Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Charters Take Over?

This is an interesting article I found at the U.S. News and World Report website while researching colleges/universities. From the article:

"It might be the next school movement to sweep the country. Emboldened by charter school operators, parents of children attending failing schools in Los Angeles are signing petitions that could force the nation's second-largest school system to shut down those schools and reopen them as charters."

The source of this push is not really a surprise - it's a guy who runs many successful charters, Steve Barr.

In an article in the LA Times, here's his claim:

"If more than half of the parents at a school sign up, Barr's organizers say they will guarantee an excellent campus within three years. They call it the Parent Revolution.

With parents, they predict, they'll have the clout to pressure the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve schools. They'll also have petitions, which Barr and his allies will keep at the ready, to start charter schools. If the district doesn't deliver, targeted neighborhoods could be flooded with charters, which aren't run by the school district. L.A. Unified would lose enrollment, and the funding would go to the charters instead of to the district."

I love that line "guarantee an excellent campus". What does it mean and who enforces it if they don't have it in 3 years? Meaning, what good is the guarantee? Also, that's quite a tactic to flood the district with charters (probably from great to horrible) and bring down the publc school system. But this guy has some successful schools so maybe he knows what he is doing.

I also like another idea of his:

"They also wanted to make more of the fledgling Parents Union, a Green Dot spinoff that Barr envisioned as an independent, assertive alternative to the PTA."

And maybe this is what CPPS is trying to be but I'm not feeling it. I would like the PTA to be more parent-proactive in what we want.

(Here's an example. The BTA levy is coming and the Seattle Council PTSA is asking member schools to donate to the levy, now and in the fall, as well as be ready to support the levy in other ways. This is all fine however what do we get back? What I would like to advocate is a bi-annual or quarterly report to parents (or taxpayers) with real numbers on how the money is being spent, what projects have been funded (or not) and what projects might not make it. Is that really asking too much for the investment of time and resources the PTSA gives to the district? Or are we just supposed do as we are asked and to be grateful for whatever projects get done?)

Also from the US News and World report article:

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan probably is carefully watching what happens in Los Angeles. He has said publicly that turning around the nation's worst-performing schools—1,000 each year for the next five years—is one of his top priorities. So far, Duncan has been encouraged by the work of Barr's charter school organization. According to the New Yorker , the two men had a meeting in March in which Duncan seemed to place confidence in Barr's model of closing failing schools and then letting private management organizations take a stab at fixing them. As CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan followed a similar strategy."

I heard this recently but I do not agree that you simply open charter schools near low-performing schools (I suppose in order to suck the life out of them for good) and call it a day. If this is Obama's answer, I'm not convinced.


Unknown said...

This has to be the fourth piece I've seen in the last week about charters. The same situation outlined here about the "hostile" takeover of the LA school district by charter schools is discussed at length in the latest New Yorker. Then there was the NY Times op-ed about a school in Harlem, and a piece on charter schools in New Orleans on the News Hour.

I know not all charters are equal - even those working to create and sustain charter schools would admit that charters aren't the "magic bullet" to solving public education's myriad problems - but I am frustrated and confused by the fact that Washington wants no part of it.

If there is a lesson to be learned and applied here, I'd like to think Washington schools could do so. Can someone explain to me the vitriolic response to charters in this state? What are the chances that our "no charter" laws could be overturned?

dan dempsey said...

But this guy has some successful schools so maybe he knows what he is doing.He sure knows marketing. Having worked in an LA charter 2003, which was the Time Magazine school of the year a year earlier, I am a skeptic. I would advise through investigation before believing too much of this.

I would love to see Alternative schools in the SPS that focus on Core-Knowledge and academic content.
The school district has abandon both in Math.

seattle citizen said...

Public schools get public money. We charge our school boards and administrations with developing policy and procedure that provides education to our children.
Charter schools are exempted from many stipulations created by board and administration policies and procedures.
For instance, a charter mkight provide that the school can select its students: it might not have to take all comers. A charter might be written that says a principal can hire and fire at will (a contentious issue, no doubt: a good principal might hire a good team; a bad one might fire a person who wouldn't bow down to him/her or follow bad policy, or the whim of the charismatic leader.
Charters might be written that says a school will be "excellent" and only using state tests as the definition of success: In a public school model, excellence is defined by a huge range of factors, from test scores in Reading, Writing and Math to passing grades in History, to social growth, to exposure to science and art (and other non-WASL disciplines...)
Charters might be written to bypass negotiated labor contracts, whihc, while sometimes bad also provide educators withn certain protections.
Charters might be run by corporations: people who complain that "teachers and the union are only in it for the money!" might be surprised at Edison Corporation's next stockholder meeting when profits are discussed, and business model efficiencies dictate the lowest grade orange juice at breakfast in the morning, the cheapest warm body to place directly instruct in front of a hugely disparate (thank GOD!) bunch of students, the least amount of NON-wasl-able (hence, non-"excellent") other activities, other enrichments...
Imagine a charter school library with just the few books that directly relate to WASL performance, all other texts deemed "non-essential" so the corporation cna have just a drop more profitability.
Lastly, I don't pay my taxes for public education so that money can be given to little bunches of experimenters or corporations hankering to either have their own way with public education or make a profit out of it. I give my tax dollars to schools that are inclusive, directed by an elected board, and administered by accountable chains of command, not some MBA (no offence) from the Edison Corporation.
I hope that the citizens of Washington keep the law against charters intact. To weaken it would be to invite in the end of public education as we know it, and necessitate a huge sift in how its paid for, becausew there are many who agree with me that we pay for public schools, not fly-by-nights, and our money must be spent for its stated purpose.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, to be clear, there are no laws for or against charters. We simply didn't pass some initiatives and then overturned a law that the Legislature passed.

seattle citizen said...

