Monday, April 10, 2017

Charter Schools: Applying Will Not Be Easy

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

Kentucky's new charter school law (House Bill 520) requires those who want to open public charter schools to complete demanding applications. Here, I'll summarize of the requirements, but readers should know that the law itself adds further details for nearly all of the items listed.

The Big Idea
Each charter school application must specify:
  • The school's mission and vision 
  • The student population and community the school will target
  • Ages and grades the school will served
  • The academic program the school will offer
  • The instructional methods the school will use
  • An explanation of how the school's program can improve the achievement of traditionally under-performing students 
Goals and Measures
The application must identify:
  • Student achievement goals and evaluation methods
  • A plan for programmatic audits and assessments
  • A plan for measuring progress on school’s performance framework
(Added note: I'm puzzled about how those three requirements relate to one another, and especially about how the goals and the performance framework are related.)

Students and Services
Next, the application must share the school's plans for:
  • Recruiting and enrolling students
  • Identifying and serving students with disabilities, English language learners, bilingual students, and students who are academically behind and gifted
  • Offering extracurricular and co-curricular programs
  • Offering health services and food services
  • Disciplining students
  • Involving parents and communities
Staff and Leadership
A school needs adults as much as students, so the application must propose:
  • Staffing charts for five years
  • Plans for recruiting and developing staff
  • A draft personnel handbook
  • Ethics rules for staff, officers, directors
  • A governance structure, including initial board members and draft board by-laws
Other Operating Details
In addition, the application must address core business issues, including:
  • Planned, minimum, and maximum enrollment
  • Calendar for the school year
  • Schedule for the school day
  • A five year budget
  • Fiscal policies
  • Facilities
  • Insurance coverage
  • Start-up steps for opening the school
  • Process for resolving disputes with the charter authorizer
  • Process for closing down the school if required
On the one hand, this application process seems likely to require deep expertise, sustained thought and very careful planning. On the other hand, schools are complex organizations doing intense and important work: everything on that list truly needs attention before a new public school opens its doors.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Supreme Court Insists on Education for Individuals with Disabilities

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |
The IDEA demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
The words above are from the Supreme Court's March 22 ruling in Endrew F v. Douglas County School District. IDEA is short for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the ruling applies to all states that take IDEA funding.

Under IDEA, participating states commit to providing “free and appropriate public educations” (or "FAPE") for all eligible students. Endrew F confirms that what is appropriate for a particular student must be decided based on individual evidence and dialogue in the committee responsible for that student’s individualized education program (IEP), with options for seeking outside resolution if that group cannot agree.

Frankly, what surprised me in the case was the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which argued that an IEP can be adequate if it offers progress that is "merely… more than de minimis.” De minimis is legal Latin for “too trivial or minor to merit consideration,” so the appellate court seemed prepared to accept any level of progress better than that “too trivial or minor” level. I don't see how that could ever fit what IDEA explicitly says must be done for each student.

The Supreme Court's ruling rejects the Tenth Circuit view, and boils down to insisting that  "appropriate" means nothing less than "appropriate."

Reading with Kentucky in mind, I did notice one other Endrew F feature. The opinion speaks repeatedly of a state’s obligation to implement IDEA for students. States often delegate much of their duty to school districts, but the states themselves take the dollars and pledge to provide the required education. That’s why states cannot create charter schools exempt from IDEA, and it’s why states can’t create any other kind of K-12 school that doesn’t have to provide FAPE and implement IEPs. As Kentucky continues to expand its public non-district educational options, it’s helpful to have a new ruling confirming that states must implement IDEA for each and every child enrolled in each and every one of those schools.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Erk! Failure to Identify Author!

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

I messed up in a post shared this morning.  Specifically, my post about E.D. Hirsch's Why Knowledge Matters was written in a first-person voice but had no first-person attribution at the beginning of the piece. I apologize any resulting confusion or frustration to readers!

Charter Regulations: Lottery, Conversion Rules, Revocations, Authorizer Evaluation

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

House Bill 520, Kentucky's newly-signed charter school law, empowers the Kentucky Board of Education to issue regulations on four elements of how charter schools will operate:
  • Admissions, including student applications, admissions lotteries, and enrollment
  • Conversions, setting the process for  turning existing public schools into charter schools (the conversion option has been used less often in other states than the "start up" approach, but both methods are allowed under the new Kentucky legislation)
  • Closure rules for revoking charter school contracts or denying contract renewal
  • Authorizer evaluation rules, setting expectations for how school boards and mayors will carry out their charter roles and creating procedures for handling any performance weaknesses.
New regulations take six months or more to enact, including two readings by the Board, a comment period and public hearing, Board consideration of the resulting input, and a set of legislative review steps. The official steps cannot begin until HB 520 takes effect in late June, but Commissioner Pruitt plans to begin preparations much sooner.

