Are Charters Like TFA - Inevitable?

As we were discussing previously, LEV has decided to start a conversation about charters coming to Washington.   Okay, it's part of public education in the U.S. and I have no problems with dialog.  BUT, that's not what LEV does.  I know it, they know it.  It's part of long push to get charter legislation going and voted into our state. 

But there's a couple of interesting turns here.  One is that LEV's position is not that charters are great and work well across the board.  It's that for a certain group of children, they do seem to work.  This would be for ELL and poor students.  (I'd have to look into this assertion myself but I'll take it at face value.) 

So would it be worth it to bring in another layer of bureaucracy to public education in Washington state just for a small subset of students?  Do we really believe that only charters that serve those groups would pop up?  Is it worth it to have better schools for those children (even if it means weakening the districts the charters would be in by lessening their resources)? 

Is it the greater good theory?

I'm not buying it.

The other turn is that as you'll see in my next e-mail batch from SPS and TFA that the Gates Foundation wants to see "innovation."  They consider charters innovative (even though there are plenty of regular public schools that could be called innovative). 

So basically, the argument is that the powers that be in this state - some wealthy people - want charters.  They want to have all the other reform toys that the other states do.  

The argument from that is, well, it's coming so we should be the ones to shape the law.  

Now where have I heard that argument before?  Oh yeah, from Dean Stritikus who told the COE that well, TFA is coming and we should be the ones educating them (while they are educating SPS students). 

Oh, so it's inevitable that we will get charter schools in Washington state and so let's try to have good charter law.

On the one hand, we will have decades of other states' experience (and mistakes) to learn from.  That's a good thing, right?

On the other hand, who SAYS we are going to have charters here?  Because the last time I looked, every single one of us gets a vote for our opinion.  The last time I looked, Bill Gates' father, a rich guy, couldn't get 1098 passed.  The head of Costco, another rich guy, couldn't get the state liquor store law changed. 

No, it's not over until we, the voters, say it's over.  

I had occasion to find a statement I had made at the State Legislature the last time this thing reared its ugly head.   This is years back and yet I find much of what I learned then is true now.
  • tremendous turnover of teachers in charter schools (worse than regular public schools)
  • 15-30% of teachers nationwide who teach in charters are uncertified. 
  • regulations on charters vary so much state to state that it's hard to make any generalizations about how well charters do
  • Rural and suburban districts suffer more from charters than urban schools
  • there are huge issues around transportation and facilities (to the point where there are now non-profits that operate solely to find facilities for charters)  
  • It is unclear what happens to funding if a student leaves a charter for public school (or vice versa) in the middle of the year.  Who gets the money?  
The pushback I hear is that things are moving too slowly to help kids in real need. My answer to that is maybe we aren't pushing our school boards and superintendents hard enough. 

What is it in those schools that isn't happening?  Is it a need for more wrap-around services for students and families?  Is it tutoring?  Is it smaller class size?  Why do we need charters to make these things happen?

The answer is that if the wealthy philanthropists of Washington State want to help - we know what would help.  So why not get those things done without a new law?

The answer to that is two-fold.  One, it just may be that we can give everything we possibly can at the high-need schools and it won't be enough because schools can't control what happens at home.  That may be the honest truth that no one wants to say out-loud.

Two, it's not just about helping those kids.  It's about breaking a union.  It's about trying to weaken the union.   It's about trying to have a revolving door of teachers because they are like Kleenex versus a handkerchief - cheap and disposable.  Because, after all, who would make teaching their profession?


zb said…
I'm starting to believe that there's a third incentive -- related to the breaking of unions, but maybe a motivation of its own: concentrating resources to produce a more pyramidal structure in education. Until then, education isn't profitable in the way these folks are used to (extravagant profits that accrue to a few).

But the goal of producing a commoditzed educational workforce and a tournament model in education (where there are many lowly paid worker bees -- add in the interns from TFA who are trainees for the tournament, to go on to become educational wonks/administrators/owners) serves another end -- creating lucrative opportunities at the top of the pyramid (running the national online education schemes, administering TFA, running the charter school organization).

