The proponents of the initiative are proud to say that the teachers in the charter schools will have to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers. That's true, but it neglects to consider how the charter schools are much more likely to hire many more teachers with conditional certificates. As we know, the state doesn't make any effort whatsoever to confirm that candidates for conditional certificates actually meet the requirements for a conditional certificate. They rely entirely on the school districts to do that work and they automatically approve every application they receive. Charter schools, therefore, could submit dozens and dozens of requests for conditional certificates - including a lot which do not meet the legal requirements - and see them all approved. Charter school teachers probably will not have qualifications equal to those of public school teachers. Teach for America, for example, places a lot of their corps members in charter schools.
The proponents of the initiative love to point out how the initiative requires charter schools to enroll every student who requests assignment to the school and then, if they get requests in excess of their capacity, must use a lottery to determine which students they enroll. This is supposed to assure that students with special needs have equal access to the charter school. While it is true that every student who requests enrollment at the school has an equal chance for assignment (except the children of those who started the charter; they are assured of enrollment) there are some quirks which will work against certain populations.
- Students with non-English speaking families are much less likely to know about the charter school or how to request assignment to the charter school or be able to complete the necessary paperwork for it.
- Students with un-involved families are much less likely to know about the charter school or how to request assignment to the charter school or be able to complete the necessary paperwork for it and are much less likely to negotiate the process.
- Students from low-income families may not be able to afford transportation to or from the school.
- Even after students are enrolled, there is no assurance that special needs will be adequately addressed. In the absence of services, families are likely to withdraw their children from the school. So the charter school can shed special needs students by refusing to serve them.
- Charter schools can drive out students with special needs through discipline practices. They can suspend and expel the students. Families are not assured any due process or appeal at a charter school.
Through these methods, and others, charter schools can manipulate their student body to reduce the number of students with special needs.
Let's remember that charter schools don't need to have any appeals rules. You won't necessarily have anyone in authority to hear your concerns and address them. I would not expect a charter school board to have much involvement or to overrule any action taken by the principal, and there is absolutely no hope of appeal to the charter school authorizer. That's not their role. The authorizers are supposed to set "a performance framework that clearly sets forth the academic and operational performance indicators, measures, and metrics that will guide an authorizer's evaluations of each charter school". That means that if the authorizer didn't set an objectively measurable performance target for something, they cannot hold the school accountable for it. Also, those "Annual performance targets must be set by each charter school in conjunction with its authorizer and must be designed to help each school meet applicable federal, state, and authorizer expectations." Get that? The school has to agree to the target and the target has to be set in a way that helps the school reach it. That's strong accountability? Education reformers belittle teacher performance targets that are determined in the same way.
So what if a school misbehaves badly in a way that was not anticipated by the authorizer? Too bad. If it isn't among the performance targets the school cannot be held accountable for it.
Charter school proponents speak of the accountability for these schools and how they will be closed if they don't perform. While this promoted as a positive, this kind of test score pressure has lead to a variety of bad behavior.
- Schools in districts with heavy test score pressure have been guilty of test scandals.
- Schools in districts with heavy test score pressure have been guilty of driving out students who will lower their scores.
- Students in schools with heavy test score pressure have been subjected to stress to do well on the tests.
- Schools under heavy test score pressure have narrowed their curriculum to the test subjects.
- Schools under heavy test score pressure have narrowed their curriculum to the test questions.
Conversion charter schools have to allow all of the current students the opportunity to remain. They do not, however, have to accept the school district's determination of the school's capacity and they are free to reduce future enrollment. A school that had four classes per grade and was very crowded when it was a public school can have three classes per grade and be un-crowded as a charter school.
On the other hand, charter schools are not constrained by any class size rules. Class size rules in Seattle Public Schools are set by the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union. In the absence of that agreement, charter schools are free to make class sizes whatever they like. They are not constrained by any state laws on class size either. There's a lot of money to be saved through larger class sizes.
Those last two may seem contradictory - saying on one hand that charter schools could constrain enrollment and, on the other hand, they could crowd the classes. Some may do one while some may do the other. There is also the possibility of both. A school with two classes of 40 will still have fewer students than a school with three classes of 30.
There will be more unintended consequences of this initiative if it becomes law. These are just of few of the ones that can be foreseen.