Sunday, August 28, 2016

Charter Schools Criticized For Preferring Better Students, But Public Schools Do the Same

Charter schools tend to offer a better product than public schools, and so parents of all backgrounds flock to them.

Ed Krayewski

Anti-charter school rhetoric seems to be on the rise in recent weeks, with the NAACP (nominally an organization that advocates for black people but in general a mainstream left-wing advocacy group ) taking a strong stance against charter schools, which have helped poor, mostly black students in cities across the country access better educations than were otherwise available in their dysfunctional public school districts.

As David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute and Anne Osborne point out in a column in USA Today, one of the primary critiques of charter schools—that they privilege higher-performing students with higher-motivated parents in admissions—is just as applicable to public school districts, many of which maintain magnet schools for higher-performing students and offer other avenues for higher-motivated parents to get their children into better public schools.

I can vouch for this first-hand. I attended a magnet school in Newark, Science High School. I was able to get in because my mother, an illegal immigrant, was motivated enough to hit up the principal and force me in. I was 10 when I started high school, which should illustrate how dysfunctional the Newark district was that getting me into a magnet school still required my mother to work outside of the system.

Nevertheless, while the teachers I had there that I still follow on social media seem to be unanimously against charter schools, Science High might as well have been a charter. In fact, it can have stricter admissions policies than actual charter schools in Newark, which largely operate (as many charter schools now do) on a lottery system. I saw one teacher complain that charter schools were "exploiting" black and brown bodies (not clear to me how offering such students a quality education and the opportunity to vastly improve their income-earning potential does that), yet teachers unions (which have donated to the NAACP and never been a target of the advocacy group) often resist reform.

While teachers unions' public relations side may insist they have children's interests at heart, as with all unions, their primary over-riding goal is protecting employees. Reforms threaten employees by threatening the status quo in which those employees are comfortable. In most districts it remains almost impossible to fire a public school teacher, even though anyone who has spent any amount of time in a failing public school understands that personnel changes have to be part of any substantive solution. When I was a public school teacher in Newark, I had one co-worker who stashed liquor in her purse. No increase in school funding would make her classroom anything other than dysfunctional.

Many of the critiques of charter schools are transparently hypocritical. Charter schools have exploded in the last twenty years, and are popular even in cities where nominally anti-charter school candidates win (as in New York City and Newark, NJ). In recent years, teachers unions' involvement in politics has focused in large part on stopping the spread of charter schools. They use their positions as government employees with government-granted union privileges to smash their thumbs on the scales against charter schools.

They have largely failed to thwart charter schools because charter schools, by and large, offer a better product than public schools. Despite the stereotypes held by many teachers about poor parents and their unwillingness or inability to be involved in their children's educations, like many other parents, they too tend to be highly-motivated about their children's education, even if they can't be as involved in the schools themselves as some teachers would wish them to be.

The success of charter schools in poor, mostly black cities across the country bears this out. The opposition to charter schools will only intensify as it becomes harder for parasitical public school employees to make a living off a system that systematically fails students. Charter schools allow parents to vote on education with their feet without having to move out of town, an existential threat to dysfunctional public school systems.


SAT subject tests lose favor for colleges

Several top New England colleges have joined a growing number of schools nationally that no longer require applicants to submit scores from SAT subject tests, saying the specialized exams lend little insight into students’ readiness and can work against low-income and minority students.

In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.

The shift occurs amid a larger discussion in higher education about the value of standardized testing in admissions. Some colleges, especially less-selective private schools but also such public colleges as UMass Lowell and Salem State, have made the main SAT and ACT tests optional.

“We want to make the application process as fair to all students as possible,” said Mary Dettloff, a spokeswoman for Williams College. “We felt like we weren’t getting any valuable data from the SAT II scores to help us.”

The hour-long multiple-choice exams are taken separately from the main SAT and cover 20 subjects, like math, history, chemistry, or a foreign language.

Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well.

“You would be misguided to think that strong scores on the tests won’t help you,” said Adam Ingersoll, cofounder and principal at Compass Education Group, a California company that tutors students for standardized tests and counsels them about college admissions.

