Monday, June 29, 2015

Cyberschool, Truancy, and Abuse

Pennsylvania is a playground for cyber-charters, and many cybers have been happy to play there (at considerable cost to local districts). And child advocates have noticed an issue that affects a small number of students in critical ways.

I want to be clear before we get into this-- we're talking about a systemic problem, but also an issue that appears exceptionally rarely.

According to an early-June report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh School's solicitor Ira Weiss and pediatrician Mary Carrasco talked about the issue of reporting truancy after the beating death of Donovan McKee, an eleven-year-old who attended a cyber-charter. Since that case, two more children have died in similar cases.



Carrasco notes that one of things that cyber schools do not have are mandatory reporters. If a child shows up in my classroom with questionable bruises, I am required by law to pass that on to my boss and/or file a report with the state. Cyber teachers, of course, cannot. This leaves a small but scary loophole. As Carrasco tells the PPG:

“I’m not suggesting that every child in cyber charter school is at risk, but there are kids who are taken out of regular school precisely because the parents don’t want someone to see them and that’s a problem,” said Dr. Carrasco, also a member of the child death review team in Allegheny County.

That is not an easy loophole to plug-- but part of it can be addressed, and Carrasco,Weiss and State Representative Dom Costa have been trying to address the truancy piece with some legislation requiring cyber charters to deal more aggressively with truancy. In a PA school, three unexcused absences will get you an official call and a report sent up the chain of school administrator command; in more aggressive districts, even one absence will get you a phone call home. Even small schools districts such as mine employ a truancy officer.

We think of truancy in terms of getting those darn kids to school, but it's also an issue of making sure that the child does not disappear through the cracks. If Donovan McKee had been in a public school, either his repeated abuse would have been noted and reported, or his continued absence would have been followed up on.

Truancy in cyber school is an issue. Attendance is taken simply enough-- students have to log in each day. Of course, to be exact, somebody has to put in the child's login name and password. But even when students are reported absent, all the cybers are required to do is pass an over-three-day absence report to the home district.

The proposed amendment would require cyber teachers to notify their administrator and basically put the requirement to enforce truancy laws on the cyber charter. This is not unheard of-- Minnesota actually implemented a fairly aggressive anti-cyber-truancy program years ago. And Pennsylvania cybers are not unsympathetic to the need. 

Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, reports that many charter operators get it, and "welcome that kind of accountability and authority." But they are concerned that this give cybers more work to do just as the state is getting ready to cut charter revenue.

“The problem is there’s an increased responsibility while cutting resources,” he said.

He should probably not try that plea for sympathy around any public school employees, who have regularly acquired more responsibilities even as Fayfich's members are busily sucking the blood out of public schools. I think I speak for all public school employees when I say, "Big frickin' waaah."

Forcing Pennsylvania cybers to deal with truancy more immediately, directly and effectively would be better for everyone. It does cybers no good to be known as a haven for truants and slackers, and yet there is a small but significant sliver of cyber-school sign-ups that are about a frustrated parent or student who don't to deal with truancy officers and fines any more.

I cannot say this enough-- I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of cyber school parents are NOT child abusers or even just truancy enablers. But clearly there are steps we can take in Pennsylvania to better involve cyber-charters in the critical work of keeping students safe and accountable.

41 comments:

  1. I think it is likely that we will eventually see few pure online schools, but many online organizations that provide classes to students in brick and mortar schools that do not have the enrollment to justify more specialized classes. I would expect this to be the norm for high schools in my state, where the median size high school is a little under 250 students.

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    1. You mean you're not going to explain to Mr. Greene how he's wrong about cyber charters pulling money from public schools? Is it because he's a man and it's a lot easier to be pedantic to women, even when you know you're wrong? Or is it because he owns the blog and you don't want to get kicked off again?

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    2. Dienne,

      I post about a variety of things. I do hope that the blog owner responds to my posts about the returns to scale in education. Do you have any thoughts about scale economies and monopolization of education? Any thoughts about the future of on line education?

      If you think I am wrong about anything, please give an actual argument against my position. In the case of the funding formula for Ohio schools, you might cite the funding formula for district schools and show how the funding level depends not on the number of students attending district schools, but in fact on the number of students not attending district schools, and what schools they are actually attending.

      As a practicing attorney, I would think interpreting government regulations is in your wheelhouse.

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    3. Nice that you avoid my point (as usual). Greene has posted dozens of times that charters take money from public schools, yet never once have you argued with him on that, yet you jump in and argue that point with two women. I'm asking if there is a reason for that? If I'm wrong that charters drain money from public schools, then so is Greene, and I'd think you'd like to straighten him out, no?

