Washington State PTSA Legislative Assembly and Charters

FYI from Parents Across America:

Parents Across America Seattle respectfully asks PTA delegates to vote NO on charter schools at the Washington State PTA legislative assembly on October 14th and 15th. We are concerned because:

* Charter schools are run by private interests, including for-profit corporations. They are accountable to those corporations, not to parents or students.

* Charter schools do not solve the opportunity gap. They have a mixed record compared to traditional public schools - according to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), a full 83% of
charter schools do worse, or only as well as, regular public schools.

* In an effort to inflate standardized test scores, charter schools exclude some English Language Learners and special education students.

* Charter schools have been increasing segregation by race and class, according to the UCLA Civil Rights project.

* Charter schools have high levels of teacher burnout, and more than twice as many teachers in charter schools leave the teaching profession, compared to traditional schools. If teachers aren't happy, something is wrong!

We believe that a better way to solve opportunity gaps is to increase public funding for the neediest students and schools; to reduce class sizes; to ensure thatall children have enough to eat; and to address institutional racism.

This may be the opening salvo of discussion about charter schools.  It would have been nice for the Washington State PTSA to be a little more upfront about this issue before taking it to a vote.  

In terms of this blog, how do people want to start this discussion?  Do you first want a primer on charters done as neutrally as possible or just a list of links and you do your own reading?  Do we need a background on the charter issue in Washington State?  Should we just start debating? 


Anonymous said…
What I want out of this discussion is for the memebers of this blog community to be respectful and open-minded during this discussion. I am pro non-profit community-generated charters and against corporate-backed charter businesses. I believe that a reasoned discussion could generate a "middle-of-the-road" solution about this issue. I hope we can have a genuinely open discussion.

Thank you,

Pro Some Charters
Anonymous said…
I want to include the WA PTSA site for the charter proposal so people can read it.


It seems like the push is to offer more school options and more site-based control. Perhaps if we don't want charter in Seattle, we need to re-examine our alternative and option schools as well as our comprehensives.

I would encourage people to go to the Shanker blog and read up on Charters. There are several articles below:

1st article discussed the high rate of teacher turnover and why that might be. Charter teachers tend to be younger, less experience, often working in poor neighborhoods and with students with higher needs? Is it the working conditions of longer work days and longer school years that leads to higher turnover?


2nd article discussed a pilot program in Houston that is seeking to replicate 5 basic characteristics of high flying charters and applying them to Houston public schools.


Seattle mom
Anonymous said…
Oops, try this for the WA PTSA site and their charter proposal:


Seattle mom
seattle citizen said…
Pro Some Charters,
(may I call you PSC? Me, I'm SC around here...)

PSC, may I ask what you like about the idea of charters? We have had quite some discussion on this blog about them.

Me, I believe they are un-necessary, as board policy can be written (and has: See C54.00 on Alternative Schools) that allows flexibility, and I also believe the very concept of a charter moves the charter group away from board policy - Policy represents the deliberations of my elected board - Electing them, citizens expect them to design and oversee policy (that, really, is their own job.) So why would a charter (which grants exceptions from policy) be allowable or ethical? Policy is policy, it represents the will of the people. A charter, in its very essence, is a contract: The charter organization gets deviation from policy in exchange for some returns (i.e. test scores or some other metric.

To me, that moves the charter group on step beyong board policy, separate from it, and so removes them one step beyond accountability to me, the citizen who elected the board and the taxpayer who foots the bill.

I say, "nay". Any sort of school we as citizens want should follow board policy so it is accountable to all aspects of it: If something is allowable in one school, it should be allowable in all. If a deviation from some policy is allowable, it should board-enacted and not contracted out.

PSC, why do think charters are necessary; why are contracts that deviate from policy designed by our duly elected board a good thing?
Anonymous said…
I would like a primer, with references to credible, peer-reviewed research.

I've read some of the research, and it is, as with just about all education research, inconclusive.