A handful of elite schools, including Harvard and MIT, still require SAT subject tests.

Data from the College Board, the company that administers the test, show participation in the subject tests has dropped over the past decade by about 14 percent, with a steeper decline since 2012, when the University of California system dropped them as a requirement. Last year 241,000 students took subject tests, compared to the 1.7 million who took the regular SAT.

Mathematics continues to be the most popular subject test, with 144,772 students taking that exam in 2015. Other tests are much more scarcely utilized, like the Hebrew exam, which just 330 students registered for last year.

It costs $26 to register for a test date, then $20 per test, up to three per sitting. There are extra fees for sending scores to colleges.

Those costs can be prohibitive for low-income students, and even though they can apply for a fee waiver, not all students know about it. Test-prep books and courses can also be expensive, and many low-income and minority students attend high schools where the tests are not emphasized.

The decline in test takers is a financial hit for the College Board. Bob Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, estimated that the decline of more than 200,000 tests taken per year over the past five years has cost the College Board more than $6 million each year.

Meanwhile, dropping standardized test requirements can help colleges in several other ways. Schools tend to receive more applications, which can drive down their percentage of accepted students, making them seem more selective. Colleges also profit from the additional application fees.

Although many experts believe the tests will eventually disappear, schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement.

MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.

Although the shifting policies are a big deal for colleges and testing experts, at least for now they seem to matter little to high school students whose sights are set on elite colleges.

Rafael Goldstein, a rising senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, plans to apply to several colleges where the subject tests are optional, like Amherst, and others where they are required, like Harvard.

The 17-year-old already has taken the Spanish and US history tests and plans to take a math test, as well. All his friends who recently graduated took at least three, he said.  “My natural instinct is just to think that it’s a good idea,” Goldstein said. “Maybe it’s because everyone always does it.”

But not all students are counseled to take subject tests. Destiny Mulero, a senior at the Academy of the Pacific Rim charter school in Hyde Park, said her teachers told students to take the ACT, another college admissions exam, because often schools do not require subject tests in addition to the ACT.

But Mulero, 17, is not convinced that any test truly reflects her ability to succeed in college. She got a 26 on the ACT and is studying for a 30, out of 36.

Mulero, meanwhile, gets good grades. She is president of her school’s National Honor Society chapter, she mentors middle schoolers, and she will direct the tech crew for the school’s fall musical.

“I feel like standardized tests are not a good representation of the potential a student can have,” she said.


Mother outraged as angry teacher berates her seven-year-old daughter for penning her name in cursive on her homework

A seven-year-old student was reprimanded for writing her name in cursive. Alyssa, who was only identified by her first name, turned in a homework assignment that focused on vowels.

In return, her teacher wrote in red pen at the top of her lesson sheet: 'Stop writing your name in cursive. You have had several warnings.'

The photo of the child's homework was posted to Facebook by a friend of the child's mother in September 2015 has gone viral.  Facebook user Brenda Hatcher shared the photo with the caption: 'Share this everywhere... Alyssa is 7!!!  'Not only is her mother a military veteran but, she took the time to teach her very young child how to write in cursive.'

The incident reportedly happened in Kansas, according to PopSugar.

Hatcher's post drew in a lot of attention from others who believed the teacher was wrong for reprimanding the child while others said the child 'needs to follow directions'.

It's unclear who the teacher is and what school this incident occurred at, but in the comments of the post, Hatcher identified the mother of the child as a woman named Gail Varney.

Varney wrote under the photo: 'I emailed her teacher and CC'd the principal along with a picture of it. Still waiting on a response.'

The teacher's remarks indicated that the child was previously asked not to use cursive to write her name.

Alyssa was said to be seven years old at the time, which would mean she was either in first or second grade when it happened.

As for why the teacher has such a problem with the form of writing, Hatcher said: 'The teacher claims she can't write in cursive because the other students don't know how to do that yet.'

In 2013, a 10-member board unanimously approved new handwriting standards for public schools, saying that students are expected to learn to write in cursive in the third grade and write legibly in cursive by the fifth grade.


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