Charter Schools News Roundup

Here's a stunner: Surprise, Trump's Education Ideas Are Polarizing.  (That could have just as easily read: Surprise, Trump's Ideas are Polarizing.)  From NPR:
In the last year, there's been a big drop in support for charter schools, while other forms of school choice are getting a little less unpopular. That's the top line of a national poll released today.  

Here are the latest results:
  • Charters: Last year 51 percent of the public supported "the formation of charter schools"; this year it's just 39 percent, a 12 point drop in one year.
  • Vouchers: 45 percent are either strongly or somewhat supportive of universal vouchers. That's a bounce from last year, but more or less in line with the five years before.
  • Tax credits: This was the most popular form of school choice with 55 percent of the general public supporting this year; also a one-year bounce, but in line with longer-term trends.
There's no one obvious explanation for the change in opinion on charter schools. The drop was seen among both Democrats and Republicans and amongst all racial and ethnic groups. 

"That's the largest change on any survey item, and one of the largest single-year changes in opinion that we've seen over the 11-year history of the survey," Martin West, the editor in chief of EducationNext, said on a press conference call.
The word "formation" may have been the key.  While many people may be okay/like charters that already exist, they may also have seen outcomes they don't like and don't want any more of them.  I could see that.
Last year the NAACP and Black Lives Matter called for a moratorium on the growth of charter schools (the NAACP called more recently for a ban on for-profit management of these schools). The state of Massachusetts saw a bruising fight over its charter cap. Detroit's proliferation of charters has been labeled "a glut" and "chaos." And charter expansion was the central issue in the school board race in Los Angeles, one of the biggest public school districts in the country. 
Hope you noted that item about the NAACP; they did not back down on their calls for a moratorium on charters and now also want a ban on for-profit management of them.
Still, there is one enduring issue where blue- and red-state opinions are near-identical: approval of the local public schools. 55 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats give local schools a B or an A.
On that moratorium from Alternet:
This week, the nation’s largest labor union, the National Education Association, broke from its cautious regard of charter schools to pass a new policy statement that declares charter schools are a “failed experiment” that has led to a “separate and unequal” sector of schools that are not subject to the same “safeguards and standards” of public schools.

To limit the further expansion of these schools, the NEA wants a moratorium on new charters that aren’t subject to democratic governance and aren’t supportive of the common good in local communities
NYC has a big problem with one very big charter supporter, from the NY Times, Black Democrats Rally Behind New York Senator Amid Racial Politicking:
Some of New York’s top black Democrats were among the dozens who rallied on the streets of Harlem on Monday to show their support for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the state Senate minority leader, and criticize a hedge fund manager who had attacked her using racially inflammatory language.
The hedge fund manager, Daniel S. Loeb, one of the state’s most prolific political donors, said in a Facebook posting last week that Ms. Stewart-Cousins was worse for minorities than “anyone who has ever donned a hood” because of her support for teachers’ unions. Mr. Loeb has since deleted the post and apologized.

The rally took on added significance after the weekend of violence in Virginia, something that Ms. Stewart-Cousins addressed in her first interview since Mr. Loeb’s initial posting. “With the comment by Mr. Loeb, and then us having an opportunity to look at what the K.K.K. means in contemporary America, is really, really chilling,” she said. “If anybody had forgotten, or if you think that reference is something to take lightly, I think we’re reminded that it is not.”

On Monday, another apparent Facebook posting emerged, obtained by The New York Times and first published by, in which Mr. Loeb again likened teachers unions to the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Loeb urged that people “take up the fight against the teachers union, the single biggest force standing in the way of quality education and an organization that has done more to perpetuate poverty and discrimination against people of color than the K.K.K.
According to the Times:
Mr. Loeb weighed in on behalf of Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the leader of a group of Democrats that has split from Ms. Stewart-Cousins.

“Thank God for Jeff Klein and those who stand for educational choice and support Charter funding that leads to economic mobility and opportunity for poor knack kids,” Mr. Loeb wrote, with “knack” apparently a typographical error for “black.” “Meanwhile hypocrites like Stewart-Cousins who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” 
With charter friends like that, who need enemies?  Let's see what the politicians who get great sums of campaign money do with Mr. Loeb.

In another fascinating story, this from The 74  (check out the headline) - how teachers in one Massachusetts district managed to vote down the renewal of a contract for an existing charter school.  It is a success story gone wrong.  But read on and you'll see the reasoning for that vote - equity.
Ferreira’s kids attend a rare kind of school allowed by Massachusetts law called a Horace Mann charter, which is overseen by the local school district. Like other charter schools of its type, Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School is unionized, and when the school’s charter is up for renewal, the local teachers union — the Haverhill Education Association — must sign off
According to the story the school in question, Silver Hill Elementary, just several years back, had been in trouble.  But it became an "in-district" charter school where the teachers could direct change.  They did and it turned around.
Within three years, it was one of the most successful schools in the district. Its teachers were proud to vote yes the first time the charter came up for renewal in 2013 — and voted overwhelmingly in favor of applying for a second renewal last fall.

