Friday, May 25, 2012

Why It's Hard to Find Middle Ground

In case anyone didn't already know it, I sometimes meet and talk with people who are often cast as villains on this blog. I've met with Kelly Munn of LEV, Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center, the former Executive Director of the Alliance for Education (not the current one), a lot of the staff at the Alliance for Education, and, recently, with Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. It has always been nice. In addition to these folks, I have good relationships with a lot of people at the school district - after we meet and they get to know me. I used to have friendly relationships with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey on the Times editorial board. Those relationships may not be as friendly as they once were. However I may appear in print, I'm actually a pretty easy-going guy who works to see the other person's perspective. It's good for people to meet me in person and see that I don't have horns or a pointy tail.

I've also had a positive phone conversation with Reuven Carlyle, and chats and email exchanges with Tom VanderArk.

I am open to meeting with anyone who, in the false dichotomy of "sides" in the education debate, is on the "other" side and is willing to meet with me. I would be happy to talk with Sara Morris or Lisa Macfarlane, for example.

I don't know how surprising this is for folks. I don't find it surprising at all. Mostly what we talk about is our shared goal - to improve education for children. And mostly we agree on the problems and solutions. Mostly. We are respectful of each other's positions and we presume good intent. It has always gone well. Let's remember that you can only have peace talks with enemies. I haven't tried meeting with anyone really volatile like Chris Korsmo, and it's unlikely that I will ever get to meet with people who are unlikely to acknowledge me (or even my humanity), such as Tim Burgess, Nick Hanauer, or Frank Greer.

After I met with Robin Lake for coffee one morning, she wrote about the conversation in EdWeek. She was kind enough to keep me anonymous. She wrote, accurately, that one of the reasons that I don't speak more publicly about the areas of agreement I have with Education Reformers is that I am reluctant to stand along side "reform advocates he has come to detest."

I'll give you a prime (and timely) example. Charter schools, decontextualized from the political world in which they have been framed, could make a lot of sense. Our schools need to be re-thought and re-designed to meet the needs of diverse students. Today's school needs to be designed from the bottom-up instead of the top-down. The resistance to this needed re-design lies primarily in the state- and District-level bureaucracy. It's certainly not the teachers rejecting the authority and resources they need to help students learn. After we have banged our heads against the wall of this bureaucracy for over ten years, doesn't it make sense to seek another path - a path around this bureaucracy.

That sounds pretty darn appealing to me. It sounds like a really great idea. So why haven't I come out in support of charter schools? Three reasons:

  1. Charter schools are not decontextualized from the larger world in which they exist. Charter schools, rightly or wrongly, carry with them a messages of privatization, segregation, and the de-professionalization of teaching. I can see evidence of efforts to write the Washington Charter school initiative so that it doesn't carry that message. It allows only non-profits to sponsor schools and does not allow them to outsource the education services to private vendors. It requires schools to accept all applicants - including those with special needs. It requires all teachers to be certificated. Yet, despite these provisions, it will still carry the stink of charter schools nationally.
  2. I still want to fix the problem instead of go around it. I am still holding out for reform of state- and District-level bureaucracies. Oddly, the charter schools could be a useful tool to that end. As I have written, the threat of a school converting to a charter poses such dire consequences for the school district that it is a gun to their heads. If we cannot reason with them to change, perhaps we can force them to change with this threat of doom. Then again, maybe we can't. Maybe they would rather go down faithful to their cause and take all of the kids with them. I still believe that change is gonna come, but it is taking a long time.
  3. I simply cannot stand next to some of these folks who support charter schools. Seriously. I refuse to have anything to do with some of them. With all of the smart things that people could say in support of charters, these folks say the dumbest things. Instead of seeking common ground with their opponents they would rather tweak our noses. When I think of their arrogance and their hubris I can taste the bile in the back of my throat.
So I find myself in a very uncomfortable position, with one foot on the boat, and one foot on the dock.

When I think about it calmly and rationally, I have no objection to charter schools if they are done with the appropriate regulation and accountability. And, from what I've read, I think the Washington charter initiative has that. In fact, I can see them as a powerful tool for positive change, not only for the schools that become charters, but for other schools as well. Once a charter school demonstrates a real inclusive classroom, how can the public schools fail to duplicate it? Once a charter school demonstrates the value of intentionally creating the right kind of culture in a school and intentionally working to motivate students, how can the public schools fail to duplicate it? Fighting the bureaucracy to bring change has proven slow and mostly fruitless. Isn't it time to seek another path? Doesn't it make sense to simply bypass it instead trying to go through it? When efforts to win civil rights at the state and local level failed, didn't people finally win by going around the states and taking the fight to the federal level? Was that wrong of them?

But there is little opportunity to think about it rationally when it is whirled up in so much emotional and visceral reaction. My pride - yes, I do have some - precludes me from standing in solidarity with people as loathsome and stupid as some of the charter school supporters. I can't discount them as fringe (as I might with some of the wackier folks on anti-charter side) when they are not fringe players but among the principal leaders of the effort. And I am trepidatious about the new law. The Washington initiative may look good to me, but there will still be people making the decisions and people are not reliable. Will the people appointed to the Commission really be willing to drop the axe on a charter? Are the laws written air-tight enough to stop privatization? Are they written tightly enough to protect the participation of students with special needs? Won't they be people on the commission be very much like our own School Board directors who lack the strength of will to enforce policies? In fact, isn't it likely that at least one member of the commission will be a former Seattle School Board director?

Again, there is a lot of common ground among education advocates on both sides of this issue. There are things about charter schools that are appealing. I do work to keep an open mind about ideas and weigh them on their own merits, rather than base my assessment of the idea on my relationship with the person who is presenting it (or even how well it is presented). But that is really hard. I keep bumping up against a human resistance, some sort of tribal instinct that demands eternal loyalty to my tribe and eternal enmity with theirs. Only my loyalty should be to the kids, not my tribe, and my enmity should be reserved for the people who are creating the obstacles, not the folks who have a different path around them. I'm seriously conflicted.

