History of Charter Schools; Second in the Series

To note; again, not hugely comprehensive but a look at what the basic history is of charter schools.  I think the history can best be summed up by saying the charter schools idea started as one thing and spread, like cracks on a windshield, in all directions.   This is not to say that there are not some charters that are innovative.  (I still need to do research to see if I can find even one charter that reflects the earliest thinking.)

Like NCLB, where we have 50 different tests and no real way to prove how American students are doing as a whole, there is charter law in 41 states and the District of Columbia and every single law is different, the numbers of allowed charters is different, the accountability is different and yet, the movement grows.  When I get to the Landscape Today, I have some thoughts on why that is (and it's not because charters do well). 

History of Charter Schools

Most sources credit Ray Budde, a professor of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for thinking up the idea of charters and public education champion and president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, for expanding on it.   However, their ideas of what a charter school should be and what the reality is 20 years later, are quite different.

Their idea was an public school that was autonomous of the regular public school system (and without tuition, religion or student selection) that could operate on outcomes and not on a checklist out of a teaching notebook.  Both Professor Budde and Mr. Shanker were thinking about how to allow TEACHERS to innovate, both in teaching and curriculum in exchange for accountability for students' academic outcomes.

In terms of a timeline, it went something like this.  Professor Budde wrote a paper, "Education by Charter" in 1974.  It received little interest.   From an article Mr. Budde wrote in 1996 for the Phi Delta Kappan,

In this book I proposed that teams of teachers could be "chartered" directly by a school board for a period of three to five years. No one - not the superintendent or the principal or any central office supervisors - would stand between the school board and the teachers when it came to matters of instruction. As in my first exploration of the idea, my focus was on chartering departments or programs. No mention was made of the idea of chartering whole schools.

Recently someone asked me how I felt about the "charter schools movement." Over the past four years I have experienced a rather gradual change in my feelings and response. "This is not what I originally had in mind" has changed to "There are more powerful dynamics at work in creating a whole new school than there are in simply restructuring a department or starting a new program." My own changed attitude stems from the realization that, with state after state passing special charter schools legislation, we now have a rapidly expanding charter school movement that is challenging the traditional form of organization of the local school district.

What is quite interesting is that Professor Budde's number one goal was "to give teachers responsibility for and control over instruction."  Number two?  "Insure that pupils assume responsibility for their own learning and beahvior and that they acquire the attitudes and skills to become lifelong learners."

Then in 1983, A Nation at Risk, was published by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a group created by President Reagan.  It became widely quoted because it spoke to the notion that public education in the U.S. was in decline.  (In some quarters it is considered deeply flawed due to its premise that student achievement had been in steady decline and that we were not going to be able to compete globally.)

In early 1988, Professor Budde's paper/book got more widely read. 

Then, twenty years ago this month, Mr. Shanker proposed this idea of autonomous schools being created/lead by teachers in a speech to the National Press Club.   The idea was about experimenting with new ways of teaching to create innovative ideas that would work in other schools.   He went on to offer a resolution for charter schools at the AFT's national convention in 1988.  His argument was that "top-down" management was not the way to create innovation and create the best teaching.  (And his hope, because of his union affiliation, was that this kind of chartering would create better and more interesting professional opportunities for teachers.)

The irony seems to be that, at first, charters were a liberal cause and conservatives rejected them believing that everything we needed to know about education, we already knew.  As we see from today's landscape, that is largely reversed (although the issue of charter schools cannot simply be seen as a liberal versus conservative difference).

Here's Shanker's view (from Wikipedia):

In Shanker’s vision, small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining plans to educate kids in innovative ways. A panel consisting of the local school board and teachers’ union officials would review proposals. Once given a “charter,” a term first used by the Massachusetts educator Ray Budde, a school would be left alone for a period of five to 10 years. Schools would be freed from certain collective bargaining provisions; for example, class-size limitations might be waived to merge two classes and allow team-teaching. Shanker’s core notion was to tap into teacher expertise to try new things. Building on the practices at the Saturn auto plant in Nashville, Tenn., he envisioned teams of teachers making suggestions on how best to accomplish the job at hand.

However, both Budde and Shanker could see, that over time, their ideas did not follow the path they had wanted.  In particular, Shanker felt the whole thing was "hijacked" by conservatives and would lead to a private-school voucher plan which would undermine unions.

Then in 1991, the Minnesota Legislature passed the first charter school  law in the country.  By 1995, 19 states had charter law.  By 2009 41  states (and D.C.) had charter law.  There were almost 3,000 charter schools by 2004 but more than one-third of those had been open three years or less and more than 400 had gone out of business between 1991-2004 (US Department of Education).

I was fortunate enough to find a great paper written in 2008, The Grinding Battle with Circumstance; Charter Schools and the Potential of School-Based Collective Bargaining, by former Columbia University professor Jonathan Gyurko (now at a firm, Leeds Equity Partners, "Investors in the Knowledge Industry").  (And before anyone jumps in about this group, I can only say that his research and this paper are informed reading.)

Mr. Gyurko points to three key events that changed the ideas around charter schools.

The first was John Chubb and Terry Moe’s Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990), described as “the most important intervention into the debate about public schools and marketplace mechanisms since Milton Friedman’s initial voucher proposal” (Fruchter 2007).  Chubb and Moe argue for the benefits of choice and competition, concluding with a set of sweeping recommendations to restructure public education on market principles. Although Chubb and Moe proposed a voucher-based and largely unregulated system of schooling, many similarities, particularly in regard to school autonomy, existed between their recommendations and the charter school concept. As a result, their ideas and metaphors supplied education reformers, including supporters of the budding charter movement, with a theoretical context and market orientation (Henig 1994).

