Sunday, February 26, 2017

Charters Schools: Starting a Downward Trend

Watching the charter school movement in the U.S. has certainly been both intriguing and discouraging.

I don't think anyone could have been against charters as they were originated - one or two classrooms in an existing school that were little hotbeds of innovation.  Successes would be sent out to other classrooms and schools and failures duly noted with lessons learned.

But that is not how it has played out.  What is the honest truth about charter schools looks like this:

  • Most of them perform about the same as any given public school, meaning, no better/no worse.
  • The top ones perform very well especially with at-risk kids.  However, some of that performance comes at a cost.  One issue is schools like KIPP are very segregated and use strict discipline (to the point where kids walk in a line from class to class with no talking...ever).  Another issue with high-performing charter schools is the issue of transportation.  Some are able - at a very high cost - to provide transportation but those that don't then find their population skewed to those who can get transportation to the school.  I recall from my visit to Preuss High in San Diego - a top charter school in the country - that they were open to students across San Diego and the costs of transport were becoming a problem.
  • The terrible charters tend to be the ones who close up shop in the middle of the night, leaving parents and districts scrambling.  There continues to be a charter school scandal over money nearly every week (I can say that with confidence because the Network for Public Education is documenting this).  
Despite their growth, charter schools still only serve about 6% of the nation's children.  California, which has the largest number of charter school students, is at about 8% while Washington, D.C. has the largest percentage of charter school students at 42%.

Interesting stats from the National Center for Education Statistics:
Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen at traditional public schools. The percentage of charter school students who were Hispanic increased (from 21 to 30 percent), as did the percentage who were Asian/Pacific Islander (from 3 to 4 percent).
In contrast, the percentage of charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 35 percent. The percentages decreased for Black (from 32 to 27 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (from 2 to 1 percent) charter school students, as well. Data were collected for charter school students of Two or more races beginning in 2009–10. Students of Two or more races accounted for 3 percent of the charter school population in 2013–14. 
Let's look at what the Center on Reinventing Public Education said recently about charter school growth.
A recently released annual update from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools included a surprising fact: a mere 329 charter schools opened across the country in the 2016-2017 school year. In no year since the Alliance began tracking new charter openings has the total number of new schools been so low. Looking back at CRPE’s Hopes, Fears, and Reality series, it appears that it was the early 2000s when we last saw fewer than 350 new charter schools open. When you take closures into consideration, the total additional growth of charter schools last year was just over 100 schools, or nearly 2 percent.
Student enrollment numbers tell a different story. Total charter student enrollment surpassed 3 million this year, a 7 percent increase over last year. This likely reflects existing schools’ addition of grade levels and approach to full capacity.
More aggressive closures don’t explain the slow down. The number of charter school closures over the last five years has held pretty steady. Last spring's number of closures (202) is actually lower than the previous year's high-water mark of 257. 

What may be one answer? Politics.
Opposition has also dramatically increased as charters move from a sideshow to a more mainstream reform strategy in many cities. In cities with significant charter growth, local board, union, and community opposition can increase exponentially as districts deal with the financial reality of enrollment loss.
Wait a minute, I thought that the mantra was that districts don't experience financial issues because "the money follows the student."  Oh.

But CRPE thinks it might also be several issues:
- harder to find teachers and school principals, especially with the slowed growth of TFA.

There are increased union efforts to unionize charters and some big CMOs have slowed their expansion efforts in order to focus on quality.

I thought charters didn't need unions. I thought the emphasis was always on quality.  Maybe not.

- more bureaucratic barriers
We hear reports that charter authorizers are getting much choosier and often now expect applicants to have a facility secured before the application is approved. This weeds out less-prepared applicants but also makes it increasingly expensive for well-prepared applicants to start a school.
You mean by having high standards, it helps ferret out the lesser applicants while keeping the bar high makes for better ones.  (As well, expecting that there should be a building for students to actually go to seems a good idea.)