I could be won over to charters if they could sufficiently address my concerns and if they would start making smart - and honest - arguments in favor of charters instead of dumb and dishonest ones. Did you hear Shannon Campion on KUOW? She couldn't give a straight answer to even a single question. I could become a supporter if they would make it clear that the obstacle to progress in public education is the bureaucracy, and not the teachers or the teachers' union. But as long as they prop up the teachers as the enemy and disingenuously claim that their opponents are supporters of the status quo, I cannot stand with them. As long as they spout nonsense about the competition and choice, I cannot stand with them. If they could activate my mind instead of my gag response, they could convince me to support charters. 


Sahila said...

Sometimes, Charlie, there is no middle ground:

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” Gandhi


"A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble." Gandhi again...

Anonymous said...

Well said Charlie. It is like income tax, I would prefer it to the sales tax but I don't trust the legislatures to reduce or eliminate the sales tax.


Anonymous said...

Charlie, face to face, many people are affable and even likable even if they are your enemy. I remember sitting down at a table once with foes and allies negotiating a truce so we "Americans" with a $10,000 price tage on each of our head can continue to do relief work in a "volatile"area without losing our heads. One of the most reasonable sounding, effective, and likable people there was a warlord who was responsible for a lot of the killing, banditry, and pure mayhem in our region. At the end of that meeting, I found I rather liked him and wished he was on our side. He wanted peace and prosperity too, just as long as that happened under his control and benefited his clan. Wierd.

So just as you found, it's the position you take that pits you against them. Certainly for me, the idea behind charter would be more vote worthy if my family wasn't witnessing and living through the BS and political games that are going on. By that I mean what gets printed in the Seattle Times, tweeted, what gets put out by our representatives both in the state house and on our school board. The actions of these so call "advocacy groups" in SPS have trickled down and deeply affected my children's schools and their education. It's hard to find a middle ground without trust and proof of that trust.

Too many landmines have been planted in your middle ground. I've witnessed the aftermath when one goes off.

PS mom

Anonymous said...

In regards to charters, we have the example of the state bureaucracies and private interests of 40-odd other states out there, which have allowed them.

Frankly, the news isn't good. What works well in charters is overwhelmed by the negatives and the mediocre.

The pushers of charters refuse to acknowledge that these schools don't exist in vacuums. They exist within the public school structure. Overall, charters weaken that structure and the communities in which they are placed.

Absolutely NO to charters in WA.

Savvy Voter

Anonymous said...

You're running hot and cold here Charlie.

An idea in the abstract is one thing. Now imagine we did have charters, and suddenly every aspect of this idea---process, people, funding, resources---was loaded down by all the behaviors we see from humans in large groups: passing the buck, ass covering, turf guarding, hiding information....

Any plan that can't survive the flaws of humans is a flawed plan. What would Silas Potter do with a charter conversion? Wouldn't he have even more leeway than he actually did?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, you did leave out that while this initiative got tweaked from the original bill so that the non-profits that open the school cannot subcontract out educational services to for-profits, they can subcontract out everything else, even operations and management to FOR=profits (so that for-profit motive is still in there).

Like Charlie, I have met with and like many people with opposing positions. I have mentioned many times how much I gained and enjoyed the educational fellowship when a number of us from different groups joined together to try to pressure the district into allowing parents and community a voice in the teachers contract. (That was until it was all co-opted by the Alliance for the fake "Our Schools" coalition.)

We do all care about better education and as my Tennessee granny would say (and a reader here has reminded us) =- "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

I have reached out to Frank Greer. No answer. Not so interested in Nick Hanauer. I do have a cordial relationship with Lynne Varner (although she does say the darnest things) and Councilman Burgess. The Mayor and his staff are always very kind to me. Relationships are good things.

I have never said I "hate" charters or think they are all bad. They are not. But the system, as it is playing out in the country is not good. There is NOT the quality or innovation that you would expect to see from what is being said.

That there is not a single district in this country that can say by having charter schools in their district they have closed the achievement gap, speaks volumes. That we don't have new and spreading innovation throughout this country as a result of charters should tell you something.

There is a rapidly growing awareness in many legislators that "hey, wait a minute, we continue to open charter after charter. Where are those results? In Florida, just one charter organization is making millions from renting buildings to charters.

We don't need them. What we need are more districts willing to make these changes on their own and more elected officials willing to goad them into doing it.

When you hear any of these people rail against bureaucracies and red tape that stifle educational innovation - well, a lot of these people should go look in the mirror. It's district administrators, School Boards, OSPI and yes, the legislators that pass the laws that create this red tape.

They are the ones who need to make the changes happen and bringing in yet another layer of bureaucracy isn't going to do it.

Someone said...

I guess that's where my thinking lies - in what Melissa says about the relative success of Charter Schools elsewhere. If this is such a grand and spiffy way to change education, why are they not out-scoring, out-shining and out-achieving the system they were (theoritically) designed to out do.

But there's little evidence of that anywhere. I'm sure there are indeed one or two Charter schools that are doing outstandingly great. Just as there are one or two "regular" schools that are doing outstandingly great.

Where I have trouble with the concept most is - it drains resources (time, money, energy, goodwill) from an already low pot -

Why would I vote to further erode educational spending in this State for a pipe dream that hasn't proven any better at solving those core issues? Why would we not try and I mean consistently and adequately TRY some of concepts behind Charters in regular schools, if the concepts are so grand?

I just see dollar signs here - and not public savings but in someone's pocket other than the public schools. Nothing I've read about this or other legislation changes those dancing dollar signs in my head.

Until someone can show me differently, until someone can give forthright and honest answers about the true "costs" of Charters, I will remain resoundingly in the no camp.

Charlie Mas said...

