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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Charter Update in the Times

Linda Shaw, writing for the Seattle Times, reported today on the likely near-term future of charter schools in Washington, Modest start for charter schools expected.

Her predictions and report aligns with our predictions: national charter school chains will hang back, if they come to Washington at all. After all, they didn't have any plans to expand into Washington before the vote and they want to wait and see how the regulations are determined and how the inevitable Court challenges are decided before they spend money on making any plans. They also prefer to work in concert with school districts rather than in antagonistic relationships with them. That's certainly what we were reckoning and it makes sense to anyone who has ever had responsibility for a business. The exception may be Green Dot, which represents a lot of the worst stereotypes about charters. Even Green Dot, however, may defer.

Ms Shaw predicts that the first charter schools in Washington will be what she calls "kitchen table" charters, homegrown schools started by a small cadre of committed teachers and principals. We can have a conversation about whether or not this is what the I-1240 supporters promised us when they said that the initiative was going to only allow high quality charter schools from programs with a history of success.

There are some other elements in the article which covers some of the ground that we have already covered in this blog - that the charters are only interested in coming to urban areas, that the big charter school operators are not all that excited about coming to Washington, that the big operators have their hands full already with all of the the schools they are already operating, planning, and opening. I recommend the story. It also includes some admission by Chris Korsmo that some of the implied promises of the initiative's supporters will not be fulfilled.

I think that the first charter schools may be conversion of some of the existing alternative schools. I could certainly see Southshore wanting to go charter just out of principle or for political reasons. The school is governed under an MOU with the League of Education Voters, a group that zealously supported the charter school initiative. I can also see benefits of charter conversion for The NOVA Project (increased budget and autonomy), Thornton Creek (control of real estate and enrollment), Salmon Bay (schedule and autonomy), TAFA in Federal Way, Jane Addams (control of real estate), Pinehurst (survival), and a number of others with less incentive. These conversions - of alternative schools with option assignment - would not create the kind of capacity management crisis that would follow the conversion of a neighborhood school. The single exception is John Stanford International School (sibling assignment). I think it would actually solve some capacity management problems if that neighborhood school converted. The District should have converted it to an option school long ago but they didn't.

There is a funny quirk in the law that could result in large charter school operations getting completely shut out as a result of their cautious delay. The law allows the commission to approve all of the charter applications that it wants, but allows the State Board of Education to award charters to only eight a year for five years. Clearly the law is organized to allow for the possibility for more than eight approved applications in a year. There could be charter school applications that are approved by the commission but, because they come after the eight for the year are awarded, get stalled at that stage. So what happens to those charter school applications that are approved by the commission in year one but not among the eight that are allowed that year? What happens to approved charter school applications number nine, ten, and eleven? The law could be read to say that they are essentially at the front of the queue for the next year. It's not entirely clear, but that's how it looks to me. They are not voided; the applicants don't have to start all over. So what happens if there are twenty approved applications in the first year? Eight would get awarded a charter by the State Board and another eight of them would be awarded a charter in year two and another four of them would be awarded a charter in year three. And what if there are forty approved applications in the first year? It would mean that anyone who wants to start a charter in Washington in the first five years and didn't submit their application in the first year would be completely shut out.

Could there be forty strong applications submitted in the first year? Only if there were a concerted effort to do it. Who could launch such an effort? Only the teachers' union. Why would the teachers' union do that? Really? You want a list? To retain membership, to show that the union is not the impediment to public school success, to keep non-union charter school operators out of the state, because they care deeply about education, are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, and want to reform it. Lots of reasons. I would totally do this if I were in charge of the WEA - even the SEA.

4 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Here is the ambiguity in the law, Section 215 (3):

"(3) Upon the receipt of notice from an authorizer that a charter school has been approved, the state board of education shall certify whether the approval is in compliance with the limits on the maximum number of charters allowed under subsection (1) of this section. If the board receives simultaneous notification of approved charters that exceed the annual allowable limits in subsection (1) of this section, the board must select approved charters for implementation through a lottery process, and must assign implementation dates accordingly."

Emphasis added.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, that "quirk" is quite the puzzler.

It is TOTALLY unclear what the date/time of cut-off for applications. (Yes, the BOE has to figure this one out but has to follow the initiative.)

Will the BOE consider ALL approved applications by 5 p.m. of the cut-off date, regardless of time received? Will it be those approved applications that get there first as Charlie suggests? However the initiative also has a lottery for any number of approved charters past 8. So that would seem to point to a time/date by which all would be received and then have a lottery.

Naturally, you pick the best charters by putting all the approved applications into ...a lottery. That's certainly how I would do it as well. And, since every school board and the Charter Commission will use a different formula for their selections, naturally the quality could vary but the lottery should make up for that.

Charlie Mas said...

I believe, as I have said all along, that the WEA should move aggressively to open charter schools in Washington State.

This will entirely subvert the charter school movement in a number of ways.

First, it will make plain the lie that people tell about the union's control of our public schools. The union will show what a real union-controlled school looks like.

Second, it will co-opt the support of anti-unionists. What position will the LEV, Stand for Children, the Alliance for Education, Democrats for Education Reform, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and, especially, the Seattle Times take? Are they more for charters or more against unions?

Third, the teachers would get contracts identical to the collectively bargained contracts of their public school peers.

Fourth, the WEA can take all forty of the charter school opportunities and lock out other providers.

dan dempsey said...

From Shaw's article:

"I think it will happen," said Jonathan Schorr, a partner at the nonprofit NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports many charter-school groups. "I just don't think it will happen in the blink of an eye."

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Look up the history of the New Schools Venture Fund ... flushing our education dollars into fat cat pockets.