School Choice

Dougco says survey results “inconclusive”

CASTLE ROCK – A spring survey of parents in the Douglas County School District shows many are unhappy with the district’s voucher program, its overall direction and how resources are being allocated.

An audience member fills out a question card about the Douglas County voucher plan.
An audience member fills out a question card at a 2011 community forum on Douglas County’s school voucher plan. EdNews’ file photo.

But district leaders say the survey results, intended as baseline data for evaluating the district’s performance, are invalid because of a poor response rate. Of the district’s 76,500 parents, only 4,900 – or 6 percent – responded.

“Unfortunately, the response rate was very low,” the district’s system performance officer, Syna Morgan, told school board members Tuesday night. “The reason why my position is that the results are invalid is because … industry standard is a 30 percent response rate.”

Response rates for the district’s elementary and secondary student surveys, also conducted in April, were similarly low, at 14 percent and 5 percent respectively.

Morgan said the district’s annual surveys traditionally have received response rates of about 10 percent but she believes it’s possible for much higher returns.

Jefferson County’s annual surveys have netted response rates as high as 85 percent, she said, when accompanied by a major marketing campaign.

Parent responses to many questions were largely favorable, with 80 percent agreeing with the statement, “I consider my child’s school to be an excellent school.” And 85 percent agreed their “school offers its students a safe environment to learn.”

But the favorable answers drop dramatically on queries about district leadership and the voucher plan, which district officials are appealing after a Denver judge declared it unconstitutional:

  • Statement: “I believe that the district is headed in the right direction.” Response: 39 percent unfavorable, 23 percent neutral, 38 percent favorable.
  • Statement: “I support the Choice Scholarship Program (district funds given to families for use at private schools) as a choice in schooling for the district.” Response: 55 percent unfavorable, 16 percent neutral, 29 percent favorable.
  • Statement: “I feel that the district is allocating resources and funds effectively.” Response: 48 percent unfavorable, 26 percent neutral, 26 percent favorable.

School board member Meghann Silverthorn questioned whether the results weren’t useful in some way.

“I understand what you’re saying as far as using the results as a baseline,” Silverthorn told Morgan. “However, I guess I want to get your opinion on the idea that anybody who responds to a survey … that particular opinion is valid in and of itself.”

Several audience members applauded Silverthorn’s remarks.

“I definitely agree with you that every opinion counts,” Morgan said. “The concern I have is when you look at one of the prompts and it says 60 percent were favorable – that’s 60 percent of 4,900, not 60 percent of a representative group of the entire parent population.

“From my office, the purpose of the data is to evaluate the performance and I would not evaluate our performance based on the data.”

The parent survey responses on the district voucher program are more unfavorable than those in an April 2011 poll of 500 likely voters in Douglas County. In that poll, 49 percent of respondents favored the voucher program while 47 percent opposed it. A majority of those respondents did not have school-aged children living at home.

School board members who approved the voucher plan by a 7-0 vote, however, have touted the results of the November 2011 election as proof that the community is solidly behind them. All three school board candidates favoring vouchers won, despite opposition from anti-voucher candidates.

Tuesday’s survey discussion prompted little discussion by board members other than Silverthorn, and it was not a topic for about a dozen public speakers that evening.

Still, some voucher critics are touting the results as evidence of community dissatisfaction. Taxpayers for Public Education, a group that includes plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the voucher plan, wrote about the survey results and the district’s decision to render them invalid on its Facebook page:

“The results are clear to us … We hope (district leaders) take a close look at the results of this survey and use it for input into what our community REALLY wants – to continue our strong tradition of public school excellence!”

Morgan, who is in charge of the district’s surveys, recommended they be redistributed in the fall, accompanied by a strong marketing push to parents.

“If there was a very clear understanding that these surveys mattered and the input had a direct impact on the decisions that were made,” she said, “I believe strongly the response rate would be higher.”

Tough talk

State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa

The state’s top two education officials did not pull punches at a panel Wednesday that touched on everything from last weekend’s racist violence in Charlottesville to recent charter school debates.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia took an uncharacteristically combative position against SUNY’s proposal to let some charter schools certify their own teachers — arguing it would denigrate the teaching profession and is not in the best interest of children.

