The Stranger Says NO to 1240

In their usual no-nonsense manner, The Stranger laid out its opposition to 1240, pretty much calling it smoke and mirrors.

If there were a single credible, independent, peer-reviewed study to suggest that charter schools do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools, we might drop our opposition to this measure. But there isn't. A widely cited Stanford University study finds that 17 percent of charters do substantially better, while 37 percent do substantially worse. Maybe it's our public-school education, but we don't like those odds.

I-1240 would draw scarce funding from existing public schools, while handing control over these dollars from elected school boards to private boards. A petition signed in secret by a majority of a school's parents could initiate the conversion of your neighborhood school to a charter school, but there's no like provision to convert a charter school back to a public school. Charters are nominally nonprofit, but there's nothing to stop them from contracting operations to for-profit companies. There's a lot of money to be made off of I-1240, hence the $8.3 million backing it got from the likes of Alice Walton, the Bezos family, Paul Allen, and Bill Gates. (The idea that Bill Gates, who never set foot in a public school as either a student or a parent, should tell us how to run them is doubly insulting.)

Proponents argue this is only a test run, allowing just 40 charters statewide over the next five years. But we know a foot in the door when we see one. Once voters approve even this limited measure, lawmakers will lose their aversion toward expanding its scope. But mostly, we object to the timing. In the wake of the state supreme court's landmark McCleary v. State decision requiring billions more for basic education, charter school advocates have squandered the opportunity to actually fund our public schools, pushing a divisive, ineffective, free market "reform" instead.

Vote no.

I will note a couple of things.

I believe Mr. Gates did attend Laurelhurst Elementary for a couple of years.  But it is true that none of his children have ever attended public school.

They are quite right about the "foot in the door" or, as a gentleman at the One Stop Ballot Shop event last night put it "a gateway."  


mirmac1 said…
What? No swear words?
Anonymous said…
Bill Gates attended both View Ridge and Laurelhurst elementary. But was only a year or two at each.

watching said…
A "gateway" indeed.
Anonymous said…
One thing I will credit Gates for is his repeated assertion that his success is built upon the shoulders of others and that he did not - as others contend - do it all himself. I'll take his poke in Ayn Rand's eye and give him his credit where it's due.

Another little-reported fact is how Gates and Allen used to sneak into the UW computer labs during the night to become programming experts in their teens. I'd say availing themselves of those public resources paid off handsomely for them, didn't it?

So why his intolerance and hubris when it comes to public education in its current form? Why charters, small schools, etc., etc., instead of making SPS at large the best district in the nation, for all kids? Why buddy-up to known profit-seekers and exploitative interlopers wedging their way into public ed for good old right wing profit motives?

"If a charter fails, it can have it's charter revoked," they'll say, prophecizing about supposed market forces that will cure everything via the mystical "invisible hand of the market," but at what cost, and for how long, to kids suffering and falling further behind in a failing charter getting chance after chance to get it right?

Sure, tell me about those failing public schools right now. But to those relying on that logic, answer me: How will Charters not be even worse?

A foot in the door? Yes. Along with an ankle, shin, thigh and buttocks. Imagine what it will take to get rid of a bad charter if getting rid of bad schools is as difficult as it is today. WSDWG
mirmac1 said…
I'd like to put someone's head in the door...
Charlie Mas said…
I love this myth: "If a charter fails to meet performance targets it will be closed."

Let's think about that for a moment.

Does this really happen? There are a LOT of under-performing charter schools. About a third of them, if the CREDO survey is to be believed, are under-performing public schools. Yet I do not see a third of charter schools closing. In fact, I see that the bulk of charter schools that close do so for financial reasons rather than academic ones. I see very few charter schools getting shut down for poor performance and I see states who try it having a hard time with it.

Second, what happens when a charter school is shut down? What happens to the students? If the school shuts down during the school year then where do the students go? What funding is available to hire teachers for them?

I-1240 supporters like to tout the "strength" of the initiative. They say it has strong accountability measures modeled on effective laws in other states.

Really? What other states?

After all of the various measures that must be used to evaluate the performance of a charter school, in the end the charter only gets revoked if the authorizer revokes it. And the authorizer is the state Charter School Commission, nine appointed and un-accountable charter school supporters.

I just don't have a lot of confidence that a group of charter school boosters are going to vote to close down a charter school when they are never held accountable for their decisions.

Finally, charter school folks love to contrast this with the fact that there is no shutting down failed public schools.

Really? The No Child Left Behind law says that any school that reaches Step 5 of sanctions should be closed. How many schools have reached Step 5? Plenty. How many schools have been closed. Damn few.

If these state officials can't muster the nerve to close schools when the federal law says they are supposed to, then what makes us think that other state officials will close schools when they are supposed to?
Unknown said…
What is funny is this "strongest law" stuff comes from...a charter group. Well, of course, they are going to say it's great. They want more charters (although they ding 1240 for having a cap on the number of charters which should tell you something).