I stand corrected. Thanks!

anonymous said...

"we pay for public schools, not fly-by-nights, and our money must be spent for its stated purpose."

If a charter initiative were to pass then our money would be used for it's "stated purposes"

reader said...

"For instance, a charter mkight provide that the school can select its students: it might not have to take all comers."

Seattle Citizen, as a participant in many threads on this blog you surely must know that SPS allows schools to be highly selective in who is served and who isn't. According to OSPI data, the more highly selected a school is (measured by parents' first choice) the fewer students with disabilities you will find there. Gee isn't that just a major coincidence? Not! Between the top 12 and bottom 12 most/least selected schools in the district there is a 70% difference --70%!-- in the number of students being served who have disabilities. This blog has carried an awful lot of commentary on the ghettoizing of special education.

In this district certain flagship public schools are allowed to act like private schools in choosing who they will serve and who thhey won't serve, going so far as to kick kids with disabilities out not only after kindergarten (oh sorry, it was just a one year program!) but, actually, whenever they please.

suep. said...

"Education reform" by and large is code for charter schools and breaking the teacher's union.
Charters are the latest corporate, conservative attempt to cash in on education since vouchers largely failed. Charter schools in the Broad, Gates, Barr model means the privatization of a public asset--our schools--with limited public oversight and limited to no accountability. This model includes paying students for better grades (Wash. D.C.) and militarizing schools (Chicago). In this current economic abyss we are in, brought on by the unfettered corporatization, privatization, deregulation of the last 30 years or more, why in god's name should we entrust another public resource to private corporate avarice?

Here's more reading on charter schools, and other agendas of the pro-charter types:

School Wars: Politicians, billionaires, and mavericks all want to fix public schools. They won’t. Parents will.http://www.goodmagazine.com/section/Features/school_wars

Charter school faces withdrawals over punishment

No School Left Unsold:
Arne Duncan's Privatization Agenda

Beware of School “Reformers”http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/soe.htm

The Power of Big Money & Big State Over Knowledgehttp://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2009/03/blog_31909_march_19_2009.html

New Orleans Free Academy to be first charter school to close in New Orleans http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/a_vote_by_the_board.html

Bill Gates says Big Brother is key to improving teacher qualityhttp://www.mlive.com/opinion/flint/index.ssf/2009/03/how_do_you_make_a.html

Also see Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine," which discusses how charter school profiteers took advantage of the Katrina ravaged New Orleans public schools,took them over, and fired all the teachers. At least one of these charter schools is already closing.

And last but not least, the Broad Foundation's apparent agenda to install charters -- and their trained superintendents -- in troubled urban school districts. (Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is on the Broad board and is a graduate of their superintendent training program).

From Broad's 2008 Annual Report:

"Leaders of school systems—superintendents, cabinet executives, school board members, principals
and charter management organization pioneers—are the key to successful reform efforts in
public education across the country.We invest in the recruitment, training, support and retention
of top school district talent.

Once the right people are in place, they need to be equipped with the systems and tools that enable
them to accomplish their ultimate goal: improving student achievement for all children. These
systems and tools range from better human resource operations that streamline the hiring of
teachers and principals and improve the placement of educators in the right schools, to stronger
budgeting controls that ensure critical dollars are pushed down into the classrooms. Our investments
enable school districts to implement the systems and tools they need to build more
effective organizations.
We recognize that there are a number of policy impediments—at all levels of government and
in the areas of urban district governance,management, labor and competition—that hamper
student achievement and reduce the opportunity for schools and districts to become high performing
enterprises. Our work is aimed at informing policy leaders at the federal, state and
local levels about the education challenges facing our nation, and at providing solutions to
those challenges with primary emphasis on professional performance compensation for teachers
and principals, expanded learning time and national standards.
We invest in cities and charter management organizations where our dollars can be leveraged to
accelerate school reform efforts. In our work with districts, we have honed in on cities that are
making the greatest progress in improving student achievement. Our work in this handful of
cities—including Chicago, New York City and Oakland, Calif.—has deepened over time as we
watched their progress. These cities have a common distinction: the school systems in New York
City and Chicago are under the control of the mayor, and the school system in Oakland was placed
under state control after facing bankruptcy.We have found that the conditions to dramatically
improve K-12 education are often ripe under mayoral or state control.
In our hometown of Los Angeles,where public charter schools have gained an important foothold,
we have taken a different approach. Now home to more charter schools and more students
attending charter schools than anywhere in the country, Los Angeles is experiencing an education
revolution from the bottom up. By reaching a tipping point, we believe that high quality public
charter schools will place the essential pressure on all other public schools to improve performance.
People. Systems. Tools. Policies. Cities. Charter Management Organizations.
These areas represent the majority of our investments in reforming American K-12 public education."

seattle citizen said...