Potential applicants may not want to wait for the regulations before proposing start-up charters. If their applications are approved, charter schools will need the admissions rules before they seek students, and once they start classes, they'll certainly want to avoid the closure process. Still, it seems possible to create and file applications that include a simple commitment to follow the regulations that are being developed.

Authorizers may see this issue differently. Knowing that there will be regulatory rules on how their work is evaluated, they may want to organize their activities around meeting those expectations –and therefore want to wait to see the final version before starting on application reviews.

A recent PrichBlog post estimated a minimum five-month timeline from application filing to first day of classes. If those five months can't start until after six months of regulation work, it's going to be a fairly tight schedule to open charter schools for the 2018-19 school year.

A Radical Possibility: E.D. Hirsch's Case for Communal Learning

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |
(edited to include that author identification)

I’ve been an E.D. Hirsch fan since 1987, when Cultural Literacy hit the bookstores. There, he argued that people with power and privilege share a body of cultural knowledge and went on to argue that schools should make sure that children from less privileged families learned that content. For Hirsch, that was an equity issue, because children of privilege will get that knowledge at home, but others need public school to give them equivalent opportunity. I found that argument compelling (especially after understanding Hirsch’s argument that the shared knowledge can and does and should change over time).

Over the last decade, I’ve become an even bigger fan of Hirsch’s argument about reading. His claim, backed by an array of research, is that reading is a process of making meaning that draws on what readers already know, and that therefore schools should be intentional about teaching students key content from the very earliest years. In PrichBlog’s first year, I blogged about that concept here, here, and here.

Even so, I wasn’t ready for the radicalism of Hirsch’s most recent book, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories. In that new work, Hirsch argues that failing to equip students with a shared body of content knowledge is why:
  • Preschool learning gains fade out by third grade
  • Nationwide high school reading scores have barely changed since 1971, even though grade 4 scores have risen significantly
  • American school systems continue to use “technically valid, educationally invalid reading tests” with questions that can easily confuse students and mystify parents
Hirsch adds two kinds of evidence I hadn’t seen him use before:
  • Cognitive research on how expertise is domain specific, depending on a built up body of connected knowledge and with very few skills that can be studied apart from that knowledge or transferred to other domains.
  • Long-term results from French education, which switched from a nationally shared curriculum for each grade to local control of content and national concern only for broad skills, and (on Hirsch’s account) saw a substantial decline in achievement and a sharp increase in achievement gaps as a result.
Why Knowledge Matters concludes with a sharp statement of the change Hirsch thinks is needed:
Only a well-rounded, knowledge-specific curriculum can impart needed knowledge to all children and overcome inequality of opportunity. Whether we can summon the will to break the romantic intellectual monopoly that has held us in thrall will be determined by the following concrete test: Will any large American locality be willing to institute a good, content-specific curriculum grade-by grade throughout all the elementary schools of the district? If one single big district does so, it will be a watershed event in our educational history.
Hirsch is confident that a sustained effort like that in a single jurisdiction would result in deeper student engagement, yield greater parent satisfaction and teacher enthusiasm, and produce academic results that would be “significantly better and fairer than current results.” Over time, that record would draw attention and wider adoption, contagiously changing education across the country.

I’m partially convinced and ready to do more thinking about whether Kentucky should aim for a shift that big.

The first thing I see, though, is that the shift truly would already be big. Our use of Next Generation Science Standards may already call for a grade-by-grade cumulative approach to knowledge as well as skills, but a matching approach in history, literature, and the arts could require some substantial changes in Kentucky thought and practice.

The shift Hirsch wants would be a revolution, and I'm cautious about major social upheavals.  Accordingly, I need to read more and discuss more before I know whether this big move is the right big move for Kentucky’s learners.

Kentucky Charter Schools Will Be Government Bodies

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |
"Public charter school" means a public school that (a) Is a public body corporate and politic, exercising public power, including the power in name to contract and be contracted with, sue and be sued, and adopt bylaws not inconsistent with this section...
That's the beginning of Kentucky's new legal definition of a charter school, and the words "body corporate and politic" deserve attention. They mean that a Kentucky charter school will be a government entity, like a housing authority or a library board. With that government status, the school will be neither a nonprofit corporation nor a for-profit corporation, with no "owners" and no way to pay out dividends or profits.

Other provisions of House Bill 520 underline that government status for Kentuck charter schools:
  • Although the members of the charter school's board will not be elected, the application for a charter school will include initial board members and draft board by-laws that specify how future directors will be chosen. At least two members must be parents of children who attend the school. 
  • Board members will take a statutory oath of office. 
  • Board members will file "full disclosure reports and identify any potential conflicts of interest, relationships with management organizations, and relationships with family members who are applying to or are employed by the public charter school or have other business dealings with the school, the management organization of the school, or any other public charter school and shall make these documents available online through the authorizer."
  • Board meetings will follow the Open Meetings Law.
  • School records will be subject to the Open Records Law.  