“I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that,” Elia said about the proposal, which would require 30 hours of classroom instruction for prospective teachers. “Think about what you would do. Would you put your children there?”

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa denounced Success Academy’s board chair, Daniel Loeb, whose racially inflammatory comment about state Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins drew headlines, and pointedly referred to New York City officials’ reluctance to talk about school segregation.

Wednesday’s conversation was sprawling, but its discussion of race and education had a particular urgency against the national backdrop of Charlottesville — and the president’s reluctance to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists in its aftermath.

The following are some of the most charged moments of the panel, held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and hosted by City & State:

Segregation — “you’ve got to name it”

In response to a question about New York City’s diversity plan, which was widely criticized for not using the word “segregation,” Rosa suggested the city should have gone further.

“We committed to, as a department and as a Board of Regents, [the] notion of naming it,” Rosa said, referring to the state’s draft integration statement, which referred to New York schools as the most segregated in the country. “You’ve got to name it.”

Elia chimed in too, tying integration to the recent events in Charlottesville.

“I would say the last six days have pointed out to all of us that, clearly, this is something that must be on the agenda,” Elia said.

Dan Loeb — “absolutely outrageous”

Loeb ignited a firestorm over the past week with a Facebook post that said people like Stewart-Cousins, an African-American New York State Senator he called loyal to unions, have caused “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. (He has since taken down the post and apologized.)

Rosa strongly condemned the comments in the same breath as she denounced the violence in Charlottesville, and said children of color at Success Academy would be “better served” without Loeb leading the board.

“I am outraged on every single level,” she said. “Comparing the level of commitment of an African-American woman that has given her time and her commitment and dedication, to compare her to the KKK. That is so absolutely outrageous.”

Elia seemed to pick up on another part of Loeb’s statement, which referred to “union thugs and bosses.”

“For anyone to think that we can be called thugs,” Elia said. “People [do] not realize the importance of having a quality teacher in front of every child.”

SUNY proposal — “insulting”

SUNY Charter Schools Institute released a proposal in July that would allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers. The certification would require at least 30 hours of classroom instruction and 100 hours of teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

But as the requirements currently stand, both Elia — who compared the training to that of fast food workers — and Rosa took aim.

“No other profession, not the lawyers who are sitting in that SUNY Institute, would accept that in their own field. So if you don’t accept it for your very own child, and you don’t accept it for your very own profession, then you know what? Don’t compromise my profession. I think it’s insulting,” Rosa said.

Joseph Belluck, the head of SUNY’s charter school committee, said earlier this month that the committee is considering revising those requirements before the draft comes to the board for a vote. But he fired back after Rosa and Elia bashed the proposal on Wednesday.

“Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa are proponents of the status quo,” Belluck said in an emailed statement. They have “no substantive comments on our proposal — just slinging arrows. Today, they even denigrated the thousands of fast food workers who they evidently hold in low esteem.”

on the record

Eva Moskowitz sends letter calling Success board chair’s comments ‘indefensible’ — but also defending his record

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

In response to widespread criticism of a racial comment made by Success Academy’s chairman, the leader of the charter network, Eva Moskowitz, sent a letter Tuesday to parents, teachers and staff.

In the letter, Moskowitz used strong language to condemn Daniel Loeb’s comments. On Facebook last week, Loeb wrote that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American state senator whom he called loyal to unions, does “more damage to people of color than anyone who ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb later apologized and deleted the comment.

In today’s letter, Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible,” “insensitive” and “hurtful,” a more aggressive rebuke than her previous statement.

Yet she also defended Loeb’s track record in the letter, pointing out his commitment to Success and various social causes. A spokeswoman for Success Academy confirmed that Loeb remains the board’s chairman.

The racist violence that ensued this past weekend in Charlottesville put an even more damaging spin on his comments. At a rally Monday to support Stewart-Cousins, the Senate’s minority leader, she made the connection between her situation and the events in Charlottesville.

“That is extremely hurtful given the legacy, certainly, of people of color — my ancestors,” said Stewart-Cousins. “We all got a chance to see it in Charlottesville, what that represents.”

Moskowitz made a veiled reference to the weekend’s events in the letter, saying that engaging students is “all the more important in the face of the broader trauma and crisis we are facing as a country.”

Here is the full text of the letter: