Sunday, April 23, 2017

HYH: Edvertising

If I've said it once, I've said it a gazillion times:

The free market does not foster superior quality; the free market fosters superior marketing. 

Annnnd here it comes. The marketing.

The latest episode of Have You Heard with Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider takes a look at educational marketing (it also posits the heretofore unknown product "Extruda," which... just makes me uncomfortable).

There are soooo many issues with school marketing, and not that marketing a school is "unseemly." For instance, as the cast points out, most marketing is aimed at selling a private good, while education is a public good. There is also the issue of customer evaluation-- New Coke had the weight of the advertising world behind it, but that could not overcome all the people who actually drank some and said, loudly, "Yuck!" With a charter school, you may not figure out that you were scammed for quite some time.

But most striking is just the cost. Sarah Butler Jessen is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College who studies school marketing and makes a guest appearance on the show. She holds up Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies as one of the leading examples of charter marketing, and she unloads two stunning factoids-- SA has spent about $1,000 per student on marketing, and marketing is the second-biggest expenditure for the charter chain.

$1,000 per student on marketing. Imagine what you could do if you had another $1,000 to spend on actually educating each student.

This is part of the problem of edu-marketing-- even if your marketing is Honest and Pure and True, you have just spent a ton of money on something other than educating students.

Jessen also talks about how charter management groups and chains are far ahead of the marketing war, particularly with their branding and I was surprised (though on reflection I shouldn't have been) that, for instance, KIPP has a whole Brand Guideline Video. Like any other brand leader, KIPP's identity and marketing face is about much more than education. And this is a sobering part of Jessen's research-- while we've all been debating and arguing and thrashing about charters and charter policy and all the rest of it, KIPP and the others have been slowly building the brand perception that charter schools are like private schools in their general awesomeness and desirability.

Marketing also circles back to one of the signature issues of  charters, which is regulation. The average civilian approaches advertising with an attitude of "Well, they couldn't just say that if it was a flat out lie." That, of course, is not actually true. When terms like "organic" (or "common core") are unregulated, advertisers can slap them on anything. And when charters and their marketing are unregulated, they can make any promise they like, whether they plan to keep it or not. I am reminded of a local private school that used to be infamous for promising parents anything ("You're looking for a left-handed lacrosse program that's tied to Latin studies and underwater basket weaving classes? Oh, we totally have that.") and never delivering on it. When it comes to low-information customers, charter schools naturally benefit from a steady supply of new parents who have no previous experience in the marketplace.

This is yet another valuable and important (and, believe it or not, entertaining) episode of this podcast. Check it out right now--

ICYMI: Day After Earth Edition (4/23)

Your list of worthwhile reads from the week. Enjoy, and pass them on.

Looking for the Living Among the Dead

A beautiful Easter meditation from Jose Luis Vilson

The Privateer Legislators

A family friend passed this along from Florida. An articulate argument for not privatizing education in Florida, or anywhere else, from Roger Williams.

Chester Finn Jr. Calls for an End to Teacher Tenure

I assume that if you read here, you also follow Diane Ravitch, but it's easy to lose pieces in the midst of the Ravitchian avalanche of posts, and here's one you really don't want to miss, as the education historian points out what's wrong about so many arguments against teacher tenure.

Call This The Empty Chair 

One more panel about teaching without a single teacher in sight.

Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?

A personal essay about one of the most under-addressed issues in education-- why can't schools hold onto teachers of color?

School Choice: The Faustian Bargain

Russ Walsh looks at what choicers require folks to give up in order to get choice.

Mr Staples, Here's What Happened To Black Teachers

A solid response to that NYT piece from the Schools Matter blog.

Homework Is Wrecking Our Kids

This piece is actually over a year old, but it's still the truth, and still well-worth a read and a share.

Largest Charter Chain in LA Raises Millions To Fight Unionization

Facing a unionizing teacher staff? Charters could take any number of responses, but in LA, the largest charter chains went with "Collect $2.2 from various anonymous friends to keep unions from happening."

As It Always Should Be

Everyone with a little needs a Teacher Tom in their life. Here he is discovering one more beautiufl and joyous thing about his kids.

