Monday, May 28, 2012

Devious Subversive Plan A

Okay, let's suppose - for the moment - that the money behind the charter school initiative is successful at both getting it on the ballot and getting it passed. So now Washington State has a charter school law as outlined in this document. I really encourage folks to read this document and learn what the new rules may soon be. You'd be surprised what strategies present themselves once you know the rules. If you know how to look for them, you'll see some holes in this proposal that create opportunities to subvert the whole deal.

I don't know if the Washington State Charter School Initiative provides much accountability, but it sure does have a lot of process. First there are authorizers. The Authorizers are the folks who can review and approve applications for the creation of charter schools and then must provide those schools with oversight. They get 4% of the school's operating budget for these services. The law creates a new state commission which will be an authorizer. School districts, if they want to participate in their own destruction, can apply to the commission to also be authorizers.

Then there are the charter school applicants. The applicants send their plans for charter schools to the authorizers and the authorizers decide if the plans meet the standards for approval. But not all applicants who have approved plans will be allowed to create schools.

There are three ways that a charter school could be formed:

  1. A non-profit organization could make a plan for creating a new school and apply.
  2. A simple majority of the teachers in a school could choose to convert their school to a charter school.
  3. A simple majority of the families in a school could choose to convert their school to a charter school.

The new law, if passed, would allow only eight charter schools a year - statewide. So if there are more than eight approved applications in the state for the year, then the eight applicants that are permitted to actually create their schools will be selected by lottery from among all of the approved plans.

Let's say that there are six approved plans in the first year. In that case, all six of them will be allowed to open their schools. But let's say that there are ten approved plans in that first year. In that case, only eight of the ten will be allowed to open their schools. Still, each approved applicant would have an 80% chance of being chosen in the lottery. What if there are a thousand approved applications? In that case, eight of them will be chosen and each applicant's chances of being selected are 0.8%.

You might wonder - how could there be a thousand applicants? Even if KIPP, Green Dot and RocketShip all applied to create schools in the first year, there couldn't be more than six to ten applications. Yes, but what if the state teachers' union, the WEA, encouraged their members to vote to convert their schools - all of them - to charter schools? Then there could easily be a thousand applications for charter schools. How could all of those teams of teachers complete a charter school application? It's a fairly complex document and, let's remember, teachers already have a full-time job. The WEA could help by writing a really good template. Then each school community could just make the little changes needed to customize the application for their school. Let's give the WEA the benefit of the doubt and presume that their template application will be good enough to win approval.

By the way, it's really going to slow things down if that commission needs to review hundreds or thousands of applications instead of just a dozen or fewer.

If there are 1,000 approved applications for charter schools and 992 of them are from the WEA, then the odds that any other application will be selected at random is pretty slim - somewhere around a 94% probability that they will be completely shut out each year and about a 73% probability that they will get completely shut out for all five years (if they persist in making application). We are not going to see many KIPP, Green Dot, or RocketShip schools in Washington this way.

Of course, the selected schools would then have to become charters, right? No, they wouldn't. They are under no obligation to actually form the charter school they applied to create. On the other hand, they would be free to do it. They could just continue to operate the school as they had before - they could also make any changes that they wanted to make. It doesn't matter. The goal is to keep the charter operators frozen out of the state.

Here's what is so amazingly, delightfully, subversive about this idea.

  1. Let's face it; a lot of folks are charter school supporters because they see charter schools as a means to bust the teachers' union. What irony if the teachers' union is the charter school manager. These folks are upset by the delusional idea that the teachers union controls schools - imagine how they will react when the teachers' union actually DOES control the school. Mwah ha ha. Blood vessels will by popping all over the ERAO (Education Reform Advocacy Organization) world. This irony is soooo sweet it's giving me diabetes.
  2. The teachers' union might just actually have some damn fine ideas about how schools should be operated. What a burn if these schools are actually created and successful. I think that would really throw a spotlight on what is wrong with public K-12 education - and it ain't the teachers or the union.
  3. The creation of any additional charter schools is predicated on the success of the forty schools created by this initiative. For the charter school advocates to get any more charter schools they will have to say that the WEA did a great job of running schools. Hee hee hee. In fact, they will have to talk for five solid years about what a swell job that the WEA is doing with these schools. The very idea of it will probably make them swallow their tongues.
  4. The state legislature might want to step in and fix this little error in the law. Only they couldn't do that for at least two years. The state legislature is prohibited from amending laws passed by initiative for two years after the initiative passes and is enacted. Even after that, I don't know if there would be enough support to amend the law in the legislature.
  5. The teachers at these schools may form a union, but the law says that they must be their own independent bargaining unit. They could, however, simply adopt whatever contract the rest of the teachers in their district adopt. After all, the teachers' union will be on both sides of the table. I'm pretty sure they will have no trouble reaching an agreement with themselves.
  6. The teachers at these schools - if any such schools are formed - will be the governing body for the school. They will be the principal's boss - if there's a principal at all. The principal (if there is one) will be in an odd position, much like the commissioner of baseball, in which they will be bossed by the people they are supposed to manage. I have to believe that it would lead to some pretty progressive management style. If that sounds crazy to you, then please ponder how it is different from democratically elected mayors, governors, and presidents.
The more I think about this the more I like it.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Very interesting but I have to say I wish you hadn't said this out loud. Seriously. These people don't think this stuff through and now they could still change it (I think).

"But not all applicants who have approved plans will be allowed to create schools."

Now here is where you lose me. I thought my reading of the initiative was that any plan approved goes into the pile (with those serving "at-risk" students getting a bump - will have to reread that as well). But if there are over 8 approved plans, they all go into the lottery.