That concept is probably encapsulated in breaking the union (but it's bigger than that -- not just breaking the union, but commoditzing teaching). Now, there are people who just want to break unions, too.
ZB, entirely plausible.
Floor Pie said…
Any thoughts on what charter schools would mean for special ed?
Sahila said…
nothing is inevitable.... IF WE GET OFF OUR ARSES!
Eating All the Cake said…
I, for one, don't mind seeing changes to the current unionization of teachers. It's an outdated mode of employment protection. I think all public sector unions are immoral to some extent, whether police, firefighters, air traffic or whatever. These folks have decided to work for the public and they have better job security as a trade-off for perhaps more money in the private sector. The problem is they are their own bosses as taxpayers and have the unique opportunity to vote more money to themselves. All government workers need safeguards but traditional union protection should be reserved for the private sector.
Floor Pie, I'd have to take a look at that again. My last real research (about 6-7 years back) did not show charters wanted to provide Special Ed services especially not for high need students. It may be better now but I'd bet that the overwhelming majority of public school students with special ed needs are served in traditional public schools because that's where the services are.

(Note, I'm not saying charters can turn anyone away. But they can write their charter to only have certain services and not others. Your child could attend but those services would not be available to him or her. It depends on the charter law.)
Dorothy Neville said…
Floor Pie, as Melissa said, the special ed issue is tricky. No, the charter cannot simply say -we don't serve - but more and more the data looks like they don't. See this article in NYT for such discussion.

Eating cake: What are the differences between the safeguards that you think all government workers should have and traditional union protection? I am just not clear on this. Sure, bargaining is partly for salary and benefits and one might argue that's not in the public best interest for public employees to have that right. But a lot of bargaining is working conditions related. That's where teachers and fire fighters and air traffic controllers themselves get to argue for safe and sane working conditions that DO benefit public, such as smaller class sizes, well maintained fire trucks, appropriate work hours... I am just not sure how one would separate the proper safeguards and what might seem inappropriate bargaining.
Charlie Mas said…
No one has ever explained to me what a charter can do that a non-charter school can't do.

We have alternative schools that can offer the same freedom of curriculum.

We have schools that can offer extended day, week, or year.

We have schools that special agreements with the teachers to do things outside the contract.

Why do we need charters? It seems to me that the greatest obstacle to creating schools like charters isn't state law prohibiting charters but the district officials who simply won't make schools like them.
Charlie Mas said…
I often read criticism of public sector unions, but I've yet to really understand the criticism.

Workers have a right to organize. That's a right - it cannot be taken from them. It's unclear to me why they should surrender that right when their employer is the government.

I have read folks say that public employee unions exert undue influence over the elected who are their bosses through their political action. I haven't seen this. Instead, I have seen a lot of corporations and wealthy individuals exert undue influence over elected officials through their political action. Where is the effort to restrain that influence?

I have read that public employees are their own bosses. But how is that any different from private sector employees who own company stock?

In the absence of the collective bargaining agreements, there is no "better job security as a trade-off for perhaps more money in the private sector". That would be an argument IN FAVOR of public sector unions.

I see nothing "out-dated" about unions. What is the post-modern replacement for them?

I see nothing "immoral" about public sector unions. What moral code do they violate?

I have yet to read a statement against public sector unions that makes sense to me or can stand up to any kind or critical review.
someone said…
I don't know - when people like the Wal-Mart Waltons start giving charters $15 Million in grants, I have to pause and wonder...a lot...about what's really going on with charter schools

California charter school association gets $15-million grant
Anonymous said…
I think this fits inwith this thread...
Private school—The Northwest School—recently hired two teachers away from SPS:
Victoria Dryden (Humanities 11) a LA teacher from Garfield
Wyn Pottinger-Levy (Design Studio, Graphic Design and Yearbook) who taught similar subjects at The Center School.
I have no idea of the quality of either teacher, but they will both be teaching my daughter this fall. NWS works very hard to hire excellent teachers, so I assume they are both better than good. Could this just be the beginning of an exodus of Seattle's best teachers?
Dorothy Neville said…
While hiking this weekend I met a woman who has a friend who just started teaching in New Orleans. Sixth grade at a public school (not a charter, she thinks) and definitely not a TfA person. She said her friend is completely shocked and overwhelmed. There are no books and she even has to buy her own chalk.

What kind of a world is it when Wendy Kopp makes an astronomical salary and teachers have to buy their own chalk?
Anonymous said…
Floor-Pie, and how do our alternative schools handle special education? I would say, not so differently from charters, at least at the K-8 level. And some are downright hostile to students with special needs. Sure Salmon Bay has some great programs for students with special needs (only at the secondary level), but the others mostly just provide a room or two. You even hear stuff like: "the xyz program is co-housed in our building." Or we: "We love those cute special ed kids. It's great that we get to do charity for them." They aren't really full members of their communitites, and they aren't part of the "alternative mission". For example, where is emphasis or plan for teaching language immersion to students with significant disabilitites? Are those students just supposed to disappear to some other school? I'm not a big supporter of charters. But, I find it disingenuous that those who would dismis charters, always bring up the special-ed card for that one an only time.

