Charter Law - Third in the Series on Charter Schools

This is probably the most difficult piece of the charter puzzle because (1) there are 41 charter laws and (2) the mission and goals of those laws vary greatly (although the language might be similar).

Just by the numbers, there are about 5600 charter schools across the country.  More than 500 open across the country in fall 2011 and 150 closed with California leading in both categories.   California opened 100 new schools, closed 34 schools.  Florida opened 76 new schools and closed 18 schools.  Arizona opened 35 new schools and closed 22 schools.

Charter law covers a huge number of issues.  Some of these include:
  • number of schools allowed in the entire state
  • number of new schools per year
  • who is the authorizer
  • who oversees the charters
  • who can open a charter (non-profit or for-profit or both)
  • funding
  • waivers and legal autonomy
  • requirements and duties of a charter school
  • if it is a for-profit, the governance gets trickier with the need to figure out who operates the day-to day life of a school, who gets the money from fundraising, grants, etc. 
 For example, most charter law will include wording like this from the state of Arizona:

The governing board, in consultation with parents, teachers and administrators, shall develop and adopt a policy to promote the involvement of parents and guardians of children enrolled in the schools within the school district...

You'll note that it says "involvement" and not "input", "oversight" or anything that is governance.  Some governing boards do have parents but that can be limited by whoever sets up the governing board.  Most state laws do not require that parents be part of the governing board.  Charter law can set forth requirements for how schools are to be held accountable BUT the implementation of these requirements fall to the school's governing body and whatever governmental entity charged with oversight.  

Herein we find one of the troubling issues (that even the UW's Center for Reinventing Education points out) which is accountability.  There is a lot on paper but without enforcement, much of it remains on paper.  The state charter law, to be accountable to parents and the taxpayers, should have some kind of explanation of how (and who and when) enforcement occurs.

Here is a sample (Maine) of the role of the Authorizer:

The authorizer:
  • Approves an application to form a charter school based on criteria consistent with nationally recognized standards for charter school authorizers.
  • Negotiates the terms of the charter contract with the school's founding organization. The contract should specify the authorizer's performance expectations.
  • Oversees the performance of the charter school and monitors the charter school's compliance with the terms of its charter and with state and federal laws.
  • Collects, analyzes and reports to the Department of Education results from state-required assessments taken by the charter school's students.
  • Notifies the charter school of any perceived problems and areas where improvement is needed, and provides the school a reasonable opportunity to remedy those problems.
  • Decides whether to renew a charter school's contract upon its expiration.
Who gets in?  As I previously reported, there is this "founders" issue where parents who start the school can get their children in.   However, there is the issue of creating "founders" who pony up money to be founders when the school has already been established to get their children in.   Here's yet another story about a charter school that operates more like a private one.

Basically anyone, however, a few caveats.
  • naturally, there are grade level cut-offs
  • at-risk students can be considered differently
  • living near a charter
  • students who meet reasonable academic, artistic or other eligibility standards established by the charter school (and that were in the original charter application)
  • inter-charter movement agreements
There looks to be a couple of categories for set-aside seats; 
  • founders, members of the governing board and full-time employees.  No more than 10% of the school's population can get in under this provision.
  • siblings (if their older sibling is still in the school in the same year)
  • if a non-charter public school is converting to being a charter, they give enrollment preference to students who live in the former attendance area of the non-charter public school.
Who teaches?
A bit of wild card here.  Some charter law says having a teaching certificate, some require certification within a time period.  Some only require an advance degree, professional certification or "unique expertise or experience in curricular area."  Administrators usually require no type of certification.  All employees have to be fingerprinted and have a background check.

Another wild card.  As previously discussed, state money (and federal if the student is under Special Education) follows each student.  However, that does not include transportation funding nor capital funding.  However, some charter law requires a charter to provide its own funding for Special Education services (besides the funding that follows the student from the feds) and others have the school district give money towards that effort.

One big issue is that there are an increasing number of virtual charters on-line.  With the state money attached to the child, a student could live anywhere in a state and yet the district that he/she resides in is responsible for paying that student's costs.

It is also often hard to compare funding for traditional public schools against charters.  Some charters have funders that give them funding that other charters/traditional public schools don't receive.   Charters tend to spend less on special education, teachers and employee benefits and more on administration.

How often do charters get renewed?
Another wild card.  Sometimes 5 years, 7 years, 10 years, 15 years.  Most have some performance evaluation around 3 years so that if a charter isn't doing well, it has time to renovate its practices before its charter runs out.

Some research worth reading:
  • Charter Ranking Roulette: An Analysis of Reports that Grade States' Charter School Laws by Wendy C. Chi and Kevin G. Welner of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  There's a group, the Center for Education Reform, which is basically a charter school think-tank and annually they release a report card that grades each state's charter law.  Now initially they ranked for gaols like innovation and service to at-risk students but that gradually changed to flexibility, freedom and ability to create more schools. 
  • This website, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, has an interactive map that shows numbers of charters and who authorizes them in each state.
  • An interesting one-page information sheet from the Center on Reinventing Public Education about lessons about charter law.   It's a fairly balanced page that points out that you have to have accountability and enforcement, education costs money (and there should be planning and start-up funding - where would that money come from?), and that full autonomy to be flexible and innovative has to come with accountability.
Bottom line :
It is unclear to me what process many states used to create their legislation but the fact is that there are continuing problems, even after 20 years of legislation, with states being able to adequately oversee their charters.   (Arizona looks like a revolving door for charter schools.)

