Sunday, February 24, 2019

Charter Schools: Education Reform Losing Its Luster

A fascinating outcome from this little blog is the growth of the number of stories we cover on state and national issues.  For myself, I had always wanted this blog to be about Seattle Public Schools and the issues and challenges it faces.  (Over the years, I've had many people ask me about Bellevue or Lake Washington SDs and frankly, one district is enough to track.) But, after a period of time, it became impossible just to focus on Seattle Schools.

One, because in Washington State, our schools never were fully funded.  That ongoing struggle impacted Seattle Schools and other other districts for decades.

Two, because no district, especially the largest one in a state, exists in a vacuum.  The national issues of No Child Left Behind (now ESSA - Every Student Succeeds Act), Common Core, charter schools, vouchers, school safety, etc. all came into play as issues that did affect SPS.

Third, the influence of billionaire philanthropists who thought that public education would be an easy fix for them.  Because rich people must be smart at everything.  (And, of course, for those who want to privatize public education and destroy unions, starting with the biggest unions which would be the teachers' unions).

Did you miss this a couple of weeks ago, from CNN:
Donald Trump Jr., the President's son, seemed to invoke striking teachers during a speech last month in El Paso, Texas, when he dismissed "these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth."

From Rethinking Schools:
Through headlines like “Rotten Apples” and “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” the corporate media blamed educators for the failures of our schools while ignoring the cuts that were making teachers’ jobs increasingly difficult. Converting public schools to charters and using standardized test scores to close schools and fire teachers have been touted as “solutions” to our “broken” education system that conveniently did not require increased or more equitable funding.
But is that the whole picture today? From CNN:

Seventy-eight percent of Americans said teachers don't make enough money, according to an April 2018 poll by The Associated Press/NORC Center. Fifteen percent said teachers make the right amount and 6% think they make too much. That's a increase in Americans who think teachers are underpaid; it was 57% in a similar 2010 poll conducted by AP.
This is a lengthy thread but there's that much out there about charter schools that helps show patterns evolving and the downward slide that is either happening in some places or able to come to others.

Exhibit One - Teachers' Unions Strike Back

From Rethinking Schools:

Across the nation, teachers have been rising up as never before...and getting results. #RedforEd

- The West Virginia strike began in late February when some 20,000 classroom teachers and thousands of other employees shut down schools across all 55 counties.
- As of late May, walkouts in Colorado and North Carolina have followed statewide actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky. Some of these protests won significant, even if modest, gains in teachers’ salaries and funding for schools. Others won political promises that have yet to be redeemed.
- But other common factors underlying these grassroots protests are likely to keep rebellion spreading to “purple” states like Colorado (where there was a walkout in April) and North Carolina (May) and beyond. 

From NPR:

This year, individual districts — such as Denver and Los Angeles — have picked up where states left off. Teachers in Oakland, Calif., were on the picket lines Thursday and Friday, and Sacramento, Calif., teachers could be next.   

Many scholars predicted after the Janus decision that there would be more militant organizing, including more strikes. That's because unions may feel forced to prove their value to potential members, as the strength of bargaining agreements — which tend to include costly strike penalties — erodes along with union power.

Teachers in two Chicago charter school networks have gone on strike, asking for better pay and smaller classes.

West Virginia educators walked off the job again for two days this week to protest a bill making its way through the statehouse that could have introduced charter schools to the state. Lawmakers effectively killed the bill on Tuesday, and union leaders called the strike off on Wednesday evening after the time for lawmakers to reconsider the measure had passed.

As teachers protested in West Virginia this week, Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, told reporters, "I've said all along that I am not an advocate and a fan of charter schools, period."

