Skip to comments.Can traditional schools learn a lesson from charters' efficiency? [Charters want say in lawsuit]
Posted on 08/19/2012 3:34:23 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Harmony Public Schools appears to have cracked the code.
The charter school system, with 38 campuses across Texas and more than 23,000 students, regularly produces students who excel at math, science and engineering. And they do it on a shoestring.
Harmony's five schools in Austin spent $7,923 per student in 2010-11 on operating expenses, almost $1,600 less than the Austin school district and about $800 less than the statewide average.
Harmony's schools have also consistently beat the rest of the state on standardized test scores even while educating about the same proportion of students considered at risk of dropping out.
Few other charter schools operate as efficiently and effectively as Harmony. But the ability of some charter schools to seemingly do more with less could become a key issue in the mammoth school finance lawsuit that is set for trial in October.
Two-thirds of Texas school districts, which together serve about 75 percent of the public school students in the state, have claimed the state's school finance system is unconstitutional, in part, they say, because the Legislature has not provided adequate resources to schools to match the rising academic standards lawmakers have imposed.
For the first time in the two-decade history of repeated school finance lawsuits, charter school advocates have joined the fray.
And one group, called Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, argues that more money might not be necessary if schools were wiser with their money.
The group has called on the court to strip out large portions of the state education code in order to improve efficiency, lift the current cap on new charter schools to increase competition and enact other remedies. A court hearing is scheduled this week to determine whether the group can stay in the lawsuit.
"Traditional public schools could realize enormous savings to the system if allowed to operate under the same rules and regulations as charter schools," according to a legal brief filed by the group, referred to as TREE. "The waste caused by special interest-driven regulatory burdens on traditional public schools has rendered the entire system inefficient."
Those burdens include a minimum pay scale for teachers as well as contractual protections and certification requirements.
A 2011 study done for the Texas Education Agency found that charter schools spent 15 percent less on operations than did comparable schools in traditional districts. Most of that difference came from hiring less experienced teachers and paying them less.
Lindsay Gustafson of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association said paying teachers less and stripping them of job protections would drive good teachers out of the classroom. Teacher turnover was twice as high in charter schools as in traditional public schools, according to the 2011 TEA study.
"We're interested in quality, not just what's cheap," Gustafson said.
Kent Grusendorf, leader of TREE and a former chairman of the House Public Education Committee, declined to comment last week when contacted by the American-Statesman. The Texas Association of Business, a major force at the state Capitol that represents mostly large employers, has also signed on to the TREE case.
Soner Tarim, Harmony's chief executive officer, said his schools are methodical about getting the most out of every employee, giving each person multiple jobs to ensure a leaner administrative operation.
One key to Harmony's low-budget education is hiring teachers some of whom come from Turkey with little experience and paying them far less. The pay difference was about $11,000 less than the state average of $48,600 in 2010, though Tarim said teachers have since received a pay raise. Although charter school teachers are not required to be certified by the state, more than 70 percent of Harmony's teachers are certified.
Harmony's hiring practices and its ties to Turkey have generated controversy, including an investigation by a committee in the Texas House. House General Investigating Committee Chairman Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, said the investigation has been concluded and its findings turned over to other agencies looking into charter schools.
Tarim said Harmony's teachers are willing to work for less because of the innovative, safe and supportive environment that produces results. Other savings come from the schools' minimal spending on athletics, transportation, guidance counseling and social work.
Harmony also must dedicate relatively little to serving students with disabilities and those learning English. Only 6 percent of its program budget went to educating students with disabilities last year compared to 21 percent for the Austin school district. Austin also committed about 17 percent of its dollars to bilingual students while Harmony spent just 1.6 percent.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing one of the four school-district groups in the lawsuit, has argued that TREE's concerns are political issues that need to be addressed by the Legislature, not constitutional issues that must be decided by the courts.
"Defendants have singled out statutes and regulations for which they find disfavor but they have no constitutional right to: unlimited charters, unregulated schools, uncertified teachers, unrestricted home-rule charter schools and automatic transfer from low performing schools in a given year," according to a legal brief from MALDEF.
The other school district coalitions have not objected to TREE's participation.
A second group of charter school advocates, led by the Texas Charter Schools Association, has filed a separate lawsuit that differs somewhat from the TREE claims. Its legal arguments focus on the lack of state funding for charter school facilities, which amounts to charter schools getting about $1,000 less per student than traditional public schools, as well as the limit on new charters. TREE's lawyers have said they would appeal and seek to delay the trial until their appeals are exhausted if they were to be excluded from the suit.
