9/13 Saturday Post: The Kindergarten Puzzle…Solved?

FFK Puzzle 1Since last spring, most of us have wrestled from time to time with this question: 

Why do WNM+Williams* seem to dislike poor Kindergarteners so much?

After all, even though they voted to increase the District’s goals for 3rd and 4th grade reading and math, they continue to reject a time-tested, proven strategy that is relatively low-cost, straight-forward, and fairly simple, e.g., expand free, full day Kindergarten for schools with high numbers of children on free or reduced lunches.  This is not even a new program, but rather a modest expansion of an existing one, in line with every major educational study on improving test scores.

But WNM+Williams have raised one objection after another:

March 13th – Witt led an attack on free, full day Kindergarten expansion (FFK) saying there were studies that showed such programs did not really work.  Dr. Beck, then JeffCo’s Chief Academic Officer (now superintendent of a school district in Oregon) said she knew of no study that said that, that, in fact, multiple studies show just the opposite.  (Here are links to a few articles on the subject:  Full Day Kindergarten, Early Childhood Education for Low-Income Students:A Review ofthe Evidence and Benefit-Cost Analysis, Early Childhood Education, Education Funding And Low Income Children:  A Review of Current Research)

April 3d – Dr. Beck said she had reviewed the literature and all of it said this type of early intervention pays big dividends.  Julie Williams said she thought the “only difference between half and full day kindergarten were naps, more recess, and some ‘specials’ such as music or art.”

Witt demanded of Dr. Beck to know if any of the studies she cited had been done specifically in JeffCo, and when Beck said no, Witt then said that the national studies meant nothing and he wanted to see some that were specific to JeffCo.  He then led Newkirk and Williams in voting 3-2 to remove the funding.

(Dr. Beck and her team offered to conduct that research for the board this school year if the board would allow the program to move forward but “compromise” is a dirty word to WNM + Williams.)

May 1st (Bear Creek High School and over a thousand people attending) –  Several kindergarten teachers, spoke to the board of the huge results they see in their low income students attending full day K and pleaded with the Board majority to fund the kindergarten expansion.  Most impressive, a group led by Wendy McCord Tina Gurdikian, Kelly Johnson, Terri Straut, Amanda Stevens, and Tammy Story presented a report assembled from statistical data from JeffCo that showed conclusively that free, full day kindergarten (FFK) generates a strong, consistent improvement in the test scores of children who participate (see full report here: FFDK Report).  Regardless, after a motion to restore the funding for full day K expansion by Lesley Dahlkemper, WNM+Williams voted it down saying that giving poor children free, full day kindergarten would be unfair to the parents who could afford it for their own children!

June 5th – Dahlkemper and Fellman brought the issue up again, immediately after WNM+Miller voted to increase the already increased diversion allocation of funds to charter schools to more than $5 million, using mill levy funds and thus breaking promises to voters and the community.  Obviously, if the District had additional money available for the charters, then there had to be some available for poor children. This time Newkirk, in typical Newkirk fashion, threatened to cause general chaos (this seems to be his MO) by questioning the entire FFK program, and said he threatened to explore canceling all of it and ‘repurpose’ the funds. Witt, again, led voting down the expansion of Free Full Day Kindergarten to poor children, 3-2.

With all the above, one has to wonder, what do WNM+Williams have against poor children in desperate need of a good start?  There are hundreds of vulnerable five and six year olds who are this year missing out on the benefits of full day of Kindergarten.  This is an educational deficit that can never be made up.

Why do WNM + Williams not care about the future of these children?

Or maybe they care about something else more…perhaps something that would increase the number of charter school expansion?

Our first clue to this was actually posted before JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch was even existed. You can find it in the following video posted on YouTube by Transparency JeffCo.  Pay very careful attention to what Cindy Stevenson says at the 50 second mark and Witt’s response:

Did you catch it?

When Dr. Stevenson said there was plenty of space at Deer Creek Middle School, Witt’s reaction was, “A good place to co-locate a charter school.”  At the time, we thought it was simply a pavlovian response on his part. ‘A school building with space?  Put a charter school in it!’  It never occurred to us that this type of reaction could or would result in premeditated action…but it sure seems to.

This summer we decided to go back and reread a lot of the material that had been produced during the budget cycle.  It was then that we stumbled on the second and decisive clue.  If not a smoking gun, it at least, is a recording shots fired in the dark.