Sahila, you need to ask yourself what are the fundamentals. If, for you, the fundamentals are the ownership and governance of the school, that's fine. For me, the fundamentals are what happens in the classroom and whether the students are served or not.

I would rather the students were served well by people I despise than they were served poorly by my friends.

Charlie Mas said...


Again, that alias just kills me.

Yes, I am running hot and cold. I am deeply conflicting on this issue and I'm being honest and open about that. I don't have it all worked out and I'm indulging in the luxury of thinking out loud in a forum where I can get some guidance.

I recognize that it puts me in the no-man's-land between the fortified tribal groups battling over this, which is an extraordinarily dangerous and uncomfortable place to be, so it isn't all luxury.

I can be swayed to support this initiative if my hopes and concerns can be resolved to my satisfaction and I can be swayed to oppose it if they cannot.

In the end, I'm not sure any resolution will be possible because, in the end, the whole thing rests on the strength of the members of the commission and their willingness to reject applications from charter organizations that don't have the best of intentions and their willingness to drop the axe on charters that don't meet the standards. I don't think I can ever reach that confidence.

But it won't be the idea of charters or the structure of the law that will be the impediment to my support. It will, instead, be the history of faithlessness of education officials, the political connections of charter supporters, and the history of failure and abuse by charters elsewhere.

Seateach said...

Well said. We need to see more of this kind of conversation in the upcoming months. You've outlined your concerns about charters and your reasons for possibly considering them, and you've once again stressed the importance of sticking to the issue. Thank you for continuing to seek common ground despite obstacles.
While Seattle is increasing its alternative school options, many parents around the state have no option but a very tradition school model. These parents see charters in Washington State as the only avenue to providing their children with an alternative school setting.
My main concern about charters isn't that they'd drain money or resources. We already have programs that do that, and no one seems too concerned. Years ago I met a woman who was a fundamentalist Christian and homeschooled her eight children for religious reasons, but also because the three older girls provided childcare to the younger kids. Seattle's homeschool program takes money away from schools, but most homeschooling parents are using those resources to best serve their child when the school couldn't and I support that they have that option. Not all parents, myself included, have homeschooling as an option. I work. Private school is not an option. While our local school is a stellar fit for my children, I understand why many parents see charter schools as a necessary option.
My main concern with charters is that they need to be able to teach any child. Period. I will not support a school that claims to be unable to serve any child. Charters need to be ready and able to teach and support students regardless of emotional, behavioral, cognitive or physical challenges. If specific language to this effect isn't there, I won't vote for this.

Sahila said...

@Charlie.... you are taking various elements of ed deform in isolation - eg charter schools...

I dont think you have connected all the dots in ed deform yet because the entire education 'enterprise' will soon be controlled by a handful of corporations, themselves all connected ...
the agenda is to:
create/control ed policy (being done),
control all of ed from pre-k to post-grad as a form of sorting and culling (being done),
privatise schools (being done),
bust the unions (being done),
deprofessionalise/dismantle the teaching corps (being done),
narrow and control curriculum and dumb down students (being done),
push all to 'higher ed', saddle them with debt, release them to unemployment or underemployment to become lifetime indentured serfs ( being done),

and in the process make billions and billions of profit....

you fail to take the facts and the logic to their conclusion...

who owns/operates/governs the schools, dictates/controls what happens/WHAT IS LEARNED in the classrooms...

so - you would be happy if the children had plentiful resources and fine buildings to 'learn' in, and 'competent', 'dedicated' people standing in front of them to facilitate that 'learning' ....

it wouldn't matter to you WHAT these people you loathe teach (or dont teach) your children, as long as they 'serve' them well...

livfinne said...

Washington Policy Center's education reform plan recommends eight ways to improve the schools, see: http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/brief/wpcs-education-reform-plan-eight-practical-ways-reverse-decline-public-schools.

Its key recommendation is to put the principal in charge of his budget, staff and educational program. In other words, break up the bureaucracy which stifles and smothers the energy of the effective principals, teachers and students in our schools, and give those people closest to the children, the autonomy,flexibility, authority and control over their programs, budgets, and staff they need to succeed.

The way to break up school district bureaucracies is to recognize they are monopolies which do not need to please their customers, as the customers are forced to consume their largely mediocre product. To fix this, our second recommendation is to give parents a broad array of real choices and alternatives to traditional schools, including charter public schools. John Stanford had it right when he instituted Open Enrollment across Seattle in the late 1990's. It was a step backwards when the central planners rolled back Stanford's reforms after he died prematurely of leukemia.

Washington Policy Center's plan supports teachers as our third recommendation is to let teachers teach, and our fourth recommendation is to double their pay. The bureaucracy is hiring non-teachers at such a rapid clip that the only way they can afford this is to keep a lid on teacher pay. Only about half of public school employees are teachers, and the proportion declines every year.

New Zealand decentralized its schools in 1989, put its principals in charge, and abolished its district bureaucracies. This is the way forward for our schools, and for the education of our children.

We share the same goals, Charlie, as you have so eloquently and brilliantly said. I agree with you that the central problem of the schools are not the teachers or the union, but the bureaucracies we have created and funded. The central planners in these bureaucracies, at OSPI, and in the legislature cannot impose a magic solution from where they sit in Olympia or Washington DC.

Our research shows that when principals and teachers are allowed to run their own school, children learn better.

We have also researched charter public schools, as these are an example of principal-and-teacher-run schools,
and found high-quality charters like KIPP, Green Dot, Rocketship, Boston Commonwealth Charters, High Tech Academies in San Diego, Preuss and elsewhere to be outperforming traditional schools. See our study "An Option for Learning: An Assessment of Student Achievement in Charter Public Schools," here: http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/brief/option-learning-assessment-student-achievement-charter-public-schools

If I were a teacher, I would want to be teaching in a school like KIPP, Green Dot, and the other high-quality charter schools. Because at schools like these, the critically important contribution of the teacher to student learning is respected, honored and supported.

