Category Archives: un-blogathon

Home Schooling in Iowa [updated]

Mike Wiser has a three-part series on home schooling and home schooling law changes starting today (I’ll update on Monday and Tuesday):

New laws relax oversight of home-schoolers: new rules get mixed reaction from advocates, critics

The Quad-City Times version includes a pdf of Certified Enrollment showing the number of CPI applications compared to the number of students enrolled in each district in Iowa.

Technically, home schooling in Iowa has been known as Competent Private Instruction (CPI) and is now known as Private Instruction, which includes Competent Private Instruction and Independent Private Instruction options governed largely by Iowa Code Chapter 299A (which, incidentally, has not yet been updated on the Iowa Legislature website, so you’ll want to check the HF 215 Conference Committee Report for the new language).

The Department of Education has issued a chart comparing the different private instruction options.

The enrollment numbers are interesting, with the statewide total of 10,732 home-school students coming up short of the official estimate of 30,000 home-school students.  It is hard to know how accurate the numbers are, however, with Marion Independent School District reported by the DE at 11 while The Gazette reported 860 enrolled in the Marion Home School Assistance Program earlier this year.

With that in mind, here are some reported numbers from local districts:

  • Cedar Rapids:           149  (0.8% of enrollment)
  • Clear Creek Amana:   24  (1.4% of enrollment)
  • Iowa City:                  340  (2.6% of enrollment)
  • Mid-Prairie:               348 (27.6% of enrollment)
  • Solon:                          24  (1.9% of enrollment)

Monday Update:

Quarter of Mid-Prairie district’s students are home schooled (Quad-City Times) and Home-school outliers (The Gazette)

Mike Wiser reports today that 27.6% of Mid-Prairie district’s students are home-schooled based on the DE calculations.  As discussed yesterday in the comments, I don’t think those percentages are properly calculated.  Any student not enrolled in either the HSAP or dual enrolled will not be counted in the certified enrollment at all, all other homeschool students will be counted only as a fraction of a student in the certified enrollment.  Which means that the 280 students in the HSAP were possibly counted as only 84 students in the certified enrollment and 58 of the students weren’t counted at all.  Making adjustments to count them as full students in the certified enrollment, we get something closer to 23% (which is still in the ballpark).

However, we also learn from the article that nearly half of the HSAP students are open enrolled in from other districts.  So, while Mid-Prairie resident parents homeschool at a higher rate than the state average, if we adjust our calculations to exclude open enrolled students, it seems that they homeschool at a rate closer to 15% and it is likely that homeschool rates for the sending districts are lower than they might otherwise be.

What’s the point?  That it is useless to make data-driven decisions in education if we aren’t going to be careful about data collection and analysis so that we are comparing apples to apples.

If we are going to measure homeschooling rates by district (rather than determine which districts may just have better HSAP programs than others), we probably need to look at homeschool numbers by sending districts rather than receiving districts and compare the homeschool numbers to actual district enrollment rather than weighted enrollment numbers.

A second point I’d like to make is this, while nine million dollars sounds like a lot to spend on home-schooled students, any student who is enrolled in an HSAP program and/or dual enrolled is a public school student.

Monday Update 2:

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier published the article (under the headline Rural district a hotbed for homeschooling) along with a chart showing the number of HSAP students and amount of funding for HSAP programs per district.  There seem to be discrepancies in the numbers (possibly HSAP students are counted in their resident districts even if open enrolled into another district’s HSAP?), but here are the totals:

  • 1,472.4 weighted enrollment in HSAPs
  • 4,908 actual HSAP students (which represents slightly less than 46% of Iowa homeschool students reported in Sunday’s article)
  • $9,012,560 funding for HSAP programs
  • $1,836 per HSAP enrolled student

Tuesday Update:

Homeschool advocates score major victory in Iowa (at the Quad-City Times)

Today’s article is full of unsurprising news, namely that people who are persistent sometimes score legislative victories (aka squeaky wheels get the grease) and that the DE was not supportive of homeschool law changes.