Maybe it isn't "stated" anywhere that a public school is overseen by a board, and follows district procedures, but I'll bet it is. You seem to be arguing that if the board makes a charter with some organization (or company) then the board is doingt its duty (it's still in an oversight position (or at least a contracting position.)
I disagree: I believe the evolution over the last hundred or so years of the public school system entailed a concurrent expectation aomngst the "public" that schools would be run by the public for the public, not by contractors.

anonymous said...

Seattle Citizen the only way that Seattle can get charter schools is if there is an initiative and the public votes in favor of it. That means a majority of Seattle voters would have to WANT charter schools. It has NOTHING to do with the school board at all. Further, if the public votes in charters, your argument "a concurrent expectation aomngst the "public" that schools would be run by the public for the public, not by contractors." would be false.

So far, Seattle has voted down charter initiatives. But with the insane way the SPS has been running this district, I'm not sure what would happen if another charter initiative came to vote???

seattle citizen said...

Well, this is why democracy sometimes doesn't work: The majority is free (in some cases) to vote for bad ideas.

There is, in my opinion, a full-court press in play to convince the public that public schools are crap, that charters offer "choice," that standardized test scores are the be-all and end-all determinant of success...

The public may well be convinced someday that charters are the pot at the end of the rainbow. That would be a sad day for me.

wseadawg said...

Lets not leave out the almost 50% attrition rate of charter schools between 5th and 8th grades, the low percentages of special ed kids. Look also at other supposedly reformed districts where a the high number of failing high school students are counseled into taking GEDs, thus getting them off the books and making it look like graduation rates are increasing.

The so-called "reformers" are cooking alot of books to pad their numbers. Be skeptical folks, if it sounds to good to be true...

Its not "charters" in and of themselves that alarm me. Its the underlying drive to bust the unions, insert privatization models, consolidate executive power, eliminate school boards & community involvement, and ultimately turn public education into a profit-maker for Educational Management Organizations like Edison and Green Dot.

While many charter groups claim to be nonprofit, a charter operator in Harlem who oversees 10 schools and 1000 kids raked in 380k last year. Non-profit?

Charters can work in the right place. But I agree with others who point out the loss of accountability that occurs when EMOs take and use public dollars, with their paramount duty to the stockholders first, then come the students and the community.

Follow the money...

wseadawg said...

Here's an example of the difference between what we hear about charters, and what's really going on. One of many such stories in the "real media" versus the usual cheerleaders and talking heads.


anonymous said...

"Well, this is why democracy sometimes doesn't work: The majority is free (in some cases) to vote for bad ideas."

Actually, democracy works precisely because the public has a voice and is free to vote for what they believe in. The sheer beauty of democracy is that the majority rules!

seattle citizen said...

What happens to minorities when the majority decides, on a whim, to outlaw the minority?

What if the majority votes to outlaw the vote?


anonymous said...

C'mon Seattle Citizen. You know that we have laws, a bill of rights, and a constitution to uphold. Let's keep it real.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't believe that Charters are the answer to our problems, but neither do I believe that they are the devil. Here in Seattle, I just don't think we need them.

What we need is clear, transparent criteria for the creation of new programs at schools and for the creation of new alternative schools.

We don't need a Charter school to come in and create a program at T T Minor (or Rainier View or Sand Point or McDonald) if the District will allow a group of families, teachers, and administrators to create an alternative program at one of those buildings.

So what are the rules for a new program? Right now I only know that it has to be proposed to the Program Placement Committee, but I have no confidence in that process.

seattle citizen said...

Adhoc, we're drifting off topic. Much as I'd like to make the obviously strong argument that I'M right and YOU'RE wrong (nee ner nee ner!) perhaps we'd best get back to the thread. People are talking.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, you're right: there is a procedure for bringing a proposal to committee. Parents/teachers/whomever could do this. Would it be acted on? At this point, I have my doubts.
The district seems bent on "earned autonomy," where a school starts with the aligned curriculum/assessments, and where it can demonstrate success it is "freed" to diverge. This seems counterintuitive: If a school is deemed successful using common curricula, why would it be allowed to change, why wouldn't it be expected to continue with that "success"? Conversely, if a school ISN'T "successful," isn't it time to try something new?

The disconnect I'm sensing in the Charter/alternative vs aligned curriculum is that the direction in the district seems to be towards commonality: how would it then justify allowing a charter or other sort of independent school? That would run contrary to aligned curriculum etc

anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with Charlie. Our alt/option schools can and should easily be able to replace Charter schools. And, while this district seems to be closing, moving, and consolidated our progressive alternative schools, they are growing our option schools (immersion,IB, Montessori, STEM/bio-tech, etc). I believe that the district is acknowledging the public in that they saw the waitlists for these schools and they replicated them. That's really good news.

The families of SPS want and need the opportunity to help create and shape some more new programs. Maybe even some new alternative schools?