Thank you Charlie for helping to clarify these issues in your characteristically insightful way.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Finne, which charter operators you have in mind to run charters in Washington? Who do you see appointed to the commission?

PS mom

Sahila said...


I'm a New Zealander; my kids were in New Zealand schools during the time period/process of which you speak...

"Charteristation' was a disaster for low income, disadvantaged, diverse communities; for white middle class schools nothing much changed - they did wonderfully well, as they had done previously, and poor schools had an even harder time because they didnt have the skills and resources to run their schools pretty much independently....

Impact of Education Reforms - New Zealand

why do you persist in lying, Liv?

Sahila said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sahilia'd Out said...

why do you so consistently undermine Charlie's efforts to engage in a meaningful discussion? Your copied and pasted diatribe is not longer relevant. Please respond to specifics in Charlie's post. Almost every thing you say in opposition to what you obnoxiously term "ed deform" could be said about the big, bloated, inefficient bureaucracies that currently waste taxpayer money and continue to create a growing welfare population.
Yours is often the loudest, most frequently posted voice, and one with the least credibility.
Go do your breathing work.

Sahilia'd Out said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mirmac1 said...

"If I were a teacher, I would want to be teaching in a school like KIPP, Green Dot, and the other high-quality charter schools. Because at schools like these, the critically important contribution of the teacher to student learning is respected, honored and supported."

But you're not, thank god. You're not, but you play one at panel discussions, in white papers, and at "expert" conferences.

Anonymous said...

I see Ayn Rand has weighed in. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

It's really hard to get at middle ground because I find getting people to open up and answer questions honestly is just not done. If this initiative brings back Albert Shanker's vision of charter, I would be there. But charter has evolved into something even Mr. Shanker walked away from. If Ms. Finne could convince me and by that I mean open to answering questions like which charter operators she's considering and who will sit on the commission, how much is this going to cost, the details on rolling out charters in school district (as many posters have queried for on this blog), then at least the public will know what kind of charter set up we are getting. Is it truly accountable and will truly benefit the public? It's a way of building trust and common ground, no?

Right now, it's terribly confusing to bash central planners from the "bureaucracies" in Olympia, Wash DC, OSPI and the state house and yet it's these bureaucracies- from Duncan's DOE, and if the iniative is passed, from the Governor's commission which will have the power and responsiblity to initiate and oversee charters.

I'm off to work, but I hope, Ms. Finne you will answer these questions.

PS mom

Anonymous said...

I'll make you a deal, Charter folks:

I'll vote to support one pilot charter school in either Mercer Island or Bellevue. If it works there, then we can talk about it in Seattle.



Melissa Westbrook said...


"The way to break up school district bureaucracies is to recognize they are monopolies which do not need to please their customers, as the customers are forced to consume their largely mediocre product."

So why no advocacy for change there? Why because it's easier (and more money) to bring in another layer of bureaucracy that doesn't work either.

I visited Preuss and it's a great school but boy do they have financial woes. And the principal told me that he and most of the staff didn't pick it because it was a charter.

we are not going to make personal comments at each other. I deleted two such comments because that is NOT what this blog is for. Do that elsewhere, not here.

Third, Ms. Finne I do have a problem with your rhetoric of "bans" and such. Washington State doesn't "ban" charters. To ban them you would have to have them in the first place. We are simply choosing via our elected officials and voters to say no. Big difference.

Lastly, I echo WSDWG only I want to see one in Issaquah.

Sahila said...


so funny.... I've been "out" the entire time I've been posting here - around four years now... have never hidden behind a nom de plume, have always posted links to my profile, blog etc... google me and there's tons of stuff that comes up about me and my activities...

who said I wanted bigger, bloated government? or that I think the bureaucracy does things well? I dont...

No, I dont trust business to do education well - doing education well would require it to go against its raison d'etre - which is to make profits...

and we CAN do better in schools with what we have, if we make sensible child-centred decisions, using what we know about what a good educational experience looks like, how learning occurs, what children need to grow into their fullest potential AS PEOPLE, not as units of economic production... AND if we stop expecting our schools to solve the problem of POVERTY... which really is what all this kerfuffle is about...

Robin Lake said...

It is with great trepidation that I post here today given my devil spawn reputation amongst you all... but I want to thank Charlie for an honest and open airing of his views and internal conflicts. He is correct that the pro-charter side too often comes across as anti-teacher or anti-public education. That is not helpful. It's also not helpful to assert that those in favor of charter schools are enemies -out to privatize or destroy public education. All of us fall into rhetorical stances at times and we all have to work hard to stay focused on the end game: doing right by the kiddos.

I'm not out to convince Charlie or anyone else of the merits of charter schools. To each our own view. I do, however, think it's important that our views be informed by strong, rigorous evidence and analysis.

Charlie raises great questions about what happens after a charter law is passed. Strong community-based implementation is critical to quality (just as with any other policy), and I'd be interested in 1) sharing my experience about what implementation actions have worked well in the states that are getting great results from their charters and 2) hearing more about particular community concerns about implementation.

It may not be at all welcomed, but I'd be happy to set up a monthly coffee hour from now thru November (if this measure goes to ballot) to meet with anyone who wants to talk about charter schools in a civil and evidence-based way, with emphasis on discussing what strong implementation might look like should the measure pass. Maybe Charlie would chair it....?

If anyone indicates interest here or offline, I'll set up a regular meeting spot and let you know when/where it is.

Robin Lake

Sahila said...

Robin says: "All of us fall into rhetorical stances at times and we all have to work hard to stay focused on the end game: doing right by the kiddos...."

What to do when others dont agree with your view of what "doing right by the kiddos" looks like, Robin? Name/devalue others' points of view "rhetorical"?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"my devil spawn reputation"- who said this? Not me or Charlie but do come to our blog and try to make it sound that way.

I note that neither Ms. Finne nor Ms. Lake have anything to say about how to correct what we already have or how their organizations have made any effort.

mirmac1 said...

