New York Times Editorial on Charter Schools

This editorial, Promises and Facts on Charter Schools, appeared on January 11. For me, it sums up my position on charters and why I am wary of them. The editorial points out the basics:
  • "Charter schools — which are run with public money but subject to fewer state regulations — have a lot of supporters in Washington."
  • "Proponents initially argued that charter schools could provide a better education because they were allowed to operate independently. But the research has turned up mixed results. A Stanford study showed out of 15 states and D.C. "found that only about 17 percent of charters offered students a better education than traditional schools — and that 37 percent were worse. A new study from the center has turned up a brighter picture in New York City, where students at more than half of the charter schools are showing more academic improvement in math than their traditional-school counterparts. The reading numbers were not as strong, but still nearly 30 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools."
So why would NYC charters perform better than those in other states?

"New York City has a rigorous mechanism for licensing charters as well as strong oversight of performance. The city also gives charter operators free space, and provides them with administrative support so that they can more easily get up and running and comply with state and federal education law."

Where does this leave us?

"Congress is so enthusiastic that it has created a $50 million fund and given Mr. Duncan the authority to directly finance charter school operators who want to replicate or expand successful programs."

I'm good with having successful charters replicated but I won't support charters that don't have vigorous oversight by the state and tough standards to open. And I don't want just a few large charter "chains" to dominate the landscape because well, that does seem in opposition to the innovation that many claim to want. (I also don't trust a lot of the charter chains because of their ties to foundations that are trying to strong-arm education.)

But do it right and everyone can win. But it can't be a free-for-all because our regular schools have been written off by some.


wseadawg said…
Isn't it funny that year after year, we cannot get the promised or needed funding, without any crocodile tears from the business lobby and its oligarch benefactors, but start privatizing and union busting, and suddenly its all hands on deck!

Beware this Trojan horse and many others like it. Charters are profit vehicles, plain and simple. Spare me the "non-profit" status, where the executives are raking in more than MGJ. Non-profit? That's like the CEO of Goldman Sachs claiming he's doing "God's work."

Charters or no charters. Let's just stop pretending it's "about the kids." My arse.
wseadawg said…
And here's one example, amongst the thousands, for why we should be wary of charters. Beware the hucksters and hacks!
mb said…
hmmmmm, i see this differently because i have nieces/nephew that attend a charter in a different state. in this state, schools were suffering badly. then a charter came in to my sis' neighborhood (designed by parents) and now my sis' kids go to the best school in the state with the highest academic standards and test scores. i don't think this dramatic turnaround could have happened at bureaucratic public school. i think there is a problem with teacher's unions that protect bad teachers—teachers are the most important part of educating kids, but KIDS are the reason for education (not to give a ineffective teachers/schools a j.o.b. & $$$).
seattle citizen said…
Tina, could you provide the name of your niece's charter school so we can take a look at what they do?
Unknown said…
As a teacher I would love to see the freedom to innovate and administrative streamlining that is being promised here. My question is why can't we have that now as public schools? Why do we need a lottery or a reduction in Special Education services that generally come with charter schools? Also, how in the world do charter schools which are site based and unique fit in with standardization? It seems a way to get poorly performing schools off the books without actually fixing the issue.
mb said…
here's the link:
wseadawg said…
Pardon my skepticism, but where is the proof that those charters that are successful can be sustained? The best study to date, the CREDO study from Stanford showed that 2/3 of Charters did no better, than public schools, and about 40% did worse; some, a lot worse.

But the charter/no charter distinction is just the label covering up the underlying greed of profiteers who hate unions and anyone or anything that dances to a different drum than the corporate, Coca-Cola formula that generates the most profit.

A great Charter school here and there is great for that community, but does nothing to prove the pumped-up, overhyped theory that Charters are the magic bullet that will close the achievement gap, and turn around failing schools everywhere.

Look very close before buying hook, line and sinker that one or two amazing examples can be replicated elsewhere. Apples to apples comparisons are difficult, but ask yourselves what an average public school could do if properly staffed, resourced, and funded.