If families have an authentic voice in the formation of new programs and schools, my guess is that Seattle will not approve a charter school bill.

If however, the public does not feel that they have an authentic voice, the district will have flung wide the door for charter schools.

seattle citizen said...

adhoc, I agree that there is some optimism about district's current (and somewhat unexpected) discussion about options. These conversations need to take place.

What do you propose for getting the parent/guardians' "voice" before the district, how can citizens help make clear their desire for options?

anonymous said...

Although clumsy, I think we saw the process of public voice having power in the creation of Jane Addams. The district proposed growing an alt school in the building, but the public asked for a traditional school. After a lot of public input the district decided to open a traditional school. Then many families asked for a science/math magnet or traditional math school. And they got an environmental science school, with a math focus. To me this shows how the public had a voice in the creation of this school!

I also think that the SE initiative, Sealth becoming an IB school, Cleveland becoming a STEM school, and two new immersion schools is a direct response to public demand.

As I said though, the process is clumsy. I wish the district had a clear avenue to collect and review public input. Personally, I think surveys work very well and can reach a large group of people. We get them all the time in Shoreline.

If the district continues to be progressive and listen to what the families are saying then charters won't have a chace in Seattle.

This is one area that I give MGJ an A+ in .

seattle citizen said...

That was quite articulate, adhoc. I agree: there ARE voices that are heard, but it's unclear as to what avenues one follows to get that voice heard.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I also think that the SE initiative, Sealth becoming an IB school, Cleveland becoming a STEM school, and two new immersion schools is a direct response to public demand."

Really? Not me. I think the SE Initiative was a direct response to NCLB. I think the STEM part of Cleveland was in direct response to the failure of their academies program (remember that?). Ingraham's IB isn't even full but I think the district realized they needed to have IB at both ends of town.

The immersion schools? Sure but it took a loooong time to get more even as parents begged for it.

suep. said...

adhoc said... "If the district continues to be progressive and listen to what the families are saying then charters won't have a chace in Seattle.

This is one area that I give MGJ an A+ in."

Hmm, let's see, the people said: Don't close T.T. Minor, Summit or AAA--and the supt and board voted to close T.T. Minor, Summit and AAA (over 1,700 signed the online petition against the closures); the people said: don't split apart APP--and the supt and board voted to split apart APP at both the elementary and middle school level; the people said, Don't kick Cooper kids out of their school, and the supt. and board voted to do it anyway; the people said: Class sizes matter, and the supt. said, no they don't; the people said, Don't change belltimes irrationally or send our kids to or from school in the dark; and the district proceeded to change the belltimes incessantly for two months and it looks like some kids will be coming home in the dark; the people said, Don't take away fresh-cooked meals for middle and high schoolers, and the district voted to stop serving fresh-cooked meals; and of course the people overwhelmingly said, Don't choose the seriously flawed Discovering math text books for our kids, and the supt. and district voted to do it anyway.

My grade for this kind of unresponsiveness to the voice of the public school community is much lower in the alphabet.

Charlie Mas said...

Funny story...

I was trying to figure out how long I have been writing on this blog so I went back in the archives to June of 2006 and there it was:

Charlie Mas said...
The fundamental problem with Seattle Public Schools, the fault at the root of all of the district's trouble, is the fact that the District is structurally and culturally incapable of responding to the needs of the community it purportedly serves.
This was true when the blog started three years ago and it is true today.

anonymous said...

"I think the STEM part of Cleveland was in direct response to the failure of their academies program (remember that?)."

Yes, Cleveland's academies were failing. They've been failing for years. What's new? What's new is that families are no longer willing to sit by and watch the deterioration of south end schools. At the same time the bio-tech program is in hot demand at Ballard, with a wait list. Waitlists are a good way for the district to see what families want.

Same for Sealth. Gone are the days when the north end can get a great new IB program, while the south (or west in this case) get nothing. South end families just aren't standing for it any longer. The district didn't have to open a new IB program. The people demanded it.

Gavroche, you're right, the district does not always listen to public input. But headed by MGJ, they are making progress, yes? And, progress is good, yes?

Unknown said...

Seattle Citizen says, "I give my tax dollars to schools that are inclusive, directed by an elected board, and administered by accountable chains of command, not some MBA (no offence) from the Edison Corporation."

That all sounds great. But your assumption that our current Seattle Public School system's chain of command is in any way accountable seems problematic. The clear and troubling lack of accountability at this district has been a running theme through the posts on this blog for the last few months.

What intrigues me about charters is the localized control they provide - for parents, teachers, and administrators. I do not believe that the bureaucratic central administration and teacher's unions are doing much, in all honesty, to make our schools better. I believe that when schools are effective - and many in Seattle are - it is largely due to dedicated parents, teachers, staff and principals who understand the needs of their specific community and are able to meet these needs.

With the craze for standardization this district seems to have, I am not optimistic that schools will be supported in their attempt to serve their specific constituencies in precise and varying ways. This is why charter schools appeal to me. I agree that alternative schools and special programs could have the same effect, but there are too few of these, and they are certainly not "all-inclusive." Finally, SPS does not seem all that interested in supporting these alternative schools and special programs; nor do they seem concerned about listening to the parents who send their kids to public schools.