Great last point, Charlie.
ArchStanton said…
Just in time for Halloween; a 1240 photoshop inspired by WSDWG's "foot in the door comment.
Unknown said…
Arch, you have outdone yourself. THANKS!
mirmac1 said…
Arch, you SLAY me! nnnnk, nnnnk, nnnnnk!
seattle citizen said…

ArchStanton, when I saw your "The [Charter] Shining poster, I remembered a usage of the word "shine" that I've heard around. I went to Merriam Webster, where it's a trick or a caper, but that wasn't quite what I was thinking of, so I went to the Urban Dictionary, and bingo:

"Shine: to ignore, be rude to, or to betray friends."

Yep: "The Charter Shining." They're shinin' us, running a game on us - a trick, rude and full of betrayal.

ArchStanton said…
Thanks all. Glad to inject some humor.

@SC: that did influenced my movie title choice ;)
Anonymous said…
The difference between "closing" a charter and "closing" a regular school is ... they can and do ASSIGN YOU to a regular school whether you like it or not. Duh! Then, they don't have to close the regular school because it will not be empty. It will be full of students who do not wish to attend and/or whose parents feel that it is failing by their metrics. If nobody LIKES they charter school, then they don't have to attend it. If they don't attend, there will be no money to keep the charter alive. In that case, the beast will actually starve. The regular public school beast NEVER starves. The difference.

Anonymous said…
As to "closing" schools based on performance. That is the lamest thing I've heard Charlie say in a while. "Failing" is not measured by tests for lots and lots of people. I remember Charlie posting that he told his own kids that he didn't care if they even took the WASL (now MSP). Not taking the WASL = Failure. Your kid and your school will get big fat 0s. Those results meant nothing to him. (and they mean little to me too) Well then, why do they mean so much to him now? Why are test results the measure of "Failing" for other people, but not for his kids? ????

The anti-charterites contradict themselves over and over. On the one hand - it's all about the tests.

On the other, tests don't matter so much for their kids. (Of course they probably need to at least pass the tests to graduate, and I betcha they care about that.)

On the one hand, not being able to "close" the charters is a big deal - but on the other hand they also complain that there won't be equitable access. Well, who cares if there's equitable access, if all you want to do is close them.

On the one hand accountability is oh-so-important, but on the other hand all we hear is 0 accountability with what we've got now... And absolutely 0 - from principals, to directors, to interims everywhere, to superintendent, to a 100% rubber-stamping board. There's no way to be ANY less accountable than that. (If a board rubber-stamps absolutely everything - that's no accountability by any measure.)

On the one hand we hear about our oh-so-wonderful alternatives obviating the need for charters, but on the other hand they are ALL subject to closure at the drop of a hat.

On the one hand we hear about the horrible inequities of charters, on the other hand we hear about all the options really being in 1 neighborhood, not accessible to everyone, and the inequities for lots and lots of people with what we've got.

Anti-charterites can't seem to think in a straight line. The only arguement they have... charters MIGHT not be better.

Maureen said…
Duh, the thing is, all and any of those things can be true, especially over time and for different schools and different families. Just because current public schools aren't perfect doesn't mean it's a good idea to create a parallel costly system of schools that are even less accountable for how they serve families. For Seattle in particular, given our capacity issues and the high rate at which formerly private school students attend charters, we just can't risk losing access to our buildings. In this case, charters might possibly (17%) improve results for a small number of current public school kids, but the cost to those left behind would be huge. Also, the more involved families the public system loses, the harder it will be to fix the issues we have now.
Charlie Mas said…
I'm not the one who promises that charter schools will close if they fail to meet performance targets. That's an assurance given by charter supporters. I just don't think it's true because I disbelieve that the charter school commission would ever pull the trigger.

I thought I had been clear about that, but apparently not.

I have not complained at all about the fact that students will not have equitable access to charter schools except to point out that lack of access to charter supporters who promote choice.

Accountability IS important. That's why I encourage the School Board to hold themeselves, the superintendent and the staff accountable. I do it a lot. And when they fail to do it, I campaign for the community to hold them accountable by electing replacement board directors. I don't know if you noticed, but two of them were replaced. The community held them accountable. There will be no such accountability for charter schools.

Alternatives do not make charters unnecessary because charters do not do the same thing that alternative schools do. Typically, charters do the same thing that traditional schools do. Alternatives are only mentioned in the context of this discussion to disprove the false claims by charter supporters that all public schools are the same.

The inequities of charters are rooted in the same inequities that are present in a number of alternative schools - they require an involved family to choose them and they often fail to serve students with IEPs. There are, of course, some alternatives that do serve their fair share of students with IEPs. I don't recall anyone excusing the alternatives for their inequities.
Jan said…
Dear Duh! (nice moniker, by the way. So civil.)

Anyway -- what makes you think a charter with a dwindling population cannot survive indefinitely. They will get a share of capital levy dollars (whether they need them or not); they get the student's alloted money. They can buy whatever cheap or used texts they want (or come up with a grant that some pro-charter entity will fund). Now, hire a bunch of TfA types at really low wages, pack the few kids you do get in classes 30 or 35to a class -- and there may STILL be plenty of money to skim off for the charter management company, the (affiliated) company that found and sold you the used text books, the (affiliated) LLC that you rent your space from (at inflated rents).

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