Charter News - State and National

Charter schools in this country reached something of a milestone this year - it's been 25 years since the first one started in Minnesota.  But there is increasing evidence they are either sliding downward and/or stalling out. From the NY Times:

KIPP’s internal reckoning has coincided with a moment in which New York’s elected officials and Democratic presidential candidates have turned decisively away from the charter movement. Both groups are eager to please their allies in teachers unions, which have consolidated power over the last year.
It is also fascinating to watch the Democratic presidential contenders shy away from talking about K-12 public education.  They all seem to just want to talk about higher ed and student debt, a worthy topic.  Cory Booker, who had a very profound effect on Newark public education, is especially not one who wants to talk. He has very little in the way of good outcomes to talk about despite the Zuckerberg dollars poured into NPS.

Beto O'Rouke's wife started a charter school in El Paso.  His kids attend public school in El Paso but it's unclear to me if they are traditional schools or charter schools.

But Bernie Sanders is coming out swinging, calling out both the lack of regulation in some cases as well as the lack of Sped services for all disabilities. 

What are charter schools in Washington state likely to want vis a vis the Legislature?

  • More Sped dollars, 
  • definitely the ability to access levy funding (the law doesn't allow them to run levies nor access levy dollars from school districts) and 
  • help with facilities. 
This article from Education Week is from 2018 brings those demands into focus:
But since 2013, that growth rate has dropped sharply and some of the possible culprits are familiar: high real estate costs, teacher shortages, and politics.

The slowdown is a problem, charter supporters argue, because demand for charter schools is still outpacing supply in many cities.

School districts are often reluctant to rent or share space with charter schools despite laws requiring them to, and finding real estate on the private market is often far too expensive.
Is demand still growing? Hard to tell because charter schools try to keep a ferocious grip on their data.  They all claim waitlists and yet never show them to anyone.  It's easy to make a claim when you don't have to prove it. 

To note, Washington State law does not require districts to share their vacant space with charter schools.  Look for some in the Legislature to try to address that one.
But it's not just competition between charter schools and district schools that are exacerbating some of these issues—there's also competition among charter schools.

This is particularly true when it comes to finding facilities and hiring teachers among an increasingly thinning supply of talent. 
This issue - finding good teachers and trying to retain them - is a problem for ALL schools.  Charters face a good news/bad news situation.

Good news - if you teach at a charter school whose philosophy you agree with - you will probably be happier than at a district with more district-level mandates.

Bad News - you have no union protections and can be let go at will.  (Washington State charter law allows charter school teachers to unionized but ONLY as a school-level union - there is no "Washington State Charter School Teachers Union".)

Another huge issue is segregation.  

Many of the nation's charter schools are the most segregated in the nation and, overall, charter schools are more segregated than traditional schools.  This is one reason that the NAACP cites in their call for a moratorium on charter schools.

I gave a talk a year or so ago at the University of Puget Sound on charter schools.  Doing research before the talk was when I realized that the issue of segregation in charter schools was growing. 

In the KIPP chain of charter schools, most of their schools are filled by black students.  In many charter schools in Los Angeles, there are schools filled with Latino students.  And in article after article, parents gave two reasons for being happy.

One, they wanted a school where there are more students and teacher/staff who look like them and their children.  (And we see this in the push for more diversity in the SPS teaching corps.)  And, of course, for many Latino parents, a school where someone can speak Spanish with them if parents' English-speaking skills are not good.

I believe this is truly a key point, for both students and parents, and the comfort level they feel at any given school. 

Two, choice.  There was a great study about choice, probably five years ago, where parents who had been in a traditional school and then moved their student to a charter school participated in a research project.  When they were told that the charter school they had moved their student to had the same or slightly worse academic outcomes than the traditional school they left, the answer was, "But I chose this school."  

I don't know if this is a purely American thing - wanting choice over everything in our lives - but it seems like parents feel like there is more control.  Choice is quite the conundrum.

One other choice seems to be growing among families of color - homeschooling.

But just to give you a picture of the current state of charter schools.

Washington State

If you are keeping track, Washington State now has nine charter schools.   Three closed last year due to dwindling enrollment.  The three that closed were Excel, Destiny Middle School and Soar.   Green Dot, which has been trying to be a big player here saw two of their schools close - Excel and Destiny. Willow, in Walla Walla, has been struggling and is on a strict rubric-based reform. 

From the Seattle Times:
The sector’s also looking forward to some firsts, including an initial batch of performance reviews that three schools will begin next year in order to stay in operation. And over the next year, five additional charters will prepare to open their doors in fall 2020.
Of those five new schools,
  • one will be in Spokane (SSD is the only district authorizer in the state), 
  • one will be a high school in South King County, 
  • one will be a K-5 in South King County, 
  • one will be a K-8 in Bremerton, 
  • one will be a high school in Bellingham
At Soar, the governing board announced its closure in January, offering families more time to plan their next steps. Some students found a place at Ashé, but the bulk of them returned to Tacoma Public Schools, said Soar’s board President Thelma Jackson. 
Here's info on the only new charter school that opened for school year, 2019-2020:
Sullivan founded Ashé Preparatory Academy, which last week opened its doors in Kent with an inaugural class of 140 kindergarten, first-, second- and sixth-grade students. At full enrollment, in 2023, it will serve a projected 450 students in grades K-8. So far, 75% of its students identify as black, 20% as multiracial, 1% as Latino, 3% as other and 1% as white.

