Monday, January 27, 2014

Washington State Charter Schools Update

Items of interest:

- the Charter Commission is going to have a phone-in meeting tomorrow, the 28th from 9 am to 10 am.  The agenda vaguely says " discussion of resolution process" and "bills currently under consideration."  Dial-in number is 800-245-9874, Access code 7784207.

- the Charter Commission will have a regular meeting this Thursday the 29th, in Seattle, from 8:30 am to 5:50 pm at TAF Headquarters, Bethaday Community Learning Space, 605 SW 108th St.  Agenda

This should be quite the meeting as the Commission will be announcing what charter applications have been approved (if any).  They seem to be expecting a crowded meeting as they will be putting in speaker spots by lottery (after sign-in).  (I'll have more to say about this public speaking process when I cover the charter applicant forums I attended.)

They will first hear from the NACSA evaluation team (National Association of Charter School Authorizers who the Commission hired to review the applications).  This may be significant because Spokane School district said that they listened very careful to what this group had to say when making their decision (which was to grant only one charter, Pride Prep). 

They are then going to consider the applications in alphabetical groups with CAL Elementary, Cedar River Academy and Coral Academy of Science being first.  Then they take a break and the next group is Evergreen Leadership Academy, Excel Public Charter School, First Place and Green Dot.  Then a lunch break and the next group, King County Academy, Out of the Box Learning Studio, Pioneer School and Rainier Prep.

Then there's another break with the next group being SOAR Academy, Sports in Schools Team Charter, Summit Public Schools: Olympus and Sierra and Sunnyside Charter Academy.  Then another break followed by the last group of The Village Academy, Washington STEM and Yakima Academy.

I did not read through all the applications in their entirety because they averaged about 500 pages and it would have been quite the task.  I did not attend all the forums, either.  But I skimmed most applications and attended two forums.

I doubt if the Charter Commission members read them all, either.  (Someone might have but I doubt it.)  The Commission does not want to make poor/mediocre choices out the gate.  I know this decision weighs heavily on them.  If there are not more than seven good applications, I predict they would grant charters to all seven.  (Again, Spokane has already claimed a spot so there are only seven spots open.)

I think that, given a good application, there are several factors that could tip an application into the yes column. 

One, are they serving, in a real and specific way, at-risk or under-served populations?  Guess what?  To an application, they ALL say they are serving those groups.

Two, geography.  For example, if Yakima Academy had a good application as compared to others, I suspect that they would rise to the top in order to spread out charters throughout the state.  Yakima has another possible charter, Sunnyside with Enumclaw, Grays Harbor, JBLM and Spokane all having one. The others are all in the Puget Sound region with Tacoma (4), Kent (1), Seattle (5),  and South King County (3).

Who do I think will likely get approved?
To be clear, the Charter Commission could approve all of them, some of them or none of them.

That said, I think Excel, First Place, Green Dot, Out of the Box Learning Studio, Summit (both), and Village Academy will be approved.   Coincidentally, that's seven. 

I have written to the Charter Commission director, Joshua Halsey, for the latest update on what happens if there are more than seven approved.  (You might recall that a reading of the law made it sound like a race to the Board of Education to file an approved charter application with the first 7 who filed would secure a spot.  Anyone filing within the correct time period but coming in 8th would go into a lottery for the 8th spot. 

What had been pushed back by the Commission was the idea that the remaining approved applications - that had been submitted to the Board of Ed on-time but lost in the lottery - would roll over into next year's group.  Several Commission members had stated they didn't like that idea and it seemed unfair to any new applicants. 

Charter Forums

I won't go into a lot of specific detail but here are some highlights (and lowlights):

- my overriding criticism is how the public comments were handled.  You signed in and got a "raffle" ticket for one or more charter applicants.  You did not have to state your position.  Then, 15 numbers were randomly chosen and the numbers put up on a sheet of paper.  If your number was selected, you got to speak.  Fair, right?

Not exactly.  My belief is that at the sign-in, there should have been for/against columns.  That way the Commissioners would hear feedback from both sides.  And, if there were only a couple of either for/against, then those unfilled slots would go to whoever wanted to speak.  So if 10 people signed-up "for" but only 1 was "against", then the remaining spots would go to any other "for" people who wanted to speak.  (The claim in Spokane was that no one spoke out against any of the charters.  Well, if you set it up right, that's exactly what would happen.)

Also,  it turned into something of a free-for-all.  Apparently at one forum, teachers union members dominated while at another forum, charter applicant supporters dominated. 

It is absolutely fair for charter applicant supporters or non-supporters to show up in large numbers. 
 But what I witnessed - for example, by the Excel team, were Excel charter employees collecting the numbers from supporters and the Excel employees deciding who would speak. 

As well, the speakers should not be reading testimony from others who couldn't be bothered to show up (except I would say for public officials who might otherwise have official duties).  The testimony should come from the speaker who came.

Otherwise, what's to stop charter applicants from hiring people to come and speak and giving them a script?

- several of the applicants are KIPP-like, meaning uniforms, strict structure (like students being require to say a certain greeting to an administrator at the front door every single day and having to track the teacher with their eyes as the teacher moves around the room), "required" parent volunteer hours.  This could be great for some kids but it is not innovative.

- many of the applicants like to brag about their near 100% rates of high school graduation/entry into college but none of them explained their attrition rate.  How many of the original 9th grade cohort made it to graduation?

- to note about Green Dot - they plan on expanding in our region over the next five year to between 3-5 (they are nothing if not confident).  They want their schools to be in geographic proximity to each other which means being in the Puget Sound region. They are famous for conversions so I would predict that Green Dot will try to take over a school in Seattle/Puget Sound over the next five years.  You were warned.

Also, Green Dot surprised me because they do have a lot of F/RL students and actually said it was REALLY hard to bring up scores of kids who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.  They actually kind of whined about not getting credit for making the needle move (rather than being dinged for it not being higher).  Education for students with challenges is hard - no kidding.  

- also to note about Green Dot and Summit -  both are being supported by the Washington State Charter Schools Association (financially supported by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation - can't get more ed reform than those two).

 I did state - at both forums - that the WSCSA - is just one of many groups supported by the Gates Foundation and that the approval of either Gates or the WSCSA should carry no more weight than anyone else's given the lack of charter experience in our state.  As well, I stated that Bill Gates spent more on passing I-1240 than anyone else.  It is something to note.

- Coral Academy should not be approved.  It was pretty clear their application was weak and unfocused and so was their presentation.  They had a 10-minute presentation that had perhaps 1 minute of specifics.  They also had a bit about how many people they hire on H1 visas and it was a sure sign of a Gulen-affiliated charter group.  We don't need Gulen in this state when there are other good charter choices.  

- Excel is a KIPP-wannabe.  Long school day, uniforms, no suspension/expulsion (which is great but I'll bet many of their students will get exited for other reasons)

- one interesting thing (and good thing) about Summit is that they went out and got some real educators involved in the formation of how they work as a school.  One of these is Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford University and I think she's one of the best voices for public education today.  On the downside, Summit says that they will have at least one AP class for each core subject.  Considering there are generally 4-5 core classes (depending on how you count them), that's not much rigor.  

They also flew in a number of their parent/supporters to speak.  I asked one of them to be sure who paid and she got very aggressive about how I knew nothing about Summit and she did.  All I was doing was verifying that Summit was paying for her expenses to be there - quite the odd reaction.  (They also paid for Washington state parent/community members to fly to California to visit their schools.) 

- the teachers I heard speak - from Tacoma - explained that Tacoma actually has been doing a lot of innovative work (and that's true).  One teacher, very upset, said that he welcomed charters because the union needed to get out in front of this kind of school so that they wouldn't have more testing and scripted lessons.  Apparently he missed that charters are public schools and  yes, will have testing and Common Core (whether that means a scripted lesson or not). 

3 comments:

christal2118 said...

Gee, Melissa Bitte.r much?

mirmac1 said...

Thanks Melissa for attending and writing up your impressions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

How is what I reported bitter? It's news. And given how I turned to be mostly right on my assessments, not so much.