(I was also honored and pleased to meet Jeff Charbonneau, the Washington State Teacher of the Year from Zillah High School. I want to write a separate thread on him and the great work they are doing there but boy, what a great guy and a great teacher.)
What came first before the discussion was a presentation by Alex Medler who works for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Keep in mind, this is an organization just for authorizers and not charter schools themselves. It's a very specialized group.
As you may recall from 1240, the Board of Education will be the authorizers for any school board that wants to itself become an authorizer of charter schools within its district.
Mr. Medler gave an overview that seemed a bit tame given the topic. Items he said the BOE should consider:
- that the fight over charters is not related to their work and that charters are neither a panacea or an apocalypse
- families want choices
- BUT "wanting and choosing" charter schools is NOT what makes them good
- quality in authorizing matters
- roles and responsibilities may change but the goals and obligations don't. He said that you still have responsibilities for "civil rights and Special Education" and that "districts" are on the hook for these things. (I didn't have the opportunity to ask Mr. Medler what he meant by "districts"; I will ask. I assume he meant that charter schools are responsible for those things as are any other district.)
- "Even good people fail."
In what was the first of signals for concerns, BOE member, Mary Jean Ryan, said she was concerned on how the BOE would set up their own criteria for their processes for selection so they could use "judgment and appropriate discretion in reviewing authorizers." She worried out loud about just checking off boxes for all appropriate sections without also reviewing a submission for real outcomes.
He said one interesting thing about our law - that it has minimum performance expectations and a default closure. But again, there is NOTHING that compels any authorizer to close any school outright.
He did note that fact in saying an authorizer, under 1240, could be rigid or loose on charter school closures.
He also predicted the law would need revising in just a few years as Washington State adjusts to having charter schools. He said this would mostly need to be done around "equitable funding" to charters so look for that legislation coming soon. As the Legislature struggles to figure out McCleary, we will have charters coming with their hands out for more money.
He stated that charter schools close mostly because of achievement, governance and organization (with compliance, safety and ethical reasons bringing up the rear). He said over time closures for academic reasons have gone up but financial reasons are still at the top.
He also said it was important for the BOE to make sure local leaders understand the role of the BOE and the Charter Commission in ensuring quality authorizing.
He was asked about the BOE's responsibility to establish a framework to authorize and was asked what was the optimal way to achieve good outcomes?
His answer was common application rubrics was probably the biggest help.
That ended the charter schoool authorizer group presentation. They then had public testimony.
One man from Oregon said he runs a charter school there called the Pioneer Youth Corps and said that he would be wanting to open a charter here in Washington State. What he didn't say is that they are a CMO (charter management organization)and actually, the name of the school is the Willamette Leadership Academy, "a fully accredited military charter school." Their website is somewhat odd and ill-written so I have to wonder about giving them a charter. They are a very strict military boot camp school.
My remarks were fairly basic:
- I pointed out who NACSA is. Namely, a group supported by the Gates, Dell and Robertson Foundations. I noted that the Robertson Foundation is a religiously-based foundation which could be a consideration given we are talking about public schools. Also, I mentioned that Gates funded the I-1240 campaign to a considerable degree as well as getting it on the ballot.
- I also pointed out that the very people who are picking the Charter Commission members - and who might have learned something from the presentation - were not in the room.
- I pointed out that the BOE has some confusing language at their website about their role and the Charter Commission's role and asked that it be clarified.
There is also the question of the NACSA and where authorizers' would find the money to join their association to get guidance. Yet another hidden cost.
Jim Spady - a long, long, long-time charter activist in Washington State - also got up to speak. He was worried that no charters could be open by Fall 2013 because of the various dates involved in setting up the Charter Commission and the work the BOE must do to prepare. The earliest the Charter Commission could get started is March 6th but they, like the BOE, have a tremendous amount of organizing to do.
(I find it interesting this push to get charters on-line for the fall when the initiative allows rollover numbers of any charters not approved in one year to the next year. What's the rush when the cry has been "get it right?")
So then they got to the issue of trying to figure out rules around their work for 1240. Their analysts said that there were seven (!) sections that they would likely have to figure out rules to cover their duties. They were only going to focus on Section 209 during this meeting as it requires the BOE to pass rules about the section within a certain timeframe.
(You may recall that 1240 allows the Charter Commission to bypass two sections. This is one of them because it is about one authorizer - the BOE - and their process of authorizing other authorizers. The Charter Commission is pretty much an instant authorizer so they don't have to be so reflective. However, the Charter Commission, as it starts up, should have to go thru this process for themselves in terms of what they are looking for in charter applicants, proposed renewal, revocation and nonrenewal processes, etc.)
Here's where it gets a bit sticky. The BOE, in order to ensure that they find quality authorizers have to figure out how stringent they are going to be on applicants meeting the qualifications of Section 209.
One key flaw in 1240 (that may come back to haunt many) is that 1240 has authorizers operating on an annual schedule (starting in Jan.) rather than a school schedule (in September). That means that any school board authorizer who goes through their work is unlikely to be able to grant a charter before August and thus, a charter could get its grant but be unable to open that school year.
Some interesting comments came out from BOE members:
- it is clear that there may be a bit of a divide between members who don't want to rubber-stamp and those who do. I don't mean that any member would just look at the list and see if every document was there and give authorization to that school board but a few members like Tre Maxie seemed content with just making sure the basics were done.
On the other hand, Mary Jean Ryan said that the process did cry out for a more methodical process so that they make sure they have quality authorizers which is what experts say makes the difference in charter quality.
But it is unclear how far the BOE can go in this work as the language in 1240 is somewhat vague. However, they do have their own charge as the BOE to support "achievement, accountability and basic education compliance."
Another difficulty brought up was the issue of whether to just process each application as it comes in - as it stands on its own - or to wait and compare and make sure you get the best.
- another point made at the meetingwas one that we made here at this blog - it almost seems like charter applications are "first come, first serve" for who gets authorized. Meaning, just as the BOE is figuring out how to decide if they should process authorizer applications all at once, should authorizers be sending in approved charters and whoever's gets there first then gets one of the eight spots available per year?
The wording, as one BOE member pointed out, looks that way. She seemed troubled by this as it would give highly organized charter groups an advantage over more grassroots charter school efforts.
The BOE also seemed slightly daunted by the volume of work this is going to take to get going (and the time) and how they may have less time for other efforts that are part of their charge.