Then you get to the bottom line and that bottom line seems to prove much of what many of us have said:
What’s clear, though, is that the charter movement really needs to rethink its dominant assumption that the only factor limiting growth is access to start-up funds. Continued growth will require much more authentic and sophisticated engagement in local and state politics. State laws that allow for continued growth of high-quality charters, and that give charters access to facilities, are crucial. Local charter school advocates also need to engage in assertive but respectful conversations about how to manage district enrollment loss so that students in district-run schools do not pay the price for unfettered growth.
And so, charters DO want to get into existing school buildings and/or take them over?  And again, the growth of charter schools actually DOES hurt districts?  Good to know.

Their answer is also cooperation via district-charter compacts.

Almost as if charters were here to stay and districts should just be good guys and take them under their wing and give them facilities and allow their students to be on sports team because charter schools don't provide athletics or much transportation or even Sped services.

Almost like district should be helping to prop them up and succeed.

Why should a district do that?  Let's look at how it's playing out in one city in Pennsylvania.

Another thoughtful story comes from Inside Philanthropy and it's called, "What's Next In This Epic Battle for the Charter School Movement?"

That's how they titled it and apparently that's how it's being viewed.  They start from what the view looks like in Washington state and naturally reference the Bill Gates.
The Feb. 17 ruling by a state Superior Court judge represents a victory for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as other local pro-charter funders like the Bezos Family Foundation. Gates has invested heavily over the years in an effort to bring charter schools to the Evergreen State, which has been slower than many other states to embrace the charter movement. Other deep-pocketed donors in this fight include not only Mike and Jackie Bezos, but Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen and some out-of-staters like Alice Walton and Reed Hastings—all of whom have made campaign contributions to advance charters in Washington State.
In fact, if you want an example of the role of wealthy donors in advancing charters using both philanthropic and political giving, Washington may now be the best case study around, as Joanne Barken has documented. Most recently, these donors sought to knock off some of the state Supreme Court justices during the 2016 election who ruled against charters. 
I'll just observe that the plan to knock out those Supreme Court justices did not work.  At all.

IP states some of the very things I said when the most recent Supreme Court ruling came out on the charter school law:
This arrangement may satisfy the courts for now, but it leaves open questions of what the future holds as the state's charter school program expands in both number of schools and number of students served, or how the state will respond in times of stagnant or reduced lottery revenue—a challenge that has ensnared many a state that relies on such revenue to fund public schools. Judge Chun conceded in his ruling that these issues could arise again if the mechanism for funding charter schools changes.
And the fight goes on (just as I predicted as well):
Clearly, this debate is not over, so look for funding to continue from wealthy donors intent on winning a final victory in what's become an epic battleground for the charter school movement. Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation are the most deeply invested here, by far. Gates has sunk millions of dollars in political contributions into this fight, while his foundation has spent many millions more to support the establishment of charter schools in its home state. Most notably, it's given over $13 million to the  Washington State Charter Schools Association over the past few years, according to the foundation's grants database. 
What else is happening in the charter school world?

- a new legal fund
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is launching a Charter School Legal Action Fund in hopes of aiding select public charter school cases.  By 2017, the Charter School Legal Fund aims to create an additional advisory council consisting of civil rights attorneys and legal scholars.
The focus on the civil rights is necessary to address when organizations such as the NAACP come out against charter schools, said Rees.
The Charter School Legal Fund began with an initial investment of $500,000 by the Walton Family Foundation.
 It's a troubling thought that a group would want to fight off the NAACP.

- a great wrap-up from The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post about the charter movement on the ropes

Ohio and Utah have distinctly troubled charter sectors, as does Arizona, where there are no laws against conflicts of interest and where for-profit charters do not have to open their books to the public. 

 In Michigan, 80 percent of the charters are for-profit.  (Editor's note: Michigan is where our current Secretary of Education hails from.)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation.

One billionaire even came up with a secret plan to “charterize” half of the Los Angeles Unified School District.  (Editor's note: that billionaire is Eli Broad.)

Read the entire article.

If you want to know why I continue to fight charter schools in this state, there's your evidence.  I simply do not see the reason to have what has played out in state after state, to happen here.

