Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughtful Op-Ed on Charters in WA State

A.G. Rud, the dean of the College of Education at Washington State University, and Ken Zeichner, professor of Teacher Education at UW, have written a quiet op-ed reviewing the most important ideas in enacting charters in Washington State.

They express the concern, based on fact, that some of the more successful charter models have a "stripped down" curriculum that focuses on the basics but has little else for a well-rounded student.

A lean curriculum focused only on improving standardized test scores is common among schools run by charter-management organizations elsewhere in the country. As documented by prominent education historian Larry Cuban, franchise-school operators such as Rocketship often target low-income communities and offer a stripped-down version of schools that most charter advocates would not want for their own children. 

They also offer these recommendations (and they are valid - transparency and accountability are key):

• Ensuring that the charters offer a rich curriculum and not just stripped-down test preparation.
• Making sure the charters are judged by more than whether they can raise standardized test scores. We must also look at such indicators of success as the completion of secondary and some form of postsecondary education or job training.
• Giving parents a voice in how the schools are run. We must avoid the parent disempowerment that has occurred elsewhere with privately run charters.
• Acknowledging that the charters are not necessarily nonprofit. The organizations that run them and receive money from school districts receive tax subsidies and can outsource services to for-profit companies. 

If the law remains as written, we need full public transparency: the names of all applicants for the charter-school commission should be publicly available and the selections explained by state officials; charter applications should be available online; money and buildings transferred by districts to charters, and any additional public funds to charters, must be made public. 

Likewise, all evaluations of the charters by the commission must be open to scrutiny. 

Speaking of the Charter Commission, you can apply online at Governor Gregoire's office (although Governor-Elect Inslee will pick his three).  I have attempted to find out about how to apply at Lt. Governor Brad Owens' office but no reply yet.  I am in touch with Speaker Chopp and will find out how he proposes to review applications.

It seems that the best method might be for the Governor's office to gather all of them and then have the three offices review them for the most qualified people.  Then they can sit down together and figure out geography, gender,  political party, etc. 

Also, a good laugh about the upcoming Charter Convention on Saturday - turns out the Tacoma News Tribune (which sponsored the ad) printed a huge mistake.  As a long-time public education activist, my number one concern was always getting that word right.   It was the fault of both the writer and the copy editor, apparently.


Just saying said...

The News Tribune actually paid for the ad.

Charlie Mas said...

I can't say that I'm surprised really, but the education trolls on the Seattle Times comments came out to oppose the op-ed, even though it didn't advocate for anything controversial at all: financial transparency, family involvement, assessments that go beyond just test scores, and fully rounded curricula.

Who could oppose these suggestions? The Seattle Times education trolls.

Unknown said...

This was a very thoughtful op-ed and I am glad that the Seattle Times chose to publish it.

As for the education trolls, yikes.

Double yikes to all the commenters who appear to have serious difficulties with written English. I can't even figure out what point some of these people were trying to make.

Anonymous said...

um, do WA public schools currently offer a rich curriculum? our pta is constantly raising money for music, art, library, technology, p.e, & classroom aides. it seems weird to me to hold charters to a higher standard than public schools in our state. i'm not saying it's right (that our schools are stripped bare of rich curriculum), just that if public schools can't provide it than why should charters? (but i hope and pray they do.)


Charlie Mas said...


What PTA? Is it a Seattle school?

Seattle Public Schools has a policy of academic assurances which includes music, art, and library at every school.