After consulting with the union’s lawyer, Lisa Begley decided to extend the vote to teachers in Haverhill’s other schools. The union then circulated materials arguing — inaccurately, in the eyes of the school’s leadership — that Silver Hill’s success came at the expense of the other schools.

In 2013, Silver Hill teachers voted in favor of renewing the school’s charter for five more years.
But in 2017, 
In June, the union voted against renewing the charter, sending the Silver Hill community into shock. 
Yikes! So the vote wasn't just the teachers at that school - who, presumably, were happy, as were parents.  But why did the vote go that way?

One side note; the charter school was supposed to let parents know what would be happening within 10 days after the vote.  Did they? No.  And the superintendent of the district won't say anything except that the school will open this fall for the last year of its contract.  Most of the teachers are leaving. The superintendent said in a letter to district staff:
“There shouldn’t be any schools in our system that work solely for their own success rather than the success of all children in all components of our educational program."
That's a big, big statement and one that might want to be examined for our own district.

The parents in the school just want the district to make other schools become what theirs has.  But in that wish is the glaring problem.  Demographics.
Gilman thought the school’s main issue was instability. Half of Haverhill students were impoverished, and the city’s fortunes were declining as it lost its industrial base. 

In May, Begley sent the Silver Hill board two letters asking for documents and spelling out concerns with the school’s operations. Chief among them, Begley noted that Silver Hill enrolled fewer impoverished students than surrounding schools, and significantly fewer English language learners.
Well, that's confounding.  Why would the school's demographics have changed so much in a few years?

From a letter to the Board of Trustees of the school from the union president (partial):
 Our members have concers, principally that deal with demographic and other disparities between Silver Hill charter school and both the nearby Tilton School and the rest of the District.  These disparities unfortunately result in an increased concentration of minority, poverty, ELL and special needs students in the Titlon School that is now facing a "turnaround" process.  

And the comparisons in those student categories are striking.  It looks like Silver Hill just didn't include Level 1 and Level 2 ELL students and didn't have outreach materials in Spanish. 
As in other cases, it looks like parents who had the wherewithal to research schools knew that Silver Hill was doing better (although they may or may not have been aware that its demographics had changed).  And, the sibling policy - with sibs getting first preference before a lottery pick - didn't help.
The president even says that if the school were to implement processes - such as preference for low-income students - that would make Silver Hill not such an outlier in its demographics "then we would actively publicize the measures that you are taking and ensure that our members have this information to guide their vote.  We would like the Silver Hill School to succeed in a way that supports not only the students enrolled in htat school, but also that supports students in the District as a whole."
It did appear that Silver Hill had - in 2016 - placed a Hispanic person on their board and distributed bilingual materials.  Their Latino family applications went up 91%.

Naturally, the families and students are left in a confusing place.  What's weird is that some parents seem to think that if it goes back to being a neighborhood school, it will go back to being a low-performing school.  Hmmm.

Other stories

4th Best High School In New York Is A KIPP School That Doesn’t Exist
Yesterday I wrote about the U.S. News and World Report 2017 high school rankings.  I found some suspicious numbers when I noticed that the 29th best high school, and the 4th best in New York, was a KIPP school called KIPP Academy Charter School.

The non-existent KIPP Academy Charter High School that was ranked 29th in the country and 4th in New York claimed to have 58 students with a 100% AP participation rate and a 98% passing rate.  We now know that these 58 students are only a subset, around a fourth, of an existing school KIPP NYC College Prep.  

If this wasn’t an attempt by KIPP to somehow get all their passing AP students into one fictitious school, how is it possible that every AP taker and passer somehow came from the KIPP Academy school and none of them from the other three KIPP middle schools? 
Houston Chronicle, Some KIPP Houston schools charged unallowable fees, agency finds

Oh look, it's KIPP again.
A Texas Education Agency investigation last year, a copy of which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle, found some KIPP Houston schools violated the Texas Education Code by collecting impermissible student fees. Some of its mostly low-income and minority families paid hundreds of dollars per student each year for things such as reading materials, classroom supplies and parent associations.

Washington Charter School Association, NewSchools Venture Fund selects new charter public schools in Walla Walla and Tukwila for prestigious funding and management award

Well, kinda news except that Willow (to be in Walla Walla) is not opening in 2017 (as I had reported based off of what the Washington Charter Commission website said) and the "Impact Public Schools" are also not opening for some time (as I reported).