I am a proud supporter of public schools. I will send my two children to public school. But I am also interested in exploring ways to make these schools and the larger system more effective. There has to be a better way to handle things than what we are experiencing now.

seattle citizen said...

Chad, I didn't say that the district WAS accountable, I merely said that my tax dollars are paid to that system because I expect accountability from it.
I have NO way of holding a charter accountable: Depending on the charter, as long as they get good WASL scores, for instance, all other metrics could be out the window. Instead of ceding your auhtority (and money) as a taxpayer to an organization that would be even less accountable, why not make the district more accountable?
Your comment that Alternatives are not "all inclusive" strikes me as inaccurate: what do you mean? And, further, how would a Charter be MORE inclusive?
I hear your angst, and feel it myself. I have no magic bullet, but giving pieces of the public trust to private operators doesn't seem right.
Look at Halliburton.

seattle citizen said...

I also agree, Chad, that the standardization craze has the chance to go way too far. I'm in favor of some alignment, particular of some assessments that let future educators know where a student is at so they can meet them there, and I'm also supprortive of some strategies being aligned across the district to ensure students are getting it, but it's possible that things will get way more aligned than that...

Unknown said...

Seattle Citizen, I agree with you when you say "my tax dollars are paid to that system because I expect accountability from it."

I expect accountability too. Where is it? How can we demand it? What exactly are we to do? Simply vote for board members who we believe will represent our needs and desires? What if they DON'T represent our voices? What then? Write the newspapers? How's that working out? Sue the district? I'm serious. What are our options?

I'm just looking for options. Charter schools are NOT a magic bullet, but the autonomy they provide a school can be quite empowering - and effective. Is there a way to provide for this kind of autonomy in our present system? Is there a way to create charter schools that are truly accountable and inclusive?

I long for ideas.

anonymous said...

Those of us who have children in Seattle public schools just don't have the time to wait for the district to become "accountable". The time for our kids is right now, they don't get a do over.

If the district fails to provide accountability, as it has, and the localized control that comes with a charter school provides that accountability then parents are going to want to explore charter schools.

Charters can be held accountable more so than traditional public schools in that they are purely choice schools. No mandatory assignments. No reference area. No feeder patterns. If they do not do a good job and parents don't choose them they go out of business. That's one good form of accountability, that SPS just can't
provide. Just look at all the Seattle Public schools that have limped along, failing, year after year after year.

And, accountability comes in many other forms too: satisfied parents, happy enthusiastic kids, good standardized test scores, a well rounded curriculum including art and music, kids that are successful after they leave the school... just to name a few.

I've said before, I'm not pro charter, yet, but I definitely see their appeal.

anonymous said...

I have to add that I have seen some accountability from SPS under MGJ's leadership. Accountability that was lacking before she took the helm.

For instance, the closure of Summit and the AAA, and the one year reprieve for AS1. All of these schools were struggling, and severely under enrolled. I'm not saying they should have been closed, but it was definitely time for an intervention of some sort.

And, the move toward standardization. I agree with Seattle Citizen in that some alignment in our materials is a good thing (but lets not go over board).

These are two small ways that our district is making themselves more accountable.

Does anyone else have any examples of progress in this area?

owlhouse said...

The district acted illegally in closing both Summit and AAA. Schools which were, by the way, showing improvement in their test scores. The district has lawyers on staff and very deep pockets but that does not change the fact that they acted in violation of RCW 28A.335.020, in beginning the process of closing schools before adopting a policy to do so. They there by willfully limited the citizen involvement provided under state law as protection for civic engagement and due process. Please, do not cite any aspect of the capacity management debacle as proof of an "accountable" district.

anonymous said...

One persons idea of a "debacle" is another persons idea of "accountability".

Again, not necessarily saying that the schools should have been closed but it was time for an intervention of some serious sort, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this is the thread I was hoping for. A good healthy discussion on charters.

re: Chad's post at 5/13/09 2:16 PM

Wow, great post. I totally agree that an argument against charters that supposes we have greater accountability in the current system is not grounded in the reality we have seen in Seattle for many years!

Seattle Citizen said: "Chad, I didn't say that the district WAS accountable, I merely said that my tax dollars are paid to that system because I expect accountability from it. I have NO way of holding a charter accountable"

Who CARES about expectations that are mythological in nature?! I'm serious. What matters is reality. In fact, as I understand it, parents ought to be able to extract much greater accountability from a charter school, at least if it has a good charter. If for no other reason than the fact that no one is required to send their children there. If the school is not performing - using whatever metrics you can dream up - then you can leave. It's a lot more difficult in SPS.

If anyone thinks the Seattle school board will hold the district accountable, then they have not been paying attention in recent years. Occasionally it happens, but one has only to look as far as the math adoption to see how the board does not representing their constituents. Regardless of the merits and flaws of the text itself, it was overwhelmingly apparent that virtually every parent in the district wanted a more traditional text. The majority of the board did not care one iota. And because the board is essentially a volunteer position, there is little downside if they don't get reelected when their term is up.