We began rereading the self-titled “Minority Report” written by Tom Coyne and Rachel Swalley (a copy can found here: SPAC Minority Report).  Both of these people were specifically placed on the Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee (SPAC) by Witt & Associates.  On the bottom of page 11 of this 70 page report, we read:

…SPAC received a proposal from District staff for an additional $600,000 to be spent on adding 13 more full day kindergarten classrooms at five schools. However, this issue was not on the Choice Committee’s agenda, despite the fact that the availability of classroom space is a critical constraint on their potential options and ultimate recommendation to the Board.” <emphasis added>

This report was given to the Board on March 6th, one week before WNM+Williams first voted down the FFK expansion.  It was made available to the Board members prior to that. We believe that when WNM+Williams read those two sentences, they deliberately decided to short-change the most vulnerable in our society, in order to further their own peculiar sense of ‘equity’.

Even then, they could have come right out and said why they were turning down the FFK expansion.  WNM+Williams have the votes to do almost anything they want.  But, as we have seen for nine months now, for some reason, WNM+Williams seem to need to believe that their true agenda and motivations are always hidden or masked.

So instead, they hurled one absurd objection after another at the staff and teachers.  As soon as the District staff refuted the first one, they hurled a second.  When teachers and parents refuted that one, they came out with a ridiculous ‘fairness’ argument.  When that was shown to be farcical, Newkirk resorted to threatening the entire program if any further argument was made.

And they won.

There is no expansion of Free, Full Day Kindergarten in JeffCo this year.  Those classrooms with WNM+Williams precious emptiness will be empty all year.  WNM+Williams undoubtedly hope that some outside corporate group will see the opportunity to use public school property to launch a charter school…and make money off it.

And this, we believe, is the most likely reason Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams voted against the best interests of almost 300 At-Risk children.

Is there even more to it? Perhaps….

Former Jeffco BOE member Laura Boggs has regularly disparaged schools with high proportions of low income students, asking pointed questions about race, ethnicity, and crime.  Her questions often seem to presuppose that those children, many of whom are English Language Learners, do not deserve a public education.

Boggs is staunch supporter of WNM+Williams and is reputed to have met repeatedly with Witt, who is also reputed to be something of a follower of hers.  It would not be much of a stretch to think that WNM+Williams feel the same way.

Whatever the motive, WNM+Williams action has put many of our low income schools at greater risk of not being able to improve test scores, which may lead some even to be declared ineffective for those children.  The consequence?  Given this Board, those schools will then be turned over to charter schools, who very well may offer the same free, full-day kindergarten that WNM+Williams have rejected.  Except, of course, this time WNM+Williams will cheer them on, since instead of having FFK funding spent by public schools, it will be spent by quasi-private ones, many of which will be run by for-profit companies.

In the meantime, we will have lost another year’s worth of desperate children.  None of which will matter to WNM+Williams as they seek to implement their radical political “reform” agenda.

—–

So what are you going to do about it?

If you have not emailed the Board.  If you have not called your local office holders and candidates (see these lists: 2014 Jefferson County Election Candidates State Officials Jefferson County Officials).  If you have not contacted your friends, family, and colleagues.  If you have not stopped people in the street, in the stores, in our schools, and told all of them about the atrocities that this new majority is visiting on the children of JeffCo, now is the time to do so.

Join us, as we

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!

 

* – As we noted in our 9/8 post, it seems only appropriate that we change our acronym. Miller is now is acting more obviously as a peer of Witt and Newkirk instead of a subordinate contractor..  Whereas Julie Williams is behaving more like a bewildered, but loyal tag-along.  She apparently takes the betrayal and neglect by Witt and Miller as a minor thing.

Note:  JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch.org is a group of volunteers who work hard at keeping people informed about the actions and probable consequences of the new majority on the School Board.  We do not accept donations, nor are we a political organization.  We see ourselves as an information source for the community.

However there is a group that also has a charter to keep people informed about WNM+Williams and does accept donations:  SupportJeffcoKids.org.  If you want to get involved more in the fight against this ongoing atrocity, please visit their site.


 

9/4: Why Go to the Meeting tonight? How about 2 New Charter Apps?

school-crossingThere is a lot going on in the BoE meeting tonight (5:30 p.m. Education Center – if  you can’t make it, watch the live stream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/JeffcoBoardRoom).  We have Witt’s Compensation Trojan Horse to start things off, then a review of the Miller contract (eight months late), followed by two new Charter school applications, and then an introduction to School Based Budgeting (SBB).  It promises to be a very interesting night!

And the new Charter school applications trouble us.  They are very different from the charter schools currently in JeffCo.

The current charter schools in JeffCo are basically run by the same people who banded together to create them.  In short, these charter schools are home-grown.  Their supporters are truly ‘grass-roots’ people.  They may have issues, and we may challenge them on various grounds, but basically they are started, supported, and run by JeffCo people for JeffCo students.

Not so Alexandria Innovation or Golden View Classical.

