Re-Blog of Twitter Charter Debate with Michelle Rhee & Julian Vasquez Heilig

This “twitter debate” from Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog appeared in my inbox today. I am working on a post on charters and public schools based on an EPI study of the Rocketship Education charters in Milwaukee.

This twitter debate is a perfect introduction to that forthcoming article.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is now an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin. He blogs at cloakinginequity.

Michelle Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. In late 2010, she founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization which works on education reform issues such as ending teacher tenure, closing public schools and replacing them with charters staffed with Teach for America unlicensed recruits.


What Every Georgian Ought to Know about Charter Schools



Georgians should be aware that our state legislators are at it again under the Gold Dome changing key aspects of education in our state through the passage of House Bill 897.  The partisan bill affects education in the state in many ways.  The elected officials have decided they don’t like the Common Core Standards language, and have struck any reference to the words quality core curriculum, and replaced them with the term “content standards.”

Although I am not a big supporter of the Common Core, this a political decision not a decision based on research, or facts.  Georgia had adopted the Common Core as part of the 400 million dollars they received through the Race to the Top (RTT) grant.  When Georgia won the competition in 2010, the legislators cheered.  Not now.  Rather than do any research on the matter, they’ve joined with other conservatives around the country, none of whom base their decisions on deliberations based on facts and data.

But that’s only a small part of HB 897.  They also will cut professional and staff development stipends.  A dumb idea given that in the business world, training and development is a key aspect of employee morale and knowledge.  Even though they are working hard to turn education into a business, they forgot to consider what makes the business of education work.

They also just love the idea of a Virtual School.  Again, they plunge full speed ahead without consideration of the research on the effectiveness of virtual schools.  Of course there are positives for offering experiences online, but there is emerging research that shows that virtual schools are not a panacea, for many students not an environment conducive to their learning, and not necessarily more cost-effective.

Making it Easy for More Charters in Georgia

But the part of HB 897 that I want to focus on here how the legislators in Georgia are making it easier and financially helpful to groups that are chomping at the bit to get into the charter school “business” in the state. The chart below (Figure 1) identifies the changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education code of Georgia that pertain to charter schools.  I’ve used the exact language for each charter school change, but have interpreted the meaning using my language.

Figure 1.  Georgia House Bill 897 Charter School Code Changes and What these changes mean to Georgians.
Figure 1. Georgia House Bill 897 Charter School Code Changes and What these changes mean to Georgians.

There are some things that every Georgian ought to know about charter schools.  Charters are probably doing more of a disservice to public education than enhancing the quality of student learning.  But those who are promoting charter schools in Georgia know this, and are using their political power to unleash charters without the research to support their views.

What Was the Intention of Charter Schools?

The first charter school was begun in 1733 in Ireland by the Charter Society to give Protestant education to poor Catholic children.  In America, the first charter school began in 1988.  The concept of a charter school was an innovative idea when it was formulated historically (in the late 1980s by the American Federation of Teachers!).  Albert Shanker, head of the AFT, proposed the idea of charters, and Richard Kahlenberg recounts its origins:

In Shanker’s vision, small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining plans to educate kids in innovative ways. A panel consisting of the local school board and teachers’ union officials would review proposals. Once given a “charter,” a term first used by the Massachusetts educator Ray Budde, a school would be left alone for a period of five to 10 years. Schools would be freed from certain collective bargaining provisions; for example, class-size limitations might be waived to merge two classes and allow team-teaching. Shanker’s core notion was to tap into teacher expertise to try new things. Building on the practices at the Saturn auto plant in Nashville, Tenn., he envisioned teams of teachers making suggestions on how best to accomplish the job at hand. Part of the appeal of charter schools to Shanker and many Democrats was that they offered a publicly run alternative to private-school-voucher proposals, which they feared would undermine teacher collective bargaining rights and Balkanize students by race, religion, and economic status.

