Charter School Watch

It's been awhile since we talked about charters.   I have been stockpiling the stories because, yes, there's a lot happening.

FYI, the Washington Board of Education is having a public hearing on charter rules.  They seek input from citizens.  It is on Tuesday, Feb. 26th at 1:00 pm in Olympia at OSPI.

Those wishing to provide comment on the draft rules may attend the hearing in Olympia, via K-20 video feed in Spokane at the office of ESD 101, or by writing us directly (

The draft rules establish an annual application and approval process and timelines for local school boards seeking approval to be charter school authorizers. For example, the current draft rules will require school districts to submit an authorizer application to the State Board by June 15 and for the State Board of Education to make decisions on those applications by August 15. The draft rules also set requirements for districts applying to authorize charter schools, as well as criteria for the evaluation and approval or denial of those applications.

The draft rules and more information on charter schools is available here.

The meeting agenda will be available by February 22 here. Materials discussed during the meeting will be available by 5:00 p.m. February 25. 

First up, a story from Reuters about who gets into charter schools.  Remember, most charters will say "open to all" but there are caveats to those (just as we said there were).  Everything that is now happening in other states could also happen here.
Thousands of charter schools don't provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing "volunteer" work for the school or risk losing their child's seat.

And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Among the barriers that Reuters documented:

* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.

* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.

* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.

* Mandatory family interviews.

* Assessment exams.

* Academic prerequisites.

* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.

Many charters, backed by state law, specialize in serving low-income and minority children. Some of the best-known charter networks, such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot and Success Academy, use simple application forms that ask little more than name, grade and contact information, and actively seek out disadvantaged families. Most for-profit charter school chains also keep applications brief.

But stand-alone charters, which account for more than half the total in the United States, make up their own admissions policies. Regulations are often vague, oversight is often lax - and principals can get quite creative.

Open access "is an easy and popular talking point," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. There's just one problem, Hess said: It's not true.

"There's a level of institutional hypocrisy here which is actually unhealthy," said Hess, who is a strong advocate of charter schools.

In California, the law sounds straightforward enough: "A charter school shall admit all pupils who wish to attend the school," with seats awarded by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

Yet Roseland Accelerated Middle School, a charter school in Santa Rosa, California, won't even enter applicants into the lottery until they have proved their mettle by writing a five-page autobiography (with no errors in grammar or spelling, the form warns), as well as a long essay and six short essays. Applicants also must provide recommendations, report cards and statements from their parents or guardians and submit a medical history, including a list of all medications they take.

Remember one of the charters I visited? This is what the article had to say about it.

Authorizers also plan to look closely at possible admissions barriers at the Preuss School at the University of California, San Diego.

Preuss has earned a reputation as one of the best charters in the United States, hailed by Newsweek magazine as a "miracle high school." It serves only low-income students whose parents don't have a four-year college degree.

Yet within that demographic, the school screens aggressively for aptitude, drive and parental support.

The 23-page application requires students to hand-write a long essay and several short-answer questions.

Can you make money off charters Ask tennis star Andre Agassi who jointed with investment bankers to create charters in several states.
In fact, Agassi’s community centers, libraries, and schools did vastly improve a physical area of North Las Vegas that was neglected. Politicians far and wide have visited the school and embraced the star power of Agassi and basked in the glow of the beautiful buildings.

UNFORTUNATELY – Andrew Agassi Prep has FAILED in important ways year after year.

The teaching staff has been replaced nearly in totality every year. Recently, great teachers have not even lasted through the contracted year. Turnover was almost complete for the last two years. Following scandal after scandal. In Philadelphia, the Governor is trying to change their charter school law: that would effectively remove control of charter schools from local communities in favor of a statewide commission of political appointees. The proposed law would also ease requirements for prospective charter school operators, increase the term for renewals from five to 10 years, and dramatically increase the ability of local school boards to convert existing public schools to charters.

Under the revisions, any district-run school, regardless of its performance, could be targeted for conversion to a charter, and the requirement that some parental and community support be demonstrated is dropped. The law would also exclude the records of some charter school vendors from the “right to know” law.

In Philadelphia, the Governor wants to change the charter school law.  From The Notebook:

...that would effectively remove control of charter schools from local communities in favor of a statewide commission of political appointees. The proposed law would also ease requirements for prospective charter school operators, increase the term for renewals from five to 10 years, and dramatically increase the ability of local school boards to convert existing public schools to charters.
Under the revisions, any district-run school, regardless of its performance, could be targeted for conversion to a charter, and the requirement that some parental and community support be demonstrated is dropped. The law would also exclude the records of some charter school vendors from the “right to know” law.

If these are "public" schools, why wouldn't they be subject to the same oversight laws as traditionals?

From Florida, the poster child for all that is wrong with charter schools via the Miami Herald:

Nationally, about 12 percent of all charter schools that have opened in the past two decades have shut down, according to the National Resource Center on Charter School Finance & Governance. In Florida, the failure rate is double, state records show.

The bulk of charter school problems have surfaced in states like Florida that have “a large number of charter schools and rapid growth,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who studies the charter school industry. In many cases, Miron said, the agencies charged with oversight were underfunded.

How do those charter school management orgs make money?  From Ohio, a tale about White Hat from State Impact. 
Charter school funding basically works like this: the state gives money to a private organization with a governing board. The board then hires and pays a management company to run the charter schools’ day-to-day operations.