For charter legislation every word counts, there has to be adequate funding for oversight (or there goes the claim of accountability) and that there are many, many details to cover which often get ignored or receive short shrift. 


anonymous said…
So a state can write its own charter law....

Could a state only allow non profit, or home grown, non chain charters? Could a state require teacher certification? Could a state require the charter teachers to join the teachers union?

dan dempsey said…

WA can write any law it wishes that is not a violation of the WA state constitution.

Like many things done by the state legislature it need not make any sense at all.

The adoption of the CCSS was a very poor choice. Alabama intelligently just bailed.

Given Rodney Tom's and Eric Pettigrew's love for all things reform... look for them to be Charter cheerleaders.

As long as big money wants it ... it must be good... right?
TG, yes, I think a state could do all those things (although requiring charter teachers to join a union would fly in the face of what freedoms charters think they need not having unionized workers).

It is unlikely, given the charter history, that our legislators would be that protective. I'm sure they all hear "KIPP, KIPP, KIPP" and so KIPP would probably be the first ones in the door.

There are a lot of hoops to jump thru to be a charter so already established ones would have a jump on what to do.

Hard to know.
Catherine said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
caroline said…
Hi everybody.

In regard to who gets in to charters, they can actually do pretty much anything they want. Nobody has the bandwidth to oversee the application process in detail. I learned that KIPP gives tests to applicants by starting the enrollment process at KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy for my own daughter (which someone in the fawning press should have done rather than taking KIPP's word, by the way).

So the laws are basically meaningless in that area.

There's a homegrown charter high school in my area -- not the kind we "education reform" critics love to hate -- and even it weeds out all but the most motivated with a long, demanding application form and process.

If KIPP is the first charter operator in the door in Seattle, it won't be to take over any struggling schools, by the way. KIPP has done that just once or twice and failed. KIPP's business model calls for opening new schools so it can pick and choose its own students (and leave the ones it doesn't want in the public school down the street).
Ed said…
And it could be written to actually allow staff to have unions.

Thats how its done in some of the states where charters have actually produced positive results.

Shhhhhhhh, don't tell the Spady's or the LEV crowd. They are developing a new Strategy.
dan dempsey said…
What follows is a link to an interesting collection of charts and graphs --- much of it is charter related.


Failure of U.S. Public Secondary Schools in Mathematics: Poverty is a More Important Cause than Teacher Quality

by Michael Marder

The Problem

Many say the US public school system is broken, its failure is an ongoing disaster for our students and country. Once when systems of great consequence failed, the accidents were investigated with all needed resources, causes identified, mechanisms understood, solutions devised tested and implemented.

I have been studying aircraft accidents that took place at the birth of jet aviation. Mistaken concepts employed by British engineers, and an illusion that confident public pronouncements could substitute for sound science helped move world leadership from the United Kingdom to the United States.

The path the British followed to disaster bears an unsettling resemblance to the path the US now follows to reform our schools.
dan dempsey said…
The above problem description is from ...
Michael Marder the Associate Dean for Science and Mathematics Education and Professor Physics at the University of Texas at Austin.

His most recent books are Condensed Matter Physics, second edition (Wiley 2010) and Research Methods for Science (Cambridge University Press 2011).

He is co-director and co-founder of UTeach, a program that prepares science and mathematics teachers at universities across the United States.

Notice that the situation Marder illuminates .....

Sounds a lot like the Enfield/Sundquist plan to restore confidence in the Seattle Public schools put into action upon MGJ's departure.

The Seattle Public Schools are using a strategy to boost confidence that mirrors: the poor handling the failures of the de Havillands Comet Aircraft, which directly contributed to the collapse of the British commercial aircraft industry.

Confident public pronouncements are not a substitute for a detailed analysis of problems. Failure to conduct a careful review of all options for closing achievement gaps is headed into the Courts. Failure to honestly analyze the results of OSPI EoC high school math testing, and SPS failure to analyze grades 3 and 4 MSP math results, are far too similar to the actions that left the British Aircraft industry in collapse.

Dumping dollars into legal defense of an indefensible position is seen by Dr. Enfield as a better plan than honestly addressing problems.

Evidence shows The SPS has a very poor performing k-12 math program, a k-12 math program which Dr. Enfield fully supports.


The Paris Law (Paris was a Boeing engineer)

As the Comet accident report was being released in 1955, a little-known military contractor in the northwest corner of the United States was completing its prototype for a civilian jet airplane. Boeing had had little success with civilian craft in the past. The company knew that cracks had brought down the Comet, and they had better understand them before they brought down the Boeing 707.

So here we are in 2011 with an SPS k-12 math program filled with cracks and a District that denies their existence. Understanding of cracks in 1955 led to Boeing's huge commercial airline success and denial of cracks in 2011 prevents the SPS from even acknowledging the abysmal state of SPS math much less doing anything about it.


So in a completely off the mark action =>
TFA was a "possible solution" and in violation of WAC 181-79A-231 forced upon some High Minority/ High Poverty students

Get ready for the next Off the Wall -- possible solution but impossible solution -- charter schools.

