The Rise of KIPP, etc.

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The Rise of KIPP, etc.

In conjunction with a six-part series on education in the United States, the National Public Radio program With Good Reason published on its Web site an excerpt about the rise of KIPP from Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016), an analysis of the impact of market forces on public schooling by NCSPE's director, Samuel E. Abrams. In this excerpt, Abrams describes the evolution of KIPP and similar charter management organizations (CMOs) as the successful non-profit response to Edison and other struggling for-profit educational management organizations (EMOs).

The growth in KIPP school openings has slowed down since the publication of this book, it should be noted. As Abrams explains in his book, while KIPP has benefited from its non-profit status by winning allegiance from idealistic, tireless young staff and by gaining substantial funding from philanthropists, the organization is necessarily constrained by the finite number of, one, teachers capable of working very long hours and, two, generous philanthropists. In addition, the organization is constrained by the finite number of students capable of abiding by the organization's stiff behavioral and academic expectations.

In 2014, KIPP grew by 15 percent, from 141 schools to 162; in 2015, by 13 percent, to 183 schools; in 2016, by 9 percent, to 200 schools; and in 2017, by 5 percent, to 209 schools. This slowdown comports with an ebb in charter school growth reported by Education Weekin March: 640 new charter schools opened in 2012; 501, in 2013; 404, in 2015; and 329, in 2015.

Citing a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the newspaper noted that large charter authorizers have seen a marked drop in charter applications, from an average of 18 in the 2011-12 school year to 7 in the 2015-16 school year.  One explanation offered by Education Week for the downturn is that CMOs "may have reached capacity." In addition, it should be pointed out that charter schools have run into mounting resistance, as illustrated by the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charter school growth in October 2016 and by the decisive rejection a month later of a referendum in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools, with 62 percent of voters opposing the measure and 38 percent supporting it.

Also from Education and the Commercial Mindsetan excerpt about the application of business principles to education by Finnish authorities was published last year by Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Tuition Tax Credits Come to Chicago

In a deal to shore up the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and close the gap in school funding between high- and low-income communities across the state, the Illinois Senate voted 38-13 on August 29, reported The Chicago Tribune, to join the House in approving a tuition tax-credit program to finance the enrollment of underprivileged children in Chicago private schools.

While both the Illinois House and Senate are ruled by Democrats, they voted for the compromise despite opposition from the teachers unions. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner had demanded the tuition tax-credit program in return for his endorsement of shoring up the pension fund and closing the gap in school funding, reported The Wall Street Journal.

With this concession to advocates of school choice, the Illinois legislature made Chicago another domain for tuition tax credits, which over the past decade have steadily become the preferred vehicle for funding enrollment of underprivileged children in private schools.  Nearly 260,000 students across the country in 2016-17 used scholarships endowed by tuition tax credits to attend private schools. The number using vouchers was just under 180,000. Those using education savings accounts amounted to 11,000.

The editorial board of The Chicago Tribune celebrated the compromise.  According to terms of the deal, Chicago Public Schools will receive $450 million in new money; the Chicago Board of Education will be permitted to raise property taxes by nearly $150 million to support the strained Chicago Teachers Pension Fund; the state will in addition provide much greater support for the fund, increasing its allocation from $12 million to $221 million; and the state will set aside $75 million in tax credits to individuals and corporations donating money to a scholarship fund allowing underprivileged children to attend private schools, with donors getting a 75-cent tax credit per dollar and with $1 million as the ceiling per donor.

If fully funded, Chicago's tuition tax program will provide $100 million in scholarships.  Eligibility for these scholarships is limited to children from families earning no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, reported The Chicago Sun-Times. Scholarships will be worth up to $12,280, roughly the per-pupil expenditure in Illinois.

Governor Rauner hailed the compromise, reported The Wall Street Journal. "For too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools," said the governor. "We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It's a historic day for Illinois."

In praising the compromise, the editorial board of the Tribune took aim at the Chicago Teachers Union:  "Teachers union leaders showed their true colors: They didn't primarily value school funding reform. They didn't primarily value the welfare of students, many of whom get a raw deal in underperforming public schools. Their primary objective was blocking a relatively small school choice program."

To Democratic Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, an opponent of the compromise, the magnitude of the school program was not the issue but rather the precedent it set.  According to the Tribune, Biss called the program a "dangerous" first step against public schooling.  "I can't help but ask," said Biss, "what next?"

Echoing Biss, the legislative and political director of the Chicago Teachers Union, Stacy Davis Gates, called the program "a detriment to the school district and a tax shelter for wealthy people and corporations." Gates said CTU leaders are considering a lawsuit to challenge the plan as being in violation of the state prohibition against using government money to religious ends.

Implicit to the tuition tax-credit program is funding of scholarships for children to attend Catholic schools. A substantial number of students using scholarships funded by the tuition tax-credit program in Florida attend Catholic schools. The same holds for students using vouchers in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C.

Backlash in Arizona Against Expansion of School Choice

A group called Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSA) claimed to have collected more than 100,000 signatures of registered voters to keep the expansion of the state's Educational Savings Account (ESA) program from taking effect and to force a referendum vote in November on the expansion.

Arizona's ESA program was initiated in 2011 and capped at 0.5 percent of the state's K-12 student population from the prior year.  A bill signed into law by the legislature in April would open the program to all 1.1 million of the state's students.  In 2016-17, 3,500 students participated.