I have to smile at some of the editorial in Washington state newspapers after the King County Court ruling on the charter school law.  The Times was "Time to move on from charter-schools lawsuit."  Funny how the Times didn't tell charter school supporters to "move on" after the Supreme Court struck down the first law.

All of these in-support-of editorials pretty much ignore the fact that the case is not done, even the judge said that.  


NO 1240 said...


Re: Washington State Charter Schools

1. How many medically fragile students are enrolled in Washington state charter

2. How many special education students requiring 1:1 support are enrolled in
Washington state charter schools.

Great quote:

"... the desire to get government out of the business of running schools (although taxpayers would still fund them)"


Eric M said...

In addition to the other problems mentioned in the post, charter schools are also a tool to achieve resegregation in some communities. Even some of the most "liberal" parents, even in a "liberal" place like Seattle, will use an any-means-necessary campaign to shelter their above-average youngster from the perceived riff-raff.

"Charter schools, which are open enrollment public schools managed outside the framework of the traditional school district, are generally more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools. In particular, charter schools often enroll more black and poor students than traditional public schools in the same areas, and are more likely to be at one extreme or the other of racial and economic composition than traditional public schools." from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ccf_20161021segregation_version-10_211.pdf

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Eric, quite true. That actually deserves its own thread because it has become quite the issue for charter supporters who seem to want to ignore that this is happening.

Anonymous said...

Another perspective on school choice:


-a reader

Po3 said...

Under Devos/Trump I anticipate a huge industry of religious-based, for-profit schools to crop up once vouchers become a reality. This will be a new breed of schools whose core mission will be to align students to the extreme right-wing Christian ideology. (emphasis on extreme.)

Anonymous said...

In Ohio, home to offices of the conservative educational policy think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute (linked above), EdChoice scholarships are provided for low income students from low performing schools.

The EdChoice scholarship amount is currently $4650 for grades K-8 and $6000 for grades 9-12. EdChoice will pay either the scholarship amount or the private school's actual tuition amount, whichever is less.

Participating schools identify as Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Hebrew, Montessori, Christian, Waldorf, Islamic, and Seventh Day Adventist, just to name a few. They also have participating schools for autism and dyslexia. Nonprofit Catholic schools make up a significant portion of the participating schools.

-a reader

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, in Florida some traditional public schools shove their unwanted students into "alternative" charter schools so they can keep their graduation rates and other statistics looking good.



Melissa Westbrook said...

A Reader, I get it, you want vouchers.

NO 1240 said...

Years ago, some suggested that charter schools are a prerequisite to vouchers.

Last year, vouchers were discussed at a Republican conference.

Anonymous said...

Posting info on vouchers does not imply endorsement. Knowing what's happening in other states, especially outside of the Seattle bubble, is just part of being informed. How many SPS families do you think would take advantage of vouchers if they could access a private school like Hamlin Robinson?

-a reader

dan dempsey said...

Arizona Charter Schools

2009 to 2015 NAEP Science score improvement
AZ leads the nation
and charters lead the way in AZ.

Note that Great Hearts Academies
enrolls about 9,000 in AZ
and 5,000 in TX

Basis enrolls about 8,500 in AZ
but Basis is for profit so will not be coming to WA.

-- Dan Dempsey

Melissa Westbrook said...

This thread is not about vouchers so if someone posts info on it as regards to charter schools, I'm going with - they like vouchers.

There are some good charters in AZ but most of them are not good, Dan. I know this from people on the ground there. Also, I've visited Basis, good school.

Heads Up said...

There is a plan to open another charter school in south Seattle:

"Impact Public Schools (IPS) is a new, non-profit, local network of public charter schools in Washington state.  IPS, led by an experienced team of WA educators, is deeply committed to preparing a diverse student population to succeed in college and impact communities as the next generation of equity-driven, innovative leaders.

At the end of March, we will submit an application to open a K-5 public charter school in south Seattle, and we need your help. This community meeting is an opportunity to learn about our plans, meet the IPS team, and share your input on our innovative and highly personalized model."