-special ed parent
Janis said…
I am a parent of a special ed child at an alternative school, TOPS, and while I won't pretend everything is perfect, there are significant efforts at the school community level to embrace and include the special ed community in school wide programs that reflect the school's alternative mission. One example. Every year we have an event called Taste of TOPS -- a school wide potluck with a focus on one part of our diverse community. Most years the focus has been geographic -- South Asian, East African, etc. and included classroom work about those cultures leading up to the Taste of TOPS night where we have workshops and presentations in addition to the communal meal. This past year, we celebrated Deaf Culture as the K-5 Deaf/Hard of Hearing program is located at TOPS. At the Taste of TOPS event, we had rooms for American Sign Language (ASL) Lotto and basic signing lessons; the halls were bedecked with informative posters and lessons on D/HH history;a first grade class made a life sized Chick-a-chick-a-Boom-Boom tree with hand signs; there was a scavenger hunt in the cafeteria and a table in the front hall with materials to make a sign with your name in sign language.
Most entertaining of all, the Evening Show stole the night. The evening opened with about 50 boys and girls – kindergarten through 5
th grade - performing in voice and ASL an original song written by one of our D/HH teachers. Students had practiced the song for weeks in their classrooms. One of our D/HH teachers is also a talented stage performer. His interpretation of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (picture book by Mordicai
Gerstein) was funny, provocative, and very inspiring. He also
visited each classroom in the school in the weeks leading up
to Taste of TOPS to share with the kids some realities of growing
up deaf.
That's just one example of a very conscious effort by parents and teachers at one alternative school to make sure all groups in the school are included in the school's mission.
zb said…
"They aren't really full members of their communitites, and they aren't part of the "alternative mission"."

Is this better in a traditional school? Do the alternatives produce less of a common community than at the traditional schools?
zb said…
Charlie, the non-disingenuous answer to your question about what charters can do that regular schools can't is all about the unions. At best it's that they can avoid the unions. At worst that they can break them.

And, they have more opportunity to exclude subgroups of students.

If they were really about education pedagogy, they could work within the option framework.
What's funny is that charters like to say they are free of union constraints but several groups of them now have unions. Those teachers realized that they were not going to have much of a say in a school they didn't create, don't run and are just hired guns. Not much protection.
apparent said…
and how do our alternative schools handle special education?....where is emphasis or plan for teaching language immersion to students with significant disabilitites?

I don't know the answer to this, but would like to point out that, in Seattle, immersion schools are neighborhood schools, not alternative schools.
Anonymous said…

Your private school did not "hire away" Wyn Pottinger, she will be teaching part time at both schools.

Center Parent
Jan said…
I think there are LOTS of things "wrong" with having traditional unions in the public sector. The "checks and balances" that private companies have -- where union excesses eventually swamp profitability and/or production or service quality -- and drive customers to look for better, less expensive alternatives does not work in public education -- where parents have no choice about whether they "pay" -- through taxes -- for the product, even if it turns out to be an inflexible, expensive, poorly performing product. And the existence of "private schools" does not solve the dilemma. If I were told that $400 a month would be deducted from my paycheck and sent to "Union Food Mart" for my groceries (and I could then use the store to pick up "free" (actually, just pre-paid") groceries whenever I needed them), but if I thought the service was terrible, the hours were awful, and/or the food was bad, it was all ok, because I could walk down the street and pay (a second time) for better groceries, I would not be appeased.

Jan said…
How many times were parents in my kids' classrooms told that we could not come in and lift a finger to spruce up and/or repair things, because the union said that threatened the maintenance folks. Last year, parents wanted to volunteer to staff the career/college position that Garfield cut -- and my understanding was that union rules said no. If the District wouldn't employ a union person in that position -- no one could do it for free. And if the kids suffered? Well, not the union's problem. Maybe that would "incent" the District to rehire a union person to do that job!

I concede Melissa's point that at some point, the employees need some way to have a voice on working conditions, etc. This really IS a four-legged stool -- with students, parents, non-parent taxpayers, and teachers/staff all having a legitimate voice. But the way it works now, students have absolutely NO voice, parents and taxpayers are supposed to care about money, students, AND teachers -- and the teachers' unions have (or historically had) no obligation to take into account anything whatsoever except the best possible deal they can get for their members -- and if that is at the expense of students, parents, and taxpayers -- that is their problem; they should have "bargained harder." Now, when at least some people are saying -- "forget this. We will take our marbles and go elsewhere" -- the unions want to cry "union bashing."
Jan said…
Without a doubt -- if the "teachers' voice" disappears from the debate -- and teachers come to be treated just like widgets in many large non-union corporations -- it will NOT be good for schools -- or for the teaching profession.

