The Appeal of Charters

I can certainly see the appeal of this charter school initiative.

We have all come to see that district-level rules and bureaucrats are the real impediment to reforming our schools so they serve students better. Charter schools go around that impediment by working outside those structures. Isn't that a good thing? I think it is. Sure, I'd like to fix the problem instead of working around it, but I'm not very optimistic about fixing the problem in my lifetime. The temptation to just bypass it is pretty strong.

It's true that a lot of charter schools, nationally, don't allow students with IEPs to enroll or refuse to serve them if they do enroll. But the Washington charter school initiative both requires charter schools to enroll students without regard to their special needs and also requires them to serve those students appropriately. The enforcement for charter schools would come from state and federal agencies and from the charter school authorizer. Failure to fulfill IEPs - by itself - could be grounds for revoking the school's charter. That's pretty good accountability and enforcement. I think it is only fair to note that a lot of Seattle's public schools don't do this. There are a lot of schools that will not accept students with special needs and, as we know, there are a lot of Seattle public schools where special needs students are not adequately served.

If you think about it, any school that is required to actually serve any student who enrolls, be they disabled, an English Language Learner, highly capable, or whatever, cannot organize itself as a traditional school does. It will have to adopt a student-centric structure built from the bottom-up, not from the top down. That need leads us to think that the charter schools would exercise their license to be different from traditional schools. It suggests that the charters really will be student-centered.

I was also thinking that if even one - even one - of Seattle's attendance area schools were to convert to a charter, it would put the District in a very desperate situation. I can't imagine how the District could cope with the loss of the capacity represented by even a single attendance area school anywhere in the district. Imagine how much worse it would be for them if the school that converted were in the northeast or West Seattle. The District would have to re-draw attendance areas and all of the neighboring schools would instantly become unbearably overcrowded. That means that any school community that is willing to play chicken with the District - any school willing to threaten a conversion vote - can blackmail the District into any concession. Want to change your math curriculum? Just threaten a conversion vote over it. Want more input in the selection of your principal? Just threaten a conversion vote over it. Want to cap your enrollment? Just threaten a conversion vote over it. This charter initiative would put a great deal of power into the hands of any school-based group that could make a credible threat of a conversion vote. The District could not contend with so many threats without becoming a lot more responsive to families. That would be a good thing, wouldn't it? In a weird way, the charter school initiative could be the tool we need to make the District responsive to the community they serve.

Let's not forget that the teachers could also threaten a conversion vote. If the teachers think that the principal is an ogre or an idiot, they could petition the district for a change and back it up with the threat of a conversion vote. That would put a lot of power in the teachers' hands. Would that be a good thing?

Anyone with a gripe against the District, and that includes just about everyone who reads this blog, must feel a little tempted to support this charter initiative. I can certainly see the appeal. It would offer a shortcut to the kind of schools and the kind of district that we would really like to see.


mirmac1 said…
Not tempted at all. Had lunch with Robin Lake, lately?
Anonymous said…
I like Waldorf better and why are you advertising here?

SC Parent said…
What's the $/student we're talking about here?
Charlie Mas said…
@mirmac1, no lunch (it was just coffee one morning), but we have been exchanging email.
Anonymous said…
Charlie: No. No. Hell no.

Next article, please.

Charlie Mas said…
Thank you, WSDWG, for making my point. If the charter school people come around and make this thing sound tempting, and you only have two responses: 1) No. and 2) Hell no. that is not going to be an effective counter-argument.

If you can't see what is appealing about charter schools, then you will never change anyone's mind about them.
Anonymous said…
Well Charlie, I don't know if this is applicable or not, and you or other commenters are welcome to have at me if this is off point, or if their experiences are different. But we have at least one "student-centered" school in SPS that I'm aware of, because my daughter went there.

That school is Salmon Bay, and it had plenty of special-needs students on IEPs. My daughter was one of them, because she suffered from mild asthma and a slight gross motor deficiency.

It was our experience that the IEP was adhered to strictly -- at least it was in her case.

She was always telling me about "the Asperger's kids" and the other special needs students, and my sense was that every effort was made to integrate them, and that bullying was not tolerated.

If they can do it at Salmon Bay, they need to be doing it district wide. If they can do it district wide, then charters lose that particular perceived advantage, and, consequently, their appeal.

That's the "reform" I'm for. I think Melissa put it best the other day, when she said that none of us who oppose charters are trying to defend the status quo. We want the change in our schools to go in the opposite direction than Bill Gates, Nick Hanauer, Rodney Tom, Reuv en Carlyle, Stand, LEV, and, sadly, Obama want us to go.