Added note: Since the "body corporate and politic" is created after the charter application is approved, the application must come from someone else. HB 520 allows applications from "teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, nonprofit organizations, or a combination thereof." That list excludes for-profit companies, and the debates on the House and Senate floor provide a legislative record that underlines that exclusion.

Another note: The bill allows contracts with nonprofits and for-profits. It defines an education service provider as "an education management organization, school design provider, or any other partner entity with which a public charter school contracts for educational design, implementation, or comprehensive management." If a charter school will work with that kind of provider:
  • The charter application must include the provider's history, its past results, and planned terms for the provider contract. 
  • Providers must submit monthly detailed budgets to the charter school board.
  • Providers paid $10,000 or more must be subject to Open Records requests for records associated with the contract.
However, the charter school board will be required to retain "oversight and authority over the school" in any contract it enters. Control and responsibility cannot be ceded to another organization, even if that other group does much of the daily work of the school.

Bottom line: Kentucky public charter schools will be directed by an new kind of government body, not by for-profit or nonprofit organizations.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

First Charter Schools Open In 2018? That Seems Likely

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

WDRB is reporting that Commissioner Pruitt thinks Kentucky's first charter school is likely to open in 2018-19, rather than this summer. Based on House Bill 520's requirements, that estimate seems pretty sound. Kentucky's newly-signed legislation sets up the process for opening a charter school:

1. An applicant submits a detailed application to an authorizer (a school board, a collaborative of school boards, or the mayor of Lexington or Louisville) and the Kentucky Department of Education

2. The authorizer approves or denies the application within 60 days after the application is filed

3. The approved application goes to the Commissioner for final approval

4. Members of the charter school's board of directors takes their oath of office as government officials within 60 days after the Commissioner's approval

5. The charter school board and the authorizer agree on and sign a charter contract within 75 days after the Commissioner's approval

6. The charter school receives student applications and conducts a lottery if there are more applicants than spaces, following a lottery regulation that will be set by the Kentucky Board of Education

7. The charter school opens its doors and begins teaching the admitted students

That looks like a process of at least five months. In theory, the application could be approved and the contract signed more quickly than the allowed 60 and 75 days. In practice, both will be long documents that need careful review and could easily need the full allowed time for action. The Commissioner's final approval probably cannot be given the day the application reaches his office, and gathering student applications will certainly take a few weeks.

Plus, those five months start at the end of June. HB 520 will become law 90 days after the General Assembly adjourns at the end of March. That makes late November the earliest time a school could notify students of admission.

Bottom Line: HB 520 says charters can happen in 2017-18, but HB 520's calendar says it'll take a bit longer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Success off the Court: Graduation and Gaps at UK and Elsewhere

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

In the midst of March Madness, the Education Trust has taken to Twitter to push Sweet Sixteen schools on their graduation gaps between black students and white students.  Here's their tweet to the University of Kentucky:

The statistics there are pretty small, but they show a 45.2% graduation rate for black students and a 60.6% rate for white students, with both figures drawn from EdTrust's new Black Student Success report

The report's data files include eleven Kentucky institutions, so here's a comparison of that full group.  Only Berea has essentially gap-free results for the two groups of students, and it's painful to see that UK's graduation rate for black students, low as it is, is still the fourth highest of this set.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Charter Funding: About $7,178 Per Student Total?

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

In addition to calling for charter schools to share in SEEK funding and categorical funding, House Bill 471 specifies that "any state appropriation for retirement, health, or life insurance benefits made on behalf of a local public school employee shall also be made on behalf of a public charter school employee."

For 2016-17,  those on-behalf payments average out to:
  • $1,027 per student for school employee health insurance 
  • $574 per student for certified employee retirement
  • $2 per student for employee life insurance           
  • $1,603 per student for the three kinds of benefits

Those can also be added to the estimates in earlier posts:
  • $4,672 as the average per student from SEEK base and add-ons
  • $758 as the average per student from categorical programs
  • $1,603 as the average above for the three kinds of benefits
  • $7,178 as the average per student combining all those sources

All of these numbers are, of course, estimates based on the most recent figures available. Budgets and enrollments change every year, so these amounts are sure to shift at least a little before the first Kentucky charter schools open. Still, they're an early shot at estimating the resources charter applicants will be able to use to implement their programs.

Sources and Methods:
1) The on-behalf averages simply divide entries from the 2016 state executive budget by 676,796 (the 2015-16 enrollment total for 173 districts reported in school report card files). 

