Charters: the News Across the Nation

The news is not good.  In fact, there's quite a lot of rumbling across charterland.   Get a cup of coffee because there are many stories to read.  These stories create quite the crazy quilt of the landscape of charter schools.

Let's start with the NAACP and the resolution brought forth at their national convention recently.  When you see the NAACP saying things like:

- charters are rapidly growing and "targeting" communities of color
- some charters are privately managed and do not include parents in any decision-making nor have parents on their boards
- that charters are contributing to the re-segregation of American schools
- that some charters use punitive discipline
- that co-locations in some districts with a traditional public school are leading to clashes and fights over turf and resources
- and that the NAACP, along with the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of 38 groups of color in 23 states, are calling for a moratorium on federal funds for charter schools, "many of which have closed or failed the students drawn to them on the illusive promise of quality"

You must know that there is alarm out there for communities of color to seem to believe they may have been sold a bill of goods, a least for privately managed charter schools.  The outcome of this vote could ripple throughout the country.  (And kudos to the King County NAACP for coming out way sooner on this issue.)

The next ripple could come from a vote on the ballot in Massachusetts which The 74 calls:
"..a relatively simple question that will appear on the Massachusetts ballot in November: should the state lift the cap on the number of charter school seats it permits to allow 12 new or expanded charters a year?"
There truly is never any "simple question" about charter schools but for Massachusetts, it comes down to money.   Here's what the Boston Globe said in April:
It is perhaps the most potent — and certainly the most frequent — argument made by opponents of charter schools: They drain money from traditional public schools.

And there is no doubt that they do. Each student who goes to a charter school takes along thousands in state aid, leaving the traditional schools with less. At a time when urban school districts like Boston are working to close achievement gaps for poor and minority students, opponents ask, how can anyone credibly argue that school aid should be cut?

But the answer is much more complex and at the heart of a ballot question this November that would allow Massachusetts voters to determine whether the cap on new charter schools should be lifted.
Some are casting this as suburbanites versus urban parents of color (interesting that same argument is made over testing opt-outs.)  As well, this is the coming battle for the heart of Hillary Clinton over who is a progressive on public education with ed reformers claiming they are and those who raise the cry against the massive problems engendered by ed reform saying they are.  

And who did supporters of lifting the cap hire?
The ads will be produced by DC-based SRCP Media, the same firm behind the infamous “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” campaign against John Kerry in 2004. The ads will begin airing on Sept. 20.
Next, is Chicago which, like Detroit, is probably ground zero for the effects of charters on school districts.  The latest is this from Gadflyonthewall Blog:
The Chicago Board of Education – made up of members all of whom are appointed by the mayor – decided to layoff 1,000 teachers and staff at the city’s public schools just a month before opening day. Sure, some may keep their jobs through reassignment, but hundreds will be unemployed.

This after a recent history of closing more than 80 schools and slashing thousands of jobs. Just last February, the district laid off 62 employees, including 17 teachers. In January, it laid off 227 staff members.

Strangely there’s $27 million hiding in the seat cushions to open a new charter school for the University of Chicago. The Woodlawn Campus of the University of Chicago Charter School will be part of the development around the newly-planned Obama Library. It’s a fitting symbol of the President’s legacy – a brand new privatized educational facility while a few blocks away traditional public schools molder in ruins.
Now to Detroit and a story in the NY Times, A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift.   
Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produced a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.

Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.

Detroit now has a bigger share of students in charters than any American city except New Orleans, which turned almost all its schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. But half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.
The state has nearly 220,000 fewer students than it did in 2003, but more than 100 new charter schools.

For-profit companies seized on the opportunity; they now operate about 80 percent of charters in Michigan, far more than in any other state. The companies and those who grant the charters became major lobbying forces for unfettered growth of the schools, as did some of the state’s biggest Republican donors.
Absolutely disgraceful.

