Saturday, September 15, 2012

Charter Open Thread

So one reader, Rachel, had posted a link to an interesting article out of Philadelphia (from the parent blog, The Notebook) about a very exclusive charter where you can only pick up their application form one time a year and that's usually at their open house, held either at a private golf club or country club.  

Interested families couldn't find Green Woods’ application online. They couldn't request a copy in the mail. In fact, they couldn't even pick up a copy at the school.

Instead, Green Woods made its application available only one day each year. Even then, the application was only given to families who attended the school’s open house – which most recently has been held at a private golf club in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Is this just an isolated incident there?

But this spring, that very office found that Green Woods and 17 other charters seeking renewal imposed “significant barriers to entry” on families. Some, like Green Woods, went to extraordinary lengths to limit access to applications. Others, like Eastern University Academy in East Falls, made onerous and sometimes illegal requests from applicants for everything from typed book reports to proof of U.S. citizenship.

The findings are detailed in previously unreleased district documents obtained by Pennsylvania’s Education Law Center (ELC) under the state Right to Know law. At best, said ELC senior staff attorney Jennifer Lowman, the barriers found by the district violate the spirit of Pennsylvania’s 1997 charter law, designed to give families more high-quality school options.

“Unfortunately, some of these extensive application requirements flip that choice on its head,” Lowman said. “It becomes the school that chooses, not the family.”

So I got to thinking that although the No on 1240 campaign has a very large FAQ list at its website (www.no1240.org), that maybe there are more questions.  

This issue of applications might be one of them.

So to answer that question, there is nothing in 1240 that bar an application process to get into a charter school .  Now you can argue that  some magnet schools have applications but that's usually around ability (arts, for example).  No, these are multi-page applications that, as a parent, you better be equipped to handle.  

And it's not just for more exclusive charters as this article seems to describe.  As I mentioned, I visited the acclaimed Preuss school on the campus of UCSD.  It is a high-performing 6-12 school just for poor students (free-reduced lunch and first generation college) - they have quite a long and extensive application process.  I could see this easily weeding out the students (and parents) who didn't have the wherewithal to understand what they wanted.  It tends to get you to the most motivated and able parents.  

This is an interesting thing about high-performing charters - they tend to have very involved parents.  Coincidentally, it's the same thing for high-performing traditional schools.  
I note that reader, Eric B, asked the question:

Do you think business can be persuaded to be against charters?

On the whole no.  Our campaign is happy to talk with anyone who wants to listen and ask questions.  Anyone.  But business people have different thoughts about education than the general public.  

As well, it was illuminating to be at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce meeting this week and the Yes said said their supporters included the Washington Roundtable, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Democrats for Ed Reform, LEV and Stand for Children.  I didn't cherry-pick his list; those are the only groups he stated.  (Unsaid was the invisible hand of Bill Gates and his wealthy friends who are paying for the whole campaign.)

I got up and said our campaign was grassroots and we were mostly parents and community members as well as groups who have come out against 1240 like League of Women Voters, NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, Washington Association of School Board Directors, Washington State PTA, Washington Association of School Administrators, Japanese-American Citizens League Board, Parents Across America - Seattle chapter, and others.

Those are two different tents, clearly.  

What questions do you have about 1240?  I don't want to talk about charters broadly (but you can ask) just because, as I told the Bellevue C of C, we have all heard PowerPoints and read glossy brochures when learning about a new business or service or even a law but, for business, the devil is in the details and those would be in the contract.

So it is for 1240.  The details of how charters would be enacted and operated in Washington State are in the intiative and nowhere else.  That there is very little detail about 1240 at the yes site should tell you something.  If I-1240 is so great, why don't they want to talk about it in detail?

Ask away - I'll do my best (and, of course, provide the specific citations in the initiative because I do want you be be able to keep me honest and/or make sure I get it right). 

 I will say that there are issue of vagueness in I-1240 (for example, WASA believes that conversion charters would NOT fall under the 40 charter rule.  I read that section and I can't really say but it is problematic.) 


mitt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Josh Hayes said...

Mitt, can you provide a link to the document in question, so we can all read that part? Maybe we can puzzle out what the heck that's doing in there.

Anonymous said...

We all know that charters are required to accept every student, although we also know that it's pretty easy to circumvent this rule. Are there any penalties to charters for student attrition?

What is the process for revoking a charter? Many states are having a very difficult time revoking the charters of truly terrible schools with the original revocation followed by lawsuits, appeals, etc.


Unknown said...

Penalities for student attrition?

None that I know of in the initiative itself. One thing that has been an issue in other states is the ability for charters to exit students after a certain date and keep the funding, sending the student back to the district with no funding. The fiscal note seems (I say "seems") to indicate that won't be the case here.

However, unlike traditionals, charters do not have to refill an empty space left by an exiting student as they can control the size of their school.