-- Dan Dempsey
dan dempsey said…
More from Marder:

The Educational System

Now we come to a system larger and more complex than an airplane, more important to the United States than aviation: the education of our children. There is a theory of how and why the school system is failing that guides federal and state governments. We are in the position of the British in the wake of watching Comets fail. We have carried out tests on an enormous scale to diagnose the situation. But the theory of failure is wrong, the repair regime misguided, and unless correct theories are rapidly developed and employed, schools will crash in growing numbers.

The dominant school repair program has three parts.
(1) The first is deregulation of public education through creation of charter schools, and promoting use of vouchers. (2) The second is deregulation of teaching though creation of alternative pathways to teacher certification and weakening influence and control of unions. (3) The third is accountability, measuring the performance of all students, and holding teachers and administrators accountable for the educational results. These reforms reinforce each other. For example, it is much easier to hold teachers accountable when unions cannot automatically protect them on the grounds of seniority, or when they work at charter schools with innovative reform-minded administrations.

The reforms are based upon concepts of why schools are failing. The concepts come from appealing research claims that do not stand up to inspection.

Race to the TOP is completely flawed and much the same can be said for the CCSS.

Seattle School Directors must address the fact that much of what Dr. Enfield pushes does not come from an intelligent application of relevant data and will NOT stand up to inspection.

The same can be said for Olympia's increasing support for Education Reform through 6696 passed in 2010.

Legislators need to use evidence in decision-making.

We are watching changes that benefit corporations not students. The Rodney Tom and Eric Pettigrew types need to be exposed as pushers of (1%) nonsense.

Seattle clearly needs a different Superintendent.
Jan said…
It will be difficult to the point of impossibility, if we try to write a charter law, to keep the big national charters out of it. In fact, the hard thing will be keeping in any flexibility for smaller "home grown" charters. They big players are all ready to go. They have draft legislation; they have cultivated groups of wealthy supporters; they have "examples" in other states that they can send people to look at, and data they can spin. They will use the "choice" argument (gee -- now that we have charters, why should someone NOT be able to select a KIPP charter if they think that is what would be best for their child . . .). They can promise access to KIPP resources and expertise. While there are arguments to counter many of their points, you should expect to get trampled by a very big elephant, if you try to set up a charter system that excludes them. It will be all we can do to set up a system that INCLUDES smaller, homegrown charters.

Nor do I think unions should be an issue at the outset. I would want to make sure that the ability of teachers to organize exists -- and then leave it to the capable hands of union organizers, in a given school, to follow through if they need to. Unions are not the only way to get along with management, and some teachers would actually like the ability to NOT go the union route (or at least to try that). I personally know of teachers in private schools who feel that way.

Personally, I hope we can keep them out for a while longer. It seems to me that as more "charter data" rolls in (the costs, the failures to increase student achievement, the exclusions of kids, etc. -- the charters themselves are "generating" much of the data against their own claims. We have some of it now. But we don't have enough to compel really good checks and limits within a charter system.
Jan, I agree with your points.

We will NOT be able to keep out KIPP or Green Dot precisely because those who want charters will say "We need to bring in the proven ones."

KIPP probably needs its own charter thread because, like TFA, it has many issues that they like to downplay.

The choice issue is also something of a red herring as further threads will show. There's choice and there's getting something better and they aren't always the same thing especially with charters.
dan dempsey said…
The final paragraphs----
Page 16

Correctly defining the problem was the most important task accomplished by fracture mechanics developers such as Irwin and Paris. A major error in certifying the Comet came from errors defining material strength. I believe defining teacher quality mainly through rises in student test scores is similarly flawed as a concept. Unfortunately there is no general agreement on an objective replacement. In some cases credentials are a legitimate measure of teacher quality. For example, physics teachers should have themselves studied physics, preferably a major or minor. No one advocates assigning randomly chosen teachers to physics or biology on the grounds that whether a person has studied science or not has no bearing on her ability to teach it.

In physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering there is such a shortage of secondary teachers that schools avoid offering classes. A program of reform based on testing and accountability offers few answers to questions about how new people will be attracted to teach in shortage areas.

For the short term, preparing teachers in mathematics and science is a wise and useful step toward improving schools. As quickly as possible, we must understand the link between poverty and educational outcomes in the US, devise solutions, and test and implement them. Britain briefly tried to substitute public relations for aircraft safety and paid with the loss of its commercial aviation sector. I hope the United States can avoid a similar error, that proponents of teacher quality and charter schools will recognize the weakness of the evidence before it is too late, that we will not damage public education, let down our most vulnerable students, and lose technical leadership we take for granted.
dan dempsey said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan dempsey said…
Jan and Mel,

Charters should be resisted. The SPS should be much different in its handling of Alts.

Where is a proposal for a "Core Knowledge" Alt?

Alts have been herded toward a "more Central Administrative" acceptable group.

--- meanwhile NO waivers for Singapore Math.

The recent actions look like a strategy to drive the populace into demanding Charters to escape SPS incompetence.
CT said…
In NY, a charter school can push a public school out of it's building:
Jan said…
Dan -- I am not saying I am for charters (though I guess, in a theoretical universe that does not exist, I could be). I was just explaining why I think we will not prevail if we say -- well, ok, but let's only allow non-profit, "home grown" charters -- sort of like the alts, but with an extra layer of independence or self-rule.