I think this Tweet could be rewritten “Despite skepticism, accountability advocates score major victory in Iowa.”  After all, HF 215 leaves open the door for tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Perhaps “despite lack of interest” might be better wording.  How little interest?  A quote from Jason Glass gives us a hint:

“We underestimated how much Speaker Paulsen and the House Republicans, their interest in the homeschool components versus the accountability components,” Glass said during an interview before he left for his new job in Colorado. “Turns out they were really interested in moving those homeschool elements; they were not as interested in moving those accountability elements.”

That’s the part of the story that I find most interesting, that there was little interest in the  accountability components but they were passed anyway.  And the most important, because the accountability components will affect far more teachers and students in this state than the homeschool law changes will.

The Elusive Clear Majority

In the public debate around the closure of Hoover Elementary, there have been efforts to dispute the notion that a majority of the community favors keeping all existing schools open.

Here’s Eric Johnson in the comments of a Press-Citizen piece written by Chris Liebig (also published at A Blog About School here):

Chris makes some good points here, but there are a few other things to consider on each one:Responsiveness to public input: The “public” that Chris claims made its views clear during the visioning process consisted of about 450 unique people total. So, the claim that the mind of “the public” is known on this quite a stretch.

I have seen other comments to this effect, that workshop results do not represent the view of the majority, and that commenters at school board meetings do not represent the view of the majority.

This could very well be true but I don’t think we can really know what people think who don’t speak up, so I reject the assumption that everyone who didn’t show up to speak supports closing Hoover but were too intimidated to say so.  It is just as likely that they aren’t paying attention, don’t care either way, or thought their view point was capably communicated by the workshop participants and commenters who spoke out against closing schools so they very reasonably stayed home.

I do think that it is striking that no campaign has the slogan “Equity, Excellence, and parking lots where elementary buildings used to stand.”

[Save Hoover: Where is your Big Yellow Taxi spoof video?  I’m humming “They paved Hoover School and put up a parking lot” to myself as I write this.]

Instead we’re hearing talk about moving forward and being team players.

But I digress, because my main point is this:  We’re never going to know for sure what “a majority” thinks about anything under Eric Johnson’s standard; school board elections are notorious for low voter turnout.

  • 2011: 5.96% or 4492 “unique people total”
  • 2009: 6.08% or 4394 “unique people total”
  • 2008: 2.66% or 1852 “unique people total”
  • 2007: 4.13% or 2586 “unique people total”

The 450 “unique people total” who participated in the workshop is just shy of the 515 voters who participated in the 1992 school election–0.96% turnout!–and no doubt that, despite the low turnout, the election counted and the duly elected candidates were seated on the school board.

Elections matter.

Elections matter even if the turnout is low and doesn’t constitute an actual majority of the registered voters in the community.

The majority of the people who cast ballots ultimately get to “speak” for the majority, no matter how small the actual number is, so if you care about whether or not Hoover Elementary is closed to make way for a City High parking lot or athletic field (or about any other issue in your school district that might be determined by school board members), this is the time to show up and be heard.  Polls close Tuesday, September 10th at 8 pm.

Who Works For Whom?

Chris made a great point in a comment on the previous post: why ask superintendents what they think of their school boards rather than ask school boards what they think of their superintendents?  Who works for whom?

I’ve written previously on this blog about the utility of confusion or uncertainty about responsibility to parties who wish to escape accountability.  It is convenient for superintendents to blame school boards and school boards to blame superintendents–and for everyone to blame NCLB and consultants–when there is a failure to resolve issues or decisions that will be unpopular with someone are to be made.

Getting school board governance right is essential; school boards are entrusted with public money to provide educational programs and facilities to the school age children in our communities.  Iowa spends in excess of five billion dollars on public K-12 education each year; school boards have an obligation to their communities to ensure it is well spent.

A Few Discouraging Words

While school board candidates are in Hills for a forum tonight, I thought I’d share a few discouraging words about school boards.