Exhibit Two - A new report from In the Public Interest, Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.
  • Charter schools cost Oakland Unified $57.3 million per year. That’s $1,500 less in funding for each student that attends a neighborhood school.
  • The annual cost of charter schools to the San Diego Unified is $65.9 million.
  • In East Side Union, the net impact of charter schools amounts to a loss of $19.3 million per year.
What's fascinating to me is that they quote from an article from  the Center on Reinventing Education (at UW):
School boards and superintendents are faced with a situation where they lose enrollment so quickly that the only thing they can do is close schools, lay off teachers according to seniority not quality (thanks to “last in, first out” requirements), increase class sizes, and slash their central office staffing and support levels. In some cities, districts also face an increasing concentration of the students hardest and most costly to educate, those with severe special needs, those who speak little to no English, those with the most severe behavior and mental health challenges and the least parental support. This combination of factors often triggers a slow death spiral that paralyzes politically bound superintendents and boards and ultimately harms students.
Even CRPE sees it.
Still, as we say in the report, while this situation is not charters’ fault, it is in part their problem. In the eyes of the public, charter schools are causing harm to district kids.  

We’re seeing that in most cities, demand for charters slows significantly at around 40-–50 percent market share. About half of all families prefer district-run neighborhood schools for a variety of reasons.
Some charter advocates cannot abide the idea of working with districts. Pessimistic that districts can be trusted to respect school-level autonomy, they prefer to keep charters outside the district sphere altogether. That’s a fine strategy if the goal is to help a limited number of students escape a failed system, but it doesn’t hold as an overall reform strategy. When districts create charter-like schools such as those underway in Indianapolis and Springfield, MA, the strategy can help a district right itself financially while still expanding the number of high quality schools.
Interesting stuff. An ed reformer saying that maybe it's not working as planned. 

Exhibit Three: Arizona and charter schools

The Arizona Republic newspaper just won the Polk Award for its coverage of charter schools in Arizona. They won the award for a five-piece series called, " The Charter Gamble." 

For those who don't know, Arizona is quite literally the Wild West for charter schools. 
"The Charter Gamble" then uncovered the 25 years of history behind the state's system, revealing that Arizona officials created the publicly funded system without ever visiting or seeing a charter school, and that some of the current problems had been heralded decades earlier, with little effort to fix them. 

The awards credited The Republic's team for "initially disclosing insider deals, no-bid contracts and political chicanery that provided windfall profits for investors in a number of prominent Arizona charter schools, often at the expense of underfunded public schools." 

Harris' reporting in spring 2018 examined how Basis charter schools request donations from parents to subsidize teacher salaries, even as the school's founders keep millions of public tax dollars for themselves.
I'll just note that Monica Aguirre - who heads the City's Pre-K program - she and her husband, Jose, ran a couple of charter schools in Arizona. According to news stories, they left just as the schools went under. 

Exhibit Four - Teach for America

I'll note that TFA had a recent event in late January in Seattle for out-of-state TFAers to try to lure them to come work in Washington State.  It's an interesting tactic, given that there are so few charter schools and new ones don't come online quickly.   

Then there's this recent Education Week story about how TFA tried to encourage their teachers to cross a union picket line.  I can't imagine anything you could do to enrage fellow teachers than cross a picket line.
TFA initially said Oakland corps members who go on strike would lose thousands of dollars in AmeriCorps award money that they receive at the end of each year of service. AmeriCorps, the civil service organization to which TFA members also belong, prohibits striking, since it accepts federal money. 
TFA members in Los Angeles and Denver heard similar messages during their own strikes this year.
While TFA's Bay Area office initially suggested that corps members could make their own choice on whether to strike and lose a prorated chunk of the nearly $6,000 award, many TFA members said they couldn't afford to lose the money, which is meant to cover the cost of educational expenses, such as certification. Furious, more than 300 TFA alumni wrote an open letter to the Bay Area chapter, criticizing it for "union busting" and encouraging teachers to be scabs.
Exhibit Five - New Orleans (a charter district) has a devastating absentee rate via
The Times-Picayune:
Nearly a quarter of the 48,000 students in Orleans Parish public school missed 15 to 18 days of class during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Orleans Parish School Board, which is helming the initiative. That adds up to more than 10 percent of the school year. Additionally, the latest data shows chronic absenteeism is on the rise.
The national average is only 13%.