It COULD be done that way, but it won't be -- because the "franchise" charters will roll right over the effort. The big ed charter companies make huge amounts of money (taxpayer money -- that goes from taxpayers' pockets to theirs) on their franchises. They are NOT going to let us come up with a charter vision that separates them from all that profit.
dan dempsey said…

I am right with you. I spent a very short time teaching at a BIG BUCK charter in LA.

There are a few charters doing an adequate or better job..... Overall the situation does not improve with charters.

As Marder points out .... proposed changes like charters have ZERO to do with the actual problems faced by the educational system.

pages 15-16 from Marder:

The hero of No Highway finds himself in the sky on an airplane that he himself has predicted will fail within a few hours. The failure of the public school system is scheduled to begin in four years. There is still time to set the plane down. It is almost taken for granted that the Federal law mandating schools reach 95% levels of proficiency will change before too many schools are affected. Congress will have to agree and vote to change the law. Should necessary consensus not be reached in time, an unprecedented wave of dismissals will begin to sweep through the public school system, largely affecting teachers in schools of low-income children.
Inspecting the data on charter schools, it is natural to conclude that because of their low scores they will be among the first to close. Interestingly, in Texas, this is not true.

Texas has two accountability systems:
Passing (%) the standard system by which most public schools are judged, and an Alternative Education Accountability system. As shown in Figure 16, when their mathematics scores fall below the level at which regular public schools would be rated unacceptable, almost all Texas secondary charter schools successfully change their status to be judged by a second system that right now has considerably lower standards. Thus it is quite plausible that the accountability system could force large numbers of conventional public schools to close and put the children into charter schools where the levels of performance are much lower.
Jesse Meier said…
Isn't the point more about why a charter school might get a better outcome for a kid than the school the kid currently attends? if our schools were getting the same results with minority kids from families with lower incomes, we could easily say charters aren't needed. The thing with schools like KIPP or Rocketship or others targeted to low-income communities is that they are actually getting good academic results. Even if there is some self selection, these kids are still on different trajectories than their current public school would have put them on because of the culture, expectations and more time that a lot of these charter schools provide.

Let's not make charters into some evil thing. They are one more tool to achieve a desired outcome. Until we start talking more about the outcome we want and how we can achieve it with all the potential tools we have, it seems foolish to be so dismissive about charter schools, or anyone else doing the really hard work of helping kids in poverty get a great education that actually gives them options in life.
seattle citizen said…
Jesse, you write that "KIPP or Rocketship [and] others targeted to low-income communities...are actually getting good academic results."

Could you a) explain what these good academic results are? and b) point us to the reports that verify this?

I'd add that they are an un-necessary tool, because alternative and option schools can do the same thing, and can do the same thing under existing policy and procedure. And of course, as I've said here a bazillion times, my tax dollars go to my elected officials to make policies covering all of my public schools: I have little interest in giving away accountability by letting a "charter" (contract) allow an entity to operate outside of those policies. What's good for the goose is good for the gander: If it is good policy to do whatever it is that charters purport to do, then let my elected board member spend my money using policies designed to allow that. Otherwise, no dice: Taxes -> board -> policy->public school, not Taxes->charter.
"Isn't the point more about why a charter school might get a better outcome for a kid than the school the kid currently attends?"

I wasn't quite going to get into this discussion now but sure, here's the crux of the matter as Jesse rightly points out (but it needs fleshing out).

This is the argument that LEV and others will make. Some charters are doing better (marginally in some cases) with low-income kids. So the thought is, as Jesse said, it would be one more tool.

Except for two things.

One, have we tried everything within the system that we have? I submit we haven't. I think one issue around some of the change is that districts and/or unions haven't wanted to have the hard conversations and work that it would take.

So if we haven't done everything within our system, then why bring in another layer of bureaucracy?

Also, another tool? It's not a hammer - it's a whole workshop.

We would not just be opening schools for low-income students. So it all depends on who opens the school. I suspect that maybe there would be KIPP or some local entity opening a school that would largely serve that population. But you can't count on it.

Charters would be a tremendous shockwave to our system right now. We don't even have enough money for the schools we have now. Our state is thinking of cutting back to a 4-day school week. And charters will only weaken the system.

So the question becomes, overall, will the benefits outrank the costs? Do we have enough proof that charters work better for struggling students than regular schools?
dan dempsey said…
Melissa and Jesse have now entered an area that needs a lot of thought.

Rocketship at its original campus has some outstanding results....

Charter legislation as I see it..... is a hope to greatly improve the system. ..... except there is NO evidence that will occur.

While tossing one sand dollar back into the ocean will help that sand dollar live longer .... a better approach to ed improvement is required.

Better behavior and longer instructional days are in many cases improving outcomes.... There is no evidence that Rocketship could be expanded to serve a significant portion of the school age population ... the same is true for KIPP.

I urge reading of Marder.

The SPS is a sad case. Continually trying to make work .... plans that have not worked, while ignoring what works.

The Change needed is doing what has been proven to work. Instead the SPS continues refusing to do what works.

The SPS needs to ditch the Ed Reform nonsense and deliver to educationally disadvantaged students the programs needed .... the ones proven to work.

There may be PRACTICES AT ROCKETSHIP that might be effectively used in the SPS..... but given that Enfield, Sundquist, and Martin-Morris visited New Tech Sacramento thinking it was a STEM school when it was not .... don't count on the SPS to ever have a clue about Rocketship practices that work. Current SPS central office academic leadership is as confused as ever.