The second event was Minnesota’s 1991 passage of the nation’s first charter school law.  Shanker advised Minnesota’s earliest charter advocates, and the state’s progressive charter law was passed with bi-partisan support (Nathan 1996).   But in a break with Shanker’s thinking, the law constituted charters as independent educational corporations autonomous from the school district and exempt from pre-existing collective bargaining agreements.

The loss of collective bargaining rights unless reactivated by union organizing was a clear setback to the teacher union movement, birthed just thirty years prior.  Although Minnesota’s law requires teachers to constitute a majority of the school’s board of trustees, concerns were raised by labor leaders about the impact of less concentrated unionization on unions’ ability to pursue political, economic, and social goals. Indeed, as charter laws rolled-out across the country, political conservatives were “quite open about the fact that that charter school laws provided a critical end-run around teacher unions”  (Kahlenberg, 2007).  

The third event was the launch in 1991 of Edison Schools, an education management company that promised to “transform American education” (Wilson 2006).  Although Edison planned to open a nationwide chain of private schools, the “difficulty of raising the required billions of dollars” turned Edison towards management of public schools under contract with a district.  Opening and managing charter schools provided Edison and other companies like it with additional business opportunities. Although the education sector is replete of for-profit textbook publishers, service vendors and the like, Shanker worried that “for-profit companies [performing education’s core functions] would care more about looking after their shareholders than educating children,” or even worse would become a “gimmick” for “hucksters” (Kahlenberg 2007).

To note, Chubb was a founding partner of Edison Schools and Terry Moe is a professor of political science at Stanford University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution (a noted conservative think tank).

I will draw from this paper in other parts of the series as it seems to have a wealth of information that will be useful for our discussion.  Check out the chart on page 16 that lines up many analyses of charter versus regular public schools.

During his presidency, President Clinton signed into law charter school legislation.  In  fact, this year President Clinton received the first-ever lifetime  achievement aware from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

George W. Bush also pushed the charter school movement along.  (He would also have been happy with wide-spread vouchers even to religious schools.)

And now we have President Obama, who with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, are firmly in the mindset of supporting charters.  (There's even a Barack Obama charter school in LA.)


CarolineSF said…
One key point is that Edison Schools was a flamboyant failure. It was the much-acclaimed fad of the day from about 1996-2001, but it failed in every way.

What was most newsworthy about Edison is that it confidently announced that it would make profits for its investors while revolutionizing education, and its stock was publicly traded on the NASDAQ for several years. But it made a profit during only one of the quarters it was publicly traded. At Edison's high point (hype point would be more apt), its stock traded for more than $38/share, and then it plunged to 14 cents (that's not a typo; 14 cents, not dollars). There were shareholder lawsuits charging fraud -- and settlements -- and on and on.

Edison Inc. promised its client districts when it won contracts to take over schools that it would serve the "same kids," but predictably, its client districts consistently complained (and severed contracts because) Edison pushed out the challenging kids, dumping them on public schools (as many/most charters do).

Edison's schools were not academically successful, and Edison made ridiculous claims ("juking the stats" in laughable ways) to superiority before the truth became apparent.

Edison's schools cost districts more than projected while posing many problems and achieving mixed success -- ranging from "decent" to "crashing failure" -- at best.

I co-ran a volunteer research and information project on Edison in the early '00s. Here's the conclusion from our homepage:

After losing many contracts - along with its media luster -- Edison quietly began moving away from its original mission of "revolutionizing" public education, and into marketing conventional supplemental services such as testing, summer school and tutoring. Almost all of its new business involves providing such services rather than trying to manage schools.

Edison attracted ideological support from backers of privatization and school vouchers, and from such powerful conservative bastions as the Wall Street Journal editorial board and the Hoover Institution. But its name is no longer mentioned when "school reform" supporters talk about solutions for public education.


What amazes me is that John Chubb is still treated as a respected academic after his stint in management at this flamboyant fiasco. Moe was at least never an insider. Former Yale President Benno Schmidt was also a top Edison exec but never even tried to regain his reputation as an academic, and is now seen peddling Edison Jr., a for-profit private school in NYC. (This isn't an attempt to enrich themselves with our kids' public education funding, so it's not news.)

By the way, I read that the Barack Obama charter in LA is performing poorly and was threatened with being shut down.
Jack Whelan said…
I think an important thing to keep in mind is that whatever the original inspiration behind charter schools in the seventies it was later embraced by those who were pushing for vouchers as a way to fund existing private schools. When it became clear that vouchers weren't politically viable, charter schools were coopted by those factions who never really cared about public school education to begin with, either for for political reasons (teachers and teachers unions are too frequently in the liberal democratic camp) or cultural reasons (we want more control over the values our kids learn in schools). Charters can be a vehicle to fund and develop schools that have public funding but are independent from the public school 'ethos'.

I don't think anybody with a lick of sense is against innovation, against letting teachers and parents come together to develop schools that are set up to meet their special needs. But that's what alternative schools are designed to do, and so the discussion should be about making the development of new alternative schools more flexible or amenable to meet those needs.

But I also think that the backbone of any public school system should be its neighborhood schools with alternative schools operating on the edges of the system, but always in relationship with and feeding into the larger system, especially if innovations developed in alternative schools are adoptable by the neighborhood schools. This was the original Shanker idea for charter schools, but it's something that can just as well with alternative schools.

