Farce has been standard fare in litigation over school choice since the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris upholding the constitutionality of vouchers. At the time of Zelman, chief counsel for the National Education Association (NEA) said the organization would rely on “Mickey-Mouse provisions” in state constitutions to attack choice programs. No claim was too ridiculous. But farce doesn’t seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.
Farce does not seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.
Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at a private school. The bill passed by 2-1 margins in both houses of the Republican-controlled legislature. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape miserably failing schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed, the AEA decided to lawyer up before it even reached the governor’s desk.
Initially, the act was called the School Flexibility Act and did not include tax credits. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the act, the conference committee added
It’s not often a piece of legislation is challenged in court before it becomes law. But since Alabama teacher unions and school boards are so intent on quashing any alternative to the traditional school district, they have marshaled every resource to defeat what should be the state’s first private school choice plan.
When Republicans passed a tuition tax credit late last week, the Alabama Education Association cried foul and took the GOP to court, claiming that legislative leaders violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by privately discussing the measure and tacking it on at the last minute to an entirely different education bill. This afternoon, a state judge gave the union a temporary victory and forbade the governor from signing the bill until next week when a hearing determines what will happen next.
Not to be sidelined, the Alabama Association of Schools Boards and the School Superintendents of Alabama have sent Governor Robert Bentley a joint letter urging him to reject the measure, using faulty assumptions to claim that such a law would reduce education funding by tens of millions of dollars.
The harm done to these parties is real only if one assumes that every education dollar is theirs to begin with. And to the state’s public education establishment, that has been the assumption. Whether lawmakers or school-choice advocates are proposing tax credit scholarships or charter schools, they can expect a fight—not just from the unions and the school boards,
The latest study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has profound implications for the artificial cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. According to the report (released today), the typical charter school student gains about one and a half more months of learning in a year in reading than students in a typical district school and two and a half more months of learning in math. The gains in Boston were even more pronounced: twelve months of additional learning in a year in reading for charter students and thirteen months more in math.
Yet there remain 45,000 students in Massachusetts waiting for a seat in a charter school, thanks mostly to a state-imposed cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston and other low-performing districts. State education officials have been authorizing schools where they can, approving five new charter schools this week and expanding eleven others, but there still isn’t enough supply; the new openings are expected to serve just 3,100 students, half of them in Boston.
“The more schools we open, the longer the waiting list gets,” Massachusetts Charter Public School Association director Marc Kenen told the Boston Globe this week.
The absurdity of the cap becomes more apparent with the achievement gains Bay State charters are showing. Eighty-three percent of Boston charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their district-school peers in reading and math, and no Boston
This extensive evaluation of KIPP charter schools, conducted by Mathematica, will impress even the staunchest KIPP skeptics. The study employed two study designs: The researchers compared the cohorts of forty-one KIPP middle schools (more than half of the total KIPP schools) to students in local non-KIPP schools. They also compared KIPP lottery winners in thirteen oversubscribed schools to non-winners. The upshot? Over a three- to four-year span, KIPP students achieved between eight and fourteen months of additional learning growth compared to their non-KIPP-attending peers. These findings hold across all four core subjects for both state tests and a nationally normed, low-stakes exam (meant to test higher-order thinking skills). What’s more, the researchers included students who left their KIPP schools prior to eighth grade, making these effects a valid measure of anyone who has ever enrolled in these middle schools. But while the academic gains of KIPPsters are unimpeachable, the schools’ affects on student attitudes may not be. Apparently, KIPP increases students’ likelihood of arguing, lying to their parents, and losing their temper, according to student surveys—though one has to wonder if KIPP students are simply more likely than non-KIPPsters to own up to such behaviors.
SOURCE: Christina Clark Tuttle, et al., KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research, February 2013).
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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