Seattle Citizen also said: "I hope that the citizens of Washington keep the law against charters intact. To weaken it would be to invite in the end of public education as we know it, and necessitate a huge sift in how its paid for, because there are many who agree with me that we pay for public schools, not fly-by-nights, and our money must be spent for its stated purpose.

I'm sorry, but this whole paragraph is not up to your writing/thinking standard. When you said "it would be to invite in the end of public education as we know it", I caught myself rolling my eyes. How overdramatic! There are a hundred ways to mitigate problems seen elsewhere. We can write a charter law to meet whatever specifications and needs we want (see below, for one thought). And who's to say that we shouldn't be giving our public education a big fat overhaul?!

As adhoc said: If a charter initiative were to pass then our money would be used for it's "stated purposes".

And what is up with the "fly-by-night" comment? You do know that the tenure for an urban superintendent is less than 3 years, right? Would you call SPS a fly-by-night operation then?

Lest anyone think I'm promoting charters, I'm not. Yet. But the district feels so mismanaged at times that I would love to have some other options. Ones that are feasible for "regular folks", i.e. don't cost $20k/year. Per kid.

Here's one thought. If a new charter law looks like it's starting to gain traction, is there any reason we can't push for a requirement of local management? i.e. can we bring charters to life in Seattle *without* Edison or the other remote corporate oversight? And as far as oversight, couldn't a charter (or 2 or 3 even) have a citizen-run, or even parent-run board? Sure, there would be issues with charters to deal with, but this is not a short-run quick fix. This is something that should be very carefully considered and very carefully implemented - if it comes to fruition at all.

anonymous said...

Could you write a charter law that allows for exaple:

Parents on the board or site council of the school.?

No admission requirements (no cherry picking)?

A certain percent of seats open to sped children?

These seem to be the major concerns, what if we could over come them? Then would charters be more appealing?

seattle citizen said...

no one ever accused me of restraint in the drama department. But I mean it: DEPENDING on the charters written, these devices could, in effect, create a bunch of little school districts all over the city (if their only contracted responsibility is, say, good WASL scores.
I'm not saying it would always happen that way, but it could. Allowing charters could permit central district (SPS, for instance) to become merely a dispursement center for my tax dollars. I'm not comfortable with that. While it's true that there might not be the accountability we want now, that doesn't have to mean we just toss the whole thing out and give little packets of tax dollars to any old, group that wants it.
Adhoc has a point: charters, as far as I understand them, can be written pretty much any way you want. If there were certain limitations placed on them I might be more enthusiastic.
I think we need to look at stengthening the alternative schools, both in support and in adding more. These schools were, in effect, charters when they first opened. The district allowed them certain freedoms while retaining some aspects of public school networking.

anonymous said...

I think charters could work if they had to follow all SPS guidelines, rules, regulations...but with freedom to choose their own materials, pedagogy, philosophies.

Let's say we had a math and science charter: they would have to follow SPS enrollment rules and accept everyone who applied (with lottery if more people applied than could be accommodated), take a certain amount of special education students, have certified teachers, offer recess/PE/art/music (to assure there are no WASL factory charters), meet state standards and performance requirements, etc, etc, etc.

But..... they had the freedom to run their school the way the saw fit. They wouldn't be forced to use the district science kits! Or EDM, CMP or Discovering Series math materials! Or, Writers Workshop! They could create and follow their own pedagogy, teaching style, school environment, grading system, governance system?

Charters would offer families choices that they don't currently have in SPS? Right now SPS families can not get traditional math for their kids. They can't. Period. With charters they could.

Parents overwhelmingly protested the adoption of the Discovering Series, yet it was adopted. If we had charters that used traditional math, and parents overwhelmingly supported those charters, I bet the district would have thought twice about bringing forth their proposal to use yet another set of reform math materials. And, I bet the board would have thought twice about adopting it. Competition can be a beautiful thing.

Wouldn't it be nice to have options? Wouldn't it be nice for the school district to compete for our kids enrollment?

hschinske said...

"If we had charters that used traditional math, and parents overwhelmingly supported those charters, I bet the district would have thought twice about bringing forth their proposal to use yet another set of reform math materials. And, I bet the board would have thought twice about adopting it."

We *did* have schools using more traditional math. We had North Beach. We had Washington Middle School. We had Ingraham. We had Roosevelt. We had Nova. Probably others I'm forgetting. Made no difference.

Helen Schinske

TechyMom said...

I believe there is a market for specialized programs within public schools. As alts and options weaken, charters will gain in popularity. If the district keeps these options strong, and available to most of the families that want them, charters won't be able to gain a following. This is all up to what the district does.

The district seems to be of two minds on this, and it could go either way. Alternative schools like Summit, AS#1 and AAA are being closed, at the same time that the district is adding language immersion and STEM programs.

Could parents start a new alt school now, like they did in the 1970's and 80's? If there were a Charter law, could they start a Charter school? Here's what I'd like to see in an Option program:

1) Traditional math
2) Languages (at least one, preferably multiple). I know many people think this is a luxury. I don't. Math and languages are the biggest things pushing me towards private school.
3) Small class size or ratios, with volunteer aids and/or PTA-funded staff if needed
4) Art, music, and performing Arts
5) Strong computer/technology program (Montlake's is a good model)
6) Lots of field trips
7) Ability to say "NO" to any district mandate that required changing any of the above.