And then there's the Gulen chain of charter schools, one of the largest chains in the country.  Does that name strike a bell?  It should if you keep up with the news about Turkey.  From The Washington Post:
The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked education officials in Texas and California to investigate publicly funded charter schools in those states that it says are linked to a Muslim cleric living in the United States, a man the government alleges was the mastermind of a coup attempt this month. The Turkish government also is planning to bring more complaints in other parts of the U.S.
Turkey alleges that the Harmony schools are part of a network of more than 160 charter schools in more than 25 states started by Turkish men, all said to be inspired by Fethullah Gulen, the preacher who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. The complaint in Texas alleges, among other things, that the schools have abused public funds, funneled money to Gulen’s movement — known as Hizmet (or Service) — violated legal requirements surrounding open and competitive bidding, and discriminated against employees on the basis of national origin and gender.
That's huge.  One, the U.S. needs Turkey as part of NATO.  Did Fethullah Gulen start/push the attempted coup?  We don't know but Turkey's president thinks so.  (Of course, there are also those that think he may have done it himself in order to get to Gulen.)  But this has international repercussions.

That plus the fact that the Gulen chain has had investigations in both the Department of Education and Labor (plus individual states) should tell you something.  One of the oddest parts of the story is that the Gulen chain imports a huge number of "teachers" from Turkey, saying there aren't enough teachers in the U.S.  

Onto Michigan and their charter school woes.  From The Washington Post:
The study, “Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story,” finds that among Michigan districts, “80 percent of the explained variation in district fiscal stress is due to changes in districts’ state funding, to enrollment changes including those associated with school choice policies, and to the enrollment of high-cost special education students.” A working paper was released last November and the study will be published in the fall edition of the Journal of Education Finance.
Lead author David Arsen is a professor in the Department of Educational Administration College of Education at Michigan State University.
We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent. We looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and we followed them for nearly 20 years. The statistics are causal; we’re not just looking at correlation.

We have districts getting into extreme fiscal distress because they’re losing revenue so fast. That table in our paper looked at the central cities statewide and their foundation revenue, which is both a function of per-pupil funding and enrollment. They had lost about 22 percent of their funding over a decade. If you put that in inflation adjusted terms, it means that they lost 46 percent of their revenue in a span 10 years.  

We found that as the district’s share of special education students increases, it has quite a negative impact on district fund balance. We also found that as the share of students in the district that are going charters increases, there is a causal relationship of a larger share of the students who are left behind in the district who receive special education services. 

The law presumes that financial problems in these districts are caused by poor decision making of local officials, and this justifies their displacement through emergency management. Yet our findings suggest that state school finance and choice policies were in large part responsible for the underlying financial problems.  The municipalities and school districts that have been taken over are predominantly African American and poor. The optics are not good, especially in the context of the long civil rights struggle for voting rights.
  As well, the New Orleans "miracle" of turning the entire NO school system into a charter system after Katrina?  Well, that has ended with decidedly mixed results. From the New York Times:
Strikingly, that return is being driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, the state superintendent, John White. He is a veteran of touchstone organizations behind the efforts to remake public schools — Teach for America and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and its superintendent training program — as well as the hard-charging charter school efforts in New York City. He represents the wave of largely white, young idealists who rushed to this city post-Katrina to be part of the Big Thing in education.

And now 93 percent of the city’s 48,000 public school students are in charter schools, the highest percentage in the country.
And yet he says:
“At some point, you’re going to need to rely on the will of the people locally,” he added.

But what has resonated broadly here is the sense that changes to the schools were done to the city’s residents, not with them.

Even those who have in the past resisted a return to local control say they now believe the changes here cannot be sustained without greater involvement from people who actually live here.
No kidding.
This is a place where “Where did you go to school?” refers to high school, so the move to erase neighborhood schools and replace them with charters after Katrina angered powerful alumni groups. About 7,500 teachers were fired — most of them black — damaging the city’s black middle class, economically and politically.
So, for a community already literally broken, the charter system broke old ties that bind.
This new model essentially splits the difference: The schools will keep the flexibility and autonomy, particularly over hiring and teaching, that have made charters most unlike traditional public schools. But the board becomes manager and regulator, making sure schools abide by policies meant to ensure equity and provide broad services, like managing the cost of particularly expensive special education students, that individual schools might not have the capacity or desire to do.

Don’t Be Fooled by a Trojan Horse,” The New Orleans Tribune, a black newsmagazine, editorialized, calling the legislation passed by the Louisiana House on Thursday “just a ploy to maintain the status quo.”
Next charter thread - let's talk money.


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