Why are Charters Good for Some People's Children but not Others?

A telling and thought-provoking thread from the education blog, Edushytser.

Which brings us to today’s fiercely urgent question: why are white people so eager to advocate for the sort of schools to which they would never send their own children?

But more than three quarters of Democracy Prep’s students—23% each year—never made it onto the stageIf Frazier is aware of the school’s attrition rate, among the highest in New York City, he doesn’t mention it.

Instead, the writer is merely reflecting a growing consensus among elites that a certain kind of schooling is necessary to propel poor minority students along the steep uphill climb to college. This formula for success, the “special sauce,” is long and hard and requires the sort of militaristic discipline that I doubt any writer for the New Yorker would tolerate for his or her children for a day, let alone the four years, eight years, even 12-year-long slog that is supposed to end in a mythical place called “college.”

A nine, ten or 11 hour school day would no doubt strike middle class parents as excessive (what about Skyler’s soccer practice, or Emma’s beekeeping camp?) but even within this endless school day there is no time to lose. Democracy Prep, like many urban “no excuses” schools, uses a countdown during transitions from one class or activity to the next so that students don’t waste a second of learning time.


Anonymous said…
I don't get the controversy here. If a charter school is a type that parents don't choose, it will fail and eventually be replaced by something that parents feel is a good match for their kids' needs. I have friends with their kids in charter schools in Austin, TX and Albuquerque, NM. Neither charter school is like the urban model cited here. They resemble Seattle alternative schools such as Thornton Creek.

There are many good arguments against charter schools; I just don't think this is one of them.
Charlie Mas said…
Lisa, I don't think this is an argument against charter schools so much as it is an exposition of the hypocrisy of charter school advocates.
TechyMom said…
Ya know, as a working professional, I'd be all over a 10-11 hour school day IF it included soccer, beekeeping, and all the other things I currently cram in after dinner, on weekends, and over the summer.
Yes to Charlie. That's a red herring to say that a charter will just go away. The evidence certainly isn't in that that happens. In fact, the DOE has said that more than half the authorizers in the entire country have a problem closing problem charters.

Lisa, your comment about the types of charters that support urban kids versus suburban kids is very much the point.
TechyMom said…
There are some of the other kind of charters in urban areas too. I know people with kids at the Oakland School of the Arts, for example, who are thrilled with it. These are people I went to private school with, and others who used fake addresses to attend Berkeley public schools when they were kids. It's not that black and white, urban and suburban.
Anonymous said…
Do they have trouble closing problem charters when the problem is low enrollment? I can't see how that would happen -- if enrollment is low, charters will not make enough money to want to continue. If the problem is something else, like low achievement, "counseling out" students, etc -- yeah, that puts districts in a bind because the charter operator continues to profit even as the school fails its mission, as long as families remain satisfied enough to keep enrollment up.
Anonymous said…
There are charter schools in AZ and CA that offer Waldorf pedagogy. Friends of mine have been very happy with Waldorf charters. Seattle has nothing comparable and only a few alternative schools that are vaguely like Waldorf. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Waldorf charter start in the area given that there are 3 expensive Waldorf private schools in the area.

They don't close charters for low enrollment because charters get to set their own enrollment. It's up to the charter if they can sustain themselves. But yes, the low achievement and counseling out also will happen and yet charters don't close. It is getting better but only by degrees and, in some states, they want more and more charters.

Lisa, your take on "as long as families remain satisfied" is exactly right. You can ask families - at low-performing charters - why they stay and they say "I chose this school." That's fine but from a governmental perspective, that's no reason for a school to remain open. Outcomes are.

But, as someone who did have to consider closing schools, it is very, very difficult as people love their child's school for many reasons (and some of which have zero to do with academic outcomes).