The point is that the alternative school framework allows for a better balance-- a productive degree of autonomy while remaining interdependent within the larger system. Charter Schools tend to be off on their own trips--public in its funding, 'private' in its ethos.

I don't know if Melissa is going to talk about the situation in New Orleans, but IMO, that's a situation that is profoundly out of balance in this sense.
Jack, I plan on talking about New Orleans - which for those of you who don't know when to a total charter district after Katrina - in the Landscape Today.

Jack pretty much sums up the issue. The question is how to explain how to get innovation without charters (part of the answer is that this district already has and the other part is the work - hard work - needed to be done by the district and our labor partners.)
CarolineSF said…
Please talk to New Orleans parent leader Karran Harper Royal as part of your research, Melissa. She's a special ed advocate, a Katrina survivor and as knowledgeable a parent as you'll find anywhere. You can find her e-mail on the Parents Across America site, www.parentsacrossamerica.org
Catherine said…
Useful - and possibly a good team effort - would be a list of every Charter effort, and some status reports on that. I know there are some studies that start getting there, but seems like they're already a few years old.
anonymous said…
I'd like to know how charter law varies from state to state, and how much freedom a state has when writing their charter law? I'd also like to know if some states have more successful charters than others and if that is a result of the way they wrote their charter law? And if some states have charters that take their fair share of sped students and others don't? And is that the result of the way their charter laws were written?

Could state law stipulate for example that for the first 3 years they will only allow home grown, non chain charters, that must offer the same amount of sped seats in an inclusion environment as traditional Publics do?

Maureen said…
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DAF, I hope to provide a "landscape today" view but maybe another thread should be how charter law is written.

I do know charter law varies tremendously and it could be funny and/or ironic and/or painful but apparently one new push for charters is to get them to be...accountable. (This from the Obama administration.) Seems many laws aren't as accountable as they were thought to be.

Keep in mind - overseeing the charter authorization process and overseeing the charters for accountability costs money. I suspect that money would come out of state education dollars which are proving to be few. What are we willing to give up for charters might be another question to suss out.
CarolineSF said…
And why would you be willing to give anything up for charters is another question to suss out.

The charter sector has vigorously resisted accountability and oversight for years and often still does. Here's a real-life example (sorry, no links right now, so there's an element of trust that I'm not making up wild ****).

San Francisco had a charter high school, Urban Pioneer, which specialized in experiential wilderness education. On an unsupervised wilderness outing at the Pinnacles in Central California, two students died by falling into a ravine. Meanwhile, Urban Pioneer was in financial shambles, with teachers' paychecks bouncing. Also, the school was committing academic fraud, "graduating" students without the required classes or credits. (Understandably, this was popular with students and parents!) Also, its test scores were rock-bottom, rated as low as you can go on California's accountability system, the Academic Performance Index.

When the San Francisco Unified School District moved to revoke Urban Pioneer's charter, the state charter lobbying organization fought back, with charter leader Peter Thorp, then an exec of that organization (then called the California Network of Educational Charters) speaking out against the proposed revocation at a packed, angry board meeting. UP was also a popular cause of SF's progressive/left at that time, and as noted, the families in the school understandably liked the "flexible" graduation policy, so there was a heated outcry. At that same contentious meeting, only one person (a rather mousy middle-aged district PTA board member -- not me, though I'm mousy and middle-aged too) had the nerve to speak publicly against UP. As she left the mike, she was painfully body-slammed by a large teenage boy, which was ignored by everyone else present. The parents of the two dead boys were at the meeting but were too intimidated to speak.

Oh, and UP -- despite teachers' paychecks bouncing -- hired a high-priced damage control specialist (David Hyams of Solem & Associates) after the deaths. It seems likely that CANEC financed this, though who knows. Hyams had recently taken that job after many years as an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, which undoubtedly helped him get the Chronicle to state the case his way -- Page 1 stories in the paper quoted him as calling the move a "witch hunt" and comparing the SFUSD BOE to the Taliban.

As you can see, accountability has NOT been a popular word in the charter sector in the past, and charters are not associated with bringing peace and harmony to school districts.
anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
Caroline not sure what your point is? That charters aren't accountable because a boy tragically died on a charter school field trip? It strikes me very odd that you continually call out charter schools for doing the very same things that our public schools do. I'm sure you are aware that, tragically, children die on public school field trips too? Why do you fail to mention that? And what does that say about public schools accountability?

A 6th grader @ Woodboro Elementary school in Anaheim (not a charter) died on a field trip to a rugged mountainous area. He slipped on a rock while crossing a creek and was swept over a rocky water fall.

A 12 YO @ Columbia Secondary school in NY (not a charter) drowned while swimming at Long Island Beach, with no lifeguards on duty, while on a school field trip.

A 12 year old boy @ Springfield Elementary in Richardson TX died after a tree fell on him while on a field trip at Shy Ranch

A 12 year old Milwaukee boy drowned while on a Milwaukee public schools "last day of school field trip" to Mothe Lake in the Kettle Moraine state park.

A 13 year old @ The Cherokee School in Orange County (not a charter) died of an asthma attack while on a kite flying field trip. The child told her PE teacher she couldn't breathe, but was ignored, and not offered any assistance.

seattle citizen said…
@Melissa - Thank you so much for this great summary of charters.