But I would like to know more.

seattle citizen said…
As most here might expect, I am not in favor from the get-go, because, as noted in my comment above, a charter is an abrogation of board responsibility. Until someone can steer me to a document that addresses THAT issue, reading about what charters DO isn't much help to me (except for learning about great stuff that public schools can do with alternatives, option schools, community schools, etc, without needing a charter; all they need to do is write policy to accomodate it.)
CT said…
I used to like the idea of charters until they were taken over by the for-profit and/or ideologically driven groups. My experiences with charters in AZ and UT have not been good. They cherry-pick students, are heavily segregated by income, which usually translates to race as well, and in those two states, anyone can get a charter and anyone can teach at a charter. There are tons of instances of legislators owning interests in charter schools, or pushing for construction of a new charter to be built by their family's/buddy's construction company. In both states, the public school districts are being drained of money to support the charters, who proclaim they are public schools, when they are actually publicly funded private school.

A good friend with a special needs child had her daughter in 2 different charter schools in UT, and both times her daughter was "counseled out", meaning they told her they could no longer meet her daughter's needs and recommended she attend a public school. Both times this happened AFTER the count date, meaning the funding went to the charter school even though she was no longer there. In the second school, she tried to raise the issue of SPED services with the principal several times (a man who had no teaching or education experience), and he refused to talk with her. Then when she tried to get help from the state, she was accused by the staff of trying to shut down their charter and they told her that neither she nor her daughter was welcome on campus. When her daughter went to class she was shunned by the other kids/parents because she was "trying to ruin the school". She ended up in public school, with more transparency, SPED services, and bus service. Although she's not completely happy with the public elementary, she's getting services and her daughter is making progress and seems happy. She is now completely against charters and their discriminatory practices and lack of transparency.
whittier07 said…
Attended the WSPTA Legislative Assembly ... the vote was very close but the resolution to support public charters passed.
Anonymous said…
Do we think public schools do such a great job for students with disabilities? How great is it to dump disabled kids in general ed, and watch them sit there? Or, kick them out because of some behavior problem? Or shove them off into some self-contained corner in the back of a building? Charters don't seem much worse than that, and at least it is a choice. We have so many public programs that are essentially off limits to students with disabilities, it's hard to take these complaints about this particular issue seriously.

As to the "85% do no better or worse" claim. That's a little off-point as well. The real question is, how many actually do worse? If they're doing "just as well", then there shouldn't be a complaint. Absent here is any discussion of parent values. Some values aren't really measured in the "85% do no better or worse" claim. It's funny that the same people who hate test scores as an objective measure - are the same ones to use test scores, or some other "objective" measure, to try and lambast charter initiatives. You can't have it both ways.

Charters DO offer a choice. And, near as I can tell, choice is something almost everybody values. For my part, I like the choice, and I like the competition with the publics, their schools, their teachers, and their methods.

I see the PTSA is voting on my side of this issue. Good.

-another parent across America
seattle citizen said…
another parent,
Can you explain to me what sort of choices a charter can offer that regular schools can't?

As I wrote before, I believe all public schools, funded by my money and governed by my elected board members, should operate under the same policies. Those policies can and do allow for choice (see Alt Policy C54.00)

So can you tell me what you would like a charter to do that wouldn't be covered by the policies that govern all the other schools?

What is "special" about charters to you, that they would need a variance from policy?
Another parent,

"Charters don't seem much worse than that, and at least it is a choice."

But we gave up choice in SPS (by choice) and now we are complaining we have no choice? I'm sure this would be confusing to the Board.

Regarding this comment on Special Ed and charters:

"Charters don't seem much worse than that, and at least it is a choice."

I'll get to that in my thread about charters but understand this - public schools have to take EVERYONE because they have to provide services for EVERYONE. We can all certainly agree or disagree on the quality of the services.

Charters can write their charters to not provide services. Your child with special needs (Special Ed, ELL) can attend but will receive no services if it is not part of their charter. (That's the beauty of charters from the operator POV: the expensive and difficult services are not their problem.)

