After the flurry of activity around charter approval/denial last week by the Charter Commission, let's take a step back.
First, a great piece of work by Professor Wayne Au, at UW's education program in Bothell, and Joseph J. Ferrare, a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UWisconsin/Madison. Valerie Strauss covered it at her blog at the Washington Post, The Answer Sheet. The PDC chart about who funded Yes on 1240 pretty much says it all.
From The Answer Sheet:
Washington state voters who had rejected the opening of public charter schools in 1996, 2000 and 2004, passed the ballot initiative
in November 2012 by about 1 percentage point after some billionaires
and their foundations donated a total of more than $10 million to
support it. Gates donated more than $3 million. The researchers found
that of the $10.9 million raised for the Yes On 1240 campaign, $10.65
million of it, or almost 98 percent, was funded by 21 individuals and
organizations who each donated more than $50,000 to the campaign.
From the report:
“Compared to the average voter in Washington, an elite group of wealthy individuals, either directly through individual donations or indirectly through their affiliated philanthropic organizations, wielded disproportionate influence over the outcome of the charter school initiative in the state, thereby raising serious concerns about the democratic underpinnings of an education policy that impacts all of the children in Washington State. This study also concludes that elite individuals make use of local nonprofit organizations as a mechanism to advance their education policy agenda by funding those nonprofits through the philanthropic organizations affiliated with those same wealthy elites. In light of these conclusions, the authors recommend that a mechanism for more democratic accountability be developed relative to education policy campaigns, initiatives, and legislation.”
What is fascinating is that Secretary Duncan has been doing this "Ask Arne" series and was recently interviewed by two teachers - on leave as Teaching Ambassadors - on this issue of private interests and public education. The two teachers, Joiselle Cunningham from New York and Lisa Clarke from Washington State, were quiet but determined. They wanted answers and Secretary Duncan was dancing as fast and far away as he could from the question.
He said that these private foundations and individuals that donate big money to campaigns and education initiatives do not "have a seat at the table in terms of policymaking."
The Gates Foundation has given about $150M in grants, throughout the country, in support of Common Core. Gates is helping fund - this was buried in the one of the Washington State charter school applications - a group to help with charter school capital costs. (Unfortunately for the Gates Foundation, the 1240 law does NOT allow a charter to do this - get a loan against public dollars - and so at least three of the approved charter applications have the notation that they cannot now - or ever - encumber public dollars for charter school loans for capital needs.)
Total Gates Foundation spending? Here's a great overview from Education Week.
So Secretary Duncan, we're not blind nor stupid and we can all see what you and your department are doing. Please don't be dishonest or disingenuous. Be honest. Public education is truly up for sale - whether it's being manipulated by Gates or bought by Pearson.
What's fascinating is the narrative that is now being woven by people over the approved charters. First Place, the charter applicant with the already established school for mostly homeless children, is being held up as the poster child for what charters should be. As someone who worked briefly at that school as a volunteer, I agree. But see, First Place has been around a long time and if so many of these philanthropic groups thought this was so great, why didn't THEY help expand it sooner?
And, the other charters approved? Mostly they are KIPP wanna-bees. There's nothing innovative or new in what they are doing. They are very academically, high discipline schools. They work harder to make sure parents know what is going on but as to real parent involvement in how the school runs or its priorities, I don't think so.
What very amusing is the reactions over at the Center on Reinventing Public Education on how charters are doing elsewhere in the country. In not one but two articles at their website "blogs", they have these moaning words over how charters are just not working out like they should and if only there were more good ones. (I say "blogs" because they accept no comments.)
The first article is by Robin Lake about Detroit and how she visited Detroit and she was shocked, I tell you, shocked to find:
I spent the beginning of last week in Detroit, a city that spawned one of the nation’s early charter laws, now home to one of the most unregulated charter sectors I have seen. I believe that Detroit families are better off as a result of choice. There are some very strong schools that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and the school district, whose performance has been dismal for decades, is trying to find a way to compete with charters. But while Detroit charter schools slightly outperform district-run schools (according to CREDOs study), that is saying very little. Most of these schools are doing nothing to change the life trajectory of Detroit’s children.
Oh, charters are good because it's better for a few children to have a few good ones and really, the money being spent on more of the low-performing, crappy charters, that's okay. An experiment for one good charter is worth the public money and private energy that families invest in the bad ones.
There are dozens of Detroit charter schools that should probably be closed immediately. Competition for students is so vicious that schools are reportedly bribing parents with iPads and cash to drive up enrollment. Yet despite all of this competition, charter school quality is stagnant, and more charters are being approved every year by university and community college sponsors who operate outside the city and with little or no accountability for their actions. I heard from parents who do feel empowered, but are having a horrible time navigating their choices and figuring out how to enroll in schools. I heard about schools that closed midyear, leaving families to fend for themselves. I heard about schools that didn’t offer any counseling or special education services to students who come from severely distressed neighborhoods.
Do tell. The only good side to her article is that she seems relieved that Washington State is going slow on the numbers of charters. Again, no kidding.
Again, with a smile of recognition, I read:
So let’s celebrate school choice, but let’s also be as outraged about its shortcomings as we are about failing districts. Unregulated school choice is a nightmare for parents and very difficult to fix. It is not enough for choice advocates to simply acknowledge bad actors and bad laws, sigh with disapproval, and move on. NACSA has been a leader in taking action against irresponsible authorizing by running a “One Million Lives” campaign to get authorizers to close chronically low-performing schools, but NACSA has little more than the power of moral persuasion. We need civic, state, and national leaders to step up and take responsibility for schools that never should have opened in the first place and are not losing enrollment fast enough to close without government intervention.
She ends by saying:
And we need to work at the grassroots level to rally parents to rise up in cities where both charter and district schools are failing their students.
What? So parents are supposed to save both public schools and charter schools? How about we save what exists instead of creating more chaos and confusion?
The second article is by Paul Hill who states the horrible truth:
The recent news out of Columbus—that 17 of the 75 local charter schools had closed in the past year—is bad in so many ways. It throws up a big obstacle for reformers in that city.."
Obstacle? It should be a giant red STOP sign for the city of Columbus to QUIT listening to ed reformers.
It buttresses opponents’ arguments that charter operators don’t know what they are doing. And it gives the press a field day reporting on how much public money was wasted.
But that’s not nearly the worst. The closure of these schools puts hundreds of children back at the tender mercies of a public school district that has failed students and defrauded the public about school performance and spending.
So wait a minute, first we are told that charters ARE great because after 20 years and 40 states, there are so many AND so many with a waiting list. Now we are told some states have terrible laws that allowed many terrible charters. I'm confused.
He advocates for yet ANOTHER layer of bureaucracy - not elected, of course -
we call it the Civic Education Council. It can be part of the mayor’s office or even the local school board. No matter the name or the office, the entity must have totally different powers and responsibilities than existing school boards—not to operate schools, but to use chartering, contracting, and memoranda of understanding in order to obtain the best possible mix of schools to meet the needs of local children. The new entity can sit outside the existing school district, or take the district over and transform it via school autonomy, pupil-based funding, and closure and replacement of unproductive schools.
Unbelievable. Good luck Washington State charter schools because with friends like these, who needs enemies?