When the SPS actually takes Project Follow Through and Visible Learning seriously .... then there will be some hope .... until then it likely will be one expensive scam after another.

seattle citizen said…
I submit that the charter companies that are geared towards working with low-income students are NOT getting "good results"

On TWO, or maybe three metrics as determined by high-stakes, standardized tests ("Reading" and "Writing," whatever those catch-alls encompass...what SORTS of literacies in each?) perhaps there are some higher scores here and there. But what of all the other things we expect out of schools? Look at the recent Texas school scandal, where ONLY Reading and Writing To The Test were studied, and they LIED about actually studying those other pesky things, such as social studies and art...

I submit that whatever "gains" might be shown on standardized tests are offset by the loss of those other things, but things that we taxpayers want to see in our schools: social studies, science, art, civics....If a school (charter OR public) is going to declare itself successful, it will have to show me what its entire curriculum is: I'm paying for it, and expect it to teach all the things that the public school policies direct it to teach.

Why should poor children get narrow attention to Math and Reaidng only, while public schools are expected to have a rich and full curriculum?
seattle citizen said…
oops, I wrote "On TWO, or maybe three metrics as determined by high-stakes, standardized tests ("Reading" and "Writing," whatever those catch-alls encompass...

I meant "Reading" and "Math," not "Writing" - writing isn't a factor in many of the reported test scores, all we see is Reading and Math.
Jesse Meier said…
I fully agree that a district can implement what successful charters are doing, the problem is it is very difficult to actually make happen with the speed necessary given the slow and more methodical nature of districts. You need administrators able to establish a tight culture at the school of high expectations You need teachers willing to work harder and longer hours for results. There is no question that is part of the current recipe for success for kids in poverty. And I will be clear I am talking only about charters targeted to a certain population and charged with achieving specific results that our lower-income population is not currently achieving in our district but we know has the ability to be successful in the right schools.

Most charters that I know of that are successful do much more than just reading an writing. However, I submit that kids who are college-ready or career-ready are proficient on basic tests at the very least. I think history, arts, etc are important, but can easiy be integrated into a curriculum that emphasizes reading and math proficiency. To me, it's about long-term outcomes. Let's worry less about process (whether it be curriculum,certification,or other) and more about results.

Sorry if you wanted to keep this posting more factual and save the debate on charter schools for another day, Melissa. I just think it's important to be more specific about the outcomes we want to achieve and how exactly we will get there by using approaches that are finding success. I would love for Seattle to be the first big urban district in the nation to have 75 percent poroficient rates for ALL its students by really focusing resources, giving administrators and teachers more flexibility to create a school that works for kids, etc. From what I've seen, this includes local union folks to be flexible too.

If we harnessed all the energy from the commentators on this blog to really implementing proven solutions that work for all kids, even being willingto try things like TFA or getting the union to be more flexible to implement charter-type policies if not charter schools, we could really achieve great success for our students at SPS. Let's focus more on outcomes and less about process.
dan dempsey said…
Jesse said:

If we harnessed all the energy from the commentators on this blog "to really implementing proven solutions that work for all kids", "even being willingto try things like TFA" or getting the union to be more flexible to implement charter-type policies if not charter schools, we could really achieve great success for our students at SPS. Let's focus more on outcomes and less about process.

I like the part about "to really implementing proven solutions that work for all kids".

... However ....

"even being willing to try things like TFA" =>
No I really do not think that trying things that have produced only negative outcomes in situations where an adequate supply of fully certificated teachers exists in a reasonably well educated state is a reasonable undertaking. ... The SPS has been just super about trying things than don't work ... and the UW has certainly been helpful in many a completely wasted effort .... Stritikus comes through this time for UW .. promotion of folly.

The SPS is famous for trying things that do NOT work (and have been proven NOT to work) to the detriment of educationally disadvantaged learners.

How about trying things like following laws.

I want something done on a wide spread scale and NOW. The only way that will happen is to inspire the Board to intelligently applying the relevant data.

Get ready for the NEXT recall for Board members because these folks ignore both the law and the state constitution.

Jesse -- you seem to have missed the part where the Board neglected to conduct a careful review of all options for closing achievement gaps but claimed to have done so. ---- I want to inspire these folks to focused legal action .... a significant change from unfocused illegal actions. .... Enfield needs to leave.

It is known what needs to be done from Hattie and PFT ... but getting these folks to even read the literature much less do it.... is apparently impossible.

The Board WILL NOT EVEN ANSWER THE QUESTION -- when was the careful review conducted?
Jan said…
Jesse -- can you give us some additional detail/background/whatever on charters you have known to be successful?

I ask for two reasons. First, the only studies I am aware of indicate that very few charters improve things -- and far more actually achieve worse results (in the middle are many who neither improve nor worsen test results). I don't think we can, or should, afford charters if out of every 6 or 7, only 1 is materially better than the public school it replaced, while 3 are worse, and the rest are about the same. In that scenario, the "benefit" to one school comes at a huge cost to the damage we do to the kids at 3 other schools.

