Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Washington State Charter Schools Convention

I attended the Washington State Charter Schools Convention several weeks ago down in Sea Tac.  And tomorrow, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the lawsuit against the current charter school law.

The convention came on the year anniversary for the head of the Washington State Charter Schools Association head, Patrick D'Amelio.  (Patrick is one of the good guys and boy, I wish he had stayed at the Alliance for Education where he been CEO.)  He said the conference was full but when I looked around the dining room, it seemed to have many empty seats.

He pointed out that charters in Washington State had nearly just as many students of color as districts do and employ many more teachers of color than districts do (32% versus 11% statewide).  I'd like to see two stats on that - the number of teachers of color in the Puget Sound region where most of the charter schools are and how many of those charter school teachers are from Teach for America.  Because it is mighty hard to get teachers of color to want to come and live in our expensive region.

He said that regular schools are "fixed" and not evolving as charter schools are.

He mentioned Summit's work with Google on personalized learning.  The Summit on-line learning platform is a whole other thread in itself but here's a link.

He did mention that Washington state's charter law was ranked third in the nation but failed to mention that it was by a charter association funded in part by the Gates Foundation.

He said that Washington State stands to be "a charters 2.0 example."  I believe he meant that Washington was able to avoid mistakes other states have made in over 20+ years of charter schools in the U.S.

The two events intertwined when one of the keynote speakers at the convention - former State Attorney Rob McKenna - seemed to be laying out the case for the law.  (I believe he is one of the lead lawyers in the case and may even give oral arguments.)

  • He first said he regrets that Washington State didn't get charters sooner but it sure is great to be able to learn from the experiences of other states.  (I believe one reason that the Washington state law is so strict is that many other states like Arizona and Florida have such lousy laws.)  
  • He said charter schools bring "inspiration, innovation and individualization."  I suspect that will be what he says to the Supreme Court tomorrow morning.
  • He said his own daughter teaches at a charter school in Texas.  He spoke of innovation in public schools like Aviation High and the STEM high school in the Tri-Cities.  Well, Aviation is more of what we in Seattle would call an Option school than it is a charter school.  And, if it's so great, why haven't we seen that kind of charter school anywhere in the state?  
  • Then he spoke of "individualization," saying that the U.S. public education system was invented in the late 19th Century during a time of industrialization.  He believes that public schools are moving away from a highly-structured model (no argument there in fact or necessity from me).  He said learning needs to be customized and individualized.  That sounds great but at what cost?  Oh, the way to get forward on that front is personalized learning.  On computers. 
  • He noted that it is harder to provide that kind of individualization in traditional settings with larger classes and rules and regulations that stifle innovation.  Sure but Charlie's reply to that has always been, "Why should traditional school have these stifling rules and regs?  Shouldn't all schools be freed from them?"
  • He also stated that Native American tribes have had the option of tribal compact schools that are "akin to the right to have a charter school."  I'd love for him to tell that to a room full of Native Americans.  I'm not sure they would agree with his alignment of the two.
  • A charter student speaker, Jalen Johnson from Summit Sierra High, had spoken previous to Mr.  McKenna and was quite inspirational.  But he said he didn't know what to expect from high school and was glad "the halls were warm, not dark" and that staff knew kids "by name."  I'm not sure about dark halls in most high schools but I do know that staff in ever single school makes the attempt to know kids by name.  I am always astonished at how many principals and teachers know hundreds of kids by name.  It's not just some charter school attribute.  
I believe the oral arguments are taped so I'll try to provide a link later on.

The main keynote speaker was Shavar Jeffries, the head of the national org, Democrats for Education Reform.  He gave a long story about his life and its direction and how it was guided by education.  His points were:
  • "Every child has a unique genius and adults should act like we know that."
  • "Genius proceeds us.  They were great before we showed up and born with everything they need to change the world like seeds have all they need."  I'm thinking that Mr. Jeffries hasn't gardened much because 1) just like humans, not all seeds come out created with everything they need and that can't get lost in high-minded rhetoric.  Some kids need more than what they are born with and 2) seeds need good soil, water and sunlight to grow.
  • He did make a good point that sometimes school leaders - no matter the type of school - sometimes think nothing good could happen until they got there.  He said that we "have to be careful of acting in the name of kids that we aren't being paternal and carrying on old beliefs."
  • He also said that "the greatness of children was there before we showed up, and their parents and communities are great, too.  They want the best and should be in the driver's seat for curriculum and on the boards of schools."
  • He says there are more days of learning and math in charter schools - 48 days - but cited no data.  
Mr. Jeffries was kind enough to give me some time after his speech.  I asked him if he had any comment about what happened several weeks ago at the Colorado state Dems convention where DFER was told they were not part of the party.  He said it was just some "yelling and screaming" and political.  But this was not the only pushback against ed reformers as the NAACP has called for a moritorium on new charter schools opening.  He shrugged and said that's not what African-American parents tell him.

The workshop I attended was on facilities and financing which, for charters after approval, is their biggest hurtle.  The two bank finance officers made many telling statements.  One of them said that banks had wanted to see evidence that a charter is solid and among those is a waitlist (which most charters claim to have).  I asked how that is proven and the officer gave a wan smile.  She said most banks take their word for it but others ask to see the waitlist (which I'm not sure isn't a violation of FERPA).

They did say that most lending institutions want to see operational stability, a stable enrollment, audit history and a healthy cash reserve.  Naturally, if you are new charter, this is near-impossible to show.  (And, if you are in the Puget Sound region, being able to find an affordable building is even more dicey.   This makes the favoritism by the Pacific Charter School Development group all the more suspect.  It's the capital group created by the Gates Foundation to aid schools they like such as Green Dot and Summit.)