But I am really hoping that there is some "happy medium" between the kind of stupid management excesses that take over in big systems where employees have NO voice (does anyone but me remember the old Safeco rules where everyone had to wait to go to the bathroom until the midmorning music came on -- and be back at their seats by the time it ended?), and public sector unions as I have come to know and deplore them in Washington.

I keep looking at "heavily unionized" Germany -- which managed to NOT have huge layoffs in this last recession -- because, as I understand it, they instead put vast vast numbers of employees on highly reduced work hour schedules -- so everyone sort of suffered together, but they didn't throw millions out on the streets in an economy that had ZERO jobs for them -- which is what WE did. And my understanding is that German companies now are involved in labor arrangements that offer significant job security in exchange for a willingness by employees to be extremely flexible (retrain for new positions, move, adjust hours, basically -- do whatever it takes to permit the companies to keep their profitability/innovation edges).

I thought that the joint District/Union project to revise teacher evaluations was the beginning of a German sort of way of having the SEA become part of long term structural solutions -- of the SEA actually stepping up to the responsibility of having to care about the effect of union demands on students and taxpayers. MGJ killed THAT effort. But while I agree with both Melissa and zb that part of the charter movement is a pretty blatant anti-union effort (as well as a teacher commoditization effort), if unions want to stay in this deal, I think they are going to have to -- FAST -- reinvent themselves as nimble, flexible, problem solvers, the voice for increased public involvement in and ownership of (as opposed to corporate hijacking of) public education.
Anonymous said…
So now it's "immoral" for people to organize, demand, and procure the most favorable working conditions and benefits for themselves.

As we know from history, the first target of the Nazi Party was the "evil" trade unions.

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. - Sinclair Lewis

Can't Say It Any Better said…
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters. Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. [
Franklin Roosevelt
FDR admirer said…
Public sector unions are a very new thing in this country, starting in the late 50's. I think there is something to be said for gov't workers being held to a different standard.
Anonymous said…

I'd go easy on the nazi analogies. A reasonable discussion of unions can be constructive.

Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
(Too Easily) Offended: You think that was a Nazi analogy? The message was the target, not the perpetrators.

How about, "When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Is that better?

Demonization is a common first step towards tearing a society apart. First they came for the (insert discriminated-against group here).

All this negative "it's all the union's fault" bullshit is tiresome and useless. Is it the union's fault we got MGJ? Or Enfield? Or TFA? Or crappy math books?

Give the scapegoating of unions a rest. All it does is weaken the community's resolve in reformers' eyes as they gather power in hopes of steamrolling public education as we know it. Look around you and see who the real villains are. Teachers? And their union? What about the military industrial complex, or Wall Street bankers? They do, and have done, in plain sight, more damage to this country than any satanic, evil union card-carrying teacher could ever do.

Go on and rant. It's a free country. But playing into reformers hands by following the anti-union decoy ducks will never bring you the results you want. But, good luck with it anyways.

Sahila said…
@Jan.... unions are there to represent and fight for the best interests of their membership...

The AMA and the ABA dont advocate for patients and clients - they advocate for doctors and lawyers... and no one thinks that's a crime...

Firefighter, police and nursing unions dont advocate for property owners, criminals/victims and patients - they advocate for their membership - and no one thinks that's unfeeling or unreasonable...

What's so different that we expect teachers to put their students ahead of their salaries/benefits/working conditions, when we dont expect other unions to be equally altruistic...

Dont teachers have families too, for whom they have to bring home enough money to feed, clothe and house them? Are teachers not entitled to spend a certain proportion of time with their families, on other areas of their lives? The way the public/school districts go on, teachers ought to spend 12-14 hours per day in the classroom or completing grading/lesson plans at home, and should do that without recompense and without grumbling...

We dont expect this amount of altrusim from any other occupation/profession...

In fact, many have rules about NOT WORKING THESE CRAZY HOURS, WITH THIS MANY YOUNGSTERS/PEOPLE AND IN THESE SUBSTANDARD BUILDING CONDITIONS, because of the Occupational Health and Safety issues...

Think its time for a reality/logic check, myself...
Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Janis, the efforts to incorporate deaf culture in a TOPs event is indeed great. What about the those same deaf student who then have to leave in 6th grade? Mostly, they're shippped off to Eckstein, which has no alternative mission. The DHH students get traded off for a self-contained program (or maybe 2) in the middle school. And what about the students in those self-contained classrooms, who only get to come for middle school? How are they integrated into the alternative mission, or any mission? Do they play on sports teams or have special representation at those events? Do they get integrated into regluar classrooms? Efforts to place inclusion programs at TOPs was squelched. No doubt by the district. Who knows what input the school itself had. But, they surely never raised their hands for it either. It all points to a school where these students are really just visitors and not real community members, even if there are some efforts on holidays and special events.