Second, I do think that we ought to be looking for more ways to push the envelope -- and I agree with you that union flexibility will be key (but it is only one aspect -- of many). Most good teachers I know already spend huge numbers of hours outside of the school preparing for classes, grading papers, etc. I suspect that if you told a group of dedicated teachers you wanted to hire them at a school that would require that they work different hours -- but that by the end of the year, the difference in learning by their kids would be transformative -- many of them would jump at the chance. Transformative is the gold ring. It is what they do this for -- to make huge differences in the lives of kids -- as long as you don't push it to the Rhee/Kopp idea that the work should be so debilitating and exhausting that no human being could do it for more than 3 or 4 years without physically breaking down and/or burning out. That concept (the "law firm" model, I think Wendy called it) has all sorts of problems associated with it that I would not want my kid around -- or my teaching friends either. And one only has to look at the countries with the schools we think are "tops" (those like Finland and Indonesia with the highest test scores) to see that they do NOT treat their teachers like cheap cart horses -- to be driven as hard as possible for 3 or 4 years and then sold for dogfood. They work way harder at attracting the best possible talent into teaching -- and then they treat it as extraordinarily valuable -- which it is.

At any rate -- I would love to know the details of charters you think are highly successful at changing the education "arc" of kids in bad schools who are falling behind.
Dorothy Neville said…
Jesse said: I would love for Seattle to be the first big urban district in the nation to have 75 percent poroficient rates for ALL its students..

I am trying to figure out how to parse this. Do you mean that there are no big urban districts with 75 percent proficiency rates for all students? Don't most big urban districts have charter schools? So, Jesse, are you saying you would like Seattle to do something that no comparable district, with or without charters, has accomplished?

Oh, and flexible unions? Most charters start out non-union, so does that flexibility provide success? In general, if inflexible unions are the problem, we would expect kids in right to work states to outperform kids in union states. Is that the case?
seattle citizen said…
"You need administrators able to establish a tight culture at the school of high expectations"
Is this happening in schools now? Are there administrators in public schools that have high expectations, do the staff at public schools have high expectations? It almost sounds like you are suggesting they don't. Really? Isn't that an insult to those working in public schools now? Please explain.

"You need teachers willing to work harder and longer hours for results."

So current teachers aren't working hard enough or long enough? Really?
seattle citizen said…
Jesse, our elected board can decide on any policy it wants. It might take a bit of time, but as a taxpayer and the "boss" of my public schools, I do not want policy and procedure to be thrown out, supposedly to "speed things up." Haste makes waste, and in the case of charters, it would make, in this case, less accountability. MY board uses OUR policies to spend MY money, and I do not want that procedure to be sped up, I want MORE consideration on how my money is spent and how policy is designed. I want MORE accountability, not less. Look at the school closure debacle: schools closed at great cost in dollars and to communities, then reopened a couple of years later...Yet charters would be WORSE: Opening and closing willy-nilly, no one would know how they would be doing, there would be less accountability...
Nope, nuh uh, not prudent at this juncture. Take time, change policy (or heck, just follow policy, such as Alt Policy C54.00....and use existing Option school paramaters to design charter-like choices...For EVERY student.

And you write that you are "talking only about charters targeted to a certain population and charged with achieving specific results that our lower-income population is not currently achieving in our district." So you would have us set up schools just for poor kids? Really? Poor kids would get one kind of education and the wealthier kids would get something....else (cough*better*cough)? Isn't that divisive, maybe even racist? Poor kids would get TFA (as they are now)? Poor kids would get a curriculum narrowed to mere test prep? That just ain't fair.
anonymous said…
"Jesse, our elected board can decide on any policy it wants."

Yes, but when families ask for years and years, and the board and district are and continue to be unresponsive, then families feel hopeless and helpless and they look for other options. And that is where we are right now.

seattle citizen said…
If the board (elected by citizens) isn't responsive, as you indicate, is the answer then to just bypass the board and hand my tax dollars to non-policy entities?

How is there more accountability as to how my tax dollars are spent if we merely bypass the board via contract/charter that allows a school to operate free from policy?

I don't get it. How is there MORE accountability to getting things done if the board is rendered powerless?

My money, my public schools, run by my board with my policies. NOT my money given to some school outside of the purview of my elected board, thank you very much!
anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
"If the board (elected by citizens) isn't responsive, as you indicate, is the answer then to just bypass the board and hand my tax dollars to non-policy entities?"

Sure, that could be one option. As I said when families feel helpless and hopeless and feel that they have exhausted every option with the district, board, staff, then they will look elsewhere. Those with the means will go private or homeschool, those without the means may be willing to give charters a try.

A family whose public school isn't working for them doesn't have much to lose. They may be willing to roll the dice and hope that the charter does better. And who would blame them?

Lets say that Johnny is struggling and at risk of dropping out. As you know SPS offers no individual interventions for struggling students, no summer school, no credit retrieval, no remedial classes, no student mentors, in fact they offer almost nothing to struggling students. And the district, staff, and board are not doing anything to improve the situation - despite years of community outcry. Now lets say charter X comes along and says we will not let Johnny slip through the cracks. We have an 89% graduation rate, extended day, after school enrichment, we don't count E grades in the GPA, and we offer summer school. If I were Johnny's mother I wouldn't wait around for SPS and hope and pray and wait - while my kid dropped out. I'd move Johnny to charter X immediately. The charter may or may not be an improvement. It may be better, or it may be worse. It may be much better or it may be much worse. But I'd take my chances if I were in that situation.

SPS could change. They have the ability and means to change. But they haven't and I don't think they will. So no, it is not a viable option to expect parents to demand, advocate, beg, plead, for change, while their kids age out of the system under served - or drop out.