Regardless of the court's decision, the group has already elevated the question of whether Texas schools could operate much more efficiently and reduce costs by following the lead of charter schools.
The Legislature first authorized charter schools in 1995 and freed them from many state rules as a way to spur innovation in public education.
There are now more than 500 charter school campuses across the state and they educate about 3 percent of the public school students.
As privately managed public schools, charter schools get most of their money from the state on a per-student basis, although a select few also get substantial sums from private philanthropies. In contrast, traditional public schools are paid for through a combination of state dollars and local property taxes.
David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said the state could get out of the way so traditional school districts can innovate as many charter schools have done.
He pointed to an effort by the Houston school district to extend the school year in the district's Apollo schools, which are trying new approaches to improve student achievement. The district had to get legislative approval last year to make the change, even though all the costs were to be paid for with local money.
But Dunn questions whether substantial savings could be found if traditional school districts were given the same freedom as charter schools.
"Charters do more with less out of necessity; we don't necessarily like it," Dunn said.
2001: Teachers from Philippines arrive in Boston to teach math and science *** 'We have an obligation to children to find the best math teachers we can find, wherever we can find them,'' he said.
At first it seemed as though the Philippine teachers wouldn't make it. Bureaucratic problems with obtaining visas for the teachers delayed their arrivalfor several weeks. US Representative Michael Capuano and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, both Massachusetts Democrats, worked with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to speed up the process.
''Their arrival means that a significant number of students will be able to get the good education they need and deserve,'' Kennedy said in a statement welcoming the teachers.***
Nevada - August 02, 2005: Teachers arrive from Philippines [excerpt] ..Ocamia, 56, is one of 51 teachers who will be working under a temporary visa in the Clark County School District for the next three years The Filipino teachers were recruited in February to fill vacancies in high-need areas such as math, science and special education. The recruitment of foreign teachers will only put a slight dent in the district's teacher shortage, which currently is more than 400 teachers who will have to be replaced by substitutes . [end excerpt]
March 18, 2009: Filipino teachers exchange homeland for jobs in America More than 100 school districts, including at least 20 in California, are recruiting in the Philippines to fill teacher shortages in math, science and special education -- [excerpt] Filipino exchange teacher Ferdinand Nakila landed in Los Angeles expecting "Pretty Woman" scenes of swank Beverly Hills boulevards and glittering celebrities. What he got was Inglewood, where he stayed for two weeks in temporary housing and encountered drunkards, beggars, trash-filled streets and nightly police sirens .
....The Los Angeles Unified School District has hired 250 to 300 teachers from the Philippines -- the largest contingent among more than 600 foreign exchange teachers overall, a district official said.
The statewide budget crisis and impending layoffs, however, have prompted L.A. Unified to suspend its foreign recruitment this year, said Deborah Ignagni, a district human resources administrator.
Pay is an incentive
Ignagni said the L.A. district first began recruiting foreign exchange teachers in the 1980s from Mexico and Spain to help with bilingual elementary education. But it shifted to the Philippines and Canada for math, science and special education teachers in the last four years, she said.[end exceprt]
April 17, 2010: Unprepared to teach math [excerpt] Hank Kepner, professor of mathematics education at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who is president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, was happy for mediocrity. We show up pretty well here, right in the middle of the pack. [end excerpt]
As a counterpoint, the foreign-recruit teachers clearly are spending more time teaching and less time indoctrinating all while working cheaper.
Not seeing the problem here. If the domestic crop of teachers doesn’t make the cut (and we all know the supermajority of them don’t and can’t), if our priority is making sure our kids get a good education instead of a good indoctrination, why wouldn’t we turn to the imported product instead???
If they know the subject matter (and not than the social justice indoctrination required and instilled in graduates of Schools of Education) more power to the schools and better for the students.
It was the liberal hypocrisy (and media coverage) that I was addressing. :)
That's not exactly "on a shoestring," although it's a significant savings.
So, socialistically organized and run government schools are "traditional"? Really? It's like the commies running the old Soviet Union or the Ayatollahs are "conservative". Liberal media is dumb as a box of rocks.
Public schools in Dallas and other cities were caught recruiting ESL teachers from Mexico, often with “bilingual” teachers who spoke no English.
charters aren’t good enough, I want real school choice
Short answer: NO they CAN'T
Unions are too stupid to learn anything from anybody.