Why would an approved plan not go into the lottery by your reckoning?

Anonymous said...

According to playground chatter, that is how some of our alternative schools were formed. A group of teachers decided to start a school using lessons they learned in the classroom. I like that idea.

-High school parent

Charlie Mas said...

Oh, Melissa, sorry if I was unclear.

Yes, all approved plans will go into the lottery, but only eight will come out. Only eight (maximum) a year will be allowed to create schools.

If there 8 approved applications from other sources and 992 approved applications from the WEA, then it is most likely (93% probability), that all eight chosen that year will be from the WEA. None of other schools will be created. They won't get their charter.

Charlie Mas said...

Anyone have a Devious Subversive Plan B?

Anonymous said...

Get rid of the failing public schools and the obvious cronyism that exists there.

High School parent is right. People start their own great schools. Bureaucracies do not create good schools.
Alternative schools have been wonderful for people and full of positive community spirit...places where children can thrive and grow and learn...unlike the SPS system.

Charters all the way...Places where children can thrive and grow and learn.

-National Enquirer Style Blog Spotter.

Sahila said...

Looking for a new business? How to start your own charter school in 3 easy lessons... seriously - doing the rounds on social media:

Start your Own Charter School - 3 Free videos

Jan said...

I had the same thought, Melissa. And then I thought -- meh! Maybe it doesn't matter. For one thing, I think the only changes they can make once it gets back from the code revisers office are changes that are required by that review. Otherwise, it goes BACK to the code reviser and the time becomes even shorter.

Second, IF they change it -- we all have the OLD version that was proposed (right -- it IS saved somewhere). Changes to actually PREVENT community schools driven by teaching staffs that want to be free of bureaucratic BS to just teach better and more effectively -- well, THAT won't play well in Peoria (or Des Moines, or Kirkland!)

And -- if they are serious -- if a whole host of community-based, teacher-led schools is what they wanted all along? Maybe this is how we get there.

But I disagree with Charlie on one point. I think that if teachers sign up to charterize their schools -- they need to make it happen. They need to take ownership of their mission, their curriculum, how they will attract students, how they will deal with ELL and SPED kids. They need to acknowledge that parents and kids come to know if there really IS a "bad apple" in the teaching corps -- and figure out how to fix it, or get rid of it.

Unfortunately, a lot of teachers, including really great ones, just want to teach -- not hassle with administration -- so they will ultimately have to figure out how to hire and retain a good principal.

So, if we have the misfortune for this to pass, maybe we end up in 5 years with 40 true alts (not ones that are dependent on MOUs that expire -- or worse yet, policies that are blatantly ignored, and ed reform superintendents who just "close their schools" on a whim.

This gets curiouser and curiouser.

Anonymous said...

Certainly this would be entertaining, but voters are pretty protective of recently passed initiatives. Will of the people and all that. If the union deliberately tried to subvert it like this, they would lose all support of the public. It could give an anti-union group just the fuel they need to start their own initiative to hurt unions.

But I appreciate the cleverness of attacking the initiative with its own tools!

-North end mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

"...the obvious cronyism"

Could you flesh that out? Are you talking about district staff installing people they like or principals who favor one group? I'm not clear on this,

But North End this would happen AFTER it passed. The union isn't beloved as it is. They don't really have much to lose.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie you are wonderfully devious with this idea, it's a beaut, but I'm with North End Mom on this one, the union (and teachers) would be immediately attacked, and attacked hard. And they would have to go ahead with the charters, or they'd be attacked harder, and then, whaddya know, we'd have charters anyway, just run by educators insted of KIPP.
Charters, as matter of policy, are not a good idea, no matter who runs them, and if the teachers DIDN"T "restructure" themselves into charters, all hell would be paid.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I know it would be after the initiative passed. The fact that the union is not beloved right now is all the more reason for them not to destroy what goodwill they do have. If they blatantly trample on a majority vote, then the knives will come out to get rid of the union completely. If you make voters hate the teachers union, voters will retaliate by voting down local levies. That is not a good outcome.

-North end mom

Eric B said...

It's an intriguing idea. I don't think that the WEA could reasonably expect to completely fill the tree with a thousand charter school applications. I don't think they'd lose a lot of goodwill by putting in a few dozen. The teaching side of the plan would have to be relatively custom to each school application, but probably 75% of the application could be boilerplate. The differences between schools in financial management, administration, transportation, lunches, etc. etc. would be relatively small.

I don't think the WEA would lose a lot of goodwill if it targeted schools in a relatively narrow way. What if they went after Lowell or Lafayette where they could say that major principal problems were swept under the rug? What if they went after inquiry based math? Started a SpEd-friendly school? They'd have parents behind them all the way. They would lose if they went out with a shotgun approach and were blatant about trying to prevent charters from forming, but I don't think they would if they went out with a positive, "let's fix this" attitude.

CT said...

National Enquirer - if you think cronyism doesn’t exist in charters, boy are you clueless.
Here’s a nice little situation in Utah:
Legislator A gets charter school legislation passed.
Legislator A’s brother gets a charter to start up a charter school.
Legislator A’s brother gets money from the state to build a new charter school building on land he purchased from his sister-in-law.
Legislator A’s brother-in-law’s construction company builds the school.
Legislator A’s brother’s family members are all employed by the charter school, regardless of their qualifications.
Legislator A is not re-elected by his constituents, but is now on the board of a large charter management organization pulling down a 6 figure salary and lobbying other legislators in his state (and others) for charter legislation.
Substitute Utah for other states, and you’ll see plenty of cronyism and nepotism. Arizona and Florida are also great examples.