Sure, the pro-Charter gang celebrities want to blame it all on union contracts. Amongst the Reformers De Jour are Michelle Rhee in DC who wants to eliminate tenure and pay teachers 125k per year. Okay, those of you who believe that is possible have probably seen pigs fly too. With all the bashing teachers take already for their "summers off," who honestly thinks the public would support paying teachers over 100k per year? What a crock.
Anonymous said…
If you want to know about charter schools and anything connected with that idea, see:

We're pretty much bursting at the seams with information at this point.
seattle citizen said…
Tina, thanks for posting the link. It looks like an interesting program, but not that different from some regular public schools here in Seattle.

A couple of things:
One, I didn't see any demographics, so I don't know who this school serves - Special ed? Free and reduced lunch? Minorities?

Two, if there are additional services offered, beyond what a typical public school might be able to offer (longer day, reduced class size, etc) how is this paid for? These things are expensive - is the school funded solely by tax money, or does it have a benefactor, or do parent/guardians contribute...

Three: what are the measures for "success"? Test scores? Are they available?

Four: Is it an "opt in" program? Are the only students there the ones that have parents who already are involved (they have to be to select the school) or does it include students who just found themselves there, as their parent/guardians AREN'T involved?

My point in looking for this information is that while this looks like a great program (anything based on multiple intelligences gets an automatic "yea!" from me) if it's got such success I wonder how it does it and at what cost?

These are some of the issues with charter schools and I wonder if you have any information that addresses these issues?
mb said…
wow, that's a weird comment...

"Pardon my skepticism, but where is the proof that those charters that are successful can be sustained?"

isn't a successful charter school right now better than a continually failing public school? at least the charter IS successful now. the public school isn't. that just seems like a weird argument to me. so you're against charters because they might not be successful in the future? and you're willing to stick with a public school that's continually failing? why???? i don't get it.

re: summit. sorry, i don't know the answers to most of your questons. i do know that utah spends less than $5000 per kid per school year (i think that's a lot less than the state of wa). i don't think my sis has to kick in any extra $$ (but i'll ask her). oh, she did have to pay for preschool, but it was about $150 a month (for 3 days a week). they do fundraisers and such. i don't think there is a benefactor. i'm sure if you look up utah test scores you'll be able to find more info. all i can say is my sis is very pleased and feels fortunate that her kids go there.
Josh Hayes said…
tina sez:

"isn't a successful charter school right now better than a continually failing public school? at least the charter IS successful now. the public school isn't. that just seems like a weird argument to me. so you're against charters because they might not be successful in the future? and you're willing to stick with a public school that's continually failing? why???? i don't get it.

The thing is, Tina, charter schools often buy success by shedding the problems that public schools must accept.

This is why people want to know whether the school serves Special Ed kids, or what fraction of the school is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL), and so on. Your basic public school has to accept every single kid, regardless of how difficult that kid will be to teach. Charter schools can winnow out the "difficult" children, and you can attach whatever labels you want to that catch-all "difficult" category.

I think what bothers a lot of the contributors here is not the idea of schools with a distinct approach and methodology, but rather, that only PRIVATELY-RUN schools qualify. So, despite the four decades of experimentation with alternative schools in Seattle public schools, none of those schools qualify, because they're not run in a public/private cooperative environment.

In short, it seems that the policy makers don't care about the school itself, but rather, who's running it: if some corporation is making money from it, then it's Yayz! If it's the exact same school in a public venue, then it's Boo!

Frankly, I see no other way to interpret Secretary Duncan's remarks: if you want federal money, make sure to give it to private corporations.
Anonymous said…
The basic difference between a traditional public school and a privately run charter school is that with a charter school there is complete control of the school by a private enterprise within a public school district. Although taxpayer-funded, charters operate without the same degree of public and district oversight of a standard public school. Most charter schools do not hire union teachers which means that they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages. Charter schools take the school district's allotment of money provided for each student within the public schools system and use it to develop their programs. In many systems, they receive that allotment without having to pay for other costs such as transportation for students to and from the school. Some states, such as Minnesota, actually allocate more than what is granted to public school students.