Unlike vouchers, which may be used only at private schools, ESAs function like debit cards, allowing parents to spend money on online educational programs, tutoring services, and community college courses as well as private school fees. In the case of Arizona, the value of ESAs amount to 90 percent of state per-pupil funding, though according to the legislation passed in April, students from low-income families would be entitled to 100 percent.

SOSA claims the expansion "would wreak havoc on public-school budgets," according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.  Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, an advocacy organization formerly titled the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called the grassroots response an affront to parental liberty.

Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee employ similar ESA programs. North Carolina will introduce its own version in 2018-19.

In total, about 11,000 students are enrolled in ESA programs, making this the country's smallest vehicle for school choice, behind vouchers with 180,000 participants, tuition tax-credit scholarships with 260,000 participants, and charter schools with 2.8 million participants.

Coding Academies Fold

Since 2012, dozens of coding academies have opened up across the country with the bold promise of training students in a few months to write computer code and thus obtain remunerative jobs in the digital sector. "But the coding boot-camp field now faces a sobering moment," reported The New York Times, "as two large schools have announced plans to shut down this year-despite backing by major for-profit education companies, Kaplan and the Apollo Education Group, the parent of the University of Phoenix."

This news calls into question the reigning optimism about this sector. Just one year ago, the Department of Education announced plans to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE was sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities. In addition, seventeen leading coding academies formed a coalition in March, reported the same newspaper, to generate uniform reporting standards to document job-placement rates and other key metrics.

According to the Times, "years of heady growth led to a boot-camp glut." Moreover, many coding academies have not evolved to meet changing demands of employers.

"One of the casualties, Dev Bootcamp, was a pioneer," reported the Times. "It started in San Francisco in 2012 and grew to six schools with more than 3,000 graduates. Only three years ago, Kaplan, the biggest supplier of test-preparation courses, bought Dev Bootcamp and pledged bold expansion."

The other major casualty is The Iron Yard, founded in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2013.  Backed by the Apollo Education Group, this academy had grown to 15 campuses across the country.

Some academies nevertheless continue to flourish, including the Flatiron School, which was founded in 2012. According to Flatiron, reported the Times, more than 95 percent of the school's 1,000 graduates have found jobs as coders. In addition, Flatiron introduced an online version of its program for a fraction of the price, charging $1,500 a month.

DeVos Digs In

In what the Associated Press called "her first comprehensive sit-down interview with a national media outlet since taking office," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reflected on her experience so far and defined her goals in a 30-minute conversation with the AP's Maria Danilova.

DeVos confirmed in the interview that the Trump administration is considering a federal tuition tax-credit program as part of its proposal for a tax overhaul.

Several states already have their own tuition tax-credit programs, with Arizona and Florida being the most prominent.  Arizona launched its individual income tax-credit program in 1997 and supplemented it with a corporate tax-credit program in 2006.  Florida introduced a corporate tax-credit program in 2001. Across the country, in sum, 280,000 students make use of state tuition tax-credit scholarships.

Historical precedent, however, does not bode well for the Trump administration on this front. Legislation for federal tuition tax-credits passed in the Senate nine times between 1969 and 1984 yet died on each occasion in the House of Representatives and have not been on the docket since.

DeVos also defended her revision of rules imposed by the Obama administration to harness for-profit tertiary institutions; the most stringent of the Obama administration's regulations was the imposition of a so-called "gainful employment rule," whereby annual loan payments of graduates of proprietary institutions benefiting from federal financial aid could not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary income.  An adamant supporter of for-profit school management, DeVos argued that "the last administration really stepped much more heavily into areas that it should not."

DeVos likewise described the Obama administration's assertion of authority regarding bathroom access in schools by transgender students as another form of federal overreach. DeVos said to Danilova that the states should decide this matter: "We really believe that states are the best laboratories of democracy on many fronts."

On the topic of lightening oversight of charter schools, DeVos stood her ground: "I think the first line of accountability is frankly with the parents. When parents are choosing school, they are proactively making that choice."

NYC Charter Schools Lobby for More Space

In a call with reporters organized by the charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, leaders of Success Academy Charter Schools, Bronx Charter School for the Arts, and International Charter School of New York expressed their frustration in failing to obtain more space from the New York City Department of Education.

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, "The group said 27 charters in the city have pending requests for space. It analyzed the Department of Education's 'blue book,' detailing school capacity in 2015-16, and concluded that in neighborhoods where charters want to expand, the city has 68 chronically underused buildings, meaning they have more than 300 empty seats for several years."

The DOE, however, disputed this claim, asserting that the "blue book" doesn't account for zoning changes or programs in store for buildings.

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said she had asked the DOE in January for classroom space for 2,100 rising middle-schoolers. Moskowitz said she needed this space for September 2018 but had yet to get an answer.

Describing the potential consequences in stark terms, Moskowitz said, "These 2,100 kids are going to have their education aborted at fourth grade if we don't have a solution."

Pasi Sahlberg to Talk about FinnishED Leadership

In an event co-sponsored by the Gottesman Libraries of Teachers College and NCSPE, Pasi Sahlberg will discuss his new book, FinnishED Leadership: Four Big, Inexpensive Ideas to Transform Education (Corwin, 2017), on Monday, September 18. The event is open to the public and will run from 4:00 to 5:30. Those interested in attending should rsvp here.

Published Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017