Right appparent. Neighborhood schools with an alternative mission (immersion schools, for one) haven't made any provision at all for students with significant, or even mild disabilitites. They're just expected not to be able to attend just like charters. Too bad they're all clustered in one area of the city, essentially removing a neighborhood option for a whole class of people. And like a charter school, it was never even considered. I'm just saying, as nice as they may be, with respect to students with disabilities, our alts (neighborhood or city draw) have many of the same downsides.

-special ed parent
Floor Pie said…
Thanks to all who answered my special ed/ charter school question. I was naively hoping that maybe someone could start a charter school for autism/2E/gifted neurotypical, with inclusion in all the classes. Guess I'll just keep dreamin'.

As for the alt school thing...We were at TOPS for K-1. I'll agree with Janis that the community mostly has their hearts in the right place and puts on some nice events. Lots of room for improvement when it comes to autism awareness, though. We had an excellent K teacher and wonderful resource room teacher. Beyond that, the jaw-dropping ignorance about my son's Aspergers was astounding. Well-intentioned ignorance, mostly, but still.

But I'll bet that isn't unique to TOPS. Aspergers isn't easy to "get," and it's even harder to empathize with. It's not so much that our special needs kids are unwelcome at some of our city's "best" schools; it's that the schools have no clue how (and very little support from the district) to give them the education they deserve. I wish from the bottom of my heart that the district would step up and do better by our kids. They won't, of course. Sorry to hear that charter schools will be more of the same.
Janis said…
Spec Ed Parent- I have to take issue with your statement that TOPS is a school where spec ed students are just visitors and not real community members. How do you know this? Do you have a child at the school?

I do have children at the school, including one who is in Spec Ed. This is not our experience and I am extremely involved in the school.

I can't speak to past history. I can only speak to the attitudes and efforts of the school community today. As I said in my earlier post, I won't pretend it's perfect, but there is a very serious and conscious effort at TOPS by teachers and parents to include spec ed students and their families in all aspects of the school. So I have to take issue with your blanket statement that our alt schools are not welcoming to the spec ed population. Can TOPS and other alt schools do better? No doubt, and we should, but calling alt schools hostile to spec ed students is not the way to educate those school communities and improve their programs. As a parent of a spec ed child I believe this is some of the most important work I do at my children's school.
Floor Pie, I don't have it right in front of me but I think there are charters that have a special ed focus. They are likely to be few and far between because of the obvious cost issues (although I would think charters would get the extra financial help any traditional public school would get).

Janis, she did say she had been at TOPS and I didn't see her use the word hostile at all (she said unwelcome, not the same thing). Let's be fair and not put words in anyone's mouth.

I've been working with some Special ed parents to put together a thread on this issue of services. I came to Special Ed late so I don't have the knowledge base of what has gone before and what the situation is now. I do know there are a lot of unhappy parents and I wonder where the best practices are in SPS for Special Ed.
Janis said…
Melissa - I was responding to Spec Ed Parent, not Floor Pie, but you're right that I should not have used the word hostile. Floor Pie and I know each other well and I know that her experience at TOPS has been different than mine. Like I said, it's not perfect, but I know for a fact that we are working on the issues Spec Ed Parent criticized: whether spec ed students are full members of the community participating in the alt school mission. That was the point of my comment.

Like other spec ed parents, I have lots of concerns about district policy regarding services.
Anonymous said…
Floor Pie, many students with autism and Aspergers do well in inclusion programs. And, SPS actually does a good job in these programs. (or did) They are sprinkled througout the district. The district is doing its best to kill them. Currently, they are only allowing students in grades 3 - 5 to enroll. Instead they have a more expensive, (a lot more) and less effective thing called ICS. Under ICS, minimal support is spread out over the whole city, leaving no school with the resources it really needs for students with autism/aspergers, and making every school a lot more costly. Furthermore, ICS really just does social (and only minimally), so how's that going to work out when the academic demands grow in later elementary school? And no, there isn't an inclusion program at TOPs, that request was rejected. You're stuck with ICS. But guess what? Inclusion programs are available for the persistent as we all learn about special deal assignments to inclusion programs in the off-grade K-2 grades. It's a small world you know. Who knows? Maybe you got your kid in one.