Exhibit Seven - Calling Charter Schools "Public" Schools

Personally, I find this trend somewhat amusing - it seems like desperation to have to put the word "public" in your name.

This is from the Curmudgucation blog:
But while modern charter schools are financed by public tax dollars, they are not truly public schools for the following reasons.

When City Paper recently reported on the salaries of DC charter teachers and administrators, it required extra digging to come up with the information because charter schools are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In fact, City Paper reported that a teacher employed by the charter was not even allowed to see the salary scale for her own job. In 2014, when the New York state controller wanted to audit the books of Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy, the charter leader took him to court and won, barring the state from trying to see how public tax dollars were spent.
Modern charter schools have a variety of techniques for controlling which students they serve. It begins with advertising, which signals which students are most likely to feel like the school is a good fit for them. Charters are not required to provide programs that meet all special needs; they don't necessarily turn those students down, but if a school tells you that they do not offer the program that your child needs, will you really enroll there? And while lotteries are supposed to select students randomly, lotteries themselves often require committed parents willing to work their way through the paperwork and bureaucracy, so that the system allows parents to self-select for providing the kind of support and commitment that makes students more successful.
Once the student is in the school, there are a variety of ways to nudge the child out. We've seen the "Got To Go" list at Success Academy;  families can be nudged out with repeated suspensions and disciplinary action.
When students walk out the door of a charter school, they cease to be the charter's responsibility. But as long as a student lives within the public school's designated area, that student is the district's responsibility.
Charter schools could be operated by a locally elected board, but they almost never are. Instead, charter schools are owned and operated by private individuals or boards, sometimes located far away from the school itself. Sometimes control of the charter is separated from the community by a series of managerial handoffs--Group X technically owns and operates the charter, but they hire Corporation Y to actually run the school.
When municipal assets like water systems and parking facilities are handed off to private companies to run, we call it by its name--privatization. Turning a school over to a private company to own and operate is no different.
Exhibit Eight - Kentucky

They've had a charter law since 2017 but haven't provided funding for a single school.  So they have zero charter schools.   From the Courier Journal:
Republicans in rural states like Kentucky, in particular, may be realizing they have more to lose politically by supporting charters than they have to gain, he said.

"Even though the GOP looks as though they're in power," Voss added, "they have a significant factional split when it comes to education policy."
Exhibit Nine -  A great article by Carol Burris, a noted public education expert, Can charter schools be reformed? Should they be? in the Washington Post.
The independent California-based watchdog group, In the Public Interest, estimated alleged and confirmed fraud in California’s charter sector has topped $149 million, a figure it describes as “only the tip of the iceberg.” Not even Massachusetts, which allegedly has the toughest supervision of the sector in the nation, is free of scandals
Consequently, charter schools regularly hire relatives as consultants, teachers, contractors and executives. For example, officers of Learn for Life, a California storefront charter school chain, play musical chairs with titles, often receiving compensation from several corporations.

Real estate deals are one of the primary ways that charter operators “cash in.” Take the recent case of Eddie Farnsworth, a member of the state legislature of Arizona.
  A recent report by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder connects the dots between privatization and discriminatory programmatic practices.
The BASIS charter chain, for example, demands that students take six Advanced Placement exams and pass at least one with a score of 3 or above, to graduate. Students must pass comprehensive tests at every grade level or be left back. When combined with no free or reduced-priced lunch offerings, no free transportation and an expectation that parents will donate $1,500 a year, the population that applies to and is ultimately retained by BASIS is culled. These policies produce high attrition rates and a student body that does not reflect the demographics of the state. In Arizona, nearly half of all students are Latino. At BASIS, that number is about 1 in 10. Asian students represent 3 percent of all Arizona students but make up nearly one-third of the student population of BASIS.