A charter school can expel any student that it doesn't believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. If the student is dropped off the rolls of the charter school, the money that was allotted for that student may or may not be returned to the district at the beginning of the next year. That is dependent upon the contract that is established by each district.

Also, according to a recent (June 15, 2009) study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated "no significant difference" from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.


Basically, we already have in place an alternative school system in Seattle that has a proven track record and affords all students with an opportunity to succeed.

We don't need charter schools in Seattle, our school district just needs to support the outstanding programs that are already in place.

For more information, see:
Anonymous said…
Another thing about charter schools is that they can select the students that they enroll. In many cases that means that special education students and other students who might already be struggling academically, will not be accepted into the programs.

That ensures that no additional costs will be taken on by the charter school and that the test scores that seem so important to charter schools are kept high.

The high test scores help to validate, in many states, the high standards of the programs and ensures that they remain open.
Anonymous said…
And now for my treatise on charter schools:

Privatization is about making a profit, whether it’s utilities, war or education.In states where access to public water has been privatized, the average cost of water to the public is 30% higher. The cost of handling waste water is on average 60% higher in those states.


No bid contracts or lack of contracts with private enterprise during the Iraq war and little or no oversight by the government caused cost overruns to soar.

We have so little money for education in this country that I wonder sometimes what private companies are thinking when they establish charter schools. Do they honestly believe that there is a profit margin in public education to be garnered?

Schools are underfunded as are all other institutions and agencies that are under the umbrella of the Federal government with the exception of the military/industrial/corporate complex. Funding for Federally mandated programs such as our public schools have dwindled over the last sixty years due to the fact that in the 1950’s, 80% of all taxes were paid by large corporations. Now, in 2009, that number has dwindled to 12-15%. For example, in 2008 Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of 1% and yet $40M was paid in bonuses to the CEO. The balance of public school funding is paid by the middle class and we can only pay so much. With every tax cut and credit provided to large corporations, we lose, our children lose, valuable dollars that are desperately needed.


(Continued below)
Anonymous said…
Meanwhile, there is a glut of money at the top and it has nowhere to go. All of those billions of dollars have instead gone to Wall Street and this phenomenon is partially to blame for the crisis that we have had to live through over the last 1 ½ years.

Institutions that are part of the public domain such as schools do not enjoy the capitol that was available 40-50 years ago. When I was attending public school in Los Angeles, we had new books every year, pleasant buildings that were clean, well lit and safe, nutritious hot meals at lunch, playgrounds with all of the equipment that one would need, physical education classes to keep us fit, art, music and well maintained grounds. This is similar to what a private school offers today. A student during that time received a good education and could go from a public school into any university. You didn't need to attend a private school to gain access into the best schools in the United States. You were on equal footing with your counterparts.

That is not the case now and it has to do with money. As Federal money has dwindled, municipalities and states have had to rely on property taxes, bonds and levies to fund education. Unfortunately, for many taxpayers who do not have children, public education is not a priority and school bonds and levies often do not pass. I saw this happen in California several times. Because of the state of public schools, many parents who can afford it, place their children in private schools which depletes the school districts of funds that would otherwise be allocated to those students and therefore the gap increases.

Anonymous said…
(Treatise continues)

We have strangled our school system. There is overcrowding in the classrooms. A student from Franklin High School noted to the school board last night that one of her classes had 40 students in it and she said that the school needed more money. She went on to say that said nothing could get done in a class that large. There is also less time spent in class. Because of the decreased budgets, class time has decreased. There are now partial school days and more days off. This has put the onus on parents, if they are able to, to supplement the time through homework sessions and/or tutors. What is left in our school system are valiant and valued teachers and school staff who keep their schools together with small budgets, a vision and a lot of hope.