HP, there are private Waldorf schools. It's up to the Charter Commission or a authorizer district to decide if Waldorf makes sense for a community.
Anonymous said…
I have considered moving to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. They have numerous charters, and they are some of the most successful schools and thus very difficult to get into. Enrollment is lottery based, so not determined by demographic factors. They are spread throughout the Triangle, thus potentially accessible to every neighborhood (ie. if you get in via lottery). The charters are better than the non-charter schools. Here is a list of charters in N.C. -- charters there are the most desirable schools to attend:


In the Triangle, read about Woods Charter, Raleigh Charter, Sterling Montessori, Triangle Math & Science, Kestral Heights, Research Triangle Charter Academy, The Central Park School for Children, Voyager Academy, and Orange Charter. If you look throughout the state, you will see that there are highly rated charters that target certain demogrphics for strengthened math/science education or the arts. NC is one state that has done the Charter thing really well.

K-5 STEM parent
K-5 STEM, you got my interest so I did my own research. Here's a fun fact:

"In January, 2011, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked North Carolina's charter school law 32 out of 41 states with charter school laws, with poor marks for accountability, equity of funding, and the low cap of 100 schools in the state."

Another fun fact about charters in N.C. - only half the teachers have to be college graduates or certificated. And, they had a bill in their legislature to roll that back as well.

Just like here, they don't have to provide transportation or meals even to low-income students (thus making access much harder for those students).

No thanks.
Anonymous said…
The question really is, Why do people oppose charters for other people's children? Everyone I know w kids in charters loves them. Why not make them available? Especially since many are known formulas? Unlike roll your own alts. Plenty of hubris to go around.

Anonymous said…
I understand what you are saying Melissa, but what matters to parents is that families LOVE their schools for once (charters!) and feel that their kids are finally receiving a quality education. Charters bring in new ideas/models and have more parental input. As you point out, there is inequity in funding and the ability for a family to provide transportation or lunches, but without the infusion of better ideas for curriculum and learning models, how else will schools ever change?? Look at SPS -- it is a mess without charters.

K5STEM parent
Charlie Mas said…
I like Reader's question.

"Why do people oppose charters for other people's children?"

It's good question. A really good question. I think it's a brilliant question. I'd like to take a stab at answering it. I'm not sure I'll be successful.

There is no one - at least no responsible person - who supports the status quo in American public education. Everyone supports reforms of one type or another.

As is often the case in American political matters, we have seen a division into two opposing camps. Our culture, epistemology, and world view often leads us to these dichotomies, whether they are warranted or not. One camp generally supports one set of reforms while the other camp generally supports another set of reforms.

Charter schools are a reform that is promoted and supported by one of the camps. Consequently they are opposed by some members of the other camp out of a sort of thoughtless reflex ("They're for it? Then I'm against it!"). I won't dispute that.

I like to believe, however, that there are others who oppose charter schools because they have done their research and found them to be an ineffective reform. Studies show that charter schools are unlikely to produce better results than public schools and more likely to produce worse results.

Personally, I'm trying to move beyond the dichotomy. I think a more nuanced view is possible.

There are areas of the country where Teach for America is needed and helpful due to a shortage of qualified teachers. That's not the case here in Seattle. Sending TFA corps members to Seattle is like sending CARE packages to Beverly Hills.

Likewise, there are, undoubtedly, areas of the country where charter schools could be beneficial due to a lack of innovation or options and possibly even due to institutional racism and classism working against students. Here in Seattle we have innovative educational opportunities and choice provided by our public school district. As for the rest of the state, there wasn't anything in Initiative 1240 that assured that it would address this need where it does exist.

I'm not going to pretend that there isn't institutionalized racism and classism working against students here in Seattle or around the state, but, again, there was nothing in Initiative 1240 that assured us it would address this problem.

Look at the documents submitted by the Spokane School District as their application to become a charter school authorizer. They list the specific types of schools and educational opportunities that they hope to attract. Seattle already has those types of schools and opportunities. More to the point, Spokane Public Schools already has the authority to create those kinds of schools. They didn't need a change in the law to achieve this outcome; they could have done it for themselves without the change in the law (and without the added expense).

I note that the Spokane School District did not list among the types of educational opportunities they sought to attract were any that specifically addressed institutionalized racism or classism.