In this case, the boards handed over 96 percent of whatever they got from the state to White Hat.

Deb Howell and other board members wanted to see how that money was spent.

White Hat declined comment, but the company has maintained that although the funds are public, the company is private and therefore does not have to open its books to anyone, not even the boards that hired it.

The highly-touted charter org, Rocketship, saw its CEO leave to develop an on-line education company (that will partner with Rocketship).   From Education Week:

Equally intriguing, to many educators and policymakers, is its overall educational model. Rocketship students, many of whom are minorities and impoverished, spend a portion of their days in "learning labs," where they receive tailored instruction via computer. Those sessions are led by noncertified staff, an arrangement that Rocketship officials say allows them to save on personnel costs—an estimated $500,000 annually per school, compared with the costs of a traditional school. Those savings are put toward academic support for students, higher salaries for teachers, and other areas.

But it's worth noting that Rocketship officials, in a recent story by the PBS News Hour, expressed dissatisfaction with the learning lab model, and suggested they are on the verge of making changes to it. Teachers and other staff voiced concerns about not knowing enough about what students are learning in those computer-based sessions, and not knowing whether those sessions are connected to students' lessons throughout the day.

Read more here:
How to know what charters will succeed and which will fail? From the Education Week blog:
Charter schools' academic success or failure during their first year is a strong predictor of whether they will excel or struggle in later years, a new, far-reaching study finds.

The study, released Wednesday by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which has conducted extensive research on charters across the nation, also concludes that significant improvements in charter school performance over time is rare among middle and high schools, though it occurs more often in elementary schools.

The vast majority of schools, 80 percent of them in the lowest quintiles of performance, remained low-performers through their fifth year in operation.

Top-tier charters followed a similar pattern. Ninety-four percent of schools that started in the top quintile of performance remained at that lofty level over time. When the researchers waited until the third year of charters' operation to make predictions, the patterns for predicting success or failure were even stronger, the authors found.

"Poor first-year performance simply cannot be overlooked or excused," they write. "For the majority of schools, poor first-year performance will give way to poor second-year performance."

"Once this has happened, the future is predictable and extremely bleak. For the students enrolled in these schools, this is a tragedy that cannot be dismissed."

Here's something to look for in future BEX elections: charter school advocates throwing huge sums of money into them. Why? From the San Diego Reader:
San Diego's Proposition Z, a measure to raise property taxes for school bonds, is billed by its backers as a way of enabling the "San Diego Unified School District to maintain safe and productive learning environments for students during the state’s ongoing budget crisis."
But, according to report Friday by a local online news site backed by several well-heeled charter school advocates, a little-discussed political sweetener is tucked inside for the state's charter school lobby.
As reported by the Voice of San Diego, the tax boosting measure would "allow the district to pull an estimated $2.8 billion in loans. The money will go to a number of things, but $350 million will go to charter schools, new and old.
"The district will also set up a special committee dominated by 'representatives of the charter school community' to advise the school board on how to divvy out the money."
And remember, if any charter conversion happens over the next six years, they can demand their "share" of BEX if it is an SPS.  Even say, South Shore K-8, in a brand-new building,  could demand money even as other buildings need those capital dollars more.


Anonymous said…
I read the Times article on Rhee this morning. I agree with her thinking and believe that the way she went about it was the problem. It's interesting that some of her thinking is consistent with the direction Seattle Public School and our state is headed. For example, give parents more choices. Isn't that what Charter is about. Although Seattle has moved to a more neighborhood school model. Rhee also believes in a stronger and organized voice from the parents. She also believes in making sure we don't go overboard when it comes to making kids feel good about themselves. She reflects on her error of assuming that her job didn't involve PR and communicating well her vision to the community.

As a parent, I actually agree with her ideas. However, it's the manner in which one tries to implement them that was an issue. Collaboration instead of isolating stake holders.

A Friend
Rhee believes parents should have a bigger voice? Really? Where was this attitude when she was in D.C.? Not in evidence in her work there. She says it was a "PR" problem? Interesting.

I see nothing collaborative in what she is currently doing.
Anonymous said…
She's being interviewed on KUOW right now—9:30 AM, Wednesday. You'll be able to podcast it later.

Solvay Girl
I'll have a separate thread on Rhee tomorrow after I hear the Dora Taylor interview on KUOW.

Rhee never fails to entertain and that KUOW interview was quite revealing.

Turns out that her moderator last night, the Chief Community Officer at Starbucks, sits on StudentsFirst Board. I have a call into Starbucks to get clarification on this issue because it is unclear to me what Starbucks' association might be.
Louisa said…
If the charter school folks had really valued parental input, it would have been explicitly called out in the governance process of choosing and managing charter schools. I searched and searched in our own 1240 doc and all I could find was evidence of parental exclusion and consolidation at the state level of, for all practical purposes, untouchable, unaccountable people.

Rhee is a marketer and is a master of using language to sound appealing. No doubt there is validity in what she says, at TIMES, but the actions speak louder than words. Agree with Melissa, look at actions in the past. Interestingly, in Rhee's interview with Steve Scher this morning she oddly and disconcertingly wouldn't answer his question about her own kids being in private school. She kept saying (as if it were an answer) "I'm a public school parent". Steve kept saying, "I don't know what that means" I agree with him. One idea I did like of hers was radically reducing central administration. God knows Seattle School District needs it.
Anonymous said…
I really love your write-ups guys continue the good here

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