Note that: Venture Fund, a 501c3 non-profit.  Yup, investment bankers. 
NewSchools welcomes investors into a community of philanthropists and entrepreneurs who are working together to transform public education. Join us in supporting entrepreneurs working to ensure that all students are prepared to achieve their most ambitious dreams and plans.
Deseret News, Lawmakers seek recommendations on eminent domain policy for charter schools

Utah lawmakers are considering policy changes to speed up the acquisition of land for new charter schools and further expansions of existing schools.
On Monday, the Administrative Rules Review Committee questioned what authority charter schools have to call on the state to seize property through eminent domain laws. While schools operating under charter are considered public education, the charter developers are often private entities that own the school facilities, leaving the question of whether such an arrangement could fit within the state's definitions for where eminent domain is permissible.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he worries about the differences between reasons and people who could use eminent domain and raised concerns that eventually a fully private school might one day exercise the law to expand its lot size.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, also expressed concern that a charter school that had obtained its plot through eminent domain might eventually lease out parts of that property to the charter owners and convert the charter property to private ownership over time.
Jersey Jazzman, When "Miracle" Charter Schools Shed Students
As I noted, NBC's Sunday Night with Megan Kelly broadcast a story earlier this month about Boys Latin Charter School, a "successful" charter school in Philadelphia which claims to have ten times the college completion rate of its neighboring high schools.

As Bruce Baker notes in this (somewhat snarky) post, you really can't make a comparison between two schools and call one "successful" without taking into account the differences in resources available to both. Philadelphia's public school district has been chronically underfunded for years. It's hardly fair for Boys Latin to collect millions in extra revenue, then brag about their college persistence rate compared to schools that don't have enough funding to provide an adequate education.
But the real point?
Hypothetically speaking, say a charter school is authorized to serve up to 500 students, but, for whatever reason, 50 students leave through the course of a school year. A charter that "backfills" will enroll the next 50 kids on its wait list as space becomes available. 
Other schools will replace those empty spots at the beginning of the next school year, including filling seats in the upper grades. 
Charters that don't do this will watch their total enrollment in a grade dwindle year by year — retaining only the students tenacious enough to persist. 
In contrast, district-run neighborhood schools and renaissance charters must enroll all students living within a prescribed catchment zone, no matter what time of year or grade, when they show up asking for a seat.

David Hardy, CEO of Boys' Latin, subscribes to the same theory. He oversees a rigorous admissions process that begins well before the school year.

Boys' Latin asks prospective ninth-graders to submit letters of intent in November, nearly a year before they would enroll. Staff then interview students and parents to ensure that they understand the school's rigor -- classes run until 5 p.m., students must learn Latin, wear a uniform, and adhere to a strict code of conduct. 
Those who commit attend a month-long freshman academy in July before the school-year-proper begins. 
By September, he said, the kids are all on the same page. 
"You introduce new people into that, and it can kind of mess up the environment," said Hardy. 

Yes, Mr. Hardy, it can. Makes life easier for you but not real public schools.
Many charters have high student cohort attrition rates, meaning students leave the school before graduation -- often returning to the public, district schools, which must take them no matter when they arrive at the schoolhouse door. These same charters don't backfill, so their cohort sizes shrink as they move toward their senior years.
So why do kids leave?
"Normally it's because a student doesn't want to take the volume of the work that we do," said Hardy. And when that happens, "there's a mechanism to kind of go after them."
At Boys' Latin, this process includes tutoring, probation, and Saturday school.
"If the student makes the decision that they really don't want to do the work, then what's the point?" Hardy said. "That normally is a family decision. They say, 'Why keep him in a school that he really doesn't want to be in?' That's the beautiful thing about school choice."
Hardy says his school doesn't actively push kids away.
"You can stay here and fail," he said. "But that doesn't make sense, does it?"
"That's the beautiful thing about school choice." You can't make this stuff up.

From the Boston Globe: Some Boston charter school leaders paid hefty salaries

How hefty?
The median pay package for the top leaders of the 16 charter schools in Boston was $170,000 last year, making most of them among the highest-paid public school officials in Boston, according to a Globe review of payroll data.
One charter school leader, Diana Lam of Conservatory Lab, earned more money than Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, even though she oversaw a school of just 400 students. Lam, who retired in 2016, collected $275,000 in salary and an additional $23,000 for unused personal time off.
$275,000 for overseeing 400 students.  That a lot of public dollars.

Well, I've run out of time and room for the financial scandals but there are plenty of those stories as well.


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