These Are a  Few of My Favorite Green Things

For Earth Day, another post from my daughter about the small sustainable things we can all do to help.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Checker Still Doesn't Understand Tenure

Chester "Checker" Finn, Grand Poobah Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is the reformster most likely to unleash his higher dudgeon over Kids These Days and Those Darn Teachers, and he has done so again on the Fordham Flypaper blog. "Will Teacher Tenure Die?" appears to have been edited down from an original title, "Will Teacher Tenure Ever Die, Please?"

Some of his complaint is simply incorrect. As his old colleague Diane Ravitch points out, his notion that K-12 trickled down from colleges and universities is ahistoric-- K-12 tenure was a response to too many teachers losing jobs to school board members' nieces and failing to register with the correct political party, among other abuses.

After cheering on the slow death of tenure at the college and university level (because I'm sure having a cadre of part-time underpaid instructors is going to make college education super), Finn goes on to bemoan the continued existence of tenure in the K-12 world (even, in some cases, by contract in right to work states). And teachers can get tenure after only a few years and some "satisfactory" ratings, which strikes Finn as evidence. This is an old reformy trope, and I'm not sure what to make of it-- instead of saying, "Hey, teachers are mostly well-rated, so the profession must be in good shape," reformsters say, "Hey, teachers are mostly well-rated, so the evaluation system must be broken, because we just know that a huge number of teachers suck." So, data is good, unless it conflicts with your pre-conceived biases, in which case, just throw the data out.

Finn also persist in calling tenure "life time employment," which is simply flat out wrong. I can rattle off a list of teachers in my area who have lost their jobs despite tenure. Any teacher who's been around a while can. And while there are some large districts where the process is long, convoluted and prohibitively difficult, mostly "We can't fire her because if tenure" is administrator-speak for "I could fire her, but it would take a lot of time and I'd have to, you know, work really hard, and then I would have to find a replacement and you know how hard that would be and I'm already backed up on meetings this week and now some kid just threw up in the hall, so how about I just blame her on the union and tenure and get back to my own work." Where burdensome dismissal procedures exist, they have been negotiated into contracts. Fixing those contracts by outlawing tenure is like fixing the electoral college by installing a dictatorship-- little bit of overkill.

Finn likes the idea of trading tenure for money, and he's not the first. He's correct in noting that job security is a feature that makes low pay palatable (or at least choke-downable) for many teachers, but he misses the flip side of this-- due process protections are something school districts can offer to make their jobs appealing, and they don't cost the district a cent. Finn imagines asking teachers, "Would you give up job protections in exchange for another $25K?" But the real challenges is asking districts, "Which would you rather do-- promise teachers not to fire them for stupid reasons, or pay them each another twenty-five grand?" Which choice do you think boards would prefer? (Hint: only one option increases the budget by a few million dollars>)

Finn recognizes that tenure has value as a bulwark against favoritism and discrimination, but then dismisses it because "the codification in constitutions and statutes of innumerable due process and anti-discrimination protections radically shrinks the rationale"-- in other words, we have laws about that stuff that people mostly follow, mostly. The thing is, absent any sort of reliable or valid teacher evaluation system (which is where we are right now), any administrator can game the system and mask her discriminatory and biased behavior behind any sort of "clean" rationale. And laws do not cover things like running a teacher out of the classroom because she won't let a school board members child start on the softball team or play the lead in the school play.

Finn ticks off "academic freedom" as a legitimate concern, except that the First Amendment argument doesn't have as much "oomph" for him because so many professors are using their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate pupils. In other words, freedom of speech is only necessary for people who are saying the right things. He also correctly notes that so many court cases have taken so many chunks out of the First Amendment for teachers that it's fair "to ask just how much difference does “academic freedom” make to a fourth grade teacher."

He skips completely over the issue of teacher advocacy-- the situation where a teacher has to advocate for a student against the school administration itself.

But Finn has some other ideas, and they start with this humongous whopper:

It’s no secret that the HR practices of private and charter schools—neither of which typically practices tenure—work far better than those of district schools from the standpoint of both school leaders and their students.

As it turns out, it is absolutely a secret. Or, more accurately, it's a thing that is not known to be true.