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    4. Dienne,

      Our disagreement is not about the impact of a student attending a charter school on local school finance, but differences between the impact of a student attending a charter school and the impact of a student attending a private school. I am arguing that there is no difference between the two, you are arguing, I guess, that there is a difference. Do you see now that Greene's post has nothing to do with our previous discussion?

      Let me help you a bit. If you want to argue that your decision to send your children to a private school had less of an impact on your local public school district revenue than if you had sent your student to a charter school, you can do it in one of two ways. First, you could show that some portion of your locally raised tax money follows the student to a charter school but does not follow the student to the private school. Alternatively you could show that the state formula that allocates money to your local school district depends on where the students who live in the district but do not enroll in schools controlled by the district are enrolled. In this case you would need to show that the state of Ohio will give the district less money if the students who live in the district are enrolled in a charter school than the state of Ohio will give the district if the students who live in the district are enrolled in a private school. Does that help?

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    5. Why is she supposed to show that, when you say it isn't true? I brought up the stuff you're talking about, though I couldn't "show" it because I don't know how to find details about this complicated area of education funding, but even though you purport to "know" the answers, I haven't noticed that you've "shown" that it isn't true or even addressed it in any way that makes sense. To me, one of the most important qualities of a teacher is to be able to give clear explanations, and I don't get that from you, so I would hate to be a student of yours.

      Dienne is from Ohio? Somehow I thought she was from Chicago. I thought you were from Ohio. I'm from Ohio.

      Perhaps Peter doesn't engage TE much because TE is a troll and Peter figures it's better to ignore them, since they just want attention. I keep trying patiently to get TE to explain himself in a way that makes sense, but it's really hard slogging, and his condescending attitude and selective ignoring of questions he doesn't want to answer are getting pretty boring.

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    6. "First, you could show that some portion of your locally raised tax money follows the student to a charter school but does not follow the student to the private school."

      I don't need to "show" that, it's patently obvious. No government money goes to my kids' private school. Charter schools, OTOH, are exclusively run on government money. For you to keep denying that is downright disingenuous. Or flat out lying. Sending my kids to private school has no more of an adverse effect on my local public district than if I didn't have kids at all. Sending my kids to a charter, which my district has to pay for, is clearly detrimental to the district schools.

      Anyway, yes, Rebecca is right - I'm from Chicago.

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    7. Rebecca,

      I had hoped that there would be no name calling, but this is the internet after all.

      I will try again. Lets take it step by step.

      Step 1. If a student's family remains a resident of the school district but does not attend the district school no matter the reason, the household still pays local taxes to support the school district. Can we agree on step 1?

      Step 2. If a student does not attend a district school no matter the reason and the state funding formula for the district is a function of the number of students attending the district schools, than the district receives less state funding. Can we agree on step 2?

      Step 3. State funding of district schools in Ohio depend on the number of students attending the district. Can we agree on step 3?

      Conclusion. Students who attend private school lower the state aid to districts in Ohio. Can we agree on this conclusion?

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    8. Maybe it lowers state aid, but that's not the only funding.

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    9. Rebecca,

      State and local (mostly property taxes, but apparently income tax in some districts) make up more than 90% of funding, at least in Ohio.

      If you want to add in a step about Federal funding, we could. If it is given interdependently of the number of students in a district, it will be like step 1 and there is no reduction in local revenue when a student leaves the district school. If Federal spending does depend on the number of students in the district, it will like step 2, and a student leaving the district will result in the district receiving less Federal money, no matter why the student left the district.

      I don't see how either addition would change the conclusion.

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  2. Where do you live, TE? In Ohio most urban high schools have around 1500 students. I taught in a rural school that had about 130 students in the high school and they had a great variety of classes and refused to become part of a consolidation. I don't think distance learning classes like you're talking about will ever become generalized because they don't work very well. In any case, talking about the "median" of all schools is pretty meaningless for what you're talking about. It would make more sense to talk about the mean number of students in rural high schools.

    I don't like numbers because they're so easily manipulated, besides error-prone. My father always said, "You can "prove" anything with numbers. Doesn't make it true."

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  3. Rebecca,

    I live in a big squarish state in the middle of the country. The median size high school in the state is about 250 students.

    I think internet based courses do have an important future, but there is really point point about disagreeing about what will happen in the future. We just need to wait and find out.

    Can I ask about which of the steps above your disagree with? That will do much to help me understand the where we are disagreeing.

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    1. I still don't see how the median means anything. I would think it would be the mean.

