Archive for the ‘Free and Reduced Meal Programs’ Tag

How many reports does it take to close the opportunity gap?   12 comments

Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the commercial from which I borrowed (paraphrased) the blog title. Remember the Tootsie Pop commercial with the boy and Mr. Owl? The boy always asked, “Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?” Every time, Mr. Owl would take the boy’s Tootsie Pop and start licking; he eventually just bit into it. The boy could have saved himself the grief and just counted for himself, instead he continued to wait for someone to answer his question. What’s my point? Do we really need another report to tell us that the number of low-income school kids is steadily growing?  Didn’t we read a similar report from the Southern Education Foundation a few months ago? And yes, I weighed-in on that one too. I was surprised that Steve Suitts, the author of the January report and Vice President of the foundation, responded to my comments (and I asked how I could help). Here is an excerpt:

“The reality is that far too many students of color and low income students of all races and ethnicities aren’t getting the education they need. The students who need the most resources and support are now usually getting the least. For large numbers of these students to succeed, this pattern has to change. Our report is a call to arms in fighting for that change. Best wishes.”

So if the first report was a ‘call to arms in fighting’ for change, what does that make the second report? Better yet, what will that make the reports that we know will follow? By no means am I being cynical, but rather practical and realistic. Anyone who has spent time (as a teacher or volunteer) in an urban classroom knows the financial circumstances of the students. We know that the number of students now eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch has increased because the economy is in the crapper, and millions of people, with kids, are now unemployed. Did we really need another report to tell us that? How much money and human resources were spent on this study? Aren’t there better ways to use those resources? How about spending some time with lawmakers and educating them on the unseen effects of double-digit unemployment, e.g., families with fewer financial resources to pay for such novelties as food, school supplies, and after-school enrichment programs? Now I feel as though I sound like a broken record because I talk about the same issues, e.g., school reform, wasteful spending, etc., in almost every post. Stuitts has a valid point about the allocation of resources, but when will we see a detailed study on how these states (15 in the South), spend Title I and Special Education funds? Some districts spend more of those funds on administrative costs (unnecessary training, conferences, etc.) than instructional resources. And they get away with it because the federal government’s accountability system is weak. Unless and until stricter guidelines are developed, implemented, and monitored districts will continue to take advantage and waste free money our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, districts will continue to blame their AYP shortcomings on the fact that there are a large number of low-income students in their classrooms. And the madness will continue. So I am issuing a BOLO for the next study telling us that there are now more poor kids in America than ever before. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Have Charter Management Organizations run amok?   3 comments

More than a decade after the first charter school was created to foster an environment of teacher autonomy and school choice, ‘charter school’ has become a household phrase. Even television sitcoms such as ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ have given shout-outs to charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility with regard to educational model, school calendar, uniforms, and requiring parental involvement through mandatory volunteer hours. The Obama Administration’s push to improve public education by supporting charter schools through replication and conversion of failing public schools has catapulted the free school choice option to the forefront of the Race to the Top competition.

Some entrepreneurs have discovered that providing free school choice is a lucrative business. Charter Management Organizations (CMO) such as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Imagine have demonstrated that students from low-income backgrounds, typically minority, can succeed if given the proper learning environment. While I do not discount the accomplishments of such organizations, I do question the method used to select where the charter schools will be located. For example, some companies only open schools in districts where 70% or more of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Meal Programs. Does that mean students in districts where only 50-60% of the students qualify for those meals are less worthy of a research-based school choice option?

Upon reviewing the list of charter petitions awaiting approval by Georgia’s Charter Commission, many red flags went up. Charter Schools Administration Services (CSAS) has two petitions under review: one for Academy of Fulton County and another for Academy of Lithonia. CSAS presented budgets for both schools with management fees of $609,000 per year, per school. An additional $300K and $400K were added for the leasing of the facilities, respectively. Each school would also pay $56,000 in interest on funds loaned through CSAS. These figures are especially troubling when one considers the fact that only 500 students are or will be enrolled; the average per pupil revenues in the metro-Atlanta area are roughly $8,000. Regardless of additional, unforeseen expenses, the charter schools would have to pay CSAS first. It has been reported that CSAS and other CMO’s are currently under investigation by the IRS, as they operate as non-profit organizations; however, their profit margins say otherwise.

If school districts are genuinely concerned about ‘losing’ students to charter schools (Read: Losing the money), common sense should prevail: Create charters and convert some of the existing schools to charters, thereby providing parents, regardless of income or zip code, equal access to school choice options. Instead, some districts make it impossible for grassroots groups to create charter schools by denying all applications and challenging the state’s ability to authorize additional schools.