What makes this one different: Sullivan and founding Principal Monique Harrison designed the school around the seven principles of Kwanzaa — unity, purpose, creativity, conviction, self-determination, cooperative economics and collective work or responsibility.

The teachers — all but one of whom identify as people of color, an anomaly in Washington schools — spent their first week sharing those values with their new students.
A great discussion with New York Times' reporters on charter schools.

Another good story from the NY Times, Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Are Facing a Reckoning:
Mr. Buery adopted an unusual strategy: He publicly declared that some of the criticism of KIPP — and the charter movement in general — was merited, and announced that KIPP needed to change for it to continue to thrive.
Mr. Buery is part of a growing number of charter school executives to acknowledge shortcomings in their schools — partly in an effort to recast their tarnished image and to counteract a growing backlash that threatens the schools’ ability to influence American public education. 

“Entreaties by charters to reform themselves are welcome, but I really think reform has to come from the outside,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who introduced a bill this year that would limit public funding for charters and require the schools to enroll more students with disabilities and children learning English. 
About Ascend, which like KIPP, is one of the "no-excuses" charter school groups:
Steven Wilson, the chief executive of a Brooklyn-based charter school network, Ascend, scrapped his charters’ rigid approach to discipline after he realized his schools were full of unhappy students and tense teachers. “We wanted to blow all that up,” he said. “We wanted to hear students talking, exchanging ideas, taking intellectual risks. And that was largely absent.”
And it's not just discipline:
Though much of the criticism of charters has focused on discipline, even strong supporters have admitted that charter schools have sometimes focused on academic results at the expense of students with disabilities.

“This isn’t just a narrative problem, this is a real problem,” said Lauren Rhim, the director of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. “In order to change it, you need to acknowledge it.
In Pennsylvania, their governor, Tom Wolf, signed a new, tough charter law:
As part of his three-part plan to address Pennsylvania’s flawed charter school law, Governor Tom Wolf announced today the Department of Education will institute new fees to fund the growing costs of administering the Charter School Law and recoup the rising costs to taxpayers.

“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is failing students, teachers, school districts and taxpayers,” said Gov. Wolf. “While there are high-quality charter schools, some of them, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming. The state and school districts need more tools to hold charters accountable and increase educational quality.

In addition to executive action, the governor will propose comprehensive charter school reform legislation that would:
  • Establish performance standards that hold charter schools accountable for the educational outcomes of students and a moratorium on new cyber charter schools.
  • Cap student enrollment in low performing cyber charter schools until outcomes improve.
  • Require charter management companies be subject to the Right to Know Act, State Ethics Act, and post employee salaries on PDE’s website, similar to requirements already in place for public school districts.
Imagine that - requiring charter schools to be transparent as traditional school districts.

From Diane Ravitch about Alabama:
Betsy DeVos was sad to see that Alabama had only four charter schools. So she awarded $25 million to an organization tasked with generating more private charters to drain money away from the state’s underfunded public schools. 
In Los Angeles, where 20% of K-12 students are in charter schools, those overseeing those schools are taking a well-deserved beating; from blogger Michael Kohlhass, who received this info via public disclosure:
And then things really blew up, as you may already know. Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times published two separate articles based on this material, the first one and the second one. The material revealed that Austin Beutner was letting the CCSA write his speeches for him and Nick Melvoin was letting them write actual board resolutions and also slipping them confidential info from LAUSD’s general counsel at the very same time that CCSA was suing LAUSD.
Editor's note: Austin Beutner is the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board; Nick Melvoin is on the school board for LAUSD and CCSA is the California Charter Schools Association.
These documents recently showed that CCSA’s ultimate goal is to have every kid in California essentially in a charter school by 2030. And, friend, the revelations are not done even now, just wait and see. 
This has brought about revisions to California's charter school; from the LA Times:
A major agreement aimed at setting stronger standards for charter schools stands to intensify power struggles for seats on the Board of Education in Los Angeles, setting the stage for more contentious and costly election battles between charter advocates and allies of the teachers union, a cross section of education leaders and experts said.

Under a compromise announced last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, local school boards will have more authority to reject new charter school petitions, making their decisions crucial to the growth of the charter sector. The proposed law, which still needs legislative approval, also requires charter school teachers to hold the same credentials as those in traditional schools and attempts to increase accountability for charters — moves touted as better serving students.
I had a lengthy thread on charter schools in February 2019.

There is some irony for me in having fought charter schools in Washington State.  But the chickens appear to be coming home to roost and, at the end of it, I think charters are here to stay but there won't be as many and, hopefully, they become better regulated.


Anonymous said…
I would love to see more discussion of educational pluralism than the binary school board/charter discussions...

TAOW, nice try. Go back to Bellevue.
Jet City mom said…
I don’t really know much about O’Rourke, and I think it is an individual decision, but everything I have read states that their children attend the same traditional public schools their father did.

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