What Finn means, because he is a fan of the CEO model of charter schools, is that the school leaders are free to hire and fire and shuffle around teachers at will. Nobody should have job security, because job security interferes with the visionary boss's freedom to indulge his vision as he sees fit. Like a 19th century robber baron, he will sit atop his kingdom and only his judgment will be needed to determine What Is Best for all of the Little People. The Little People should be grateful to receive such largesse, and should show their gratitude by staying in their rightful place and keeping their mouths shut. Think I'm overstating the case? Here's the rest of the paragraph that was kicked off by that last sentence:

That’s because the leadership team can generally employ (and deploy) the instructors they deem best suited to their pupils and they’re not obligated to retain any who don’t do a satisfactory job. They can be nimble in regrouping, restaffing, and redirecting their schools—and everyone who works there knows that’s how it goes. Nobody has a right to continued employment untethered to their own performance and the school’s needs. The employer has the right to change the shape, nature, and size of the organization, to redeploy human resources, to substitute capital for labor, to replace elbow grease and sitzfleisch with technology, and to hire and fire according to shifting pupil needs and organizational priorities.

Emphasis mine. 19th century robber baron attitude, his. In a Proper School, teachers are drones and widgets, coming and going and moving about at the pleasure of their CEO, who will decide what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and even if the organization needs to be changed in some fundamental way. Pupils will consume whatever is put before them at the bidding of their Betters. Organizational priorities, as defined by the Gifted CEO, rule all. In this world, the CEO is the sun, and those damned planets better not even think of unionizing or demanding tenure.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Charters and Commitment

It happened again. This time in Milwaukee. Students at the  Universal Academy for the College Bound Webster Campus returned to find themselves in a completely different school, because a charter management company had decided they'd rather move on than finish out their contract for the year.

Universal Companies took with them their books and their technology. Milwaukee Public Schools filled in the gaps and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association-- you know, that damn union that only worries about adult interests-- stepped in to help the staff.

It could have been worse. In other places it has been worse. The company gave MPS a warning ahead of time-- almost a full month's notice. And they handed the school back to MPS rather than simply locking the door.

And if you're thinking, "Well, of course they did that-- what sort of monster would close a building with no notice," then you haven't been following charter schools much. Charters don't have to explain themselves when they close, like these two closures in Indiana-- parents demanded an explanation and were ignored. Or this similar story from Philly. And these schools at least finished the year-- here's a charter that closed up shop in September. Here's a story about a charter in North Carolina that had to close mid-year mostly because they got caught lying about enrollment in order to get double the money they were entitled to; parents were informed less than 48 hours before the school closed its doors. Here's a Florida school that closed suddenly and without explanation in May of a school year. Or this Ohio charter that closed mid-year without warning. Just google "charter school closes unexpectedly" and watch the stories pile up.

But those are anecdotes. If you want to see the big picture, look at this reporting from the Center for Media and Democracy's Mediawatch that took some simple available data from NCES to show how many charters had closed between 2000 and 2013. There's an interactive map that lets you drill down, but the grand total is in the neighborhood of 2,500. 2,500 charter schools closed-- and that's not counting the schools from the past several years. That includes schools that closed during the school year, or schools that folded at the end of the year.

Or the recent report on charter schools from NEA, which shows what percentage of charters have closed as a function of how many years they've been open-- after one year, 5% of charters have been closed. At ten years, it's 33%. When we get to thirteen years, 40% of charters have shut their doors. In other words, a third of charter schools close their doors before they are a decade old.

This seems to be a feature of charter schooling that comes as a shock and surprise to parents. I suspect that's because one of the most basic things we expect from a school, particularly one that tries to bill itself as a public school as many charters do, is that it will be around basically forever. We expect to be able to go back to the schools we attended; if we can't, that's considered a notable loss, a sign that Something Bad happened to that school or community. It is one of the things we expect from a school that we rarely name--


But modern charters are not public schools, and they do not make a public school commitment to stay and do the work over the long haul. They are businesses, and they make a business person's commitment to stick around as long as it makes business sense to do so. That does not make them evil, but it does make them something other than a public school. And it underlines another truth-- students are not their number one priority.

Some modern charter operators claim that  these school closures are a feature, not a bug. The system is working; the invisible hand is weeding the garden. But that ignores the real disruption and confusion and damage done to children and families that must search from school to school. Instead of the excitement and joy of going back to school to see friends and favorite teachers, students face the uncertainty of not knowing which school they'll attend, how long they'll attend it, learning their way around, even as they wonder when this will all happen again. If school is a sort of second family, charter schools can be an unstable family that moves every six months with parents always on the verge of divorce.