This is not to say that there aren't some charters that do provide services; there are. But most don't and you have no guarantee that they will (unless it is in the charter law and I don't think I've seen a state yet that requires a charter to provide services as needed).

I gotta get to work on this pro/con and good, bad and ugly on charters.

I can see where more choices can sound good (and may be good for some) but we all need to see the big picture to decide.
CT said…
You're right, another parent. Charters DO offer a choice - if you're white, upper-middle class, and have no disabilities. Charters don't have to provide transportation. So who does that limit your school population to? That's right - parents who have access to vehicles, where one parent may not have to work, or where the parent might have a more flexible schedule because they are management or own their own business. You might have a few token minorities whose parents make lots of sacrifices to move their kids to a charter under the illusion that they'll get a better education, but most of your clientele is going to be upper middle class white, and as a charter, you'll be able to limit the of students you take in as well, hence the small class sizes. Gives you great test scores! And any kid who might bring down the test scores - like those special Ed kids - is quickly counseled out. I've seen it happen, and I have friends in both AZ and UT who have experienced it either as parents or as teachers.
If that's the type of choice you want, then good for you, another parent. You are subscribing to the exact line of thought the Republicans and the money-making privatizers want you to. Public schools are not perfect, but at least they aren't the exclusionary, cherry-picking, segregated institutions that most charters have turned into.

Some research:
Anonymous said…
SC, do you really believe that "your elected board members" provide any governance over our schools? Any whatsoever? Are there any policy which are followed? To me it seems more like a free-for-all. As such, why not give others the chance to play too?

I would like the choice to go to a school that can hire outside of the union, and can have teaching requirements not governed by the union. We already have some schools (EEU at UW) that are privately contracted, which is non-union. I think we need more. I doubt I would probably make a choice to attend such a school, but value their existence. Here are the benefits - hiring process more aligned with student needs, hiring based on talent not seniority (though, I'm happy to pay based on seniority), more comprehensive hiring process. (30 minute canned questions - don't really cut it). I'm glad our teachers do have a union, just think the union shouldn't be the only game in town.

(Same goes for administration too.)

I like the idea of having curricula outside district mandates. I like that regular schools offer standardization, so that a consistency is maintained between schools. But, alternative choices need to be available too.

I like the idea of special, mostly ignored populations being the focus. Charter schools that cater to minority groups, perhaps the disabled, seem like a good thing. Amazing how many people think charters are a bad idea for other people. Then in the same breath, think there is nothing that can be done about achievement gaps etc. Choice and greater variety is a good thing.

-another parent crossing America
Anonymous said…
Melissa, just like charters, special education students can be unserved in public schools too. I have a student with a disability. When I went to my neighborhood school... the thing they told me is EXACTLY the same story that you say charters do. "Sure, your child can enroll here - but we won't serve him. You really must go to that 1 school in the region for folks like you." (they had never met him, and knew nothing about him, but weren't going to serve him - no way, no day, no how) How is that different from a charter? Nowadays, the tune has changed a bit. Now, they've realized they can't say that. They've cancelled programs where they used to send students with similar disabilities. Because they truly have no other option, they say, "Sure, your child can enroll ..." and then they still don't serve him. The fact that a public school MIGHT dain to allow a kid a seat in a classroom, (and still not serve them) is no big win for the publics. The quality of the services are EXACTLY the point, and not a quibble. If the public schools aren't offering good services, or sufficient services, or even close, and certainly many are not, then it really isn't different that the charters at their worst. I doubt that charters can be painted with such a broad brush either. Some probably do a better job than others.

As to charters all being white. That is patently false. What about KIPP? The school everybody loves to hate? But, you are right. I would support transportation for charters.

It's not that "I'm buying it", it's just we need competition around here. It's always people happy with their own situation, that wish to squelch charters.

