State Education Roundup

Published February 1, 2002


District Thwarts Breakup, Faces Mismanagement Probe

Having bulldozed an attempt by residents of Carson to form their own school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District repeated its success against residents of the San Fernando Valley.

In early December, the California Board of Education unanimously rejected a plan to place a San Fernando secession proposal before the voters on the grounds that it would exacerbate overcrowding in LAUSD schools and reduce their tax base. The district is larger than 16 state governments, with 70,000 employees and a $9 billion budget.

Appearing before the board, LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer said he’d be “willing to come back eight to 10 years from now [to discuss breakup],” but for now, the district was “on the march.”

Romer will soon have to march into the office of State Controller Kathleen Connell, who promises to launch an investigation into the mismanagement of school construction bond money in the district.

“The district estimates it’s $600 million short and more than two years behind in fixing the schools. In fact, only half the projects are completed, and most of the money is gone, including 20 percent of the funds earmarked for building badly needed new schools. This is a scandal of enormous proportions,” editorialized The Daily News of Los Angeles. A March 2000 audit found that $51 million of bond money had been wasted on management fees.

“What the school board did here is give the district another 10 years,” said Paula Boland, one of the leaders of the San Fernando secession movement. “They gave up another generation of kids to the pit bulls.”

Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 12, 2001


20 Years Ago, DC Voters Rejected School Choice

In 1981, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association spent nearly $100,000 to persuade voters in the District of Columbia to defeat a ballot initiative by a margin of nine to one. The measure would have provided tax credits of up to $1,200 for educational expenses families incurred for private school tuition or tutoring services.

Proponents of the measure argued the tax credits would help all students in the District by attracting entrepreneurs who would compete for the parents’ business, providing services superior to those provided by the public schools. However, since the measure failed, the District’s unchallenged public schools have remained “about as motivated as a jockey in a one-horse race,” according to Cato Institute education researcher Dan Lips.

Today, DC students rank near the bottom on any measure of student achievement when compared to students in the 50 states. Real per-pupil spending is up by nearly 50 percent since 1981, but only one in four students has mastered basic math, and fewer than half can read. Here’s how school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz described the situation:

“The absence of student achievement in the school system just boggled [my] mind,” she said, adding that half of the District’s public school teachers were “incompetent.”

Dan Lips, “Marion Barry’s Lost Generation”
Cato Institute
December 11, 2001


State Will Grade Charters

Charter schools in Florida are embracing new accountability measures that will require schools in operation for at least one year and serving 30 or more students to be graded based on their FCAT scores (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test).

The move is a result of the path-breaking A+ Plan, which since 1999 has been grading schools based on state test scores and allowing children in persistently failing schools to go to a school of their choice. Charter operators welcomed the move.

Said one: “If I walk into a legislator’s office, drop on the desk a list of charter schools and how they are performing compared to other schools, the legislator will be more receptive than if I say, “Trust me.'”

In 2000, the Pembroke Pines elementary and middle charter schools were rewarded for their “A” performance with bonuses of nearly $100,000. They were two of seven charter schools in the state to receive money for high achievement. Not only will charters now have to test, but the public will be able to make meaningful judgements about their performance as well.

Center for Education Reform Newswire
December 11, 2001


MO Irony

Missouri’s State Commissioner of Education, D. Kent King, is asking for legislation to give him the power to withhold funding from charter schools that have yet to fulfill their academic promise.

Thus far, the two-year old Missouri charter schools are attracting the state’s most at-risk students and have had little opportunity to take state tests.

King did not include in his request legislation to withhold funds from conventional public schools that have proven to fail students over the past several decades.

The Illinois Charter School Facs
November 20, 2001

More MO Irony

The University of Missouri-Kansas City, sponsor of the Academy of Kansas City Charter School, has announced it has placed the Academy on probation, its principal concern being the charter school board has ceded too much power to its management company.

“The school’s governance structure does not meet state law because it places decision-making in the hands of an out-of-state management company,” according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

Ironically, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, governed by the same board of regents, has been attempting to revoke the charter of one of its sponsored charter schools, The African American Rite of Passage Charter School, because that governing board replaced its decision-making management company with one that places decision-making power in the hands of the school’s not-for-profit board.

The Illinois Charter School Facs
November 20, 2001


Teamsters Target Education Support Workers

International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa Jr. pledged to provide “expert negotiators” and other support for an effort by its Las Vegas local to represent education support personnel in the Clark County School District.

The district’s 7,000 workers are currently represented by the Education Support Employees Association, an affiliate of the Nevada State Education Association and the NEA.

“We’re very excited about the 7,000 members and we think things are going very well,” Hoffa told the Las Vegas Sun.

“If this goes to an election, we’ll have a bloodbath of a fight,” ESEA President Robert Mancuso told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Since ESEA makes up a full one-quarter of NSEA membership, NSEA officers pledge they’ll devote many resources to the representation fight.

Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 12, 2001
November 26, 2001


60 Percent Favor Vouchers, But Governor Doesn’t

Bret Schundler’s underdog bid for governor came up short, but his advocacy of publicly funded vouchers for school choice has struck a responsive cord in New Jersey.

The Eagleton-Rutgers Poll found that 60 percent of residents statewide favor vouchers, with 30 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

“One thing is clear,” said pollster Patrick Murray. “Parents do prefer choices for children in education. In recent times, one of those things they talk about is vouchers. Support for them is high among all income levels and in all regions of the state. It is particularly high among lower-income people.”

New Jersey residents with annual incomes below $25,000 favored vouchers 70 percent to 21 percent, while those with incomes exceeding $100,000 supported vouchers 55 percent to 44 percent. Support for vouchers was somewhat stronger among minority-group members (62 percent to 27 percent) than among whites (59 percent to 31 percent).