There are other reforms proposed (by the other camp) that more directly address lack of innovation, lack of choice, racism, and classism. I would rather support those reforms than support charter schools. In a world with limited reform resources, these strike me as a better way to spend them.
Charlie Mas said…
K5STEM parent wrote:

"Charters bring in new ideas/models and have more parental input."

This is not in evidence. The bulk of charter schools offer instruction no different from the instruction in traditional public schools. Nor is there any evidence that charter schools offer more parental input than public schools.

I find it ironic that this claim about the need for new ideas and models is put forward by someone with a child at K-5 STEM, a public school created just this year with exactly the type of new ideas and instruction that charters promise - but provided by a public school district in a public school.

"how else will schools ever change?? Look at SPS -- it is a mess without charters.

Yes, look at SPS. It provides exactly the type of innovation and choice that K5STEM parent wants and does it without charters. If that's a mess, then it's the kind of mess that K5STEM parent wants.
TechyMom said…
Charters sometimes bring new ideas and sometimes don't. Their main value to parents is the same as the main value of private schools and alt schools. You get to pick what kind of education you get. You want an extended day? More art and less testing? IB diploma? You get to choose.

The alts offer these things, but they are much more at the whim of the district administration. Witness the dismantling of long-standing alt programs under MJG, which seems to be continuing.

Private schools offer these things and others including small class sizes and better customer service for parents, but they're expensive.

For a lot of kids and a lot of families, regular old general ed is a good fit. That's probably true for most kids and families, especially when you're talking about general ed in an affluent neighborhood.

But if it isn't a good fit for yours? You want other options, and options you can be confident will exist for the whole time your child is in school.
Anonymous said…
There are a lot of great things about K5STEM, but it of course is not yet aligned entirely to its vision. Due to funding and the requirement to place district priorities first -- thus, it was primarily the traditional SPS curriculum with an emphasis on the MAP test markers -- any project based or STEM learning we had was almost entirely funded by parents and utilized by our excellent teachers. If we could have made it a charter, obviously that is the route parents would have chosen. Though a public school, the private citizens designed the curriculum -- the same way many charters are designed.
K5STEM is successful to the extent we can move away from district mandates, hinestly. Our options are highly competitive to get into b/cs they pull away from the traditional model to the greatest extent allowed.

There are a lot of successful charters in NC as I listed, and kids are on waiting lists to get in. That speaks for itself. Parents "vote" with their enrollment choices.

K5STEM parent
Anonymous said…
excuse typos, i'm on an ipad and have a toddler pulling me in a million directions... : )

K5STEM parent

-" Unlike roll your own alts." I find that disrespectful language.
- I agree with Charlie on nearly every point especially "In a world with limited reform resources, these strike me as a better way to spend them." I think there are better ways (and I wish our districts would move towards them).
-K5 STEM, I note you did not address anything I put forth so for you it is all about parent choice. I will point out that one study of charters found that when charter school parents were told that the academic outcomes were no better (or worse) at their charter school than previous school, they still said, "But I got to choose it." As someone who had to serve on a committee to close schools, I can tell you people love their schools, no matter what. So while I appreciate parents having the choice, as taxpayers wanting good academic outcomes, I want to invest in those outcomes, not just giving someone a choice. (That said, parents tend to be more invested in a school they like/care about.)
TechyMom said…
"academic outcomes were no better (or worse) " on standardized tests of reading and math, measuring grade level achievement.

If, as a parent, I'm confident that my kid will pass the MSP no matter what school she goes to, this measure of academic outcome is completely useless to me. I want to know if she's going to love going to school. If she's going get enough exercise, have enough time to finish her lunch, explore her artistic potential, learn to enjoy learning, to solve problems on her own, to get along in groups, and to write an amazing persuasive essay or moving story.

If you want an objective measure, I want to know how the school is going to move her SAT scores into the range that will get her into a competitive college. Is that all there is to education? nope. It's all that stuff in the other paragraph.

None of those are covered in a measurement that says academic outcomes are the same or worse.

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