An Intriguing Scott Lake Dissent

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Late last week, a reader e-mailed to tell me I was “way off-base” in my criticism of Scott Lake Elementary’s push for charter school status. I had cited the school’s effort as another example of the class war sweeping through Polk’s schools, with charters used as the weapon of choice for wealthy parents who want to gate off their schools from the riff raff, a la the McKeel model.

Here’s the precise way I opened that article, in which I again called for punishing charter schools for their transfers through the test measurement regime.

It seems Scott Lake Elementary has joined the chorus of snooty Lakelanders trying to seize taxpayer-constructed public buildings for their “private” schools.

Our reader, who knows Scott Lake’s situation well, objected to my characterizations and sent an interesting, well-written explanation of why he or she thought I got it wrong. Here it is:

“The thing that hasn’t been taken into account, going by everything that I know, is that this move is basically a defensive tactic to protect what’s left of the student population that hasn’t been sucked away by the McKeels and other choice schools. The teachers are actually very wary of this move, but support it because they see no other alternative offered by an inept district.

“They are also tired of the district constantly telling them which teaching models to use. From what I am told, the district tends to adopt the flavor of the month teaching models instead of going with proven systems…

“…But the real problem, from my perspective, is that the legislature is creating this territorial and funding conflict between the schools. Because of the racial and socioeconomic breakdown you gave, Scott Lake is one of the few schools out there without some sort of special designation that gives it added funding. They just see no other alternative out there and now the added pressure of the pay-for-performance bill that just passed makes it all that more competitive to attract those top performing students back and be attractive enough to keep the current ones there.

Back to McKeel, I think you raise a good point about the [writing] test scores. Going by that alone, they don’t look any more special than any other school out there, despite the additional boat loads of funding they receive…”

There are a couple of points here worth noting.

1) I’ve never considered the funding issue very important in the context of the abuses of measurement. As I understand it, state “merit” funding related to good test scores or school grading is a factor only on the margins–and mostly for show. I do know that federal money comes in for certain demographic characteristics. And Scott Lake’s enrollment may be too wealthy to qualify it for such money.

I also know that there’s been a huge fight over how much operational cost charters can pawn off on the district while keeping the rest of their funding for themselves. But I have never thought that how well you score on tests seriously affects a school’s funding–as opposed to job security for teachers or principals. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe someone with more knowledge than I have can assess the validity of our reader’s points about funding.

2) I don’t think the portrait that our contributor paints of Scott Lake as a school collapsing under the strains of competition actually finds support in statistical reality. Again, let’s review the demographics:

White: 63 percent
Black: 16 percent
Hispanic: 14 percent
Asian: 3 percent
Multi-racial: 5 percent
Economically Disadvantaged: 43 percent.

The District number of “economically disadvantaged” is 63 percent and the state 53 percent.

Scott Lake’s test scores seem more or less fine, if you obsess over those things. They’re about what one would predict–relative to other schools–for a big traditional school with a wealthier than average enrollment. And it was an A school last year.

3) The most defensible reason for charter pursuit, in my opinion, comes from the paragraph concerning teaching methods. And this is where our innovation–and fights–really ought to occur. For instance, I’m reading more and more suggestions that separating kids by sex through single-sex classes has a real impact on test-defined achievement. That was part of the apparent success of the school in Memphis that President Obama visited last week. And the charter district in Lake Wales seems to have had success with it as well. For myself, I think the most useful school reform would simply extend the school day to correspond with business hours and go all year round. That, of course, would take money. But wouldn’t it be more productive to spend our time talking and evaluating the structure of classes, and the school year, and curriculum materials than all this class war crap we fight over?

4) McKeel really is an enemy of this entire community–wealthy and less wealthy alike. While the director actually just graduated from Leadership Lakeland, the model he’s built isn’t leading this community; it’s preying upon it.

McKeel mines the community’s status anxiety to build a single gleaming castle, all the while tossing the scraps of metal that don’t look as good back over the iron gates. And then it laments how the mine looks when it’s done with the extraction. It’s a great business model for McKeel and for its director; it’s a disaster for the rest of the community.