2) The categorical average was explained in this earlier post.  
3) The SEEK average takes a different approach than an earlier post on this topic. The Department of Education's FY 2016-17 final SEEK summary lists a total calculated base SEEK amount of $3,259,961,132, and that amount has divided by the same 676,796 enrollment figure just described. Finally, the per-pupil result has been reduced by three percent to reflect the amount that will be retained for use by the charter authorizer. Calculated base SEEK includes the base guarantee plus add-ons for at-risk (free lunch), disabilities, home and hospital,  limited English proficiency, and transportation, and the total amount is funded with a combination of local and state funding.

Charter School Funding: The Categorical Portion

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

Following up on yesterday's post about SEEK funding for charter schools under House Bill 471, here are some estimates of what Kentucky charter schools may receive from state and federal categorical programs.

Some categorical programs are focused on students with specific needs, and a charter school's share is likely to depend on its enrollment of eligible students. Those figures may include:
  • $1,614 per student with a disability (from federal IDEA)
  • $511 per low-income student (from federal Title I)
  • $60 per gifted and talented student (from state gifted and talented)
Other programs target students at particular stages in their educations, so that a charter school's share may depend on how many students at that stage it enrolls.  Those amounts may include:
  • $50 per elementary student (from state read to achieve)
  • $36 per elementary or middle school student (from state instructional resources funding)
  • $29 per high school student (from federal Perkins money)
Other amounts, less dependent on student traits, may include:
  • $49 from federal Title II, Part A for teacher quality work
  • $36 from state extended school services
  • $14 from state safe schools
  • $13 from state professional development 
  • $71 from an array of smaller state and federal programs
Overall, combining all those programs, Kentucky charter schools may be working with the SEEK funding discussed yesterday plus average categorical funding of:
  • $758 per student
I've used the word "may" steadily above, because each program has additional rules that can result in individual schools receiving or less. Still, I think these estimates give a ballpark idea of what categorical funding will be available to Kentucky charter schools.

Sources and Methods:
For this analysis, I used total funding to Kentucky's 173 school districts from the Department of Education's allocation spreadsheets for 2016-17 state programs and federal programs, along with student counts for the 173 districts from 2015-16 school report card files.  Here's my arithmetic:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Charter Funding: the SEEK Portions

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

On March 15, shortly after approving legislation to create Kentucky charter schools, the  General Assembly approved House Bill 471, an appropriation bill that was amended to include rules for charter funding. Based on that bill, here’s a rough idea of what Kentucky charter schools may receive from SEEK funding:
  • $3,862 per pupil (counting average daily attendance rather than enrollment)
  • $579 more for each student eligible for federal free lunches
  • $927 more for each student with a communication disability
  • $4,518 more for each student with a moderate disability
  • $9,075 more for each student with a severe disability
  • An average of $346 per pupil for transportation, with the amount varying by district
The funding bill provides that a “local school district where a public charter school is located shall transfer the public charter school's portion of the local school district's funding calculated pursuant to KRS 157.360" and then adds that three percent can be retained for use by charter school authorizer. The amounts above show this school year's SEEK fund base guarantees and add-ons as set in 157.360, reduced by the three percent. A combination of local and state tax dollar provide those amounts in each district.

However, charter schools may not be allocated those exact amounts. House Bill 471 goes on to say that the "public charter school's portion shall be allocated in the same manner as the school allocation model used by the local school district based on applicable data provided by the public charter school.” That school allocation model seems to be a formula each district will create and transmit to Frankfort, where the Kentucky Board of Education will have authority to find models deficient and request revisions.

For transportation, the amount a charter school can receive will depend on whether the school district chooses to transport the charter school students. If the district transports, the district keeps the transportation dollars. If not, that part of the funding goes to the charter school.

SEEK also has two optional parts that allow districts to raise additional revenue:
  • For Tier 1, districts can set tax rates to raise more than the minimum 30¢ per $100 of taxable property, and the state contributes to equalize resulting revenue. This year, Tier 1 revenue averaged $1,101 per pupil statewide, drawn from both local and state funds.
  • For Tier 2, districts can set even higher rates, but receive no state equalization. This year, Tier 2 revenue averaged $1,282 per pupil statewide, drawn solely from local funds.
House Bill 471 does not give charter schools any access to those Tier 1 and Tier 2 dollars. That's clear in two ways. First, the passage quoted above in blue refers to KRS 157.360, but Tier 1 and Tier 2 funding is governed by KRS 157.440. Second, the bill has explicit language saying that the funds allocated to charter schools shall not include “local funds raised pursuant to KRS 157.440(2)(a),” and that subsection sets the Tier 2 rules.

Beyond SEEK, charter schools will be eligible for categorical funding, meaning the kinds of state and federal dollars that come with strings attached. Watch for a future post that estimates those amounts.

For number lovers, here are my calculations for SEEK base, add-ons and the retained 3%:

The Tier 1 and Tier 2 estimates flow from the statewide version of these recent reports from the Council for Better Education.