sees when stepping into Kipp Academy is a graph that shows how Kipp is outperforming Metro schools in every subject.
However, Kipp Academy is also one of the leaders in another stat that is not something to crow about.
When it comes to the net loss of students this year, charter schools are the top eight losers of students.
In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.
“We look at that attrition. We keep an eye on it, and we actually think about how we can bring that back in line with where we’ve been historically,” said Kipp Principal Randy Dowell.
Dowell said Kipp’s 18 percent attrition is unacceptable.
MNPS feels it’s unacceptable as well, because not only are they getting kids from charter schools, but they are also getting troubled kids and then getting them right before testing time.
“That’s also a frustration for the zoned-school principals. They are getting clearly challenging kids back in their schools just prior to accountability testing,” said MNPS Chief Operating Officer Fred Carr.
Nineteen of the last 20 children to leave Kipp Academy had multiple out-of-school suspensions. Eleven of the 19 are classified as special needs, and all of them took their TCAPs at Metro zoned schools, so their scores won’t count against Kipp.
“We won’t know how they perform until we receive results and we see. We would be happy to take their results, frankly. The goal is getting kids ready for college. The goal is not having shiny results for me or for anyone on the team,” Dowell said.
Kipp Academy has started new counseling groups to try to retain children. MNPS said it constantly sees charters being held up as the model, but feels these numbers prove the two different types of schools play by different rules.
Valerie Strauss (The Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post) had widely respected Finnish education strategist Pasi Sahlberg write a guest column. It’s great fun to get these thoughts unconstrained by the limits of our current American education debate. Key points:
In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.
In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.
After all the kerfuffle we’ve had over vouchers in New Hampshire , there actually hasn’t been that much interest so far. Businesses haven’t been contributing. Very few public school kids have been applying, if the publicly available numbers are any indication. The court may end the program altogether. And the more you look at what’s going on in our public schools, the clearer it becomes that a debate about vouchers is an unproductive distraction from the real discussion about how we can best educate our low and middle income children.
Now it seems that our New Hampshire experience may be a reflection of a lack of interest in vouchers nationally. There is a pretty straight talk overview of the national trend in The American Prospect. Here’s the lede:
When news broke Tuesday that the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher system, which uses public dollars to pay for low-income students to go to private schools, the fight over vouchers made its way back into the headlines. The Louisiana program, pushed hard and publicly by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, offers any low-income child in the state, regardless of what public school they would attend, tuition assistance at private schools. It’s something liberals fear will become commonplace in other states in the future if conservative lawmakers get their way on education policy.
Yet conservatives have been dominating legislatures since 2010 and there has been little success in creating voucher programs. Louisiana is one of only two states with such a broad program in place. After the 2010 Tea Party wave there was “a big spike in the number of states considering voucher legislation,” says Josh Cunningham, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). But most of those states didn’t actually pass any bills. Since 2010, four states have created new voucher programs. This year alone, according to NCSL, voucher bills have failed in seven states. While vouchers were once a key piece of the school choice agenda, they now play second fiddle to more popular education reform policies. But are they dead?
“Charter schools are the main thing at this point in time,” says William J. Mathis, managing director at the National Education Policy Center, which studies educational policy. “Vouchers just never seemed to grab traction.”
via Are Vouchers Dead?.
Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School gets results by eliminating the distractions and concentrating on learning
I’m with George Shea, New Franklin’s principal since 2005, and we have just dropped into a classroom where a half dozen 4th graders are sitting at a low table with their teacher, learning that if you multiply a number by a fraction, the resulting number is smaller. Back in the hallway, we steer around Jeremy and his reading specialist sitting against the wall with a book of historical fiction in which Jeremy’s copy has yellow stickies in every direction to indicate words he didn’t know or anything else important, like key points in the story or his thoughts about what was coming next.
We pass a 5th grade boy going with his teacher to toss a ball for five minutes. Then one of the smaller kids is purposefully carrying out his assignment to lug this heavy backpack down to Ms. Roberts at the other end of the hall. They’re both on ”motor breaks,” and then return ready to sit down and concentrate again.
We drop in on a classroom filled with 5th graders on computers writing “persuasive” essays about the Revolutionary War. The teacher checks in over their shoulders commenting and helping them sharpen their conclusions.
Then two teachers appear, each with an arm under one of a little boy’s shoulders. They are holding Peter, a kindergartener, just off the ground as they walk calmly but quickly down the hall. He’s calm too. George, the principal, is concerned but says that a dozen of his teachers are trained in what’s called “Therapeutic Crisis Intervention,” a method of de-escalating and heading off behavioral issues before they get out of hand. It gets to this level maybe several times each school year. Half an hour later when we walk by his classroom, Peter is reading happily on the floor with his teacher and a classmate.
New Franklin is a “Title I school,” meaning that it gets extra federal support to reach children at risk of failing. About 36% of New Franklin students are qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program. In years past, New Franklin’s scores in state-wide tests did indeed reflect the challenges faced by the low income neighborhoods they serve. But recently, the improvements have been dramatic.
Eighty six percent of New Franklin students are now proficient in math and 91% are proficient in reading. Those are amazing numbers. And the school has done it the hard way. While high achievers’ scores have improved, New Franklin has at the same time been closing the gap between low income students and the best performers. Seventy six percent of low income kids are now proficient in math and 78% are proficient in reading.
The accomplishments of New Franklin and many New Hampshire public schools are taking place in the midst of an acrimonious national debate about the future of American public education. Broadly stated, proponents of “education reform” say something like this:
The New Hampshire Board of Education and the Department of Education have been moving methodically towards competency based education for years. It’s consistent with the Common Core State Standards being implemented right now in New Hampshire. and a number of schools are well down the road. This Concord Monitor report is a good summary:
The state Board of Education is moving toward competency-based education rather than credit-based, with the goal of more clearly defining what students must know to graduate.
“It’s the right work,” said Concord Superintendent Chris Rath. “I think the clearer we can be with kids about what it is we want them to learn and be able to know and do, the better the results. Kids have to know what the target is to hit it.”