I know you disagree Seattle C., but as a parent that is how I feel.

seattle citizen said…
I hear what you are saying: As a parent you would jump at the chance to have your child attend a school that is not beholden to SPS policy and procedure.

But as a taxpayer, I pay money to support public schools. I elect board members to run those schools. As a taxpayer, I have little interest in spending my money for a school that is LESS accountable than the board.

Then there's the issue of all the students who would "stuck" in regular ol' public schools - You, as a parent (and I mean this hypotehtically, I'm not trying to attack you personally) want some special deal for your kid. I get that: EVERYbody wants that, of course! But why, then, even HAVE a board, why not just give my tax dollars to every kind of school?

Because I want accountability. I want (and democracy requires) that layer of accountability that is our elected board. THEY decide policy for ALL schools, and are (at least somewhat) accountable to me.

Why would a charter school be accountable to me, in other words, in addition to being accountable to the students and parents who chose it?

I guess we could go back and forth forever on this: It's been hashed out in the other charter threads and elsewhere. I just still don't get how there is MORE accountability to the public with a charter, instead of less. It isn't just about the parents who want something different for their student; it's about who the "public" is in public school: It's all of us. It's mine as well as the parent's.

SPS can (and has) change policy - Alternative Policy C54.00, 2006, changed policy to enact the very sort of thing you advocate for. Option schools provide choice. SPS is malleable, and if the public wants something different, they can advocate for it, within the framework of existing elected board members instead of cutting the public out of the equation entirely by merely taking their money and giving it directly to a charter.
Edumom, and the pro-charter forces are counting on just such parents. When I write a thread on the Landscape Today, I hope to explain how that has translated out to help those parents.
Anonymous said…
For those who want to understand charter, research studies about charter in comparison to public schools, how they operate and their efficacy in meeting their goals, go to the Shanker blog. Matt DiCarlo is a long time educational writer and has written a 3 part series about charter recently. The last in this series can be found here: (from this article, you can access the 1st two as well).

What I glean from reading his reports is thus far, there are some qualities about successful Charters just as there are some qualities in successful public schools that are worth paying attention to. It is these nuggets we should take away and apply. But it does mean you have to lay aside the burden of your politics and keep an open mind to the solutions that are out there.

Seattle mom
caroline said…
I keep checking this blog because I've been following charter schools and other much-hyped reform “miracles” for more than 10 years, and it's so fascinating to see well-informed people who have no experience with charters discussing them. Some observations...

I LOVE this comment: “one only has to look at the countries with the schools we think are "tops" (those like Finland and Indonesia with the highest test scores) to see that they do NOT treat their teachers like cheap cart horses -- to be driven as hard as possible for 3 or 4 years and then sold for dogfood. They work way harder at attracting the best possible talent into teaching -- and then they treat it as extraordinarily valuable...”

@Dorothy asked if right-to-work states have higher achievement than unionized states. I can't tell if she already knows and is making that a rhetorical question, but in case not – NO! The opposite is true. Right-to-work states where teachers have little or no job security consistently are the LOWEST academic achievers (largely the Deep South states), and the highest-achieving states are also the most strongly unionized (New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts).

That doesn't prove that unionized teachers LEAD to high achievement, but it totally blows out of the water any notion that unions impair high achievement. Now you know that anyone involved enough to be well-informed and who blames unions for low achievement is a willful liar and is not trustworthy or credible on any issues. (With special call-out to Steve Brill and Jonathan Alter.)

Other comments: There are charter schools that serve low-income students that show high test scores. I follow them closely.

KIPP is notorious for its very high attrition (voluntary or involuntary is never clear) and for application processes that require applicants to jump through hoops, weeding out the unmotivated and non-compliant. KIPP's daily practices in school further eliminate the unmotivated and non-compliant, which of course is connected with the high attrition. So we don't know what would happen if a public school used the same practices, getting rid of the lowest-performing 60% of its students as KIPP schools have been shown to do (SRI study, 2008).

Rocketship. That remains to be seen. Rocketship runs a small number of schools that are quite new, and they post very high test scores. Personally? I find those very high scores highly suspicious. Here's something that interested me. Vincent Matthews was principal of a for-profit charter school here in San Francisco in 2001 that was internationally (yes) hailed as a miracle (Edison Charter Academy). Short story – it wasn't. Vincent Matthews is now superintendent of a school district in San Jose, CA (a large city carved into several districts), and was dealing with an application to open numerous Rocketship schools in his district. He was opposed to that application. This is an administrator with direct experience RUNNING a school falsely being hailed as a miracle. He knows from schools falsely hailed as miracles. I would say that he has some serious credibility when he's skeptical about those “miracle” Rocketship schools. We shall see. (continued...)
caroline said…
(...continued from previous post)

One commenter on “miracle” charters says: “Even if there is some self selection, these kids are still on different trajectories than their current public school would have put them on because of the culture, expectations and more time that a lot of these charter schools provide. …
You need administrators able to establish a tight culture at the school of high expectations. You need teachers willing to work harder and longer hours for results. There is no question that is part of the current recipe for success for kids in poverty.”

No, you don't actually know why it is, and there IS a question. Don't be so certain that you know all the answers. Again, at KIPP, we're talking about kids who are inherently selected for being motivated and compliant, in a school full of other kids who are inherently selected for being motivated and compliant. Would a school full of those kids doing absolutely nothing else differently from the public school down the street do as well as a KIPP school? We don't know. It doesn't seem unlikely, put it that way -- but we just can't pronounce on "what works" without knowing that.