The president of the Newark-based chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), Dianthe Dawn Martinez, said residents of the state’s urban and poor districts “are trapped in a monopoly of failed public schools, denied equal educational opportunity, denied the last unfulfilled civil right.”

BAEO urged the state to make vouchers available to 300,000 children in 42 urban and low-income school districts.

But Governor Jim McGreevey, who took office January 15, said he has no intention of offering vouchers. Instead, he said he wants to work with business leaders to set up “career academies” in each of the state’s 21 counties.

The Friedman Report
December 2001


Settlement in Catholic School Teachers’ Strike

In early December, the Archdiocese of New York and the Federation of Catholic Teachers reached agreement on a three-year contact that provides for an 11 percent pay raise for teachers in the Big Apple’s Catholic schools. The union represents some 3,200 teachers at 235 schools in New York City.

However, at press time, the Archdiocese still had not yet reached agreement with another, smaller union called the Lay Faculty Association, which represents another 377 teachers and guidance counselors.

Initially, the Archdiocese had been offering a 6 percent raise, while some union officials were aiming for 15 percent. Catholic high school teachers make between $29,893 and $41,745 a year, while their counterparts in New York City public schools make $31,910 to $70,000.

New York Times
December 11, 2001


Board Member Says Poor Kids Can’t Jump

State school board member Avron Fogelman of Memphis recently proposed that the board enforce lower standards for student achievement in Memphis than it does in the rest of Tennessee’s K-12 government schools.

After reviewing the state’s recent report cards for schools, Fogelman lamented that as many as seven of every 10 Memphis students would not graduate because they will fail the new, tougher graduation tests going into effect this school year.

“It’s like a runaway freight train that will hit us in Memphis if somebody doesn’t call time out,” he said. “As it’s going now, they’re not going to have a prayer.”

Memphis school superintendent Johnnie B. Watson said he liked Fogelman’s idea. “I’m all for accountability,” Watson said, “but the time has come that we need to stop letting half-baked testing determine what we teach and how we teach. It’s controlling the school system.”

According to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, Watson wants to see a weighted scale that takes poverty into account when assessing a school’s testing data. Other districts with high degrees of poverty would get the same break as Memphis under such an approach, he said.

But another Memphis area member of the state board, Cherrie Holden, said she didn’t understand “how we can set a separate standard and expect all children to achieve the same.”

The Friedman Report
December 2001


Ninth-Grade Bubble

A recent study by Jay P. Greene of the Manhattan Institute exposed dropout rates around the country as being far higher than government education agencies admit. In Houston, Texas, the study reported that almost 50 percent of children who should have graduated from government schools in 1998 dropped out instead.

But the city’s graduation rate is even worse if the Greene research is carried forward, according to Elena R. Vergara, president and CEO of Houston’s Community Family Centers, formerly Chicano Family Center.

By May 2000, Houston’s graduation rate was down to 40 percent, even though the district was reporting only a 3.2 percent dropout rate for 2000, Vergara wrote in a Houston Chronicle column. The truth is obtainable from a close study of the district’s annual publication, District and School Profiles. By taking that kind of look, Vergara may have discovered a phenomenon that will have nationwide implications for school reform. She calls it the “ninth-grade bubble.”

Each year, enrollment swells by more than 5,000 students between eighth and ninth grade in Houston’s government schools. But in the 10th grade, the bubble bursts, and some 8,000 students “disappear” each year. For instance, in 1997-98 Houston reported 13,625 students in eighth grade. In 1998-99, enrollment rose to 18,221 students in ninth grade. But in 1999-2000, the number dipped to 10,399 in 10th grade

“The ninth-grade bubble is readily explained,” notes Vergara. “The yearly rise in the number of ninth-grade students is directly related to the state law prohibiting students from being held back more than one year each in elementary and middle school. Upon reaching ninth grade, they lack the academic skills required in high school and fail. Some enroll another year in ninth grade, but most of these and many others drop out when they turn 16.”

As social promotion is phased out over the next few years in Texas, the ninth-grade bubble may cease to exist. And if children there receive extra help to stay at grade level all along, the dropout rate may also fall.

The Friedman Report
December 2001


Rapid Growth of Small, Independent Schools

The Vermont Independent Schools Association reports that from 1981 to 1990, only 24 new private schools were founded in the state, but between 1991 and 2000, 65 opened for business. Meanwhile, a consultant on independent schools for the state’s Department of Education says the total number of private schools in Vermont has risen from 83 to 141 in the past decade.

One factor in this rapid growth seems to be concern by parents that government middle and high schools are becoming too large and impersonal.

A story by Anne Wallace Allen of The Associated Press, published in the Rutland Herald, tells of the founding of one such school in Ripton. After watching their children grow up in the town’s small elementary school, several parents had misgivings about seeing them go off to the consolidated middle school in a distant town. So they started North Branch School, a one-room school that currently enrolls a dozen students aged 11 to 14.

“This is not an age for kids to be anonymous,” said Julie Hansen, head teacher at a three-year-old independent school, Stevens School of Peacham. “It’s the time they start looking outside of their family for identification. They need to have adults they can trust, who will nurture them but challenge them, who will give them reasonable boundaries.”

The Friedman Report
December 2001


Fired Felon Claims Discrimination

When officials of Richmond Public Schools in Virginia discovered that Thomas R. Shelton, a substitute teacher’s aide, had been convicted of three felonies in 1990 and imprisoned for more than a year, they fired him.

According to a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Shelton proceeded to file a discrimination lawsuit against the district, saying that because blacks are disproportionately convicted of felonies, they are more likely to barred from school district employment than whites. He is seeking $500,000 in damages and reinstatement to his job.

Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 3, 2001