Actually, I think comments to that nature were on Lake's Seattle Times article, not here. But, nice touch.

Dorothy Neville said...

I'd be happy to join a regular coffee hour with Charlie and Robin and others who are interested in listening, asking each other questions and reflecting, but not tied to a specific measure. Why not start the coffee hours regardless of whether a specific initiative is on the ballot? Because regardless, we all want to see improvement, don't we?

Seateach said...

Well said, Dorothy. Thanks for bringing it back to a civil place.

I think a coffee hour is a great idea.

Jan said...

Robin and Liv: it is so nice to hear from both of you. I hope you will stay engaged, and I for one would LOVE to attend the conversations that Robin proposes. Seriously, Charlie -- take her up on this. Here are my issues:

I do think we hear far, far too much about problems with teachers -- and not enough about problems with the administrators above them. Perhaps that is just "where the conversation tends to go" in a world where labor issues can be polarizing, and where most citizens can recall the teachers they had who were brilliant, and those who were just phoning it in -- and yet never seemed to leave.

But another thing that is not acknowledged is -- we have a serious shortage of good principals. Even private schools get bad "heads of school" from time to time -- but parent pressure and boards of directors who know schools die fast when enrollment shrivels usually fix things. I cannot see how, in your proposal, the shortage of good school principals will be resolved, and what will happen if it is not.

One problem in legislating by initiative is that you can't "amend the bill" once it hits the street. I have some real problems with resource allocation. For example -- right now, if the District decides it simply cannot afford $2,000,000 in major repairs for a building -- it can close it, and move the kids elsewhere. Not great, but people with depreciating assets have to prioritize. I cannot see how it works if the ultimate folks responsible for the money cannot control whether, and how, they must spend it.

I am wildly concerned about special ed kids. The charter movement as a whole has failed them miserably (I know there are exceptions). But going to battle with a fragile child "in the middle" -- trying to force a school to do right by them, while the school treats them harshly to try to get you to leave -- it just cannot happen. The incentive to marginalize these kids will definitely exist. The bill does not adequately address it.

Just as I think that anti-charter people are afraid to concede any possible benefit in charters, I think pro-charter folks are often afraid to address, with any specificity, the shortcomings that are playing out, in real time, right before our faces. If it is possible to have community (rather than corporate) based charter schools, I think we should be doing case studies -- right NOW -- of the failures (we could do successes too, but there are way more failures) -- and figure out concretely how to avoid those traps. For example -- I was reading last week about a group of New York charters where the same people who started the charters show up in the charter management organization, in the real estate company that leases the schools back to the charter organization, and in the "curriculum company" that provides the materials. I see skimming, conflicts of interest, etc. EVERYWHERE. This is not community based charter schools; this is just private enterprise, contracting with the government to maximize profits -- not inherently evil, but not the best use of public funds to educate all of our kids. We need the forces of "good" in the charter movement to daylight and analyze this stuff -- but mostly, the reports I read still try to tease "good news" out of a few percentage points difference, here and there, in test scores -- while ignoring all the neutral or bad news.

If we are going to have this debate -- let's really move the ball forward. No wolves in lambs' coats. Let's propose something radically better than the failed charter laws of other states, see if enough people will salute -- and if it passes, either see that it does improve learning opportunities for all kids -- or stab it in the heart and kill it!

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I do see your point, but it all rests on the assumption that the law will be followed and enforced, with some good intentions thrown in.

If you look around the country, enforcement of charter laws is almost universally lax, so or course following the law is hit-or-miss, and marketing is more prominent that good intention.

Given our experience in Seattle and Washington state with respect for and enforcement of rules, I am surprised such a law would be a good fit for us.

Chris S.

Sahila said...

@Jan.... the ed deformers will tell you not to worry about the problems with principals... they have an app for that...

coming out of the George Bush Institute by 2020 (I think?), 50,000 'principals' pulled out of the military, business and sport, given BROAD-style training and put into a school near you, where they can supervise the TeachForAwhile recruits as they monitor our children "educating" themselves online ...

The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL)

GWB Principals

Anonymous said...

This is just a single example, of course, but some friends in Colorado send their children to Horizons K-8 - a charter school that seems to fit the community-based model. The document I'm linking to is long, but it gives a good history of how the school became a charter school:

- new to sps

Jack Whelan said...

Middle ground is important to find, but it can only be found between two parties who are genuinely open to have their minds changed. When someone is paid by an organization to promote certain positions, it's remarkably naive to go into a conversation with them in the expectation that he is genuinely open to changing his mind. He might might be quite sincere in arguing his position, like the lawyer wants to believe his likely guilty client innocent.

So by all means open up an honest dialog with pro charters people, just not with their professional promoters. Let's be savvy enough to know with whom such dialogs are possible.

Jan said...

Sahila -- I agree that the kinds of principals you speak of -- people with no background in education, no time in classrooms, etc. would be unacceptable. No private school worth its salt would hire someone like this as the leader of its school. No parent would pony up private school tuition to have their teachers and children led by someone whose training had been at Proctor and Gamble, or the Marines. I HAVE had great luck with principals who were social workers first -- but even they spent some time in the classroom before taking over administrative duties.

This charter initiative does not spring, full formed, from the head of some educational Zeus. It has a history. To pass muster, it will have to disentangle itself, one tentacle at a time, from the shadowy funding sources, the political machinery, and the failed charter school attempts in other states that encumber it. We (and by we -- I also mean any credible, good-hearted charter proponents who truly want community-based charter schools) are incredibly fortunate to have passed on charter schools until now -- when their limitations and failures are well-established and can be mined for information, at least on what doesn't work. (It is harder to figure out, from failure, what MIGHT HAVE worked -- and that is something the charter proponents will have to live with). One only has to look at the huge numbers of charter schools that do worse, or no better, than their public neighbors to realize that there has been much dishonesty to date (if nothing else -- they needed to be honest in saying they didn't KNOW if they could improve things -- because that is NOT what they said). But I am willing to talk, if the other side is willing to be ruthlessly honest. And in saying that -- I am taking Jack's point to heart. It may be that one meeting, or two, will be enough to establish that at least some at the table are not authorized to really go at this issue honestly. If so, then I guess the conversation goes on without them -- and if the conversation cannot go on without them (as they are the proponents of the measure), then maybe the conversation ends -- at least for THIS initiative.