A commenter says:
“To me, it's about long-term outcomes. Let's worry less about process (whether it be curriculum,certification,or other) and more about results.” Well, sure if you want the school to function in a vacuum. But that's contrary to your position arguing for charters. If you're going to argue for charters, you're inherently thinking about process and not just results.

And by the way, regarding this: “You need teachers willing to work harder and longer hours for results.” Even many reform/charter insiders agree that it's not sustainable or “scalable” to rely on teachers' willingness to work superhuman hours and have no personal lives, which clearly any individual teacher can't keep up for more than a brief period. In Steve Brill's book attacking public schools, promoting charters and blaming teachers, he holds up as a model a young asst. principal in a “miracle” charter school, who knocks herself out working endless hours. At the end of the book, he admits that she has quit the job, saying it was irreparably damaging her marriage, health and quality of life. So even one of the nation's most avid charter boosters is telling us that's not a sustainable solution.
Robin Lake said…
Melissa -
I'm surprised that you find it troubling that accountability is something that needs to be addressed in a charter law. No public school, district or charter, can escape the need for strong accountability and oversight. Low performing charters can be closed while low performing districts schools (like those in my neighborhood in South Seattle) are assumed to exist into perpetuity. THAT is what's troubling to me. The worst charters I've seen are authorized by local school boards who, sadly, have no idea how to oversee a school based on performance. Charters can't fix all the problems in public education. They are simply an additional tool public agencies can use to improve performance.

The rest of the country is moving toward the idea that 40% graduation rates for minority kids is unacceptable and if a charter can improve that, great. If a district school can do it, great. But people who close off viable tools just because of a label are not being fair to students whose futures are being determined today.

And to your question about funding, start-up funding for charters comes from the feds - there is a pot of money available annually to states with charter laws.

I appreciate your interest in presenting a balanced view on this issue. Why don't you give me space for a post? After 15 years of research on charters and visits to more than 100 of them, I might have learned something worth sharing with your readers.

Robin Lake, CRPE
caroline said…
@Robin, if you've been following the charter story you know that it's not so simple as school boards' not knowing how to oversee charters.

Local school boards are constantly beat up by all the mighty voices of reform, and by newspaper editorial boards everywhere, for attempting to oversee charters.

When my local school board here in San Francisco attempted to call to account one charter school, Edison Charter Academy (run by the then-acclaimed, now-failed for-profit Edison Schools Inc), Edison rallied the INTERNATIONAL press to gang up and blast our school board. Politicians issued statements denouncing the SFUSD board of ed, and on and on. That was the most egregious example I've ever seen, but any day of the week you can search Google and find some school board somewhere being attacked by some powerful voice for attempting to hold a charter accountable, or challenge a charter proposal.

No. School boards are NOT to blame for charters that aren't held accountable. The charter sector and its advocates are the ones that ensure that it's almost impossible to oversee charter schools effectively.

This comment is entirely unclear on the concept:

"Low performing charters can be closed while low performing districts schools (like those in my neighborhood in South Seattle) are assumed to exist into perpetuity."

Only when no children come to school with none of the problems and challenges that are connected with low achievement will there be no low-performing district schools. As long as those problems exist, low-performing schools WILL exist into perpetuity, unless we as a society decided to just abandon those high-need, challenging students entirely -- which is certainly the direction the charter/reform movement appears to be going.

As for start-up funding for charters coming from the feds, that's certainly not without its problems. Here's a new report from EdSource in California:

"The California Department of Education is looking into the loss of upwards of “tens of millions of dollars” in federal and state funds from start-up charter schools that either never opened or failed after their first year or two of operation."

Read the rest of the report:

I'll be keeping an eye out for your post on charters, @Robin.
Anonymous said…
Wow, I read thru this blog and see from a few statements/facts and or comments the main problems facing our country's children's education going forward. I won't direct you the reader to the exact lines where I gleaned these problems because it will simply do no good. I will only state that greed, hate and ignorance are at the core of the problems. Greed has endured since it first tickled the neurons of some long ago early man. Religion, in it's many forms throughout time, is the mother of so much good but ultimately the driving force behind extinction or almost extinction level events. What has this gift of all religions given to us here on earth after thousands of years? Nothing but a legacy of hatred, war, corruption and rape, murder, hunger and ignorance. The pushers of charter schools seem to bleed greed along with their lust based dichotomy of religion hoping to reach the ends of their means through hate, divisiveness, bias, money, and the ignorance they profess and encounter. I feel sad for the children who's minds they want to quell and pockets they want to pick. When will the actions of those in positions of power today mirror the importance of their rank. Even one child's education is too valuable to lose. Imagine the possibilities of one engaged child instead of one more overly paid administrator chasing a profit and pushing the dogma of religion. The choices moving forward are not clear nor easy. But it seems the forces of greed, hate and ignorance need to be diluted (at least). Then maybe our children will have the opportunity to lay a foundation that future generations will celebrate.

Backseat driver
Vasa said…
A great article that draws public attention to charter schools. Unfortunately, I had no experience of such a school. But I do a lot of volunteering and try to help children from orphanages, so that they can arrange their lives after finishing boarding school. Maybe they will become designers in ramotion, like me.

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