Josh Hayes said...

I think Lisa's and Eric's comments are two sides of the same coin: charter schools are, in the minds of charter proponents, for other people's kids, never their own. Lots of suburban New Jerseyites were big fans of charter schools, as long as they were in Newark, but when those schools started to aggressively push out into the 'burbs, oh how those former cheers turned to howls of dismay.

Seriously. Do any of the "name" charter proponents have kids in charter schools? I'm curious. And if they do, are they in one of the handful of absurdly well-capitalized schools? Seems like a question one might ask about just about any school reform is, would I want that at my kids' school? And if the answer is no, one might then question whether that "reform" is such a good idea.

Summit said...

Summit Charter School requires parents to volunteer 30 hours per year. What about parents that don't have the time to volunteer?

"Family involvement is also a major component at the charter high school opening in a corner of Seattle’s International District populated mostly by small factories and Asian produce markets. At Summit Sierra, parents are asked to volunteer 30 hours a year at the school."

Melissa Westbrook said...

Heads UP, I'm aware of this group and I'll be doing an update on new charters.

Josh, I have never heard of one single ed reformer who has their child in a charter school.

Summit, I think you can be exited if you don't follow their rules. That's the beauty of charter schools - don't follow their rules, you can be asked to leave.

Anonymous said...

The kids of the Rocketship CEO, Preston Smith, go to Rocketship schools.


Anonymous said...

Super excited for the opening of Impact Public Schools.

I know of several education reformers who have their kids in charter schools as well as public schools and not opting out of the tests.

Summit parents are "asked" to volunteer hours at the schools. Accommodations are made for families for which this "ask" would be a hardship.

Traditional public schools ask student to leave ALL THE TIME. Shall we look at expulsion rates and disproportionate discipline rates?


Anonymous said...

Washington State Charter Schools Association has a link to existing charters, including those opening Fall 2017. Green Dot is opening a middle school in southeast Seattle with grade 6. Principal is Walter Chen, former Graham Hill Principal, and Aki Kurose Vice Principal.


-a reader

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lisa, very funny.

NO 1240 said...

Great post, Melissa. You provided the public with a lot of good information.

Similar to other states, Washington state charter schools are exempt from many state policies including discipline. For charter schools, harsh discipline is a reality.


-a reader/LisaG/Alfred seems to do a lot of research. I'm hoping -a reader/LisaG/Alfred can answer my questions:

1. How many medically fragile students are enrolled in Washington state charter schools.

2. How many special education students requiring 1:1 support are enrolled in Washington state charter schools?

3. Unlike public schools, charter schools cap enrollment. Does Washington state charter schools place caps on special education students?

I've noticed that school districts support prototypical funding model. LEV and Stand for Children support per pupil allocation- no surprise.

NO 1240 said...

Charter schools are not all that some want you to believe they are. Here is from one teacher:

"When I tried to accommodate a restless student by allowing her to fidget on the carpet, I was told I was doing her a disservice and was ordered to keep her still. When I tried to advocate for under-performing students to undergo psychological testing so that they might receive services they needed, I was ignored or admonished, and in one instance told flat-out that the school was not testing students so as to avoid being legally obligated to provide services to them. I watched coworkers struggle to decide whether to report suspected family abuse when leaders didn’t share their concerns, given that network protocol is for school administration to make such calls. (Legally, teachers and psychologists are mandated reporters and cannot be punished for reporting suspected abuse. But with no union representation, it is difficult for an employee to feel confident that this will hold true in practice.) I was sick of overlooking the profit-driven motivations of the network, and sick of being forced to comply with practices that I believed were damaging my students."


Anonymous said...

Melissa wrote "Also, I've visited Basis, good school."

Basis runs a private school ($26,000/year)in San Jose. It teaches math past AP Calculus BC, but I don't know how much the school is like the charter schools in AZ.


Cheezman said...

Point of Correction: Summit Sierra Charter School does not have a parent volunteer hour requirement.