Once a Beacon for Excellence

As Lisa Delpit reminds us, the first iteration of charter schools were to be beacons of what public schools could do.  Teachers were at the center of charter schools, and they would collaborate to design new models of teaching for the most challenging populations.  Dr. Delpit, in her recently published book, Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, says charter schools:

were intended to develop models for working with the most challenging populations. What they discovered was to be shared and reproduced in other public school classrooms. Now, because of the insertion of the “market model,” charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. Special education students, students with behavioral issues, and students who need any kind of special assistance are excluded in a multiplicity of ways because they reduce the bottom line—they lower test scores and take more time to educate properly. Charter schools have any number of ways of “counseling” such students out of their programs.  Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is a dangerous path for us to follow.  Although charter schools are public, and use tax payer funds, they resemble private schooling in the sense that they are not accountable in the same ways that public schools are evaluated.  Charter schools have boards that are not elected, and often the managing organization is an out-of-state enterprise that swoops in and sets up shop.

As Dr. Delpit puts it, public schools, that were once the beacon of democracy,

have been overrun by the antidemocratic forces of extreme wealth. Educational policy for the past decade has largely been determined by the financial contributions of several very large corporate foundations. Among a few others, the Broad, Gates, and Walton (Walmart) foundations have dictated various “reforms” by flooding the educational enterprise with capital. The ideas of privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, the extremes of the accountability movement, merit pay, increased standardized testing, free market competition—all are promulgated and financially supported by corporate foundations, which indeed have those funds because they can avoid paying the taxes that the rest of us must foot. Thus, educational policy has been virtually hijacked by the wealthiest citizens, whom no one elected and who are unlikely ever to have had a child in the public schools.  Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The charter school movement is in the interests of these foundations, and charter management organizations that control much of the charter school market.

Choosing a charter school for your student is not the same as choosing a glass of milk for your family.  It’s more like making a wrong turn into a dead-end street.

Charter Schools are not a Cure-all for our Students

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.

Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schoolshave not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.

Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, and not “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and set up charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees).

Charter Schools Do not Measure up to Regular Public Schools

In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “charter schools are touted as the reform model that will boost student achievement by allowing schools to be creative and by having parents, teachers, and the community more a part of the decision-making.” But as I have shown elsewhere on this blog, charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies show that charter schools do not do nearly as well as traditional public schools. In a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford, hundreds of charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia were studied to find out what was the impact of these charter schools on student learning.

Here are some of their findings from the CREDO study:

  • Of the 2403 charter schools reflected on the curve, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were much below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.


Figure 2. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted in red; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.
Figure 2. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted in red; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California. He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Follow this link to his analyses of charter school data presented as easy to understand visualizations.  The link will take you to a movie in which Dr. Marder walks us through a very large data set that he presents as visualizations.

He analyses the relationship between poverty concentration vs. achievement, and compares regular public schools and charter schools, as well ethnicity.  The image on the left shows every Texas school (regular public and charters) as circles of varying sizes (number of graduates) and color ( fraction of non-white students).  As you can see, and as Dr. Marder has concluded, the there a strong relationship between poverty concentration and achievement.

It turns out that charter schools do not increase student performance on academic tests. In fact, charter schools tend to turn away English language learners, and special needs learners. Most charter schools have created segregated environments, which in the words of The Civil Rights Project, has been a civil rights failure.

Dr. Marder puts it this way:

Unfortunately, in state after state, not only are charters worse on average than regular public sc hooks, even the best of them is not truly exceptional. 

In the movie below (Figure 3) listen to what Dr. Marder found about poverty concentration and achievement comparing charter and regular public schools.  As you will see, very few charter schools, compared to their counterpart regular schools do that well.

Charter schools are an unfortunate trend not only in Georgia, but across the country.  We’ve convinced parents that charters give a real choice for their students, when in fact they do not.  There are choices for parents–they could home school their students.  That’s a real choice.  They could send them to a private school of their choice and it doesn’t matter where you live.  Parents just need the money to do this.  Charter schools were never established to offer choice.  They were established to improve education in local public schools–democratically established schools–that are in the public sphere and are open to all, no restrictions, no favoritism. 

What would you add to this conversation about charter schools in Georgia?  

 Photo of Gold Dome source:


Druid Hills Charter Cluster Turned Down, 5 – 4, by the DeKalb School Board

Latest Story

Maureen Downey announced from her Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, Get Schooled, that the 5-4 vote by the DeKalb County Board of Education rejected the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC). The DHCC petitioned to create a cluster of seven schools with Druid Hills High School being fed by six middle and elementary schools.