@daf, CarolineSF's comment had little to do with the unfortunate deaths of two students; rather, it addresssed the lack of accountability, the lobbying, the damage control, the failure to pay teachers...
It is becoming quite evident that you have studied charters for some time. Melissa's excellent history shows us how they started at teams of teachers and have become a hodge-podge of various arrangements.
I welcome your years of evident experience in this conversation we are having here in Seattle, and hope you continue to share your perspective and information.
MichaelG said…
I am not sure why CarolineSF says that charter schools aren't big on accountability or how the tragedy of two deaths and the subsequent hiring of a lawyer indicates any general lack of accountability for *all* charter schools. Most districts have law firms on retainer to deal with the legal fallout of such tragedies (which can happen anywhere).

Charter schools as public schools are subject to the same accountability as any other public school. The accountability of charters through statewide testing is the same as other public schools which is how the public can judge whether they are worth enrolling in.

The highly chartered New Orleans system has shown remarkable gains as shown in the article in "EducationNext" here:

The academic improvement has been remarkable and one of the most striking things is that the number of students going to charters has climbed dramatically. No one is forcing them into these schools, the regular public schools are still available. Parents are voting with their feet where they want their children going. One of the features of the widespread charterization of NOPSs is racial and economic integration since neighborhood schools typically keep the poor and the rich separate. And of course, people can leave charter schools just as easily so the fact that they are growing from barely over half to nearly 3/4ths of the total enrollment is a vote of confidence by the parents. Make no mistake, NOPS are still at the bottom of the list of academics in LA but the progress is remarkable and if it continues can lift the largely black student population to a level where they might escape what might otherwise be a cycle of poverty.
CarolineSF said…
Thank you, @Seattle Citizen.

@daf, it is really baffling that you continually misunderstand my points. And you are going to a lot of trouble to deflect them with irrelevancies. Since I'm pretty sure it's willful and a pretense, it's probably useless to restate them, but I'll try one time in any case.

My point here is that my district had a charter school that was a failure and a disaster in every possible way -- to the extent that its negligence caused the deaths of two students. Yet the charter sector STILL vigorously resisted any accountability at all, and fought hard against the district's (ultimately successfully) effort to shutter the charter. It was ugly and divisive. Also, the charter folks told so many lies (including by financing a professional damage-control campaign) that to this day we can find people all around SF who think the evil district unjustly shut down a successful school for political reasons.

So, my point is: A few years ago, the charter sector "walked the walk" to let us know that they do NOT intend to be held accountable, ever, no matter how troubled the charter, up to and including dead kids.

If they do want to be held accountable now, it's a 180-degree change from the previous attitude. What attitude will you get in Washington state -- the imperious "we don't have to answer to you" or the new, made-over responsible-and-accountable look?

The charter sector (and the gullible press), by the way, continue to beat up school districts whenever a school board rejects a charter proposal. Which is exactly the same as resisting accountability, since what it's saying is that school boards should have no ability to oversee or judge charter operators.

@daf, I'm curious. In responding to my various posts this week, you manage to come up rapidly with long strings of citations to give your posts that look of "this is all backed up," even though the citations actually are misleading or irrelevant (as in this thread). Is a paid operation doing this research for you or are you just a very fast Google user?
CarolineSF said…
@MichaelG, our posts crossed.

No, in the case I described, the charter sector was absolutely not subject to the same accountability as schools managed by districts.

Are there now two people willfully misunderstanding me?

As to New Orleans, the debate is heated. The powers that be, including the US Dept. of Ed and the New York Times, proclaim the post-Katrina school system a huge success. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan famously proclaimed Katrina the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans schools.

But there are many voices of disagreement who say the neediest children have been left out in the cold by the new system. I'm not an expert on New Orleans, but New Orleans parent activist Karran Harper Royal is, and she is highly recommending this report:

Dorothy Neville said…
I know this is a premature question since we are still talking history of charters, but there are those here who might have some pointers to answers. Seems to me that the studies measuring success (or not) of charters rely on improvement on standardized tests. But charters have been around long enough to get more information, longitudinal data.

Charter schools have been around long enough that there has to be research into college acceptance, retention, completion, etc. Yes? No? Especially the big names like KIPP, it's been around long enough that there should be a whole slew of happily employed college graduates for KIPP to use to demonstrate its successful strategy. I have tried to do the searches, tried to find the research, tried to look at KIPP's website looking for this, but haven't found anything.

I am thinking along the lines of TfA strategy of TfA Alums sharing emotional anecdotes about how their teaching stint affected them, along with mention of how their students made so much progress. TfA has been around long enough, and well entrenched in some areas, I would completely expect to see similar stories from recent college grads with things like "I was destined to drop out like my parents and older siblings, but I had one (or three or five) wonderful TfA teachers as role models who inspired and taught me and now look, the first college grad of my family and community!"

So, five years, ten years after high school graduation, where are all the KIPP grads and how do they compare to their peers who didn't attend KIPP?
seattle citizen said…
Dorothy, the sort of longitudinal post-graduate data you ask for is notoriously hard to come by in any event, but the quantitative data (so popular!) should be available for both charters and TFA. This is the history of charters thread; where is the spread sheet that shows ALL charters' state test scores, ALL publics', ALL students whether charter or public...THAT would tell us something. Surely the proponents of charters can point us to such a simple device? Surely they have been doing such comparisons themselves?
seattle citizen said…
MichaelG wrote that "Charter schools as public schools are subject to the same accountability as any other public school. The accountability of charters through statewide testing is the same as other public schools which is how the public can judge whether they are worth enrolling in."

My understanding is that the charter itself declares the degree of accountability. On the extreme end, but one which is increasingly used (unfortunately) is the "test scores only" theory, where those, and those alone, determine whether a charter is a good deal or not.

It appears from Melissa's history that in the early seventies, a "charter" was conceived as JUST (and I quote Melissa's History) "to allow TEACHERS to innovate, both in teaching and curriculum in exchange for accountability for students' academic outcomes."