Charter schools eliminate democracy from school governance, and this lack of voice is most acutely felt by parents in disadvantaged communities.
Charter schools are run by private boards that choose their members. Unlike public school boards, charter school boards are not elected by the public, nor do members need to live in the community or even the state in which the school is located. This results in board members that do not represent the community but rather represent interconnected financial interests.
The most frequently encountered career of the board members of the 14 chains was finance — hedge fund managers and directors of investment capital dominated several of the chains’ boards. KIPP has seven billionaires (or heirs to billions) on its board, either active or emeritus.
In a recent article, journalist Jeff Bryant explains how the expansion of charter schools has disenfranchised communities of color, particularly in large cities, and how parent activists are now fighting back. In 2016, the national NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in this country, passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in part after listening to the voices of parents who were unhappy with the treatment of their children in charter schools, yet had no real recourse for complaint within the system.
I would put up links to the stories about online charter schools and fraud but there are too many. 
Nope, I don't think the charter school picture is looking great.  Getting blurrier by the minute.   
The latest danger on the horizon? Vouchers.


Anonymous said...

You must be joking? The Exodus know as running start speak volumes for what students want and not what SPS is offering. What exactly do you mean SPS is not fully funded? Again you are joking! I would bet you a forensic CPA would tell you that SPS has had more than enough to run. Why are you conflating SPS with other districts? Race based special interest programs do not serve any student they only serve the adults on the payroll. You as a mouth piece for the teacher's union know this.

Get real

Info Eater said...

Freedom of Information Act doesn't apply to charter schools???!!!! That's a big part of the problem right there. Can we do something about that in state law?

Anonymous said...

Does FOIA laws apply to teacher's employment files? Why are teachers allowed to remove disciplinary records from their files? Yes and past abusers have been free to remove those records and then go on to commit the same type of abuse again.

Can you legally destroy public records? I guess when the union give you the big wink wink then it's ok.

Lawyer up

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeremy said...

Meanwhile school districts and unions are co-opting many of the "bad" parts of charters. "Option" schools take money and students away from neighborhood schools, yet maintain union rules and central office bureaucracy.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Get Real, a bit incoherent. I wasn't talking in this thread about SPS compared to other districts. I merely said I don't have the time to cover other districts.

I do believe in unions but yes, I also know their flaws. I'm not sure the SEA likes me at all.

Info Eater, I would have to look at our state's charter law on FOIA but I suspect that it may be true. I will say that if you look at most charter school's board minutes they are skimpy to say the least and you learn nothing.

Jeremy, Option schools exist within our district to give choices to parents without taking money out of the district. What neighborhood schools are suffering because of Option schools?

Anonymous said...

Incessant criticism of SPS and SEA but against Charters.

And how does that logic work again?

Extra Special

Anonymous said...

Get Real-
I can't speak for all students but I keep trying to talk mine out of running start (I teach gen ed in a neighboring Seattle district, and my students tend to pull C & D grades in non-honors classes). Since the state has decided the district can't place barriers to Running Start, students who are woefully underprepared are trying to take classes because they've heard it's easier/no attendance/later start. It's got nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with offerings, and everything to do with misinformation and an inflated sense of ability.

I wonder if any district offers a running start follow up survey, to see why students chose to go and how expectations matched experience.


Anonymous said...

Well I can tell you that the running start at Shoreline CC is great. The instructors do not baby the kids and with Shoreline they can move straight into career programs well ahead of non running start students. If you student can't perform at the CC level then perhaps RS should be avoided. I would avoid North Seattle and go to Shoreline.

Get real

Strike 3 said...

It is only a matter of time before WEA threatens to strike, again. Annual strikes have become a matter of routine.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Strike 3, threats of strikes, yes. Annual strikes as routine? No.

suep. said...
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suep. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suep. said...