Would the district let a group of parents set this up as an alt now? If not, and a charter law would allow it, I'd consider voting yes. I'd especially consider voting yes if the law had some teeth to enforce #7.

anonymous said...

"We *did* have schools using more traditional math. We had North Beach. We had Washington Middle School. We had Ingraham. We had Roosevelt. We had Nova. Probably others I'm forgetting. Made no difference."

It made no difference because the district and board have complete power to change it. They adopted the Discovering series and there is not a thing that any of us can do about it. We have to send our kids to school. And the schools have to use the materials.

But, if there were charters offering traditional math and families could choose them over an SPS school the district might think twice??? It's the simplest form of supply and demand!

anonymous said...


Do alt school schools have any choice in the materials that they use? Or, do they now have to use EDM, CMP and Discovering? NSF Science kits? Writers Workshop?

How about the IB departments at Ingraham and Sealth? Do they have to use Discovering now too?


seattle citizen said...

I think it would be possible to prepare (at all levels: treat it as a business plan, cost it out...) a plan that the district might accept if:
a) it had some common elements in it (assessments, GLE adherance etc)
b) it was cost effective and maybe even saved money
c) it demonstrated its value as a fishbowl, a laboratory to develop and publish new strategies
d) it creatively met the intent of many, if not most, of the "rules and regs" under which most schools operate

The key to open the door, in my opinion, is presenting a seamless document that shows what GLEs, EALRs etc will be address, and which assessments will be used that allow the district to connect these assessments, as comparative devices, to assessments used in other schools.
Data data data data

seattle citizen said...

Oh, and transportation and choice aspects: How do the students get to this school? How does it fit into the overall transportation and assignment picture? Hammer that out, keep in mind all the various angles, constituents, and counter-arguments....talk to Tracy Libros!

anonymous said...

"I think it would be possible to prepare (at all levels: treat it as a business plan, cost it out...) a plan that the district might accept if:"

I'm confused? What plan are you talking about that the district might accept? Are you referring to the district accepting charter schools?

The district does not have to accept charter schools. They have no power in that area. If a charter school initiative passes charters will arrive whether the district accepts them or not.

Is that what you were referring to?? Or am I confused?

anonymous said...

Or were you referring to charter school laws?

Who writes them? I'm not sure?

But, certainly not SPS.

seattle citizen said...

I'm not suggesting a charter school. I'm suggesting a new program.

seattle citizen said...

and, you might ask, what's the difference between a charter and a new program?
New program is run by district, staffed by district, accountable on a number of fronts to district, shares certain expectations...

I guess the difference might be one of degree: how far away from "s.o.p." is the school?

seattle citizen said...

Here's three definitions of charters, with the website preceding:

http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=charter%20school (n) charter school (an experimental public school for kindergarten through grade 12; created and organized by teachers and parents and community leaders; operates independently of other schools)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter.[1] While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. Where space at a charter school is limited, admission is frequently allocated by lottery based admissions. Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in a certain field-- e.g. arts, mathematics, etc. Others attempt to provide a better and more efficient general education than nearby public schools. Some charter schools are founded by teachers, parents, or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools.[2] State-run charters (schools not affiliated with local school districts) are often established by non-profit groups, universities, and some government entities.[3] Additionally, school districts sometimes permit corporations to open chains of for-profit charter schools.

http://nationsreportcard.gov/glossary.asp charter school. A public charter school is a publicly funded school that, in accordance with an enabling state statute, has been granted a charter exempting it from selected state or local rules and regulations. A charter school may be newly created, or it may previously have been a public or private school; it is typically governed by a group or organization (e.g., a group of educators, a corporation, or a university) under a contract or charter with the state. In return for funding and autonomy, the charter school must meet accountability standards. A school's charter is reviewed (typically every 3 to 5 years) and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or the standards are not met.

Charlie Mas said...

The charters people are asking for are already here in the form of alternative schools.

The District needs to allow alternative schools to be alternative - to use alternative materials, alternative staffing, alternative pedagogies, alternative assessments, and alternative progress reports.

The District also needs to hold alternative schools accountable for bringing students to the state standards, adhering to state laws on student:teacher ratios, meeting state and federal performance expectations, and providing equitable access to all students.

What we need is a clear, transparent, and honest process for program creation and program placement.

There is a process, but it is not clear, not transparent, and not honest. A full one-third of program placement proposals this year were rejected without explanation. The proposals were not approved simply because they were not recommended. That is not a rationale - that's a tautology.

If we had a clear, open, transparent and honest process, then people could come forward with proposals for programs at McDonald, Sand Point, Fairmount Park, and Van Asselt. And these programs could be successful if they found a community that would support them.

seattle citizen said...

Here are some relevant board policies regarding alternative, program development etc. This is by no means a complete list: ALL the policies regarding EVERYTHING would have to be taken into consideration when proposing a new program, and, additionally, all state and federal law.
But given that, if a program could be developed that fit policy, that fit law, that fit with district outcome expectations...
Why not?
Creation of new program
Program Placement and Development
Alternative Education
Alternate course of study
Development and Implementation of Curriculum
Instructional Objectives
Testing Program

TechyMom said...