Then we have Arne Duncan, inculcated with the Broad philosophy, waving a carrot in front of a very hungry populace saying, you can have the money but first you have to do a few tricks. What he wants for a relatively small amount of money is to have all states allow charter schools, but charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools do not provide equality of access to all as is the mandate of public schools. Will charter schools meet the needs of the poor and the marginalized as is mandated by the Federal government for all public schools? No, not when a charter school can expel a student if they do not perform well on a test. These are public funds that are to be used to provide for all, not just a select few.

Teachers in charter schools have no protections that are provided by a union in a public school. Pay is on average less and the hours are longer.
Anonymous said…
(Treatise continues)

Teachers in charter schools have no protections that are provided by a union in a public school. Pay is on average less and the hours are longer.

I was having a discussion the other day with some parents about charter schools and we all agreed that our children could benefit from that situation. We have the knowledge and wherewithal to either establish or select a school that would fit the needs of our children. We would have knowledge of the programs available, we would understand how to gain access to those schools, and our students would perform up to the standards set by the school. But that is not the case for all families. There are many families who do not have access to information to make these sorts of choices, maybe they do not speak English or have access to the Internet. Maybe, due to circumstances that they have little control over, there is not enough time or resources to ensure that their children will do well on a standardized test that determines whether they remain in a charter school. It is an inherently biased system towards those who have and therefore these schools should not be publicly funded.

Sometimes, when I read about these charter schools, I think that these global corporations that fund the Broad and the like are just wanting to train the cogs in the wheel, children who can have basic information drilled into them with no opportunity for developing perspective or creative thinking skills. You then have an even more divided social stratum, the unquestioning workers/soldiers and the ruling class.
Anonymous said…
The answer to the question as to where do we go from here is two tiered. First, there is the overall picture. The idea of a trickle down economy is a myth. It is apparent to all that the idea that people who have wealth will provide opportunities for others to also prosper is absurd and I would dare to say, manufactured by those with the greatest wealth. The only businesses that I have seen prosper from the wealth of others are businesses that cater to the wealthy such as yacht makers, luxury auto dealers and of course, the brokers.

The accumulated wealth of a few that has nowhere to go at the top needs to be reinvested in our country and in our future. Our future is our children. Good business practice is that you reinvest part of your profits. Corporations have made billions of dollars from the opportunities afforded to them by simply being in the United States. That money now needs to be reinvested in our children through the reinstatement of a tax structure that is equitable and no longer allows tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies and other large corporate businesses, a financial structure that demands oil companies who drill off of our coastlines pay for that privilege and end the tax breaks for the wealthy as instituted by our previous president, George Bush.

Because there has not been a significant investment in education over the last 50 years, businesses have had to look elsewhere for talent, to other countries where people have been more adequately educated.

The shock for many was that they had to import talent. Microsoft is an example of that. Because of their awareness of the problem, the Gates Foundation has tried, unsuccessfully, to come up with an answer to the problem. Unfortunately there is no quick solution and actually they don't need to reinvent the wheel. The answer is before their eyes and in their own backyard, the alternative school system that has existed in Seattle for 40 years. The public educational system can work but it requires money to function and to function well as it did 50 years ago.
Anonymous said…
(And finally)

This gets me to the second and more quickly attainable tier.

Seattle has a rich and varied history of alternative school programs starting with Alternative School #1 (AS1) which was established in Seattle about forty years ago. When my daughter and I moved to Seattle, I discovered the alternative school program and was greatly impressed by what the school district had to offer. There are programs for students K-12 at various locations throughout Seattle. High schools such as Nova have a track record of high test scores, the WASL Language Arts scores are the higherst in the city, and placement in some of our best colleges in the country. There are waiting lists into each of these programs and the level of quality of the staff is outstanding.