In the interest of clarity, I'm reposting this with my own comments in bold, and the cited sources in regular type. My apologies for any confusion. -- sp.

The bloom is definitely off the charter school rose in California.

California legislators are trying to bring accountability and transparency to charters by requiring them to be subject to the same FOIA rules as traditional public schools:

"California charter schools facing new oversight under fast track legislation"

SB 126 Ensures Publicly Funded Schools Comply With Good Government Laws
Thursday, February 21, 2019


"SACRAMENTO – With strong bipartisan support, the California State Senate today passed important legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) that will require charter school governing boards to comply with the same accountability and transparency laws that traditional school district governing boards already follow."

Leyva Charter School Accountability and Transparency Bill Passes Senate

Also, the Los Angeles School Board -- representing one of the largest districts in the nation, and comprised of a pro-charter majority -- has passed a resolution to launch an investigation into whether charter schools harm traditional public schools, and to place a moratorium on opening new ones:


"January 30, 2019; Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and EdSource

“The Los Angeles Board of Education is calling on the California legislature to impose a moratorium on new charter schools,” notes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. The measure approved by the school board calls for “a state study on how charter schools affect traditional schools, as well as an eight-to-ten-month local moratorium while the study is being completed,” explains Howard Bloom in the Los Angeles Times.

As readers may recall, L.A.’s schools have long been a laboratory for philanthropic “dabbling” in the schools, specifically by the Broad Foundation, and this resistance from the community, the local administration, and even among other philanthropists to school choice strategies has been long brewing.

Strauss points out that the vote marks “a remarkable shift by the pro-charter panel that struck a blow to the charter movement and may lead to stronger oversight of the schools.” Strauss adds that California “has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state. California has allowed charters—which are publicly funded but privately operated—to flourish with little oversight amid growing controversy over financial scandals and other issues.”

CA Gov Newsom is jumping on the bandwagon and calling for a statewide charter investigation.

"Do charter schools harm traditional public schools? Gov. Newsom wants to find out"


suep. said...

(Continued from previous comment)

Meanwhile it's frequently stated as a fact in LA media that charter schools have drained resources from the other public schools in the LA district:


"...the growth of charters comes at the expense of district schools, costing L.A. Unified students and the funding that comes with them. As enrollment has declined, the district has had difficulty cutting its overhead while also maintaining campuses, funding pensions and paying for retiree health benefits. Such outlays leave less money for programs benefiting students.

A key challenge for charter school leaders is finding space. They want easier and fuller access to district properties and classrooms, especially as charters grow and the school system shrinks."

Such a pity that WA State is so often three steps behind the rest of the country in rejecting damaging ed reforms.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Or Sue, we're so far behind that, luckily, we can see the damaging outcomes and severely curtail them in WA state. That's my hope.

Anonymous said...

One big difference between SPS and LA schools are SPS option schools. I have friends in the iLEAD charter schools and also in the Waldorf inspired charter schools. Those families chose those schools because there were no option schools like Salmon Bay or Hazel Wolf or TOPPS. I know that iLEAD tried to start a school here in Seattle and were basically told they weren't needed.


Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, I have made your good point for a long time. Alternative schools, now Option Schools, were created, mostly by parents, to create choice and alt ways of teaching.

Strike 3. said...

Clarification: We see threats of strike during union/contract negotiations. We had a strike in 2015 and a threat of a strike in 2018. The union will re-negotiate next year and I expect to see threats of strikes.

This nonsense gets old.

WEA and SEA are loosing their luster.

Anonymous said...

Info on Highline's change to trimester schedule:


Their sample schedule includes an IB/band student. An IB class is scheduled for 1st and 3rd trimester (uh, the IB exams generally start the last day of April...how's that going to work?). The student only takes WL through 10th grade, has no math in 12th grade, but has 5 trimesters of IB Physics? The sample student is clearly not pursuing an IB diploma.