One thing that I would want to see spelled out much more clearly, whether it is in a program placement policy, or a charter law, is this: What are the procedures by which the district can restrict an alternative school's automony? When can the district force the school to use the standard math text, and when can the school refuse to do so?

Oh, and don't forget MLK and TT Minor, two empty school buildings in the heart of a neighborhood with very high growth in the school and preschool age population, and very high private school attendance.

Maybe a new alternative school could lease a couple classrooms from the Community Center the neighborhood is trying to put into the MLK building? Didn't many of the current alt programs start in rented storefronts and such?

anonymous said...

"The District needs to allow alternative schools to be alternative - to use alternative materials, alternative staffing, alternative pedagogies, alternative assessments, and alternative progress reports."

You are exactly right, Charlie. But how do we make the district allow alternative schools to be alternative? We have no voice, really. No power. We can't vote. There are no surveys. Nothing.

On the other hand, we can vote for a charter initiative. We do have power there.

Can you suggest something we can do?

My kids started out in alternative schools 9 years ago. Over the years I have watched as our alternative schools weaken. I have seen the district treat them like step children. House them in the worst buildings. Make them fight for every scrap they get. I have watched them slowly water down with more and more standardized curriculum, and less and less autonomy. EDM, CMP, NSF kits, Writers workshop. What's left to be alternative??

How do we get the district to listen to us? To change? Not to sound selfish, but we just don't have time to dance with them - our kids are in school now and the clock is ticking.

seattle citizen said...

There are people interested in starting what's called a "community school," in partnership with the city. This would make use of a "hub" model, with a school as the center of networked social services, etc.

Also, I've heard that some people put together something called "The Ravenna Blvd Academy" when they were finishing closing John Marshall, the idea being to put just such a school there (or somewhere) to serve the needs of those "safety net" students...This model might gain allies, a hub school, serving the community

Maureen said...

The District needs to allow alternative schools to be alternative - to use alternative materials, alternative staffing, alternative pedagogies, alternative assessments, and alternative progress reports.
AND have a say in choosing their administrators. TOPS is getting a new principal for next year. The District has informed Site Council (via the current principal) that there will be no interview process--the Superintendent will just assign whoever she thinks is the best fit for the school from the list of whoever is available.

(WV is uperfus, I would like to make an SUPER (uber?!) fuss about this issue, but there is no policy to support me).

Charlie Mas said...

adhoc asks the right questions:

"But how do we make the district allow alternative schools to be alternative? We have no voice, really. No power. We can't vote. There are no surveys. Nothing."

This is where we need the Board to write strong policy and to enforce it. It is strictly a policy level matter.

The same for the selection of administrator - and all other staff. This means, of course, that the collective bargaining agreements will have to be written to accomodate alternatives. Again, the Board is going to have to drive that.

seattle citizen said...

This seems to be an issue lots of people agree on.
The way I see it, there are many diverse groups of stakeholders who require that the public district provide certain basics: Advanced learning and developmental; special ed; alternative; Montessori; CTE; and other distinct educational assets that serve students.
How can these various groups get together and advocate strongly for these things?
The key seems to be in the very diversity: While the district is looking at aligning some things, and for some good reasons, it might be beneficial to point out, in an articulate fashion, the value that the community places on all the various programs and services that serve students who are not "aligned."
This, to me, is best done with a united voice, and a voice that comes out of reasoned and irrefutable research that supports the diversity. This voice would also provide reasonable answers to some of the dilemnas: how do we assess in a way that is commonly understood? How do we transport this variety of students to programs or services that might, of necessity given their diversity, be singular in the city? Can we provide for some of these programs by region to alleviate the transportation issue?
Can we ally ourselves with other, non--district entities to wrap a web of support around out students? Can we make reasonable compromises, after reasonable discussion, when our particular program or service is, of necessity, limited in scope so as to meet other district goals?

WV suggests we fly to a common ground in our gyrocyp, land gently and join together.

seattle citizen said...

There is a newly re-emerged Alternative School Coalition. Perhaps others could contact them and discuss joining their causes together to strengthen the voice of diversity.

Maureen said...

I said above that there is no policy to support me, but there actually is:

Board Policy C54.00 on Alternative Education says in part:

2. Program design includes a shared decision making model.Indicators:
• School community participates in the selection of instructional, support and administrative staff.
So how can we get the Board to enforce this policy given that MGJ may have already signed her "Dear TOPS Community Members" letter?

suep. said...

At what point do we have just cause for legal action against the Superintendent, School Board and District for breach of policy, and/or breach of the obligations of their contracts? This may be especially true of the Superintendent, who is hired by the Board to ostensibly follow SPS rules in her management of the district. Yet it seems we have quite a few examples in which she is quite flagrantly disregarding policy and rules--and potentially even the law. The two most recent examples include her imperial appointment of principals with no community input, and her attempt to bypass labor laws and collective bargaining by sending that letter directly to 3000+ teachers. What is this--the Bush/Cheney years all over again?

(Word verification: hedwar. Are we indeed at war here?)