Not Much Confidence in School Boards

From The Gallup Blog, reporting that administrators have little confidence in their governing boards:

The results are similar for superintendents of K-12 districts. Only 3% of superintendents strongly agree that school boards in the U.S. are well governed, while 37% strongly agree their own boards are well governed, according to a Gallup-Education Week Superintendent Panel survey.

Ouch.  School boards are viewed even less favorably than Congress.

I won’t hazard a guess about how local administrators may feel about their school boards, but I can’t get on board with the author’s disdain for election of school board members by popular vote.

The Only Kid You Can Save Is Your Own

Slate had an article last week about people choosing private schools for their kids being somewhat just shy of murder-bad.  The article wasn’t worth reading, but it spawned an interesting–and lengthy–comment thread over at Apt. 11d, which turned at times to the likelihood of parents being able to meaningfully change their neighborhood public schools for the better and school boards.  A sample of comments from the thread:

Hush: Middle class parents want power and connections? Get elected to the local school board. It’s still no guarantee.

Cranberry: Local school board members are also limited by laws and contracts. They hire/fire the superintendent, and set the budget. That’s about it. Setting policy does not mean they oversee how their policies are implemented. A school board member in our state had to FOIA records from her own school.

Amy P.: That’s exactly right. Both my dad and my uncle were on our town school board when I was in school, and that was precisely their experience as well. After he’d done his time, my dad said that what he’d learned from it was that the only kid you can save is yours.

I think this is a major structural weakness of the public school system, that everybody within it feels powerless, and whoever you are, it feels like everybody else has more power than you do (the teachers, the parents, the kids, the principals, the superintendent, the school board, the voters who turned down the last levy, etc). Moving a school system can feel like pushing a shopping cart with a couple of broken wheels. The nice thing about a private school is that the administration can figure out where they want to go, and then everybody who wants the same thing can hop aboard.

On that note: Thanks to the candidates for taking the time to run and publicly debate the issues.  For the rest of us–if you choose to vote, choose well, don’t expect too much, and however the election turns out, don’t feel bad about doing what is right for your own kids.

Thinking Beyond Buildings: “It’s the curriculum, stupid”

Dan Willingham has posted a review of The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley.

I don’t know how good the book is (Willingham says “It’s pretty darn good.”), but I do think the review is worth a read (go ahead, and then come back).

The local school board often seems to operate almost exclusively as a facilities management organization with little attention paid to the details of the education program offered by the district.  Even talk of magnet schools seems to be driven very little by an interest in specific educational programming.

I would like to see the school board take more of a public interest in curriculum and instruction issues, which might involve reading and talking about books like Amanda Ripley’s.

Other books I’d like the board to read and discuss:

  • Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It and/or Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading by Diane McGuinness
  • Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science by Louisa Moats
  • When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education by Dan Willingham (previously written about on this blog here)
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? by Dan Willingham
  • The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? by Jeanne S. Chall

Proper Role of the School Board

Some candidates have suggested that school board decisions, once made, should not be revisited, and that board members should be team players who back whatever decisions have already been made.

This makes no sense at all to me, after all, what is the point of elections if no decision could ever be revisited?  If no policy could ever be revised?

I think it does raise an interesting–and important–question though: what do candidates understand the proper role of the school board to be?

Important, because it points to how the candidates are likely to respond to issues that arise during their tenure on the board.  Think PBIS and the not-less-than-fifteen minutes for elementary lunch issues, for example.

When a board member or candidate declares that something is not a board issue, what does that mean?

I think it could mean a number of things.

It could be an incomplete description of the governance method by which the board sets policy and delegates authority to the superintendent to carry out the details of the board policy, in which case, perhaps they mean (and should say so clearly!) either 1) we are satisfied with the superintendent’s exercise of the delegated authority (or a past board’s decision) so we’re not interested in taking up the issue at the board level (again) or 2) we believe that the teacher/principal/superintendent need an opportunity to address and resolve this issue before we take it up at the board level and we believe that hasn’t happened yet.

But it could also mean: we don’t want to take responsibility for this issue, we believe that we must be absolutely deferential to the superintendent (or past boards), or we don’t want to micromanage.