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    2. Rebecca,

      Suppose there were three high schools in a state, one with a student population of 100, another with a student population of 200, a third with a student population of 4,200. We would calculate the mean size high school as having 1,500 students, but the median size high school as having 200 students. It seems to me that a high school of 1,500 would have enough students to offer a rich variety of classes, so if you looked at the mean you might well conclude that all high schools in a state have a wide variety of classes. Looking at the median high school with 200 students suggests to me that most high schools in the state are not large enough to offer a rich curriculum to their students.

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    3. Since I haven't studied statistics and hate numbers, it just seem like such a mess to me to try to line up all the numbers of all the high schools in the state in order - seems very labor and time intensive - to be able to see which number is in the middle.

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    4. Rebeca,

      It is not very hard. For my state I just looked at the high school athletic league list. Here is a link to the enrollment numbers for every high school in Ohio: http://ohsaa.org/members/hsenroll15.htm

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    5. Rebecca - please don't let TE make you fee confused or not smart enough. He's an economist. Twisting numbers to suit his purpose is his job. Wait a week or two and he'll be telling you that the mean is a better measure than the median because, reasons.

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    6. Dienne,

      How would enrollment figures in Ohio confuse anyone?

      I am curious about what you think my job is. I see it as teaching. What is your job?

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    7. Enrollment figures are not the point.

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    8. And neither is Dienne's job. The point is priorities and agendas. Hidden agendas of politicians and the people who use money to influence them and twist democratic priorities. The point is to use practical, common sense measures - actions, not metrics - to improve society for everyone. The point is that anyone who was alive during the Eisenhower years can see that "trickle down" economics starting with Reaganomics doesn't work for the vast majority and has made things worse for them.

      Numbers can be tools but they have nothing to do with human values. I think of Antoine Saint-Exupéry's book Le Petit Prince - The Little Prince. I taught it for years, and every year the students and I would find new meanings in it. One of the main themes is that numbers don't tell you anything important about the essence of people and life; what's important are friendships, relationships, connections between people. It's much better if you can read it in the original French, though. Great literature always loses a lot in translation, no matter how good. When I read it in French, I always cry at the end. When I read it in English, I never do.

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  4. Dienne,

    Apologies for getting your state wrong. Am I also incorrect in remembering that you are an attorney?


    You might look at my step by step story, and perhaps state which step you disagree with. That would do much to focus the discussion. You should remember that states that have a spending formula that determines state aid DO NOT have a fixed amount of annual spending. Spending fluctuates as the amount of money each district is entitled to obtain changes due to enrollment. Sending your students to private school has no more impact on revenue for the public school district than not having children, than home schooling your children, or sending your children to a charter school. All the impact on state aid comes through the formula.

    If memory serves, Illinois has the lowest level of state level funding for public education, and in Chicago at least, a very high percentage of private school students. Is that correct?

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  5. Here's an analogy, TE. My parents used to live in Indianapolis, but moved closer to us to be near their grandkids. Their main regret leaving Indy was that they really loved the church they had been members of for 20 years. So they decided to continue to financially support that church, albeit, in a lesser amount. Plus, they supported their new church that they joined in their new location. You're looking at it as if their leaving the church cost the church money, which, in a way, it did. But, that church is now getting money from someone who doesn't even attend that church, which, looking at it from a different point of view, is quite a bonus to that church, wouldn't you say?

    OTOH, that same church had a schism a number of years ago in which 5 or 6 families (out of about 50 or 60) wanted to start a new church using the resources of the current church.

    Do you see the difference between the two situations? In the first, someone who is not even using a service is paying into it. In the second, someone who isn't using the service wants to take money out of it to start a new service serving only a small handful of people served by the original service. Do you think the resources of the original church are great enough to support two churches, both of which will need a pastor, a building, furnishings, supplies, etc.?

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  6. Dienne,

    I think you are again under the impression that there is generally a fixed amount of spending by the state. Generally what is fixed is the formula, so if a student leaves a district school, no matter the reason, state spending to the school district decreases.

    Again i think it would be useful to go through the four steps of the argument in my comment above and give an argument about why one or more of them is mistaken.

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    1. No, TE, it wouldn't be useful to play your game. The fact of the matter is that my taxes (and the taxes of all other private school parents, childless adults, parents of kids who are too old or young to go to public school, homeschoolers, etc.) go to support public education which I (and all those others) are not utilizing. Just like my parents paying for a church they don't attend. Because I pay taxes, there is a larger pot of money that is going to public education. If my kids (and all those other kids) were in public education, that pot would have to be divided among many more kids, so there would be less funding per kid.

      Basically charters are private schools paid for by the government. Charter supporters are like the people at the church who wanted the original church to pay for their new church, which would have left considerably less money for members of the original church.

      It really is that simple. I'm sorry you can't understand that. I wish I could explain it even more simply for you, but there's a reason I'm not a teacher.

