The Cost of Choice

A new study finds that charter school expansion in Michigan has meant financial chaos for a growing number of school districts…

detroit_damage2_640-900x570.jpg (900×570)EduShyster: Your new study looks at why certain school districts in Michigan have descended into a state of, as I like to describe it, *smoking ruin.* To keep the suspense alive, tell us what you found DID NOT contribute to the severe financial distress of these districts.

David Arsen: The question we looked at was how much of this pattern of increasing financial distress among school districts in Michigan was due to things that local districts have control over as opposed to state-level policies that are out of the local districts’ control: teacher salaries, health benefits, class size, administrative spending. We also looked at an item that the conservative think tanks are big on: contracting out and privatization. We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent. We looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and we followed them for nearly 20 years. The statistics are causal; we’re not just looking at correlation.  Continue reading →

When Schools Eat Schools

In Denver, running schools like businesses produces a predictable side effect: market cannibalization…

Editor’s note: the following piece was written by a teacher who recently left her position in the Denver Public Schools.

Keyword-Cannibalization.jpg (425×282)Lately, Denver has been in the news a fair amount for its *successful school reform.* But when I think about the impact that Denver’s reform had on my students, I can say for certain that it hurt them more than it helped.

The students at my school were among some of the neediest in the state in terms of free and reduced lunch funding, and some of the most affected by trauma. In other words, they were students who needed the most support. The budget cuts began in my third year there, and only got worse as students left to attend other *choice* schools that were opening nearby. For students, that meant the loss of our only school-staffed, non-academic elective other than art: drama. For teachers, that meant rationing paper, although we considered ourselves fortunate relative to schools that were rationing toilet paper and paper towels. Continue reading →

The System Works*

If schools produce dramatic gains but leave students feeling scared, and scarred, are they still successful? An eighth grader poses some tough questions…

Traumatized. That’s the word my friends and I use when we talk about our school. It really scarred us. We were so used to freedom, like being able to walk to lunch in groups. All of a sudden, we were treated like children. Our lockers were taken away. Instead we had cubbies in our classrooms. We were like *cubbies? Are you joking???* We weren’t allowed to transition; our teachers transitioned. We stayed in the same room, in our chairs for 8 hours a day. We only moved when we went to lunch. We had to line up in a particular order and if you weren’t in the  right order or if somebody was talking, you’d have to go back to the classroom and start again.  There was one time when we missed lunch because we went through this process fifteen times.

They said that discipline led to academic success. They were incredibly strict about the uniform and we weren’t used to that. In the morning when we walked in we had to lift up our pants so that they could make sure we were wearing the socks we were allowed to wear, check to make sure we had a belt and that we had the school logo on our shirts. They’d say *if you don’t have the logo, we’re not going to let you in. We’re going to send you to the dean’s office and you’re going to get a uniform and you’re going to get out­-of­-school detention.* What really bothered me was that even if you had an excuse, like your uniform was in the laundry, and your mom called, they would still send you to the dean’s office.     Continue reading →

Third Way or the Highway


The future of education reform in Massachusetts requires mis-remembering its past…

Since 1635, Massachusetts has been known for its district public schools—the *first way.* Since 1993, Massachusetts’ charter schools have led the nation in pioneering a *second way.* It is time to recognize a Third Way – an emerging set of strategies that combine school-level autonomies and energetic innovation with a commitment to universal service and local voice…

Quick: what’s absent from this rather, um, selective account of the past 381 years of Bay State history? If you answered *that bit about 1993 seems to be a bit fact challenged,* you would be correct. As providence would have it, I happened to be acquainting myself with the history of Massachusetts’ bold experiment with school reform, circa 1993, at the very moment that the Third Way, brought to you by these guys, blazed into the Hub to blaze an optimistic path ahead in K-12 education. Which is how I happen to be in possession of such facts as that charter schools were a virtual afterthought in Massachusetts’ actual second way success story. And that the Third Way, which is already well underway, appears to veer off markedly from the course set by its bold predecessor all those 23 years ago. Strap yourself in, reader: it’s time machine time.

Continue reading →

Helping Children Succeed (Will Require Doing Pretty Much the Opposite of Just About Everything We’re Doing Now)

I talk to Paul Tough about his new book, which you should really read even if the whole *grit* thing drives you bonkers….

9780544935280_lres.gif (600×906)EduShyster
: Your new book is subtitled *What Works and Why.* But if I may, I’d like to suggest a different subtitle: *Just About Everything We’re Doing to Low-Income Kids in School is Wrong and Here’s the Neuro-Biological Research to Explain Why.* Was it just me or does the research you write about upend some pretty fundamental assumptions?

Paul Tough: I was struck by that too. Some of the basic principles we have, in terms of discipline, in terms of pedagogy and how we run our schools are not advantageous to kids who are growing up in adversity. This research on just how boring school is really resonated with me, especially the research about how when you’re growing up in a low-income community, school is more likely to be repetitive, boring and unmotivating. I hadn’t really picked up on that as being a significant problem before doing this reporting, but this research was really persuasive to me, not only that it’s true for a lot of kids but that it really matters in terms of their motivation. I think I was also more attuned to what happens in American schools and in classrooms because my older son is now in school. Continue reading →