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A strike looms in Chicago; Robert Pondiscio on Success Academy

The big story

Robert Pondiscio has found himself in an unusual spot in the charter school wars — giving ammunition to both sides.

Chalkbeat caught up with the author of the much-talked about new book on Success Academy charter schools, “How the Other Half Learns.” Pondiscio makes the case that Success families are a self-selected group, a major advantage. But he’s also adamant that those families deserve the opportunity to choose a school the same way white, well-off families can.

“By and large, affluent Americans can make certain assumptions about their classroom conditions,” he tells Chalkbeat. “I don’t understand what we think the benefit is to insisting that low-income kids must abide conditions that we would not abide for our own children.”

Pondiscio doubled down on his firm believe that parents should have widespread freedom to choose among schools. That extends in some noteworthy directions — Pondiscio is open to allowing charter schools to explicitly choose their students and is not a fan of top-down efforts to integrate schools, despite highlighting in the book the challenges of concentrating disadvantaged students.

Read the full interview here.

Local stories to watch

  • Classes are canceled for Chicago students tomorrow as teachers prepare to strike. The union’s president told parents to prepare for a “short-term” strike after the city and the union failed to reach an agreement on issues like class sizes, pay for teachers aides, and counselor caseloads. The city’s mayor defended her bargaining team, saying it had done the best it could to avoid a strike, most notably by agreeing to write staffing levels and class sizes into the proposed teachers’ contract.
  • After Michigan’s governor vetoed spending for several education programs, Detroit could feel the pain. The governor rejected a $35 million funding increase for charter schools, which half of Detroit students attend, and the teacher training program Teach for America, which only operates in Detroit. Gov. Whitmer, a Democrat, has indicated the cuts were a negotiating tool, but the gambit may backfire: Republicans say the budget is “done.”
  • Indianapolis Public Schools is seeing its teachers union erode. Membership has fallen 4 percentage points since last year, a period that saw the union’s former president plead guilty to embezzlement. It’s the latest difficulty for the group that has seen the number of teachers covered by its contract shrink as the district gives schools over to outside managers.
  • Denver’s upcoming school board election has high stakes. If union-backed candidates win two of the three seats up for grabs, they’ll have a majority for the first time in recent history — setting up a big shift away from the choice-focused agenda that has defined school leadership in Denver.
  • It will be harder for Colorado schools to earn top marks after a new round of changes. State leaders have been concerned that schools were earning high ratings, even though students weren’t passing tests, because of the focus on growth. “This really is about truth-telling,” one board member said.

Research roundup

  • Universal free lunch boosts student performance, according to a new study out of Syracuse University. Attending a New York City school that offered food to everyone led to increases in reading and math scores, the researchers found. Students who did not come from low-income families saw the biggest benefits, though the researchers noted many of those families landed just above their cutoff of 185-percent of the federal poverty line.
  • Teachers unions may have cushioned the blow of the Great Recession on schools, finds a new paper. In states with stronger unions, there were less severe cuts to education spending in the wake of the economic downturn. The findings hold even accounting for a number of other factors that might explain states’ propensity to cut spending. Specifically, states that limit collective bargaining cut spending by $900 per pupil between 2009 and 2012, compared to a decline of $500 in other states. These results are consistent with other research showing that unions successfully push for more money to end up in schools — and they matter because Great Recession spending cuts have been linked to worse academic outcomes for students.

DeVos watch

House Democrats unveiled their plan to update the Higher Education Act for the first time in a decade, with the goal of making college more affordable for low-income students and students of color, the New York Times reports. The legislation would increase the size of Pell grants and block new rules about how colleges handle sexual assault investigations, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is changing, from going into effect. House Republicans oppose the bill, and the Republican chair of the Senate education committee has proposed making other, more modest changes.

2020 vision

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten announced on Twitter that the union would hold a forum on public education for the presidential candidates in December.

The candidates had very little to say about education during the fourth Democratic debate on Tuesday night, and the moderators didn’t ask a single question about K-12 or higher education. Sen. Cory Booker used a question about imposing a wealth tax to draw attention to the “moral obscenity” of America’s high child poverty levels.

But Booker also said “there are more duck-and-cover drills and shelter-in-place drills in America now than fire drills.” It’s unclear where his statistic came from, but the Washington Post estimated more than 4.1 million students participated in a lockdown or active shooter drill in the 2017-18 school year, compared to the more than 50 million public school students across the country. (Meanwhile, it’s common for states to require schools to conduct multiple fire drills each year.)

Beto O’Rourke released a housing plan that called for tripling funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, some of which would be used to support homeless students.

Names to note

Alberto Carvalho, Miami’s long-serving school superintendent, was the subject of a lengthy profile in the Miami Herald.

Steven Wilson, the founder of Ascend charter schools, is no longer CEO. Susan Pollock is the network’s interim leader.

What we’re reading

  • Rhode Island is set to take control of Providence schools on Nov. 1. The takeover will last at least five years and a turnaround superintendent will be named soon. Providence Journal
  • A look at Texas’ embrace of the “portfolio model,” with mixed results so far. Texas Tribune
  • California’s governor vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed teachers six weeks of paid maternity leave, calling it too expensive. EdSource

The post A strike looms in Chicago; Robert Pondiscio on Success Academy appeared first on Chalkbeat.

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