Some charters are born to be train wrecks-- not only do educational amateurs get involved in charter schools, but business amateurs do as well. But very few are born with the intention of lasting for generation after generation, which is exactly what we expect of public schools. When Betsy DeVos says that she values families and choice over institutions, this is exactly what she is rejecting-- a commitment to stand by those families and communities for generations, to be an institution that brings stability and continuity to a community. More importantly, an institution that says, "When you need us, we will be right here. You can count on us, because we are committed."

Commitment matters in all relationships. It matters in schools. Parents and students and community members and taxpayers have a right to expect commitment from their schools. If charters want to pretend to be public schools, they should step up and make a commitment greater than, "We'll be right here as long as it suits us. On the day it doesn't suit us anymore, we'll be gone. Good luck to you."

Leaders, Character, and Policy

Many of us spend huge amounts of time discussing and debating education policy. But where the synthetic rubber meets the recycled asphalt, policy is not the most important thing. In every school, in every district, what really matters is the character of the leadership.

In the same way that workers do not quit workplaces so much as they quit a boss, teachers are influenced by the administrators in their building. District administrators are influential primarily in how they affect building administrators. Policy decisions on the state and federal level are most influential to the extent that they influence the behavior of actual educators in actual leadership positions.

Put another way, a sudden implementation of actual good education policies by state and federal governments (boy, what a dream that is) would not suddenly transform a bad building principal who makes staff miserable into a great principal with a happy staff.

In fact, a good principal, given the chance by her superintendent, can seriously blunt the impact of bad policy choices. In Florida, a state that is a champion producer of bad education policy, there are schools where principals actually find reasonable, humane, decent solutions to problems created by stupid policies.

A good manager in any business or institution really has just one job-- to create conditions in which her people can do their best work. If it's raining, a good manager is out there holding an umbrella over the front-line worker; not yelling at that worker for being wet.

It's important to have an administrator who has classroom experience, who knows the regulations, who has a broad understanding of education, and all the other things search committees look for. But one of the most critical issues is character.

At this point in my career, I've worked for many administrators, and I don't remember the various policy decisions and implementations nearly as well as I remember whether they were decent people or not.

A principal might not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, might not be on the cutting edge of education, might not even have a clear picture of what's going on in the classroom, but if he's a decent person who treats his teachers with respect, listens to what they have to say, and puts the needs of the students first, I can be happy working for him. Even if he wants to implement or support policies I disagree with, we can work things out. I can advocate for my students without having to watch my back. On the other hand, if he is mean, vindictive, selfish, distrustful, and spiteful, it doesn't matter what policies he supports-- every day is going to be miserable, and I am going to use up a chunk of my energy just deciding which battles to fight and how to fight them and what to do when I lose.

Of course a leader-staff relationship is a two-way street, and teachers can make things better or worse by their own choices. But administrators decide what rules we'll play by and will ultimately decide whether to share power or grab onto it with both hands. Administrators have a huge hand in setting the tone, in creating an atmosphere for their schools.

I write all this to remind myself-- I read and read about schools where things really suck, and often the administration is an invisible hand in that picture-- because I'm privileged to work for a principal who's a decent guy, and while he's not perfect and we don't always agree and I've worked for some pretty not-good examples of the breed in my career, it is easy to forget just how grindingly rough it is to work in some school buildings in this country. It's easy to forget how hard it is to work for a powerful jerk every day when you aren't living it.

Bad policy certainly arms and enables bad administrators, but one of the great undiscussed questions of both ed reform and resistance to it is the question of how to get good people in those front offices. Certainly some reformsters have some cool ideas about how to make a buck putting any warm body in there, as long as it shares their same bad values (looking at you, Relay GSE and Broad Academy), but all of us need to remember that without a decent person in the administrator's seat, it's really hard to drive the education bus anywhere productive and useful. And while we're talking about all the big picture issues, all across this country there are schools whose Number One issue is that they've got a dysfunctional jerk behind the steering wheel.

Can this be addressed on the policy level? Sure-- some. Being a principal and superintendent kind of sucks these days, in that you have all the responsibility for everything short of the weather, and very little power to control any of the outcomes you're responsible for. We talk about the teacher shortage, but mostly smart and capable people in education know better than to get into administration, and so a vast pool of people who could be good at it avoid it like the plague because what ethical decent educator wants to be responsible for implementing state and federal mandated malpractice? So we end up with a handful of good, decent folks, some others who figured they'd like a raise, another handful who just don't understand what the job is, and a bunch of peripatetic egos wandering the country collecting big bucks before they end their three-year local dance.