The speakers mentioned leasing space from a school district which, of course, is not possible in SPS even if the district had the mind to do so.  No room at the inn.

They stated that 15-20% of charter schools strain at being able to offer a competitive program.  It was also mentioned that rural charter schools could access funds under the USDA.

They talked about the difficulty for some banks to want to loan money to charters because charters have to get renewed every couple of years (and that can be worrying to a bank). Banks shouldn't worry because charters overwhelmingly get renewed despite many troubling issues for some.

They gave some interesting examples of innovative charter schools.  It looks like these schools are doing great things; I'm most impressed with Pacific Heritage Academy.

Pacific Heritage Academy in Salt Lake City
Our educational program targets students with Pacific Islander heritage. These students are defined as those whose parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents have come to the United States from islands in the Pacific, generally the South Pacific Ocean, but to include the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. These students range in age from 5 to about 13 years of age and are typically in Kindergarten through 8th grades. Pacific Heritage Academy seeks to serve such students and their families who particularly reside in the Salt Lake City neighborhood known as Glendale, with Poplar Grove and Rose Park in the general northwest area from downtown Salt Lake City and West Valley City to the southwest. We have set a goal to reach out to this subpopulation and enroll at least 50% of our students from this group. We anticipate the remaining students will be a wonderful multicultural mix of children from eastside neighborhoods, West Valley areas to the south, and from all over the Salt Lake valley.

We believe families will also come to our school who are specifically seeking a teaching approach that pays attention to 21st century skills and knowledge, uses active pedagogy and other best-practice teaching methods, is project-based, hands-on, and has an integrated approach to teaching the Utah core curriculum. We also expect a portion of our enrollment to be those who appreciate and value the dedicated focus to cultural and global studies, a popular issue among Utah families seeking exposure to the world for their children.
Envision's Impact Academy in Hayward, California
Impact Academy of Arts and Technology is a tuition-free public charter school in Hayward, serving grades 6 through 12 and dedicated to transforming students’ lives by preparing them for success in college and in life. Impact Academy offers students a rigorous academic experience and a diverse, compassionate community in which to grow. Our students are inspired and empowered to be leaders in their high school education and their communities.

Impact Academy is one of three Bay Area charter schools operated by Envision Education, a charter management and education consulting organization founded in 2002.

In 2014, Impact Academy was the subject of an important study conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE); among other things, this study found that Impact Academy is an exemplar of student-centered teaching and learning in an urban environment.  To read the report and learn more about “student-centered learning” in action at Impact, click here: Student Centered Learning at Impact Academy.
Equitas Academy in Los Angeles

Our BeliefsEquitas Academy believes students must have access to an achievement-oriented learning environment, beginning in kindergarten through high school, to ensure all students make a smooth transition to the demands of college preparatory high schools with the ultimate goal of college graduation.

We created a school with a college preparatory focus in the elementary grades, so students develop the foundational skills necessary for entrance into high-performing secondary schools. 
Our school has an educational program that enables students, despite obstacles, to learn to read, write, and compute at or above grade level.

We have a strong character education component that will serve our students through the many life challenges they may face in accessing higher education.

Our school enriches the lives of students and their families. We help our families support their children on their journey to college.

At Equitas Academy, we are committed to character education and work to teach and instill the most important values for future success in our scholars. The Equitas Academy Values are defined by Paul Tough in the book How Children Succeed.
Equitas, like many, many charter schools in the country, is highly segregated.  It is 98% Latino.  I did a talk recently at a university in our region about charters and specifically, segregation.  The segregation you see in traditional schools is magnified in charters.  It's a troubling situation.


All Saints said...

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii is owned and run by the Mormon church. 70% of the park's staff are students at Brigham Young University–Hawaii and a huge number of them come from smaller, remote communities on islands throughout the Pacific. So, the Pacific Heritage Academy in Salt Lake City would seem to fit with this... mission. Interesting that they have it organized as a charter school instead of a private school...

Anonymous said...

As a resident in a State that is ground zero for much of the testing/choice nonsense and was a subject of book on school segregation I can assure you charters are the death knell to funding.

There is an interesting study the link is here

We are currently undergoing a massive crisis on funding, accusations of racism regarding the Director of Schools, undergoing an audit and no clear plan but charters however untouched. As for the millions of Testing it was an abject failure across the state. That too they have millions for.

Come on down y'all

- TN Ready

- TN

Anonymous said...

Agree with All Saints. If you would like your children to learn that Polynesia was populated by people migration from North America. This school might be the one for you! I do not know if that school teaches that garbage but that is the patent line of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Be careful who you applaud.


NO 1240 said...

I wish charter school proponents would stop comparing charter schools to Running Start. They are not the same thing. Running Start dollars flow through our public schools with local and elected board members.

Anonymous said...

NO 1240, those local and elected school board members have literally no authority over how those Running Start dollars are expended by the colleges. The school districts simply serve as a passthrough for the Running Start student FTE.

But let's flip your statement around: Would you then be OK if charter schools were funded by passthrough dollars from the school districts? In other words, would you be OK if every student at Summit Sierra that resided within the SPS boundaries receive their FTE passed to SPS from the state and then on to Summit?


Joe Caldwall said...

Does anyone out there know if the Charter School(s) operating in Seattle 9 and Kent for that matter) have to pay classroom teachers the same rate that they would get if working in the City's public schools? --- I believe there is a charter in SE Seattle run by green dot and at least one in Kent too....

Melissa Westbrook said...

Joe, no, they don't because charter teachers are not in a union (and they get cheaper work thru TFA folks).

Joe Caldwall said...

That's what I assumed -- Thanks Melissa - You ARE THEE BEST! T=You for this blog as well - You do the community a great service - :)