October 29, 2015

AFT President Defends Eva Moskowitz! Amazon’s Edge In Edu? And Can You Insider Trade On Charter School Studies?

By Bellwether

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How much of an edge, formal or informal, does Amazon get from this Department of Education open source initiative? I’d say it can’t hurt except these guys at Dep’t Ed don’t exactly have the Midas touch these days…But it does seem to give Amazon pole position going forward.

So earlier this week an interesting thing happened. A set of research studies came out showing that online charter schools were not doing very well – and the stock of one company that runs such schools dropped a lot. That points to an interesting question: If you are a researcher or journalist or someone who is not an employee of one of these companies and you had access to this study in advance and traded on that information, is that a legal issue? It’s obviously unethical if you’re say, a journalist or someone working on the research team, but is it actually illegal? And under what conditions? Seems like a great opportunity for short sellers…I’m not a lawyer and I don’t deal in education stocks precisely because of the work I do, but it’s an interesting question if you happen to be either. All thoughts or actual legal insights on this welcome…One PR person told me that at different firms he’d been told this was illegal or that it wasn’t.

Meanwhile, another funny thing happened this week. The New York Times published a big story on discipline at Success Academy charter schools in New York City – the controversial charter network founded and operated by Eva Moskowitz – and then the president of the American Federation of Teachers rushed to defend the schools.

“By refusing alternative placement for disruptive students, they are denying them the help and special attention they need and can rarely get in a regular classroom.”

The AFT president also said, ”Recently we’ve seen a number of media stories about students being suspended or expelled for what looked like silly, little infractions of school rules.” But, the AFT president then went on to write that discipline codes need to be carefully written but must also be consequential and consistent because discipline is essential.  Then the AFT president went onto praise a zero tolerance law in Texas and say that,

We talk a lot about improving the educational performance of all our students. Many states are busy setting academic standards, and some are even talking about tying assessments to these standards. But the truth of the matter is none of these changes will achieve what we want unless schools are safe and orderly places where teachers can teach and students can learn.

The AFT president was adamant that not every kid could be served in every school.

Okay, actually the current AFT President wasted no time in attacking Success Academy. Because, well, you know. All those other statements are from former AFT President (and prior to to that New York United Federation of Teachers President) Al Shanker.

The point here is straightforward: Outside of outrageous stuff like this recent incident in South Carolina student discipline is a complicated balancing act of competing priorities and we don’t do teachers, students, or parents any favors when we pretend otherwise or turn it into gotcha moments. Reasonable people can also disagree. And if you send your kid to a private school – you might want to think twice about jumping all over this school and the parents who are choosing it, you know?  Parents want discipline – balancing that want with the rights and needs of students overall is not simple or straightforward. That’s why as staunch as Al Shanker was on discipline he was equally strong in his support for quality alternative options for students.

On the story itself, The Times’ fishing expedition here makes me uncomfortable (I’m old enough to remember when reporters actually reported rather than put up ads on the web asking people to send them accounts, what could possibly be skewed about what you perceive by doing that? But who knows maybe Woodward and Bernstein would have just sent some tweets asking Nixon aides to meet them in garages if they could have….?) but other than the headline the story is pretty balanced if you read the entire thing and also shows that schools are complicated human institutions. A Times story talking to parents about why they choose schools with strict discipline codes might be helpful context, too.

My take on Success? Their methods undoubtably influence their performance. That seems obvious. But they’re also doing a bunch of other things that seem to matter, too. So ascribing it all to this issue misses the point. But that won’t stop anyone.

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