-another parent
Anonymous said…
I have a question about Melissa's comment that public schools have to take all students, and charter schools can somehow avoid that by writing it into their charter. Specific to special ed, it is my understanding that all public schools do not actually offer all services to all kids. In the event a school is unable to offer the resources a child needs (for example, be being too small to be able to have the appropriate staff on full-time), arrangements are made for the child to be served in another school. In this case, the child is still in public school, just not necessarily the one they would originally be assigned to. In the case of charter schools, because they are public schools and need to follow the same laws as other public schools, they also need to find appropriate alternatives for kids they cannot serve. I know every state has different laws, but can anyone confirm this for me?

- new to sps
seattle citizen said…
Another parent crossing america,

Sooo...If our elected board officials aren't accountable, if they are somehow mismanaging my money and not providing public schools according to the will of the voters who elect board directors...The answer is to start a bunch of other schools that still take my money but are even less accountable? Hmm...So how, then, are they public schools, and why do they get my money?

As to the non-union aspect, be careful for what you wish for: There are three or four million teachers in this country. If you take away union protections and benefits, who will staff thee tens of thousands of schools? In the competitive model that everyone touts so highly, schools will be "free" to hire "the best."

But they will also be free to offer less money and benefits, less job security, and thereby have to rely on those willing to work for peanuts and be fired at will.

Do you think that sans union or some sort of job protection, security and benefits charters (if ALL schools were charters) would be getting the best and the brightest? Or would they have to hire whoever will work for 30k and be fireable at will?

What if the principal doesn't LIKE a teacher, should there be protections?

Lastly, why should one public school be able to deviate from policy in order to have different curriculum and others have to operate under policy? If policy is so bad, as you seem to say, shouldn't we just get rid of it and give our tax dollars to anyone who calls themselves a "school"?

I've said it before: Policy is policy, it represents elected board directors spending my money. Don't like policy? Fix it. But I prefer my money and my vote to count towards ALL public schools.
seattle citizen said…
Melissa, SPS has become more standardized in some ways, but has also moved towards offering schools that are not standard: Option schools, International, etc. That's in addition to the Alt schools: In 2005-2006, the Board created Alt Policy C54.00, which codified alts, and then went on to form a year-long committee, headed by CAO Santorno, which crafted the alt checklist. This shows that the district supports a variety of schools.
Obviously, all the kinks haven't been worked out (transportation and boundries are difficult, particulalry given the NSAP) but there is certainly room for creative schools such as those formed WITHIN the public framework by parents and community thirty years ago: Summit, AS1, Marshall, Pathfinder....
Choice is possible within the framework.

Of course, what some mean when they say "choice" is the choice to abolish the union and hire on free market salaries and fire-at-will, an unsustainable model, but that is a different sort of choice - when I think "choice," I think curriculum and pedagogy.
Anonymous said…
Charter schools are not public schools, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. They are publicly funded schools, but not public schools, so if you have issues with the lack of transparency in SPS with money, you'd really have issues with the charter schools (Google ohio charter schools financial transparency). If their charter does not indicate special ed services, then they are not obligated to provide any. If the charter does not indicate ELL services, then they are not obligated to provide those either. In fact, they are not obligated to provide much of anything that the public schools are - lunch, nurses (when there are kids with life threatening issues), transportation, translators, special ed services, LAP services, etc.
One of the issues is that that charter schools often play bait and switch with parents - your child will succeed in this small, personal environment no matter what, then once the count date has passed, suddenly the child needs additional services that the school cannot provide. They don't find alternatives for the parents - they merely counsel them out of the charter, make them feel unwelcome, or in the case of one friend, expel them.
In contrast, the public system does have to find alternatives for the child if their school does not provide for them, and even pay for the alternatives if an out-of-district placement is deemed the best fit. If a child needs a self-contained program that does not exist in the current location, then they are moved to where that program is located. Clearly it is not possible to have all programs in all schools - both capacity and staffing make that impossible - and having a self contained program in each school for 2-3 kids is a ridiculous waste of funds, which is why some buildings will have a self-contained for autism, some for BD, some for medically fragile, etc. Do some administrators/buildings/districts try to get out of this? I know they do, as they are all human, but via the public school route, parents with kids with special needs have more rights and recourse than parents of kids with special needs in charter schools. I've traipsed through both systems now, and while the charter school was able to slither out of any obligations, the public school had no choice but to step up and offer the necessary services.
(and for anyone who isn't familiar with the OEO here in WA State - go here: http://www.governor.wa.gov/oeo/)
Anonymous said…
Another issue with charters is that they frequently have untrained staff. In both UT and AZ (and many other states), you do not need to have a teaching certificate to teach in a charter school. You don't need to have any training on how kids learn, or the developmental stages they go through. You don't even need to have any training to differentiate your curriculum, recognize child abuse, or adjust instruction for students with special needs. All you really need is to have a buddy in the school and you are in. In Utah, they like to hire people from the same wards or the same families. In AZ, they like to keep it in the buddy system - doing a favor for a buddy by giving him/her a job.