Listen to this again from our reader:

“They just see no other alternative out there and now the added pressure of the pay-for-performance bill that just passed makes it all that more competitive to attract those top performing students back and be attractive enough to keep the current ones there…”

That’s what we’ve come to. The students exist to serve the school, not the other way around.

Third grade FCAT Reading scores came out yesterday, and McKeel seems to have done fine–well even. If it tries a little harder, it might one day get within 20 points of the hippies at Lakeland Montessori, who don’t believe in homework and yet trounce McKeel year-after-year on testing. And I don’t want to hear excuses about sample size and resources, little McKeelians. You too can be successful, despite your obvious obstacles. Just work a little more.

Actually, the truth is you can’t trust any testing result McKeel produces because it knows how to rid itself of its potential bad scores. That’s been quite well documented. (And by the way, I actually know a one-time McKeel empire teacher who has described to me sitting in meetings where teachers discussed which kids to drop. So spare me your “voluntary withdrawal” garbage.)

For instance, in the 2009-2010 school year, South McKeel Academy, which runs K-7, saw 7 percent of its enrollment return to traditional schools. Half of those kids were on free and reduced lunch, compared to the 19.5 percent of kids at South McKeel overall.

We know, with statistical certainty, that purging a group of kids with tougher economic circumstances will improve a school’s test score mean. Assuming that same dumping rate held true this year, or even accelerated, what would be the outcome if all those kids were forced to show up as a 1 on McKeel’s test record? It would probably look a lot like Scott Lake’s numbers.

And in truth, you could do that will all magnet and special schools, Lakeland Montessori included. And then we’d have a much better approximation of what schools are doing and create better incentives for the schools to define themselves by what they do for the kids, not what the kids do for them.

Until that happens, expect me to continue to harp on McKeel’s predatory practices in this space. And when I see them imitated elsewhere, I’ll attack that too. This model has operated with impunity for far too long.

[box type=”shadow”]Editor’s Note: As requested, we’ve not identified the “reader” by name or gender. All quotes are taken from correspondence and edits were shown to the “reader” to ensure accuracy in content and tone.[/box]


Creative Commons License image credit: Ivan Stamato

12 thoughts on “An Intriguing Scott Lake Dissent

  1. Valleyview Elementary had a great thing going when they could do the year-round schedule. If I remember correctly, it was a budget issue that ended that schedule. Innovative approaches like that (and the freedom to use them) attracts quality teachers. Competitive salary helps, too, but escaping from much of the red tape that comes with the district is a nice incentive. That’s why there’s quite a few teachers who were at Valleyview have migrated to the McKeel system.

    There are certainly great teachers at every other school in the county battling the red tape. But the more we can take away barriers and reduce top-down ultimatums from the district when it comes to teaching methods, etc., the better. We need to be raising up exceptional administrators and giving them the freedom to tweak their systems. Look at Oscar J. Pope from the past few years for a perfect example.

  2. I would wager that the ability not to have to deal with more difficult kids for long has a greater impact on teacher attraction than “red tape,” but that’s unproveable, of course.

    And I’m happy to discuss all the anti-red-tape stuff if you’re willing to back the factoring in of transfers into measurement of charter/magnet schools. Are you? If charter schools start with that, with a real teethy disincentive to dumping, I’ll listen to anything they want to say about teaching methods.

    If you have self-selecting enrollment, and you can’t reach a self-selected kid, you should be punished for it, not the school that eventually takes the kid in. Or so I believe.

    Agree?

  3. I’ll also argue that the “more difficult” issue usually lies more in dealing with parents than with the students. There is a serious problem with parent involvement in our schools; teachers are in many cases being asked to raise a child rather than simply teach them. Wish there were an easy fix for that, but there isn’t. It’s a societal issue.

    I think there’s more that goes into removing a student from a charter school than simply test scores, though. If a student (and their parents) work extremely hard and show improvement throughout the year, that gets a lot of consideration. There’s simply some that don’t, and while it seems unfair to then send those students to another school it’s the way the system is set up. The Polk County School Board granted McKeel’s and other schools’ charters in the first place, so I find it somewhat ironic when they complain about those schools working within the parameters they have been given.

