Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And the REAL magic formula is...

USA Today recently published it’s opinion on the “charter school debate” that would lead one to believe the solution to public education is more KIPP schools, or at least more charter schools like KIPP. The editors base their opinion not on any real causal data but on the disputed results of a “rigorous new study of KIPP.” (Charter school debate nears a promising new phase. April 9, 2013, p. 6A)

An opposing view penned by Kevin G. Welner, professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and director of the National Education Policy Center, calls the KIPP study into question (Charters possess no magic formula, same edition), not because they haven’t experienced better test-based results (they have in most cases) but why they are getting those results. This was something conveniently left out of the USA Today opinion. What the editors did conclude was:

“There’s little doubt left that top-performing charters have introduced new educational models that have already achieved startling results in even the most difficult circumstances.” ~ USA Today

Welner contends the key ingredient lending itself to KIPP’s successful formula is “opportunities to learn.”  He disputes any conclusions pointing merely to better teaching methods or other “magic charter formula.” Instead, what KIPP and other successful charter schools have that financially struggling traditional public schools do not have is “more money.” Not money from the state legislature, since charter schools are usually funded through appropriations about the same as traditional public schools, but significant private funding from organizations often bent on destroying the public school system more than helping low-income and minority kids.

Welner points out that as recently as 2007, KIPP schools in eleven districts received an average of $5,760 more per pupil than the local districts, all from private funding. Another charter school in Houston brought in 25% more in per-pupil funding compared to other middle schools. As Welner so concisely puts it, “Whether a school is a charter or a neighborhood school, resources matter.

Here’s what those additional funds provide for KIPP and other charters: “more time in schools while placing a reasonable limit on class size.” According to Welner:
  • ·       KIPP schools provided 192 days of school each year
  • ·       Students in KIPP schools attend school nine hours per day
  • ·       In total, KIPP schools are able to provide 45% more learning time than conventional schools (equivalent to 4 additional months) 

“We should not be surprised when four extra months results in several additional months of test-score growth.” ~ Welner

The USA Today editors claim public schools can learn valuable lessons from KIPP and other successful charters. That’s very true. What we can learn is that students attending high-poverty, high-minority, high limited-English-speaking schools could benefit from the additional funding to provide more time for learning. As Welner concludes, “we see positive results when we make concentrated and sustained investments in our children.”

So when will Michigan’s political leaders finally see the real replicable lesson? According to the current House School Aid Appropriations Bill and Governor Snyder’s budget request, not anytime soon. Both perpetuate the $470 per-pupil cut in the foundation grant begun by Snyder in 2011-12, and the House bill adds to it by cutting the $52 per pupil “best practices” grant.

Michigan is one of the least fair and equitable states in the country when it comes to funding public education. For the time being, I don’t see that changing. After all, that doesn’t further profits for corporate-run schools nor does it satisfy the anti-public education crowd.

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