As for the KIPP charter schools - while they have a few successful ones, most of them are not. There are many issues with the research coming out from them, and if a study is done by Hoxby or Hanushek, you need to look at the methodology and the missing data as well as their bias and who financed their research. They'll neglect to mention little things like while the KIPP school started with 90 students in the 5th grade, it ended with 23 students in 7th grade. Instead, they'll figure the graduation rate with the entering 7th graders vs the exiting 7th graders and say the school had a 98% graduation rate. There's often no sense of history in the KIPP schools because the turnover rate for teachers is quite high - after a couple of years of having to be on call until 10pm with a school required cell phone, the young teachers tend to burn out, or decide they actually want to have a life and a family and quit.
Choice to me comes down to what I want to see in the public system - magnet schools and alternative schools, option schools with varying configurations to meet the needs of diverse learners and families.

Choice to me means teachers can adjust instruction and curriculum to meet the needs of their students rather than following a scripted "teacher-proof" curriculum that is meant to dumb down students and teachers in the misguided notion that standardization is a good thing. Choice to me does not include sending public tax dollars to private individuals to line their bank accounts, promote segregation, and create even greater societal inequities. -CT
Jan said…
What I dislike about charters is basically all the stuff that CT has mentioned. Particularly when they are national "franchise" type schools, I think they become as cookie cutter (or more so) than regular public schools -- but with much less accountability -- because it is harder for the District and/or parents to "interfere" through the contract terms than when the District has direct control.

That difficulty in District interference is, paradoxically, the same thing that attracts me to small, community-sponsored charters that are formed to meet the needs of a particular community. We have all seen what the District can do (and has done) in violation of the Alt policies, when it wants to. We have watched as it has undermined and eroded alt schools, failed to honor the community engagement in the selection of staff, required use of specific texts, etc. We have heard things like -- waivers on textbooks should only be allowed as "experiments" or "pilots" in select schools, and then only with specific goals in mind.

The problem is -- the District manages badly. They are insufficiently in control on the big issues that only they can handle (capacity management, capital construction, etc., transportation, gifted education). And they are way too interfering and overbearing on smaller issues that would be best handled within a school community -- textbooks, division of the day into periods, etc.

District management is so inept that one could wonder if it was not all part of a plot to drive parents into voting for charter schools -- except that the ineptness and mismanagement was going on long before the big push for charter schools. So I suspect it only LOOKS like a sinister plot.

But, on the other hand, given the "Big Ed" push for charter schools run by big, national charter school companies that ultimately are beholden to financial interests, and are looking to spend as little money as possible on kids (and teachers) -- and as much as possible on charter management contracts, curriculum contracts with big, for profit ed publishers, and management fees, we are also not going to be well served by introducing charters (as they are currently constituted in other states) in Washington.

Part of me wishes that we say yes to charters -- but ONLY to "single entity" or "single district" charters (1) that agree to set aside at least 1/3 of their seats for special, hard t0 serve populations --probably SPED and/or ELL, (2) have boards that consist of a majority of local citizens (parents, teachers, etc.), do NOT contract with any charter management entities, (3) do not pay their management more than X percent of what their teachers make, and (4) agree to financial and management review that helps prevent scandal.
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