According to Maureen Downey’s first hand report, “the debate turned rancorous at several points. Much of the consternation was directed at Marshall Orson, who admitted from the start that he supported the cluster and argued long and hard on its behalf. His advocacy led fellow board member Joyce Morley to ask Orson to recuse himself from the vote, which he declined to do.”

You can read Maureen’s report here.

A conception of the Druid Hill Charter Cluster, "Under the Dome." Source: CBS News
A conception of the Druid Hill Charter Cluster, “Under the Dome.” Source: CBS News

Here are some articles about the DHCC that appeared on this blog.

Did the DeKalb County Board of Education do the right thing by rejecting the Charter Cluster?  What do you think about the Board of Education decision?

“Say It Isn’t So,” Georgia State Charter Commission Results: 1 Charter Approved, 7 Charters Denied

“Say it isn’t so.”  The State Charter School Commission ruled on the 16 applications it received from charter school organizations, and only approved one.  Sorry, but it is so.

During the last Georgia legislative session, the Republican House and Senate amended the Georgia Constitution that resurrected the State Charter Schools Commission, which had been ruled unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Georgia bill, which was passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the Governor is based on a “model” bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right leaning partisan group.

The State Charter Schools Commission is a state-level charter school authority with the commission to approve charter schools in any district in the state, without approval by local school officials.

When the bill passed, and when the commissioners were appointed by the Georgia Republican leadership, the Georgia Charter Schools Association and independent charter management groups were drooling and could foresee a new raft of charters being approved by the appointed commission.

But that did not happen!

The State Charter School Commission approved only 1 out of 16 applicants, as seen in Figure 1.  As seen in the chart, 16 applications were received by the State Charter School Commission.  Note that one withdrew, four were not eligible, and one was approved by the local school district, which meant the State Commission did not have to act on it.

In effect, only one charter school was approved, and seven were denied.

Figure 1. State Charter School Commission Report on Charter School Applications for 2014 - 2015 School Year
Figure 1. State Charter School Commission Report on Charter School Applications for 2014 – 2015 School Year

According to an article in the AJC, some charter advocates were “irked” by the results, and thought that the commission should be nicer to charter advocates by approving more than just one.

Of course, you know that I am opposed to charters, and have written extensively here about charters, and why they should not be used as a reform strategy in place of public schools. You can read here the facts to support my position.

What is your opinion? Do you think the State Commission was too rigid with the applicants? Do you think they did their job, or are being overly critical of charters?

Powerful Reasons Why the DeKalb School Board Should Oppose the Druid Hills Charter Cluster

Guest Post by Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, Professor at Morehouse College

This letter first appeared on Maureen Downey’s AJC blog, Get Schooled.  The letter is published with the permission of Dr. Lutenbacher.

My name is Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, and I am a single, white, full-time working mother of two children in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) district, as well as a DeKalb property owner and taxpayer.  One daughter just graduated from Druid Hills High School and my other daughter is a current student at Druid Hills Middle School.

I have been a teacher for almost three decades and a parent for 18 years.  I have served on the board of the DeKalb charter school the International Community School and on the Board of the tuition-free, private school the Global Village School.

I am writing to express my deep opposition to the possibility of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.


mailAt long last, I have been able to attain information about this conversion charter petition, and I am quite honestly appalled at its brazen attempt to create a privately-run school that is funded with taxpayer dollars.  And, at long last, I have taken the hours and hours and hours necessary to review the petition, as well as the 235 requests and rationales for waivers from DCSD standards and policies.  I am told that some of this information was made available three weeks before the vote was taken in August.  I did not know of that availability and probably would not have been able to review it in time; neither was I able to vote during the narrow voting window.  I can only wonder about parents or teachers who have even more limited access to and time for such investigation or voting.

Since that time, I have also learned that the “vote” taken the second day of school was not in violation of the law, but was certainly in violation of ethics.  Those running the voting were wearing tee shirts sporting the logo of the DHCC.  And I understand that the votes were counted by supporters of the charter.  Furthermore, the location of voting was the site most convenient to the supporters of the charter.

The petition “talks the talk” of accountability and adherence to guidelines, laws, and policies, but its absurd list of waiver requests speaks otherwise.  It places all power in the hands of its own, self-selected governing body, a body that was theoretically “elected” in that incredibly flawed voting process on the second day of school at Druid Hills High School.