Someone said...

"To pass muster, it will have to disentangle itself, one tentacle at a time, from the shadowy funding sources, the political machinery, and the failed charter school attempts in other states that encumber it."


I actually think having the huge funding of BMGF et al behind this initiative is truly a detriment. I understand the need, but there are too many tentacles of the octopus at work with that funder not to question motives.

While I respect their dedication to a topic, its difficult for me to look beyond that aspect of the current scenario. They are, and as long as they are involved, will continue to be, the elephant in the room.

CT said...

If I were a teacher, I would want to be teaching in a school like KIPP, Green Dot, and the other high-quality charter schools. Because at schools like these, the critically important contribution of the teacher to student learning is respected, honored and supported.

Ha - I could point you in the direction of some teachers who did teach for KIPP and other “high-quality” charters. They didn’t last long. KIPP - teachers are expected to answer student phone calls about homework via cell phones up until 9-10pm. They have Saturday school in some places, are expected to wear even more hats (math coaching after school, reading coaching after school, even athletic coaching after school), and use a highly scripted curriculum that favors "repeat after me" rather than critical thinking. After 3 years at a KIPP school, one friend was so burned out from teaching that she quit teaching completely and now does medical billing. She wanted to have a life.

I also had several lively conversations with some charter school teachers in Utah. They don’t see the respect. One came from a public school - enticed by the principal and some other friends who were all going to be there. She felt that the parents there treated her more like a servant at the charter, and anytime she did something they disagreed with, they would tell her that because this was a charter, they were in charge and would go straight to her administrator and complain. She’s headed back to her old district in the fall. Several others are completely disenchanted with education in general and charter schools in particular - a couple were career changers, and charter schools in Utah don’t require a teaching certificate, and none of them expected the workload they were going to have and thought they would have more freedom in their classrooms. At least one freely admitted that she was just looking for a job and because charter schools there don’t require a teaching certificate, she applied and got it. She is in her second year of teaching - supposedly doing online coursework through Western Governors “University” to eventually get her certificate - but she hopes her fiancee will propose over the summer so she can get married and start having babies rather than “teach” anymore. It’s too much work, having to grade stuff and read the lesson ahead of time so she doesn’t miss any hard words when she reads her script to the class.

I could go on, but I have work to do.
Thanks for the laugh, Ms Finne. I love reading the ravings of individuals not living in reality.

Charlie Mas said...

Sahila wrote:

"@Charlie.... you are taking various elements of ed deform in isolation - eg charter schools..."

Yes. I am. I judge the idea on its merit, not on my opinion of the person who proposed it and not on my opinion of the people who support it. I'm just funny that way.

I can go to France, find elements of the French way of living that I like, and incorporate those elements in my life without becoming French. I can pick and choose. I can decide to shop for fresh food daily, but I don't have to accept their centralized government.

And this comment is so precious it has to be duplicated in full:

"Robin says: 'All of us fall into rhetorical stances at times and we all have to work hard to stay focused on the end game: doing right by the kiddos....'

What to do when others dont agree with your view of what 'doing right by the kiddos' looks like, Robin? Name/devalue others' points of view 'rhetorical'?

The sweet, sweet irony here is the purely rhetorical nature of that response. Thank you for my daily ration of un-intentional self-parody.

Chris S. has stated my reluctance perfectly. The most critical element of the law rests in its enforcement, and the track record on enforcement is abysmal - both locally on other education laws and nationally on charter school accountability laws. It doesn't matter how good the law is if the enforcement is absent, and we have no reason for confidence in the enforcement.

Ideally, Sahila would sit on the Charter Commission - I'm serious about that - but there's no way that she will get appointed.

I also take Jack Whelan's thought to heart. How can there be an honest discussion of the issue when one party has been paid to deliver a certain outcome? These conversations have to be predicated on the presumption of good intent. The middle ground is that we are all seeking only one outcome: better education for students. I understand that people come to the table with a set of pre-conceived conclusions, but they have to be ready to alter those, they have to be ready for the conversation to run that way. Otherwise it isn't honest.

I don't know if the distrust is equal on both sides, but maybe the place to start is where I ended:

Give us reason to believe that this charter law is written to prevent abuse and will be vigorously enforced.

Anonymous said...

@Robin Lake 5/25/12 12:39 PM said (among other things)

"...in the states that are getting great results from their charters..."

I am definitely interested in hearing about ENTIRE STATES that are getting "great results from their charters."

Of the 40 or 41 (I can't keep count) that have charter schools, which of these ENTIRE STATES are getting "great results from (ALL?) their charters." Even better, which of these states are NOT getting "great results from their charters"? And why? Where are the weaknesses in charters, and how might we guard ourselves against those weaknesses here in Washington should the initiative gain enough signatures and then pass?

How do the "great results" of these states' charters compare to the results of the public schools in the state? If there's a difference in performance, what's the source?


Sahila said...

@Charlie - you are mistaken.... my question directed at Robin was not rhetorical - I am sincerely hoping she will respond...

I dont EVER speak in the rhetorical sense, without indicating that is what I am doing...

If I ask a question of someone, I'm expecting a reply...

Sadly, most people dont....

Anonymous said...

We had less bureaucracy in Seattle. We had site-based management. We had teacher freedom. Then we got ed reform.

This is the only ed reform I have experienced. It was pushed by business interests and the local press and the alliance for education. It was embodied in our hire of Maria-Goodloe Johnson.