I hope this is helpful.
Ivan Weiss
SeattleSped said…
Some of the most strident supporters of charter schools have children with IEPs. I cannot reconcile their selective reasoning on this point. A single data point notwithstanding, unless a "charter" is essentially a self-contained school for disabled children, and inclusion is the law and best practice, then fuhgeddiboutit!
Jan said…
Charlie said: The District could not contend with so many threats without becoming a lot more responsive to families. That would be a good thing, wouldn't it? In a weird way, the charter school initiative could be the tool we need to make the District responsive to the community they serve."

I am not sure it would work that way. I think the conversion groups would use their clout to "bargain the District down" --getting rid of some of the protections and oversight, in exchange for enrollment/acceptance policies that would make the loss of the building less excruciating for the District. The only way it would work YOUR way is if a conversion group was merely "bluffing" -- threatening a charter to get the District to take services more seriously. Long before the District got its act together to actually provide more -- the charter would have happened, and the school would be gone.

The thing that dismays me most is that I would like to see a much more robust "innovation school" concept tried. It seems like we enact these things, and then immediately throw them out, in favor of something newer and shinier. I would like to see a system where ALL alt schools (heck -- maybe ALL schools! get MOUs like the one South Shore has -- where the District is contractually BOUND to certain promises. If self contained spectrum was in an MOU, it wouldn't get killed. If participation in principal selection is in an MOU, it happens. Otherwise, not so much. But in the meantime, the District doesn't end up in a capacity crisis every time someone wants to take off with a school and a handful of kids.

Finally -- in terms of who can approve them, it is one thing if the District (who is also responsible for the other kids) is involved. They can say no unless it is clear how capacity and attendance will play out. If it is some board that neither knows nor cares where the dispossessed kids go, it will be a fright.
mirmac1 said…
Lynne Varner's tweeting up a storm. Think the ST will give her a column everyday until election day? The desperation is starting early...

Before heading out in2 the sunshine I'll sum up w/ this: If charters r a failed concept why is Seattle doing Creative Approach Schools?

In 2004, then Gov. Gary Locke told legislators they werent leaving Olympia w/out charter schools bill. House & Senate passed one.

In 2000, second charter init got 48% of vote statewide, winning Snohomish, Pierce & Kitsap counties. Close vote in King County. 49-51%.

Charter schools edit done. A little history: 1st proposal in 96 so bad even supporters of the concept voted against it. Keep an open mind.
Jan said…
LV tweets: Before heading out in2 the sunshine I'll sum up w/ this: If charters r a failed concept why is Seattle doing Creative Approach Schools?

Here, Lynne, you twit -- "If we spent all the legislative time and money to put together Creative Approach Schools -- and they allow the District to manage capacity, reconstruction, major repairs, etc. -- why do we need a charter bill that wreaks havoc with all those things? Especially since we haven't yet given Creative Approach schools an opportunity to see if they can get us the best of charter schools (innovation, autonomy, etc.) without the worst problems (enumerated above). Unless, of course, Lynne, improving learning is not the objective of charter schools after all? Hmmm?
Jan said…
Oops correction, I meant to say Lynne, you twitterer -- but maybe it's all the same.

Sorry for the consecutive posts, Melissa.
Jack Whelan said…
It's understandable why charter schools are so attractive. And there are very good arguments for them. But you cannot consider charter schools in a political vacuum. The nationwide push for charters is driven by corporate interests as part of a classic, divide-and-conquer strategy designed to privatize schools and destroy community control so that corporate interests can gradually move in and control these schools and their curricula. They want stripped-down factories that cost as little as possible and deliver to students only the skills they think are necessary to be decent workers.

I’m all for choice and innovation, but there are ways for local districts to do introduce those without shattering school systems and the democratic accountability that is bypassed by bringing in Charter Schools. Creative Approach Schools are one way to do that, but they have to be done right. And it's all about who has control and to whom these schools are ultimately accountable.

I'm one of the appellants trying to nullify the Creative Approach Schools' MOU not because I'm against Creative Approach Schools, but because the MOU as written cuts the school board and families out of the discussion. Initiatives for new, innovative, family-needs responsive schools should come from the ground-up, not from district and union bureaucrats who think they know better what we all need.