The process for revoking a charter?

That would be in several sections.

Section 221 - would allow a charter contract to be transferred to another authorizer which would slow any revocation process.

Section 220:
- committing a material or substantial violation of terms of charter contract
- not making "sufficient" progress towards performance expectations
- fiscal mismanagement
- "substantially" violating the law

Now it says that it can be non-renewed if it is in the bottom quartile of schools on the accountability index UNLESS the charter can demonstrate "exceptional circumstances that the authorizer finds justifiable". That's a lot of wiggle room on both sides.

And it gives the charter loads of ways to protect itself from such action.

When people ask why charters are growing in numbers and yet there are so many of them that are low-performing, well, there's your answer.

It's very hard to close any school even a low-performing charter (where charters are supposed to be easier to close than traditionals).

And let me point out - as someone who had to help make closure decisions - NO ONE wants their school closed and will fight to the death.

It may sound good on paper to say "if it doesn't perform, close it." As parents we all know that schools for us and our children are more than academic - it is a place of community and fellowship. It is part of a neighborhood.

It hurts children and communities when any school is closed. The ability to open and close schools like a MacDonald franchise is no great thing. There are real people involved in these decisions and that's why it is so hard to close even a traditional school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I took out the comment on Creative Schools because that is not the topic of this thread.

However, I do plan a thread around Creative Schools and will try to get that link up to those documents tomorrow. It is troubling what is happening.

Anonymous said...

The Creative Approach Schools item isn't listed for introduction at the upcoming Board mtg - wouldn't that push out the vote to 4 weeks away, minimum, instead of 2?


Mary Griffin said...

And from the great state of Pennsylvania comes... "Charter School Reform"! "There is insufficient oversight of charter schools in Pennsylvania," says state auditor. Also read how for profit companies associated with cyber charter schools are profiteering.

Education Reform needs Education Reform. Gotta love it.

mitt said...

I thought my Creative Approach comment was in keeping with the Charter Schools thread because my point was that it is "Charter Schools through the back door," supported by the same people, I believe. If the Charter vote goes down, they get what they want through this avenue. But I will wait for the specific thread. I just hope it won't take too long because the School Board vote is being ram-rodded through as we speak. I will try to post a link to the info requested here but it might get deleted if it's deemed off topic . . .

but you can find it on the School Board Archives from February, when this was introduced. Go to the end of the MOU and you will see this document listed under Creative Approach criteria. The document is the Definitions, Criteria, and Process document. Again, Melissa, please do the Creative Approach thread as soon as possible because it's coming up for a vote in the next few weeks and people really need to be aware. The courts struck it down, but the Board is proceeding with only slight modifications. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I *think* we wouldn't have some of the fiscal issues other states have because our funding structure is quite different from that of other states. But I could be wrong as I didn't really pay attention to such things before I lived here. However, I think we have a lot more funding based on monthly counts than places that fund schools through property taxes.

That being said, I think there needs to be consequences for attrition. Certain charter chains have insane attitrion rates-well over 50% between 5th grade and graduation. Not only does this allow the charters to cook their test score books, but it sends kids back with a huge sense of failure.


hschinske said...

Oh, man. It would have been SO great if someone had gone to that Green Woods open house and then posted the application on the Internet.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

Rachel, yes, we fund based on monthly enrollment so we would be protected from some of those abuses. I really do not understand why other states don't fund based on monthly enrollment. Kids have always moved from city to city, state to state, during the year. How have districts in other states managed that in the past?

Levy dollars are different though. They are not small potatoes, operations levy is currently about 27% of the Seattle School district operating budget. Likewise levy equalization dollars are to be shared -- for those districts that get that.

But we do fund special ed like Pennsylvania and that is troubling. Special ed students (up to a cap, currently 12.7% of enrollment in Seattle) are funded based on average need. Therefore a student needing one hour a week of speech therapy brings in exactly the same amount of dollars that a student needing a self-contained classroom with 8 students, 1 teacher and 2 aides brings in. Of course this is meant to average out. But a charter school will get the categorical funding (that includes special ed state funding) based on the district's funding where it is geographically located. So we will be ripe for the same issue as PA, where charter schools LOVE kids with minor speech and language issues, while the school districts are left with the more expensive students and not enough money to cover them. Remember, charters will be exempt from some of the restrictions on categorical funding.

Jen R said...

There is clearly a tie between the “back-door charter schools” and the Charter School initiative I-1240. That tie is a direct line goes directly to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In April of 2011 the Washington State Legislature passed 2 bills to create “Innovation Schools”.