In both cases, the management of the schools will be done, for-profit, by an outside group.  The Barney Charter School Initiative from Hillsdale College for Golden View, and STEM Ventures for Alexandria.  Basically, where JeffCo’s charter schools have historically been independent, these two would be franchises run by non-JeffCo people for their own purposes.

Why is that a concern?

Because we have no assurance that they have the best interests of JeffCo, it’s parents, taxpayers, or (most importantly) its students at heart.  With Boards that are not subject to parental control, the amount of transparency and accountability diminishes rapidly.

Alexandria School of Innovation

In the case of the people proposing Alexandria, this is especially troubling because of the near disaster that occurred when they opened up the STEM Academy in DougCo a few years ago.

We heard from parents who had enrolled their children there, based on promises made by the Brannburgs, the owners of STEM Ventures, the Charter Management Organization (CMO) that is proposing Alexandria.  Promises that they turned out not being  be able to keep.  Within the first few weeks of the school opening, many children were pulled out of the school and went back to their original schools.  The original principal left.  There are also reports that the Brannburgs’ children had paying jobs at the Academy, giving the appearance of nepotism.  Apparently the Board fights were ferocious, and eventually the Brannburg’s were off the Board.  Since then the school has stabilized and grown.

There are other things that bother us immensely.  Barry Brannburg boasts of his experience as an entrepreneur with some kind of engineering background, yet his LinkedIn page shows only STEM Ventures and the STEM Academy & High school in Douglas County.  No other background is given.

The Staff listing on STEM has no one with any specific professional educational training or background.

Their website continues to say that the Alexandria school will be opening in DougCo (you would think they would have changed that by now).  There is no mention of applying in JeffCo.

We also have concerns about the accountability of the school’s Board to the parents.  The Brannburg’s Board structure is designed to make sure that they stay in control and that the parents are never able to actually take over the running of the Board.

Section 3.2. Number, Tenure and Qualifications.

(a) The Board of Directors will consist of five directors. Three directors will make up Class A Directors. Two directors will make up Class B Directors elected from the members. Members are defined as parents or guardians of currently enrolled students of ASI as mentioned in Section 2.1. Initially, there will be five appointed Founding Board directors from the original Development Team -two of which have prospective students who will attend the school. On September 1 of the 3nd year of operation, two of these original five directors will be replaced through a general election of the members and will serve a three-year term.

Apparently the Brannburgs’ learned from losing control of STEM High & STEM Academy and have no intention of losing control of Alexandria.  It is also apparent that they have no respect for the parents of the children they propose to teach…otherwise why would they make sure that parents can never control the Board?

Another clause that concerns us is found in Appendix E, which is the legal agreement that a Board member must sign in order to serve on the Board:

Board members will not question any decision made by the Head of School – Executive Director (ED) in any public arena.

Since the proposed Head of School – Executive Director is Judy Brannburg, it is apparent that she does not want any decision she makes to be publicly reviewed, much less criticized.

So much for transparency.  And with the lack of transparency, we also lose the accountability for how JeffCo tax dollars are spent.

Golden View Classical Academy

Golden View concerns us from other standpoints.

Basically, Golden View will be run as a franchise of Hillsdale College of Michigan, a highly conservative institution.  Much like McDonalds, they have stringent rules for how their ‘franchisees’ run their schools.

For example, professional development of the teachers is to be provided by Hillsdale.  How will that work logistically? Can teachers only be trained there? If so, how does that work over time when teachers leave? Does our district pay for their private instruction through this private institution?

Golden View and Hillsdale boast how their “Classical” curriculum is so superior.  How has it be shown that it has the ability to close the achievement gap? Are there independent reports that indicate this?

The report implies that the curriculum is still being developed. How will applicants know what the final curriculum will look like if they attend? Without that information, how will parents know if their child will be prepared to enter a tier 1 university?

It does not look like this school will prepare students to take AP level classes, nor are they available at this school. Why not? Colleges look upon these favorably. Gifted kids should have them in their portfolio. High schools that do not offer IB or AP classes are not looked upon as favorably by top colleges.  They also tend to be more skeptical about the rigor of the students preparation.

Golden View plans to open as a K-10 school, yet there seems to be no plan to make sure that students leaving the 10th grade there will be ready for the 11th grade curriculum in a JeffCo high school.  This raises the possibility that the  students would likely need to do remedial work in order to achieve  their high school diploma at Lakewood, or D’Evelyn, or Columbine.

Finally, there is the emphasis on teaching from a Judeo-Christian/ Greco-Roman viewpoint.  In our opinion, this borders on the teaching of religious principals with public taxpayer dollars.