Janis, your experience may vary. It probably depends on the severity of your child's disability and their age. If your child fits perfectly in the resource room, or is young, then it may seem very inclusive to you. Because, well, that's a relatively easy thing to accomplish. How can you really be a member of a K-8 school if your program only lasts 3 years? That's what I meant by "visitor": enrolled only briefly, or more briefly than others. Or, you have to transfer? I guess I'd like to hear about all the ways students in the generic self-contained program at TOPs are made real members of their community. I'm not talking about the resource room students, but the self-contained ones. Do they go to camp? Play on sports teams? Did they participate in drama? Provided for on the ski bus? How were they included in the Taste of TOPs event? If so, that would be a great thing to learn about. I hope so.

Melissa, special ed charters. Yes I have heard that they exist. I can't imagine why it would be so interesting. But, there are always people who like any old thing. A school that is 100% disabled, doesn't really prepare anybody for the life they will lead in a world which doesn't look like that. It doesn't connect kids who most need a connectin with their communitites.

-special ed parent
Contrarian said…
Charlie said "I often read criticism of public sector unions, but I've yet to really understand the criticism."

Read Steven Brill's latest piece (and his book) and you may understand.
Noam said…

Reading this thread made me reflect that the folks who actually DID bring MGJ here (the Alliance, Don Neilsen and their wealthy fellow travelers) couldonly imagine that the community would end up bashing public employee unions for it.

It has to do with wealth vs. the rest of us and unions are the only organized way "we" have stuck together.

Please lets keep the focus on regime change. THAT's the goal isn't it?
Charlie Mas said…
When I speak with folks who are among the most sober, informed, and serious supporters of charter schools, folks like Paul Hill at the UW Center for Reinventing Public Education, they convince me that the primary benefit of charters comes not from freedom to innovate pedogogically or freedom from work rules. Instead, what really gives charters a boost is their freedom from district-level management.

District-level management constrains teachers by demanding fidelity of implementation, required the use of district-approved materials, through pacing guides, and, to an extent, through work rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

District-level management constrains principals and schools through staffing standards that require the school to hire a fixed number of administrative staff and a fixed number of teachers. They also put a heavy demand on them to file reports and attend meetings.

District-level management also constrains the organization of schools.

The real obstacle to reform - meaningful reform that is desired by everyone dissatisfied by the status quo - is in district administration, not in the teaching staff or the teachers' union. District leadership should be the folks that the Reform movement wants to replace. District leadership are the folks that they should be villianizing (instead of teachers and their unions).
Catfish said…
I'm a native Washingtonian hoping to move back to the Northwest this year. I currently live in Texas, and we have lots of charters (I'm also a TFA alum so feel free to throw tomatoes now.) We have many great charters here, and to @CharlieMas, one of the things they do that most public alternative schools can't: they are open to anyone. Most alternative schools have some sort of selection process, but charters are required by law to use a lottery to select students.

Now, many say this results in kids with involved parents being the ones who go to charters, and that's why they do better in high-quality charters like KIPP or YES Prep (I'm not saying all charters are good).
Two responses to that: they've done studies on kids who lost the lottery (so their parents were equally as concerned) and the kids at the quality charters still did better. In addition, when there are a lot of good quality charters, as in Houston, you don't have to be very involved to know they are out there. Fifth grade teachers work hard to educate parents about all of their options (charters, magnets, pre-AP, regular schools).

I know many teachers at charter schools and many at "regular" schools. Most charter school teachers enjoy the freedom and autonomy for which the commenters on this blog often advocate. I also know many people who run charter schools, and busting unions never comes into the conversation. They just care about kids and justice, and I think that Washington students deserve this kind of innovation, with the same kind of strong charter law that New York has (where the charters tend to be better than public schools). Weak charter laws can be bad for everyone - teachers, kids, parents - but there are ways to do charters right.
Well, Catfish, welcome back.

There are NO rules in SPS about who gets into our alternative schools - open to all. If they are overenrolled, then just like charters, it's a lottery.

Again, I'm pretty sure, as Charlie states, that the problem is at the district level, not the union or state law level. We need to get those district folks thinking differently and push them to do so.
Anonymous said…
No Melissa, alternative/all-city-draw schools aren't open to all students. In particular, they are not available by lottery to students with disabilities. (I'm talking about needs beyond the resource room.) All means all doesn't it? That is similar to a charter school. Often, no alternative school in the city is available to certain students with significant disabilities. On the other side of the coin, if students with disabilities happen to be deemed eligible for a program that happens to be housed in an alt school, then they are assigned to the alt school. That assignment is made regardless of the compatibility of the "alternative mission" with the families wishes. That sort of thing is unlike a charter to the best of my understanding of chartes.

