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For Education Reform Movement Results, see Cites of Milwaukee and Cleveland Public School Districts……..So what are the reformers true motives?

It’s the same old story; you work areas that the people are downtrodden, have lost hope and promise them a better opportunity. History is littered with examples of individuals promising results by promoting simple solutions to solve complex issues, most often these solutions ended in disaster. In this case the promise is a better education with diverse programming, parent say and involvement. You never mention the multiple variables involved that combine to disrupt the public education system you seek to replace, you just ignore the realities as if they never existed. One thing is clear in the reformers mind, public education is broken and they have the tools to fix it. You then roll out, in some cases 60 year old initiatives, same or worse results educational programs and call it reform. My friend this is the education reform movement in the City of Buffalo.

The City of Buffalos education reform movement is an economic and political force to be reckoned with. Closely aligned with StudentsFirst, is led by Buffalo ReformEd, Buffalo School Board members James Sampson and Carl up the Block. They are quick to tout programs and initiatives that they say will improve academic achievement in public education, but these initiatives appear to be the start of strip and profit job. They promote a Charter School take over, the parent trigger Law, common core, online learning and vouchers as the prime ways to improve public education, while disbanding its present form.

The Buffalo education reformers believe that these initiatives will give parents/students a superior educational choice and a path out of a failing public school system. Also administrators and teachers will have instructional freedom to truly promote student learning without teacher union barriers. They promote these initiatives or programs as if they have already been proven effective and the public should just fall in line with this mindset. All these programs and initiatives are implemented elsewhere but there existence is barely mentioned by the individuals touting their wonders. I would say it’s because the effectiveness of the initiatives is average at best in improving academic standards, but they continue to be pushed by the business and political community as a viable alternative to traditional public education. One only has to look to the Cites of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Cleveland, Ohio to discover if Charter Schools, online learning and vouchers are an effective means in improving academic standards, as the Buffalo Education reformers claim.

The cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Cleveland, Ohio are not unlike Buffalo, New York, but with a larger population. They have similar demographics in terms of ethnic diversity and socio-economic levels. They also have public school systems that are performing below standards as a whole, with a high school graduation rates at 66% for Milwaukee and 56% for Cleveland. There has been a voucher program for students in the City of Milwaukee since 1990 and Charter Schools since 1998. There are presently 30 Charter Schools enrolling around 10,000 students and 23,000 students that use vouchers to secure their educational placements. Cleveland, Ohio has had Charter Schools and a voucher program since 1999. They have 70 charter Schools enrolling about 14,000 students and 10,000 students that used vouchers for educational placements. So if you’ve never heard of either of these two cites from the Buffalo reformers, there’s a good reason why. The data on both in terms of academic improvement has been nominal at best.

The education reform movement in the City of Buffalo has assumed the task of remaking public education. With this remaking they are predicting a drastic improvement in academic achievement levels for students, but there formula for success has made limited success in other cities. Take for example Charter Schools as a way to improve academic achievement. In Cleveland, the Charter School experiment has been around for 15 years, but has had no success in turning around this low performing urban public school district. In October of 2012 the Ohio school ratings released reports  showing  most charters that serve disadvantaged students in Cleveland have not achieved’ success, and almost a third of those schools got D and F grades from the state. Charters as a whole performed better than traditional public schools in Cleveland, but after nearly 15 years, they have yet to turn around the struggling district, which got an F in the state ratings and ranked 606 of 627 school districts in Ohio. In Milwaukee you have the same results, with Charter Schools performing better on student math assessments, but reading was the same. In terms of district ranking within the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is ranked 391 out of 403. It should also be noted that other schools ranked in the bottom along with these two cities, were mostly one school rural districts. They also perform on the same level academically as traditional public schools, but have limited, if any special education programs, behaviorally deficient or English Language Learners calculated into their academic performance levels. So if someone said they wanted to come in and switch your heating system and you get the same results, would you? I would say no, because it only benefits the individual selling you the heating system.

The Buffalo reformers are all in on school vouchers as a form of improving student achievement; one in particular making his feeling known on a billboard. They again fail to give any evidence that vouchers work and never mention Cleveland or Milwaukee, cities that use vouchers. The voucher programs in these two cities also have had limited success in improving the academic achievement. Cleveland public school students often outperformed voucher students on 2009-10 state proficiency tests, according to data from the Ohio Department of Education. Last year was the first time Cleveland voucher students were required to take the tests since the Cleveland program began in 1995. About two-thirds of the Cleveland students who use vouchers never attended public schools and are mostly rebates for families who were already sending their children to private schools. Which has makes one wonder how vouchers improve public education when most students that use vouchers have never attended a public school.  In 2011, the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau released a five-year longitudinal study, which concluded that students in Milwaukee using vouchers to attend private schools perform no better on standardized tests than their counterparts in public schools. Moreover, the majority of students (approximately 75 percent) who had enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program in 9th grade had withdrawn from the program by the time that they had reached 12th grade. This means that the “success” that voucher advocates point to with regard to graduation rates and college enrollment only reflects successful students’ “exposure” to the Milwaukee voucher program, not their long-term participation in the program. (Wisconsin Association of School Boards).