Summary

In so many ways, Jeffco has been very lucky with its charter schools.  They have been rooted in the local community, run by local people for the benefit of their own children.  Now a new phase is starting, one that has been seen elsewhere and is beginning to show an ugly face – the corporatization of charter schools and the running of them for either profit or religious/political indoctrination.  Alexandria and Golden View seem to us, to be examples of this forked development.  We should tread very carefully, with eyes wide open, and a very skeptical ear.

Show up at 5:30 so we all can

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!


 

9/3: Student Based Budgeting – The Devil is in the Detail

devil_in_detailsIn the Budget Development Presentation tomorrow night (Agenda item 6.01), the District staff will cover in slides a concept we first heard about at the August 23rd Board Study Session:  Student Based Budgeting (SBB).

As of this writing (the evening of 9/2), that part of the presentation is still “Under Construction”.

So we at JeffCo School Board Watch have done some quick research for you.  Below is what we have learned in the last few days about Student Based Budgeting or SBB.  Hopefully, this will help your understanding of the budget presentation tomorrow night, as well as prompt some good questions.

We used as a starting point the SBB-guide.pdf published by Educational Resource Services (ERS). After going through the guide and other sources, here is what SBB is a nutshell (okay – maybe a coconut shell):

Student Based Budgeting

Instead of districts using funding to acquire, develop, or support resources that then are apportioned out to schools and programs, funds are instead attached to individual students as much as possible.  The school that a student attends becomes the recipient of the amount of funds that individual student has been assigned.  While there is a base amount of funding assigned to each student, additional funds are allocated to each student according to objectively measurable needs or conditions.

The principals of each school then take the funds their students have brought with them and are basically free to use them to put together the resources, teachers, programs, and/or facilities the principal feels is necessary to achieve the student performance desired.

ERS says there are several advantages to this system, including, equity, flexibility, and transparency.  It is supposed to reduce the District overhead, which in theory frees up more funds, and allows each principal to customize his or her school as they see fit to meet the needs of the schools students.

This sounds wonderful, simple, easy, and logical!  So why isn’t everyone doing already?

Because the devil is in the details!

For SBB to be implemented and actually produce the results ERS promises requires many conditions to be just right.  For sake of clarity and brevity, we are looking at only the top items of the main challenges.  Everything we have read about SBB says the deeper you get into it, the more complicated it gets and the more issues that need resolution.

Challenge #1 – Funding Sources.  

Much of a school districts expenditures are non-discretionary.

  1. Not all funding sources can be broken into per student expenditures.  For example, money JeffCo receives from 3B is legally obligated to be used only on the repairs and maintenance of existing school buildings.  The same issue confronts other funding sources.  Grants are often given to schools, or to district programs.  State funding is often tied to specific programs.  Federal funding has to be spent in accordance with Federal guidelines or the money is lost.  In short, you just cannot take the entire budget of JeffCo, divide it by the number of students and end up with your per student funds.  Much of the money simply cannot legally be spent that way.
  2. Funding from outside sources, even when student-oriented, generally has specific rules on the type of student that the funds can be spent on.  A grant from an organization to the District to help GT students cannot be repurposed and spread to non-GT students.
  3. Many grants require some form of matching funds from the District or schools.  This further muddies the water of the per student fund amount.

Challenge #2 – Determining the Base Amount of per student and then the additional amounts allocated for specific needs or conditions.

  1. Just identifying the number of different conditions and needs will be an enormous task.  In addition to the obvious ones such as Special Ed, At-Risk, GT, ELL, etc., there are less obvious including traveling distance (more rural students need more transportation dollars), Elective choices, special program selection such as AP, IB, or Technical training.  There are many, many more.
  2. Determining the amount each condition and need will be allocated. Think the fighting between regular public schools and charter schools is fierce?  How about when GT parents square off with Special Ed?  Or Sports participants with Drama?  School nurses vs. custodians? Elective participants vying with music?  Movie barroom brawls will seem tame by comparison.

Challenge #3 – Additional Skills needed by Principals and District staff

  1. Most principals are not currently experienced or trained in the kind of decisions this would demand. Currently, principals are focused primarily on hiring, training, and retaining good teachers, staying within their budget, interfacing with the parents, community, and district (and many, many, other things).  They are not trained to issue RFPs for contract services, manage contractors, evaluate building maintenance risks vs. benefits, building and implementing marketing plans, project managing software projects, etc., all things this approach demands.
  2. An additional class of District employee would be required:  Project Managers.  This would increase District overhead instead of reducing it.
  3. A completely new and different budgeting approach and software would be required.  The software would most likely demand a high level of customization, increasing it’s up front and continuing costs (it becomes expensive to modify).