    That being said, I would be willing to put a one-year scores-are-tied-to-charter-school program on the table for students who are sent (not if they withdraw) to their zoned school. But what if that student goes to another school and goes from a 1 to a 3 or a 2 to a 5? Would their score count for both schools? If not, it would be unfair to punish the new school that likely had an influence in the improved score. It also would be unfair to only include scores of students who stayed the same or declined when counting them for the old charter school.

    So I’d be willing to consider it, but it would have to work both ways. I do agree with one of your other points about students serving the school instead of the other way around. That mentality is not good.

    • Ok that’s progress. I feel certain you and I, as people of good will, could sit down and work a method out that would be fair–or at least fairer.

      However, I think this is disingenuous:

      “The Polk County School Board granted McKeel’s and other schools’ charters in the first place, so I find it somewhat ironic when they complain about those schools working within the parameters they have been given.”

      In many cases, they’ve done so kicking screaming and only because they had no legal choice. You’ll acknowledge that, right?

    • Addressing dealing with the parents, parents do need to be involved.  There should be a class on how to be an involved parent, how to help your child study, what the child’s goals are, whatever else the teacher needs the parent to do.  Some type of deliverable list.

  4. If you were not so married to making whatever silly pseudo libertarian point you’ve heard other people make, you might have actually read what I wrote. And you might, with just a little bit of reading comprehension skill, have inferred that the reason I liberally mixed in Lakeland Montessori smack talk is because one my children goes there. So obviously, that makes me a charter-hating union-lover, or something. 

    What I actually don’t like, and again, you probably could have picked this up from the text if you bothered to read it, are charter and special schools that cheat and brag and don’t acknowledge that their model cannot exist without a regular school system in which to dump the kids they don’t want or can’t reach. I want all charter and special schools, my child’s included, to have an incentive not to do those things. You apparently want them to keep doing those things. Perhaps you might explain why.

    I’ll give you one chance to actually address anything I’ve actually written and then I’ll write you off and not bother with you. I suspect you’re just the reincarnation of Skeptical Enlightenment, under yet another ironic and self-important pseudonym. But maybe I’m wrong. And you’re welcome to explain why I’m wrong in criticizing McKeel’s cheating practices. But repeating my name three names is not an argument, no matter what you learned from whatever libertarian troll site you haunt.

  5. Ah yes, a master class. Our current master class has served us so well in this country that I think perpetuating it sounds like a great idea. I’m gonna make a small wager that you consider your kids-if you have them-among the achievers, however that’s defined. But that’s at least honest. I give you points for that.

    • I don’t believe for one second if you have a child at LM that you do not agree with letting those who want to be high achievers ‘go for it.’  It’s ok, lots of parents want the best for their children.  In Lakeland, there is a huge waiting list to get to be in one of the high achieving schools, a place in which seems only attainable by random number drawing, luck, or what-have-you.  There is a reason those waiting lists are so long.

      • No, there is a waiting list to get into schools that don’t have to take you, the same way there is a waiting list to get into country clubs. I don’t define “achievement” by some stupid, opaque, and arbitrary number defined by a person’s ability to take a test. 

        I could not care less about the “culture of achievement”, as defined by the mean test score as defined by seven kids, that LMS can tack to its walls. I never even looked at those scores until I started comparing them to McKeel’s in an overt effort to be a jackass. I don’t fault people, myself included, for electing for exclusivity. But don’t pretend like exclusivity equals achievement. And for my part, I hope the day never comes when I or my kids think of “acheivement” as a thing hat signifies your class station, rather than a thing to pursue–like honor–for its own sake.

        • I do agree that a particular classroom definition of achievement does not always equal what I deem to be important for my kids to learn.  Achievement for me means to take what you want to know, kid, and shoot for the stars, become an expert in your talents and gifts!   Every kid is different.   The kids do need to learn and be tested on the basic subjects in order to be incredible at something they love to do. 

  6. Is this in English? You are responding with gibberish to a point I never made. Maybe you can actually show me the sentence that prompted you to write this.

  7. This speaks to the fact that many in Polk desperately want their children to have a stellar education.  There need to be more high-achieving schools available so that all children can have the opportunity to go to a ‘great’ school.  It may be more possible to attain the mixture of student mindsets at the High School level, where there are so many students subjects can be taught at different class levels:  Remedial, Average, Honors, and A/P.

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