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    2. Dienne,

      What you seem to forget is that if your kids and all the other kids were in public education rather than private education, THE STATE AUTOMATICALLY GIVES YOUR DISTRICT MORE MONEY. When you decided to take your students out of the public school THE STATE AUTOMATICALLY GAVE YOUR DISTRICT LESS MONEY.

      The actual facts of the world turn out to be important.

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    3. Where do you think that extra money would come from TE??? If I put my kids in public school, I don't have to pay any more taxes than I already do. I suppose we could, of course, raise taxes or use some excess military funding or .... oh, bwahahahaha, I can't even finish typing that with a straight face.

      By the way, TE, how many children do you have in public schools? Why not more? Do you realize you are depriving your local schools of money? C'mon, get busy popping out those little per-pupil funding sources!

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    4. Dienne,

      You do understand that state budgets are mere estimates, and states ALWAYS run surpluses or deficits because those estimates are never exactly correct, right?

      If they underestimated spending on public education, there are a number of places they might go. One distinct posibility is that tax revenue is also higher than estimated as higher school enrollment may be the result of unexpected population growth which also typically increases tax revenue. If that is not the case, a natural place to go would be the rainy day fund that states try to maintain for exactly this purpose. If that is insufficient, they often borrow from funds that are supposed to be dedicated to something else, like state highway trust funds or they might raid the pension funds of public employees. Chicago, i believe, sold off parking to raise money. Excess military funding is not an option for states, but states will increase taxes to cover deficits in some cases. You might want to learn a bit more about how your state government budgeting actually works.

      For the first time in 9 years I have no students at my assigned high school. My district lost the state funds because my children have all graduated.

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    5. Chicago is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. They're always broke when it comes to public education. Remember, we closed 50 public schools a couple years ago. Yet they always have enough money for more charter schools. How do you figure that works?

      "...but states will increase taxes to cover deficits in some cases."

      Can you name one? In the last decade?

      And, seriously, you're arguing that raiding pension funds is acceptable?

      Anyway, go have a few more kids to support public education. It's your moral duty.

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    6. Dienne,

      Here is a list of states that increased taxes to reduce deficits in the recent past:

      Arizona: 1% increase in sales tax 2010-2013
      California: 1% increase in sales tax, increase income tax rates 2009-11
      Colorado: Expanded sales taxes to include tobacco 2009-present
      Connecticut: Increased corporate income tax 2009-11
      Delaware: Increased income, business, and sales tax 2009-present
      D.C.: Increased sales tax 2010-13
      Hawaii: Increased sales and personal income tax 2010-present
      Illinois: Increased business and personal income tax rates 2011-present
      Kansas: Increased sales tax 2010-present
      Maryland: Increased personal income tax 2008-2010
      Nevada: Increased business income and sales taxes 2009-present
      New Jersey: Increased personal income tax 2010
      New York: Increased personal income tax 2009-2011
      North Carolina: Increased business, personal income, and sales tax 2009-12 (the personal tax increase expired in 2011)
      Oregon: Increased business, personal income, and sales tax 2009-11

      Is that enough? I am surprised that you did not notice the increase in state income taxes in Illinois. The legislature increased the rate from 3% to 5% in 2011.

      I am not arguing that taking money from pension funds is acceptable, I am saying that state legislatures do it. It is one reason that I think a defined contribution retirement plan has considerable merit.

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    7. We were speaking specifically of *education* deficits. But nice goal-post moving. As usual.

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    8. Dienne,

      If you can tell me which taxes are exclusively devoted to education, I can calculate an "education" deficit. The problem is that education expenses are paid out of the state general fund, so there is no sensible concept of an education deficit, only an overall deficit.

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  7. Dienne,

    How do you decide which straw broke the camal's back? Was it education, or healthcare? Was it lower taxes than expected or higher education expenses? I wait to be enlightened by you.

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    1. It all depends on priorities.

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    2. Rebecca,

      In this case it depends on accounting. Dienne's notion of "education" deficits does not make any sense because state legislatures do not specify which tax pays for education.

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    3. No, it depends on priorities.

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    4. Rebecca,

      What "it" are you referring to?

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    5. The budget and what you spend your money on. But I don't believe education money isn't clearly earmarked where it's coming from.

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    6. Rebecca,

      State spending on education comes from the general fund, that is all the sales tax, income tax, business taxes, most everything that the state collects in taxes. The state uses these taxes to pay for most of the things that it does including education. The money that pays for education is not clearly earmarked at the source.

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    7. All the money from the lottery is supposed to go only to education.

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    8. Rebecca,

      The money from lotteries only pays for a tiny portion of state education budgets. Each year states spend well over a half a trillion dollars on K-12 education. The funding comes from the general funds of the state.

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