Challenge #4 – Political ramifications

  1. What happens when this results in a school currently getting lots of funding sees it diverted to a school that has been underfunded?  I.e., how happy will D’Evelyn parents be if they see D’Evelyn’s budget drop while Jefferson High’s goes up?  Does any parent think that their school is overfunded?
  2. For this to be truly effective and equitable, charter schools will also have to be funded this way.  Initially, charter school advocates will cheer this approach.  But will they keep cheering when they see their funding drop in order to help an elementary school in Edgewater that has 80% of the kids on free or reduced lunches and 50% of them in ELL?  PTAs will get involved.  Local politicians trying to keep funding for their children’s schools.  This system, if done right, will see schools with highly active PTAs and awesome fundraisers lose funding to schools that do not have those advantages.  How well will that go over?

Challenge #5 – District Resources vs. Outsourcing vs. Conflicts of Interest

  1. Individual schools may make choices that optimize results for them, but worsen the results for everyone else.  For example, a Principal in a relatively new elementary school chooses to outsource janitorial services instead of using classified employees because he or she can save some money.  If enough schools do this, then custodial services will effectively be eliminated as a District capability, resulting in all schools having to contract out for janitorial services.  This will hurt older, less well maintained schools who will now have to pay more for those services.  This is a lesson of economics:  optimizing each segment of a system to it’s own maximum efficiency results in an over lower efficiency for the entire system.  The system is also more fragile, with breakdowns having larger ramifications.
  2. If WiFi needs to be upgraded across the District, instead of having one RFP, one vendor, and one contract to oversee, each school will need to issue it’s own RFP, select it’s own vendor, and oversee the work itself.  And what if a principal decides that his or her school needs another ELL teacher more than improved WiFi….but the District is penalized if all their schools do not meet the new data security standards?
  3. With each principal responsible for making all the decisions, the opportunity to benefit friends or relatives goes up…unless there is a dramatic increase in District staff to handle the increased contract review and monitoring that SBB would involve.  It does not even have to be nefarious.  It could simply start out as a brother-in-law offering the principal a really good deal.

All of this goes back to Challenge #3, the need for principals to acquire an entirely new set of skills and training.

Challenge #6 – Organizational skills and conditions to carry this out.

  1. The goals of Student Based Budgeting is to improve student performance by making it more likely resources go where they are most needed.  This is in contrast to the “every child gets the same amount of money spent on him or her as every other child” mentality.  Are the various stakeholder groups, especially charter school parents, willing to see more money going to poor children in poor neighborhoods than to their own schools and children?
  2. Transparency is a pre-requisite.  This system relies on the trust of all those involved.  That trust is built by having open discussions and accounting, plus consensus on how much additional funds each objective measurement should receive.
  3. Page 9 of the guide: SBB may be wrong for you if: ‘Per-pupil funding levels are below average vs. peer districts and/or falling to the point where even with added school-level flexibility, resources are so scarce that SBB is unlikely to be a transformational lever.’”
  4. The demands of Federal and State laws will need to allow for wide variance in how schools are organized and perform within a District (something that other Districts in Colorado are now having a problem with).  With every school principal basically able to go his or her own way, district-wide results will increase their variability.
  5. High levels of trust, and skill are required to make the change.  This is akin to converting an one old cargo ship into a series of medium and small size motorized speedboats, and having it done while the ship is sailing from port to port.  Doing it without having the ship sink (the District fall into chaos) or cargo fall overboard (students not getting what they need due to confusion and partial implementation) will be extremely difficult.

Questions that should be asked RIGHT NOW!

1) How much in discretionary funds would be freed up by this process that could be     reallocated to produce greater student achievement? In a school district that has a low funding environment with many mandated programs (via state and fed), how creative/innovative could the district actually be if there aren’t many discretionary dollars available? How many resources are legally locked in their allocation and spending?

2) Are we going to eliminate whole programs to free up dollars? If so, what would they be? Are cheaper programs better? Is this politically feasible, permissible or even smart?

3) This program is designed to improve student achievement by committing more resources to students and schools that need it and fewer resources to students and schools that do not.  Is the current Board willing to see allocations works that way?  Charter Schools will have to be included in this, otherwise a social/economic class system of education would be created.

4) How can the District and its stakeholders avoid having a political civil war trying to decide how much a ELL student gets, an autistic child, a GT child? This system asks us to apply an amount to each need to allocate it around the district.  How do we fairly decide what amount each need gets?

5) If we go with this method, are our principals ready to handle this new responsibility? Are they well trained and ready with new ideas of how to implement? Principal must have a vision. They are going to be tasked with new skills.  Do they even have the time to learn and do all of this and keep up on what is already demanded of them?

6)The SBB Guide says     that disadvantaged schools may get more funding than they do now, while advantaged schools may get less. How will the District handle the unhappy parents, teachers, and students of the schools that see a reduction in funding?