I think many issues are potentially school board issues: the school board bears the ultimate responsibility for both the facilities and the education program of the school district.  Any board that confines itself to facilities management is only doing part of the job.  Any board that  acts as though, having adopted policy, it has fulfilled it’s obligations is only doing part of the job.

I think it is obvious that a school district could not operate if every decision were required to be made at the board level; delegating authority to the superintendent is essential.  But having delegated that authority, the school board retains the ultimate responsibility for the education program and the facilities of the district which requires not just monitoring, but actual oversight on behalf of the community–which may sometimes mean revising the terms of the delegation of authority.

This requires a willingness to do the work to become independently informed on issues, to think critically–ask questions and insist on satisfactory answers–and to revise policy as needed; not just more or less passively accept information from and the recommendations of the administration.  

There is a difference between micromanaging and providing effective oversight, and there is a difference between providing effective oversight on behalf of the community and “not being a team-player.”  In my opinion, we need school board members that can tell the difference.

Director Buck’s Tenure Starts With a Bang

I just posted a few days ago that I expected Director Buck’s tenure to be more of the same, largely continuing in the same vein as Director Glass.  So, I’m a little surprised that he chose to get started with a controversial appointment, appointing StudentsFirst Iowa State Director Patty Link to the Council on Educator Development.

The Council on Educator Development was created in Division VI of HF 215, the major education reform bill from the 2013 legislative session.  From this blog’s coverage:

Division VI: Council on Educator Development.  Establishes a council on educator development to conduct a study and make recommendations regarding a statewide teacher evaluation system and performance review requirements and a statewide administrator evaluation system.  In developing recommendations for any evaluation system the council shall consider, in addition to other items, the fair and balanced use of student outcome measures comprised of multiple, reliable indicators of student growth and learning that are appropriate to the curriculum and the students being taught.  The measures may include gauges of higher order skills such as student research papers, science investigations, technology products, and art projects; teacher-defined objectives for individual student growth; student learning objectives; district, school, or teacher-created assessments; and high-quality standardized tests.  The council shall provide for wide distribution of a preliminary draft of recommendations to teachers, administrators, and school boards by October 1, 2015 and provide a mechanism and opportunity for the submission of feedback that shall be reviewed by the council prior to making final recommendations, which are due by November 15, 2016.

Patty Link is described as serving as the parent representative on the Council.  However, Patty Link is also registered as a lobbyist for StudentsFirst since June 13, 2013.  (What’s with the California address and phone number–doesn’t she live in the Des Moines area?)  So, it is completely unsurprising that objections are being raised about her appointment.

Why does it matter?  So far, efforts to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores have been successfully resisted in Iowa.  There have been good questions raised about the validity and appropriateness of using student test scores for that purpose.  But here’s the StudentsFirst view on the matter:

StudentsFirst has consistently called on states to require meaningful teacher and principal evaluations based on multiple measures that are focused on student outcomes.

HT: Scott McLeod.  He has more on this over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

Flying Under the StudentsFirst Radar?

I came across a link to a relatively new Iowa education blog today in my Twitterfeed: The Iowa School Bell.

Despite all the local interest in the upcoming school election, it seems our facilities planning and school closure drama have failed to garner any interest from Iowa StudentsFirst.

That may not be the case in other parts of the state.  The Iowa School Bell reports that Iowa StudentsFirst may have taken an interest in the Des Moines school election.

School Start Dates

I was in a local classroom this week that was noticeably–though not yet unbearably–hot by 10:30 am, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how much is being accomplished in classrooms without air conditioning around the district.

So this might be a week that the tourism industry may have more sympathy on the school start date issue than usual.  But it is a long time until the upcoming legislative session, where school start date rules are likely to be an issue again after the State Board of Education failed to move forward on proposed rule changes that would have limited school start date waivers.

Heat notwithstanding, I still come down in favor of local control of school start dates.

Schools serve communities and the school calendar ought to reflect the rhythms of the community.  It makes sense to have calendars that match up with local colleges (especially as more kids use the PSEO option), athletic,and other school activity calendars, and local events.