These well established programs need to be maintained and supported. These schools provide an opportunity for all students to succeed, not just a select few. That is what Seattle has and other schools can be developed based on the proven track record of the original alternative school program structure. Governor Gregoire has stated this to Arne Duncan when pressed about charter schools. The state of Washington should receive the additional funding that Mr. Duncan is providing under the Race to the Top program because we have those programs in place. AS#1 established a charter with the public school system in the 1960's.

The answer can truly be in your own back yard. What we already have is tried and true. The basic tenets of these programs can be used in developing new schools that can provide an even greater diversity for our students and an opportunity for all students to succeed.
mb said…
i guess i'm all for choice. with charters parents can choose to go to public or charter school (with public money). the only choice we have here is public (where after watching the SPS board mtg last night it seems like parents voices really aren't heard) or to pay for private. if we allowed charters then parents could choose. and if the charter school wasn't good or started to fail or didn't accept the kind of students you wanted you could go to public school or a different charter before having to pay for private school. more choice just seems like a good thing to me. with SPS you either take what you get or pay for private. anyway, just my opinion.
seattle citizen said…
Yes, Dora, the obvious question is how NOVA could score the highest WASL scores and send its students to some of the best colleges, careers, and lives while NOT using an aligned curriculum; while NOT narrowly focusing on just the four WASL strands; while NOT forcing its teachers to teach a standardized program in order to declare that they are "quality teachers."
How DOES NOVA do this? Shouldn't it, and its students, be constrained to follow a common, standardized pathway to graduation? Why are they successful using innovative curricula and expecting their students to think for themselves? How is it possible that a student who MUST coontribute to the NOVA community outside of the classroom still has time to master WASL basics in the course of getting a rich and varied education?

It's just crazy!

Of course, the REAL question is why aren't there more NOVAs?

Why aren't there?
mb said…
oh and i think the alternative schools are great, but aren't there long waiting lists? so not every child is served there if they want to be. it's just about luck. if alternative schools were made available to every child then i'd agree more. so, the alternative schools may be great for the kids that are fortunate enough to get in, but what about all the other kids??
seattle citizen said…
But Tina, your "choice" is with my tax dollars. Why should I pay taxes that go into whatever sort of operation stands up and says, "I'm a school"?

As a taxpayer, I pay taxes to support PUBLIC schools, schools that are responsible to the duly elected Board. A charter school, by its very nature (charter, or contract) is NOT responsible to the board and its policies.

As we've discussed, charters often can go their own way in terms of who they take, who they kick out, how they pay their staff...these variances from Board Policy and labor contracts makes them free agents, and why should my tax dollars go to a free agent? It would be like handing out money on the street to someone who said they were a teacher.
seattle citizen said…
So Tina, as concerned and interest stakeholders in public schools (parent/guardians and/or taxpayer/citizens) it's our job to demand that ALL public schools use methodologies that are successful like some of the alternative schools.

Our job is NOT to throw up our hands, say, "oh well!" and hand a check to some outside group to educate our children. I believe in public education, I support it, and I'll fight for it every inch of the way. I will NOT dilute it by allowing some unknown and unaccountable outside group to siphon off my hard-earned tax dollars.
mb said…
really? you don't want a hand a check to an outside organization, but you're fine with overspending or irresponsible spending, a board that doesn't seem to listen to the parents and does what it wants anyway (STEM and bussing from the parent comments last night come to mind) and less than stellar results at a public school? again, doesn't make sense to me. and i pay taxes too. quite a lot, i might add as we own a home, and my husband has a business in seattle that has over 50 employees.
seattle citizen said…
Tina, no, I don't want to give up authority to outside interests even though there are internal problems. I believe we can fix the problems without abrogating authority, without dismantling public education.

Throwing up our hands and passing the whole thing off to "those who know better" is not an option to me.

Besides, what guarantees do I have that some other organization will do a better job, given that they have the very same parameters to work with (students, teachers, bureacracies, communities...)

Unless....unless those non-public entities pick and choose who to serve, only teaching some things got some students, therefore destroying the idea of a universal education.
mb said…
read this:,8599,1957277,00.html

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools