Charter Schools: Education’s New Elixir?

In her new book, Dr. Lisa Delpit suggests that the original idea of charter school has been corrupted.  She explains that originally, charter schools were designed to be “beacons” for educational excellence.  Charter schools were to be designed to develop new approaches to teaching, especially for the most challenging populations of children.  Their results were to be shared with other public schools.

As Dr. Delpit explains, the initial concept has been corrupted.  She explains:

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. I have been told by parents that many charter schools accuse students of a series of often trivial rule infractions, then tell parents that the students will not be suspended if the parents voluntarily transfer them to another school. Parents of a student with special needs are told that the charter is not prepared to meet their child’s needs adequately and that he or she would be much better served at the regular public school around the corner.

Delpit, Lisa (2012-03-20). “Multiplication Is for White People“: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

We have reported on this blog that two major research studies indicate that charter schools do not perform 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 significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools instead.

Dr. Michael Marder, at the University of Texas has studied not only Texas charter schools, but charter schools in other states including Flordia, New Jersey, New York, and California.  He has found that most charter schools do not do as well as the traditional public schools. Here is a video clip of Dr. Marder explaining his research and findings.  Again, the results do not bode well for supporters of charter schools.


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Charter School Bill Passed by Georgia Senate, A Big Mistake

Although HR 1162 successfully passed the State Senate, I stand firm on my decision to oppose it.  I was elected to serve the best interest of the greater good, and this bill clearly does not.  Georgia State Senator Doug Stoner, District 6.

The Georgia Senate was able to persuade three democratic senators to support HR 1162, a bill that would change the state constitution and allow the state to create its own set of charter schools, without  local school district approval or advice.

This is a big mistake.

The bill is a resolution proposing a change to the Georgia Constitution.  The resolution as passed by the Georgia Senate reads as follows:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia so as to clarify the authority of the state to establish state-wide education policy; to restate the authority of the General Assembly to establish special schools; to provide that special schools include state charter schools; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

Right now, charter schools in Georgia must be approved by local school district boards of education.  This was determined by the Supreme Court of Georgia in the case Gwinnett County School District v. Cox in May, 2011.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and submitted legislation in this year’s legislative session to circumvent the court’s decision by making an amendment to the State’s constitution.  That is what HR 1162 is all about.  The Republicans were able to convince three democrats to vote with them to pass the bill.  Now it will be on the Georgia Ballot in the November 2012 election.

Dangerous System.

Senator Doug Stoner, District 6, who voted against HR 1162, believes that the Charter schools amendment would set up a dangerous system.  He wrote this in his newsletter:

To change the Constitution in order to create a charter school or any “special school” favored by current or future state bureaucrats, and forcing local school districts to accept such schools would set up a very dangerous system that clearly violates the concept of local control. I cannot support such a state government mandate, especially when the legislative majority has slashed local school funding by more than $1 billion in recent years.

Locally elected school board members across the state have spoken out against HR 1162, which comes as no surprise. It is certainly reasonable to ask why the state is creating a new funding stream for charter schools while reducing financial support for other schools, forcing reduced education calendars, elimination of programs and teacher furloughs.
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P.L. Thomas: Charter Schools Not the Answer, Especially if We Fail to Identify the Question

Guest Post by P.L. Thomas

Paul Thomas, Associate Professor of Education, taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. Recent books include Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010) and 21st Century Literacy: If We Are Scripted, Are We Literate? (Springer, 2009) co-authored with Renita Schmidt. He maintains a blog addressing the role of poverty in education.  His teaching and scholarship focus on literacy and the impact of poverty on education, as well as confronting the political dynamics influencing public education in the U.S. His work can be followed here
 
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One pattern of failure in education reform is that political leadership and the public focus attention and resources on solutions while rarely asking what problems we are addressing or how those solutions address identified problems. The current and possibly increasing advocacy of charter schools is a perfect example of that flawed approach to improving our schools across the U.S.

Let’s start with two clarifications. First, the overwhelming problems contributing to school quality are pockets of poverty across the country and school policies and practices mirroring and increasing social inequities for children once they enter many schools.Children who live under the weight of poverty attend buildings in disrepair, sit in classrooms with inexperienced and un-/under-qualified teachers, and suffer through endless scripted instruction designed to raise their test scores. Citizens of a democracy share the responsibility for eradicating both the out-of-school and in-school failures often reflected in data associated with our public schools.Then, what is a charter school and should any state increase resources allocated to charter schools, and in effect, away from public schools?
Starting with Problems, not Solutions  Charter schools are public schools that function under agreements, charters, that allow those schools to function in some ways without the constraints placed on public schools.Here, we must acknowledge that if charter schools are a viable solution to the serious problems I have identified above, a much more direct approach would be simply to allow all public schools to function without the restraints we know to be impacting negatively their ability to produce strong educational outcomes.If innovation and autonomy are valuable for educational reform, then all public schools deserve those opportunities.Powerful evidence that committing to charter schools is inefficient rests in the research that shows charter schools, private schools, and public schools have essentially the same academic outcomes when the populations of students served are held constant.In his ongoing analysis of educational research, Matthew DiCarlo explains:

“[T]here is a fairly well-developed body of evidence showing that charter and regular public schools vary widely in their impacts on achievement growth. This research finds that, on the whole, there is usually not much of a difference between them, and when there are differences, they tend to be very modest. In other words, there is nothing about ‘charterness’ that leads to strong results.”

In other words, when schools succeed—which many public, private, and charter schools do—the success appears to have little to do with the type of school. The practices in any of these models can be replicated in any of the other models, but even then, scaling up or replicating what works in Public School A may not come to fruition in Charter School B.

The evidence, then, suggests that all states should avoid investing time and allocating tax dollars to charter schools, particularly when those commitments detract from addressing known problems in our public schools.

But there are additional red flags that should be considered about the charter school movement, cautions that are even more alarming:

  • While charter schools across the U.S. are serving high-poverty and minority populations, charter schools tend to under-serve English language learners and students with special needs—two of the most challenging populations facing public schools. If our experiments with charter schools include ignoring populations at the heart of public school challenges, then the experiments are a failure from the start.
  • The charter school movement is re-segregating public schools. This is the most disturbing fact of the charter school movement. Children of color and children living in poverty are disproportionately being isolated in charter schools that are without racial or socioeconomic diversity.
  • Since charter schools create some degree of open enrollment, they create transient populations of students, thus producing data that are less valuable for mining policies and practices to address the problems facing neighborhood public schools.
  • Charter schools have the power to manipulate the population of students served only because public schools must serve the students once they leave those charter schools. Public schools never have, and shouldn’t have, the power to reject students beyond expulsion.

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Georgia Making Mistake to Ignore Charter School Research

The Georgia Senate is very close passing a bill HR 1162, which will enable the state to authorize charter schools.  In 2011 the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Georgia Charter School Commission to authorize charter schools.  The state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  This the law right now.

The Georgia Senate (Republicans)  have submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution. HR 1162, if approved by the Senate will ammend the constitution, but before this will happen, it will have to voted on by the citizens of Georgia.

In Saturday’s Atlanta Journal, it was reported that several Democratic Senators are thinking about supporting the bill.  It will only take 3 Democrats for the HR 1162 to pass.

Letter to Georgia Senators

After I read that several Georgia Democrats were considering supporting the charter school legislation, I wrote this letter, and sent it to all Senate Democrats.

Letter sent to each Georgia Democratic Senator on 3/17/12

The only response that I have received so far are three auto-reply letters, and that’s it.  If you would like to send a letter to the Georgia Senate, you might send it to Senator Steve Henson, Minority Leader.
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Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia

Figure 1. In this post we will find out if charter schools do raise student achievement in exchange for more flexibility.   The un-labeled graph plots  public and charter schools in Texas comparing poverty concentrations and % of students doing well on the SAT or ACT. You’ll have to read ahead to find out which schools are the red discs and which are the gray discs. YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED.  Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission.

The Charter school movement has been in  the news recently in Georgia.  The Georgia Legislature is trying to get around the present Charter School law which says that applications for establishing a charter school must be approved by the local school district.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are 133 charter schools operating in Georgia. Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education, or the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement.  Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer.

Up until last year if a charter school application was rejected by the local district, it could then seek approval from the Georgia Charter School Commission, and if approved, could get their funds from the local district that rejected them in the first place.

Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox

However, on May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox found that the state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  According to the majority decision, no other government  entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-1 2 schools.  And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the State of Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens” (Art. VIII, Sec. I, Par. I.).

The court stated that “commission charter schools” (those established by Georgia Charter School Commission) are created to deliver K-12 public education to any student within Georgia’s general K-12 public education system.  Commission charter schools thus necessarily operate in competition with or duplicate the efforts of locally controlled general K-12 schools by enrolling the same types of K-12 students who attend locally controlled schools and by teaching them the same subjects that me taught at locally controlled schools.

Georgia Charter School Commission v. Local Boards of Education

Right now the Georgia Charter School Commission is unable to establish charter schools on its own.  Charter schools must be approved by local boards of education, re Gwinnett Country Schools v. Cox.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and has submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution.  This will require that the amendment be presented for approval by the citizens of Georgia.

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