What I saw was authoritarian, top down management. Loyalty valued more highly than integrity. Required standard teaching materials, with fidelity of implementation, and every child on the same page across the district. Goals to "teacher-proof" the curriculum. It seemed like there was some idea that if every child had the exact same school experience then the achievement gap would close. It wiped out some excellent programs and did not improve failing programs.

Now it appears that charter proponents in our area are willing to fight for site-based management & freedom in the classroom, and meeting the needs of individual children. I want to know why they fought for the opposite ideas a few years ago. Why aren't they fighting for those ideas in our public schools now?

Fool me once...

High school parent

Anonymous said...

I worry that special needs children will not be well served in charter schools. Parents have a choice of the charter school or the local public school. All the charter school has to do to keep sped numbers down is make comments like, "We've never had a child like that here,I'm not sure how we would meet their needs." Why would parents put themselves through due process, when they have a choice of another school.

I would like to know of a state where all charter schools have the same incidence of various types of sped kids as are found in their local community. Not sped magnet schools, but integrated schools that attract sped families as much as they attract families of typically developing kids.

I am also concerned with homeless & transient students. How do they get into a charter school when they are living their car or couch surfing among the relatives? How do they even hear about the charter school or know how to register?

High school parent

Anonymous said...

Why it's hard to find middle ground?

1. Trust (or the lack thereof)

2. It is challenging when the "advocates" for "reform" are those who draw a salary to support their "advocacy", while the "activists" are pursuing their concerns in what my kids understand as their "choice time".


Melissa Westbrook said...

States? I want someone to tell me one district with charters that has closed the achievement gap (or more than just one in the whole country).

Jan said...

High school parent -- I remember the District with site based management and teacher freedom too. But I don't recall the one with less bureaucracy. In fact, I have always seen hide-bound, entrenched bureaucracy as the "central nut" to be cracked. We always had great kids, good parents, (mostly) good teachers, and (some) good principals. Downtown was always "a problem." Imagine my surprise, then, when MGJ arrived with her top-down "accountability for all (except her)" reforms that did nothing to fix the bureaucracy problem -- in fact, she grew it -- and did much to kill wonderful District programs, drive away terrific, seasoned District teachers (at GHS, at least, ask ANY of the kids who were there 6 or 7 years ago -- they can rattls off the names; and I suspect other schools have similar lists).

I don't want charter discussions to bog down into too much of the past, but at some point, Robin and Liv -- where WERE your organizations when bureaucracy ballooned under MGJ; when teachers were told to stick to "scripted lessons" and "pacing guides" and rafts of teacher "coaches" were sent in -- not to help teachers, but to monitor compliance? When no school community (without an MOU) had input into principals, and no principal (of the massive numbers shifted around like retail workers at a Walmart store) knew what aisle -- I mean school -- they would be staffing next.

Were the Ed policy orgs just too busy writing about other schools in other places? Or was the massive, crushing mismanagement of both money and human resources by the SSD under MGJ really ok with them? Because if they noticed, or cared, it sure didn't seem like it at the time!

Sahila said...

this is why its hard to find middle ground:

tresting firm pulls charter school question after complaints of brainwashing

Extract from article:

A national testing company has ash-canned a reading passage that critics say subjected a captive audience of Chicago Public School children to pro-charter-school “brainwashing.’’

The Scantron Corporation took action this month after the head of Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education demanded the company drop the passage and apologize to what could be thousands of Chicago students she said were forced to read it this school year and last.

PURE executive director Julie Woestehoff said the passage, titled “Reforming Education: Charter Schooling,’’ is so one-sidedly pro-charter that its use amounts to an attempt to “brainwash’’ children “with propaganda about charter schools.’’

“Students taking a test should not be subjected to false claims about charter schools which could cause them to feel humiliated, second-class or dumb because they do not attend a `better’ charter school,” Woestehoff said in a May 9 email of protest to Scantron.

Written in non-fiction style, with pie charts and bullet points, the passage flatly states that charter schools are “showing improvements in student achievement,” even though several studies point to mixed results. In Chicago, charters have ignited pockets of fierce resistance.

The passage also states that the children of a “multimillionaire,’’ named “Charles Mendel,” attend a charter school because Mendel “believes that charter schools deliver the highest quality education.’’

A Scantron spokeswoman said her initial research indicated the passage, and Mendel, were works of fiction, although she never doubled-back to confirm this, as promised. She later explained by email that the passage was merely intended to test the “critical thinking skills of seventh-grade-level students.’’.....

Robin Lake said...

OK - there are several folks who'd be interested in coffee hours. I'll coordinate with Charlie for timing/place. For those of you interested in charter results by locale and ideas about what works, I'm happy to bring some data that we can look at and discuss. And I'm happy to also discuss how I define good outcomes for kids, my views on the perils of bureaucracy, what my organization does, has done etc if you're really interested. But my interest in meeting is to have a civil and productive exchange of ideas and evidence about charter schools and implementation lessons from other states.

Melissa Westbrook said...

You'll note that Ms. Lake does not answer my question; is there one or more districts/states that have closed the achievement gap because of the presence of charter schools?

I'll wait.

Anonymous said...

There was a nice segment on Democracy NOW! yesterday (Friday, May 25, 2012) titled "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?"-- Daniel Denvir on Plan for School Closings, Privatization.

Check it out, especially on the record and accountability (or lack thereof ) after ten years of charter schools in Philadelphia.

---Old School Music

Anonymous said...

I meant to say "especially the record (or lack thereof) of ten years of charter schools in Philadelphia. "

--Old School Music

Anonymous said...

Melissa ... You are The Best...My Hero...Really....Thank You....Miz Mannerz

Robin Lake said...

