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October 19, 2017

Vouchers and the Douglas County school board election

The upcoming Douglas County School District school board election is gaining national attention.  Douglas County is the third largest district in Colorado serving 67,000 students.  This hits close to home for me since this is the school district that I grew up in and went to school from kindergarten through high school.  The election is gaining more recognition than most because it centers around the controversial issue of vouchers.

In 2011, the school board approved a voucher/scholarship legislation, in a 4 to 3 vote.  According to the non-profit journalism organization, The Colorado Independent, the legislation proposed giving approximately $6400 to students in the district to give them the option of attending a private school, religious or non-religious, that is either in or outside of the district.  After the school board approved the proposal, the legislation was sent to the Denver District Court where it was blocked.  Douglas County appealed and sent the legislation to the State Supreme Court where it was forwarded to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The past June, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case and sent it back down to the Colorado Supreme Court.  On July 31, the Colorado Supreme court sent the proposal back down to the district court where it waits for further review.  The terms of the four board members that voted for vouchers in 2011 are now coming to an end, leaving four very influential seats up for grabs in this election.  If even one seat is filled by a candidate that does not support vouchers, the legislation could die.  However, if four candidates that support the vouchers program win the open seats, the voucher proposal could go back through the courts.  Right now, these four candidates have grouped together and are termed Elevate Douglas County.  These individuals are united in the idea of expanding school choice opportunities in the district.

This past January, the Center for Public Education (CPE) released an updated report looking at the effects of school choice policies on students.  One conclusion that came about was “school choice works for some students sometimes, are worse for some students sometimes, and are usually no better or worse than traditional public schools” Basically, the evidence is unclear because school choice can look very different depending on the individual policy and the context. However, CPE’s report did highlight a study of the Louisiana voucher program.  In the study, the public-school students that participated in the voucher program and attended private schools lost academic ground in both math and Language Arts over a two-year period but began to recover by the third year.
LAVoucherGraph
CPE’s report concludes with two warnings to education policy makers.  First, “there is no reason to conclude that choice in itself will produce better outcomes.”  Choice does not translate into better student achievement 100% of the time, so it should not be treated as a guaranteed method to boost student learning.  Second, “policymakers who are considering supporting parents who wish to choose private schools or homeschooling should be aware that very little is known about the overall efficacy of schooling outside of public schools.”

Only 1% of students in the United States use vouchers, and only 10 states have approved voucher programs.  Clearly, this is not a widely adopted policy effecting a large number of students, so much is still unknown about the effects it can have in different contexts.  Some studies on vouchers have reported test score gains for low-income, African American students who have taken advantage of voucher programs, however, as someone who grew up in Douglas County, “low-income” is not a commonly used term to describe area.  The district is located in the fifth wealthiest county in the nation, with only 3.5% of the population in 2015 earning below the poverty level according to the Douglas County Demographic Summary.  This is a very different type of community than those that have reported success from vouchers in the past.

When I was a student in the district, vouchers had not yet become a hot button topic.  The issue around vouchers in the district has sparked a heated debate because there is a lack of agreement about the actual effectiveness of these programs.  Whatever happens in next month’s election, we’ll be watching to see how school choice in Douglas County plays out.

Filed under: CPE,School boards,School Choice — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 9:13 am





March 13, 2017

Kentucky: School Choice for Whom?

The Kentucky House of Representatives has been busy with education policy recently.  In February, they passed House Bill 151, which would allow parents the choice of sending their child to the school closest to their house (as long as it is in the district in which they reside).  If approved by the Senate, H.B. 151 would have the potential to override school assignment boundaries throughout the state.  As reported by the Washington Post and The Century Foundation, H.B. 151 would also have the potential to dismantle a long-standing school integration plan in Jefferson County, which encompasses Louisville.

At face value, it seems reasonable that children be allowed to attend the school closest to their home, creating neighborhood schools.  Most traditional school assignment plans are designed around this concept, with school capacity and population density also playing a role.  The challenge, even for schools with traditional attendance zones, is that school zones could basically disappear if parents claim the right to attend the school closest to their zone.  In Lexington, for example, a student in the southern part of the Breckinridge ES zone (see below) may live closer to Liberty ES than some of the students in the Liberty ES zone, so students who previously would have attended Liberty ES may no longer have a place there (if Liberty ES reached capacity).  The bill has provisions so that students currently attending a particular school may not be displaced by other students, but incoming students, whether kindergarteners or families who just moved in, may not be afforded the same benefit as families who have been in the neighborhood longer.  This legislation has the potential to uproot many school districts’ carefully-crafted  and often-controversial assignment policies, creating uncertainty for families and challenges in assigning students to schools in a manner that accounts for multiple student and demographic factors.

KY

Perhaps the larger reason that this bill is garnering national attention is the effect that it will have on the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) district, which encompasses Louisville.  JCPS has a school integration plan that combines parental preference with balanced diversity.  Parents of elementary school students may choose between neighborhood schools in their geographic cluster or magnet schools that serve the entire district; 90 percent receive their first choice.  Middle and high school students are assigned to schools with boundaries designed to maximize diversity.  JCPS also offers district-wide magnet programs, which would not be affected by H.B. 151.  The district’s school assignments also try to minimize transportation time for students.  The result of this school assignment plan is that many students are not attending the school closest to home.  JCPS analyzed H.B. 151­­­ and concluded that half of their students do not attend the school closest to their home, which means that there is great potential for the shifting of students across schools in the future (current students would not be affected but we can assume that the results would be similar for future cohorts).  Only 38 percent of current middle school and 34 percent of current elementary school students live close enough to their current school to be assigned to it, if school assignments were made on proximity alone.