The "outcomes" so derived were most certainly not test scores: High-stakes tests such as we have today didn't exist (except for NEAP, SAT, and some other "state" tests. The outcomes desired were academic outcomes, certainly to include more than Reading and Math; my supposition is that these would be a full range of desired learning within the school (or district) including art, history and other important things.

If parents and guardians, MichaelG, including non-English speaking parents and guardians who are 65 and raising three grandchildren while working two jobs, are to merely base decisions about where to send their child to school on test scores, we are in deep trouble.

Charters separate a school from the district's policy: That's what they are for. To the degree they are separated, they are not accountable to my Board's policies. To state that "Charter schools as public schools are subject to the same accountability as any other public school" is absurd on its face, as the charter itself removes accountability.

Schools are not just producers of test scores; children are not just those scores. Accountability is, through district policy, ensuring that all metrics, all expectations, all rules and regs as decided by the public district's elected board, are accounted for. To say that they are under a charter is simply not true.
anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
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seattle citizen said…
daf, you write that "Charters, as choice schools, are accountable to the families choose them..."

Uh, no, since they get my money they are accountable to me, too.

"Charters, thankfully, do not have to answer to the school board."

So who DO they answer to, daf? Besides just the families?

Test scores: The charters are accountable to the state on test scores (which currently cover just math, reading and science.) Sooo...do you think a charter chartered under the state or district should be accountable for anything else besides those test scores? Do you think they should teach art with my money? Do you think they should spend my tax dollars on civics?
anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
Whether you think charters are accountable or not depends on what accountability looks like to you. I feel that charters do provide enough accountability. So does President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the majority of people in 46 other states that voted them in. You can disagree if you like, just know that you are in the minority.

Accountability: Charters have to teach to the state standards. Just like all public schools do.

Accountability: Charters have to take state standardized tests. Just like all public schools do.

Accountability: Charters are subject to the full sanctions of NCLB, up to and including restructure and closure of the school if it is not meeting standards. Just like all public schools are.

Accountability: Charters are choice schools and as such students are not "assigned" to them - A family must choose to attend. Families vote with their feet -and that is accountability in it's highest form.

Charters, thankfully, do not have to answer to the school board. Because they don't they can choose and hire their own principals and staff, use their own curriculum, and text books. They are not bogged down by endless bureaucracy, politics, bad initiatives, and chaos and churn at the district level. That is a welcome relief to many parents, and just the thought of it makes me ponder the creative possibilities.

And, no Caroline, I'm not being paid by anyone, not part of a group, or organization, not a plant. I just have a very different opinion than you do and I'm not shy about putting it out there.

anonymous said…
Great questions Dorothy. I'd like to see that data too.

I also want to know how a charter comes to be? Once a charter bill passes, what is the process from start to end to get a charter up and running? Does a community group, or chain like KIPP pitch a proposal? And if so who do they pitch it to? To the the school board of the district they will be located in, or to the board of education, to OSPI, to Randy Dorn? In other words who decides if and when a charter is approved (or denied)?

Anonymous said…
A very firm opinion for someone who's brand-new to this area, @daf, but that's your right. My opinion evolved very gradually based on years of experience and research.

There's longitudinal research on KIPP, @Dorothy. It has only been a few years that KIPP had alumni old enough to have finished HS, because KIPP runs almost all middle schools.

The current research shows that KIPP students FINISH college at the same percentage as the general population. But that does reflect well on KIPP, because KIPP students are overall lower-income than the general population.

But there are confounding factors. One is that KIPP schools work hard to get their grads scholarshipped into top private high schools; and top private high schools tend to have excellent college counseling (including financial aid counseling) and connections.

Another is that KIPP schools notoriously have very high attrition, so only the few, the proud, finish and graduate.

Another is that KIPP's practices and enrollment process self-select for more motivated and compliant students and families. KIPP is not taking oppositional "intentional non-learners" or other troubled and challenging kids and turning them into scholars.

I recognize that @daf and @MichaelG and others will say -- what's wrong with that? Well, that's a valid question. But public schools could do the same thing (and magnet schools DO do it in terms of the selectivity, though not the attrition) -- why do we need unaccountable, undemocratic charters to do that?

If we were willing to set aside special schools exclusively for the "deserving poor," as Rethinking Schools put it -- and shower them with vast extra resources for amenities like high school counselors who worked hard to get grads into top private high schools on scholarship -- we'd have public schools that operated like KIPP schools.
CarolineSF said…
Sorry, that last post was me, CarolineSF, thrown off by the different blogger format.
anonymous said…
So to sum up, the bottom line is that KIPP graduates are finishing college at the same rates as the general population, despite KIPP serving low income, minority students.

That is an amazing accomplishment, and should not be discounted!

TAF in Federal way, and Aviation HS in Renton are having similar successes!

seattle citizen said…
yes, daf, the non-charter TAF and Aviation High, public schools both, are doing great things with the addition of some generous funds donated by benefactors. I, too, congratulate those public, "option", NON-charter schools on the great work they are doing.

Oh, and "summing up" Carolyn's comment into a barebones "KIPP graduates are finishing college at the same rates as the general population" pretty much misses EVERYTHING else she wrote, doesn't it? Hmmm....
Sahila said…
for those who believe that charter operators are altruistic and in it for the kids:


nice work/profit if you can get it...
Sahila said…
despite her protests to the contrary, DAF appears to be so shy about putting her opinions out there that she wont do it under her real name... but we have been down that path before....
Anonymous said…
DAF, you go girl! Don't be falling for the red flags trying to out you. That's a compliment to you and your persistence.