-special ed parent
Sahila said…
For whoever mentioned Brill.... he's been soundly debunked in the academic and media circles this past week... one person actually took the time to go through his book and pull out all the misinformation and plain inaccuracies of fact... its all over the net, if you care to look...
Maureen said…
I think Charlie is largely right: charters want freedom from district requirements. One thing I don't understand about charter advocates is how they can advocate this and also claim that charters can be cost effective. Charters require an additional layer of administration be added to the system (Charter Management Organizations, people to write and enforce the charters and MOUs, ...). I have a relative back east who complains that their Districts are too small to benefit from economies of scale, but then advocates for charters. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect going on in the math charter advocates use. I think it is because they are only including the costs balanced by the charters and CMOs and not by society as a whole.

Why not work within current District structures (and perhaps consolidate smaller Districts), but allow individual principals the freedom that charters offer? That is how Seattle alternative schools used to be. We have the ability to apply that structure again. Why reinvent the wheel? Some principals won't want that responsibility or won't be up to the task. They can be placed at neighborhood schools and continue to be supervised more closely by the District. Why run multiple parallel systems? How is that efficient? (Can a charter advocate please actually answer this sincere question? I expect there are some out there.)
Anonymous said…
Now's your opportunity to talk to a TFA Alum - as posted on Central District News:

It's filled with the usual talking points and another TFA commenter spouts spurious claims about teacher retention.

-TFA skeptic
Anonymous said…
A recent study of TFA in Texas shows low retention rates after their two-year commitment is up (see page 22 of linked document).

TFA in Texas

According to a commenter, I know that many folks worry that TFA teachers are two-year missionaries. When I told a friend about this worry (15 year veteran teacher of Houston schools, parent, and NOT a TFA teacher) she said, "But I've only met one TFA teacher who's left education in all that time. Everyone stays!" Retention rates are slightly better than those of other new teachers in low-income schools.

The anecdotal stories aren't supported by the numbers in the Texas study, and "staying in education," is not quite the same as "staying in teaching."

-TFA skeptic
TFA Skeptic, more on the TFA mission in the e-mail thread on SPS/TFA.
Jan said…
Sahila (and Charlie): first of all, I think that freedom from District management (not freedom from unions) IS in fact the "goal" that schools should be seeking.

But what I hope, I guess, is that the SEA can find ways (and I think they have in the past) to be part of innovation that could be achieved if we set our alts (and our schools in general) free from the most of the suffocating, imagination-killing, soul-destroying top down management that currently infects the SSD.

But to your points, Sahila -- I am not anti-union. But the AMA/ABA are not unions. Drs and lawyers don't bargain for wages or work conditions through them. They are just professional associationss. The point you make about nurses is more apt. But if I am a nurse at Swedish, and someone tells me that I suddenly have to start working 16 hour days, and get no vacation, and if I am sick, I stay home with no sick pay -- I have the ability to go be a nurse at Children's or Harborview, or I can go work for the Kidney center, or for a doctor's office. Public teachers have far fewer alternatives - yes, there are private schools, but the private sector is dwarfed by the public sector. Flipping to the "customer" side -- if I think the nurses at Hospital A are horrible (won't answer call buttons, refuse to wash their hands, the place is understaffed, etc. -- or hospital care there is astronomically expensive because they are overpaid -- well, I can go to a different hospital. And both hospital administration and the unions know this -- and it feeds into the bargaining.

As for police and firefighters -- I think the same "public union" issues apply. I suspect, but will never know, that the county tax levy lost last year because of the stubbornness of the king county deputies union, and their refusal, in the face of massive joblessless and wage loss by King County citizens, to give up any of their 3 5% annual increases. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe people are just so poor these days, and so financially tapped out, that they would have voted no anyway, and maybe the several people I know who told me that for them, the King County Deputies union was, in fact, the deciding factor, were all lying or deceiving themselves. And I know several people who are furious with the positions that the Seattle police department's union takes on issues relating to police department discipline -- but we have no choice. We can't hire "that other" police department. There is only one. They have a monopoly.