Although a private voucher school may not discriminate against a child with special educational needs during the admissions process, as a private school, a voucher school is required to offer only those services to assist students with special needs that it can provide with minor adjustments. As a result, vouchers leave behind many disadvantaged students because private voucher schools either do not offer the special services they need or persuade parents that a voucher school does not suit their child’s special needs. This has the effect of concentrating those students with the most severe cognitive and physical disabilities in the public school system. Indeed, the state’s largest disability advocacy group, Disability Rights Wisconsin, has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit alleging that in Milwaukee, students with disabilities “are actively counseled out of the (voucher) program.” (Wisconsin Association of School Boards).

What is also not mention is the cost of the voucher program to the school district. The money to pay for school vouchers is taken from property taxes and public education funding. In Milwaukee 2012-13 school year it was 155 million and 19 million in Cleveland. How the voucher program is funded can in itself be problematic in terms of its state constitutionality. The State of Louisiana created a voucher program in 2012 with 40 million funded through the education budget, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the voucher programs funding source unconstitutional and funding had to be taken from other sources in the state budget. You have to wonder why you would take more money from public education when this state and city have historically underfunded the Buffalo Public School District. Also why would you take the money earmarked for public education and give it mainly to private education entities? And lastly why would you promote such a program given the cost and the lack of improvement in student academic standards?

The rest of the Buffalo reformers initiatives such as the parent trigger, online learning and the common core learning standards have all failed to live up to the pre arrival hype. The common core’s limited attention to detail and low ball implementation throughout the country has been well documented. The lack of preparation in their implementation, school and parent involvement and proper funding, cited as issues from the beginning were never addressed. In the state of New York the uproar was so great its implementation was delayed, but its creators and supporters continue to push the common core regardless of its failures country wide. As for online learning, the statistics and cost speak for themselves. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio. The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio and received over $88 million in state funding last school year. This year that amount is expected to jump to over $92 million. You would expect for that type of money you would receive superior results, but quite the contrary. The graduation rate for ECOT is for 4-year graduation rate 35.3%, while their 5-year graduation rate of 37.8%, which is only slightly higher, was still over 25 points worse than the lowest urban school district. What are parent trigger laws? They are laws that allow a majority of parents in a low-performing school to sign a petition that leads to various sanctions for the school: firing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to charter management. They are promoted by Parent Revolution an organization that is funded by Charter School supporters, which in itself should be cause for concern. The jury is still out on if this method of school change through parent takeover will be effective, but the initial results are concerning, at least to me because of the social effect. Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto, California opened this past school year after a contentious turn in school management made possible by the California’s parent trigger law. It’s too early to tell if academic scores at the school will improve, but only 350 of the schools 550 previous students returned, so a true measurement of improvement can never be conducted. It also speaks to the separation of a community and the long term effects of it by the battle to transform the school, if 34% percent chose not to return. I fear that this same scenario will be played out in many other communities and with the record of Charter Schools have in improving academic scores is it worth the risk to a communities wellbeing. Why would anyone advocate for a school change over, when the change would provide limited academic improvement at best and disrupt the community, pitting neighbor vs. neighbor?

The education reform movement promotes initiatives that they state will improve the academic achievement levels of public education students. They also claim to be in it for the students and parents that for so long have been confined to limited low performing educational options. The problem with their reforms, are none have a record of long term success in improving academic standards. Charter Schools have a twenty year history in this country of a few successes, but many failures. The Common Core learning standards have been shown to be ill suited to assist all students in academic achievement levels, due to its lack of detail and understanding of student development. The outcry against the standards was enormous in New York State and all across the county, leaving the standards in precarious position in terms of long term implementation. Online learning produces high school graduation rates unseen since before 1930 and the Parent Trigger laws unproven, but already socially destructive.

So if these smart people tout programs known not to work, how have they gotten their agenda promoted? For one they have financial and political backing; the business community and political leaders have bought in. The business community is all too happy to have an opportunity to get a share of the 1.6 trillion dollars in public education money available, so why not support individuals that would give you greater access. It also disrupts the power of the teachers union and their ability to fund political factions that are seen as anti-business. Charter Schools are separate entities and independent, so their growth means the reduction traditional public education and therefore teacher union power. The politicians have bought in due the cost of public education and needing ways to reduce it. The politicians know it’s only a matter of time before the constant underfunding; GAP Elimination Adjustment (GEA) budget tricks will eventually get the people’s attention and distain. I’m sure the see Charter School, vouchers and online learning as ways to cut public education costs long term. They can then cut taxes; give tax breaks to businesses to improve the economic climate, then take the credit and continued to be elected. Also because the education reform movement has a lot of financial backing, political support for the movement objectives will also garner a campaign contributions at a time when fundraising for elections is the most important position on a politicians agenda.

I have concluded from the fats that education reform movement on the surface promotes educational initiatives that they believe will increase academic achievement, but only truly promote an agenda that is improving the bottom line of the business community that back them and the politicians that receive campaign contributions for furthering their legislative agenda. With years of their educational initiatives producing nominal results how can the educational reformers say they truly care about low performing students, when their agenda greatly benefits the individuals on the other end of the spectrum.



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May 2014
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