I'm on the fence about charter and leaning against it for this district (but don't know enough about the state as a whole and what other districts face to know if charter would help or not). I try to keep an open mind and turn the noise volume down to keep it real.

Seattle mom
Anonymous said…
Actually, it should be, DAF, you go! (don't know if you are M or F)
Seattle mom
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
MichaelG said…
Since charter schools are purely voluntary the question boils down to do you want parents to have the freedom to choose traditional public schools or charter public schools. If you are against charter schools for your kids that's one thing, but to say no one else should have the option to choose one for your schools seems somewhat dictatorial.
anonymous said…
Thanks for the link above Sahila!

Some great info. I was especially interested in the quote below, since SPS has done away with any and all credit retrieval, including night school, and summer school.

"Barra, at the Education Department, said the current charter law did not explicitly prohibit virtual charters. One such school that has been approved is the New Jersey Virtual Charter, to be run by the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission.
It would focus on remediation and credit recovery for 150 dropouts in Paterson, Camden, Perth Amboy and Neptune. Its application projects a $118,364 surplus in its first year."

Very interesting and I wonder if charters ever came to WA, if they could be used to compliment what SPS offers (or doesn't offer in this case) with services like this.

anonymous said…
I feel the same way Seattle mom. I am not advocating for charters at all, rather, I'm trying to gather some unbiased, factual information and data about their performance, governance, popularity, and accountability, so I can decide if I think they could or would work in WA. But I'm finding that process to be extremely difficult because I have to put boots on to plow through the anti-charter hyperbole, canned remarks, knee jerk criticism, and just plain incorrect information, to get the factual, verifiable, unbiased data about charters that I seek.

MichaelG said…
Some research evaluations of charter schools:




The opponents of charter schools correctly point out that there were as many charter schools that had a negative effect as positive. What they usually fail to mention is that charter schools had an overall positive effect in reading and math scores on the poor and a negative effect on the more affluent. So charter schools help the poor and may negatively affect the middle class. To me that means that charter schools are succeeding with the group they were intended to serve.
CT said…
Michael G - are you really that naive? Most charter schools are not subject to the same accountability as public schools. They say they are, but reality is always a different story.
Case in point - the special treatment charters get (a good series from the Orlando Sentinel):

More evidence:

Old but still true in my home state, rife with charter issues:

How many kids and teachers of public schools show up to find their school closed?
Happens frequently with charters.
From our neighbor to the south:

And further south:

And another one to the south:

And another:

Closed mid-year due to dwindling enrollment:

And another:

How about the cost to the public school district when a charter closes abruptly?

And the old inflate-enrollment-for-more-state-dollars trick is always in play:

Can you say conflict of interest?




And then there's this controversy over charters that's been brewing in AZ: (with one in UT too)



seattle citizen said…
MichaelG writes "If you are against charter schools for your kids that's one thing, but to say no one else should have the option to choose one for your schools seems somewhat dictatorial."

Well, yes, these are my tax dollars and I get to dictate (through my elected board members and their policies) how they are spent. Public schools don't belong merely to those who use a particular school, they belong to the public. The public wants oversight (one would hope) through policy. Just because some family likes, and chooses, a school that employs corporal punishment doesn't mean I have to pay for that school.
seattle citizen said…
Can someone tell me what a charter school can do that an alternative, or option school cannot?

Also, can someone tell me why some districts, such as SPS, are busy making all schools similar if,as we hear here, "choice" and "options" are so great? In other words, why not just create choices and options within the public realm? We've already seen plenty, we have some, why, pedagogically, should most publics have to conform, conform, conform, and then some charters (or alts, etc) be allowed to diverge, diverge, diverge? There is a massive disconnent there: If choice is good, why is SPS narrowing it? If options are good, why aren't we providing more transportation to them (speaking of which, with charters, I guess you either have to live close enough to walk, or have the money to get a ride with mummy or daddy...How does transportation work in a district with, say, 40 charters and 50 true publics?)

So please, someone tell me what charters offer that, say, an alternative or option school can't.
"Charters, thankfully, do not have to answer to the school board."

Nope, not true. There are some charter laws where the school board oversees the accountability of the charter. Not guides the school but yes, reviews their accountability measures.

We in Washington may be in the minority for the rest of the country on charters but we are in the MAJORITY in our state and have been through two elections on this subject.

"So to sum up, the bottom line is that KIPP graduates are finishing college at the same rates as the general population, despite KIPP serving low income, minority students."

Yes, but you have to look at how many they start with and how those numbers change over time until graduation. It's not like it's a huge mass success. I think this is what LEV is hanging its hat on for charters and it's a big "what if" for the conversation.

"If you are against charter schools for your kids that's one thing, but to say no one else should have the option to choose one for your schools seems somewhat dictatorial."

Voting for how we spend public dollars if "dictatorial?" Count me in.

Again, Michael, this is the argument that LEV is making. It helps a small group of low-income kids in a small group of cases.

The question then is - do we change our law and create more bureaucracy and loss of revenue to existing schools in order to create these schools? Is this THE only way to do better? Because I don't know of a state that has a narrow charter law that limits the charters to low-income students. So we could have many kinds of charters and not all of them will be successful or even better than what exists.

What is the problem we are trying to solve?
seattle citizen said…
MichealG writes that "So charter schools help the poor and may negatively affect the middle class. To me that means that charter schools are succeeding with the group they were intended to serve."