JCPS also analyzed the effect the bill would have on school diversity.  By their projections, the number of students attending high-poverty and/or high-minority schools (greater than 80 percent of students receiving free/reduced lunch or non-white students) could increase under H.B. 151.  The number of schools that fail to meet the district’s diversity goals, which are based on parental education, income, and race, could increase from 12 to 40.  Currently, all schools serve at least some highly disadvantaged students; under the new requirements, up to 45 schools may have zero of these students.  JCPS’s current plan provides choice, especially to low-income parents who often live in low-income neighborhoods, to attend schools that are diverse instead of segregated.  The new requirements could mean that schools in more affluent neighborhoods reach capacity with just neighborhood students, pushing out lower income students who would have transferred in under the current plan.  Such choices would not be surprising, given research from North Carolina and Washington, D.C. that shows that geographic proximity is highly important to parents in selecting a school.  This would essentially allow for a dual system of haves and have-nots.

We know that schools of concentrated poverty have a negative impact on student achievement.  A Stanford researcher even found that the most powerful factor correlated with the racial achievement gap is the disproportionate exposure of black and Latino students to students in poverty in their schools.  Neighborhood-based school assignments often have the effect of widening the gap between students of color and their white peers by creating more socioeconomically segregated schools.  Additionally, all students benefit from diverse schools through improved cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

Many school choice advocates say that choice is a way out of “failing schools” for low-income and minority students.  However, allowing parents to choose the school closest to them may exacerbate the school segregation already put in place by housing patterns.  It could also create uncertainty across the state as local districts would have to recreate school assignment policies.  Louisville has worked to create a system that provides for parental choice and diversity based on the needs and preferences of their local community; we would hate to see choice erode for the families who can’t afford to live near more affluent schools.






January 31, 2017

Get the facts on school segregation

School “resegregation” has been in the news lately, but is it real?  Are our schools becoming less diverse, even as our student body becomes increasingly so?

We tackle these questions, as well as multiple others, in our new report, “School Segregation Then & Now: How to move toward a more perfect union.”

  • Are integrated schools better for students?
  • How does race interact with socioeconomic status in school enrollments?
  • How do you measure integration?
  • How does segregation affect the distribution of resources, such as teachers and funding?
  • What can school districts do to create more diverse schools?

We hope that you will find this report informative and inspiring, as we aim to strengthen our schools and our society.

 

10901-4729 CPE Segregation FB






August 19, 2016

Too many tests in your district? You may need Assessment 101

2016-08-18_16-45-43Across the country, educators, parents, and students are expressing concerns about the amount of tests being administered in schools. To address this, we partnered with the education non-profit, Achieve, to support school board members and their districts in moving toward more coherent and streamlined assessment systems.

Recognizing the critical role school boards play in influencing systemic changes at the local level, CPE co-authored a training module for school boards based on Achieve’s student assessment inventory tool.

While the suite of resources is currently available for free here and here, CPE will continue its involvement by facilitating in-person and online training of the Assessment 101 process to participating school districts in three partner states, with the hope that these will lead to measurable reductions in testing there and in other districts who learn from and adopt this approach.






May 17, 2016

Legislatures address teacher shortages

The Center for Public Education recently released its newest report Fixing the Holes in the Teacher Pipeline: An Overview of Teacher Shortages, which comes at a critical time when many state legislatures, local districts, and other national organizations are focusing on this issue. The report lays out best practices for preparing, recruiting, and retaining quality teachers.

Indiana’s Department of Education yesterday reported that it will be implementing the recommendations by their own Blue Ribbon Commission, many of which align with the CPE’s report including; partnering with Indiana University to address the shortage of special education teachers by increasing the supports given to current and prospective special education teachers; creating a full-time position to increase professional development and networking opportunities for teachers; and hosting the first teacher recruitment conference for students currently in high school (what CPE called “growing your own”).

Nevada is faced with a critical shortage as well. EdWeek has reported that it is using both short-term and long-term strategies such as fast-track teaching certifications, hiring bonuses for working in low-income schools, developing teacher recruiter positions, and working on new contracts which would increase pay for teachers.

For all districts faced with teacher shortage issues, keep in mind the questions CPE suggests asking about your district (listed below). Also, research and I (as a former teacher) agree that although a living wage salary is crucial, teachers most often report leaving a school or the profession due to poor working conditions rather than salary complaints. -Breanna Higgins

Questions for School Boards and District Leaders:

  • Do we have enough teachers? Are there schools or subject areas in the district that are harder to staff than others? Does the demographic make-up of our staff reflect that of our students?
  • Are our teachers qualified? Are all our teachers licensed in the area of their assignment? How many teachers have emergency credentials?
  • Are we able to recruit qualified teachers? How do our salaries compare to neighboring districts? Can we provide incentives in shortage areas? How effective are our induction programs?
  • Do we retain qualified teachers? What is our turnover rate? How does it compare to other districts? Do teachers feel supported in our schools?
  • Can we grow our own? Do we have partnerships with universities? Can we collaborate on recruiting and training qualified candidates in order to maintain a steady supply of good teachers in our schools?
Filed under: Public education,Report Summary,research,School boards,teachers — Breanna Higgins @ 11:59 am





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