Charter Schools present themselves in the sheep's clothing of choice and innovation, but they disguise the wolf of longer-term corporate control. Corporate dominated schools are our future unless we find effective ways to fight back wherever these tactics are being deployed.
SBBR said…
MOUs are contracts. They require two parties. The South Shore MOU is between essentially the Sloan Foundation (as The New School Foundation) and SPS. The creative approach M OU is a contract between the district and SEA. To have an MOU apply, there has to be another party besides the District. If there is no other legal party, it is a manner of Board Polcy. And the Bosrd can always choose to ignore its own policy. It had for years with respect to Alternative Schools.
Fred says.... said…
How very sad ! Mr Mas has already stated that he'd be happy to take Gates money. Keep posting drivel
like this and perhaps his wish will come true. Or maybe Paul Hill can find cushy think tank job for him. Geez !!!
SBBR, how ever that MOU is now going to have to be recrafted between LEV and the district because they absorbed New School. It will be interesting to see what happens there.

Yes, I saw Lynne V's tweets. She said we were wrong because we were saying that a profit could be made and yet she says only non-profits could have charters.

She's right except that the non-profit can then farm out operations and other services to for-profits. I advised her to actually read the initiative.
Anonymous said…
Sure Charlie. And I'm just "defending the status quo," and not being nice enough, right?

When I see a need for charters, I'll be the first to ask for them. I don't see the need and know enough about them to know they are polished with a lot of slick marketing and lofty promises, while delivering less quality than traditional schools.

What irks me the most about your apparent recent conversion, is the "aren't I clever" aspect of utilizing blackmail and playing chicken with the district. Why lower yourself to play the game that way, when it only hurts neighboring communities. What happens when they call your bluff? Your neighbors get screwed, that's what. Haven't we seen enough rapid turnover and painful change for a while? You really think the district would shake in their boots at the thought of a conversion? I think most in the district offices couldn't care less and would turn over schools to charter operators in a second to lighten their work loads.

I think you're playing with fire here, Charlie. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
And everything Jack W says is 100% accurate, btw.

But alas, nothing shocks me anymore. Not even this.

Kate Martin said…
I don't want corporations - for profit or non-profit - in charge of schools. I agree with Jack Whelan about Creative Approach Schools. I'm all for them, but I'm not all for SEA and admin calling the shots on them in a vacuum without parents and students at the table and the school board at the oversight helm.
Charlie Mas said…
It's a question of priorities and trust.

Some people put a priority on getting it done sooner for some. Others put a priority on getting it done for all, even if it comes later.

Some people put as much trust in institutions other than the school district as they put in the district. Other people only trust the district.

But I think we can talk about these in terms of priorities and trust and seek common ground instead of shutting down and refusing to talk at all.
Anonymous said…
But Charlie, you have to look and pay attention to what's going on in the marketplace right now. There are a handful of charters that do good work, but even most of those pump up their stats, involuntarily remove kids or "counsel them out" (I'm talking about world class KIPP here, btw.).

For all the promise, we see the same lack of transparency, abuse, disenfranchisement of parents who no longer have a neighborhood school if they don't buy into the Charter's world view, and corruption, sleight of hand, and mind-blowing attrition rates for kids who can't handle the workload. Even the marvelous KIPP schools have incredibly high attrition rates, some over 50% between 5th and 8th grade.

And look who wants them so bad locally. All the usual suspects who want to strong arm communities, take over our schools, and remake them in the image of the techy/data class to the massive exclusion of humanities, arts, and anything that resembles critical thinking. All they talk about is jobs, jobs, jobs, and school are not farm systems for corporate America's future lever pullers. I'm sorry, but we have to break away from that mold so we have enough kids who can take a step back and say "is this a good thing we're doing?"

If this latest batch of new centurions and Young Turks had done a little of that, we wouldn't be in the financial mess we're in as a country, out kids would be able to communicate with each other outside of Facebook, and might actually pay a little attention to the folks they share the planet with, instead of zoning out with their ear buds in all day.

Look, call me a Luddite and "Mr. No" if you want. But I am not impressed with what I've seen from any charter chain yet, and with all the fleas, tics, and diseases they bring with them, No Friggin' Thanks!

I'll say it again and again: This initiative, for these charters, is a Trojan Horse for privatization forces that already own our curricula - what goes into our kids' heads - direct our Superintendent, owned our last Board, and do not, for one second, acknowledge that they can ever be wrong, while having all the answers if we just hand them the reins. Sorry Hanauer and Big Girl Pants, but I'm just not that into you.


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