A) so a school that dumbs down students who have had enrichment and good school is just fine for poor children? It's "good enough" to raise test scores (those obnoxious and somewhat meaningless quantifiers) for poor children to some slightly higher level?

B)So charters were created to serve poor people? That's not what we've been hearing, we've been hearing that they're just so good because they offer choice, choices to ANYone (or at least that's what charter supporters try to sell us) You're off-message, Michael. And who is creating these charters to so nobly help poor people? The communitities themselves? No? Hmm, maybe some astroturf non-profits, some "philanthropic" organizations, some for-profit corporations? Bless their little hearts! That is so....noble. A far cry from the money-grubbing union dinosaurs who SAY they're trying to teach poor children now...
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
"Just because some family likes, and chooses, a school that employs corporal punishment doesn't mean I have to pay for that school."

Yes you do if it's legal and the majority wants it. You get one vote just like everybody else.

"If choice is good, why is SPS narrowing it? If options are good, why aren't we providing more transportation to them "

That's the million dollar question. If SPS stopped this push to standardize, and make every school the same, and limit choice, and transportation, then there would be no need for charters. Our alts and option schools would continue to fill that void as they've done for years. But despite all of the activism and pushback, SPS continues to standardize (bad math texts, readers and writers workshop, NSF science kits, MAP testing), they continue to limit entrance to advanced programs, limit choice to options schools. And there is zero sign that any change is on the horizon. Try as you might, if you can't work with the system, the next step is for you to work outside of the system. This is why I believe charters may have a fighting chance if they come to vote now, when just 8 years ago they didn't stand a chance.

"So please, someone tell me what charters offer that, say, an alternative or option school can't."

They can tailor their program to meet their communities needs. They get pedagogical and programmatic autonomy. They can choose their own texts, curriculum, materials. They can choose their own principal and teachers. They can choose their own start and end times. They are free to try experimental and cutting edge approaches. Need I go on?

"So charters were created to serve poor people? "

Not at all what MichaelG wrote. He said charters WORKED better for low income kids than they did for middle class kids. He did NOT say the were created to serve poor people.

Melissa, thanks for the facts about some charters being accountable to school boards. Those are the types of facts I'm trying to gather, so I can decide what I think about charters. Can you give an example of a district that uses this approach and how it is playing out? Are charters in those districts doing better/worse than charters that don't answer to a school board?

seattle citizen said…
daf, I quote MichaelG:
"charter schools are succeeding with the group they were intended to serve."
Sounds like Michael believes they were created ("intended") for poor people to me....

As to corporal punishment and me not wanting to pay for, of course I get one vote (for my board directors who create policy) but if a charter school wants to have corporal punishment using my tax dollar, how do I have a say in that? Do I? That's why we have school boards, to determine policies such as that, and that's why vote for board directors counts: THEY determine policies.

Which leads me to the question: Who, in fact, determines policies in a charter school? Let's say that a charter was contracted to a school; the school promised to provide x-amount of HSPE growth in return for unlimited freedom from district policies. Who, then, runs the school? Who determines curriculum? Bell times? Nutrition? Anti-bullying policy?

There will be some sort of management that determines all these things, right? Who is part of that management? How is change enacted? Let's say some people want to change start time. What is the process? Popular vote? Edict by principal? Voting at shareholders' meeting?

I think this merits its own thread: What are the accountability, policy and procedure metrics for charters? Who do they report to, who runs them, how do citizens have a say in what goes on in them?

Regarding what charters can offer that publics can't - just about all that daf suggests can be offered in our current alternatives - It isn't that publics CAN'T offer these, it's that the board won't let them (in some degree) - So why on earth would I, the tax payer, want to set up an unequal system where some schools have to toe the line on policy but others don't?

If you want a school free from policy, start a private school - to demand my money for a non-public school because you don't like the public policy is unfair and inequitable - Public schools, under public policy, ave the responsibility to determine how my money is spent...under policy...a responsbility given the board. Why on earth should some schools, equally funded, not be under the policy? It makes absolutely no sense; it suggests that we should just do away with the board entirely and just cut checks to anyone who calls themselves a "school."

Public money equals public accountability and public access to policy and changes to policy: I, the taxpayer, agree to give my money for public schools and in return I get to "vote" on policy by voting for my board directors. I don't see how accountability can be measured any other way.
Jet City mom said…
Still waiting to hear if Summit had been a charter school, if it would have been easier or more difficult to close it so abruptly.
Also under current structure in the district, without charters, how can an interested community replicate or begin an alternative school?
From my perspective-the district has limited alternatives unless they are district driven
charter schools
Dorothy Neville said…
The Summit question is too speculative. The correct answer would be: it depends. Charters have definitely been closed at moment's notice and, as others have shared here, charters that some think should be closed are kept open. So, Summit as a charter would have been protected from some who would want to close it and would be vulnerable to being closed by other factors/motives.

How would Summit have been funded? SPS gets a third of its operating fund from local levy. Summit as charter would have gotten none of that. How would kids get to Summit? Wouldn't that depend on if the state charter law afforded charter schools transportation? How would Summit have been housed? Laws in different states give charters various rights to public school properties, without paying rent or maintenance. But our buildings are in disrepair as it is and the bulk of our capital dollars come from local levies. Would that money be made available for charters? If so, would capital levies still win?

I do not know.
Jet City mom said…
Those are good questions Dorothy- I am interested in where these schools are housed- for example- Summit was originally centrally located and was only moved to the north end" temporarily".
I have no doubt it would have been more successful had it been permitted to move back to the central region.