In the meantime, it takes local action to find local solutions for the problems of bad administrators. It is perhaps a conversation that more people should get involved in.

The Attack on Charter Schools

Nashville Charter School parents complain that they are under attack and disrespected. Charter advocates have long panel discussions about how to fight back against the attacks on charters and choice. Every 9-12 months, a new website is launched because reformy fans of charter and choice believe that they are under attack and need to get their story Out There.

Even the newly-minted teacher of the year, who works at a charter school, is concerned that public and charter schools are seen as "in conflict."

So why do charter schools feel so attacked and put upon?

Part of it may be an illusion of privilege. When you are an rich old white guy who has always gotten his way, it can be shocking and destabilizing when people say "No" to you. If you are a money-soaked hedge-funder surrounded by compliant underlings, it may be upsetting when people who should know their place start getting uppity. When you live soaked in privilege, any denial of your God-given right to get your own way might well feel like an attack. But that doesn't describe everyone who has thrown their support behind charters and choice.

Some of it is certainly karma, history coming around. Many charter choice fans seem to have forgotten that they spent years pitching charters and choice by chicken littling about Failing Public Schools and how much the public schools suck and how trained educators were awful, better replaced by lightly trained best-and-brightests from some ivy-covered hall.They are like the bully who, having finally pushed the kid with the glasses too far so that he takes boxing lessons and starts to punch back at their bullying but, says, "What are you doing! You're supposed to be too nice to fight back!" But that doesn't cover all the possibilities, either.

No, the necessity of a public vs. charter cage match is baked right into the charter laws of most states, courtesy of one of the central lies of the modern charter movement.

The Big Lie of modern charters is that we can have multiple parallel school systems for the same money we spent on one. Sure. When you're having trouble with your family budget and maintaining one home, the solution is to move half your family into a hotel. If it's hard to pay the bills for one car, buy a second or third or fourth one.

Charter choice fans sell us charters as free private school. It won't cost a penny more. And this lie guarantees conflict.

Because pubic schools and charters are trapped by that lie in a zero sum game. Every taxpayer dollar that goes to a charter school doesn't go to a pubic school. Every taxpayer dollar that a public school hangs onto is a dollar that charters don't get. For one to survive, the other must get beaten up. Even a well-meaning mild-mannered friendly charter school cannot avoid attacking public schools. Under current charter laws, it is impossible for charter and public schools NOT to be in a state of constant conflict.

It doesn't have to be this way. Charter choice supporters in the legislatures could say, "We think the idea of free access to private school for some students is a good idea, and so we are going to raise taxes and allocate the money it will take to do this right. We will fully fund public schools and we will fully fund charter schools and they will be able to work together for the benefit of the larger community because they will no longer be battling to the death for an inadequately small pool of funding."

Of course, charter choice supporters do not want to talk about charter choice systems as a new entitlement to free private school, and they do not want to talk about raising taxes. And so where charter choice is the Way To Go, we have multiple parallel school systems, mostly underfunded except for those that are able to draw extra funding from well-to-do parents or friendly philanthropists.

And, of course, we have those choice supporters for whom a fight to the death is the point. Their hope is that charter schools will finish off public systems, leaving only privatized schools that function "properly," aka "through market forces." Meanwhile, the "government schools" that run on the tax dollars stolen from hard-working rich folks and used to educate Those People can be properly starved to death.

And so charter schools and their fans, even the well-meaning decently parental ones, must live with the feeling of being under attack, because the system is currently constructed so that charter schools must be a threat to the health and continued existence of public schools, and public school supporters can either fight back or lie down and die.

It doesn't have to be this way. It would probably be better for everyone if it wasn't. But until we address the Big Lie at the heart of current charter choice policy, this is how it will stay.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Are Charters a Rural Solution

In a piece that has circulated a bit, Karen Eppley, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Pennsylvania State University suggests that charter schools might be the solution to many rural education problems.

While the article is not as gung-ho about charters as the title suggests (I know-- writers rarely get to pick their own headline), it still misses some critical points.