Melissa, the point of my post was to try to build on Charlie's effort to have an honest conversation about opportunities and challenges associated with charter schools. I'll reiterate that I proposed to sit down with anyone interested to look over the data together and let people come to their own conclusions so that we can get beyond what I think has become (thanks to both sides) a completely unproductive series of assertions, defensive postures, and "gotchas". You know as well as I do, I hope, that there are many many examples of cities and states that are achieving strong results with charters in their midst. Of course, no state has closed the achievement gap yet but many (most?) are making much better progress than WA, and charters often are an important piece of the story. They certainly aren't detracting from that progress. As soon as I post my list of promising states and cities in response to your challenge, someone will inevitably dig up some study that shows some problem in that state and we'll be right back in the nasty fray we've been consumed with. That gets us nowhere. Maybe some consider that a success because it blocks change, but in my view - and I think yours - the status quo is unacceptable. See you at the coffees, I hope, where I'd be happy to talk about or, listen to others talk about, any state/city anyone wants to.

And sorry about the devil spawn joke. It was in reference to names I or my colleagues have been called on this blog but not by you or Charlie. Nevertheless, probably not the best way to open an attempt to build middle ground.

Kate Martin said...

About conversations...the comment about not including folks who are collecting their paychecks for supporting a viewpoint is relevant. You can't be serving at the pleasure of an employer or organization and making your livelihood off of allegiance to positions the employer or organization holds and still be a credible part of a conversation about whether those positions make sense.

Anonymous said...

@Robin - you don't need to post the LIST of "promising states and cities", but what you should consider is to present the "data" that you have, giving the opportunity to review that data prior to the time anyone might "sit down...to look over the data together."

"You know as well as I do, I hope" that being "promising" is not really the issue. It's about delivering on the "promise", and doing it in an apples-to-apples way that proves the promise.

And, frankly, if it's really about improving educational experiences and outcomes for as many children as possible, I would love for you to share the specifics of these successes you know about and to vigorously advocate for the implementation of these programs and practices within the existing public school system.


Anonymous said...

Somethings to mull over coffee.

COST: From National Education Policy Center, "Charter Schools: how many bucks for the desired bang"


Look at cost in Baltimore for charter and traditional public schools- that was from 2011:


Today @ 2012:


STUDIES: how good? All @ the Shanker Blog by Matt Di Carlo

"Quality Control in Charter School Research"

"Three Important Distinctions In how We Talk about Test Scores"

PS mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Robin, I probably won't show. Charlie and I don't like being marginalized and then told "oh sorry". You're an adult and you knew what why you decided to start your conversation that way.

No, it wasn't the best way to start a conversation.

Lori said...

Kate Martin said...

About conversations...the comment about not including folks who are collecting their paychecks for supporting a viewpoint is relevant. You can't be serving at the pleasure of an employer or organization and making your livelihood off of allegiance to positions the employer or organization holds and still be a credible part of a conversation about whether those positions make sense.

I absolutely disagree with this belief for a lot of reasons. A lot of people choose their jobs because they do believe, sometimes passionately, in the company, the product, or the mission. Are they no longer credible simply because they get a paycheck for doing something in line with their beliefs and values? It sounds like some commenters think that an employee sells their morals and ethics in exchange for a paycheck rather than selling their knowledge and skills.

To me, credibility is something that is earned, and it is independent of the funding source. I want to hear ideas, I want to see critical thinking, I want to see how someone addresses nuance and shades of grey. If I'm trying to learn about a new topic or even just make sure I've considered all the key points, I seek opinions from all sides, even those with an "agenda" and I use my own critical-thinking skills to evaluate the information that is presented.

I don't think it's wise to just ignore an entire "data set" simply because you don't like the funding source. Listen to what they have to say and critique it. But simply dismissing people and their ideas our of hand seems unwise, and this sort of factionalism won't close the achievement gap either.

I hope the coffee chats that Robin proposed do happen, and I hope that I can make some of them.

Jan said...

I agree with Lori.

I am currently a charter school skeptic (or maybe more, probably a charter school "no" voter). I started, once upon a time, as a proponent. I reached a "no" position from watching how charter schools, charter school legislation, charter school management issues, charter school results, etc. have all played out over many years in other states (as a whole, not state by state, or school by school). I have also watched with alarm the way that the charter school "debate" has become entwined with other ALEC/Koch/privitization political issues, and lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

I do not anticipate that, by the end of any discussion, Robin Lake or Liv, either of them, will be standing next to me as (and if) I am out standing next to signature gatherers with conflicting data and a copy of the exact legislation in hand. But we all live in the same country, and we all evidently care passionately about this issue. I expect "confirmation bias" issues. I suffer from it alot, and assume that others do also. It is understandable, and can be addressed. I do not expect "spin," which is different and intentional. Everything I (confirmation bias and all) have read suggests that data supports no gain, or only very modest -- like a few percentage points, in a few grades, in a handful of schools -- gain by charter schools "generally." But there could well be, in fact, there ought to be, must be, individual charter schools out there doing good stuff. What is it that they do? How inclusive is it (and to the extent not -- really, is there a good solution (and if so, what IS it) for a charter school with 72 kids in it -- one of whom needs a level IV behavior mod class. Why has "closing" underperforming (or cheating) charters been so difficult? Are there huge flaws in the governance model they use? That our legislation proposes (I suspect so, but that is what conversations are for, right?) What does "success" mean? If only 30 percent of your high school kids graduated "on time" -- but the other 80 percent ALL graduated the following year (because you have revamped the curriculum to give yourself an extra year to really nail college readiness with an arts enriched curriculum and a huge civics component), AND all got into good 4 year colleges, did you fail? I know what current fed and state measures would say!

I hope a candid conversation will also include why the charter movement is running over the backs of the legs of Creative Innovation (or whatever they are called) schools. Why DON'T we "finish" trying out what we just spent a lot of legislative time and effort to enact?

Looking forward to a time and place, Robin.

Jan said...

Sorry, Melissa about the consecutive post -- Correction: I meant 30 percent and 70 percent, not 80.