Are charter schools - district schools which are converted to charters?
If charter schools are housed in the district building, but the district is the one responsible for upkeep, that does sound like a big drain.
seattle citizen said…
Location of the charter doesn't matter to hedge funders seeking to make a profit off of them. As Juan Gonzales (of the NT Daily News) reports in his 2010 article, Albany charter cash cow: Big banks making a bundle on new construction as schools bear the cost, the money is to be made on tax credits and hedge fud management while siphoning off money that should go to students and putting the school itself into debt.

From the article:
"Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.
The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.
In Albany, which boasts the state's highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city's nine charter schools.
But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.
,,,Several charters have fallen into additional debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation.
You'd think these financial problems would raise eyebrows among state regulators - or at least worry those charter school boards.
But the powerful charter lobby has so far successfully battled to prevent independent government audits of how its schools spend their state aid.
And key officers of Albany's charter school boards are themselves board members, employees or former employees of the Brighter Choice Foundation or its affiliates.
…A Brighter Choice official confirmed Thursday that the Virginia organization gets "a 3% originating and management fee" for all school construction deals that Brighter Choice arranges.
Under the New Markets program, a bank or private equity firm that lends money to a nonprofit to build a charter school can receive a 39% federal tax credit over seven years.
The credit can even be piggybacked on other tax breaks for historic preservation or job creation.
By combining the various credits with the interest from the loan itself, a lender can almost double his investment over the seven-year period.
No wonder JPMorgan Chase announced this week it was creating a new $325 million pool to invest in charter schools and take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit.
…If wealthy investors and banks can double their money simply by building charter schools, taxpayers deserve to know exactly who arranged those deals, who will benefit and what they will ultimately cost each school."
seattle citizen said…
In other words, where is the accountability to the taxpayer when a charter school siphons my tax dollars away from students and into his or her pocket, or the pockets of investors? In the above case, the state's own "charter board" was largely directed by hedge-funders and their lackeys!

What a hoot. Unless you are a student at one of these schools in Albany...or New Orleans...or Atlantc...Hopefully we can spare our students this outrage.
caroline said…
I have to protest when someone dismisses the voices of parent volunteers who have been following charter school for years as "anti-charter hyperbole, canned remarks, knee jerk criticism, and just plain incorrect information" -- while unquestioningly accepting the high-powered, high-priced (and chronically misleading and deceitful) PR from the powerful in promoting charters.

Sorry, @Melissa, because in taking more note of your blog I appreciate how good it is and I can perceive your sincerity. But I first posted on this blog, @DAF, after @Melissa posted a statement that charters are more diverse than public schools. That is so astoundingly the opposite of reality that when a Seattle friend asked me about this, I had to come post a response.

And excuse me -- you are branding MY information "incorrect," @DAF? Hyperbole, canned, knee-jerk? Some conniving charter-sector source lied to @Melissa and she unknowingly trusted. I corrected the inaccuracy. My comment was not incorrect, knee-jerk, hyperbole nor canned.

As discussed here, the issue of "choice for families" vs. "the best interests of the community" does create a potential conflict. I don't see how it's "dictatorial" to give priority to the greater good, the best interests of the community as a whole.
seattle citizen said…
Here's another piece on the profits to be had (rather than actually paying, you know, public school educators):

"…Ravenel Boykin Curry IV of the Eagle Capital Management hedge told the Times that charter schools are 'exactly the kind of investment people in our industry spend out days trying to stumble on, with incredible cash flow, even if in this case we don’t ourselves get any of it.'
The Robin Hood Foundation annual meeting brings these captains of rich people’s money together annually. Founded in 1988 by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones the gathering last year brought together 3,000 people who raised more than $88 million in one night.

What’s in it for these high rollers?

The best known charter and star of the "Waiting for Superman” flick, The Harlem Chldren’s zone has $128 million in savings and investments invested in a hedge fund. The hedge funds charge 2% management fees and a 20% take of any profit earned."

Hand-picked charter boards of directors pay their charter managers very well. Village Academies Network pays its manager $442,000 annually according to its 2008 tax form 990. …”
Sahila said…
DAF and Michael are behind on developments in the charter school INDUSTRY...

Now that charter school operators have their feet under the table in minority/disadvantaged communities, they have their eyes on the untapped market of (what used to be) the middle class and the 'burbs...

see here: Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs
"Are charter schools - district schools which are converted to charters?"

Sometimes. If a district chooses to close a school, then a charter could take over that building. And yes, the district would pay the upkeep on the building (although I don't think charters would have access to capital money).

However, once again, it depends on the charter law if a charter would take over a failing district school.
Anonymous said…
I don't know numbers, but there are quite a few charters opened as new schools and quite a few district schools converted to charters.

One of the supposed "remedies" for "failing" schools under the Obama administration's wrongheaded Race to the Top is converting to a charter school. (It's a legit question whether the remedy for a "failing" charter school is converting to a public school.)

I noted that a very high-end Los Angeles public school -- located in Westwood and serving no low-income kids -- had recently converted itself to a charter, presumably to reap various operational advantages.

When KIPP establishes a school (this is a charter serving poor children), its standard practice is to open a new school rather than taking over a school. KIPP did take over a struggling public school in Denver. It was an immediate disaster and KIPP rapidly closed the school.
caroline said…
Damn this blogger comment function. That last comment was me, CarolineSF again.
Sahila said…
every day, in every way, ed deform just gets better and better (not!)... chocolate fish to any anglophile who gets the reference!

for charter school supporters:

when charter schools get too picky
Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, It's very helpful for this blog. Also great with all of the valuable information you have Keep up the good work you are doing well.

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