I really have never studied labor relations or labor studies. I don't have the right answer here -- and I am pretty confident that it is NOT to just get rid of all collective bargaining and unions. But the system we have now doesn't seem to work well enough.
seattle citizen said…
Catfish writes,
"Most charter school teachers enjoy the freedom and autonomy for which the commenters on this blog often advocate."
Why on earth would we need a charter to have that sort of freedom and innovation? Many public schools had it before, have some still, but are losing it to Reform's demand to use test scores and only test scores (along with the standardized curriculum that might come, or might be mandated by the charter operator, in backward lesson planning.)
Catfish also writes:
"I also know many people who run charter schools, and busting unions never comes into the conversation. They just care about kids and justice, and I think that Washington students deserve this kind of innovation"
Please tell us how you know many people who run charter schools. You are not just friends with them, so you must know them professionally. You're a principal, a district admin, or a board member. Or a Broad plant.
You write that no one talks about union-busting..well, of course not! Now tell us if the charter schools you know the leaders of are union or not, and tell us what sort of concessions the union (or non-union) educators have had to make. As has been pointed out, charter advocates often argue that they can do it cheaper. "It" is test scores; the only real way to get it cheaper is cut labor costs.
So: Which Texas charters are union? Which are not? What are the pay rates, benefits and work expectations of all of them?
The line about how the charter people "just care about kids and justice" is heartwarming, but of course regular ol' public school teachers care about these things, too. They just happen to want to be treated like professionals instead of as Teach For Awhile short-timers.
Sahila said…
Brill debunked in this book review by John Merrow (other debunkings also around)...

Steven Brill & The Berated Dog
SeattleSped said…
Charters got to admit everybody?! The Office of the Independent Monitor, investigating compliance with a Modified Consent Decree, found that both the "magnet" schools and charter schools in the LA Unified School District failed to serve students with disabilities. Where's the social justice in that?

Some charters' applications included:

"Approximately half (49.43%) of the applications required parents to indicate if their child had an IEP or received special education services. Of these, about two-thirds (64.77%) requested that a copy of the IEP be provided with the application. Similarly, 34.83% of the applications asked if a student had a 504 plan, with 79.03% of these requesting a copy with the application. Some applications asked if a student received special services such as: types of special education services and programs such as SDP, RSP, and/or Speech and Language (35.95%), whether students received English Language Development (ELD) (24.71%), or participated in a gifted program (GATE) (28.65%).
Essays or short answer questions were required from students (3.37%) and parents (9.55%) as part of the application process. In one instance, the application required the parent to complete three essays while the student had to complete one. This same school also required the student’s current teacher to fill-out an evaluation form and make recommendations on the student’s academic potential, character and overall abilities. Student achievement information such as transcripts (2.8%), CST score reports (2.24%) and report cards (11.79%) were requested as part of the application. Several schools also inquired if the student had ever been retained, while one school stated that “candidates
may only apply if the student had successfully completed their current grade.

Approximately one quarter (24.15%) of the applications asked if a student had ever been
suspended or expelled. One application stated that the school “may not admit a student
who has been suspended, expelled or has some other ‘unsatisfied’ discipline consequence
from another school.”
Some applications included information consistent with that sought by enrollment forms
that may not be appropriate for the application process. This includes information
regarding: child custody (1.12%), court order (23.59%) Social Security number (5.05%),
date of enrollment in a US school (19.1%), parent education levels (26.4%), home
language survey (30.89%), migrant work status (10.11%), and reduced lunch/economic
status (3.93%).”
Anonymous said…
Catfish - I'd love to see the studies you cite on the students who get into charters doing better vs. the ones who don't. Of the peer reviewed ones I've read, most don't state that, and the one I can think of that does clarifies that the parents of the children who did not get into the charters don't push their children as hard afterwards, essentially lowering their expectations, thus the out-of-school factor is a bigger piece than the charter school is.

Charter schools in Arizona and Utah have become the new means of segregation. Couldn't have those brown kids around the rich little white kids...
and here's data on Washington D.C.

Charter schools often spend more on administrative costs than public schools do, and frequently have private, unreported monies available to them.

Meanwhile public schools are paying for special education and transportation.
In AZ, the charter schools don't have to offer transportation, so the ones who get to go to charter schools are the families where 1) one parent can afford to stay home and drive the kids to and from school or 2) has 2 cars available or 3) parents have flexible schedules (i.e. work from home, own the business, are a CEO, etc.). These all translate to at least upper middle class families - I've yet to see a low income family where the parents didn't have to work long hours/inflexible shifts or who were able to afford to allow one of the parents to stay home. One of my Asian families sent her child back to China to live with the grandparents so she could go right back to work after the baby was born. And in one of my Latino families, the mom was back to work only a couple of days after having a baby - who was then watched over by the older sister, subsequently limiting her school attendance. Additionally, most of the SPED kids, or difficult kids are "counseled out" and end up back in the public school system, usually after the count date, thus the money doesn't follow them.
I used to like the idea of charters - but then they morphed into this anti-union, competitive, for-profit ed deform mess and I want absolutely nothing to do with them. I've seen what has happened in AZ, UT, and CA, and you can't tell me it is good for kids or for our society.

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