7) ERS emphasized that transparency and trust is essential in this type of transformation. How can we be assured that WNW will give the public the transparency required, given their past performance?

8) Collaboration is also recommended. This flies in the face of WNW’s competition complex.  How will WNW overcome this? competition?

9) A clear and shared vision must be exist for the District.  WNW has not shared their vision, other than platitudes that sound good but specify little.  How can WNW reassure us of their vision if they do not share it?

10) A major limiting factor is the district’s capacity for change.  WNW is already embarked on dramatic changes.  How much change can a district withstand in 4 years before it disintegrates?

11) A lot more data is needed to implement this. Are our IT systems ready?  Won’t this require a big spike in IT spending?

12) If we cannot trust WNW on why the oppose Free, Full-Day Kindergarten, how can we trust them with a change this radical?

Keep researching, keep thinking, keep questioning, and

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!

Saturday Post: A Public School Marketplace?

fist-full-of-moneyIn most Libertarian thought, the “Marketplace” holds a reverence equivalent to that of a holy shrine.  True believers in the Ayn Rand “Objectivism” and Milton Friedman ‘market forces’ see unrestrained “Marketplace Competition” as the source of miracles.  According to them, if everything was just left to open competition untrammeled by thumb-fingered government bureaucrats, then the magic of a “competitive marketplace” is capable of curing all ills, resolving all disputes, and will result in a near perfect world where everyone gets what they deserve.

After having worked their ‘deregulation’ magic on the financial world, many of these believers have now turned their attention to public education.  Are school test scores in poor neighborhoods low?  Have charter schools compete with them!  Are the local high schools not improving graduation rates fast enough for you?  Provide more ‘choices’ to parents!  Are not enough children graduating ready for college?  Obviously teacher unions are the real culprit!  Just allow charter schools, ‘choice’, break the unions, and provide for private school vouchers and everything will be fixed!

At least that is the marketing hype they spin out.

But what happens when you examine the underlying principles of a ‘marketplace’?  Does public education fit?  Will it really work?  And if it does, just how does a competitive market really function?  Are the causes of poor student outcomes really addressable by ‘competition’?

These are the questions that we should be asking.  In fact, given that WNW+Miller has repeatedly talked about an ‘education marketplace’ and even brought in a consultant to help design one, means we should be demanding that these questions be answered.  Fully and in detail.  Because they are betting the future of our children on this mantra.

Below are a series of article links that look at not only the concept of an Education Marketplace, but how such efforts have fared elsewhere.  We highly recommend that you take some time today (and this week) to go through these articles and draw your own conclusions.

False Choices: The Economic Argument Against Market-Driven Education Reform – Minnesota 2020

Our comment on this article:  If you are going to read only one link from this post, it should be this one.  Minnesota and Colorado actually have a lot in common.  Both are predominantly rural states with a single major metropolitan area with a few smaller cities scattered around.  The rural areas are mainly conservative with moderate and liberal forces concentrated in the metro area.  School reform has been at the top of Minnesota’s political hot buttons for many years and it has the oldest charter schools law in the nation.  Minnesota 2020 is a non-partisan think tank focused on public policy concerning education, health care, transportation and economic development.  This report on the results of the ‘education marketplace’ that Minnesota reformers put in place should serve as a warning to Colorado.  You can download the full report here: False_Choices_2012

Key Flaw in Market-Based School Reform: A Misunderstanding of the Civil Rights Struggle – Washington Post

Our comment on this article:  This article is a review of the book, Public Education Under Siege, edited by Michael Katz and Mike Rose.  It is a collection of essays on school reforms.  The review focuses on one particular essay that looks at the Libertarian ‘Reformer’ efforts to tie charter schools, and even private school voucher programs to the Civil Rights movement.  They proclaim that standing up for ‘school choice’ is the equivalent of the Freedom Riders, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.  Even allowing for hyperbole, the analogy is not only badly flawed, but patently false.  

School Reform: The Problems — And Some Solutions – Washington Post

Our comment on this article:  This is a follow up article to the review above.  The Washington Post reporter who wrote the above review conducts a Q&A with the editors of the book, Public Education Under Siege.

The Effects of Market-based School Reforms on Students with Disabilities – Disabilities Studies Quarterly

Our comment on this article:  Charter school advocates constantly try to refute the idea that they do not adequately serve special needs children.  Generally, they will cite a broad statistic and then follow it up with a couple of anecdotes.  It all sounds good, but the underlying logic of a competitive marketplace has never seemed to jive with this image.  This is a scholarly paper that looks at the issue objectively, focusing on actual hard statistics and patterns, not just ‘feel good’ stories.  Because it is an article written for a professional journal (Disabilities Studies Quarterly) the language is a bit stilted.  But it is worth wading through to find the conclusions, including:

The available evidence indicates, however, that, in general, students with disabilities are not well served by market-based reforms including vouchers, charter schools, and the testing and accountability requirements of NCLB.

and

It is likely that the needs of some students with disabilities are well served in charter schools. It may also be that some charters identify fewer students with disabilities because they offer high quality programs that make labeling unnecessary. But many students with disabilities are not well served in charter schools and, more seriously, many charters systematically exclude students with disabilities, thus creating highly segregated learning environments. In both the US and abroad, this means that “the sending districts [traditional public schools]” are left “stratified, fragmented, and segregated” (Miron & Nelson, 2002, p. 25). Students with disabilities are among the most likely to remain in local traditional public schools—”schools of last resort for those who never applied or who were rejected [by charter schools]” (Ravitch, 2010, p. 220). These “schools of last resort,” overpopulated with low-achieving, difficult- and expensive-to-educate students, will be hard pressed to provide a quality education to students left behind.

Corporate-Led Education Reform Movement Ignores Solvable Problems to Carry Out Its Agenda – FireDogLake

Our comment on this article:  So if all the logic, theory, and evidence demonstrates not only the unworkability of an ‘education marketplace’ but the damage and harm it can cause, why is it still being pushed so hard?  FireDogLake is a progressive blog that has taken a look at this, and this is their conclusion.

We are not prepared to endorse their conclusion wholesale, although we have no doubt that many individuals do see the ‘privatization’ of schools through the charter school effort as a large business opportunity.  We tend to follow Heinlein’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”  Certainly WNW+Miller have shown JeffCo plenty of evidence of both.

Of course, the ultimate irony of WNW’s worshiping of an “Education Marketplace” is that they have already acted contrary to it’s core principles several times, the most blatant being their bailing out of the charter schools Collegiate Academy of Colorado and Mountain Phoenix.  By the logic of their ‘marketplace’ theory, these schools had shown that they were not well enough run to continue.  Once in financial difficulty, by the Darwinian ethos of a marketplace, they should have been left to fail.  Instead, WNW gave them no interest loans for several hundred thousand dollars. So much for a real ‘marketplace’.

Stay alert, become informed, and inform others, everyone.  That is how we…

Keep Fighting, Jeffco!

Wednesday News: 7/9 JeffCo Roundup

ed-news-colorFour articles in this week’s round-up of JeffCo related news:

From Chalkbeat Colorado: Interview with McMinimee

Our Comment on the above article:  This interview was done just before McMinimee’s first official day (July 1st).  We will get into an analysis in a bit, but first we wanted to note some good news the article brings up.  Under the “Lost Time” section, where McMinimee says that due to the turmoil between WNW and the community (you!), “The last six months some momentum may have been lost.

If you were wondering if your efforts were making a difference, there is your proof right there.  We have, at the least, slowed them down.  And slowing down is the first part of stopping!  Way to go, JeffCo!

Aside from that, there are a lot of platitudes uttered by McMinimee in this article.  Phrases such as “My door is wide open”, “want to be engaged”, and “move toward common goals”, permeate the first paragraph.  But we remember Witt’s statement in November,We want to be the best Jeffco we can be, not Douglas or Denver Countyafter which WNW promptly began implementing the same steps taken in Douglas County.  When it comes to WNW and their minions, do not listen to the words so much as watch what they do and where the money goes.

The sections in this article that you should read and consider most carefully are the ones titled “Statewide Education Policy Issues and JeffCo” and “Budget”.  

In the “Policy” section, McMinimee states that he plans on “leveraging…his old Douglas County contacts” and his focus is on teacher evaluation, testing, and state funding.  Note that none of his focuses are on how to meet the Board’s goals for increased scores in literacy and mathematics.  His focus does not appear to be on Education as in teaching children, but Education as politics.  Nor is there any reference to providing leadership to the District Staff on educating our children or any mention of filling the voids in the top District leadership created by people who have recently left.

Finally, in the last and most important section (if you have children in JeffCo), “Budget”, we find the most concerning comments.  First, a recap of the 2014-15 budget process.

At the last Board Meeting of the 2013/14 school year, with the news that the District was going to get some extra, probably one time, money from the state, WNW went on a spending spree similar to the proverbial ‘drunk sailor’.  They increased the increase being given to charter schools by 50%, and hid it behind a fake cost-of-living raise offer to the teachers (fake because the raise only takes effect if a contract is signed, and the contract can change the amount.  Besides, WNW shows themselves to be in no hurry to sign such a contract – so the raise will not actually take effect for a long time, if ever).  When they did this, Lori Gillis, the District’s Chief Financial Officer repeatedly warned that this continuing allocation was going to cause the Reserve Fund to drop as much as $10 million below the $65 million target within the next two to four years.  

This is very bad news.  The Reserve Fund is a key element in the District maintaining it’s AA- (S&P)/AA2 (Moody’s) Bond rating.  The Bond rating directly impacts the amount of interest the District has to pay it’s Bond holders.  It’s like a consumer credit score. If the rating goes down, then the amount of interest the District has to pay goes up, which costs the District more money. It’s like a family with a credit card.  If the family maintains it’s credit rating (saves money, does not spend more than they are taking in), they are seen as a good risk and the interest rate they pay is low.  If they go on a spending binge and their savings shrink, banks see this as increasing their risk and so increase the interest rate, which costs the family more money which leaves less money for other things the family wanted or needed to buy.

In earlier Budget meetings, it was agreed that the District needed to maintain about $65 million in the Reserve Fund in order to keep it’s current bond rating.  Lori Gillis and her people figured out how to do that with the original Charter school funding increase.  With the increased increase, the Reserve fund now starts draining down by over 10% within four years.  In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 budget years, an additional $5 million in cuts each year to the general budget will be required to avoid dropping the Reserve Fund below the $65 million threshold.  And this is with the most optimistic assumptions!  It assumes that we will not have any economic slow-down, that state funding continues to modestly increase, and that there is no shortfall in local property taxes.  In short, it pretends that the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2010 cannot happen again!

The really unfair part of these cuts is that the Charter Schools that received the extra funding that is causing the shortfall will not be subject to any of the cuts!  This is because their money comes out of the revenue side of the balance sheet, not the expense side.  To translate the accounting speak:  Spending on Charter Schools in not considered an expense that can be cut!  They take their money “off the top”, and the District gets what is left over.  So the $10 million in cuts that McMinimee is talking about and is caused by the increase funding of the Charter Schools is will come only from the regular public schools budget.  The Charter Schools money will be untouched!

Such is the “equity” of WNW.

Also from ChalkBeat Colorado:  The Further DougCo-ization of JeffCo

Our Comment on the above article:  When Chalkbeat interviewed McMinimee last week, he did not hint that he had already picked, interviewed, and today, hired another DougCo crony to take ‘DougCo-ization’ another step.  Replacement Dr. Beck as the chief academic officer is Syna Morgan, who had been DougCo’s ‘Chief System Performance Officer’ since the radicals took over DougCo.  We are not quite sure of what she did at DougCo that qualifies her to step into Dr. Beck’s shoes.  A quick look at her LinkedIn account shows that for 47 months of work, she has no description of her job, and exactly one project to her name.  In fact, her job description for JeffCo (Yes, she got that updated fast!) is actually more detailed than her DougCo job.  Of course, if you are old buddies with the new superintendent, then an actual competitive job search for the most qualified person is nothing to worry about…it just won’t happen.

Mr. Witt, what happened to the ‘JeffCo is not DougCo’ promise you made in November?

We need to slow them down some more, JeffCo!

From PoliticoMagazine:Why I Left 60 Minutes

(Politco.com is a non-partisan news gathering organization, specializing in political covereage.  It is highly reputable, and has delivered punches to the left, right, and center over the last several years.  Depending on the article and your own personal views, you may either love or hate Politico on any particular day, but if you are smart, you will never dismiss it.)

Our Comment on the above article:  If you are wondering about why the Denver Post or Channel 9 News are not doing the kind of investigative reporting of WNW+Miller they deserve, this article will answer a lot of that question.  The impact for us in JeffCo (and DougCo and Denver Public) is this:  we cannot expect or hope that the news media will do a serious investigation into the on-going scandal.  What we can expect is that they will continue to print/broadcast any well tuned sound-byte that WNW+Miller gives them.  If there is going to be any snooping around and digging up the real dirt on these people, it will be done us.  Only after we have made it a topic for public discussion will local TV and the Denver Post do a story on it.

From Chalkbeat Colorado:7th District of Colorado State Board of Education Election

From near the bottom of the article:  There is a general election contest for the board’s 7th District seat, which covers Adams and Jefferson counties. Democratic incumbent Jane Goff received 28,724 votes in the primary, while Republican challenger Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member, received 33,781.

Our Comment on the above article:  Want to contemplate something scarier than WNW+Miller (now with McMinimee!), how about Laura Boggs sitting on the State Board of Education?  That’s right.  The woman who paved the way for WNW and was rumored to be their initial pick for Superintendent is the Republican candidate for the 7th District seat of the State Board.  First be afraid.  Then get active!

Stay alert and informed, JeffCo.  Send us any articles you come across concerning education, the radical education ‘reformers’, and JeffCo for inclusion in our weekly round-up.  And most of all…

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!