According to this 2013-2014 report from the Rural School and Community Trust, about a third of our schools are rural, and about one in five students attend a rural school. So this is worth discussing. Eppley wryly notes that Betsy DeVos brought attention to rural education with her observation about bear protection in Wapiti, Wyoming, but her policy goals might have a more far-reaching effect. Fair enough.

Eppley touts her rural bona fides and notes that rural education has been an important part of rural American life. She's got that right-- my own children attended little Utica Elementary, a school that, along with the volunteer fire department hall, served as a community center. On the night that the school held its talent show, art show, and ice cream social, everyone in the village would be there, whether they had a child in the school or not.

Despite the positive impacts of schools on rural communities, 150,000 rural schools have been eliminated through closure or consolidation since 1930. Rural schools are closed primarily in response to budget cuts and low enrollment.

Eppley's correct, though by going back to 1930 she oversells her case. As she should already know, numerous rural schools were eliminated in Pennsylvania in the 1960s. Previously, every township in PA had a school district, but the state did some serious arm-twisting to encourage consolidation. My current school district is the result of combining the city school district with several surrounding small districts, including Utica, which originally had its own tiny high school. The 1960s consolidations were not about money or enrollment so much as a policy change about what a school district should look like (and the emergence of dependable transportation options.)

Eppley then moves to a capsule history of the charter school movement, offering her own theory about what is happening right now--

The increasingly charter-friendly environment can be traced to an ideological shift: While public education was once seen as a key to democracy, it is increasingly seen as a tool of efficiency and economic competitiveness. This change has created prime conditions for the school choice movement — and for the creation and expansion of charter schools.

But rural charters are a different animal. Eppley notes that while urban charters are often chain operations (eg KIPP), rural charters are more likely to be community-based mom-and-pop operations, sometimes as a delaying action against the loss of a local school. I have seen this as well-- just up the road a community's elementary school was closed; a community group formed to resurrect it as a charter. The idea here is to resist consolidation and keep those community ties alive and thriving. And so far I'm with her. But I think she's missing a couple of points.

First, while it's true that school closings are often driven by financial issues, budget issues are themselves often driven by charter funding. Charter chains-- with one exception-- are not descending on rural areas because that's not where the money is. But the exception is huge-- in Pennsylvania, cyber charters are draining rural districts of hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.

My own district is a fine example. A few years ago, we closed two elementary schools in hopes of saving about $800K. Our cyber charter bill that year? About $800K. The huge loss of public tax dollars to profiteering cyber schools is doubly galling because these cybers can't even do the job. Study after study has concluded that cyber schools fail to educate their students, many of whom return to us in the public schools, or simply never graduate at all.

Eppley correctly notes that rural charters will not unleash the power of free market competition because there is no competition there-- there are few choices for rural schools. And she makes the observation that unlike the case with urban charters, rural charters can actually be a tool for establishing local parental control. For that reason, they are often inefficient and can be dogged by financial problems if for no other reason than they are being run by amateurs.

But then there's this:

Until educational, social and economic policies are implemented with rural communities in mind, rural citizens should continue to work to break down barriers for more socially just rural schools and communities — in the same way that urban citizens have.

Given the amount of research that shows urban charters fostering more segregation, I'm not sure exactly what she's talking about. Nor is it clear what barriers need to broken down in rural schools where, precisely because there are few choices, all students are squooshed together into the same facility.

Eppley does early in the article note the "emerging research suggesting that charter schools may have lower academic performance and negatively affect the finances of the home district." But then she moves on, arriving somehow at the notion that rural schools can be helped by charters. However, the negative effects, particularly the financial ones, are strongly felt in rural areas. One of the great central inefficiencies, the foundational lie of modern charter systems-- that we can somehow fund two or three or more parallel education systems with the same money that barely supported one system-- is magnified in rural settings where money and resources and student populations are already stretched thin.

A couple of years ago, Utica's elementary school joined the other two in being closed down by my district. In  less than a decade, we have gone from six elementary schools to three, partly due to declining enrollment, and in a larger part due to financial pressures. Now small communities have been hollowed out a bit more, and we are still struggling to stay ahead of the financial squeeze. It is hard to imagine how having to stretch taxpayer dollars to run a few more schools in the district would be helpful in any way, particularly when sending tax dollars to charter operators is one of the reasons we're under this pressure in the first place. There's a reason that financially strapped school districts close schools rather than open more-- you don't save money by paying for more schools. Charter schools are not a solution-- they are a huge part of the problem.