I would like to address only a handful of my concerns.


First of all, the petition contains outright falsehoods.  For example, the petition claims that only 5.4% of the students of McLendon Elementary School are ELLs, or English Language Learners.  However, the McLendon Elementary website reveals that 46% of its students are in ESOL classes.  I wonder what definition the DHCC uses to categorize students as ELLs.  Those favoring the charter claim that they used DeKalb County statistics.

The petition also claims that it will follow state and federal laws concerning special needs learners, but its waiver requests demand “flexibility” in fulfilling the needs of students with disabilities.  The petition and waiver documents speak to various methods to best serve students with disabilities, but all of the language allows so much “flexibility” that students with special needs could end up warehoused, or pushed into classes of typical learners (which may be a terrible choice for some), or ousted from the school because of “disciplinary issues.”    Furthermore, if DHCC can somehow mis-categorize English Language Learners at a school, how can anyone trust it to honestly and authentically label and serve students with special needs?

The DHCC waiver requests include waivers for discipline, claiming to use “positive” disciplinary tactics.  That language is all well and good, but when I review the petition and waiver requests, I have deep concern that the DHCC will use its waiver to oust students who do not fit its particular bent, which is clearly toward gifted students.  I am concerned that students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are ELLs will disproportionately find themselves labeled as “discipline problems,” rather than as children who are true gifts to the world.  They will be removed, so that DHCC can boast of its success.  The process is called “push-out” and it has a venerable history, especially here in the south.  I speak as a lifelong southerner and as a product of public schools in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

The DHCC requests a waiver in terms of class size in order to be “fiscally sustainable.”  This waiver request is an absurdly slippery slope, for once the DHCC realizes the inadequacy of its budget, the class sizes for classes that are not gifted, advanced placement, or otherwise geared toward students with higher test scores—will quite likely balloon, in order to allow the gifted programs to remain small and intimate.

Likewise, the DHCC wants to have full authority and autonomy in transportation issues, including salaries of bus drivers, routes, and accessibility.  I hear the phrase of “fiscal sustainability” in the background there, and I am acutely aware that transportation could easily suffer from budget concerns and become an issue that excludes working class children from attending schools in the DHCC, even though the children would be zoned into a particular school.

Budgetary Ethics

arrow-downIn the same breath that the DHCC requests waivers of all policies relevant to salaries, budget, and personnel, it requests waivers from the DeKalb County School District Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest policies in order to create its own code of ethics.  One need only have his/her eyes open to see that his scenario is clearly a field that is fertile for abuse.

I was not able to find the DHCC budget on its website, for certain links were not functional.  But a friend with access to a hard copy read aloud certain sections, and we realized that there are enormous gaps in the budget—gaps such as guidance counselors and other essential personnel.  We can only conclude that the DHCC intends such budgetary requirements to come from the DeKalb County School District’s budget.

Odd Demographics

I find it also instructive that even though the student body of the cluster is comprised of 80% students of color, the governing body of the DHCC has only three members of color, two of whom do not live in the cluster district and one of whom lives in Gwinnett County; the DHCC claims that these members have a vested interest in the charter by virtue of students who are in the schools “by choice.”  I cannot help but wonder why the DHCC had to go so far afield to find people of color to support its mission.

The petition also clearly states that only faculty and staff members will be hired or remain in their positions if they support the charter petition.  This requirement is abusive and completely contradictory to the ability and rights of teachers and staff members to have open discussion about this important petition.  Employees at the affected schools have already reported intimidation and silencing.

All of the waiver requests and the descriptions in the petition rely upon one central idea: trust us.  The wording of both documents sounds professional, but the waivers and petition are in fact a sieve of loopholes through which children who do not fit the upper class norm will be excluded and harmed.  If the conduct of the DHCC thus far—with its voting procedures that would have been shameful in the worst dictatorships in the world—is any indication of its trustworthiness, then this petition should be quickly and powerfully denied.

The DHCC talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

Filching Taxpayers

This attempt by a primarily upper class group of people to filch taxpayer dollars for an ultimately exclusionary private school endeavor is reprehensible.  For the sake of all our children, I urge you to deny this petition.