HB 1521: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1521.PL.pdf

And E2S HB 1546: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/1546-S2.PL.pdf

The Yes on I-1240 website says (on the FAQ Page):
“Public charter schools are subject to the same academic standards as traditional public schools and hold teachers to the same certification requirements as other public schools do.
Public charter schools, however, are free from many other regulations, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. Most other states have public charter schools, but they are not yet allowed under Washington’s current state law.”
But wait a second, “not yet allowed under Washington’s current state law”, that is not accurate. Schools can apply for waivers to regulations such as curriculum, budgets, Teacher’s Union contracts (for hiring and firing), and customized learning experiences under the Innovation School’s bill, which is state law. – Specifically look at Sections 4, 5, 8, & 9 of E2S HB 1546.

Since the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is funding the study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy of these new Innovation Schools, see: http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/current.asp?projid=130 You’d think they would know this.

So what is the REAL agenda?

E2S HB 1546 still calls for public oversight and review of these Innovation Schools and Innovation Zones, see sections 6 & 7 of E2S HB 1546. This is the glaring difference between current state law and the proposed charter school initiative. I’m going to call a spade a spade; I-1240 does not provide new flexibility for schools, rather it removes the onerous public oversight of the current law.

Not Charter Fooled

Jen R said...

Additional Information:

Session Law for HB 1521: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/House/1521.SL.pdf

Session Law for E2S HB 1546:http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2011-12/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/House/1546-S2.SL.pdf

Some of the RCWs:




Legislative History of HB 1521: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1521&year=2012

Legislative History of E2S HB 1546 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1546&year=2011

State Superindendant of Public Instruction webpage for the program: http://www.k12.wa.us/innovativeschools/

Anonymous said...

Along with this story from PA, here's one from Utah, courtesy of my cousin. Apparently applications for one charter school were only available on Sundays at the wardhouse. So not only limiting it to Mormons, but also ones who were actively attending church.
Public schools my a**.


Anonymous said...

1240 is very appealing because it is full of holes and has little accountability. This way it can be a little of what everybody wants. The potential is so vast. You can have a magnet charter with stringent admission. You can have one aimed at selected"disadvantage students" or one that is Spanish immersion with Singapore math text. You can include or exclude with far better control than the present system with the hope that it will all work out better for you. Teachers and administrators can have their own charter school minus the new eval and set it up with who they want as staff and students. Same goes for parents.

The kids that will be left out will be the older ESL kids, spec ed kids with serious, expensive need$, kids with intractable behavioral issues, or kids with clueless/absent parents. There will be a place for them in traditional public schools. The gap will remain because in order to appear a winner, charter school just need to be a little better. Few will care that it's a fixed race.

What is left of the ideal of good universal education for all is fragmented into a race. We will leave people behind and that is acceptable because in this world, we value heroes and philanthropists , the righteous, the people who "fit in" with our ideals, and the successful strivers. The rest we leave to the fickle wind of charity, luck, or simply best left marginalized and invisible.

And a few people will make a LOT of money.


Mary Griffin said...

I went to the state public disclosure website. Yes on 1240 has received over 4 million dollars from 42 donors, with a mean donation of $77,890. What are they planning on doing with it? I am guessing television ads? How is No on 1240 going to compete when they have raised a little over $8,000 from 22 donors with a mean donation of $378?

Unknown said...

Mary, yes there will be many tv ads, probably robo-calls.

Actually there are TWO No campaigns. A little confusing but there is No On 1240, a parent and community group and No on I-1240, a coalition group (they have about $200k).

Have faith, money doesn't always win.

The truth wins and feet on the ground win. If it matters to you, then you will do your part, no matter how small, to defeat this thing. There are lots of suggestions at the No On 1240 site, www.no1240.org.

The latest Elway numbers show a LOT of squish room. This is by no means a done deal (and never was). If you let might make right, then we all lose.

Mary Griffin said...

@Melissa, okay, thanks. I thought there was two groups, but the similarity in names threw me off. And I saw the Elway numbers in the Times and you're right, there is a lot of squish room.

BTW, I submitted the Seattle Times editorial "facts" to the Seattle Times "Truth Needle".... not that it will do any good, but it was kind of fun in a nonproductive sort of way.

Mary Griffin said...

There is a Seattle Times letter to the editor today from a Kevin Laverty, formerly head of the Washington State School Directors Association. I have read it and re-read it and it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. He is trying to make a point about lottery systems and charter school experiences in Washington State with a Delta High School in the Tri-Cities. Delta is a public school funded by Paul Allen. Can someone read and explain what he is trying to say? Or does anyone know anything about a lottery system there? http://seattletimes.com/html/northwestvoices/2019185356_edulets18.html

Anonymous said...

Here's AZ, where you are "expected" to "donate" between $1200 - $1500 each year for your child to attend the Great Hearts charter school.

I thought charter supporters said charters cost less....


Anonymous said...

. One thing that has been an issue in other states is the ability for charters to exit students after a certain date and keep the funding,

Not really different from the WSS being decided on Oct 1 counts.